Friday, October 21, 2016

Five or So Questions with Amit Moshe on City of Mist

Hi everyone! I have an interview with Amit Moshe from Son of Oak about the new game City of Mist (click here for a free starter set download!), which is on Kickstarter right now! It's a super-powered detective RPG. I saw in passing a few pieces of art for the game, and it immediately drew me in. After looking at the starter set I knew I had to talk to Amit, and he kindly agreed to an interview! Check out the info below.

Tell me a little about City of Mist. What excites you about it?

City of Mist is a comic-book noir game that explores what happens when ordinary people come in contact with legendary powers. The protagonists (called Gateways) are street-level individuals in whom a legendary force (called a Mythos) has awakened, manifesting as supernatural powers but also driving them to explore its nature and story. The game is set in a haunted modern city forever under the influence of "the Myst", a mystical veil that hides the work of the legendary forces and makes everything seems ordinary to the unaware residents. As new Gateways, the PCs inevitably become involved in strange cases and unsolved mysteries that gradually lead them to discover who they are and what forces operate beyond the Myst.

There are so many things that excite me about City of Mist, it's hard to know where to start! :) First, I find the setting very compelling; I have been developing it over 10 years now. As a fan of comic-book noir in fiction like Netflix's Daredevil and Jessica Jones, detective Batman, Fables etc., I just love the street-level perspective infused with the legendary or super-human, so this contrast is really at the center of the game, with the Mythoi and the Myst fighting over the characters' lives.

Then, there's the game mechanics: I really tried to tailor everything to create a cinematic game that will put the mystery, action, and drama at the center. The Roll+Tags system was a breakthrough because it allowed the characters to be totally open-ended, with no archetypes, no classes, and no attributes and still retain the crunch. The other main game aspect that I love is the Mythos vs. Logos non-linear character evolution: you have to sustain your Identities and explore your Mysteries or you start losing parts of who you are, submitting to your Mythos or the Myst. This puts the players' attention right on the ordinary-legendary conflict I mentioned.

And of course, I love the art and the design. I've worked with Marcin for many years and I knew he was the one for City of Mist. His ability to bring characters and scenes to life is just out of this world. And Juancho and Manuel, the graphic designers, managed to find the unique City of Mist style that I was hoping for. So it's all very exciting!

Where did you originally come up with the concepts for City of Mist, with the Myst and the Mythos - what inspired you?

I have always been into myths and legends, and particularly modern retelling of such stories. The idea that myths and legends encapsulate universal and eternal qualities that repeat in the personal lives of human beings throughout history and particularly in OUR personal lives today has always appealed to me. But it's evident that most of us are just unaware of it and see life as something very mundane. So for me the Myst is actually real and I've just given it a name and put it in a role-playing game. I find that every person I meet has a Mythos inside them waiting to grow. So these game elements are actually an analogue to reality.

The actual moment of conceiving City of Mist was quite cool. I was walking on a street in Jerusalem late at night and you can imagine it's a very special city. That street had an ancient mausoleum over 2000 years old (!!!) on it but the apartment buildings were built around it, so you walk down the street seeing apartment building, apartment building, ancient mausoleum, apartment building... so it's very much the mythical built into the city. Just as I was passing it, there was a gust of wind ruffling the fallen leaves; dogs started barking; a car alarm went off; and I could hear police sirens in the distance. There was something about this moment, as if a veil was lifted for just a second, that gave me the idea for City of Mist.

Can you talk more about the mechanics, like how players might build their character and what happens when they encounter challenges?

The idea behind the City of Mist mechanics was to create a very cinematic game that is rules-light on the one hand but packs enough dramatic punch on the other. When facing challenges PCs can employ eight core moves that cover the actions typical to the super-powered noir genre (Investigate, Convince, Hit with All You've Got, Sneak Around to name a few) BUT every PC enhances the roll using their unique tags. One PC may Investigate using her hacker skills while another using his charm and good looks to glean information from an NPC. So the way players describe their character's actions affects which tags they can add to the roll and gives each move a totally unique flavor. Damage and conditions, represented by 'Statuses', are also tag-based so PCs can get statuses like Injured and Restrained but also Happy, Frustrated, Infected, Supercharged or anything you can think of, and these have a tangible effect on the character's abilities when taking actions related to the status.

