This past Saturday I ran my first session of City of Mist using the full version of the rules. It was an interesting session, to be sure – I had no idea what to expect from the game, and what I learned was that I still have a lot to learn about running this new RPG. My experience with Powered by the Apocalypse games almost doesn’t matter here, so different are the mechanics thanks to the multiple game resources that make City of Mist so unique. After a session of play, my players and I discussed what we felt we needed to work on, and it was pretty unanimous: we really didn’t get Juice and the various things it could do.
Juice is a game resource in City of Mist that players can use on a number of different effects. It is generated primarily by the core move Change the Game, in which the player character uses their powers in order to affect the situation in a variety of ways. Change the Game is very versatile compared to the other moves in the game. It can encompass almost any action, from calling the police to changing the weather to healing a wound to giving your friend a pep talk. Because it is so broad, the effects you can produce with it are understandably vague – they have to be in order to fit with all of the possible outcomes of the move itself. The problem this generates is that it can be difficult to understand exactly how to apply the move – at least, it was for us.
The most basic effects of Change the Game are as follows: create a story tag, burn a power tag or story tag, or give or reduce a status. The struggle we really had here was making any kind of meaningful distinction between creating a story tag and giving a status. When my players asked me what a story tag was, the only real explanation I could manage was to say that it was an object that entered the scene. Most of the players felt like this never made sense and so they avoided that as an option. Which made Change the Game a bit frustrating for them, as my misunderstanding of story tags in general really limited their options in the game.
After we finished playing and discussed what we needed to work on, I looked more into Juice, Change the Game, story tags, and statuses to help me get a better idea of how to use these game resources effectively and in order to enable my players to do so as well. I focused specifically on the difference between story tags and statuses so that my players and I could know when each one was more appropriate.
The best advice in the book for this distinction is posted directly above. Tags don’t necessarily have to be an object but they must always describe what something always is. Conversely, a status describes what someone or something currently is. This may be a strange association but I relate it to when I was studying the Spanish language in high school. There are two verbs for “to be” and they can be distinguished in this same fashion. Saying that Jenny is pretty using the verb ser is describing her as a beautiful or attractive person, while saying that Jenny is pretty using the verb estar is describing her as looking good in this particular moment. Tags describe a lasting characteristic while statuses represent the current condition.
The aspect of this that confused me during play is that whether you use Juice to produce a story tag or a status, it’s temporary. The story tag can be used once and then is burned away. The status applies to one roll and then is gone. If a tag is the essential nature of something, how can it also be temporary? In my inexperience, story tags and statuses felt too similar for me to offer a proper distinction and so made one irrelevant. And with one irrelevant, it limited the options available to my players when they spent Juice.
Part of what I need to remember for the future is that story tags don’t disappear just because a player used them to improve his or her power on a roll. The mechanical potency of the tag is gone but it still exists within the game fiction. The player characters could even still be utilizing the story tag they created in a fictional sense – it’s simply that the initial value of the object (or whatever else) is spent. Now everyone knows about that story tag and will be prepared for it in the future.
Ryuutama has a mechanic built into its combat system that greatly compliments the story tag concept. Whenever the characters enter battle against enemies, all of the players go around the table and name elements to introduce into the fight scene. One might say that there’s a collection of smooth stones by the river, another might include that multiple puddles have formed due to the waters recently becoming higher than normal. When a player incorporates one of these elements into the description of the character’s attack, they take a +1 to their roll. It’s a simple but effective way to engage the fiction and encourage the players to think about the game world in more detail.
In City of Mist, the characters introduce elements to the scene by way of the Change the Game move. However, it is also the MCs responsibility to make sure that other relevant story tags are present. If the characters are fighting a mob in a warehouse, there should be some crates of textiles that they can use for stealth or other forms of beneficial combat positioning. The villains might have a bag of “the stuff” which the players can use Investigation upon in order to learn the truth behind the origins of the stuff. It is my job to introduce these story tags into the scene for my players to use, and in doing so demonstrating what kinds of things would be appropriate for their own story tags.
