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Urban Fantasy general discussion thread


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At this point in time, what I want to do is explore my creativity and design more “night worlds” (as Night Shift names individual settings, not necessarily horror-oriented). Or go further and design smaller modular bits that can be dropped into an existing compatible night world.

For example, I had an idea for a night world that centered around the well worn theme of monster hunting, but with the further (also well worn) twist that PCs could be half-monster themselves. Monsters are evil by definition, but a PC option was a minority of monster victim refugees who retained their humanity and weren’t completely corrupted. Dhampirs who rebel against their inner vampire, reluctant werewolves, witchcraftsmen who resisted the allure of magic, abductees who have escaped fairyland, antichrist candidates that don’t want to start the apocalypse, lucid spirits that haven’t succumbed to bitterness over their deaths, etc.
 




I've been brainstorming a Ghostbusters campaign using D20 Modern rules, for the last few days. I'm mostly thinking about how it would work rulewise.

The questions I currently have are:

Tech trees. How to allow the players to develop new ghostbusting tech between jobs.

Ghost wrangling. The actual combat with ghosts, which should end with the ghost getting sucked into a trap.

Ghost abilities. How to keep combat varied and exciting.
 

I assume that a genre-specific toolbox would not suffer from the same issues.
I feel like this is a mistaken assumption because the Urban Fantasy genre is so extremely broad. And it's been attempted - Unisystem was basically the "Urban Fantasy genre-specific RPG" back in the 1990s.

Just in this thread, we're talking about everything from Shadowrun, to Dresden, to City of Mists, to Urban Shadows, to World of Darkness and stranger games too.

There's no system that could accomodate all those games and their associated worlds/settings/magic/etc. comfortably without it being broadly generic and having the exact issue @Umbran described.

AFMBE is a poor example for two reasons:

1) It is a generic RPG, just with specific rules in a single book - specifically, it's Unisystem. Which I've already mentioned was basically a generic RPG focused on Urban Fantasy-type stuff. It's not an zombie-specific RPG. It's just a subset of the Unisystem rules for running zombie-oriented games.

2) AFMBE is pretty generic-feeling and whilst the advice about designing zombie settings and campaigns is good, it could be applied to any number of RPGs, and AFMBE/Unisystem is not, in fact, a great system for running zombie campaigns, I would argue (admittedly based only on having played it a little - but I was a huge fan of zombies back then).

So if we went with AFMBE as the example of way to do this, all you would do is take, say, Cortex Prime, or Cypher, or Fate, or whatever, just like they did with Unisystem, and then just build out an absolute ton of examples using that generic system. That gives you a toolbox. But the more flexible it is, the less flavour and distinctiveness it is likely to have.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I've been brainstorming a Ghostbusters campaign using D20 Modern rules, for the last few days. I'm mostly thinking about how it would work rulewise.

The questions I currently have are:

Tech trees. How to allow the players to develop new ghostbusting tech between jobs.

Ghost wrangling. The actual combat with ghosts, which should end with the ghost getting sucked into a trap.

Ghost abilities. How to keep combat varied and exciting.
The movies didn’t really have much in the way of real combat. Most of the ghosts either avoided the streams or got captured when hit by one. Only boss critters seemed to be resistant. So from most of the ghosts point of view, the streams were an insta-lose.

But the streams were inaccurate AND hard to control. And the traps had a limited capacity. Perhaps adding a lack of dependability- malfunctions and breakdowns- could reduce the sameyness.

More stream-resistant spectres would also spice things up...as long as they weren’t all resistant the same way. Perhaps lift a page from Dark Sun, and make the more powerful undead a little more unique.
 

Yeah, the way it works in the Ghostbusters RPG, ghosts basically have an ectoplasmic presence that is reduced by zapping it.... so basically just hitpoints. Once reduced to 0, the ghost is rendered helpless and can be wrangled into a trap. But I feel there is more you could do with this. The wrangling itself could require some effort, as the Ghost struggles to get free. I could see this working as a basic grapple check, where other party members can assist to help keep the ghost grappled. But maybe there should also be a way for a ghost to break free and regain some of their lost hitpoints.

