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Urban Fantasy general discussion thread

The website is still up and you can download the third edition. Home

I wonder where the writer went. Nowadays you can sell this stuff on drivethrurpg.

The premise is a little bit similar to Nephilim, too. Much more so than the other immortal games. Immortal games were pretty trendy in the 90s, weren’t they? I wonder they’re not made anymore. Adventures spanning the ages where you can meet or play historical figures seem really cool.

The third edition apparently came out in 2005, when DTRPG was really just getting its footing (it didn't merge with RPGNOW until 2006), so I'm guessing Ackles just decided that he wanted an updated version of his game (the second edition was published by someone else and he supposedly didn't like the result) and decided to just put it out there. I'm guessing it never made a huge amount of money the first time (the physical quality of the 1e book was pretty awful, over and above opinions about the illustrations).

That said, he must have tossed in the towel on the whole thing at one point, since the site has previews of material for a third book that never apparently happened.
 
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That said, he must have tossed in the towel on the whole thing at one point, since the site has previews of material for a third book that never apparently happened.
Pity. I like the basic concept of immortal play.

Since there aren’t any at present that are still actively supported, I was thinking of doing some work for an immortals game myself. Basically a mashup of all the immortals concepts that have come before. Citizens of Atlantis, reality warping magic, inspired all myths and legends, organized into cliques, etc.

Does anyone have any advice you think I need?
 

Pity. I like the basic concept of immortal play.

Like I said, Immortal itself was not at the root a bad game; it had problems, but the biggest issues were ones of presentation and that at the time it screamed "I overdosed on the World of Darkness". There's been enough years since then I don't think anyone would have blinked at the WoD influence these days, but by now it may suffer from the fact a lot of people who want something roughly in that area might want something more narraitve in focus.

Since there aren’t any at present that are still actively supported, I was thinking of doing some work for an immortals game myself. Basically a mashup of all the immortals concepts that have come before. Citizens of Atlantis, reality warping magic, inspired all myths and legends, organized into cliques, etc.

Does anyone have any advice you think I need?

Be very careful not to fall into the trap a lot of adjacent games have of making the PCs look like players are so small that they seem insignificant; its easy to do with a setting conceit involving immortals.
 

Be very careful not to fall into the trap a lot of adjacent games have of making the PCs look like players are so small that they seem insignificant; its easy to do with a setting conceit involving immortals.
Good suggestion. I have a fix for that: PCs may be directly responsible for various historical events if desired. Maybe you dropped an apple on Isaac Newton, secretly fed abortifacients to Ann Boleyn, played muse to Lovecraft, or whatever.

The problem there is that you’d frontload character creation with all this historical baggage before getting into actual play, unless you start play in the ancient past and move across historical eras.

players are so small that they seem insignificant;
What is the PCs’ goal? Are they trying to be the most powerful at… whatever? I think the root of the problem here is building a setting so ridiculously convoluted that it’s basically author wank rather than a sandbox for play.

I’m not interested in that. If I was, then I’d write a novel. For a game setting, I’d design it according to what kind of play I want to support. In this case, making immortals extremely rare and powerful seems to be what supports the style of play you seem interested in. But I can’t read your mind. What do you want to play?
 
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Atlantis is a pretty common theme of several 90s urban fantasy games. I've seen it mentioned prominently in Nephilim, WitchCraft, and some versions of Mage. What's the appeal?
Atlantis is a step closer to reality than is, say, Hyperborea, Greyhawk, or the Realms.

There are several others... the ones I have:
  • Epiphany 1E
  • Epiphany 2E (totally different mechanics)
  • The Atlantian Trilogy (includes the bestiary and the world guide to go with The Arcanum 1e
  • Arcanum 2E
Note that several other games have Atlantis as a place, but not the intended campaign setting... Such as....
  • Mazes and Minotaurs
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Mazes & Minotaurs
Atlantis is one of the oldest myths still widely held to be plausible without being doctrinal in a major religion. The related Lemuria and Mu are less well known, but are usually linked, too, to the Atlantian myth.

