A City as a character

Hi!

I'm trying to take up again the design of a cyberpunk rpg I've been delaying for years and years, and got curious about games that have the city (or other similar locations/powers: a haunted forest, a god, etc.) as a character, at least partially.

What I'm envissioning is having a player (the GM or a different player) take up the role of the city full-time during the session. As a city, he might be able to help or complicate PCs as he sees fit, present NPCs, populate areas, present obstacles, etc. With some rules to limit their input, of course.
He might also have some sort of agenda to follow, and PCs could, with some effort, alter the city's agenda to use it for their sake or against their enemies.

I preffer having the city not being the GM, as that would allow for 2 sources of opposition, but it could get boring for the city if I don't allow him to have his own goals or participate in every scene.

Are there games I can use for inspiration that already do something similar?
Possibilities and ideas for this mechanic?

Comments

  • Hi!

    I'm trying to take up again the design of a cyberpunk rpg I've been delaying for years and years, and got curious about games that have the city (or other similar locations/powers: a haunted forest, a god, etc.) as a character, at least partially.

    What I'm envissioning is having a player (the GM or a different player) take up the role of the city full-time during the session. As a city, he might be able to help or complicate PCs as he sees fit, present NPCs, populate areas, present obstacles, etc. With some rules to limit their input, of course.
    He might also have some sort of agenda to follow, and PCs could, with some effort, alter the city's agenda to use it for their sake or against their enemies.

    I prefer having the city not being the GM, as that would allow for 2 sources of opposition, but it could get boring for the city if I don't allow him to have his own goals or participate in every scene.

    Are there games I can use for inspiration that already do something similar?
    Possibilities and ideas for this mechanic?
    Not sure I've heard of any games with such a beautiful concept before, but in terms of pre-existing groundwork, I might suggest taking a look at the Macaluso from Apocalypse World (or its 2e rework, the Symbiote)!

    Otherwise, here are my thoughts: you could introduce the city in the form of very "people" based threats (local gangs, landlords, etc.) in a way that sort of cues them, and allow them to take those NPCs from there. Let their actions play out, but if the city's player acts in a scene towards one of the PCs (say, lunging at them), have the PCs roll instead of him. This might be a tricky part, since it might come off as limiting their agency - but arguably allows them a more interesting fictional position as the "actor" rather than the reactor.

    That being said, coordinate with the player. You're on relatively similar teams, I'd say - you're both playing the world, in a messy intertwined way. You play the corporate heads or whatever, and they play the people who have been affected by their trickle-down influence. Being open and direct about your plans seems like a good idea for achieving the effect of "playing this little chunk of the world".

    Hope this helps!!
  • For the possibilities and ideas, if you mean the premise, have you read City Come A-Walkin'?

    Basically, the city is the sentient universal unconscious of all of San Francisco. It especially manifests when most of the citizens are sleeping or semi-unconscious (such as when watching TV). Maybe it's worth checking out for ideas?

    From the link:
    The city become flesh and walking among us.
    Lowlife and high stakes on future-bleak streets with tech enhancements.
    A love story: a triangle between a man, a woman, and a city.

    Stu Cole. Everyman. A club owner too old to dream, too hard to hope, too caring to quite give in—a redemptive, reluctant hero.

    Catz Wailen. A tough little rocker with a psychic connection and a heart of gold.

    City. All of San Francisco. A sentient, compelling, enigmatic being fighting for life.
  • edited October 2018
    For the possibilities and ideas, if you mean the premise, have you read City Come A-Walkin'?

    Basically, the city is the sentient universal unconscious of all of San Francisco. It especially manifests when most of the citizens are sleeping or semi-unconscious (such as when watching TV). Maybe it's worth checking out for ideas?

    From the link:

    The city become flesh and walking among us.
    Lowlife and high stakes on future-bleak streets with tech enhancements.
    A love story: a triangle between a man, a woman, and a city.

    Stu Cole. Everyman. A club owner too old to dream, too hard to hope, too caring to quite give in—a redemptive, reluctant hero.

    Catz Wailen. A tough little rocker with a psychic connection and a heart of gold.

    City. All of San Francisco. A sentient, compelling, enigmatic being fighting for life.

    Wow, it seems to be closely related to cyberpunk, so perhaps it's a better idea than I thought to make the city a character in itself.
    Thanks for the recommendation, I'll try to check it out.

    EDIT:
    "The city become flesh and walking among us.
    Lowlife and high stakes on future-bleak streets with tech enhancements.
    A love story: a triangle between a man, a woman, and a city."

    Ok this description strikes too close to what I wanted the city-as-a-character thing to look like. Now I need to read this novel.
  • I think this is a very cool idea, especially for Cyberpunk.

