Friday, 17 June 2022

Review: Gangs of Titan City Quickstart

THE BEST THING RPG bloggers can do to support RPG creators is to make additional gameable content for those games—especially adventures.  The second best thing to do to offer one's support is to review their content, bring it to one's readership and allow them to make a judgement as to whether or not it might be for them. Over the next few months I intend to do a little bit more of both, starting today with a review of  the Gangs of Titan CityQuickstart which is available to download for free, now:


  1. This game is published by SOULMUPPET, who currently distribute the print edition of PARIAH Volume 1[a game I wrote]. I have no other commercial stakes in this house however...
  2. ...the game is currently being kick-started, I backed it, and part of the reason for me posting this review is that YOU back it and get it over the line so I can get my hands on the hard copy.


My aim is to give a broad overview, but I am aware that I tend to ramble. So for the benefit of those with less time on their hands, here's my summary:

  • Grimdark far-future heist/gang skirmish RPG: hints of NecromundaSpireBlades in the DarkWH40K, 2000 AD.
  • Fantastic art really evocative of a familiar yet original setting 
  • Very interesting "levels/phases of play" option, almost a dominion -level mini game (expand gang territory, acquire assets, build alliances etc.). 
  • Simple 2d6-based core mechanic, with an especially neat health and damage system.
  • Rational layout and structure, "control panel" style double-spreads (evokes both ItO and Soulmuppet's own remastering of Stygian library).
  • Clear structure to sessions and codified gameplay loop.
  • Excellent procedural tools for the narrator(GM ) and tonnes of specific game advice 
  • The event & danger tables mechanics are deceptively simple and really quite effective at creating a responsive, breathing simulation of Titan City.
  • Hefty Quickstart pack (98 pages of game and 31 pages of a playtest campaign frame) 

The Concept 

From the introduction to the quickstart, page 6:
Gangs of Titan City is a game of desperate outcasts and criminals fighting tooth and nail to claw something for themselves from the decaying industrial ruins of Titan City. It is a game of taking what you can, giving nothing back, and facing the inevitable consequences of your actions. It is a game where you and the other Players create the world as you go and lose yourselves within it.

There are two roles in Gangs of Titan City. There is one Narrator who presents the world and situations to the Players and adjudicates consequences. The rest are Players who control characters called Gutters: people within Titan City who bond together into a Gang out of greed, spite, or self-preservation. The Gang enact their will upon the world, taking control of important locations (Claims) and useful resources (Assets). Using these, the Gang become more powerful and influential within the city.

They are not the only group out there, however. “Peace-keeping” Enforcers crush resistance against the established order beneath steel-studded boots, while other gangs, cultists, mutants, Psions, and worse act according to their own strange agendas. These groups are called Factions, and the game revolves around interacting with them, either by fighting, befriending, or manipulating them to your Gang’s ends.

In a session of Gangs of Titan City, play moves between three phases for a Cycle of play. First, in the Escalation Phase we catch up with the Gutters and see how they prepare for their next move. In the Operations Phase, they act on their preparations and enact an action packed Operation to take  something for themselves or stave off the consequences from already having done so. Finally, in the Fallout Phase, the Gutters take stock of themselves, and the gears are set in motion for future  consequences.

The Quickstart

Two PDFs, rulebook & playtest. 

The Gangs of Titan City (GOTC) rulebook:
  • Fully illustrated and laid-out 98 page PDF rulebook
  • Rules deal with all in-game procedure: all that's missing is character ("gutter") and party ("gang") generation and deeper world/scenario information.
The playtest:
  • 31 pages PDF with no illustrations
  • 2 gangs
  • 6 pre generated characters
  • 8 factions
  • 7 sectors
...the playtest is essentially a mini-campaign frame, with seeds for multiple sessions worth of play.

General First Impressions [rulebook]

The PDF is elegantly laid out by Dai Shugars, and reads really well as a series of double page spreads. It is fully bookmarked with a hyperlinked table of contents. Text is black and white with greyscale illustrations by Ben Brown. Ben Brown does a great job here, clearly channelling the spirits of the original WH40K Rogue Trader (87). They run the full gamut of the ridiculous to the sublime, with elements of a particular British sense of humour that pervades some of the game's touchstones (2000 AD and the aforementioned WH40K). 