The only things absolutely certain from the Greek mentions are that it's higher tech than Greece, not right next door, uses plenty of monumental stone architecture, is a sea power, and has concentric rings of semi-navigable canals. This means there is PLENTY of room to tailor it. Add Lemuria and Mu, plus Amazonia, and you have sword & sandals settings with lots of room. And as much magitech as you care to add.

The other beneficial element is that, if you put it in the middle of the Atlantic, or in a hollow world, you have the ability to give a historic feel, but without the issues of the real cultures being misrepresented in rules or play by being set "elsewhere or elsewhen."
 

Atlantis is a step closer to reality than is, say, Hyperborea, Greyhawk, or the Realms.

There are several others... the ones I have:
  • Epiphany 1E
  • Epiphany 2E (totally different mechanics)
  • The Atlantian Trilogy (includes the bestiary and the world guide to go with The Arcanum 1e
  • Arcanum 2E
Note that several other games have Atlantis as a place, but not the intended campaign setting... Such as....
  • Mazes and Minotaurs
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Mazes & Minotaurs
Atlantis is one of the oldest myths still widely held to be plausible without being doctrinal in a major religion. The related Lemuria and Mu are less well known, but are usually linked, too, to the Atlantian myth.

The only things absolutely certain from the Greek mentions are that it's higher tech than Greece, not right next door, uses plenty of monumental stone architecture, is a sea power, and has concentric rings of semi-navigable canals. This means there is PLENTY of room to tailor it. Add Lemuria and Mu, plus Amazonia, and you have sword & sandals settings with lots of room. And as much magitech as you care to add.

The other beneficial element is that, if you put it in the middle of the Atlantic, or in a hollow world, you have the ability to give a historic feel, but without the issues of the real cultures being misrepresented in rules or play by being set "elsewhere or elsewhen."
Interesting. In my readings of these games, they pretty much have nothing to do with Plato’s writing beyond the idea of an ancient advanced civilization. In Nephilim, Atlantis was the continent of the old races where they engineered humanity. In Mage: The Awakening, it was the first and last civilization of mages before they broke reality. Etc.


  • Mazes and Minotaurs
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Mazes & Minotaurs
You listed Mazes & Minotaurs twice.
 

So I'm noticing at least three broad trends in the design of urban fantasy and adjacent games. I'll refer to these as "shadow hunters", "modern occult conspiracy", and "supernatural soap opera".

Shadow hunters. Urban fantasy meets horror. Under this play style, the PCs investigate spooky paranormal events or even hunt monsters as their vocation. PCs are typically normal humans that may or may not be members of a larger organization, but some games offer options for psychic powers or being part-monster. This style goes back to at least the 80s and 90s with games like Chill, Call of Cthulhu, Nightbane, Necroscope, Dark•Matter, etc but continues into the present with reboots, retroclones, and new games like Monster of the Week and Hunter: The Vigil.

Modern occult conspiracy. Urban fantasy meets mystery and adventure. Under this play style, the PCs are involved in the conflicts between secret societies going back thru human history. The PCs are often paranormal investigators, modern wizards, or even immortals whose adventures inspired myths. Campaigns typically involve fighting for the fate of humanity or achieving mystical transcendence,. This style goes back to the 90s with games like Immortal: Invisible War, Legacy: War of Ages, Nephilim, and Mage, although many such games were supposedly developed during the 80s and demonstrate obvious influence from the Highlander movie.

Supernatural soap opera. Urban fantasy meets dark fantasy. Under this play style, the PCs are occultists, immortals, or some manner of supernatural predator that live a secret existence from the muggles. Campaigns typically focus on politics or melodramatic pursuits. This style goes back to at least the 90s with Nightlife, Vampire, The Everlasting, WitchCraft, etc and continues into the present with games like Monsterhearts, Urban Shadows, Liminal, etc.

These are very broad trends and many games often straddle multiple at once. Dark•Matter straddles shadow hunters and modern occult conspiracy. The Everlasting and WitchCraft straddles modern occult conspiracy and supernatural soap opera. Etc.

Has anybody else done analyses of the genres?
 

Good suggestion. I have a fix for that: PCs may be directly responsible for various historical events if desired. Maybe you dropped an apple on Isaac Newton, secretly fed abortifacients to Ann Boleyn, played muse to Lovecraft, or whatever.

