City of Mist: Review

Around the time of the pandemic I was introduced to a new TTRPG via social media.  Bright neon adds decorated my homepage, and truly peaked my interest.  However, it wasn’t until about a month ago that I was able to sit down and actually get around to reading the core book. With all the chaos now surrounding Wizards of The Coast (and the OGL), I figure it is time to talk about something less mainstream. Let’s talk about City of Mist!

The Book

City of Mist is a massive 511-page urban fantasy TTRPG created by Amit Moshe and published through Son of Oak Game Studios.  Unlike many independent published TTRPGs, City of Mist stands out, if only for the vibrant comic book like artwork that resides within.  This book is truly colossal in size, providing the reader with amazing artwork along with everything they need to run a game and understand the mechanics behind it.  Speaking of which…         

Themes & Setting

My initial introduction to City of Mist had me thinking back to other titles, especially games like Blades in the Dark, or Dusk City Outlaws.  This is a game where the city itself is an every-changing entity, just like the players who inhabit it.  The City is nearly like any other, but the mist that surrounds it is also the source of the power mythos that inhabit it.  Most are unaware of this powerful force, but a select few will have been able to see through the veil in order to explore this other side of the City. 

At its core, City of Mist is a noir style urban fantasy where the players take on the role of a normal person who is suddenly awakened/inhabited by a mythos.  This mythos could be anything from a legend of antiquity, to a literary character, state of being, or some other concept that either grows or fades within the character over time. In many way this TTRPG reminds me heavily of Fables, or The Wolf Among Us

The PCs are usually part of some investigative crew, or criminal group who are given cases to solve or missions to carry out.  Everything about the story missions will often relate back to some avatar of another mythos who is scheming in some way.  There is so much about a game of City of Mist that remain mailable from the very beginning. 

Character Creation & Session Zero

One of the most important aspects of a City of Mist game relies on the shared vision of the group, and all of this has to be fleshed out in Session Zero.  Players work together to determine scope of the city, the decade it’s set in, the tone of the game, along with the theme of the crew, and players themselves.  The only limitation is the imagination or desires of the players.  You could have anything from a gritty hardboiled detective agency in the 1930’s, to a comedic Scooby Doo-esque crew of teenagers in the 1980’s, to a modern-day crew of thugs who are working for a crime syndicate.  Once those things are chosen, players should then think about creating characters         

Character creation itself is a flexible affair, as both the GM (referred to in book as the MC) and player must work together to find a concept that fits.  I’m reminded of one of my earlier articles that I wrote for this site that talked about The Chameleon.  If you want the TLDR: The Chameleon is the person who always wants to switch characters or play concepts of whatever media they just consumed, often to the detriment of the game itself.  Chameleons would LOVE City of Mist because they could feasibly create a character who embodies the mythos of whatever new shiny fictious thing they are now interested in.  And I mean ANYTHING!

Do you want to have a character who embodies the mythos of Mario? Okay! Spawn? Absolutely! Jane Eyre? I don’t know why, but sure! Pure Rage? You may need help, but fine by me! What about the spirit of Rock and Roll?  Yes!

Once you have your Mythos in mind, your character sheet will be the next step, as each character is made up of a combination four smaller character sheets either a Mythos or Logos.  Your Mythos, as you would guess, are special powers granted to you, while your Logos represented the things that ground your character (skills, relationships, things, places, jobs, etc.) to the real world.  Players assign appropriate tags to the mythos or logos cards which helps to flesh out the character.  It should also be noted that you cannot create a character that is either four mythos or four logos, as it renders that character unplayable.  A mythos of four means the player has shed all connections to their lives and now fully embody the mythos as an avatar.  A logos of four means the player turns back into just another sleeper who is unaware of the truly magical nature of the titular “mist,” and goes back to living a normal life.

Additionally, mythos powers that you give your player don’t have to align 100% with the fictitious counterpart, nor do you have to make a logos that thematically pair with the mythos.  Let’s go back to the Mario example.  If I want to make a character with the Mythos of Mario, I don’t have to make a logos that is a plumber in his “real life.”  It would be fitting (and funny), but not necessary.  Additionally, I don’t have to give said character powers of a super jump, growth, or a fancy tanuki suit.  Now most people would choose a mythos often having these powers in mind, but they can choose whatever fits for them, and that is one of the best parts of character creation!

