Mutant City Blues

60269Mutant City Blues

Ever since the Sudden Mutation Event, people have been able to fly. Phase through walls. Read minds. Shoot bolts of energy from their fingertips. Walk into dreams.

As members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit, you and your fellow detectives solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. When a mutant power is used to kill, you catch the case. When it’s a mutant victim in the chalk outline, you get the call. And when it comes time for a fight, you deploy your own extraordinary abilities to even the odds.

With new human capacity has come new science. Your squad brings forensic science to bear on the solution of mutant crimes. Need to know if a suspect is the victim of mind control or dream observation? Perform an EMAT protocol to detect the telltale signs of external influence. Was your victim killed by a light blast? Use Energy Residue Analysis to match the unique wound pattern to the murderer, as surely as ballistic science links a bullet to a gun.

Does your crime scene yield trace evidence of two separate powers? Use your trusty copy of the Quade Diagram, the infallible map of genetic relationships between mutant powers, to tell if one suspect could have used both – or if you have two perps on your hands.

If chases, interrogations and mutant battles weren’t enough to handle, you also serve as a bridge between the authorities and your mutant brethren. To successfully close cases, you must navigate the difficult new politics of post-mutation society, and deal with your own personal issues and mutation-caused defects.

MUTANT CITY BLUES runs on GUMSHOE, the acclaimed investigative rules set powering the hit new game Trail Of Cthulhu. GUMSHOE offers a simple yet revolutionary method for writing, running and playing mystery scenarios. It ensures fast-flowing play, always giving you the informational puzzle pieces you need to propel your latest case toward its exciting final revelations.

Police work will never be the same.

See the complete reviews to date here

“I loved the way that this linked in with the esoterrorist system. The quade diagram and the ability to create great drama with the system WITHOUT depending on the players getting the clues…..just asking the right questions. When I set it in Detroit with all the google earth maps the setting seemed to really materialize for my players and what they were doing. Great system!”

Steve Kyer, 5/5 Stars.

“This game was my first exposure to the GUMSHOE system and it made me fall in love with it! This game is extremely fun. I really love how all the mutant powers are related to each other on a diagram, giving more plausibility to super-powers and how they would develop. The world is rich and full of color and interesting ideas. I highly recommend this game.”

Devon Kelley, Featured Reviewer 5/5 Stars.

On RPG.NET, Notty Reid gives Mutant City Blues a positive and detailed review.

“For the first time in months I’m excited about running a new game. I can’t wait for the new season at my local games club so I can get stuck in.”


Sometimes products are unappreciated, and it’s very hard to see why. I present to you four such treasures, and my speculation for their neglect.

Until 16th March 2012 we are offering the chance to pick up one or more of these neglected gems at a 25% discount at the store in both print and PDF versions where they exist.

Repairer of Reputations

…it is one of the best Trail of Cthulhu adventures written to date. Laws has done an admirable job at adapting the story and making a fine adventure. – review

Why it’s treasure: The Repairer of Reputations  is a Trail of Cthulhu adventure based on a story by Robert W Chambers and featuring The King In Yellow, a decadent, maddening play. Robin ran this for me and my group at Dragonmeet 2010, and it was a blast – it incorporates an entire setting (an alernatve 1920s New York), new optional GUMSHOE rules, Chamber’s story and a nation-shaking conspiracy all in under 45 pages.

Why it’s hidden: It’s mystifying why this should not have sold better, and the irony is it’s the first piece Robin has written which he is being paid royalties rather than in a word rate. I was expecting this would be better for him, but that’s not how it turned out. I also hoped that it would lead to a quartet of adventures based on other Chamber’s stories. The only explanation for its poor sales I can think of is that it was released just before GenCon, as a PDF, so it wasn’t available there.


 Do I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely! The brief book provides an excellent paradigm for regulating information in a fantasy RPG. Even if you follow that paradigm within the core Pathfinder rules (with skill checks), GUMSHOE is an excellent model and will enrich your game. The advice on divinations and “clues” in combat are also excellent.