Possibly, (and I'm just brainstorming here) if a ghost managed to make his opposing grapple check, he automatically regains one die of his maximum hitpoints. For example, a ghost that has 16 hp (4d6), regains up to 6 hp after breaking a hold. The Ghostbusters then have to reduce his hp back to 0, to attempt another grapple. Every round that the ghost is not being attacked, it also regains 1 hp. This adds a bit of a complication to the busting, where you can't just exit combat without undoing all your hard work.

In order for a ghost to have more than one attempt at escaping a grapple, it should take time to pull a ghost towards the trap (depending on how close it is to the ghost of course). Also, other ghosts that are not yet wrangled, can continue to attack the Ghostbusters to help break their hold on their ghost buddy. Perhaps a Ghostbuster that takes damage while wrangling a ghost, needs to succeed at a concentration check to keep the ghost wrangled? Or perhaps the wrangled ghost gets a bonus attempt to break the grapple, with a bonus?
 

There's no system that could accomodate all those games and their associated worlds/settings/magic/etc. comfortably without it being broadly generic and having the exact issue @Umbran described.
Fair enough.

My favorite vampire game is Feed and the mechanics are built from the ground up to support its intended themes. It works completely differently from traditional designs (e.g. all characters have 16 traits rather than arbitrary numbers of attributes, skills, etc) and I can't think of any non-clunky way to replicate that in another system.

So if we went with AFMBE as the example of way to do this, all you would do is take, say, Cortex Prime, or Cypher, or Fate, or whatever, just like they did with Unisystem, and then just build out an absolute ton of examples using that generic system. That gives you a toolbox. But the more flexible it is, the less flavour and distinctiveness it is likely to have.
At that point I suppose I might as well write systemless settings.
 

Fair enough.

My favorite vampire game is Feed and the mechanics are built from the ground up to support its intended themes. It works completely differently from traditional designs (e.g. all characters have 16 traits rather than arbitrary numbers of attributes, skills, etc) and I can't think of any non-clunky way to replicate that in another system.


At that point I suppose I might as well write systemless settings.
I think if you were will to accept a smaller subset of urban fantasy stuff working together you could have a sort of more-focused toolbox for that, but the risk is essentially re-building something that's basically a differently-themed World of Darkness with some choices for the DM re: the setting.

As an aside, the weirdest thing about Urban Fantasy/Horror stuff is that it seems to have the largest number of systems I probably should have heard of, but haven't - Invisible Sun for example I just came across in this thread. I feel like a good Urban Fantasy game gets a tiny fraction of the exposure a mediocre normal fantasy one does.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
At this point in time, what I want to do is explore my creativity and design more “night worlds” (as Night Shift names individual settings, not necessarily horror-oriented). Or go further and design smaller modular bits that can be dropped into an existing compatible night world.

For example, I had an idea for a night world that centered around the well worn theme of monster hunting, but with the further (also well worn) twist that PCs could be half-monster themselves. Monsters are evil by definition, but a PC option was a minority of monster victim refugees who retained their humanity and weren’t completely corrupted. Dhampirs who rebel against their inner vampire, reluctant werewolves, witchcraftsmen who resisted the allure of magic, abductees who have escaped fairyland, antichrist candidates that don’t want to start the apocalypse, lucid spirits that haven’t succumbed to bitterness over their deaths, etc.
I have a similar theme in my own RPG, especially with the Benedante, who are an organization founded by an ancestry of theriomorphs (shapeshifters) who were given their power by trickster gods and psychopomps (gods of liminal spaces and transitions) in ancient times to allow them to defend humanity from supernatural evils. The power comes with the danger of becoming "feral", which basically is where you get monstrous werewolves and the like. Normal Shifters don't normally use a hybrid form, but are either humanoid or animal, and are just stronger and faster and heal better, in either form. Each use of The Beast comes with the risk of losing a bit of yourself, but that form is much more powerful.