I like how this has Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and Mad MAx: Fury Road in 2 figures

Nice infomatic. Good "control panel" approach to layout

There is a rational structure not just to the layouts, but how the book is divided into sections, which flow together exceptionally neatly. There is a focus in the language on a) providing gameable material and b) giving advice on how this material might be implemented.

Introduction [rulebook]

Establishes the game's principles, namely playing in an open-world sandbox with tough (but not indestructible) characters. An explicit statement is made regarding the development of table culture and rulings over the authority of the game text. It also provides an overview of safety tools (this is really essential as RPGs are increasingly played in groups that don't have relationships with one another beyond the virtual table). 

There intro contains a primer to the eponymous Titan City, aka Plutogia:

Getting Started [rulebook]

The getting started section provides an overview of the tiers of play in a GOTC campaign:
  • Playing as a gutter details the fundamental game mechanics (with references to a more granular explanation later in the book) including experience and advancement.
  • Playing as a gang takes a broader look at how the players cooperate to ensure the success of their gang. The granularity here is exciting: we're informed of assets, contacts & rivals, debts, the hideout, gang advancement... I'm a firm believer that open-world games require this kind of framing to drive the game forward: I failed to implement it in PARIAH, but did allude to it... I'm also a fan of troupe play, which GOTC offers in the form of squads: essentially, mini gangs that gutters  can command directly (or remotely? not yet sure). 
  • The Cycle of play is explicitly codified: every session comprises a 3 phase cycle to structure play
    • Escalation phase players discuss "gang moves" (hints at PBTA influence here? I don't know enough to comment). Sort of a scene-setting phase.
    • Operations phase to quote the text: "Phase, Players mainly roleplay their Gutters to take part in dramatic sequences of stealth, violence, and technical skill to take new turf, steal Assets, or thwart the ever-looming catastrophes awaiting them."
    • Fallout phase: XP, recovery and "reaping what is sown". Crucial to this is rolling on the danger table and the event table These are a really neat campaign tool, as they are populated through the course of play in accordance with the gang's actions elsewhere.
  • Beginning a game has something else more RPGs could do with emulating: a clear set of instructions for setting up a campaign, laid out explicitly on a single spread. 

Gutter Rules [rulebook]

The core mechanic is a simple modified 2d6 roll, with partial success ("THE TEST") built in. This roll is modified by a gutter's approach (six stats),  with a "+1 die" advantage mechanic from certain gear, chemical enhancements ("pharma") or specialisms. They can re-roll dice by taking on points of desperation, kind of a stress/ pressure mechanism with interesting narrative and mechanical properties.

Health and damage is non-numeric and nicely abstracted. Gutters have three blank boxes, crossing them with a line if they receive a scratch, or an X if they receive a wound. Two scratches equals a wound, and the more serious critical wound will see marks placed across more than one box. Once the boxes are full, gutters are out of action, resulting in trauma or worse.

There are examples throughout the text, and an emphasis on only rolling if there is genuine risk to the character, as well as a narrative approach to action resolution.

Combat is explained over three spreads, but is terse and easy to grasp. Combat is more granular than your typical story game but probably a little looser than an OSR adjacent. I've not play tested it, but it looks as though it could be fast and decisive, while also permitting tactical variation.

There's a good amount of text given over to weapons, armour, vehicles, cybernetic alteration, gene mods and pharma. This is really good implied world-building stuff, while also hinting that a key part of the game is building up your gang's arsenal and tech.

There's also a few spreads covering psionics, with the potential to add additional entries to the danger table. Sharing this spread though because this creature is mint:

Rules for Gangs [rulebook]

The chapter opens with an overview of contacts and rivals, indicating how important a gang's network is to them, and how rivals can present narrative complications through the danger table.