Why it’s treasure: Lorefinder merges the action-oriented fantasy rules of The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game with the streamlined investigative focus of Robin D Law’s GUMSHOE system. It’s the first in what I had hoped was a series of mash-ups between GUMSHOE and other systems. Like Repuration it packs in a lot in a small package – a new rule simple set with easy conversion guide, new abilities, spells and feats, a guide for designing mysteries and an adventure. Chris Huth shows his layout and art chops, and Ralf Schemmann provides maps in CC3 and PNG format.

Why it’s hidden: To be fair, this has been a modest success, but still not quite what I had hoped. Perhaps Pathfinder fans are inherently conservative, or the idea of new rule system was too much (it’s really not hard to absorb) or perhaps people don’t consider the investigative side of fantasy RPGs that imporant. In fact, one lesser-known benefit of GUMSHOE is that it can handle investigation quickly and discretely, allowing your PCs to get on with what they do best, killing monsters and taking their stuff.

Invasive Procedures

Gareth has written a fantastic scenario filled with anxiety and genuine horror 10/10 review

Why it’s treasure: In Invasive Procedures, you are a patient in an old, rambling hospital facing the schemes of a sinister doctor. It’s creepy and disturbing. I was terrified by Paper Mask, so I would be very uncomfortable playing this. It’s written for Fear Itself, but is also adapted for Trail of Cthulhu use. One actual play report we received for this one-shot adventure set in a hospital said it was “perhaps too creepy”.

Why it’s hidden: Like The Book of Unremitting Horror, this book is well-reviewed but has sold modestly. That said, it is a supplement for Fear Itself, and so its potential audience is a subset of a subset. It includes body horror, which is too much for many people. With Trail of Cthulhu conversion now included, we are hoping it will be more popular.

Brief Cases

 The crime in this one is fascinating …  Definitely had me hooked.  The killer was a real surprise to the players in my game. Playtest report

Why it’s treasure: Brief Cases features three session-length adventures for your Heightened Crime Investigators. They present a straightforward way for you and your group to try out Mutant City Blues. It also features Pascal Quidault’s artwork taken to a new level, surpassed only in Dead Rock Seven, I’d argue.

Why it’s hidden: There was a big gap between Hard Helix (the first supplement for Mutant City Blues) and this one. While I think MCB is the most perfect match to the GUMSHOE system, and I love playing it, MCB itself is not our best seller, and I don’t think it gets wide play. The other issue is that I’ve not been able to get it reviewed yet.

Over to you…

What, if anything, made you reject these supplements or overlook them, and how might we improve things in future?

All these supplements are avaiable from the store at 25% off until 16th March.

Rewatching Zodiac recently, I was struck by the desire to see David Fincher similarly tackle the Mothman incidents of 1966-1967. This is no swipe at Mark Pellington’s The Mothman Prophecies, which I quite like for the way it evokes the enveloping paranoia of paranormal inquiry. It does, however, impose a cinematic structure and sense of resolution on a series of bizarre incidents distinctive for their lack of either quality. Zodiac, however, stands as a masterpiece of negative capability, focusing as it does on a mystery that seems explicable but always tantalizingly out of reach.

I then happened to move onto the underrated Breach, the 2007 film about the apprehension of FBI mole Robert Hanssen. Although investigation occurs in the background, the dramatic action focuses on the relationship between Hanssen (Chris Cooper, in a brilliant performance) and the young agent assigned to get close to him by acting as his assistant.

The two movies share a stylistic touchstone: All the President’s Men, the classic recreation of the Woodward and Bernstein investigation into the Watergate break-in. Zodiac even employs its composer, David Shire. Alan J. Pakula’s brilliant direction wrings incredible suspense out of simple phone calls, in the heroes press reluctant witnesses to cough up essential scraps of information.