The problem there is that you’d frontload character creation with all this historical baggage before getting into actual play, unless you start play in the ancient past and move across historical eras.

That helps, but it only gets you so far if it quickly becomes apparent that significant chunks of the immortal community are notably more powerful than you. Thats' where I'm not sold that I:TIW's setup was ideal.

What is the PCs’ goal? Are they trying to be the most powerful at… whatever? I think the root of the problem here is building a setting so ridiculously convoluted that it’s basically author wank rather than a sandbox for play.

I’m not interested in that. If I was, then I’d write a novel. For a game setting, I’d design it according to what kind of play I want to support. In this case, making immortals extremely rare and powerful seems to be what supports the style of play you seem interested in. But I can’t read your mind. What do you want to play?

You also have to deal with the question of "if immortals are really that rare, why are there a cluster of them working together here?"
 


That helps, but it only gets you so far if it quickly becomes apparent that significant chunks of the immortal community are notably more powerful than you. Thats' where I'm not sold that I:TIW's setup was ideal.
Then the problem is writing overpowered NPCs that the PCs cannot hope to oppose. We should not do that.

You also have to deal with the question of "if immortals are really that rare, why are there a cluster of them working together here?"
Maybe the PCs are just that special. It is their campaign, after all.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
So I'm noticing at least three broad trends in the design of urban fantasy and adjacent games. I'll refer to these as "shadow hunters", "modern occult conspiracy", and "supernatural soap opera".
In what category would Shadowrun be?
Or do people still argue that just because the fantasy is not hidden that it is not urban fantasy?
 


Honestly, Nephilim is probably my favorite 90s urban fantasy game owing to the fusion of immortals, occultism, magic and monsters into one thing. Unfortunately it’s OOP, seems unlikely to get revived (at least in English), and wasn’t a good fit for BRP anyway.

The French version released a fifth edition thru crowdfunding, but it’s not really still an actively supported game from what I’ve seen. This edition seems to be the most mechanically simple, as it has condensed the long attribute and skill lists and so forth that were present in prior editions. I think any English adaptation would benefit from taking notes.
 

You listed Mazes & Minotaurs twice.
It's worth it. ;)

I couldn't make heads nor tails out of Nephilim. Mage is nothing at all like The Atlantian Trilogy in approach.

The Atlantian Trilogy is a D&D-ified version of the setting described by the Greeks (not JUST Plato), and dealt with in a manner more like Hyperborea... The Arcanum 1e is the core mechanics; the Bestiary and the Atlas complete the 3-book core. Arcanum 2E maintains many references, but wasn't licensed for the setting.

Greg Porter, of BTRC, again grounds in Greek mythology, not just Plato. His setting for 1E is very much influenced by the Greek civilization model. But he places it inside the Earth...

M&M is set in a fantasy Mediterranean during an age of Heroes. It's a decent non-clone OSR game, and it's free.
 

I couldn't make heads nor tails out of Nephilim.
The problem with the game is that it intimidates potential players by frontloading all the invisible history rather than trying to ease players into it. There weren't any adventures provided to show groups how to run games. The rules were also complex, needlessly so, and in hindsight the standard BRP rules probably wasn't the best choice for the game.

If I was rewriting the rules, then I would heavily simplify them similar to what the French version 5e did. PCs would have just five attributes for air, earth, fire, water, and lunar; past life experiences acting as background skills, with some mechanical perks/flaws appended. New past lives could be recalled after character generation, representing recall of forgotten lives, with some caveats. This would allow players to ease into the game, and PCs could grow by recovering memories of past lives. The only distinct skills would be the magic/occult skills. If players want to differentiate their characters more, then I'd have some kind of provision for that if absolutely necessary.
 

Then the problem is writing overpowered NPCs that the PCs cannot hope to oppose. We should not do that.

Well, part of it is that a lot of game designs are really, from lack of a better term, terrified to give PCs any real power in the context of their setting. This is likely because they assume (not wrongly) that its easy to design problems for the weak than the strong, but (as with superhero games) that's exactly the wrong tact to take in this sort of genre.

Maybe the PCs are just that special. It is their campaign, after all.

