7 Differences to Note When Coming from D&D to the City of Mist TTRPG
So you want to try out City of Mist, but the only tabletop RPG you’ve played is Dungeons and Dragons. Being a huge D&D nerd myself, I felt the same confusion when I started City of Mist. But one of the great things about the City of Mist TTRPG is how easy it is to learn! To help you get into the game, we’ll be going over the main differences between D&D and CoM.
High Fantasy TTRPG >> Urban Fantasy TTRPG
City of Mist is a cinematic modern fantasy RPG, which is a lot of descriptive words for “fun mystery game with superpowers”. While Dungeons and Dragons is about epic heroes going on grand adventures, City of Mist is about regular people who are caught up in a secret, supernatural world. Magic is real, but it’s hidden underneath the trappings of modern society. You never know if the guy sitting next to you at the bus stop is secretly a hobgoblin...or worse. The game takes place in a noir city of murder mysteries and mythic secrets. Truth be told, if you’ve ever played a D&D session in Baldur’s Gate or Sharn, you should already get the vibe!
The familiar setting of a modern urban landscape makes the moments of monsters and magic all the more memorable. Just don’t expect your team of private investigators to plunge into a dungeon crawl.
Tactics >> Cinematics
Dungeons and Dragons is a TTRPG built around combat. While there’s quite a bit of roleplay and exploration built into the mechanics, most of the abilities you gain are different ways to kill things and stay alive. In contrast, City of Mist is a game about mystery and balancing your character’s regular life with their secret life. Your tavern is a detective’s office, your quest giver is a scared citizen, and your adventure is figuring out just who killed the victim. Superpowered battle often breaks out, but it’s a little different than the tactical combat of D&D.
City of Mist treats your game night like a TV show or a movie more than a battle map. It’s not so much about efficiently activating abilities as it is about invoking the key details in your character in a creative way and about shaping the story dramatically. Just like in a movie, you won’t use the same ability over and over again in the exact same way and you won’t know exactly how much money your character has in her pocket until it’s important to the plot. Instead, the rules of the game deal with how much narrative power your actions have, so that even the “weakest” character can have the greatest impact on the game - just like on the big screen.
Stats >> Tags
Unlike many other TTRPGs, City of Mist runs more on words than on numbers, which is another reason why it’s so easy to pick up. There are no ability scores, skill bonuses, weapon damage bonuses, or spell slots in City of Mist. Instead, your character’s abilities are determined only by the tags - short descriptors - that you choose during character creation. Some tags describe your character’s mythical powers (Mythos) while others describe their ordinary abilities and resources (Logos), making both aspects of your character important to the game. All tags are used in the same way: each tag that is relevant to the action you’re taking gives it +1 Power (or sometimes -1 Power, if it’s a weakness). Figuring out your next move is a lot simpler than keeping track of spell slots or action economy - just name the tags that help you take that action and roll!
Creating tags is as simple as answering questions about your character, and it allows for an incredible degree of creativity. Maybe your surgeon character can heal people with a touch, or your detective can see the dead. Without being restrained by character classes and ability lists, City of Mist allows you to make any kind of character you want.
Whatever your tags are, there are endless ways to use them in the game, so be sure to get creative! If you can find actions that stack multiple tags together in a single move, those +1’s can easily add up into an unstoppable +5 Power.
Skill Checks >> Narrative Moves
City of Mist does away with skill checks like rolling a DC 15 Athletics check. Instead, all players have access to a set of eight narrative Moves, such as Face Danger or Investigate. These Moves are purposefully made broad to allow all different kinds of approaches and combinations of tags while still giving mechanical weight to your actions. You can investigate a murder scene by searching for fingerprints, but you could also summon the ghost of the murder victim themselves!
As a player, you don’t need to ask to “roll to Investigate”. It’s the MC’s job to determine when an action requires a Move. Until then, players should simply describe what their characters are doing cinematically. You’re not casting a 3rd-level Fireball, you’re unleashing an inferno of hellfire on your enemies!
Initiative >> Spotlight
So now you’ve solved the mystery and you know what to do: fight the bad guy! But when do you roll initiative?
The answer is, you don’t! Fighting in City of Mist is a narrative endeavor. While the Master of Ceremonies sets up the dangers ahead, they’re also moving the spotlight between PC’s to see what they’ll do, the same as a director moving the camera between different lead characters in a movie. Going first in a fight can be as simple as just asking to go first, but it depends on the narrative combat situation. As each character acts, the spotlight moves around the table to allow everyone a chance to change the narrative.
This may seem a bit chaotic to those used to acting in a rolled order, but it really just gives scenes with combat the same free-form structure of scenes with roleplay or investigation. You don’t roll initiative, you take the initiative.
Hit Points >> Narrative Damage
In D&D, most of the time your goal is to drop the bad guy’s hit points to zero before your hit points go to zero. And while in City of Mist you can certainly beat up dockside goons until they’re unconscious, that’s not the only way you can win a conflict.
Instead of hit points, narrative damage is marked by Statuses, a tag with a tier from 1 to 6. Statuses can describe traditional damage such as being burned by fire, but they can also describe different types of narrative damage like being socially humiliated, physically chained up, magically cursed, legally wanted, etc. Every Danger can take different degrees of different types of statuses before they’re defeated, which means every conflict may need a different solution. Sure, you can try to punch a ghost, but it might be a lot easier to perform an exorcism or convince it to move on.
Player characters are affected by Statuses too, and Statuses can stack up. While you have a negative Status, that Status subtracts from the Power of any rolls affected by it, reducing how you can affect the narrative. If you take 5 levels of a Status, you’re out of the fight. At tier 6, your character is dead or somehow permanently transformed - it’s up to the MC.
DM’s Roll >> MC Never Rolls
Now this final difference took me the longest to get used to. In D&D, Dungeon Masters roll for initiative and ability checks for all of their NPC’s. But when does the MC roll in City of Mist? Turns out, never!
The MC role in City of Mist is to set up challenges and threats for the Player Characters using descriptions called soft moves (such as “the bounty hunter chases you down the alley!”).
When such a threat approaches, players describe their actions and roll moves to determine the outcome. When these actions fail, get complicated, or when they don't address the threat, the MC can pull the trigger on the Danger and make a hard move by dealing consequences (“the bounty tackles you down, take prone-2.”).
What this means is that the MC is constantly reacting to how the players interact with the world, giving players more control over the narrative. It also reinforces the need to foreshadow threats and describe things in detail so the players can properly react to the MC. This speeds up the action and enhances immersion by reducing the numbers of rolls and helping to keep the MC away from tedious mechanics and focused on the scene.
Despite these differences, both games share a common goal of bringing a group of friends together to have fun. If you’d like to move your dragons out of their dungeon and into downtown, we hope this article helps!