The concept also shows up with Warlocks, which are part hermetic alchemist, part warmage, part "petty dabbler" in the style of John Constantine. They're people who use dangerous magics that mortals shouldn't touch in order to "punch above their weight class", again risking becoming a monster while fighting monsters.
 

I feel like a good Urban Fantasy game gets a tiny fraction of the exposure a mediocre normal fantasy one does.
Yeah. There are ton of 90s urban fantasy games that I thought had interesting ideas and I'm frustrated that they're now essentially dead and unsupported by any communities beyond a few lingering fans (if that). Nephilim, Immortal: Invisible War, WitchCraft, The Everlasting, Nightlife, probably a bunch of others that I'm missing.

I think if you were will to accept a smaller subset of urban fantasy stuff working together you could have a sort of more-focused toolbox for that, but the risk is essentially re-building something that's basically a differently-themed World of Darkness with some choices for the DM re: the setting.
World of Darkness has plenty of problems that make it unattractive to me. The mechanics are a mess, with a dozen different editions, different imprints, and whatever I can't hope to keep track of. The main reason people even seem interested in it is because of its three decades of oppressive lore, which I am not interested in at all. I don't like ecoterrorist werewolves or luddite wizards or vampire generations that get permanently weaker with distance from the progenitor. That is not reflective of the urban fantasy genre at large either and I hate being forced into a pipeline to that if I ever express interest in urban fantasy gaming.

With something like D&D, you have plenty of encouragement and freedom to invent your own settings and discuss them with others. The WoD fandom is basically a brand name cult at this point that frowns upon anything remotely creative. You want to create your own setting and defy the sacred lore? They'll shun you. I hated it when I ventured into the fandom in the 2000s and I still hate it now after a decade of being away from it.

I know Everlasting and WitchCraft et al were WoD heartbreakers, but they actually improved upon the aspects of WoD that I didn't like. They provided unified settings where you could play mixed splat groups and everyone ran on the same rules for superpowers. They provided lore, but it wasn't oppressive and stifling like WoD because the writers expected people to play rather than read. Nightlife did so even before WoD was a thing.

Feed provides a humanity mechanic that is vastly superior to any edition of WoD, because it doesn't operate on the unfun premise of "you go crazy for doing bad things." It operates a lightside/darkside premise, where you lose human traits and replace them with vampire traits.

After seeing other games implement the same ideas better, I can't stand WoD and I can't stand its undeserved market dominance. The only WoD games I can still stomach are Changeling: The Lost and Hunter: The Vigil (first editions, obviously) because they're the single most toolkit games ever released by the company even if they are held back by some WoDisms.

I have a similar theme in my own RPG, especially with the Benedante, who are an organization founded by an ancestry of theriomorphs (shapeshifters) who were given their power by trickster gods and psychopomps (gods of liminal spaces and transitions) in ancient times to allow them to defend humanity from supernatural evils. The power comes with the danger of becoming "feral", which basically is where you get monstrous werewolves and the like. Normal Shifters don't normally use a hybrid form, but are either humanoid or animal, and are just stronger and faster and heal better, in either form. Each use of The Beast comes with the risk of losing a bit of yourself, but that form is much more powerful.
I read about the real life Benandanti. The shifter bit is actually due to confusion with the Livonian "hounds of God." This was probably first propagated by GURPS Shapeshifters or something.

I had my own ideas for shifters inspired by Dresden Files, WitchCraft, and Everlasting. The basic idea is that shifting comes from a connection to a beast totem, and the exact nature of that connection affects how the strengths and weaknesses manifest. If you're using spells or talismans to temporarily invoke a beast totem to assume animal form, then you're not going to run into problems immediately. If you're possessed by or bonded with the totem (such as due a curse, a pact, heredity, etc), then the problems start accumulating faster. If you're a spiritual warrior who draws your power from the totem (a la Everlasting's manitou splat or Liminal's werewolf splat), then you're at risk of losing your human mind to the totem's power. If you're cursed with possession (a la WitchCraft's accursed feral splat), then you have to struggle with the urges of the beast totem and may risk infecting others with the curse. That sort of thing. You do have options for ecoterrorists and enforcers of balance (owing to the shifter's liminal nature giving them superpowers because liminality), but it's not enforced by the setting. If you want to play Anne Rice-style werewolves who hunt down evil-doers, then I'd allow that.

