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Urban Fantasy general discussion thread

To continue with the analysis of urban fantasy…

Settings like Shadowrun, Rifts, Magitech, etc fit into a fourth trend that I'll tentatively call gonzo urban fantasy. This trend is characterized by being weird and unique and depicting genres that so far seem limited to these games and haven't filtered into the wider world of fiction (outside of maybe licensed novels). These combine urban fantasy with more distant or esoteric genres like cyberpunk, post-apocalypse, and alternate history.

There's also other genres that you may or may not consider adjacent to urban fantasy. E.g. the cinematic spy thriller meets parapsychology settings such as Agents of Psi or Necroscope, or the modern conspiracy technothriller scifi game StarGate SG-1. I'm surprised that settings similar to these aren't more popular (altho to be fair something like maybe 90% of roleplaying consumption is probably just D&D, so everything else will be neglected).

In addition to presentation and genres, there’s also world building. What I’ve noticed is that there are basically two extremes with regard to the world building: eclectic kitchen sink fantasy on one end, unified magical theory on the other. E.g. Nightlife, World of Darkness, The Everlasting, WitchCraft and Esoteric Enterprises are examples closer to the former end. Nephilim, Invisible War, and Nightbane are closer to the latter end. I don't have a particular preference for any particular point on this axis, as I can see pros and cons in both extremes that make them attractive for different things.

This is of course completely different from the game design aspect of whether characters all use the same universal rules/guidelines or have their own wildly different subsystems. E.g. Nephilim had a unified magical theory where everything in the setting was derived from eight magical elements, but there were several wildly different magic systems based on this conceit. World of Darkness was much worse about this, with dozens and dozens of unique subsystems across goodness knows how many editions and spin-offs that were never designed to interact. Whereas Everlasting had rules for both freeform magic and fixed powers that were generated using the same guidelines. Here I have a definite preference for unified systems simply due to ease of use, but I can make allowances for diverging subsystems so long as they too use some kind of consistent logical guidelines.

What do you think?
 

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Ixal

Adventurer
To continue with the analysis of urban fantasy…

Settings like Shadowrun, Rifts, Magitech, etc fit into a fourth trend that I'll tentatively call gonzo urban fantasy
Putting Shadowrun and Rifts in the same category is quite a stretch. For me it looks like you define "gonzo" as "magic not being hidden from the rest of the world".
For some strange reason some people seem deeply uncomfortable with the idea that normal and "magical" worlds merge and instead insist on them being completely separated. Thats why you see this strange definitions of Urban Fantasy in this thread were the only "proper" urban fantasy are system were fantasy and urban are separated as much as possible and do not interact much with each other.

I would rather say that settings like Shadowrun are the real urban fantasy while the poster childs like World of Darkness just fantasy games with a secondary, modern setting which is not really integrated.
There is nothing urban in a game where you have fantasy societies fighting fantasy wars with each other, buy from fantasy vendors with fantasy money and only have the urban world in the distance you visit from times to times but always come back to your independent fantasy world.

In Shadowrun, etc. there is no hidden fantasy world where all the important stuff happens. You have to interact with the urban world and all fantasy elements are part of it.
 
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I think there's an argument for settings where the world has changed enough its not recognizable as our own being a different beast from ones where the magic has intruded into the world but not mutated it beyond recognition. The three examples BCT uses are clearly in the former category; Magitech only has a distant relationship to our world at all, and the other two are places that have something like our world in their past, but have gone places too far from ours to be but related (not the least because of technology, not just magic).

I also kind of disagree the overlay on hidden fantasy is just a regular fantasy world; most of them are still much more modern (and often technologically advanced) than traditional fantasy, even if you ignore the non-hidden part of the setting. Traditional fantasy would be unlikely to have a werewolf pack that plays a computer game as a bonding thing the way the pack in the Mercy Thompson books does.
 

To continue with the analysis of urban fantasy…

Settings like Shadowrun, Rifts, Magitech, etc fit into a fourth trend that I'll tentatively call gonzo urban fantasy. This trend is characterized by being weird and unique and depicting genres that so far seem limited to these games and haven't filtered into the wider world of fiction (outside of maybe licensed novels). These combine urban fantasy with more distant or esoteric genres like cyberpunk, post-apocalypse, and alternate history.

