Sunday 30 June 2024

Gangs of Titan City (solo) session #4 (2nd cycle)

So... the inevitable has happened: I have postponed the City of Ghosts Friday Lunchtime Sandbox... indefinitely. It became too disheartening waiting each week only for it never to happen. I'm going to blame the format for this: thanks Luke Gearing!

Anyway, I DO hope to get the same sandbox (basically a PARIAH version of a dungeoncrawl) up and running again soon, maybe over longer sessions and at more sociable hours? Let's see... anyway, in the meantime I've made use of my long Friday lunch break by test-driving Soul Muppet's Gangs of Titan City, and so far have found it to be ideal for solo play. You can read all my reports  (as well as other posts related to the game) at this link, which may not be visible on your screen (so scroll to the end).  

Some of Ben Brown's very fun art found in GoTC

In case you don't know, Gangs of Titan City is a sort-of mash-up between Necromunda and Blades in the Dark, in that players control gang members ("gutters") in a grimdark hiveworld (the eponymous Titan City). It's narrative-focused, though probably more on the story game end of the spectrum rather than the rules-light end (though the mechanics are pretty light). It's closer to PBTA than 24XX. I play solo with a notebook, pencils and real dice and write up the sessions from those notes at a later date. So far I have not felt the need to use additional oracles or solo tools with the game book, but that could change.

Read on for more!

2nd Cycle of Play

Gangs establishes a fairly consistent gameplay loop: a "cycle of play" comprises three "phases" as follows:

These don't necessarily correspond to "sessions" (and quite where a session begins and ends is an interesting concept when you're playing in your own head), but so far I have more or less organised things along those lines. Last time around I worked through the consequences (FALLOUT) of the previous session's activity (OPERATION PHASE), thus completing one cycle of play.

This time around I felt it might be viable to go through a whole cycle in one sitting, but ultimately it took more nearly an hour to progress through the escalation phase (I wasn't feeling very energised) and I had to get back to fee paying work, so I'll deal with the operation proper next week.

escalation step 1: the montage

Each Cycle of play in Gangs of Titan City begins with the Montage, small slice-of-life vignettes of what the Gutters get up to when they aren’t engaged in the normal violence of their lives.

Because I have the advantage of the narrator's eye view of  events, I thought this would be a good opportunity to sprinkle in some other flavour, connected to the events of the previous session. This (I feel) is entirely in keeping with the "genre emulation"/cinematic aspect of this kind of game... besides which, it's just me, so it's not like I can hide information from myself.

We open with fully jack-booted, riot-geared up enforcement mobs (the long arm of the law) cracking down on gang life in New Eden. Both the Bullet Boys and the Misshapers start to feel the tightening of the local judges' grip following the shootout my gutters were involved in last session. Street urchins are rounded up, safehouses are raided as even local capos find they're not immune to this knee-jerk reaction by law enforcement.

Cutting between the truncheon blows we see BUG aka Smiler aka Eagle Owl (all of the gutters have at least three names, none of which being their true identities, of course) knocking seven bells out of someone in a bare knuckle pit fight. He takes a few blows to the head himself, but is ultimately declared the victor. Smiler takes a fistful of paper money as his prize, but leaves it strewn across the bar. For his troubles, Smiler gains 1 XP (he also has the option of removing desperation, but I'm going to let that accumulate for now).

Antony Starr as Lucas Hood Smiler
Meanwhile, in a trashy hab block flat strewn with plasma cig, nitrous cannisters and tins of mushroom cider, Carmen aka Peregrine is pulling her boots on as quietly as she can. She's spent the night with the eldest of  the Bullet boys with whom she's been socialising/spying on, and wants to leave without scene. The man grunts something as she sneaks out, but she feels okay with herself. As she's mounting her jet-bike, an oily rain begins to form, and she pulls on her poncho and broad-brimmed hat... but before she pulls away, a buzzing sounds from her pocket. She removes a pager bearing the message BACK TO BASE-QUICK! Caremen utters an exapserated "Shit", crushing the pager and tossing it into the gutter. She clears two desperation. 

On the very fringes of New Eden's weird Living City, in the Misshapers territory members of Kayvan Hoo's squad are hanging out smoking plasma cigs next to their newly aquired drey truck. They've embellished the smiley face on the side, given it a more professional look. Some of them have begun to make patches of the logo for their clothes. From the shadows, an alarmingly large, mohawk-sporting Bullet Boy  (local capo and Smiler's potential rival, Scorgio) processes the information in front of him as best he can.

A darkened room. There is a low, sinister droning thrum sounding, we hear Tarquin's familiar voice scream in agony. A flash of strobe lighting briefly reveals scores of onlookers, all facing the source of the sound, as we hear Tarquin again:

"I know what you done," she intones, voice low and raspy, "...and I'm not the only one..."

Carmen flings the door open: the droning builds to a stunning crescendo, accompanied by industrial-strength metallic percussion and more powerful noise. Upon the stage of Blind Willie's bar stands Tarquin as Madame Villette, the glamorous persona they assume for the purposes of performance art. This shocking piece of expressionist performance poetry is accompanied by a local noise-pank band, much to the astonishment of the small but enthusiastic audience. As the crescendo of noise segues seamlessly into a driving thrash sequence, the crowd begin pogo-ing in unison. Carmen folds her arms, Blind Willie is beaming with enthusiasm.

"Where's Ezra?" Carmen asks.

Willie shrugs, nodding his head in time to the pogo-ing crowd.

Beath them both, in the cellar, Ezra smirks. Despite the background noise and the three feet of concrete, he knows the outcome of his minor prank. He's also levitating a few feet off the ground because... y'know, psion and that. Ezra also clears two desperation.