That's just the generic version, tho. In a setting where the theme was that most monsters were in fact monsters, then I'd have the bond go wrong vastly more often. Most lycanthropes would either be beasts bereft of their humanity living in the wilderness, sociopaths that prey on humans, psychotic ecoterrorists that view humanity as interlopers in the domains of their bloodthirsty nature gods, Satanists straight out of evangelical propaganda, etc.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I read about the real life Benandanti. The shifter bit is actually due to confusion with the Livonian "hounds of God." This was probably first propagated by GURPS Shapeshifters or something.
Not a great way to engage in discussion, bud.

Anyway, the origin of the concept isn’t nearly as important as what can be done with it. I’m very familiar with the various traditions that informed the GURPS supplement, including the Irish faoladh, and further afield to Jaguar knights in South American indigenous belief and the were-hyenas of Ethiopian folklore.
 



After seeing other games implement the same ideas better, I can't stand WoD and I can't stand its undeserved market dominance.
I mean, "undeserved market dominance" is basically the main theme of the tabletop RPG industry. Being better-designed, more accessible, cheaper, having better art and so on have all proven pretty weak against first-mover advantage and the sheer difficulty of getting people to try a new system or learn about a new setting, however good.

This is why D&D has 50m players and all other systems probably don't have half of that.

White Wolf's decisions with WoD were somewhat idiosyncratic, but also very on-brand for the early 1990s. Personally I like the ecoterrorist werewolves, as it gives them a more interesting deal than most werewolves, but plenty of people didn't like the ever-thinning blood or the luddite-ish read of the Traditions (which not all of them are but is definitely a theme). Its dominance was far more earned than that of D&D, though - it basically had to fight uphill, and succeeded to the point where it nearly overtook (or even did overtake) 2E AD&D at some points in the 1990s, largely by a combination of utterly nailing this early '90s zeitgeist, great art, and sufficiently accessible rules (unlike so many games of the era). The rules weren't good, but they were pretty easy-to-use, and produced results that made sense, which is all you could really ask back then. Actually another major factor is that WoD got a lot of people into RPGs who weren't necessarily already into RPGs (particularly women), which made it a lot easier for it to expand its market share - it didn't have to try and convert/cannibalize existing RPG players.

Re: Everlasting, it failed because it wasn't cool. Conceptually, it had a lot of good ideas, but it was just not cool/stylish/appealing. IIRC it also had a slightly pain-in-the-arse system. Even if it had first-mover over WoD it would have failed, I'd suggest.

WitchCraft was a bit more on-brand to a later-90s, post-The Craft, post-Buffy landscape. I think it had the potential to do really well, and it's Unisystem like AFMBE (indeed it's where Unisystem comes from) - which was basically what you were describing re: an Urban Fantasy genre-specific system. It's still somewhat naive in that it remains basically simulationist rather than having adopting narrative conventions, but later Unisystem games (like when they did an actual Buffy game) do on-broad some narrative ideas. I think the things that stopped it being as big were first off, WoD already existed, secondly, WoD had a slightly more accessible system, esp. for people new to RPGs (the dot-based stuff in WoD was possibly-accidental genius for people unfamiliar with RPGs and intimidated/repulsed by numbers), and thirdly WitchCraft was witch-centric, which was quite zeitgeist-y but limited the audience. That said, Unisystem did do well, as non-D&D, non-WoD RPGs go. The moved a lot of books, esp. with the Buffy and Angel licenses. Reading them now is kind of a trip because I'd forgotten the system and assumed it would be narrative-ish, as would naturally fit both shows, but it's much closer to a "trad" RPG.

Nightlife I'm only limitedly familiar with, but by 1991, even, it seemed like something that belonged to an earlier generation. I remember looking at it around then and thinking "Wow, this is for old, lame people". It failed to "nail the zeitgeist" in the way WoD did, and instead seemed tacky and '80s in a bad way (where even VtM 1E never seemed "80s").