Throughout the film, we see Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, as the two protagonists, use a full range of GUMSHOE-esque interpersonal investigative abilities. Like Mutant City Blues or Ashen Stars characters, who must not only figure out what’s going on but be able to prove it, they have to confirm what they know by wringing confirmations from multiple sources. We see them use Flattery, Flirting, Bureaucracy, Inspiration, Reassurance, and even a touch of Intimidation. Bullshit Detector comes out as official denials are issued. They also use social discomfort to get information out of people. By simply refusing to take no for an answer, or to do the polite thing and go away, they exert a subtle pressure on their sources, one distinct from real Intimidation. A journalism-focused GUMSHOE iteration might add this as a new interpersonal ability—perhaps called something like Journalistic Chutzpah.

Where Mutant City Blues nerdtropes the police procedural by mashing it up with the superhero genre, the new NBC series Grimm does the same thing with a dose of urban fantasy. In the premise-establishing first episode, police detective Nick Burckhardt discovers that he’s a hereditary fighter of evil creatures obliquely referenced in fairy tales. With his partner Hank Griffin and acerbic new wolfman pal Eddie Monroe, he investigates mysteries involving his ancestral foes.

In GUMSHOE terms, Nick clearly has a bespoke investigative ability called Grimm Sight, a sort of supernatural version of Bullshit Detector that allows him to detect people who are disguised supernatural beings, but only when they’re under stress.

Over the course of the first two episodes, we’ve also seen the following abilities provide additional insight, or act as core clues bringing on new scenes:

Nick: Cop Talk, Forensic Psychology, Inspiration, Reassurance

Hank: Anthropology, Data Retrieval, Evidence Collection, Research

Eddie: Occult Studies

In the case of Hank’s Anthropology, we see the classic justification for a needed ability that seems outside the character conception. Down-to-earth cop Hank, after identifying an exotic tribal artifact, explains to his partner that his second wife was an anthropologist.

After two episodes, it’s hard to guess if the series will make good on its early potential as a fun blend of recognizable formulas. I am however looking forward to seeing what else is on these guys’ character sheets.

A positive review of Mutant City Blues embedded in a quirky overview of GenCon in the 2gms1mic podcast. Nicky Helmkamp understands the central point of GUMSHOE, and loves the setting. Warning, there is invective, but the enthusiastic kind.

The Stir Crazy Killing

The Mutant City Blues Competition

The MCB competition is now over, and you can find the solution and winners here. You can still try it out, of course!

Contest Intro

The phone rings at the Heightened Crimes Investigation Unit—or HC, as cops like you call it. As the next officer in the rotation, you catch the case. It’s a possible homicide—some big-time television guy. That’s the first thing you ascertain. The second question, as always: what’s the mutant angle?

The HC handles major crimes involving the mutant community. Under that umbrella you get crimes possibly perpetrated by gene-expressives (to use the PC terminology), as well as crimes perpetrated on them. Also you get cases that might impact the delicate politics between the community and the 99% of the population that doesn’t possess low-grade super powers.

As an HCIU detective, you don’t need to be reminded of the backstory. You live it every day. Ten years ago, the Sudden Mutation Event (SME) occurred. That’s when people began to spontaneously manifest extraordinary abilities—controlling flame, reading minds, spitting venom. A select few are considered so dangerous that those having them have to register with the government, in a provision known as Article 18.

Early on, a small handful of people who manifested mutant powers did as pop culture had programmed them to do—they donned weirdo costumes and went to to fight or commit crimes. Most, however, went on about their daily lives. That’s how it still is, ten years on. Some people remain in the closet about their weird abilities. Others use them as job qualifications, serving as, for example, super-healing doctors, ultra-strong construction workers, or fabricators of faux-gold for industrial use.

Nobody got sent to a concentration camp—not in the developed world, at least—but mutants had to fight for their rights in the face of fear and prejudice. Pressure from the mutant rights movement led to the creation of the HCIU, giving mutants an integral role in the prosecution of cases relevant to their lives. Not to mention, when the perps can toss around fire balls or control gravity, it helps to have arresting officers who can match them power for power.

