Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Five or So Questions with Andrew Medieros on Urban Shadows

Tell me a little about Urban Shadows. What excites you about it?
Urban Shadows is an urban fantasy roleplaying game in the vein of The Dresden Files novels and the television series' Angel and Supernatural. Players take on the roles of serious power players in their city's political structure and play classic archetypes like vampires, ghosts, half-demons and much more. It's powered by the Apocalypse World engine which allows us to cram in as much drama, action and tension as we can with minimal rules that still pack a punch.

The two most exciting things about Urban Shadows are our new Corruption mechanic and our choice to address and challenge race and gender in an urban setting.

Corruption is gained when your protagonists crosses a line they shouldn't (such as taking a life) and rewards you for these choices with new and very potent powers. But this new power comes at a cost, keep it up and you'll find yourself becoming more and more a slave to your inner darkness.

When you create a character in Urban Shadows you choose your Look: how the city sees you. Ambiguous, female, male or transgressing? Asian, black, caucasian, hispanic, mixed, or other? These choices are purely descriptive and inform the kind of stories you wish to tell in the game.

Tell me more about the Corruption mechanic. Is it just a toggle on-off to monstrousness?
Corruption is the dark mirror to our experience system, except instead of gaining standard advances, you gain access to some really powerful and potent Moves. You mark a point of corruption whenever your character takes a life, breaks a rule set by their archetype, or when they MC offers it to them and you accept: Gain corruption five times and you get a new Corruption Move.

These moves give your character access to some game breaking abilities, but there’s a couple catches: Firstly, each of them generate further corruption when used and secondly, you can only select a maximum of four of them. If you reach the point where you need to select a fifth, you lose your character to the MC, who can choose bring them back into the story as a Threat (which is usually really bad news for the city).

You can buy off corruption moves through advances but that’s an expensive path, it’s far easier to just avoid it altogether. However, temptation calls on us all, and it’s a hard thing to resist.

Tell me a little about Debts. How do they work?
Debts are how we track favours in Urban Shadows. When you do something worthy of note for someone, or vice versa, a Debt is given (unless of course that action was to pay off a previous debt). They let you influence both player characters and non-player characters with no risk, just the cost of the Debt. Non-player characters can just as easily gain Debts on player characters, which lets the MC use those Debts to make hard moves against them. Owing favours to powerful people is a dangerous prospect.

What made you decide to put race front and center?
This was something we feel really passionate about: we wanted stories told within cities to be representative of the cultures and races in that city, so we made it part of character creation. By asking players to choose their character’s race, we ended up seeing casts of really diverse protagonists and that was exactly what we wanted. It’s been great to see how it’s changed the game and it’s now become a central theme for our project. It’s important to note that your choice of race has no mechanical implications for your character but it is an important part of who they are.

Tell me how factions work. What do they influence in the game?
Factions are how we divide the city’s populace into not-so-neat categories. They are arenas of conflict that represent rough communities of mortal and supernatural creatures: The Factions are Mortality, Power, Night and Wild. Mortality are the vanilla mortals, Power are humans with supernatural gifts, Night are people who have been turned into monsters, and Wild are beings who originate from outside our world.

Protagonists have a stat that correlates to each of the four factions: the higher the stat, the better understanding they have of that world and their members. For example, the Night faction includes vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. Having a low Night score means you don’t really understand how these people operate and don’t know many of them personally. A higher score in Night means you have a solid grasp of how they work and you know many of them fairly well. So it’s one part understanding and one part relationship.

Factions power a lot of the moves in the game: when you seek info from your contacts, look for resources to help you get things done, or when messing around in other players’ business in the hopes of influencing their dice rolls, you roll Faction to see how that plays out. The scores change through play, they’re not static by any means.

What's up next for you after Urban Shadows?
I think maybe I’ll go outside and take a long walk. Then I have plans for a couple of other games, one of which is also powered by the apocalypse. I can’t say too much here but it includes fighter pilots and drama! Lots and lots of drama!

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