That doesn't actually answer the question, though. You still end up needing to come with a reason for their cooperation when no one else does it. It has too much campaign specific impact not to have a clear idea of that.
 

In what category would Shadowrun be?
Or do people still argue that just because the fantasy is not hidden that it is not urban fantasy?

There's clearly a separator between the covert urban fantasy and the overt (and the latter has been a thing for some time now, as both the Hollows books by Kim Harrison and (though they're kind of a split case since the supernatural is partly out of the closet in them) Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega books show. I think the fact the earlier books we associate with urban fantasy were in the former inevitably complicates how much people consider the two the same genre. I personally think they are, as long as the supernatural world is a bit of a thing apart.

The latter is what, however, makes Shadowrun a problem; its not a thing apart there. There's no real separation. And of course the SF/cyberpunk elements mixed with it make it more complicated yet, as I'm not aware of a fictional modern/urban fantasy fiction source (that isn't Shadowrun fiction itself) that plays that particular card.

(Of course at the end of the day genre distinctions are always arbitrary).
 

Honestly, Nephilim is probably my favorite 90s urban fantasy game owing to the fusion of immortals, occultism, magic and monsters into one thing. Unfortunately it’s OOP, seems unlikely to get revived (at least in English), and wasn’t a good fit for BRP anyway.

I think you can still purchase the PDFs from Chaosium if I recall correctly (and I may not). But it also suffered from the business (which was sort of retconned later, but there's a line about second chances and first impressions) about the Nephiliim being parasitic on their human hosts which left a bad taste in people's mouths, and that's over and above the question of the appropriateness of the system or not.
 

That doesn't actually answer the question, though. You still end up needing to come with a reason for their cooperation when no one else does it. It has too much campaign specific impact not to have a clear idea of that.
You’re right. I have no idea.

(Of course at the end of the day genre distinctions are always arbitrary).
Yep

I think you can still purchase the PDFs from Chaosium if I recall correctly (and I may not).
Yes you can. That makes it very easy to reference and share them nowadays. But they’re over two decades old.

But it also suffered from the business (which was sort of retconned later, but there's a line about second chances and first impressions) about the Nephiliim being parasitic on their human hosts which left a bad taste in people's mouths,
Which is odd, because the PCs in WoD games are not really much better. Cannibals, cultists, terrorists… at least the nephilim aren’t trying to eat people or destroy civilization.

Anyway, I have no clue how it endured in the French market; they apparently weren’t squeamish about it. The Ar-KaIm introduced in third edition were awakened humans akin to superheroes, but proved so unpopular with fans that they were all mysteriously vanished in the fifth edition lore.

If I was working on a revision of the setting, then I would tweak the nephilim into power sources rather than distinct sapient beings. The elemental lacks Sol (soul), so the will is provided by the human host it bonds with.
 

You’re right. I have no idea.

Its what makes this sort of thing tricky. You have to set up these immortals so that they have some reason to operate together, don't look too much like small fish in a big pond, and still have things to do. Oh, and ideally at least some of the things don't involve managing their investment portfolios and giving marching orders to their pet politicians.


It doesn't mean they still can't serve descriptive purposes, but you need to keep that fuzziness in mind.

Yes you can. That makes it very easy to reference and share them nowadays. But they’re over two decades old.

Absolutely.

Which is odd, because the PCs in WoD games are not really much better. Cannibals, cultists, terrorists… at least the nephilim aren’t trying to eat people or destroy civilization.

Barring the Changelings in 1e, they're still human at their root however, even if they're having to deal with the transformative nature of what they've become (you can make an argument about werewolves, but most of them at least grew up as relatively human beings), whereas it means the Nephiliim were depicted as fundamentally alien--and to some extent anti-human if they were willing to just take over others bodies--from outset.

Anyway, I have no clue how it endured in the French market; they apparently weren’t squeamish about it. The Ar-KaIm introduced in third edition were awakened humans akin to superheroes, but proved so unpopular with fans that they were all mysteriously vanished in the fifth edition lore.

If I was working on a revision of the setting, then I would tweak the nephilim into power sources rather than distinct sapient beings. The elemental lacks Sol (soul), so the will is provided by the human host it bonds with.

Yeah, having them as symbiots rather than dominating parasites would work considerably better.
 

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