Angel’s Citadel purchases a lot of games. A lot. We’ve discussed elsewhere how we acquire these games and why, so I’m not going to cover that here. What I will say, is that often, in these new games, there is a section on things that inspired the author(s), or other games that they have taken concepts from and incorporated them into their game. Sometimes, it’s even a recommendation to, “go play this game because it’s amazing,”. This last one is the impetus for this review. Three or four of the different games that we’ve purchased now have recommended the City of Mist as an amazing example of RPG design. I’ve had several people that I respect recommend it to me personally. While I can’t say that has never happened, I will say that it doesn’t happen very often (the other one that comes to mind rather rapidly is Blades in the Dark).
So today, I’m going to tackle the City of Mist. I’ll start out by saying that this review will likely not do what I’ve read justice as there is a lot here and a lot to talk about and pry into. I’ll also say that I freely acknowledge that superhero games/systems aren’t particularly my jam. With that said, although the superhero inspiration is obvious, City of Mist is not strictly a superhero game either, though it seems very obviously to be designed to mimic that power level and gonzo feeling that is so prevalent through comic movies and comic books.
Manufacturing and Production
As this was one of our many Bundle of Holding purchases, we only have the PDF files for review, but I will state that in my discussions with the tabletop roleplaying community at large, I have not heard of any major issues with the print quality, binding, or materials from anyone I know personally that has them in hardcopy. I have a little more to say on this topic than normal this time around, so I hope you’ll bear with me.
The City of Mist is, for lack of a better way to say it, a beautifully designed and laid out book. The text style choice is spot on and very easy on the eyes. One of the interesting decisions made was to make all of the “play example” text appear to be a printed cinematic script (small or silver screen). Not being a layout artist myself or a graphic designer, it was very interesting to me how such a little choice put me in a very appropriate frame of mind for the kind of game the author is trying to teach. Another excellent choice is the use of comics on the splat pages. While I am personally not a fan of comics so much, I can’t fault their use here. It adds to both the atmosphere and the immersion of the game in what I can only suggest is near-perfection.
Everything about the design and layout of these books is thematically and aesthetically tight, more so than I can remember from any other particular roleplaying book out there. This is not to say that City of Mist is the only clean or well-put-together roleplaying book out there. (I mean, have you read my Monte Cook Games reviews?) Simply that from an overall package and immersion standpoint, City of Mist stands out from the rest (yes, even the MCG ones) as a masterpiece of thematic layout. The team that worked on this should be extremely proud of their work.
City of Mist is a game that is a study in how to take the best of several different systems and weave them together to create something new and extremely clean and tight. The system’s feel draws heavily (and references doing so) from the Powered by the Apocalypse game system by D. Vincent Baker. It also, however, seems to draw heavily from the feel and some of the mechanics of FATE Core by Evil Hat Productions. It takes both of these and weaves them together to create a new system that uses some of the best of both of these in a very effective manner.
The game itself is set in a city of the groups’ devising (the group picks the flavor of the city that they inhabit) and the primary impetus of the group working together (which is assumed). Both of these have example lists with several varied concepts that you can choose from or use to build your own. The Mist isolates the city you create and there is no interaction with anything else so that everything happens in this city. The mortals around you, sleepers, are encouraged by the Mist to not notice or explain away any oddities that they see, up to and including the use of your mystical powers. In fact, it is the Mist itself that allows the Mythos to come to the city and awaken inside of a sleeper granting them power. This may come in many forms, from ancient gods like Zeus, to literary luminaries like Don Quixote, to fairy tale personas like Peter Pan.
The core of character creation is choosing a series of themes that define a blend of Mythos (or your mystical/legendary powers) and Logos (or your mundane/human-centric abilities). These themes are fleshed out using Tags, which are very much reminiscent of FATE’s Aspects. Rather than having a single coin for the economy of the game as FATE does with FATE points, there are three: Juice, Statuses, and Clues. These are acquired and/or given by performing the core moves of the game (moves being borrowed from Powered by the Apocalypse games, but the flow of the currency feeling very much like invokes from FATE).
