Mysteries & Identities for MC's
In our last video, we talked about how Mysteries and Identities are a crucial part of a character’s growth in the City of Mist TTRPG. As a player, you want to have Mysteries and Identities that not only define your current character, but also give them something to pursue and put on the line during their investigations.
But roleplaying games are a conversation, especially between the player and the MC. A player can create the most interesting and complex character, but they won’t get a chance to truly shine if that character isn’t put to the test. It’s the MC’s role to set up those dramatic moments and confrontations.
So in today’s video, we’re going over MC tips on how you can properly challenge your PC’s through utilizing their Mysteries and Identities.
Tip #1: It's Not About You
The City of Mist Mysteries and Identities system puts the power in the hands of the player. This means you can never force a PC to Make a Hard Choice, or to invoke the moves Finally, Some Answers or End of the Road. Your role as the MC is to provide the player with enough opportunities to use these moves and choose to follow or forsake their Mythos or Logos.
It's a good idea to chat to each player before the game and find out what they would like best. Some players want the MC to come up with all the answers and twists and enjoy the revelation, while others would like the MC to introduce different possibilities for them to choose from.
Then there are players who want their characters' Identities to be challenged, while other players are not at all into the inner conflict. That's cool too, and you can just note to yourself not to throw those players a curveball until Making a Hard Choice comes from the player. They won’t be gaining any Build Up points for that theme, but they can still add power tags and theme improvements during level-ups.
If you feel an opportunity has been presented but the players aren’t biting, you can ask them if they think it's an appropriate moment for one of those moves, and let them decide. You'd be surprised at how their perception of their character's motivations can sometimes be different from yours.
Tip #2: Invoke One Mystery or Identity per Session
It's hard to have all the Mysteries and Identities of each and every character feature in the same session. Even professional screenwriters fail to do that much of the time. Instead, it's best to decide before each session which PC’s will be your focus and which of their Mysteries or Identities you'll focus on. Don’t forget that crew themes and extra themes also have Mysteries and Identities you can challenge.
Whatever you plan, be prepared to improvise. As any GM can tell you, players are unpredictable. Planning to challenge a PC in a given way sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, but it shouldn't be forced.
Once you get the hang of planned Mystery and Identity moments, you'll start seeing opportunities to improvise them in play. A player might say something about their PC that you can use as a challenge to their Identity, or a moment arises that plays right into another PC's Mystery. The best way to see these opportunities is to be the PCs’ biggest fan and figure out how they tick.
Tip #3: Give Them a Chance to Answer Their Mysteries
Each Mythos theme has a Mystery that can range from broad philosophical questions to specific problems with a culprit. When players create these Mysteries, they’re letting you, the MC, know what they would like to explore with this character.
Sometimes it makes sense you'd have the answers, such as if the PCs have lost their memory like the undead assassin Post Mortem. This doesn’t mean revealing the answer in the first session. Instead, you should have an idea on how the Mystery can be resolved, and then weave that idea into the campaign by sprinkling clues throughout the case.
You can do this in a variety of ways. If you don’t want to split the spotlight too much, you can make the villain of a case a large part of A PC’s Mystery. This ties the PC to the main plot and makes their Mystery more climactic. However, be sure to keep in mind the other players at the table. You don’t want your PC’s to feel like side characters in someone else’s story, so remember to include their Mysteries as well.
You can also hit on these Mysteries during the Downtime move. If a player chooses to investigate their Mystery, feel free to go all out and make the scene about that character and that Mystery. You can even resolve Mysteries in these scenes outside the main case. Every player can choose this option, which means every PC has the opportunity to take the spotlight and focus it on their personal journey.
Of course, some Mysteries can be broad and hard to answer, if they even have a clear answer at all. Mysteries like “What is evil?” or “What does it mean to be everywhere?” can’t be answered by revealing a culprit. Instead, think of moments that could happen in the case that could reflect on these questions. Ghostface has the Mystery “What is evil?”, so what happens when a villain he thought was evil reveals they have noble intentions? When the moment strikes, ask the player what they think of their Mystery and then suggest the Finally, Some Answers move based on their response. Or, if they avoid or neglect the chance to find answers, you could suggest Making a Hard Choice.
Tip #4: Challenge Their Identities
City of Mist is a game about magical mysteries clashing with mundane realities. While PC’s can do extraordinary things, they’re still people. And no matter how wild all the magic can become, their Identities are what they use to remain grounded.
But a safe hero is not an interesting hero. While Mysteries are questions that the MC can sometimes answer, Identities are statements that the MC should question. How important is this Identity to the character? What are they willing to give up to maintain it? If the choice comes up between who they are and what they want, which are they going to choose?
This doesn’t mean to attack their Identities all the time. You should still have moments where the characters get to enjoy their Identities and show why they’re so important to them. But at the same time, the more their Identities are challenged, the more the PC gets to decide who they are. And in City of Mist, that means more opportunities to level up and maybe even replace a theme!
Some Logos themes like Mission or Defining Event can naturally lead to Identities that work more like Mysteries. These Identities tend to state a central goal, such as finding the sorceress that murdered your family. The MC can then weave these goals into the case, similar to how you can weave Mysteries into a case as well. Just put that sorceress or at least clues about the sorceress in the case, and suddenly the case just got personal.
Tip #5: Pitch Mysteries and Identities Against Each Other
Choosing between a bad option and a good option doesn’t make for an interesting story moment. The best cinematic moments are when a hero must choose between two things that matter dearly to them, or between two bad outcomes they want to avoid. To inspire the player to Make a Hard Choice, you can try to pitch one of the Mysteries or Identities against the case itself and ask if they’re willing to betray that part of themselves to save the day.
This is a great basic technique, but some characters don't care THAT much about the case. A more advanced technique is pitching two parts of the same character against each other, forcing the PC to choose between two things that matter to her. For example, Tlaloc from the Starter Box is a con man whose heroic powers push him to be a better person. If he’s offered a job as a consigliere, he now has to Make a Hard Choice between going back to his criminal ways and putting off his Mystery (marking Fade), or declining the job and going against his crook Identity (marking Crack).
A good villain can be a great tool for this. They can offer the PC something they desire, like a tome which answers their Mystery or the power to reaffirm their Identity, all in return to dropping the case or some nefarious task. But not only villains challenge a PC’s themes – sometimes loved ones, co-workers, and other NPCs just promoting their own agenda can be used to trigger hard choices.
A City of Mist case should be solved through investigation, diplomacy, and a bit of fighting here and there. But using the PCs Mysteries and Identities makes the case personal. The crew shouldn’t win because they have the best stats. They should win because, in the moment it matters, they make a sacrifice for what really matters to them.
If you’d like more tips on how to play City of Mist, then check out our channel for videos on character creation, lore, and many other aspects of the game. You can also Like and Subscribe to see our videos as soon as they’re released.
Let us know what you think in the comments, on social media, or on the City of Mist Discord. Until then, have fun!