I like to use index cards as a prep resource a lot, and I think there could be some value in writing down the story tags that would exist in each environment. Doing so will help me get practice figuring out what works best as a story tag, not to mention it will strengthen my descriptions of the environments themselves. For example, if an environment has the story tag shelves full of musty books, I know to make sure to describe those shelves when I begin a scene. This also gives my players cues for the kinds of resources they can use in the environment to describe cool combat tactics.
One important advantage that will come out of me using story tags more effectively is that it opens up the second option of the Change the Game move: burning a story tag. Normally, using Juice to burn a tag is only relevant in PVP, but with story tags in play the players can use Juice in order to make a meaningful impact on the environment. If the villain is using his menacing dental tools to torture their ally, the players can use Change the Game to burn that tag and make the villain less potent. You could base an entire battle around this mechanic by having story tags that generate a barrier for an opponent – only by burning all of those story tags can the players create a situation where they are actually capable of harming the villain.
Where story tags are constants, statuses are temporary conditions that describe what something is like right now. When using Change the Game, choosing the option to inflict a status can be utilized either against the opponent or on a player character. While I had trouble understanding story tags, statuses make a lot more sense to me. Players can give each other helpful statuses like encouraged-1, blessed-with-godlike-strength-4, or even protected-from-bullets-2. Conversely, the opposition might be inflicted with discouraged-1, drained-of-power-3, or exposed-to-the-elements-5. Of course, producing 5 Juice would take a seriously impressive amount of Power or beneficial statuses, but that’s beyond the point. Statuses to me are a lot easier to apply than story tags and I think my players have a stronger grasp of them too.
When it comes to producing Juice for their characters to use, my players seemed to have more trouble with the resource when it came from Hit With All You’ve Got or Go Toe to Toe versus when they rolled the move Change the Game. I think this is partly because the latter is specifically designed to generate Juice and the whole focus of the move is on using that resource to create a new set of circumstances. Conversely, the former two moves only produce a single point of Juice whose effect is secondary to the main function of the move. So how can I help my players to know what to do with that single point of Juice?
I think the biggest thing I can do is to remind my players that Juice doesn’t have to be spent immediately. As long as it makes some level of sense that the source of the Juice might not cause its effect immediately, they can bank that stuff for when a brilliant idea strikes them. Perhaps when producing Juice as part of a particularly clever zinger on the Go Toe to Toe move, the player could state that the subject of the burn didn’t get the joke until later, spending that Juice to inflict a status like just-now-got-it-1 which interrupts the villain’s attempt to flirt with the mayor’s niece. Or the wicked blow dealt to the baroness by a player’s Hit With All You’ve Got later causes her to lose-her-balance-1 because her leg gives out as she’s trying to escape the Crew. Since the single point of Juice could possibly be applied later, that gives the players more time to figure out these sorts of tactics.
An improved understanding of story tags also helps this. If the villain is working with the police, a mighty character like Mitosis might use the Juice from his Hit With All You’ve Got to send the villain flying into the police and scatter them, thereby burning that story tag. Creating a helpful story tag could also be an option here – while Going Toe to Toe with a powerful Rift of an ancient god, Detective Enkidu might accidentally “create” a damaged power line that her partner Sullivan can then use to electrocute the Rift for some big damage.
It’s cool for me to have a better understanding of this so I can help my players use these rules more effectively during play, but I need to do what I can in order to teach them in a more practical manner. In the interest of that, during my next session I will probably use story tags a lot more frequently, emphasizing them as a game mechanic in order to equip my players with the knowledge of how to use them effectively. By practicing this tricky aspect of the game together, both my players and I will be able to have a better understanding of how City of Mist works so we can glean even more enjoyment from the game.
That’s all for me, adventurers! If you too struggle with story tags and Juice, I hope reading through my thoughts as I worked to better understand the concept for myself was helpful for you. I’ll be doing posts like this as I continue to play City of Mist in order to help me master the game and be the most effective MC I can be. So if you plan to play the game or want to learn more about how to run it, you can come learn alongside me and maybe even give me some advice if there is a mechanic that you understand better than I do. I encourage you to leave a comment with any questions or advice you have – I’d love to hear from you!