Urban Shadows and the "Gilded Cage"

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Jan Paparazzi

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I don't know how many people are familiar with Urban Shadows and I don't even intend to run the game (certainly not with that ruleset), but I like to mine different books for ideas, so here we go.

In WoD games and especially Vampire certain groups like to infiltrate mortal institutions. White Wolf once made a book about this called the Gilded Cage and I really like this idea about supernaturals influencing the mortal world. I also really like the Circles as presented in the new Urban Shadows 2nd edition book. From what I understand Mortalis (Mortality) mostly operates on the border of the mundane and the occult world, Wild serves alien masters from another realm, Night focuses mostly on territory and it's resources and Power is all about prophecies and politics.

Mortality and Wild are very clear to me. Night and Power I do understand as Night is all about control of the streets and short-term politics and Power is about long-term politics and influencing the future. But I wonder if one Circle would infiltrate academia, the government and the business world which would that be? Night or Power? I mean it fits Power's theme of long-term politics and influence, but it also fits Night's theme of taking control of resources, power, money etc. How did that work in the first edition? Do people have experience with that?
 
When I ran it, I used night for supernatural control and hence would default to power for humans.
 
When I ran it, I used night for supernatural control and hence would default to power for humans.
You mean if it were monster doing the infiltration it would be Night en if it were mortal mages etc. doing the infiltration it would be Power?
Yeah, you could look at it like that, but I don't find it that appealing. I mean in the narrow sense the factions or circles are like that. Mortals in Mortality, mortals with powers in Power, monsters who used to be mortal in Night and monsters who never were human in Wild.

But in the broader sense each circle (that's what it's called in 2nd edition) is much more than that. They focus on different things. Mortality is aware of the truth of the world—the supernatural exists just beneath the surface— but they keep one foot in the world of the mundane. Quite often they are trafficking resources and conflicts across the border between the two worlds. Night is competing over the resources of the city's streets: territory, blood, and money and is parasitic, corrupting what it can reach in the mundane world.

Power is willing to invest in shaping the city's future. Power dabbles in mortal politics and magical artifacts alike, always eager to find some way to claim more authority. Wild is ruled by the city's most alien residents. Wild most often seek places where the walls of reality are thin, tending to their business in both this plane and the one from which they hail.

I paraphrased a little form the preview I got.
 
Alright, I think I got it figured out. Both Night and Power can infiltrate and control mortal institutions, but for different reasons. For Night it's all about their needs. For example vampires need hunting ground for blood. So they want to control their turf for blood and the mortal institutions are mostly used for covering up when the shit hits the fan. For Power it isn't about their needs, but out of some overarching goal they have in mind. It's all about shaping the future or fulfilling some sort of prophecy. Think about a group of seers having a premonition they want to fulfill or maybe prevent.
 
I've said it before, but it feels like Urban Shadows, especially what I have seen of the 2nd Edition through the quickstart, are far closer to the style of play classic World of Darkness games espoused as opposed to the way the game actually got played, either via tabletop or LARP through my experience.

I love how the factions system of US2E makes a city feel lived in and real. Even if I were to run another urban fantasy game based on my mechanical preferences, I would would port over the faction system and find some way to use debts, too. They drive so much action.

One of the things I love about the system is that these systems drive the action whether you have active or passive players and that if the players want to advance their characters' abilities, they must engage the factions and move debt around.
 
At least in 1e, the player+GM moves are core to making it work so I'm not sure how portable it really is to another system.
 
I love how the factions system of US2E makes a city feel lived in and real. Even if I were to run another urban fantasy game based on my mechanical preferences, I would would port over the faction system and find some way to use debts, too. They drive so much action.

One of the things I love about the system is that these systems drive the action whether you have active or passive players and that if the players want to advance their characters' abilities, they must engage the factions and move debt around.
I didn’t use the mechanical aspects of debts, but I used the US2e Faction system in my last season of Liminal. It worked pretty well, hardest thing was deciding where the different factions set in terms of Mortalis, Power, Night and Wild and then the faction attributes.
 
At least in 1e, the player+GM moves are core to making it work so I'm not sure how portable it really is to another system.
The Faction system in US2e uses the standard PbtA move structure, but is a down time system which relates primarly to running the factions. You can pretty much bolt it on as is. I think I had to modify some of the player-facing downtime moves, as you don’t have Circles, but from memory I just used the PCs level of relationship status with each faction and it worked okay.
 
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At least in 1e, the player+GM moves are core to making it work so I'm not sure how portable it really is to another system.
To add to zcthu3's thoughts, the player & GM moves primarily exist to either shirk a debt by ignoring it or to pick up or deepen a debt owed to you, which you spend on rolls to influence said individual, which helps you gain or lose influence with whatever faction they are associated with.

For example, if I wanted to port the systems back into the 20th Anniversary editions of my favorite World of Darkness games, I would allow Social rolls and powers to allow you to shirk a debt if you succeeded on an opposed roll, or you could apply between 1-3 points worth of debt as bonus dice on a roll to influence someone, with success or failure of an entire scheme raising or lowering the Circle they are associated with, and just rip the whole downtime & faction from the US2E quickstart (which is still free, BTW).

Simple and easy.
 
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I love how the factions system of US2E makes a city feel lived in and real. Even if I were to run another urban fantasy game based on my mechanical preferences, I would would port over the faction system and find some way to use debts, too. They drive so much action.
Even without the mechanics they still make the city feel alive. More so than any other urban game I came across.
 
Man, I gotta take a look at US2.
I was a late backer. I believe some people really soured on it, because they are waiting for years. They ran into big time delay, because of the succes of the Avatar rpg and some people got long covid as well. Anyway it's almost done now, I think I will get a full digital copy early march and then people can skim through it looking for spelling errors and then they are done. I am curious what they did with the two example settings that are in there. I really like the idea of a city fully populated with factions each belonging to four different circles.
 
I was a late backer. I believe some people really soured on it, because they are waiting for years. They ran into big time delay, because of the succes of the Avatar rpg and some people got long covid as well. Anyway it's almost done now, I think I will get a full digital copy early march and then people can skim through it looking for spelling errors and then they are done. I am curious what they did with the two example settings that are in there. I really like the idea of a city fully populated with factions each belonging to four different circles.
In the meantime, the QS is still available as PWYW. It hasn't been updated since May of 2022, so I feel it's likely the file will get another update in line with the final book at some point. Based on past experiences, I would say that'll probably be around the time the core book goes live to the public.
 
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