I’ve run two sessions of Mutants in the Night this month, a Forged in the Dark game about literally and figuratively marginalized mutant communities. X-Men stories across the decades treat this theme. I’m digging the game, but still getting my feet under me with the themes. I haven’t yet found my focus and some of our last debrief session dealt with shifting play more toward social issues. That’s a challenge; FitD’s mission structure means you have to shift from the directed play to introduce more rp moments. But I’m looking forward to the challenge.
I’ve run several FitD rpgs now and one of designer DC’s choices for Mutants in the Night struck me. In many FitD games you have a group shared resource: the Crew in Blades in the Dark, the Ship in Scum & Villainy, the Chosen in Band of Blades. They serve as a focus and bind the PCs together. Choices there signal to the GM what kinds of stories the group wants. MitN’s choice to skip this isn’t a bad one. For one thing it keeps focus on the community as a whole. But that absence got me thinking about shared resources which have playbooks.
STREETS OF PLAY
This connected to something I’d written about a couple of weeks ago, the factions as backdrops and the challenge of creating resonance for physical spaces. I think you could break down city neighborhoods by theme and give them playbooks. It’s a variant of what I’ve done with building campaign cities using Microscope (City of Gauntlets, VirtuaCon, Abashan).
My admittedly rough sketch of this consists of a big list for the central concept, several open questions, sensory element lists, locations/sites, NPCs, features, and moves. You can see my example below. The last items use PbtA terminology, but that could be changed. I’ve not yet worked on any moves, I only sketched triggers. I think there’s more you could add. For example, other games assign ratings to neighborhoods (security, wealth, cohesion, etc). I wonder if that’s a fruitful approach? Having ratings implies that these could change over time, but would they have a mechanical effect or simply be guides for the fiction.
One of the challenges here is my unconscious bias and assumptions. This approach assumes large settled populations. It also takes for granted they’re organized like the Western Medieval and Early Modern-inspired cities of most fantasy RPGs. I’ll need to go back and look for ways to add other touchstones drawn from a broader range of cultures. Lists will also have a “or make up your own” option. As it stands, the way I’ve approached these won’t have the specific flavor something like Yoon-Suin creates.
The other is a question of order. Should the neighborhood playbooks be built first, with a sense of the whole coming from reconciling those choices later? Or should you first fill out a broader city playbook with choices about locations, purposes, features, cultures, rule, etc? The former feels more “play to see what happens,” while the latter allows you to set up some of the framing.
USING THESE PLAYBOOKS
Neighborhood playbooks could be connected to character building. The next time I run Veil Fantasy, I will probably add a choice of neighborhoods to each playbook (probably two). In parallel to making their characters, the players would also build these places. If two players both wanted to work on the same type, they would collaborate. I’ve written up three neighborhoods so far (Temple, Magic, and Gold Districts). I have four others in mind (Workshops, Market/Public, Underworld, and Outcast/Strange). Academic is also a possibility.
On the other hand, Sherri suggested making the playbooks the core of some kind of other game. Perhaps something in the style of Legacy, maybe adapting the Mysthea rules to that. Her suggestion was more about players managing neighborhood needs in and of themselves. I’m not sure how exactly that would work, but I dig the idea. She also mentioned adapting it for Urban Shadows, where many PCs have a neighborhood or territory they protect, hunt, and/or manage.
Finally, I’m considering how to change this up for factions and institutions. Corporate playbooks in The Sprawl or The Veil could be a great way to define the setting’s foes. A mini-version could work for Blades in the Dark. I’m definitely going to use it for Hearts of Wulin, where players begin with a faction they’re connected to (raised in, exiled from, hunted by). It could be a great way to develop the setting’s backdrop and build player investment.
GENERAL SET UP
- A great and mighty magical workshop combining the talents of magic users across disciplines.
- A complex bureaucratic stronghold regulating and guiding the lives of wizards across the city and beyond.
- A sprawling school of magic riven by rivalries and intrigues.
- A patchwork of stalls and booths where busking sorcerers sells their skills.
- A handful of rival towers and chantries, each controlled by a notable archmagus.
- A gated burial ground where petitioners can consult with the spirits of dead wizards or the bound caretaker liches kept there.
- A ring of magic shops and offices encircling an ancient prison complex where potent forces are banished and restrained.