The core book provides “themebooks” to help provide a framework for character creation, and go into glorious detail about tags.  To put it simply, you pick tags that are not too broad (so it applies to everything) and not too narrow to be limiting.  You could have tags like perceptive, or owns a car, etc.  Even the crew sheet gets tags that can be used by the players!  Tags are the bread and butter of this game, so players will want to choose things that make fit into the setting and tone of the story.  For instance, there is no point making a computer hacker for a game set in 1930.  With power and general tags also come weaknesses that can be exploited/invoked by the MC.    

Advancement

Once again, I’m reminded a bit of Blades In the Dark or FATE regarding character progression, as XP is acquired through roleplay. Mechanically, improvement is done through the acquisition of “Attention.” Essentially, a character gains attention by having their weakness tags invoked (by the GM) or through training during downtime. Once the Attention track is full, it is reset, and the player has some options regarding advancement. They can choose new power tags, add/remove/rewrite weaknesses, choose a theme improvement, or reset Fade or Crack. The crew sheet can improve in a similar way, both changing tags or removing weaknesses.
There are no levels to worry about or tracks to progress on. City of Mist is about change, and your character is always malleable. One of the more useful applications of this could be to change something you don’t like about your character (like an unused power or weakness tag). Also, it should be noted that Fade and Crack represent the chaotic disruptions in the player’s life, and like Attention are represented with a small track. If too much Crack is accumulated (that was weird to write), that logo theme is now replaced with a Mythos, and represents the character now embracing its myth. Fade is the counter point to that. In a long form campaign I could see characters having the potential to completely change or evolve from their initial concept.

Mechanics

City of Mist has its mechanics somewhat based on the “Powered by the Apocalypse” (PbtA) game engine, as first presented in Apocalypse World (2010).  For anyone new to the PbtA rules set, you should know going in that this is a narrative game in the same vein as FATE or FUDGE.  A game of City of Mist isn’t about keeping track of statistics, hit points or feats.  A 2D6 is rolled for everything, but the game is truly about taking narrative control of the story through the use of tags, which are:

  1. Power Tags – These are things that can help a player take an action or overcome an obstacle like “stone skin,” “wads of cash,” etc.
  2. Weakness tags – These tags can be invoked by the GM to impede actions taken by the players like “penniless,” “fragile,” or “cowardly.”  Each could be invoked in certain situations. 
  3. Burning Tags – Players can temporarily burn a positive tag for an automatic success.  This means they cannot use the tag until they have a had a chance to recover it during down time.
  4. Story Tags – These are created by the GM and represent temporary abilities, powers, items or ongoing effects that can be used.  Something like “pouring rain,” “katana,” “the police,” or a “bottle of expensive liquor” could all be used by the players in certain ways if they chose to invoke it.
  5. Crew Tags – Crew tags are created with the initial crew sheet and when used are automatically burnt until they can be sued again.  Some tags are static and may represent something that the crew has like a secret hideout or company car, etc.

Tags are used to execute “moves” in game.  There are a total of eight “Core Moves” and four “Cinematic Moves” for players, each of which allows for a different degree of narrative control.

Core Moves

  1. Convince – When you are trying to talk, threaten, coerce, seduce or otherwise convince someone or a group of people to do something.
  2. Change the Game – When you want to change something about the game to give an advantage.  This could be to create or remove tags, or give statues.  In my opinion this is the most powerful move in the game as it provides the greatest degree of narrative control.
  3. Face Danger – This is used to avoid or reduce harm or negative statues in some way.
  4. Go Toe to Toe – This is both combat and a struggle for control all in one.  It could be used to deliver damage, avoid a counter attack or wrestle for control of something.
  5. Hit With All You Got – This is used to dish out big damage to one (or several targets), control collateral damage, or take the upper hand or a superior position (Anakin, I have the high ground!).
  6. Investigate – Used to seek out answers to questions.  Sometimes this means that the player can ask the GM one question about the scene and the GM has to give an earnest answer.  For example; how did the victim die?
  7. Sneak Around – This is to move around without detection.
  8. Take the Risk – This is sort of a catch all for any risky or daring act that isn’t covered with the other seven moves.