Getting into another genetically heightened rumble is the last thing on your mind as you head out to the crime scene. You drive your department-issue vehicle to a newly redeveloped industrial district tucked into one of the city’s less desirable residential neighborhoods. The particular address you’ve been given leads you to a studio complex for the production of movies and TV shows. Across its anonymous brick facade hangs a polyvinyl banner advertising a reality show called STIR CRAZY—MUTANT EDITION.

Uniformed officers await you at the studio front door. They lead you to the crime scene, where the sprawled body of the vic still lies. They’ve conducted interviews with everyone in the building and have statements ready for your review. The forensic photographer has taken photos of the scene. Medical examiner Mads Jensen is on site to mournfully run down the apparent cause of death. The police forensic services unit has dispatched hipster tech dude Ed “the Ted” Riley to examine the physical evidence. Their computer techie, Mariya Zolotukhin , has something to tell you about the system that controlled the house’s automatic cameras.

You’ve got what you need to solve the case. Now go. The squad’s clearance rate depends on it.


Here’s what you have to go on:

The contestant who compiles a preliminary theory of the case closest to what actually happened is declared the winner.

A web contest, naturally, plays differently than an RPG session. In an actual game of Mutant City Blues, you and your fellow players would more than just come up with a working theory. You’d confirm it by gathering further information, continuing until you secured a confession or conviction. Chances are that you’ll blow throw several working theories as you gather new clues, ruling possibilities in and out as you progress through the investigation.

It’s not just The Esoterrorists that urges you to reconfigure real-life mysteries by ripping tales from the headlines. With Mutant City Blues undergoing a resurgence of interest lately, I figured I’d start swapping in case ideas for the Heightened Crimes Investigative Unit as well.

Japan’s strict limitations on organ donation have created a thriving black market in which the yakuza are often involved, either as recipients or brokers.

In your mutant city, a down-and-outer with quills, blade immunity and webbing mutations disappears, to the anxiety of his family and the indifference of everyone else. If the detectives search where no one else will, they discover that the victim’s disappearance coincided with a yakuza boss’ incognito visit to town. It turns out that the mobster had him killed to harvest a kidney for his own use. The boss also shares the blade immunity enhancement (along with others adjacent to it on the Quade Diagram) and superstitiously feared believed that he might lose this power, from which he derives much underworld prestige, if he settled for just any kidney.

Brief Cases


Brief Cases features three session-length adventures for your Heightened Crime Investigators.

Blastback: A murder at a mutant-only gym brings the characters into the shadowy world of mutant fighting and a clash with organised crime. To solve this crime, the characters need to unravel the history of the Danger Room and its staff and stop a young man from throwing his life away. This scenario focuses on investigation for the most part, but the final scene calls for powerful combat-ready mutants or a lot of police backup.

The Kids Aren’t Alright begins when a lawyer falls out of the sky. The investigation leads to a local high school – one of the kids must be an unidentified mutant. Tracing the connection between the initial victim and the perpetrator requires interviewing the students; good interpersonal skills and a detailed knowledge of the Quade Diagram are needed to crack this case.

Shoulder to Shoulder revolves around anti-mutant prejudice and tests the loyalties of the characters. A chance discovery of a bomb-making workshop reveals a threat to an anti-mutant rally. Pursuing the case diligently means helping those who despise mutants. This case calls for excellent forensic skills, and is especially suited to a mix of heightened and normal characters.

Stock #: PELGM03D Author: Gareth Hanrahan
Artist:Pascal Quidault Pages: 34 pg PDF


New art from Pascal Quidault for the forthcoming Brief Cases, a set of three short adventures for Mutant City Blues.


The lure of GUMSHOE has snared another forum and its members. Over the last few days four very positive reviews have appeared on RPGGeek from reviewer Lowell Francis.

Shadows Over Filmland review -

As before with Trail of Cthulhu, Huguenin has created a book of sinister beauty… This is a good solid book of adventures. If you’re a fan of monster and horror films or the 1930′s and 1940′s (Browning, Lang, Lewton, etc) then I highly recommend it

Full review can be found here.