- A guild-managed neighborhood where wizards offer the most meager services, but in the shadows the informed can locate spell-blades and curse-throwers.
- A loose network of covens based around families and lineages of mages who swing between bonds of loyalty and declarations of vendettas
- Ramshackle collection of falling down magic shops and wizarding consultants where aged masters try to keep control over houses of half-trained apprentices.
- Smartly decorated houses of arcane agents who negotiate contracts for their masters before leading clients through gates and doorways to far-flung sanctums.
- A strict hierarchy of licensed wizards bound to another above them in a pyramid of mana transmission to an arcane overseer at the top.
How do magic-users mark themselves? How do they use that to demonstrate status?
Does the city acknowledge this area as different or is it treated as just another neighborhood?
What incident created the last great fissure between the district and the rest of the city?
Which wizard is spoken of in reverent tones? Which in hushed tones?
What changes about the area at night?
- A bat-winged cape caught in the breeze
- Alchemical smiths comparing lunches
- Animated writing implements scrawling a mix of advertisements and profanity
- Apprentices dragging a massive wooden box
- Chained demons bearing a palanquin
- Drifting vapors through which one can see an alien landscape
- Drunken journeymen magi looking to undo self-inflicted curses
- Familiars of multiple species conspiring in an alley
- Magical formulae scratched into a wall
- Puddles of prismatic liquids
- Rooftops blanketed in butterflies
- Specialist guards, their armor etched with wardings and protections.
- Two wizards clearing space in preparation for a duel
- Unsteady rack of vials, bottles, and flasks
- Burning Hair
- Cat Pee
- Old People
- Pipe Smoke
- Sour Milk
- Wet Earth
- Alien whispers
- Apprentices grunting
- Cockatrice screeching
- Crackling like lightning
- Deep-throated pronouncements
- Garbled chanting
- Ghostly gossiping
- Half-hearted beating
- Low-level giggling
- Apprentice Refurbishment Charity
- Arcane Translator
- Component Hunters
- Contract Law Firm
- Custom Potioner
- Discrete Scribes
- Dream Cartographers
- Magical Beast Seller
- Magic-Powered Soup Kitchen
- Post-Backlash Incident Cleaners
- Specialist Pet Feed Preparer
- Spider Silk Weaver
Barreness, Ward Defuser: When wizards travel away or die, they often leave behind dangerous protections and defenses which must be taken down by others.
Ket, Ambassador to the Mundanes: For those who wish to navigate the complex politics of the magical world, a guide is indispensable.
Mainmilla, Golem Architect: Many wizards can animate automatons, but fewer can plan out and build them for easy repair, to serve specialized purposes, or handle delicate processes.
Strophlaw, Retirement Planner: Magic takes a toll on its practitioners in stability, physique, and soul. Individuals and institutions need help with those who begin to pass into that twilight and become unstable.
Thurnturn, Alchemical Baker: Combining the talents of a master alchemist and pastry chef, they can produce magical confections for non-wizards and unenchanted treats for discriminating sorcerers.
Zophiri, Wizarding Arbitrator: When disputes between powerful arcanists spiral out of control, simple duels won’t suffice. Their peers will call in a specialist to create a binding resolution.
FEATURES (pick one)
This applies to all of the magical providers in the neighborhood
Overbooked: The mages here have an overabundance of apprentices. When you go seeking a magical henchperson you may choose to automatically obtain one of these younglings for pennies and a promise. Choose one thing they actually know: reading magical script OK-ish, magical lighting, identifying dangerous potions, treating burns, care and feeding of monsters, a magic rope cantrip, or a similar talent.
Arcane Forges: When you take a magical item to be reforged into a new shape or appearance, roll +payment. On a 10+ the new form is exactly as you requested and envisioned. On a 7-9, it is close but there’s one little bothersome detail. On a 6-, it is definitively not what you’d hoped for.
Logs of the Worthy: When you go to consult the mages here about a particular named magic user, take +1 Forward or an extra pick.
Component Hoarders: When you bring back materials from a slain magical creature to sell here, roll. On a 10+ there’s a bidding war and you get 50% more money. On a 7-9 it sells quickly at the usual price, no questions asked. On a 6-, you raise the ire of a preservationist, friend of the beast, or like entanglement.
When you go to uncurse an item...
When you seek out a specialist in magical wardings and protections...
When try to pawn off your excess magic items...