by Delos

Interview with Urban Shadows

For those of you living under a rock, Urban Shadows is a fantastic RPG written by Andrew Mederios. It’s one part Buffy, one part Dresden Files, and one part Apocalypse World. Here is a link to the completed Kickstarter, and here is a link to the G+ community dedicated to Urban Shadows. I’ve played a few sessions on it and we had a blast. Urban Shadows (US) is slated to be released early 2015.


Could you tell us a little about yourself outside of the RPG world? (family, friends, pet, day job, etc)

Certainly! I was born and raised in Ontario Canada and still call it home today. I’m married to my wonderful partner and we have no plans on children. I have always had a huge passions for games of any variety and most of my free time is spent playing or exploring them.

When did you start playing RPGs?

I started at the age of 19, with 3rd edition D&D. Those days seem so far off today but I remember those early games very fondly. Portraying a character in an rpg was fun and exciting and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.

Favorite PC you played?

This is an impossible question, but I will try and choose one for the sake of your blog. I suppose my favourite PC would be Hope, my Battlebabe in Apocalypse World. Hope was fiercely independent, deadly with her sniper rifle and rose to become a gladiatorial champion through no inclination of her own. It was a very fun campaign!

When did you start working on RPG design and why?

I’ve always hacked and altered rules from previous games to better suit my tastes but I didn’t get into creating my own designs or hacks of *World games until 2012. The sole motivation was always to make a game for my groups of friends to play and we’ve had a lot of fun with them so far, I think.

I started with a few flat attempts and eventually came onto the idea of Urban Shadows. All the previous games were satisfying but none brought me as much satisfaction as U-S.

What made you decide to make Urban Shadows? (The main goal behind it)

I wanted a hack of Apocalypse World that would allow me to tell stories in the urban fantasy genre. I had been playing in a Dresden Files rpg game that wasn’t scratching the itch quite right for me, so out of frustration for that I started work on Urban Shadows. It’s come a long way since those early days and seen many interpretations, but we’re finally at a place where we can step back and be proud of our work.

Where did you get the inspiration for US? (other systems, books, movies, etc)

Well it’s no lie that Apocalypse World is the framework for U-S. We borrowed Vincent Baker’s mechanics to create Urban Shadows and also drew mechanical and spiritual inspiration from other hacks like Monsterhearts and Ghost Lines.

What was the hardest thing to come up with for US? (Class, general mechanics, etc)

I think the basic moves and their peripheral counterparts were the hardest part. We wanted a set of moves that would allow protagonists to do what they needed to do in order to experience the genre and also move story forward. Basic moves tend to be streamlined and concise, and that is a real challenge to maintain when writing and rewriting them.

What was the most daunting/scariest aspect about making your own game?

The whole design process is daunting when you sit and think about it, and that is crippling when you are starting off. If it wasn’t for my co-designer and friends, I never would have been able to take the first few steps. You need to look at it in its individual pieces and just take it one step at a time or you’ll become overwhelmed like I was.

Urban Shadows is a team effort and it looks like you have some wonderful people you are working with, but what was the biggest argument/controversy your group had when making US?

This is another fantastic question! We debated almost every element of the game but the biggest for us was probably The Wizard and The Aware. Every vision we had for them was solid but also very different from one another. We ended up meeting half-way on a lot of the themes and tones of the Archetypes and I think they ended up really strong for it. But I never want to do that again!

Those that are currently playtesting know that the basic moves have gone through a few changes over the past few months. Have you finalized those now or should we expect a change when the book launches?

The Basic Moves and Archetypes are done, no revisions or text changes are planned for them.

You have two unique mechanics in US that pulls it away from AW, Debts and Corruption. Could you walk us through the thought process and creation of these mechanics?

Debts came about as a parallel to Hx (History) in Apocalypse World and Strings from Monsterhearts. We wanted a mechanic to tie together the protagonists right out of the gate and the concept of incurring and paying off debts is constant in the urban fantasy genre. Seemed like a no brainer really.

Corruption sort of just happened, I don’t recall what sparked it for me but one day it was there and I just rolled with it. I think it’s our most popular feature, I myself love dipping into corruption when I get a chance to play the game. The mechanic itself has seen some changes, but has more or less stayed true to its original form.

What playbooks can we expect at release?

Right now our official archetype releases will include The Aware, The Fae, The Hunter, The Oracle, The Spectre, The Tainted, The Vamp, The Veteran, The Wizard, and The Wolf. The extended Archetypes will release for free shortly afterward, once we put them through some final playtesting and editing.

What is your favorite playbook from US? (Yours or Fans)

I should have expected another impossible question like this one *smiles*. If I had to choose one though, it would be The Vamp. After all the vampire movies and books, I still love them and their struggles to remain human in the face of their relentless hunger. It just speaks to me in a way the others do not, at least not as loudly.

What is your current favorite RPG outside of US?

Without a doubt it’s Apocalypse World. I adore the unforgiving wastelands and desperate remains of humanity clinging to survival, and AW delivers this in a way no other game does! It also throws in some crazy Weirdness that is the perfect seasoning for the scarcity of post-apocalyptic fiction!

What is your favorite RPG anecdote?

Nothing will beat the moment when my Hardholder in my very first Apoc World campaign (A Hardholder is like the dictator of a small village of a couple hundred or so people. Think of The Governor from Walking Dead). He left his holding to engage in some negotiations and returned only to find it all aflame, his citizens standing outside the city and watching it burn. There is some in-depth backstory on how this all came about but all you need to know is that many of them had this coming. So he stood up and addressed the crowd, told them they had reaped what they had sewn, abandoned them to their fates, and strode off into the night never to be seen again.

Do you prefer to GM or play a PC?

I would say that I prefer to play over GM by only the slightest degree, probably something close to a 55/45 split. GM-ing a great campaign is one of the best feelings in gaming but it’s also a very stressful and consuming role to fill. Playing is more surprising and unexpected and I enjoy that feeling quite a bit too.

If you were trapped in the last game you GMd, and the PCs were your only hope for survival, how screwed would you be?

Actually I think I would be alright. Most of them were powerful beings but quite soft-hearted when it came right down to it. Even though they found themselves on opposite sides of a conflict in the final chapter, they did everything they could to prevent having to hurt one another. It ended in blood and death, make no mistake, but they tried everything they could to avoid that.

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