There's also other genres that you may or may not consider adjacent to urban fantasy. E.g. the cinematic spy thriller meets parapsychology settings such as Agents of Psi or Necroscope, or the modern conspiracy technothriller scifi game StarGate SG-1. I'm surprised that settings similar to these aren't more popular (altho to be fair something like maybe 90% of roleplaying consumption is probably just D&D, so everything else will be neglected).

In addition to presentation and genres, there’s also world building. What I’ve noticed is that there are basically two extremes with regard to the world building: eclectic kitchen sink fantasy on one end, unified magical theory on the other. E.g. Nightlife, World of Darkness, The Everlasting, WitchCraft and Esoteric Enterprises are examples closer to the former end. Nephilim, Invisible War, and Nightbane are closer to the latter end. I don't have a particular preference for any particular point on this axis, as I can see pros and cons in both extremes that make them attractive for different things.

This is of course completely different from the game design aspect of whether characters all use the same universal rules/guidelines or have their own wildly different subsystems. E.g. Nephilim had a unified magical theory where everything in the setting was derived from eight magical elements, but there were several wildly different magic systems based on this conceit. World of Darkness was much worse about this, with dozens and dozens of unique subsystems across goodness knows how many editions and spin-offs that were never designed to interact. Whereas Everlasting had rules for both freeform magic and fixed powers that were generated using the same guidelines. Here I have a definite preference for unified systems simply due to ease of use, but I can make allowances for diverging subsystems so long as they too use some kind of consistent logical guidelines.

What do you think?

This is actually pretty parallel to what you see in some superhero settings; some have multiple sources of superhuman power (and some characters can even draw on more than one), while others have a singular source of super-powers. I suspect it turns on how much you value a wider variety of plots to a more consistent narrative of power.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
I think there's an argument for settings where the world has changed enough its not recognizable as our own being a different beast from ones where the magic has intruded into the world but not mutated it beyond recognition. The three examples BCT uses are clearly in the former category; Magitech only has a distant relationship to our world at all, and the other two are places that have something like our world in their past, but have gone places too far from ours to be but related (not the least because of technology, not just magic).

I also kind of disagree the overlay on hidden fantasy is just a regular fantasy world; most of them are still much more modern (and often technologically advanced) than traditional fantasy, even if you ignore the non-hidden part of the setting. Traditional fantasy would be unlikely to have a werewolf pack that plays a computer game as a bonding thing the way the pack in the Mercy Thompson books does.
Except that playing a pack of werewolves, vampires or some immortal highlander like being is also completely unrecognisable to our world, especially as in those game you are mostly concerned with fantasy problems, getting blood, pacifying ghosts, wage war against other fantasy creatures, etc. And most of the time you do that with fantasy items and weapons and not with real world ones.
Which is also the reason that those game are not really urban fantasy as they do not interact with the urban part much and are instead mostly concerned with the fantasy aspect.

Even if it plays in a dystopian future, the problems you encounter in Shadowrun like having to sneak across a border or just sneak around a city while being wanted and find a place to squat are much more urban than anything you deal with in World of Darkness.
 
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Except that playing a pack of werewolves, vampires or some immortal highlander like being is also completely unrecognisable to our world, especially as in those game you are mostly concerned with fantasy problems, getting blood, pacifying ghosts, wage war against other fantasy creatures, etc. And most of the time you do that with fantasy items and weapons and not with real world ones.
Which is also the reason that those game are not really urban fantasy as they do not interact with the urban part much and are instead mostly concerned with the fantasy aspect.

Even if it plays in a dystopian future, the problems you encounter in Shadowrun like having to sneak across a border or just sneak around a city while being wanted and find a place to squat are much more urban than anything you deal with in World of Darkness.

If you don't think those latter also take place in most hidden urban fantasy games, I have to tell you you haven't seen enough of them. Some of the motivations for characters can be transmundane (but some aren't), and just because they're supernaturals doesn't mean they don't have to deal with relatively mundane problems sometimes (at least to the degree such problems are normally paid attention to in games like Shadowrun).