Trail of Cthulhu review -

This book is gorgeous; my copy is a lovely 248 page hardcover. Jérome Huguenin does a masterful job with art and layout… It is the starting point for some interesting supplements: The Armitage Files offers a great campaign frame; Shadows Over Filmland, a unique horror approach; Arkham Detective Tales, police procedurals; and so on. Plus there’s a number of forthcoming supplements by Hite, Hindmarch, Tidball, Walmsley and others– all of which make my mouth water. All of which I want.

Full review can be found here.

Mutant City Blues review -

This is a great game. If you run a mystery/investigation centered supers campaign, you’ll find useful ideas here. If you’re looking for a new campaign style to begin, then MCB could easily slot in as something different. If you like Gumshoe and its focus on mysteries, I’d also recommend it– this book provides a whole set of new tools constructing new Gumshoe campaign frames.

Full review can be found here.

Hard Helix review -

The book looks great in art and layout... Good stories, all very different from one another. A solid must-buy for GMs wanting to run MCB.

Full review can be found here.

Pitching Skulduggery

Over on my main blog I’ve talked a lot about the importance of having a clear 25-word-or-less pitch statement to explain a new game you’re selling at a booth. Obviously, it helps you to get a few more copies into people’s hands. However, designers, in particular, should have that pitch in mind as they create the game.If you have a tough time briefly encapsulating it, chances are that you haven’t yet nailed down your game’s central idea. Without that core premise, you don’t have a strong game.

For actual booth-manning purposes, though, it doesn’t pay to have a completely prepared spiel that you rattle off when anyone comes within ten feet of your table. It’s better to be a little ragged and conversational than to seem too slick or polished. You want to talk to the person, not at him. You’re assisting as he makes a discovery, rather than pushing a product. (Or worse, pimping it—a term that drives me nuts. But that’s a story for another day.)

To put my example where my mouth is, here’s the pitch I used to explain Skulduggery to folks who wandered over to the Pelgrane booth and started to flip through it.

First, get a sense of whether the browser wants to flip through the book undisturbed, or is open to chat.

Then, the quick pitch:

That’s Skulduggery, the fast and furious game of betrayal, backstabbing and verbal oneupsmanship, in which the player characters face their most dangerous foes: each other.

If the browser seems to want to hear more, go beyond the quick pitch. Cut it short if interest seems to flag. Be ready to jump into question-answering mode if engaged. (This didn’t happen as much for Skulduggery as it does for the various GUMSHOE games, where obvious questions present themselves: How is Trail of Cthulhu different from Call? How do super powers work in Mutant City Blues?)

It’s a multi-genre game. It shows you how to create your own setting/scenario packs, and provides four ready-to-go examples: US politics, pirates, space traders, and—the one that was always the nastiest in playtest—staging a high school musical.

After another pause to gauge interest:

For character generation, you distribute sets of cards. [Flipping to book to show card set #1 from “If Space Permits.”] Players then rationalize how all the components of their character, from the various sets of cards, fit together. That immediately engages their creativity and makes them feel like the character is theirs, and not just a straight-up pre-gen.

And another:

The rules mechanics are a new, streamlined version of the <i>Dying Earth</i> rules. If you don’t like your die roll, or your opponent’s, you pay points to get or require a reroll. So you get a “Yes I do! No you don’t!” back-and-forth dynamic that sets the tone of the game.


During the show I switched the order of these three pitch units. Although it didn’t make a big difference which came first, in retrospect I’d say this is probably the ideal sequence.

After developing this pitch, I was able to adapt it to easily describe the game in interviews, too.

Retail-wise, pitches don’t really work outside a convention exhibit hall. A game store clerk who lays a pitch on you is going to sound weird and artificial. But maybe the above will help those of you who belong to the brick-and-mortar brigade to explain the appeal of the game, although in a much more conversational way.

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