Winner of the 2016 silver ENnie for Best Rules
Cassie’s Journal, October
“The nights have changed. Ever since Victoria’s coven of petty vampires moved in on Murdoch’s territory last month, things have been bloody. Even the Fae have been tightening the strings on the cops and the mayor. It’s an unstable situation.
But that just means I’ve got them where I want them. I’ve been fighting against the bloodsuckers for more than 10 years now, an antivirus cleaning out the city’s veins, running down the dead who crawl back up from their graves like vermin that don’t know their place.
And for the first time, I’m not alone. I’ve got friends. Marcus and his pack of werewolves that control the streets around my safe house. Bethany has access to something she calls “Sapphire” magic, whatever that is, and Felicia… well… I’ve seen her die and get back up more times than I can count.
We all owe people, owe favors, owe debts. But people owe us too. And we’re ready to call in those markers to put Victoria in my crosshairs. She’ll pay for what she did to my father, to my sister. She’ll pay.
No matter what it costs me.”
Urban Shadows is an urban fantasy roleplaying game where you’ll play characters struggling to survive in a dark urban environment drowning in supernatural politics. The game focuses heavily on the gritty drama and tense violence that we see so often in works like The Dresden Files, Angel and Supernatural.
The rules for Urban Shadows are based on Apocalypse World, an award winning RPG by Vincent Baker that also fuels games like Dungeon World, Monsterhearts, and Sagas of the Icelanders. The mechanics push the story forward toward exciting and unexpected ends; your actions are resolved with minimal rules and maximum drama.
Character creation in Urban Shadows is simple, interactive, and short. Setting up the game takes about an hour, including developing a series of in-depth ties between player’s characters that drives the narrative.
The game gives you the chance to play several unique and powerful Archetypes, each one a force within the physical and political struggles that define your city. In addition to their own abilities, each Archetype is also associated with a Faction of other characters within the city (listed in parentheses next to the Archetype’s name):
The Aware (Mortality): Inquisitive, resourceful and extremely insightful, the Aware is a mortal investigator who has come to see the world for what it really is. They understand humanity is not alone in the city and are entranced by that knowledge.
The Fae (Wild): Fickle, enigmatic and illogically devoted to oaths, the Fae is a being from beyond this world or the offspring of such a creature. They are able to draw upon the power of their native world. Promises and truths are everything to the Fae.
The Hunter (Mortality): Dangerous, focused and deadly, the Hunter is a mortal who has mastered the art of the kill through intense training. They are direct and violent, never to be taken lightly.
The Oracle (Power): Prophetic, cursed and intense, the Oracle is a seer, mystic, or psychic. They can see beyond the present, beyond this reality, but they also find that they cannot turn away.
The Spectre (Night): Vengeful, alienated and alone, the Spectre is the ghost of someone who died. They are an echo of what they once were and know only restlessness and loneliness.
The Tainted (Wild): Brutal, intense and manipulative, the Tainted is the offspring of a demon and a human. They draw strength from their hellish heritage, the eternal damnation that flows within their veins. They are of two worlds, torn between their human compassion and demonic drives.
The Vamp (Night): Seductive, merciless and eternally hungry, the Vamp is a creature that must feed on humanity to survive. Their web draws in prey and links them to their assets, minions, and debtors.
The Veteran (Mortality): Experienced and clever, the Veteran is a has-been who uses their ingenuity to remain relevant in city politics. They have a workspace to create all manner of things that other characters might need.
The Wizard (Power): Powerful, dedicated and often strange, the Wizard is capable of channeling intense magics. They have a variety of spells at their disposal and the capability to compliment that power with preparation and focus.
The Wolf (Night): Primal, unstoppable and always down on their luck, the Wolf is capable of transforming into a deadly creature when the moon rises. Little stands in their way, but they often find more trouble than they bargained for when they go hunting.