I also think a typical Shadowrun group is, effectively, "completely unrecognizable" if you go by that standard; how often do you see a SR character who's a human non-mage non-cyborg?
 
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In Shadowrun, etc. there is no hidden fantasy world where all the important stuff happens. You have to interact with the urban world and all fantasy elements are part of it.
I think you make some good points. I blame this on poor execution. Semantics don't enter into it IMO.

I suspect it turns on how much you value a wider variety of plots to a more consistent narrative of power.
The Major Arcana sourcebook for Nephilim has over 50 plot hooks using its unified magic premise. These get pretty weird sometimes, such as the PCs gradually discovering that they've woken up in an alternate universe after a seemingly routine astral travel.
 

The Major Arcana sourcebook for Nephilim has over 50 plot hooks using its unified magic premise. These get pretty weird sometimes, such as the PCs gradually discovering that they've woken up in an alternate universe after a seemingly routine astral travel.

But you still don't get the issues of the particular social issues that apply to vampire culture, and in many cases, only make sense in that context. Similar things can apply to things like mage interactions (which are colored by the fact that at the end of the day, for all their power, they're still humans).
 

But you still don't get the issues of the particular social issues that apply to vampire culture, and in many cases, only make sense in that context. Similar things can apply to things like mage interactions (which are colored by the fact that at the end of the day, for all their power, they're still humans).
Nephilim has both those things, they just run on different magical elements. It's still kitchen sink-ish, it's just that all paranormal phenomena is explained using the same metaphysics.

EDIT: I don't think you understood my explanation. It wasn't about splats, it was about metaphysics.
 

Nephilim has both those things, they just run on different magical elements. It's still kitchen sink-ish, it's just that all paranormal phenomena is explained using the same metaphysics.

EDIT: I don't think you understood my explanation. It wasn't about splats, it was about metaphysics.

No, I got it, I just think a genuine difference in metaphysical basis actually matters except in cases where everyone involved is confused about where their esoteric nature comes from, and that doesn't seem to be Nephiliim (they might not be sure of some details of the source, but they know its a common source).
 

No, I got it, I just think a genuine difference in metaphysical basis actually matters except in cases where everyone involved is confused about where their esoteric nature comes from, and that doesn't seem to be Nephiliim (they might not be sure of some details of the source, but they know its a common source).
Matters or doesn’t matter?

I don’t think superpowers origins matter unless it’s used as a plot point in adventures, particularly if characters use a universal set of rules to represent their powers regardless of origin.

Vampires and wizards are going to have different social concerns, regardless of the fine details. E.g. Wizards aren’t going to worry about finding victims unless they’re blood wizards.

E.g. Nephilim’s equivalents of vampires and wizards may share the same origin, but they have significantly different capabilities and social concerns.
 

We just see this differently. Like I said, unless they don't know that they have a common source, I really do think it makes a difference.

But we aren't required to agree.
 

We just see this differently. Like I said, unless they don't know that they have a common source, I really do think it makes a difference.

But we aren't required to agree.
I’m not necessarily disagreeing. I just don’t understand your point. Do you have practical examples to illustrate that there is a meaningful difference?
 

Constrast Immortal with the World of Darkness. Immortal prides/tribes all get their abilities from fundamentally the same source, even though the individual groups can approach it very differently and can have a very different look and feel--but ones that disagree about those fundamentals are rare and are generally considered eccentric. They may have different things they focus on, but most of those differences are, from lack of a better term, political.

On the other hand, even in the old World of Darkness, the groups not only don't appear to have the same origin, they don't even agree about the cosmology involved; and they often have significantly different explanations where the others come from (some of which are obviously wrong, some of which could have a kernal of truth). Even subgroups that share some common elements (Gangrel vampires and a couple of the werewolf groups, say, or Ventrue and Sidhe) never consider the other to be just a variation on the same thing; they're interests overlap some and they aren't the same because their understanding of the world is not the same (there are more differences among the core types in what is important to them, than there are within the splats of a type (even those can sometimes range wildly) because that understanding of the world is so radically different.)
 