Individual characters are then formed into Crews which also have Themebooks guiding the general tenor of the group and how they look at solving problems together. This also gives them additional tags (on top of the ones that are tied to their individual characters) that they can use to accomplish Moves. Finally, in addition to the thrust of the team, creating a crew involves tying individual crewmembers together with a shared history that may or may not be fully detailed in the creation (so that it can come out organically during play – a theme that is strongly encouraged in this system: leaving mysteries to discover in-play).
Moves are completed with a 2d6 roll adding a factor called Power, which is simply the number of beneficial tags minus the number of detrimental tags plus the level of the highest beneficial status minus the level of the highest detrimental status. If the final result is 6 or less, the Master of Ceremonies (MC) makes an MC Move against you or your crew. If the result is 7-9, you score a success with complications called a “weak hit”. If the result is 10 or 11, you receive mostly benefits with a “strong hit”. If the result is 12 or more, your move is “Dynamite!” and an “extraordinary hit” granting special benefits. The individual move descriptions have guidelines for every type of result relevant to the type of action performed for the GM and players’ aid.
The rest of the Player’s Guide fleshes out the mechanics for Moves, the gaining and usage of the Tag economy (Juice, Statuses, and Clues), and how characters and crews advance and change over the course of their investigations into themselves and the strange phenomenon around them. At the end of that book, there are player aids and brief summaries of the moves as well as an example of play to help new players understand the flow of the game.
The Master of Ceremonies’ book gives some targeted advice for people running the game at the very beginning. This is extremely on-point the way I’ve seen in some other products like Monte Cook Games’ Cypher System or Blades in the Dark. Next, it goes into the setting of “the City” with an emphasis on keeping things “cinematic”. This emphasis sets a very interesting tone for the game, defining how people and scenes and character actions get described as well as how stories get built. It evokes one of my “new” favorite tricks for describing a scene – considering how one might see it through the lens of a camera in a movie.
Following this is a lengthy discussion about creating individual sessions and longer series but in the context of this particular game. The advice is specific and detailed which makes this an excellent offering for new GMs (MCs) to learn how to run a session. There is excellent advice on narration and description and how to keep the flow of this game as a conversation between the players and the MC rather than MC exposition broken up by snippets of player input and some dice rolls. This conversational GM-ing was something we first saw detailed out in Blades in the Dark and is a philosophy that I have very much come around to in my own personal gaming career.
After that, there is a section for the MC that helps teach and give advice on how to create dangers for the players in City of Mist. Also found are rules for creating custom moves and Avatars, the most powerful of Mythoi in the city. There are MC tools and forms that are similar to the ones in the Player’s Guide. And finally, it presents a fully prepared Case for an MC to run their group through called Gambling with Death that can be used with or without its companion in the Starter Kit (Called Shark Tank).
These two books together are dense. Together, they weigh in at over 550 pages. Now, don’t get me wrong, the material in them is incredible. It’s well laid out, it’s well explained, and without having played the game, it seems to (at least in my mind) fit together quite well by design. The only critiques I could make to these books would be as follows:
First, these books beg for an index. Both of them. In my personal opinion, if you’re creating a rulebook (and not one that is rules-by-reference such as with the Cypher Creator program), a good index is not an optional thing. Especially for the new MC here, the ability to look up the rules quickly is a huge boon. Second, while at the beginning of the Player’s guide, there is an introductory section that includes some basic verbiage surrounding core game concepts, both of these books could do with a several-page glossary. This would be something that one could look at and, at a glance, jog the memory of what a particular game term means with perhaps a central, relevant page reference to flip to for more information. Even if the index lists multiple pages that add flavor to a context, the glossary would reference the “primary” one.
City of Mist is a unique take on a superhero-like tabletop roleplaying game that uses elements from games that are Powered by the Apocalypse and from FATE Core and blends them to become its own animal. That animal, however, is one of the most well-crafted conglomerates that I have ever read. If you are looking for an example of the correct way to take pieces from multiple games and weave them into something new, you should absolutely go and purchase these two books. If you are looking for a very different take on the superhero genre than can be found in traditional games in that vein, you should absolutely go and purchase these two books. I don’t know when it’s going to make it to my table, but after looking at these, I believe I need to play a few games of City of Mist, to experience it for myself. If nothing else, these two books may actually find themselves purchased (they are currently having a sale all month – November 2021) and on my shelves in dead tree form, and that is not something I do lightly anymore. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles