As my first session of City of Mist looms ever closer, I am preparing my final materials in order to be ready to run the game for my group. I’ve re-read the rules, I’m familiarizing myself with their characters and the Mythoi behind them, and I’m preparing the materials I will need in order to run an effective session for my eager players. City of Mist has a very specific structure and offers lots of creativity when it comes to creating challenges for the players to overcome, so today I’m going to show some of the resources I’ve put together for my own campaign.
Oh yeah, I said this last time, but if you’re reading this and you’re actually in my upcoming City of Mist campaign – stop. There are spoilers incoming!
THE OPERATION ICEBERG
In City of Mist, the structure of the overall campaign as well as the structure of each individual session is modeled by the iceberg. An iceberg is a massive object, but only a small percentage of its mass is actually visible at surface level. To see the full iceberg, you must go deeper and into more dangerous territory. This is the basic concept behind City of Mist’s structure; you encounter a story hook on the surface and then dive deeper in search for the cold, hard truth.
For your first session of City of Mist you’re going to need two icebergs. The first is the operation iceberg, a visual representation of the structure of the villainous organization the players will be working to destroy. The second is the case iceberg, which reflects the structure of the specific case that the players will be investigating that session. The two of these together allow you to focus on what’s happening right now while also visualizing where the players’ actions will lead them long-term.
So what is the big organization my players are dealing with? They chose the series concept The Pros, which is all about mercenaries being hired to perform heists or killings. Specifically, my players are portraying a group of diverse heroes in the 1940s, an era where any non-WASP is going to be dealing with an inordinate number of struggles. Their focus is on dealing with corrupt, powerful organizations and politicians. So naturally, the operational iceberg of their big villain needs to be focused on these corrupt and powerful entities.
The big villain I envision is a collective of affluent men: a high-ranking clergyman, a doctor, an attorney, a wealthy financier, and the chief of police. While each has their own separate Mythos giving them dangerous abilities, as a collective they are the Avatar of a Mythos called The Oligarchy, the mythical representation of every wealthy and powerful person all in one. This is the perfect villain for the group of poor mercenaries that my players will be portraying.
I have five players in total and so having five Oligarchy members works out perfectly, allowing me to have one major villain from each of my player’s Mythos. These villains will also make up the five levels of the operational iceberg, with the most public operating at the “sleeper level” (the layer where people without supernatural abilities can perceive what is happening) while the most private and behind-the-scenes member operates at the “avatar level” (the deepest and most difficult part of the organization to reach).
On layer one I have the clergyman, who I picture as being a corrupt priest abusing his religious authority to bleed money and loyalty out of the people. Because one member of the Crew is specifically motivated to stop corrupt religious leaders and her Mythos is related to religion, I’ll be establishing this villain as hers specifically. Her Mythos is Slavic in origin, a saint who replaced the prevailing pagan religion with Christianity. So this corrupt priest will actually be the Rift of the Mythos of Veles, the god of water and the underworld that would have been pushed to the wayside by that character’s Mythos.
The second layer, the Touched level, will be the financier. One of the player characters has King Arthur as a Mythos, and the black knight is a recurring villain archetype in Arthurian legend. However, black knight has its own meaning in business circles – a corrupt partner who strengthens their own personal wealth by weakening the business. This Black Knight’s power is not in the sword, but in money, and he’ll be a foe the party cannot overcome simply by punching him a few times.
On the Borderliner layer, I’m placing the doctor. The doctor is an alchemist, a twisted madman who is experimenting on the disenfranchised of the City. His Mythos is that of the yellow dragon, a Chinese dragon that sits at the center of the four cardinal dragons and represents the stuff that composes the world. This idea of “aether” or “quintessence” factors perfectly into alchemy, and I imagine that the doctor will need some kind of component from the player character whose Mythos happens to be one of the other four dragons.
For the legendary layer, I have chosen the attorney. I imagine at some point in the campaign, one of the player characters is probably going to be arrested. Many of the group members are known criminals and even those starting out innocent are conspiring with a team of mercenaries to take down some of the most powerful men in the City. Because a player character has a connection to Celtic myth, I’ll be using the god Mannanan as the Mythos for this attorney. Mannanan had a sword called The Answerer which can cause others to tell the truth – I definitely want to manifest this in the courtroom in some way.
Finally, on the Avatar layer is the fifth member of the Oligarchy and the hardest (from an organizational perspective) to reach and face off against: the chief of police. My wife’s character in the game has Peter Pan as a Mythos, but I didn’t want to just default to Captain Hook as a villain concept. When I started looking at characters from Peter Pan who might make interesting villains, my eye was drawn to the crocodile. A powerful, hungry beast whose coming is always signaled by a ticking clock. I love time motifs in any medium and so the idea of a threatening police chief determined to consume the whole City who is always preceded by the ticking of his pocketwatch appeals to me quite a bit.
This is a pretty simple operation iceberg, with five layers but only one adversary/location per layer. I’ve made this choice because my group is only going to get to play around six sessions before we have to take a break for a time. We’ve decided to structure this mini-campaign as the first season of a story that may go on to have two or three seasons. Due to the low number of sessions, I don’t want to get too complicated and so will stick to a very simple iceberg for the time being. If we ever get an opportunity to play for what we know will be a longer period of time, I’ll create a more complex organization for the players to face off against.
Of course, the campaign-long operational iceberg isn’t the only iceberg I have to prepare for my game. There’s also the case icebergs for the first and second sessions that we’ll be playing tomorrow. This means I need to flesh out more details about the the Rift of Veles and the Rift of the Black Knight – what are their operations like? What are the story hooks that will connect my players to their cases? And what kinds of unique dangers will my players face in the process?
I want to start the first session with a cold open, putting my players in an action scene to help them get used to rolling and utilizing the rules of the game. Two of my players have never played a Powered by the Apocalypse RPG before – one has never played a tabletop game period. Letting them engage the rules without a bunch of exposition will be a more interesting way to get things started. My idea here is that the hook for the first case is that they were hired by their typical benefactor and have already been investigating for a few days, but are consistently hitting dead ends. The battle at the beginning will be the third apparent dead end that they’ve found – but perhaps some clues there will lead the party to a church where they can begin to find some real answers.
I picture that the priest’s operation is related in some way to drugs. For some reason the idea of these creepy monks with religious iconography all around, standing in a fog with glistening eyes and haunting a player who has been exposed to the sinister drug, is fascinating to me. I don’t want any of my villains to be too straightforward – my players have enough combat tags that a physically threatening villain is really not going to be that threatening. Conversely, a sinister enemy who cannot be fought directly will push the story in interesting new directions, especially since multiple characters are listening for messages from their Mythoi. Exposure to this drug could cause them to hear some very interesting things…
Naturally, I need to make some dangers related to the Rift of Veles. This includes the Rift himself, as well as his servant monks and the drug that they are spreading around the City. I’ll need some street thugs to be in charge of guarding the warehouses where the drug is stored for distribution, as one of these guarded warehouses is where the players will begin the game and start finding clues. So now that we have worked through a couple of icebergs, let’s take a look at danger creation for this session.
For the corrupt monks who work for the Rift of Veles and spread his poison, I imagine a hooded figure wearing jewelry of various kinds with religious symbols clearly displayed. These men are creepy even in broad daylight, but in the shadows their eyes glint strangely underneath the edge of the hood. A player character who has been exposed to their drug will see the hooded monks everywhere, standing at the edges of their peripheral vision or reflected in mirrors or puddles. These religious extremists do not respond to pain, and their master has placed an unusual protection upon them which harms anyone who tries to attack them directly. The spectrums which could lead to the demise of the monks are Expose-4 and Isolate-3. I think isolate is only temporary, and perhaps only effective when the players are not under the influence of the drug, but the monks gain power from their flock and won’t function well without any sheep to lead to slaughter.
Naturally the drug itself is going to need to be represented as a danger. I think as a danger move, any player exposed to the drug will have to keep taking it or otherwise be exposed to increasingly painful withdrawal statuses. However, taking the drug more and more will build up that status spectrum as well, and the player will inevitably be approaching death on either side until the party somehow manages to purge his or her system, or find an antidote to the drug’s effects. Hence, the drug’s spectrums would be total-cleanse-5 or mystical-antidote-1.
For the Rift of Veles, I imagine a priest named Father Solomon (Solomon is a creepy name, right?). He leads the monks and has a particularly powerful influence over those who have been exposed to his drug. Veles is a god of water, so I imagine it is always raining around where Father Solomon is. His water-based abilities will contrast nicely with the fire-based ones of the character whose Mythos he’ll be connected to, further punctuating the differences between them and further pressing her buttons. I think defeating him will requiring exposing him on a large scale to the City – Expose-5, probably – or otherwise pitting his natural opposite against him. However, having these two Rifts and their forces competing so directly could definitely evolve into a war that might do more harm than good. And one of the player characters will lose control in the presence of such violence, possibly setting her up to be captured or to otherwise compromise the secrecy and security of the Crew.
Well adventurers, I think that is all I will post of my session planning for now. I hope this is helpful to you if you plan to run your own City of Mist game. If you are interested in playing and have questions about the game, let me know in the comments – I’d love to talk up the game to interested players!
This seems really cool.
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Having now actually played my first session, I can say that I am enjoying the game so far but most of the prep I’ve talked about in my posts so far has become irrelevant – as I learn more about how the game runs I feel like my preparation style will change a lot over the course of the campaign.