Constrast Immortal with the World of Darkness. Immortal prides/tribes all get their abilities from fundamentally the same source, even though the individual groups can approach it very differently and can have a very different look and feel--but ones that disagree about those fundamentals are rare and are generally considered eccentric. They may have different things they focus on, but most of those differences are, from lack of a better term, political.

On the other hand, even in the old World of Darkness, the groups not only don't appear to have the same origin, they don't even agree about the cosmology involved; and they often have significantly different explanations where the others come from (some of which are obviously wrong, some of which could have a kernal of truth). Even subgroups that share some common elements (Gangrel vampires and a couple of the werewolf groups, say, or Ventrue and Sidhe) never consider the other to be just a variation on the same thing; they're interests overlap some and they aren't the same because their understanding of the world is not the same (there are more differences among the core types in what is important to them, than there are within the splats of a type (even those can sometimes range wildly) because that understanding of the world is so radically different.)
And in Chronicles of Darkness you have vampires speculating on wildly different origins even though they all run on the same rules. At certain points different writers try to suggest that the bloodlines really do have separate origins but never commit to anything because toolbox.

The old RequiemNocte fanbook Demonio: La Redencion has every faction positing a different origin for the characters. And provides evidence for all of them.

And the barrel-scraping Deviant game is about letting you have RoboCop and Eleven in the same party. I don’t even pretend to think that makes sense.

I think your analysis is held back by a dearth of reliable data points.

World of Darkness is a horrible example because it’s really a bunch of completely different games written by different teams based loosely on the same task resolution mechanic. Fans got into their heads it could play together despite never being designed to and in practice being terrible at. The games canonically don’t even take place on the same planet, but a set of multiple parallel universes that occasionally crossover.

in any case, I wasn’t comparing different takes on shapeshifters or aristocrats, I was comparing vampires to wizards.

In Nightlife, vampires and sorcerers have no apparent shared origin. In Nephilim, the vampires and wizards do share a common origin. In practice, I don’t see much of a difference in how either approach affects the setting and gameplay by itself. If you change it, then nothing else changes.
 


Ok then.

It honestly frustrating not to have examples for a more detailed analysis. Urban fantasy is a popular fiction genre, but certain concepts only work in an RPG format. Yet we don’t have many games to work with.
 

How many is many? DriveThru lists 781 items as "urban fantasy" and "corebooks" (so we're screening out supplements and adventures). Now you can argue whether everything fits there (Shadowrun is there for example, which as noted some people don't count, and the definition of "corebook" can sometimes be interesting; you also have all the WoD and oWoD books listed separately, which bulks it up) but it still seems there's no lack of them. I sometimes have some issues with the core system chosen (I'm not a massive fan of either D&D5 or PbtA, and there's a number of them based on those two), but there's still a large pool.
 

How many is many? DriveThru lists 781 items as "urban fantasy" and "corebooks" (so we're screening out supplements and adventures). Now you can argue whether everything fits there (Shadowrun is there for example, which as noted some people don't count, and the definition of "corebook" can sometimes be interesting; you also have all the WoD and oWoD books listed separately, which bulks it up) but it still seems there's no lack of them. I sometimes have some issues with the core system chosen (I'm not a massive fan of either D&D5 or PbtA, and there's a number of them based on those two), but there's still a large pool.
Quite a number of non-cores are listed as cores on drivethru. I don't think DTRPG actually checks.
On the first page under Genre=Miscellaneous and type=Corebooks, I got 2 reps of a hero kids supplement, one adventure, a supplement for Journey (a game I'd not heard of yet), A supplement for Beyond the Wall, 2 sets of solo rules expansions to non-solo games, 3 generic worldbuilding supplements, two 3rd party setting books, and two Savage Worlds setting books (SciFi and Robotech)
 

I agree; that's why I said the definition of "corebook" getting tagged that way is--interesting.

That said, just looking at the first two pages of Corebook, Modern, Urban Fantasy still shows about 35 that fit the terms reasonably, which is about a third of the entries on those two pages. If that runs true further on, you still have about 200-300 urban fantasy corebooks. As I noted, that includes multiple oWoD and nWoD books, but there's still plenty of independent items to be found among that.
 

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