The Archetypes are not limited to specific myths or legends and allow you to make them entirely your own. Each gives you everything you need to play one of the denizens of the city, powerful and troubled alike, but isn’t a straitjacket or limitation. Characters often acquire abilities and powers from other Archetypes and may even change Archetypes over the course of play.
Politics can get messy in the big city, especially when the streets and boardrooms are run by faeries, awakened mortals, vampires, immortals, and ghosts. To keep track of the madness that is urban politics in a fantasy setting, we’ve divided up the city into fourFactions, arenas of conflict that represent rough communities of mortal and supernatural creatures: Mortality, Power, Night and Wild.
Mortality puts all the “regular people” in one corner, struggling to fight against monsters they can’t understand; Power names those humans with supernatural powers and abilities, able to work their will on reality; Night collects the monsters in the dark, brooding and supernatural creatures that draw mortals into their webs; and Wild draws in the outcasts and rejects, the Others from Beyond or Outside who swear oaths to distant gods and old ways.
Each Archetype begins play in one of the four factions, a member of the community from which they have arisen in the politics of the city, but characters can change their allegiance through play, rejecting their loved ones and rivals in favor of a different community. Each Faction is a loose collection of souls–no one rules each Faction nor do the characters within a Faction move in lockstep.
… corrupts absolutely. Urban Shadows features a unique Corruption mechanic, which helps track your character’s descent into darkness. When you take a life, give in to your monstrous nature, or cross a line you shouldn’t, you mark corruption. As you gain corruption, you will unlock new and very potent powers that allow your character to get what they want. The dark side of your nature bears productive fruit.
Power is never free though. Cross the line too often and you’ll lose your protagonist to the dark. Corruption is a downward spiral that will suck your character into the darkness; not everyone is cut out to make it back from the brink. As your character gains new corruption abilities, you will face a difficult choice: will you give up what you’ve gained to save yourself?
Corruption also encourages you to play to your Archetype. Each Archetype contains unique boundaries and taboos that define when you will mark corruption. Life is always sacred, but werewolves, mages, and fae all face unique temptations while working the city’s streets.
No matter how powerful your character may be, everyone owes someone for what they have. Urban Shadows also features Debts, a currency that protagonists and NPC’s alike can cash in to influence those who owe them. Debts gives character real tangible power over others that they spend to manipulate them, force their hand, get mixed up in their business. Debts are the only currency that matter–it’s all about who you owe and who owes you!
Your character will begin play with Debts owed by them and to them by other player’s characters, setting the stage for the alliances and conflicts that drive the narrative of Urban Shadows.
The stories we tell in Urban Shadows are set in cities, often large ones, and every metropolis has a unique set of cultures, ethnicities, and communities that create a rich tapestry of interactions between people. We’ve chosen to embrace this theme, so part of creating your character includes choosing their Look: how the world sees them. How do they dress? What race are they? Are they perceived as female, ambiguous, transgressing, etc.? These elements don’t have mechanical implications for your character, but they define how the city sees them and the kinds of stories you’re choosing to tell.
“The corruption mechanic often allows someone to get out of a bind by taking corruption and giving in to the power that they wield…eventually opened up new corruption moves (acting like gaining experience) which of course generated more corruption themselves. All to the end of turning your character into a monster. This is what WoD was trying to do…like forever!”
-Sean Nittner, Project Manager for Evil Hat Productions. See the entire post here.
“Urban Shadows is the ‘let’s play now’ urban fantasy, action-horror-romance setting I’ve always dreamed of.”
-Bryan Hitchcock, Author of “Cold Snap” in Lords of Justice anthology and co-author of Kaiser’s Gate for the Savage Worlds RPG
“it’s already my favorite Apocalypse World based game, and much of that is down to its fabulous ‘corruption’ mechanic.”
-Tom Hatfield, author of the Fail Forward blog. See the entire blog post here.
“I love how corruption is a ticking time bomb of power. Makes for a good reason to be dark, but not go too far too often.”
-Aaron Friesen, author of “First To Wake”, adventure module for Mystic Empyrean.