Shadows & Showdowns Review

I’m here today with a review of a fantastic City of Mist supplement: Shadows & Showdowns. This was originally released back in May but I had a busy summer and anyways it’s only just started shipping as a physical book. So, better late than never, let me tell you about this fantastic book.

In a nutshell, Shadows & Showdowns is a supplement for City of Mist that gives you more. This isn’t a campaign book or an update, it’s got a little something more of everything you can find in the core books. However, this isn’t just a bestiary or item book. There’s new material here and lots of great options for widening your City of Mist game as well as deepening it. The book has four chapters (available as separate PDFs if you’d prefer) so let’s take them each in turn.

Character Options

The first chapter of the book, If Dreams Could Kill, is the only player-facing part of the book (and there’s a bit for the MC in here as well). Two new concepts start it off: swing spectrums and theme kits. A swing spectrum is just a regular spectrum but with two directions. For instance, having a spectrum of hot/cold could max out with either a very hot status or a very cold status and getting a status in one direction will reduce your status in the other (i.e. if you’re on-fire-2 and get cold-blast-1 then it cancels out to burning-1). A theme kit is similarly a new take on an existing game mechanic, providing ready-to-go themes with every question prompt answered. You just pick four power tags and one weakness tag them you’re ready to go. Neither of these is game-shattering but they do open up some great possibilities.

Image © Son of Oak

We’ve actually been using theme kits to great effect over at City of Dangers. If you want to give your players a magical Relic, a temporary Ally, or a loyal Familiar then you can use theme kits to let them choose what that actually looks like. Examples in the book include the thunderbolt sledgehammer, the lion pelt shearling jacket, and a ferocious alley cat. For me, this fills in a gap of how to make story items and NPCs impactful on the game. You can have a character as part of a case but having that character limited to just a story tag or (worse) background information can really make them feel unimportant. Instead, have them be a theme kit that players customize to match their characters (less work for you) and at the end of the case, or whenever it makes sense, that theme leaves the story and you’re back to just the crew again.

Speaking of sidekicks, though, you might notice that I mentioned Familiars above. That’s one of six new themebooks that appear in Shadows & Showdowns: four Mythos and two Logos. Conjuration is an interesting option for summoning things or beings, such as Rumpelstiltskin or a living nightmare. Since you can also summon a chariot or a shining crown there’s some overlap here with Relic, but a Conjuration isn’t a real thing so the power resides in you rather than the object. Destiny is like the flipside of Defining Event, a future event that your character is racing towards. Enclave is a special world that you can inhabit such as a cave of wonders or Baba Yaga’s hut, somewhere you can be safe and escape your enemies. Lastly for the Mythos themes, a Familiar is a magical creature that remains by your side and helps. On the Logos side, a Struggle is some personal hardship or difficulty (a dependent grandparent, a history of addiction, etc) and a Turf is your claimed territory (a district under your protection or a secret research facility).

These new features come together with different Character Creation options, some advice on making rich characters and another rapid creation method. To this end, Shadows & Showdowns provides archetypes for creating the character you want, combining ready-made Logos and Mythos theme kits to make a character in minutes. Of course, characters in City of Mist usually only take a dozen or so minutes if you’re inspired, these theme kits can help new players get into the game or give your imagination a kickstart when you’re stuck in a rut. Once you get going, Veteran Improvements are options you can gain through a Moment of Evolution. When you spend your Build-Up points you already have the option of gaining extra theme improvements but Veteran Improvements (you can have up to three) are better and they last even through becoming a Sleeper and gaining a new Mythos. You can recognize a Rift’s Mythos on sight or turn a miss into a hit every session. There are two and a half pages of absolutely fantastic options that can turn your character into a living god.

Image © Son of Oak

Encounters for Your Game

The second chapter of the book is Overlooked Attractions, a collections of locations with encounter hooks and Danger stats. The locations are grouped together by purpose and since they have potentially a lot of spoilers for people’s campaigns I’ll try to avoid going into too much detail…

Image © Son of Oak
  • Accommodations are places for the crew to stay safe from their foes like a magical bus, a spa hotel, a quiet pigeon coop, and public housing with an oni neighbor.
  • Contacts are helpful NPCs who have abilities or resources to offer the crew. These include a fixer service (All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men), a Peruvian grandmother and crimelord, and an underworld arbitrator.
  • Information encounters provide clues to investigations for crews that are stuck or can’t reach the answer on their own. These can be a genuine Delphi oracle, a legend of all-knowing bakers, criminal bookies and information brokers, and the Sacred Land Tiki Bar with a magically informed owner.
  • Meeting Places are where the crew can find neutral ground including a protective airstrip, an abandoned lot across the bay, a stereotypical Italian eatery, a crowded open-air event (blank canvas for whatever), and a tasty diner.
  • Recovery locations can heal the crew, though maybe at a price. The book details a resourceful veterinary clinic, a pop-up bar, and a cathedral with a dark side.
  • Rivals & Troublemakers are for the MC, challenges to throw at the crew to keep them on their toes. These could be a foursome of corrupt police officers, a dogged reporter, and an urban survivalist who warns of impending doom.
  • Security are dangerous guardians and traps that the crew can either use to secure their places or that they can run afoul of when sneaking in somewhere. These could be a poisonous spell, a chiming security system, and the professionals at Spire Security.
  • Shopping is that classic RPG scene of taking a large chunk of a session to get just what you want. You can get magical blessings at Cloud 9 Nightclub, relics at the Museum of World Cultures, and weapons at Tokugawa Blades.
  • Street Encounters are side stories that can happen on the way to somewhere more important. This could be the comic relief of an accident-prone utilities inspector, a spreading curse of mummification, an evil twin of a player character, a “serpentine street gang,” and a pack of underworld trickster spirits.
  • Transportation is the way to get to the more important location including a beat up airplane, a fairy cab service, the intimidating Troll Booths, and an “interdimensional park that connects everywhere in the City.”
  • Workshops are preparation spaces to prepare something incredible. You can train your abilities at Ricky Left Hook’s Boxing Club, build cutting-edge technology at the Leyland Foundation Tech Accelerator Center, and forge a powerful ritual at the Monument Tower.

A City-Wide Conspiracy

If the last section was spoiler-heavy, Chapter 3: Don’t Believe the Truth is a minefield of potential secrets that I want to keep under wraps. Suffice it to say, this collection of avatars and their operations is an evolution of the avatar line up seen in the MC Toolkit. In that core rulebook, the MC is offered a group of avatars that individually have plans and machinations that shape the city. In Don’t Believe the Truth the avatars are a pantheon of members called the Truth who all work together to push the city in a specific direction, maybe opposing the crew or in line with them. Most likely, it will be a mixed bag.

I won’t say a single thing about the Mythos of these avatars, let alone their operations, but the basic descriptions are provided in the DriveThruRPG write up so I’ll just repeat it here. The Truth is made up of Chairman Chow (Tanhā, the buddhist force of desire), Ganesha (Ganesha, the elephant-headed Indian god who is the Remover of Obstacles), District Attorney Barbara King (Shango, the Orisha of Power and Dominion), Dr. Talbot Leyland (Prometheus), Rosaline (Romeo & Juliet), and Monte Wolfe (The Boy Who Cried Wolf).

Image © Son of Oak

The Gatekeepers

The last chapter, Suits Unveiled, details the Gatekeeper Agency. While they’re referenced throughout the core rulebooks, the Gatekeepers are under most players’ radar. In a nutshell, the Gatekeepers are the caretakers of the Mist, the Men in Black of City of Mist who keep the public ignorant. This chapter goes into great detail about the organization: hot it functions, what Dangers to feature as part of it, and how to create Gatekeeper characters!

As with the Men in Black, whether the Gatekeepers are good or bad very much depends on your story. On the one hand, they purposefully brainwash people and keep the truth from them. On the other hand, if they didn’t do this then every Sleeper in the City would know that vampires, ogres, and demon princes walk among them and it would be pandemonium in the streets. In my game, the Gatekeepers are in a middle ground position of being sinister and foreboding but also sometimes allies of necessity for the crew. As an alternative look, Tony Pi and I have written up a great supplement with a task force crew of Gatekeepers if you want to play them as the good guys.

Image © Son of Oak

This chapter also contains the Secrets of the Mist! This includes the secret origins of the City! All six of them! Rather than a canon explanation for the Mist and the Mythos therein, Shadows & Showdowns offers a half-dozen different possibilities that you can choose or mix and match. Maybe it’s a city from the dawn of time, the site of the Tower of Babel and when the tower fell the city was thrown into a mythological half-space. Or it could be a dreamworld of painful memories and thoughts where sleeping minds hide their trauma. Maybe it’s the seat of the Gnostic demiurge and represents the divine font of all creative energy. It could also be a technology construct like the Matrix, a banishing mist to sweep away complicated myth-magic, or the ultimate expression of some alien force. You can use all of these as inspiration, with concrete gameplay options included, and a step-by-step process walks you through how to adapt the mystery to your own game.

Conclusion

I don’t think it’s a secret that I really love City of Mist. It’s a fantastic game with just the right amount of crunch for me that also makes for amazing stories and narrative improvisation. Shadows & Showdowns is City of Mist at its best. The elements inside are both evocative and ready to run right off the page (I’ve done it) and flexible enough to fit an ongoing story should you want to squeeze them in (done that too). Reading through the pages will no doubt give you dozens of new ideas for City of Mist characters and plots, and that’s not even mentioning the gorgeous artwork. If you’re a City of Mist fan, go out and get it today!

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