Another key mechanic is the Mythos and Logos rules. In brief, your character is made of four themes divided between Mythos (legendary) and Logos (ordinary). Also, she has a set of four Mysteries and Identities related to her Mythos and Logos themes, mysteries being questions she seeks answers for and identities being statements she believes in. Should your character ever choose to ignore an opportunity to explore her mysteries or take action that goes against her identities, she gradually wears out that theme and will eventually lose it altogether. She then receives a new theme from the opposite side (Mythos<>Logos). The MC (GM) is specifically instructed to create situations that force the PCs to choose between two or more of their themes. This mechanic keeps the players exploring what really matters the most to their character.

The City of Mist Starter Set includes seven pre-generated characters and some very basic guidelines on how to sketch out your own character. In the full game, we are going to include Themebooks, which are in essence questionnaires that help you create a specific type of theme, e.g. for Logos: occupation, personality, defining relationship or for Mythos: 'Expression' for powers that can be projected, 'Bastion' for defensive powers, etc. The Themebooks will also include special moves for each theme type. So the process of creating a character will entail choosing the four types of themes central to your character and using the Themebooks to flesh out each theme and choose its tags.

How did you put together a team to work on the game and create the design, mechanics, and art, and make a cohesive vision for the project?

The vision for City of Mist was quite clear in my mind for a long time. I previously worked as a Product Manager, so my job was to hold the vision of the product and derive everything that the team needed to be do from that. From the onset, Neev was my inspiration and soundboard on how to make the game awesome: I actually met him on the the game's first playtest in a local convention and we clicked. I think the key from that point on was to find the right people to translate the vision into a reality and that meant bringing in professionals to do the job.

When I started looking for talent, Marcin (the illustrator) was already a part of the project. We had been working together closely for a number of years and we both knew he was the one destined to bring City of Mist to life, so we made it happen. For designers, I searched Behance for weeks until I found portfolios which exhibited the skills I needed. After trying with a couple of designers, I approached Juancho Capic who suggested we'd bring Manuel Serra on board and it was a perfect match. Right from the start, these guys produced some seriously high-end work and they were open to receiving my vision and working with it. I am very demanding when it comes to design so it was good to find people who wanted to create something beautiful just as much as I did.

Finally, on the game design front, even though I've always worked alone and have already written the mechanics for City of Mist, I realized that no matter how good I thought it was, an editor would only make it better: I needed someone who would force me to think, to improve, to make the game more concise and clear and engaging. I turned to Eran because we already worked on a Cinematic GMing Guide before and I knew he was a really nice guy who would rip my work to shreds if he thought it wasn't good, and I needed that, because I was adamant on making something awesome.

Throughout the process we worked closely together using tools like Slack (team chat), Google Drive, and Google Hangouts so that everyone was connected to what everyone else was doing. It was a pleasure and we're all looking forward to the next step of creating the full game.

Ideal game experiences are hard to achieve, but what kind of emotional takeaways do you want players to have from City of Mist? Do you want players to have certain types of character moments or story revelations? Tell me what you hope players walk away from the game having experienced.

City of Mist is first and foremost a game, so my top priority is to provide the MC and players with tools to create their own stories and get what they feel is fun out of the game, be it drama, thrill or laughs (or all of the above). Having said that, City of Mist is built to create stories of inner and outer search, both personal and shared. Each character, as well as the group as a whole, has personal mysteries to unravel and at the same time identities that she is holding on to. I am hoping this will lead players to experience those dramatic moments that make up a good story when their characters discover something new and unexpected about themselves, especially when it happens through a hard choice they must make between two themes. And if that makes players somehow look at themselves as well and become more conscious of the struggle of themes in their own lives... well, that would be the best imaginable outcome of the game as far as I am concerned.

Thanks so much to Amit for the interview! I hope you all have a chance to check out City of Mist either through the free starter kit, the Kickstarter, or both!

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