Why Losing a Theme is a Good Thing in City of Mist TTRPG
Leveling up in roleplaying games is always fun, and most games try to keep it simple. If you slay enough monsters and earn enough points, you get new abilities to slay more monsters and earn more points!
But City of Mist is a cinematic modern fantasy RPG, with drama baked into the core ruleset. As people develop, they may lose or outgrow parts of themselves they once thought core to their being. What happens when Spiderman loses his powers, or Mary Jane? Who is Batman if he threw away Bruce Wayne and his fortune? In City of Mist, that major character development is represented by replacing one of your themes.
While throwing out a quarter of your character sheet can seem scary, the dramatic evolution that comes from it is well worth it. You can spend the whole game marking Attention on the themes you have, collecting more power tags and theme improvements. But the most surefire way to get the best upgrades in the game is by replacing your themes!
HOW DO YOU REPLACE A THEME?
The standard player character is made up of four Mythos and Logos themes, representing the core parts of their mythical and mundane lives. Every Mythos theme has a Mystery that calls out to the character and every Logos theme has an Identity that represents a major truth of the character.
If you neglect or go against these core motivations, your character risks losing them over time. Mythos themes gain Fade each time you choose to ignore their Mystery. If you stop following the signs of your Mythos, you will lose touch with it and your powers will diminish. Meanwhile, Logos themes gain Crack each time you go against their Identity. If Salamander stops showing up to his job as a City Water Worker, it’s only a matter of time until he gets fired. If you gain 3 Fade or Crack, the theme is replaced.
This is the gradual way of replacing a theme, but themes can also be replaced suddenly. For example, they can be sacrificed with Stop. Holding. Back!. They can also be narratively resolved when you find the ultimate answer to your Mystery or when your Identity 'ends' such as when you complete your Mission theme.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU REPLACE A THEME?
Once a theme is replaced, it’s gone forever. You can’t use its power tags or weakness tags anymore, and the Identity or Mystery that was once so important no longer holds any sway over your character. But just because that chapter of your character’s life is closed doesn’t mean they didn’t take anything away from it.
Any developments put into the theme such as additional power tags or theme improvements turn into Build-Up Points, one for each improvement. If you think of a theme’s Attention as its experience points, you should think of Build-Up as a separate pool of XP. The reason these points are kept separate is because Build-Up Points can be used for the big level-ups called Moments of Evolution.
Only by replacing your themes can you unlock City of Mist’s best upgrades, such as extra themebooks that can give you a powerful ally, a base of operations, or a slick new ride! You can also upgrade Core Moves by making them permanently Dynamite!, giving you more options when you roll 12 or above. The expansion Shadows & Showdowns also comes with Veteran Improvements, which are like theme improvements but are much more powerful and diverse.
Your theme never disappears quietly though. A replaced theme leaves behind a Nemesis, which is an antagonistic force related to your character’s life change. This could be a character that gets in your way or a struggle like a medical condition or hanging debt. Whatever it is, this Nemesis will pop up in your character’s life as a reminder of what they gave up.
Finally, to fill the empty space your former theme took up, your character gains a new Nascent Theme. This represents a new aspect of your life that is gaining focus, like a new powerset or a new love interest. Nascent themes start with one tag and rapidly gain two more power tags to bring them up to speed.
The new theme is the opposite of what you've had before; you replace Mythos with Logos and Logos with Mythos. As a result, the balance of legendary and ordinary changes in your character as they divert their focus to either side. If you go all the way in either way, you can even play for a while as an Avatar or a Sleeper!
HOW IT ALL COMES TOGETHER
Your City of Mist character evolves more like a fictional character in a book, TV show, or movie and less like a videogame character that just levels up. By occasionally replacing a theme, you get to play out the ups and downs of your characters life, as she becomes the focus of a battle between the ordinary and the legendary, the familiar and the strange.
All of this is based on your in-game decisions as a player. You can choose to stick to what your character is good at, marking Attention and gaining power tags and theme improvements, or you can go all the way and ride the rollercoaster of your character's destiny, changing them forever.
But by keeping the best upgrades behind Build-Up Points and Moments of Evolution, City of Mist encourages players to have their characters go through dramatic journeys of character development and personal transformation. You’ll get the rush of watching a well-written show when your PC sacrifices their relationship with a loved one to save the City, or unexpectedly chooses to set aside their Mythos to pursue a more earthbound path, earning you your next level up.
Who knows where this non-linear character growth system will take you? Go ahead, hit the streets of the City and try it out!
What City of Mist character development caught you by surprise? Has one of your characters lost a theme? Tell us about it in the comments, on social media, or on the City of Mist Discord. Until then, have fun!