City of Mist Actual Play Report
City of Mist, in case you’re reading this separately to my review, is a few things:
- A superhero noir game set in a world of neon and shadows
- A mystery where many people are ‘rifts’, reflecting elements from myths and fairytales
- A bit of a big, unwieldy book which defeated me multiple times
As far as that last one goes, this is a game which has undergone a couple of printings. I’m working from the original which was all in one tome. There is a two-volume set for players and MCs (Master of Ceremonies).
I like reading RPGs, which is good as I own more than I’ll ever get to run. Part of this process is making notes and working out the gameplay loops. I have a little notepad where I create a kind of GM cheat sheet for when I’m running the game. A lot of the time it’s just shorthand prompts.
My original notes for CoM’s review were ten pages, covering the system and setting. There was a lot for me to figure out.
Rereading those notes for my first review I also created my cheat sheet, which is somehow only one page in my notepad.
The GM sheet helped make this shorter, as did my separate page relating to the investigation. I was going to use V is for Going Viral, which was a free starter adventure and is contained in the MC’s book if you get it in that edition.
I printed out a ton of status cards, the playbooks and the MC’s book. For some reason my printer was having problems by the time I tried to print the mystery in booklet size, so I abandoned that and used my iPad instead.
Unlike a lot of the games I run which use enough fiction-first elements to change every time, this mystery is one where the solution is fixed even if the way the group gets there isn’t. With that in mind, spoiler warning for “V is for Going Viral”.
Session One – Alleyway Target Practice
There are a number of premade characters for City of Mist and my group chose the following:
Lee took Declan L’Estrange, an antiques dealer who’s beginning to see that the world could just be a dream.
Vinnie took Excalibur, an old socialite who did a lot of charity work and happened to wield a shapechanging weapon.
Mark took Kitsune, a trickster spirit everyone assumes is a teen going through a weird goth phase. (quick note; the pregens uses gender neutral terms, however Mark decided that Kitsune used she/her, so the report will reflect that)
Wade took Post-Mortem, an undead assassin with no memory of her past, but a curious array of gadgets.
The mystery had a few different ways to begin, especially with the easiest ins being Declan and Kitsune. I decided to go with Declan for this playthrough, but first there was an important factor… what was the group’s base of operations?
They decided on a bar. It was down a dark alleyway on the border of the docks and the city centre. Too far away for dockworkers and too shady for anyone else. The bar had no name as the sign had fallen off many years ago. Declan was working on a new sign to put up, while Excalibur ‘tended bar’ (she was drinking, basically, it wasn’t like they had other customers). Kitsune was making a house of cards at the bar and Post Mortem was glowing slightly ominously.
A woman entered the bar, a little perplexed by the lack of a working door, but mainly panicked about her missing daughter. The woman was Allison Craig, who’d needed Declan’s help with an artifact in the past. I asked Lee what that was and he said that Allison had a missing family heirloom which it turned out her kid took to try and impress some new friends. That was… either awful for what was going to come next, or perfect.
Allison explained that her daughter Emily was missing. Declan was blasé about this given the last time he’d dealt with the Craig family. Still, when Allison mentioned that other children had been going missing, Kitsune turned around in a swift motion, accidentally knocking over her house of cards. She was left with the two still in her hands. Kitsune had a friend at school who she was weirdly fixated on, Kaito. She couldn’t work up the courage to speak to him, so she made friends with Kaito’s friend Chen. With these friends possibly at risk, she helped get the gang focusing on Emily’s concerns.
Declan started asking questions and triggered the first move of the game, Investigate. He tagged ‘Good Judge of Character’ and ‘Authoritative’ to give himself a +2 to his roll. I filled out a status card with the tag ‘Questioning Allison’ and two Clues on it for him to spend.
He spent them right away, which was what I found happened with most Clues and Juice. They’re basically ‘Hold’ from other PbtA games, and I learnt through this to wait until people decided to spend all of their uses in one go or not before filling out another.
He asked where Emily was supposed to be and who her friends were. After the heirloom incident, Emily was strictly under orders to go home without any other distractions. Allison didn’t know who she was hanging out with after that incident. Emily changed social groups so often, after all.
Excalibur asked for a photo of Emily, which Allison wasn’t entirely willing to part with, given this was a stranger asking for a photo of her teenage daughter. Kitsune texted Chen for information about the missing kids and filled a failure. He was texted back by one of Chen’s parents, explaining that he’d gone missing as well.
The group came up with a plan to split up and investigate further. Declan and Excalibur would check out Allison’s home for clues, while Post-Mortem wanted to stake out the school. Kitsune offered to come along but was rejected and went to Chen’s family’s home instead.
Declan used his powers on Emily’s laptop to get visions of her entering her password. This was represented by another Investigate roll using Premonitions, Smuggling and Good Judge of Character to give a +3. We had a quick sidebar teaching Lee about social media as he normally avoids technology from any time later than the early 00’s. In doing so, we helped him ask questions relating to the laptop. Specifically about recently added friends (Victor Chang and Adam Reynolds) and where she’d been. Her photos tagged with those two were specifically at a coffee shop called Beans, and for some reason the quality of any photos taken there seemed worse.