Cinematic Moves

  1. Voiceover Monologue – This is done at the beginning session by one player to help narrate how they feel about what is going on.
  2. Flashback – This is a once per session action (sorry Blades in the Dark fans!) that allows a player to describe an action they carried out beforehand or something from their backstory that is relevant.
  3. Downtime – There are several things that can be done during downtime, but it can be used to gain more clues, give attention to themes, explore mythos, recover burnt powers or statues.  
  4. Geek Out During Credits – This is done at the end of sessions and is basically like a victory lap where everyone answer some questions about what went on, and can provide some bonuses in future sessions.

Combat & Resolving Moves

There are no hit points in City of Mist, instead your character can only take up to a total of five power levels of certain type of damage/statuses before they are out… or six levels before they are dead or changed somehow.  Adversaries are pre-built with the same limitations in mind, but often at smaller thresholds.  For instance, a thug may be able to take up to four power level in physical status/damage, but only two in social.  This means certain type might be more susceptible to coercion or intimidation as opposed to brute force.      

When a character wants to make a move, especially a combat related move, they want to add tags to boost their power level, roll 2D6 and the result could mean success, failure, or success with a complication.  Statuses or weakness tags could serve to reduce the result, as well.  For instance, let’s say we have a marital artist character who has the mythos of Mario.  He has a power of a super jump along with certain applicable tags related to combat.  If he chooses to go Toe to Toe or All our Attack a thug, he could apply his mythos power, and marital arts tags to land a devastating flying kick. 

Please note that like the Cypher System, the GM doesn’t roll for anything.  It’s the GMs mission to set up any adversary or obstacle with either a soft or hard move.  Soft moves set up the obstacles, and hard moves are the resolution.  If a GM sets up the hint of a threat (soft move), and the players don’t act on it, the GM can invoke the hard move and said players have to deal with the repercussions (like damage, or loss of something, new scene tag, etc.). 

Clues & Juice

of Mist is meant to be an investigative game, and as such there is an interesting mechanic that governs this.  Players investigate in order to dig up Clues which can be spent on answering questions.  Now some things will be obvious in a scene, but Clues are used in order to help facilitate the story moving along without having to take too many detours.  Player can use Clues as currency to either get straight answers from the GM or for the GM to provide solid leads.

Juice is another type of in game (temporary) currency that can be built up through certain moves like Change the Game or Hit with All You Got.  The idea is to build up Juice and use it immediately for a desired effect (like adding a new tag to a scene).  The effect of Juice is often meant for a single scene unless the player is trying to create some sort of ongoing effect that may carry over.  Again, like most things in City of Mist, it’s about creativity.     

The Good

City of Mist is a game where you can let your imagination run free.  Creative players will find endless possibilities in the type of things they can do, or change.  Additionally, the book itself is filled to the brim with everything you need, and containing some of the best artwork I have seen in a while.  If that weren’t enough, the publisher has put out several other supplemental books, and have an active user community along with a helpful YouTube channel.

The Bad

This is a game that can be difficult in its simplicity.  Some players love the rigid framework of games like D&D or Savage Worlds, as they are usually easier to understand and are very reactive.  City of Mist is a game where players are limited to a handful of “moves” or actions they can make, but within that is an infinite world of possibly.  This is another title where some players will have to unlearn more traditional types of mechanics in order to embrace the idea of narrative control.  Anyone who has played FATE, Blades in the Dark, or the like will have their learning curve shortened a bit.   

Overall

City of Mist is absolutely a game that I can get behind.  Ever since Blades in the Dark I have become fonder of TTRPGs with a high degree of narrative control.  I want to run this game, and I’m going to pitch it to my group as soon as I can.  If you want a truly custom cinematic TTRPG experience, or any part of this sounds interesting, pick up a copy!

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