Critical Hit: Hays of Shadows — The Shadows You Are Sniffing Into

tl;dr As this campaign hurtles towards a hopefully climactic conclusion, we get some nice forward motion, colorful game-play and world-building, but some worryingly new NPCs which seem like a distraction this late in the game.

Title: The Shadows You Are Sniffing Into
Episode: 441
Season: Hays of Shadows
Season Episode: 17
Podcast: Critical Hit
Gamemaster Brian Bergdal
Rodrigo Lopez as The Proxy
Matthew Peterson  as Ian
Sam Nelson as Alanna
Rob Rasmussen as Klaus
Stephen Schleicher as Dr. J.D. Higginsbottom III
Game systemUrban Shadows

Last week (on Critical Hit), we had a meeting with a lot of powerful elements. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer style, it brought together various factions in the Hays area supernatural community to discuss how and why to bring down the Proxy. Emotionally, the heart of the episode was the confrontation between Dr. Higginsbottom and Alanna.

I initially thought that Alanna, the wizard, and Klaus, the Vampire, might have overplayed their hand and made some logical leaps that weren’t fully justified. But this week, they had confirmation of their suspicions that The Proxy intends to open a gateway to Hell in the Ellis County seat. Alanna was able to do some mystical research that showed it to be true, and Klaus got it straight from the horse’s mouth.

The best part of this episode, I think, was that we got to see Rodrigo start moving his chess pieces, too, as The Proxy. He’s made a few brief moves in the last few episodes, but he got to really open up in this one. He took a bold move of confronting Klaus directly about the source of some previous trouble for his solar energy trouble, and rolling to Figure Someone Out really moved the dynamics here.

I think that Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games have a lot of moves that are typically just roll-played in engines like D&D, and so they get underutilized by tables coming over from those engines. In particular, the long argument between Alanna and the Professor could have really used a roll last week. But this roll, which changed the dynamics of the power struggle in Hays, let the Proxy know that Klaus and Alanna are working together against him.

Rodrigo does a good job role-playing the results, and both Rob and Rodrigo pursued their characters’ motivations to their logical ends. I like that Rob’s Klaus isn’t 100% sure he wants to oppose the Proxy or stop the gateway. He’s still thinking it through.

I can say that I’m a little disappointed that the plot is converging on a big confrontation, but not much. This is, after all, a mini-campaign, and it’s already stretch 17 episodes. Finding a way to wrap this one up in a way that’s narratively satisfying is going to be important.

I really didn’t like how Critical Hit wrapped up its 5e campaign, essentially by abandoning it mid-adventure and saying, “So, you get how this works now, we’re not going to keep doing this.” I hope that Hays of Shadows gets a better treatment. With Brian at the helm, I think there’s good chance of that. He did a great job bringing their FATE mini-campaign to a nice cliffhanger before closing it out.

If we’re coming to the end, though, it’s a little worrying to see two new NPCs introduced this episode. One, a demon worshiper named Eliphas, seeks and receives The Proxy’s protection. Another, unnamed holy avenger working for an unknown group, tries to get Ian to back off of the Proxy.

I guess in part that’s one of the things GMs do in PbtA games — adding new NPCs, developing their relationships with the PCs, and then resolving those relationships. So that might just keep happening until the curtain falls on this campaign. In this case, also, it’s nice to see some more NPC groups aligning on the side of the Proxy, since so many others are on the side of Alanna’s coalition. The Proxy does not stand alone, here.

Mostly, the game play in this episode is great. I’m starting to get a little annoyed by the use of oblique words from reluctant PCs and NPCs. But it takes quite a while for Rodrigo to figure out that he’s talking to one of the last remaining members of the group that tried to kill Ian. Sometimes it might be nice to just say, “I’m a devil-worshiper, and my coven is all dying or dead, because this guy Ian is killing us, so I need your help.”

Matthew, on the other hand, gets really caught up in the spooky-talk of Crow-like Ian, and doesn’t get down to details with anyone. When his contact tells him that they don’t think the Proxy was involved in his murder, he could clearly reply, as Alanna had revealed to him, that the Proxy was responsible for letting in the demon to this world that caused his death. Instead, he gives some husky scary-talk.

With two poles set up between the PCs Alanna and Klaus, where the other three PCs align is going to be a really important part of the plot until there is a direct confrontation. It’d be nice to know where Ian fits into things. I hope that Rodrigo and Matthew do a direct discussion at some point — The Proxy has offered to help Ian with his hit list before, and I think they have a good rapport as characters.

Good audio as always. Some really funny table talk on this episode, and one personal attack that makes everyone at the table say, “Whoa.”  My nervousness about finding a good stopping point in this campaign is keeping me from enjoying this episode too much, but I still think it’s above average and deserves four stars. Lots of good stuff in here.