Kitsune used hypnotic illusions to appear more normal to Chen’s parents while asking questions which led to Beans. Post-Mortem had a far worse time at the school. These scenes were at night, so she decided to break into the school and check the records.
Her initial attempt to look round failed and she saw a security guard getting closer. She snuck round to a vantage point inside a vent. The guard looked round the office and it seemed like Post-Mortem had got away with it, which was when her phone rang. She’d been caught by the guard and tried scaring him, but it didn’t work. The guard didn’t want to bother with paperwork and was going to be fine letting her leave after her semi-convincing vigilante story and weird glow, but she pushed for more help from him and that was enough. At that moment, Declan’s premonitions led him to open up a portal and summon Post-Morten through it into the bar.
While this was going on Excalibur called a friend, Gladstone, about Beans. He mentioned that he didn’t care much for the place but his daughter, Aquamarine, kept hanging out there. She was in the orbit of some popular kids but not actually accepted by them.
After this initial volley of information, I ran the group through a photomontage. This is a quick set of vignettes, passing time and carrying out actions before getting to another focal point.
Kitsune went to school and sat on the same table as Kaito, unable to sum up the courage to speak to him. Eventually she blurted out a question about Chen, but Kaito hadn’t seen him.
Excalibur had a training montage, practicing using her adaptable weapon in a secret training room.
Declan had an equivalent montage in his public training room… the alleyway outside the bar, where he was using bins as a makeshift gun range.
Post-Mortem decided to start shaking down any criminals who got involved with kidnapping. Tween-napping? She met someone who mentioned that Stanislaw the Vile (which really didn’t trip off tongue) was people trafficking, but not teens. She asked for more information which brought up that he was big, angry, had no powers but did love his rocket launcher.
With the montage over, the group met at Beans to stake the joint out. Post-Mortem kept an eye on the building from a distance as she wouldn’t be able to pass amongst the crowd of humans. Kitsune sat near the popular kids, along with Aquamarine and the other wannabes. Excalibur went in, pretending to be looking to buy the café from the owner who flew off the handle about big business types trying to buy his company. Declan was going as an assistant to her and split himself into two with his reality warping powers. He left one with Excalibur so he could start looking at security camera footage. Kitsune observed the teens all enjoying the café owner losing his cool with Excalibur. Two of them seemed to be having ‘errors’. It was like they were fine normally but confused with this new stimulus. The kids got up and left with Kitsune tailing them. Post-Mortem threw a tracker gadget to Kitsune, who tried palming it onto the kids. She failed and was given the “Infected” trait. She started hearing a voice in her head, threatening to take her body over.
Time was drawing to a close and we’d not got too far, so this became a two session game. To give you an impression of the “Iceberg” shape of the mystery and how far the group had gotten, here’s it with the scenes they’d done crossed off.
They’d came close to a few, but there was still more to go. We picked up in a second session.
Session Two – Junji Ito’s Flesh Katamari
The In-Fighters were short Post-Mortem as Wade wasn’t with us. We decided she was off hunting things to do with her mysterious resurrection at the hands of Helix Labs. The group had a prior agreement with her that her hunt trumped the current mission and if she had a lead, she should go.
We started with Kitsune being ordered by her new head voices to sit down and remain in place. She just about managed to resist the Infection (using the Face Danger move). Excalibur texted her and dragged Declan over to the street where Kitsune was still fairly wobbly. Three shitty teens (one armed with a baseball bat) were stomping towards Kitsune, ready for a fight. Kitsune bolted, running into some old, closed shops for cover. Declan gave chase, using his foam bullets to pin the teens to the wall so Excalibur could interrogate them. They explained that Victor Chang sent them to drive Kitsune away, also that Victor’s generally at his parents’ place or the junkyard.
The group figured the junkyard would be the best place to go to, so we had a quick photomontage sequence.
Kitsune prepared for her next activity by meditating. She created three ‘Juice’; one to remove her ‘disorientated’ status and the remaining two were held back for the next encounter as a Clear Mind status.
Declan carried on with his alleyway foam gun firing range and Excalibur called up a child psychic friend to figure out the brains of these shitty teens, gaining three Clues to spend.
Night fell and the group walked up to the junk yard. It was a massive enclosure, evidently home to most of the Docks district’s trash. A guard post sat empty and the piles of trash made for a rickety labyrinth. Kitsune vaulted up a pile of cars to get a better view. At the far end, there was an area turned into a kind of ritual space and a bunch of teenagers filing into it. Graffiti claimed it to be, “The Infection Club’ which sounded like an awful name for a bunch of kids but better than ‘shitty teens’ which was what we’d been referring to them as until now. Adam and Victor were there. The first glimpse of the pair the group had which wasn’t from social media. Victor was dressed in ripped clothes and a gas mask, leaning into the whole ‘infection’ thing and coming across like a Kidz Bop Apocalypse World cult.
Kitsune helped guide the group past the patrolling teenagers and towards the gang. She used some magic to make the trio look like they had as teenagers. Excalibur turned out to have been an awkward shrill nerd when she was younger. Declan dressed like a Young Indiana Jones fan and Kitsune was possibly never a teen or already a teen, so she looked like a kind of weird uncanny valley Japanese schoolgirl.