    I’d consider an assymetrical GM-less game, where one player is the City and the rest are PCs. You’d have rules for passing narrative agency around (“you say what happens when you succeed, the City says what happens when you fail”, for example). If you’re talking about a Cyberpunk game, you could also get pretty literal: The City could be a sentient AI that runs the city & lives in all public electronics/infrastructure.
  • Fate has the fate fractal (or the bronze rule iirc) where you could represent everything as a character, with aspects, skills, stress, consequences etc. For a link of how it works: https://ironbombs.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/why-the-fate-fractal-rocks/
  • edited October 2018
    My first thought is handling the city like a demon in Sorcerer: it's defined by a desire and a need and the two are not necessarily harmonious.

    For example one city might want its inhabitants to be happy, but it might need nightly violence. A port city wants its people to stay at home, but it needs the income from sending out merchant vessels. And so on.
  • My first thought is handling the city like a demon in Sorcerer: it's defined by a desire and a need and the two are not necessarily harmonious.

    In Khimus's concept I could almost see it, in Sorcerer terms (even though this doesn't happen in Sorcerer), as one demon bound to all of the characters. They all have a connection to it and it has different needs and desires from each of them.
  • Also check out Catherynne Valente's novel Palimpsest, which is about a sexually transmitted city.
  • This thread by @Paul_T has some useful ideas, if you read through the commentors posts.
  • edited October 2018
    To run with The_Bearded_Belgium's idea, you can also use the Fate Fractal to create factions and then put the players in control of the various factions in a city. Play might be like a player focus scene or two (to get the spot light time for everyone), a faction scene where the players put forces in motion to create a living city, that in turn generates more potential for player conflicts and scenes.
  • Let’s see if I could quickly whip up a cyberpunk city as a character:

    NeoTokio
    Core Aspect: High Tech Mega City
    Trouble Aspect: Corruption and Crime
    FT1: Headseat of “GEODE inc.”
    FT2: Corporate Police Only
    FT3: UnderTokio (Sewer based city under the city run by gangsters)

    Skills/Approaches: (gonna use approaches to keep it quick)
    I’m thinking it would be most logical to use corporations as approaches as they are the driving forces of cyberpunk, right?
    GEODE (+3): When doing something involving mining, mineral wealth and machinery
    SAM//U//RAI (+2): When you need goons, mercenaries or assasins, this corp can give them to you
    TokioRats (+2): When you need something done illegally, Undertokio is your place to be. Smuggling, illicit goods, dishonorable but cheap mercenaries.
    ARCADE (+1): Media and entertainment basically, swaying the public, distracting them, doing PR
    MILTEK (+1): Military technology, research and equipment
    LAW, inc (+0): The judiciary department, legal matters

    Stunts:
    NEON IMAGE: When covering up a bad thing NeoTokio did by dictracting them with something else, add two to you ARCADE roll
    HACKERS inc: When using SAM//U//RAI to hire a corporate hacker and hack someone or something, you hire from their daughter company, adding two to your SAM//U//RAI roll.

    Something like that?
  • Neat. I'd also add an agenda to the city.
  • Oh, check out Urban Shadows and the Dark Streets supplement as well.
  • edited October 2018
    Fate Core can be easily used to stat a city up, that's a cool description for NeoTokio, very inspirational, I must remember to do something like this in my own Fate games
  • Definitely an idea worth exploring. My main concern would be carefully thinking through the responsibilities of the player portraying the City, so they wouldn't become either all-encompassing (constantly at play) or tangential (if all the interesting action, once play starts, is about the main characters, and the City is merely background Colour).

    (I don't know what thread @Hopeless_Wanderer is referring to above, though!)
  • Fate has the fate fractal (or the bronze rule iirc) where you could represent everything as a character, with aspects, skills, stress, consequences etc. For a link of how it works: https://ironbombs.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/why-the-fate-fractal-rocks/
    Quite interesting! I'm not too keen on FATE, but I might borrow a couple of ideas from it. I suppose if a city were to be represented as a character, it'd be hard for PCs to find a position and leverage to even be able to oppose its rolls. Although I'd like the City-Character to be mechanically different from the PCs.
    My first thought is handling the city like a demon in Sorcerer: it's defined by a desire and a need and the two are not necessarily harmonious.
    That's a great idea! A City-Character might not be entirely autonomous, but rather driven by hungers. PCs might maneuver by feeding the city's hungers or even changing them.
    Oh, check out Urban Shadows and the Dark Streets supplement as well.
    A nice game! I'm halfway through it and it sparked again my interest in this concept of a city-character. I'm only beginning the MC's chapter, and quite curious about how the rules give the city the importance it deserves in the game.
    Definitely an idea worth exploring. My main concern would be carefully thinking through the responsibilities of the player portraying the City, so they wouldn't become either all-encompassing (constantly at play) or tangential (if all the interesting action, once play starts, is about the main characters, and the City is merely background Colour).
    I'd have the city be an ever present character in all scenes. When the PCs hit the streets, the city may get them lost or take them to unexpected places. It could both impede them and offer them gifts and opportunities, and a big part of the game should be the efforts of the players to portray their characters in a way that impresses or seduces the city.

