DISCLAIMER/BIAS/EXPERIENCE: Backer of City of Mist kickstarters. Leaving this review after publisher's request issued to KS backers. I have run one longish CoM campaign, currently running my second CoM campaign.
I assume you're familiar with the basic premises of City of Mist - if you're not, read the blurbs, or better, get a starter set.
NOTE: Cultural appropriation potential warning - this book is about mythoi coming back to life in a noir world. This may be a touchy thing, so GMs are advised to do their research before the game and/or reach certain level of understanding with their players.
By the way of introducing you to MC TOOLKIT, this is a gamemaster's book (NOTE: Gamemaster = Master of Ceremonies, or MC), so it expands on the basic rules, provides resources for fleshing out the setting and establishes routines specific for MC role. It also sports great layout, comic book art, great one-page summaries and an adventure.
NOTE: You need PLAYER'S GUIDE for player-facing lowdown of the rules, to create characters, and building groups, evolving (escalating?) stuff and cinematographic plays. It's also a great primer on Apocalypse World mechanics. I would also recommend getting a starter set for great ready-to-run characters, yet another adventure, and beautiful handouts.
MC TOOLKIT, Table of Contents
The Master of Ceremonies - Basics of the basics, or how to read the book.
Word on the Street - Archetypical locales and locals in a city noir genre. No stats yet, it is just a bunch of short writeups of places and people. If your characters make a random stop to buy e-cigs, you can just crack open the book, say THE OLD QUARTER, read THE COBBLED STREET aloud (skipping MC-only stuff), and if the things are going slow, have the PCs meet a wounded old man complaining about thieves, who just took his books.
Behind the Scenes - A comic, a Quick Reference Sheet, a guide on running the session zero, how to use MC moves, narrating stuff and adjusting challenge level. Then it's Writing a Case (check the HIGHLIGHTS below), and then turning cases into a series.
This is my City! - Another comic, another Quick Reference Sheet, and everything you need to know about spectrums (how to damage a character), dangers (those who damage the characters), and avatars (you also get four masterminds, unique 5-star dangers that are movers and shakers to drop into your setting).
Appendices - Various resources (dangers get ratings) with page numbers. For example: House Fire is 2-star danger on page 151. Samuel Valtierra (Baron Samedi) is 5-star danger on page 160. Also included: list of backers, printouts for MC tracking sheets.
Gambling with Death - An adventure that is NOT recommended for novice players and MCs. The narrative is slightly disjointed and may be difficult to follow by not-yet-invested-in-story characters. Also there are multiple three star dangers - expect fatalities if the characters are not careful.
Maps - Useful for running scenes.
MC TOOLKIT, HIGHLIGHTS
WRITING A CASE, to me, is probably the best ever section on constructing puzzles for the PCs to unravel. It also ties into Investigate move in a way that makes running mystery scenarios such a pleasure. Here's is a short explanation.
A case is like an iceberg: visible tip (depth 0), depth 1, depth 2, ...
- the visible tip is a list of hooks that the characters look into or encounter.
- the depths are layered lists of locations or scenes, to which characters gain access after investigating connected corresponding items from upper layers.
- the characters "move" between these by resolving scenes or gaining clues from locations.
- at the bottom there is a final confrontation or a revelation.
- since this is an Apocalypse World-inspired game, new connections may be formed or further challenges added on a fly via devil's bargains or success with complications mechanics.
While there are many ways the PCs may proceed forward, the most common way is for a character to make an Investigate move:
- A player declares an action and what power tags (supernatural or mundane) are used to support the action. The number of tags (minus penalties) used is the POWER rating for the move.
- If successful, a player gets to ask number of questions equal to POWER rating.
- Based on the POWER rating, result of a roll (fuzzy, partial, compromise, full success) and the tags used, an MC presents answers. A computer jockey hacking into a mobile will get different presentation from a veteran policewoman interrogating a witness, from a possessed shopkeeper immigrant from Tibet conferring with local spiritual entities, from a destitute satanic sax hobo player who just plays and listens to people talking, from a recently released convict with a hook for his and terrifying violence just bubbling under calm demeanor [a cast of characters from my current campaign].
- The answers unlock stuff from current and lower depths, eventually allowing to reach the solution.
QUICK REFERENCE SHEETS, just print them out. These are simply great for remembering all little bits you should be aware of.
GAMBLING WITH DEATH - the adventure is interesting, but it needs work to fit your narrative. Also:
- At some point the characters may feel overwhelmed by the opposition and subsequently proceed to abandon the case. To avoid this, I would recommend constructing strong motivations for PCs.
- Three-star dangers apply statuses that could wipe POWER totals (and there are four of them, with possible more joining the case). Also, the three-star dangers are not dumb - they are likely to employ guards.
In my case, the chief adversary of the adventure is going to wrong one of the PCs, so, when an opportunity presents itself, they will try to take advantage to get a little payback, only to realize that innocent people are getting involved.
MC TOOLKIT, FINAL THOUGHTS
A vitally important addition to the library of a City of Mist fan. If you have the big book already, at least get a PDF for references and maps. The case included can be mined for resources or developed into a full campaign (again, three-star dangers are complex - so proceed with caution, and use them as memorable villains). The WRITING A CASE part can be used for any mystery scenario under any system.