Drilling down deeper into how the game works at a gang level reveals a not insignificant amount of crunch. Gangs spend experience to gain territory ("claims") and assets, which in turn can bring in income and other benefits. There's a lot of moving parts—and when squads , debt and hardships are factored in potentially a lot to keep track of. However, it's all laid out very clearly, and I expect there will be additional advice in the full ruleset for how to organise these elements.

It does make the intentions of this game crystal clear: this is game is about about the pursuit, attainment and exercise of power. The sandbox environment, with a few variables (and with the magic ingredient of player unpredictability.) creates the potential for some truly epic narratives to emerge.

Final note on squads: I really, really like this element of play. During the operations phase, the gang can appoint a squad of gang members to carry out actions "behind the scenes" e.g. blowing security doors, scouting the perimeter etc. The outcome of their actions is not revealed until its relevant, for example:

While there is no limit to the number of Squads a Gang can have or take on an Operation, controlling more than one or two Squads directly can drag gameplay down. Similarly, when a Squad is directed to do something beyond the immediate action the Gutters experience, switching scenes constantly can negatively affect the game’s pace. 

In such situations, propose a general plan to the Narrator that encompasses the Squad’s actions for the duration of the Operation. This plan can then be resolved by a Squad Test. This doesn’t need to be resolved immediately. The best time to resolve the effects of a Squad’s actions is when the effects are most obviously seen. 

For example, if a Squad is directed to blow open a fortified door to allow the Gutters to escape, the best time to resolve this Test is when the Gutters are screaming towards the fortified door in their escape vehicle at 100 miles per hour.

-GOTC Quickstart, page 68 

Cycle of Play [rulebook]

This chapter fully describes the actions that are taken at the table during a session ("cycle") and how this is broken up into the 3 phases previously described.

The escalation phase is broken up into:
  • establishing montage of "small slice-of-life vignettes", granting players the opportunity to flesh out their characters and/or their world
  • ...a roll on the events table
  • ...respond to those actions and perform a "gang action" (arrange a meeting, offer services, gather intel)... all paving the way for the operations phase
The operations phase is divided into planning and execution, with clear structure and guidelines as to how these elements are carried out. It's the execution of the operation that most closely cleaves to a straightforward TTRPG gameplay procedure, though again I have the distinct feeling there are elements of BitD and PbtA that I'm not picking up on.

Finally, in the fallout phase, the gang reaps the rewards of their latest operation... but also prepares to deal with any negative consequences. A roll is made on the danger table (contents determined by earlier activities) and the attentions of the authorities possibly avoided.

My earlier fears about managing and book-keeping are reassuringly addressed by the following sentence:

Uninvested income is lost to the fathomless bowels of commerce, so spend it while you have it.

...income is not accumulated in a granular manner, rather it is somewhat abstracted, and spent at these specific points on reducing debt, gaining new assets and improving the gang's prospects in the next cycle.

The chapter continues with some narrator (the GM) guidance, both generalised and specific. There is some additional material for flavouring sectors, managing factions and 24 example jobs.

There is a great deal in these 98 pages: even without rules for gang and gutter generation (included in the full set) it would be quite possible to improvise a very effective GOTC mini-campaign, or at least run a very fun one-shot.

But guess what... there's more!

Playtest Packet

Having outlined the contents of the 38 page playtest doc, I'm not going to repeat myself here: suffice to say, there is more than enough content to get going here. The starting dynamic describes a power vacuum in the wake of hyper-corp Tanjoro Inc. imploding as a consequence of its internal politics, setting the stage nicely for some high-stakes hijinks that could run for multiple sessions.


As stated, for a free Quickstart there is a LOT in these 2 pages of PDFs, certainly enough to run multiple sessions of GOTC... which begs the question: what will the other 100+ pages in the book comprise? 

Aside from gutter and gang generation, there are promises of greater detail for the setting itself, and additional tools for sector and faction generation. Given the quality and quantity of what Soulmuppet has already put for this game, the prospect of the additional material is mouth-watering.

Download the free material yourself and, if you like what you see, back this awesome game.


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