  • That sounds very cool! Good luck on your design efforts. If they bear fruit, your ideas could be used for a lot of other types of design, which is very exciting.
  • edited November 2018
    @Khimus "it'd be hard for PCs to find a position and leverage to even be able to oppose its rolls" : Exactly.
    The same way you can play a conspiracy as a character with mostly abstract Aspects. This works with all player authored traits, that is Fate, but also Risus.
    An easy way to tone the city influence down is to put a sort of field ("influence" here, "Gauntlet" in Mage the Ascension). The "city field" is weak or strong (according to rolls or why not hidden triggers, like some we can gather from the Lacuna AP on this forum).

    Sorcerer and Hystoire de fou can replicate this because the "field" force also shows - from a reciprocal perspective - how deep into paranoia the character is.
  • Okay, before everyone spill their blood here, please go back to Paul's thread http://story-games.com/forums/discussion/21109/a-thin-crescent-moon-hangs-sickly-pale/p1 and read it carefully. There is a lot of cool stuff going in in this thread. Please chuck your systems, and really read the the thread.
  • And when you read IceCreamEmperor and Adam Dray's posts, it's okay if you scream out loud. Nobody will judge you.
  • And I will keep posting about this thread until someone makes a substantive comment about how it is really central to what you are trying to achieve here.
  • And I will keep posting about this thread until someone makes a substantive comment about how it is really central to what you are trying to achieve here.
  • Please don't make me (accidentally) write that again. Paul's thread is the escense on this topic. It should be added to The Best of Story Games.
  • Yes, but not the whole of the topic : this freeform core can be harnessed.
  • That's an interesting comment, @Hopeless_Wanderer. While I agree that the thread was interesting and productive, I actually felt underwhelmed by the input I was receiving there. I had brainstormed a whole slew of ideas before posting it, and the response I received was, in some ways, less expansive. I'd been hoping for more!

    Perhaps people will consider new ideas or techniques as a result of these two threads, and post more ideas. I, at least, would really enjoy that!
  • And when you read IceCreamEmperor and Adam Dray's posts, it's okay if you scream out loud. Nobody will judge you.
    Well, I will.
  • @Adam_Dray Even if they scream, "Eureka!"?
  • I’m very judgmental.
  • (It's really true. He is.)
  • Interesting idea. I could see cities almost having mouseguard animal like natures with descriptors that mirror the city's quirks.
  • I preffer having the city not being the GM, as that would allow for 2 sources of opposition, but it could get boring for the city if I don't allow him to have his own goals or participate in every scene.
    I'm not sure what role is left for a "GM", though.

    I'm envisioning the role of City as something similar to the role of Opposition in Dog Eat Dog: a player portraying a whole culture, including most (but not all) NPCs in the game. Notably, there is no need for a separate GM there.

  • I'm not sure what role is left for a "GM", though.

    I'm envisioning the role of City as something similar to the role of Opposition in Dog Eat Dog: a player portraying a whole culture, including most (but not all) NPCs in the game. Notably, there is no need for a separate GM there.
    That's something I'll discover when I put this idea into a design. My main concern is that I want the city to be as arbitrary in their decisions as they want, but if they have to both be the city and the GM, they might be limited by their role as arbiter/facilitator.
  • I see! You think you need a GM to referee the game so that other players don't feel like pulling any legit punches, don't you? That looks like a valid design concern to me (though my own guts instinct would be to have any other players not involved in the conflict at hand referee it - which might be because I'm used to assuming a certain amount of "audience time" in tabletop RPGs).

    What other sources of antagonism can you picture in the game, besides the City (if any)? Do you envision non-City PCs working together (and then, as a team or as loose allies) or being at cross-purpose with each other (I'm reminded of Remember Tomorrow, then, where the City could be represented as a faction if we wanted to)?
  • @Rafu "What other sources of antagonism can you picture in the game, besides the City (if any)?"
    This question makes me realize why I was on about @Paul_T 's thread earlier. That thread is a good starting point for brainstorming this sort of list.
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