A few hours later, the bar closed but the night of Titan City, the four comrades convene in Little Titan's street food market to grab some noodles. The area is crowded, full of life and—most importantly—no one has any idea who they are. It's here they plot there next moves.


escalation step 2: the event table

The Narrator rolls 1D6 on the Event Table to determine a meaningful event, representing actions taken by individuals and groups other than the Gang.

I rolled 6:  A Wealthy Faction acts. Currently, that means my HyperCorp, based in Arcology 23 but also active in New Eden. I hadn't yet named my HyperCorp, but were thinking of some kind of biotech/narco-pharma conglomerate using Hydrofarms to develop new "medication". I hadn't really thought about them until this point, so picked one of the possible actions from their list [develop a new form of exploitation]. There's really so many ways a pharmacorp can develop new forms of exploitation, but my mind immediately went to "highly addictive drug floods the market".

...and my mind then went to "substance D":

A rotoscoped picture of pretty blue flowers from the animated feature A Scanner Darkly, possibly the only time you'll get Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Junior and Alex Jones (yes, the struggling rightwing performance artist and presenter of Infowars) in the same cast

This is a major element to drop into a campaign so this is going to trickle in in steps: stage one is complete, and the faction won't "advance" this action to the next stage until the "wealthy faction acts" result comes up again:

  1. Blue synth-flower—the most efficient way to develop the organic compounds used in the creation of the most potent form of SUBSTANCE Z is ready for trial in the Hydrofarms of New Eden. Seedlings are shipped into out to large scale test beds. stage complete
  2. Initial tests will not prove as successful as hoped, but small batches of synthflower are being processed and released onto the streets of Little Titan (through the Ink & Rings gang) as an experiment. A new strain of synth-flower has been developed that looks to be hardier than the initial test crops.
  3. The hardiest strain of synth-flower is cropped successfully, with a near 100% yield. The Pharmocorp now have a near unlimited supply of the drug, and are able to expand their operation to a city-wide level. An addiction epidemic is about to explode, with terrible consequences.
So plenty of hooks to get into there, we'll see over the next few sessions whether this has any impact on the gang's plans. I can't keep writing HyperCorp or PharmaCorp, but I'm going to keep their name generic: the wealthy faction are now known as PSYCHEM.

escalation step 3: gang moves

After the last few "sessions" I realised I'd made a slight error in the "lead" that sat on my "danger table"; a) I' actually put a "job" in place of a "lead" and b) hadn't understood that the lead DISAPPEARS when it comes up as a result (which I understand from the game text: good intelligence doesn't last forever).

However, I decided to keep it there for the time being, representing the fact that the precise location is currently known to their contact, who forwarded this information to them. I'm guessing that right now the gang (i.e. me) aren't super interested in raiding a listening station... though the are keen on work outside of their home sector while the local enforcers are cracking down on street-level ultraviolence (with their own, state-sanctioned street-level ultraviolence, of course). So: they go back to their contract Rennia Ren and offer their services.

Choose a Contact or other Faction to offer your services to. They will offer you a Job; work with the Narrator to name a Price (what you get in return) for your help. Alternatively, approach them with a Price, and they will offer you a commensurate Job. 
The gang go to Arcology Administrator Rennia Ren with a request to clear their remaining debt. They don't have a lot (2) so this would be a small job. Rennia's a little pissed at them for not dealing with the listening station, but she does mention that a small-time gang are causing trouble in the area. She can't move against them because they have the backing of PSYCHEM (and thus the local enforcers aren't interested), but she needs to maintain her support among the proles (I've decided her position as arcology admin was via popular vote: she's an activist who's bitten the bullet and is trying to change the system from the inside) who increasingly frustrated by the local hoodlums running riot through their district (this can be the "eager hopefuls" claim- the job would be to wrest control of the claim from the small-time gang).

In terms of the bigger picture, I can see Rennia Ren hoping that her former friends (from her activist days, before carmen and Bug were part of Wavelength?) might operate on her behalf, fighting the good fight against the powers that be. This doesn't exactly align with the gang's agenda, but might suit them for the time being. The gang agree to do this job... but privately they're not keen to go head-to-head with a rival crew without more back-up. Instead they decide to take out the listening station that Rennia Ren told them about in the first place.

The job: SEIZE EAGER HOPEFULS CLAIM FROM PSYCHEM SPONSORED STREET GANG is added to the Danger Table. The gang can put it off indefinitely, but if it comes up on a danger table roll, the job is off the table and their WILL be consequences...

Before they carry out the operation, they're going to need further intelligence, and also some additional firepower. I have some ideas about how to achieve that but unfortunately I ran out of time in the last session, so I'll have to roll the end of the escalation phase into the beginning of next session's OPERATIONS PHASE.

See you then!

I was a bit uninspired musically this week, so I just typed INDUSTRIAL CYBERPUNK in the Youtube search bar, this is what I got in return: 
I use Substack to run the blog's mailing list and occasionally post extra pieces that don't fit on here or Psychocartography. I've also migrated all my old podcast episodes to that platform, with half a mind to revive it at some point in the near future. You can subscribe for free at the following link, but there's also a paid option if you would like to support my creative endeavours financially.

Thank you and goodbye.


City of Ghosts one-hour sandbox play reports

Alex Jones sings Bon Iver

Generic Industrial Cyberpunk Tecno playlist: 

Subscribe to the Alone in the Labyrinth mailing list hosted by Substack:


  1. I'm leaving your comment here for now while I wait for you to explain yourself.

  2. Oh, they're not going to explain themselves - that's an ad. A lot of work just to leave a tiny link to a place where you can get a computer virus wearing the skin of a football game, isn't it?

    Ah, and unrelatedly - might be a decent addition to your cyberpunk music.