Sigil and Shadow

Posted 21 Feb 2022 to Urban Fantasy

A toolbox for running a wide variety of Urban Fantasy games.


XP Card

Sessions GM'd: 18 sessions
Sessions as Player: 0

I Used

209 page PDF. I later bought the physical book also. I ran 2 one-shot sessions at an online con. One game was for mortal Illuminated characters, and the other was for supernatural Shadowed characters. They were both great fun! Then I ran a short campaign for Shadowed characters set in New York. Here is the pitch I used. I also ran two one-shots for some non-rpg friends, and their teen kids. Finally, I ran a longer campaign of 10 sessions, set in the Wild West, where I used the Deadlands module Coffin Rock. This campaign was so evocative and such fun!


A great alternative to the World of Darkness games, which I generally find bloated with rules and burdened with lore. Here is a ruleset I can use to run a light vampire campaign, or mage story. Sigil & Shadow is a toolbox for running any kind of Urban Fantasy campaign. It has rules for creating mortals, and low powered supernatural characters.


The Good

  • Toolbox. This game is a toolbox for running Urban Fantasy games of many kinds. You can emulate any of the World of Darkness games (vampire, mage, werewolf, hunter) by creating both mortals and supernatural characters. It can also run Buffy and the Dresden Files. It does all this in 200 pages, which are very accessible. This book has everything I could want for Urban Fantasy, and I can certainly see myself returning to this game again.
  • Shadowed Characters. You can build a character who has minor supernatural abilities. A good buffet of abilities is presented and you can pick and choose a few from them. You can flavour those abilities however you like. For example, the Entangle ability allows you to bind someone and prevent them moving. You could say that it is writhing plant roots (if your concept is botanical) or you could say it is a silver forcefield (if your concept is angelic). Each of the Shadowed types has its own theme, and you recover your points by playing into your theme. If you want to be a vampire, you could be a Ravenous, and recover by feeding. If you want to be a warlock, you could be Devoted to an eldritch entity, and recover points by obeying their frightening commands. I loved this, and made sure to make it easy for the PCs to engage in their drives. These drives created many fun ideas for scenes.
  • Mysticism. You can also build a character who has less obvious, more subtle powers. Sensations, feelings. Healing by laying on hands. Ki-enhanced martial arts. A separate buffet of minor powers is available for characters who want a less dark theme to their character, but still want to be special and engage in Urban Fantasy.
  • Flexible Spellcasting. While a few spells are provided as examples, most characters will invent a spell on the fly. The player describes what they want to achieve, and how. Then the GM ranks the spell's difficulty as Low, Mid or High. The player rolls. It is easy and pretty fast. It relies on the GM to make fair rulings. It is freeing and empowering. Characters tend to have a very narrow focus on their spellcasting skill (e.g. Fire magic, or Shadow magic) so the players creatively think up ways their skill could apply to the problem they are facing. We found successfully casting a spell to be harder than expected, and our mage failed a few times at the start of the campaign.
  • Magic Item Creation. Spell casting normally takes a while - 2 to 3 rounds. But an inventive player can easily create a temporary magic item that can be triggered when needed before leaving home, that expires after a few hours. This creatively replaces spell memorization and has no limit (except the time spent creating the item, and some money spent). I enjoyed this aspect, and it emulates the fiction of the Dresden files nicely.
  • Light on Lore. The setting is left up to the group. There are some guiding questions to help set the limits of your setting at Session Zero, and some explanation of how pocket realms are intended to work. Mostly it is up to the GM or the group to flesh out the setting. I like this. In our game I created a pitch for New York city, together we agreed on the tone we wanted (urban fantasy fun, without too much grit) and we went from there. In another campaign I was able to easily set the game in the 1880s, without any fuss at all. I also ran a one-shot set as modern day spies, encountering some vampiric Russian mafia. Very freeing.
  • Milestones for advancement. There is no XP. When the group agrees that a significant story milestone has been reached, you gain a Milestone. You can increase a skill or gain power or whatever. When you have accrued a certain number of Milestones, you advance in Rank. This unlocks higher ranked abilities and skills. I found it easy to apply as a GM, and less gameable than XP. Some other games in the genre ask you to pose questions to the group at the end of a session, or thumb-suck an XP reward. Not this game. Just decide if the story has reached a significant milestone, or not. It felt natural and easy.
  • Factions Pentacle. In many Urban Fantasy games, great stories emerge from the factions of your setting. The book includes handy guidelines to do this. Create 5 factions. Write their names on the pentacle. The lines show you rivalries between factions. Neighbours are using or allied with one another. Easy, fast. I found it very effective and have already used it in other games. I can see this tool becoming my go-to for setting up factions, because it guarantees that there will be rivalries and alliances. No matter which faction the PCs oppose, there will be ripples in the pond.
  • D100 Base System has widespread support. Call of Cthulhu, Basic Fantasy, Delta Green - these are all games whose stat blocks are very similar and easily convertible. When I ran my campaign, I was able to use some monsters from Delta Green. The powers and stats were easy to import.
  • Natty little A5 book. The physical book is compact and well organised. Hard cover. It includes everything you need, from character creation to magic. It has a bestiary and GM advice. There are tools for guiding the player group into creating a setting together, and a short introductory adventure. The Shadowed Archetypes pages give tips on how to build different templates for common types of characters that players love to play, like vampire, lycanthrope, changeling, etc. Exemplary.
  • Good price. Current price for the physical book is $20. That's amazing. I live in a remote part of the world, and I was astonished to see that local suppliers had the book on offer. Most other RPG books are simply unavailable here, but Sigil & Shadow was.

The Not-So-Good

  • Multiple actions add quite a bit of overhead to GMs. Every character can take as many actions as they like, but every action after your first is at an increasing -20% penalty. Not only do I need to track the hit points of each enemy, but also how many actions they have taken each round. "Okay this is Goon 3. He has attacked already, and he tried to dodge Sally's attack. So that means he is now at -40% to try to dodge Jim's attack." I used columns on a sheet of paper and put a dot next to each character as they acted. I suppose I could have just made my NPCs take only 1 action per round, to simplify my bookkeeping. Luckily, this is not a combat-heavy game.
  • Going last can be quite an advantage. If you are acting last in the round, you can go frenzy and make as many attacks as you like, hoping the dice are lucky. Who cares if you are at a -20% or -40% or -60% penalty. There is no downside (apart from the chance of a critical fail) to just trying because you know that you will never need to hold anything back for a Dodge check - you are going last and nobody is going to attack you back, and your actions will reset at the start of the next turn. (A possible house rule might be that your multi-action penalty only resets on your next turn, and not at the start of the round. But that would add burden to what the GM is tracking each round).
  • I don't love the skill system. There are 10 skills, and you can pick 2 of them to be skilled at. All other skills are at -20%. That means that if you have average Strength (50) and did not pick Combat, that you have 50-20 = 30% chance of hitting. The -20% feels really punishing and discourages players from attempting actions outside of their 2 skills, and makes them feel broadly incompetent at most activities. In every one shot I ran, the climax was a PC (not trained in Combat skill) whiffing frustratingly against a monster. I like that skills are broad, but I don't like the heavy penalty for attempting an action that you are not skilled at. The solution suggested by the author is to roll less often, but that doesn't suit how I like to play, and is unavoidable in combat. I made a house rule to better suit my style of play. It made skill training less important, no biggie.



I love the options for character creation. The powers are all very cool, and the base system for skill checks and spell casting is solid. I'd say that combat is the weakest part of the system, but my Urban Fantasy campaigns don't have a lot of combat. The game system worked great and I will happily run it again.



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