Kitsune got close enough to the cult who were chugging some horrible green liquid from a petrol can. When they’d drunk enough they walked away through a hole in the fence into the darkness. Declan snuck out that way, dropping into a ditch and seeing some old, broken down houses nearby. He walked towards the central one, which looked like someone had gone into recently. Back at the weird cult circle, Kitsune found Chen, took him aside and used a purifying power to cleanse the virus out of him. Chen explained that this group weren’t the ones in charge. That was Victor Chang’s sister Veronica. They’d both been tested by Global Genetics Limited and she turned out to have rift powers. This was all being explained as Declan drew closer to the building. He could hear a breathing and a gentle creak of floorboards.
Inside the house was a gigantic ball made out of teenagers, like some kind of horrible Junji Ito Flesh Katamari. It started moving towards him and Declan used his foam bullets to pin it to the ground. He realised the bodies weren’t stuck together but they were holding onto each other. They had also been in the horrible giant for anywhere between hours and weeks, so it was smelling pretty foul. Kitsune and Excalibur broke up the… as Excalibur called it, “Horrid Eldritch Tide Pod Challenge”, with her ultimate weapon turned into nunchucks. Declan sent them a photo of the horrible person sphere and they ran to catch up with him. Chen ran off, panicking about what his parents would do to him after being missing for two days.
When the group all reunited, the ball opened up to reveal Veronica Chang in the centre in an evening dress. She used the infection in Kitsune to suggest shoving Declan into the people ball, but Kitsune resisted and charged Veronica by diving at her, sliding under Declan’s legs. Excalibur confronted Veronica and parried a horrendous bile attack. Kitsune used Healing, Illusionary, Hypnotic Trance, Suggestion and subtracted Infected in an attempt to get Veronica to release her control.
Excalibur pulled a “Do you know who I am?” By going Toe to Toe using Negotiator, Glamorous, Bullshit Detector and Bank Account for extra privilege powers. Veronica monologued (and thanks to my players for being better than my AD&D players back in the day and letting a villain monologue when they’re trying to monologue). Veronica admitted she knew she was no one, but when Helix Labs (the true identity of Global Genetics) experimented on her, she got them to tear themselves apart. She was going to be someone by being everyone, but now she was spiralling out of control and was going to get the teens to kill each other. The struggle quickly shattered the floorboards, dropping everyone into the basement. The ball of teens now became a scattered group, including Emily Craig. They were still under Veronica’s control, but I’d shifted from the Flesh Ball stats to the standard Infected Teen stats. Excalibur landed on a piece of bar, stabbing right through her leg. Declan used some of the loose bars and woodwork to entangle the teenagers before they harmed each other.
Kitsune had one last attempt to cure Veronica, purging the last of the infection from her and she collapsed in Kitsune’s arms.
And with that, things were okay… for now. Veronica would still have her powers as a Rift of the Black Death, but hopefully things could be done to contain her. Emily was reunited with her mother and Chen with his family. The gang were back to drinking, trying to repair the bar and hoping for another case to show up.
What do I think of City of Mist?
This is a tricky one. To read, the book’s a pain. It’s far too long, it breaks things like ‘Hold’ down into its own currency and wants you to use cards for labels even though I found most of them were spent almost instantly. The world itself is really neat and has a lot of potential to it. The theme books are numerous, a little too broad, especially for the more analysis-paralysis prone players. They also kill a lot of ink, so I’d like printer friendly versions of them at some point.
Character creation feels like it’d be pretty lengthy and tricky. My players weren’t keen on how easy it sounded for a theme to flip and become something else if it cracks. There was a general feeling that you’d be losing a quarter of your character for something else. The Help/Hurt currency was a little tricky, mainly as the pregens didn’t start with anything, so I quickly fudged that. Even so, this meant there weren’t enough mechanical opportunities to help each other in the game.
Some of the players felt like they had a really easy time tagging three or more aspects to get a +3 to a roll (and therefore 3 power if a move used power), while others had difficulty not going to the same few aspects for the same type of move. After talking to them it seemed that if they were acting then they would find it easy enough to hammer a ton of aspects, if they were reacting they got a bit more stumped by the choices and how to make them fit. The ‘Investigate’ move got a bit of scrutiny as well for being a little too open in the choices of questions to ask, as a lot of PbtA games have a menu to help guide what you might ask.
Overall, it plays better than it reads and if you’re willing to put enough commitment into it then this could make for a fun series. The progression and regular flipping of themes seems a bit odd.
It feels odd to say for a game which has had two core editions and three quickstarts in a handful of years, but this feels like it could do with a second edition to tighten the mechanics. It looked like a traditional game take on Fate and PbtA and still feels that way a bit on this side of reading and playing it. It was definitely worth it to try and I don’t even regret reading the book as the world looked really cool. I just don’t think I’ll be going back to it again.
So that’s the review. It wasn’t really for me, but it had a lot of good going for it. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be for you and I’m going to outline a few interesting expansions and alternatives to City of Mist.
City of Mist can be bought here