Feed is much more recent and takes a frankly rather avant-garde approach to things, that will obviously never have the broad appeal of something like a WoD game. Most RPG players don't want to have to make up the setting, and make a lot of decisions about how they work, and so on. The audience for non-pre-packaged stuff is just much smaller.

I guess what I'm saying is WoD's popularity is somewhat undeserved, but not entirely. The fact that it targeted people who didn't already play RPGs, and the fact that they made something both accessible and zeitgeist-y both matter. There was a very low barrier to entry, relative to almost all these other games. Oh and it's got an absolute ton of lore for people to read when they're not playing - this is a huge asset to the long-term success of an RPG as an IP, I'd suggest.

Feed provides a humanity mechanic that is vastly superior to any edition of WoD, because it doesn't operate on the unfun premise of "you go crazy for doing bad things." It operates a lightside/darkside premise, where you lose human traits and replace them with vampire traits.
I think the Humanity deal in VtM (and even VtR) is one of the biggest weaknesses of the game, and just something they've never properly dealt with (maybe they did in 5E, I admit I haven't read it). It is an unfun premise, and the way it's implemented in all editions of VtM (except maybe 5E) doesn't really fit well with either themes of the setting, the themes of vampire media, or y'know, basic common sense, because we're humans, we know what makes us more monstrous. "Vandalism" in the broad sense, for example, ain't it, for example - I mean, in VtM, you help pull down a statue of some evil-doer (even Saddam Hussein or w/e), even if you're literally helping humans do it, and you're making a Humanity check. Whereas if you were vandalizing someone's house to terrify them, obviously that would make sense. Humanity, as implemented, is both unfun, doesn't quite fit the setting, and is just kinda stupid.

VtM did start to experiment with the "Vampire traits" thing with the Paths in 2E (for Sabbat mainly, but not entirely), which were vampire ways of thinking (IIRC at least one was grotesquely racist but that's a whole other discussion) that replaced Humanity as your "sanity anchor" as it were. However they usually turned into "The Path of What I Was Going To Do Anyway" as someone memorably put it, and so didn't work as well even as Humanity.

Hope you're not apologising for your post btw, I enjoyed reading it a lot! I wish I had more to say re: shapeshifters, but that's never been my area of expertise.
 

Ulfgeir

Adventurer
I think the Humanity deal in VtM (and even VtR) is one of the biggest weaknesses of the game, and just something they've never properly dealt with (maybe they did in 5E, I admit I haven't read it). It is an unfun premise, and the way it's implemented in all editions of VtM (except maybe 5E) doesn't really fit well with either themes of the setting, the themes of vampire media, or y'know, basic common sense, because we're humans, we know what makes us more monstrous. "Vandalism" in the broad sense, for example, ain't it, for example - I mean, in VtM, you help pull down a statue of some evil-doer (even Saddam Hussein or w/e), even if you're literally helping humans do it, and you're making a Humanity check. Whereas if you were vandalizing someone's house to terrify them, obviously that would make sense. Humanity, as implemented, is both unfun, doesn't quite fit the setting, and is just kinda stupid.
It is still a bit of a problem in VtM 5e, but not for those reasons. It is way too lose humanity, and very very hard to regain it. Combine that with your growing hunger (50-50 chance of it going up just by waking up each night), and the fact that you get less and less sustenance from drinking a little bit of blood the higher your blood potency you have (so you need to drink more and more blood or even drain the donor to death), and you have a recipe for disaster. You will get critical successes/failures whenever you do something which means the masquerade is broken.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
It is still a bit of a problem in VtM 5e, but not for those reasons. It is way too lose humanity, and very very hard to regain it. Combine that with your growing hunger (50-50 chance of it going up just by waking up each night), and the fact that you get less and less sustenance from drinking a little bit of blood the higher your blood potency you have (so you need to drink more and more blood or even drain the donor to death), and you have a recipe for disaster. You will get critical successes/failures whenever you do something which means the masquerade is broken.
I mean, that kind of fits the theme, in a Call of Cthulhu "play to find out how you're going to lose" way.
 

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