Mutant 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, RPGNow.com 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, RPGNow.com 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.”
See P. XX
A column about roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
Mutant City Blues focuses on a standard-sized player group of 3 to 6 people. This lends itself to the ensemble style play of a serialized procedural show like NCIS, CSI, or Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
If your player group consists of two people, consider drawing instead on the tropes of the buddy cop genre. We see this both in movies and on TV. Cinematic examples include Se7en, Lethal Weapon and The Heat. Television shows often pair a cop with a civilian, as seen in Castle and such genre mash-ups as Grimm, Sleepy Hollow or the short-lived Almost Human.
To replicate this last approach in Mutant City Blues you might consider teaming a genetically normal human cop with a mutant civilian. This could run as a prequel series, in which the mutant is the first ever to work with the police at all, in the very earliest days after the Sudden Mutation Event. This original teaming becomes the template on which the Heightened Crimes Investigation Unit of the baseline setting eventually bases itself.
Most player duos will prefer to each play investigators with super-powers. In this framework they’re partners in an HCIU unit, putting down their own mutant-related cases. An ensemble of GMCs might fill out the squad room as background players, described by you as needed.
The hallowed cliches of buddy cop storytelling call for contrasting personalities, typically a by-the-book voice of reason character and a maverick who believes in justice but can’t be tied down by red tape and procedure, dammit. A less extreme contrast puts a book smart trainee in the same squad car as a street smart veteran. The comic take on the buddy cop adds an overlay of The Odd Couple, teaming a fastidious officer with a slovenly one. You see this in both The Heat and the Andy Samberg comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Roleplayers generally prefer irresponsible characters to straight-laced types. (Unless they seek veto power over everyone else’s choices, in which case they’re off playing paladins in an F20 game.) Your player duo may have to rock-paper-scissors it to decide which has to fill the classic straight role.
Or you could find other oppositions unique to the setting. Strong mutant versus psychic mutant. Self-hating mutant versus proud genetic rights activist. Gorgeous cop with no visible genetic alterations versus the creepy one with bug-like powers.
For the classic by-the-book versus maverick pairing, investigative abilities can be distributed like so:
Voice of Reason
When choosing mutant powers, suggest that players buy the ones that include thematically appropriate defects.
Maverick: Addictive Personality, Attention Deficit Disorder, Depression, Low Impulse Control.
Voice of Reason: Asthma, Autism, Messiah Complex, Panic Disorder, Trance Susceptible.
In a buddy cop movie the two characters function as thesis and antithesis. As they investigate the case and confront its obstacles the two learn that each works better after accepting the virtues of the other.
(In this way both of the rebooted Star Trek films function structurally as buddy cop movies. In the first film, the maverick who gets things done by ignoring the rules (Kirk) discovers that he works best when he accepts the buttoned-down Spock. In the second film, they reset the pattern and repeat it all over again—except that Spock scores the win by going maverick and pounding the crap out of the bad guy.)
When building choices into buddy cop cases, look for procedural or moral dilemmas that highlight their fundamental contrast. Keep the tension in check: you want to spark entertaining badinage, not an outright rift.
Do they use a psychic power without a warrant?
Do they look the other way when a GMC squad member screws up a case due to his accelerating mutant defect? Or do they break the unspoken cop code and alert the lieutenant?
When a barhead accuses the maverick of getting rough with him in the interview room, does the voice of reason take the charge seriously, or back his partner?
Does the by-the-book cop let the maverick follow his hunch about dirty doings at the Quade Institute? Or does he insist on more evidence before charging into a situation pregnant with political blowback?
Use these questions as springboards when creating cases. Ask yourself what case could tempt them to use a restricted ability without a warrant, or navigate turbulent political waters. Construct the mystery around a key moment bringing the question to a head.
While improvising moments in play, use GMC reactions to spur exchanges over the cops’ contrasting styles. A sleazy mutant pimp informant tries to creep out the fresh-faced rookie. A society matron witness sniffs in disgust at the odor emanating from the crusty veteran’s unwashed trenchcoat.
Make room for moments that test the buddy cops’ loyalty to one another, where the best play requires them to work in tandem. These might occur directly in the cases themselves, or as ongoing subplots fleshing out the cops’ lives. An Internal Affairs officer comes sniffing around for dirt on the maverick. The button-down character’s wealthy father offers to pull strings for the maverick and clear his spotty record, if she agrees to convince his son to take a nice, safe desk job.
No buddy cop series is complete without plenty of banter in the squad car, whether stuck on a long stakeout, or during a wild chase sequence with the maverick maniacally at the wheel. If the leads aren’t arguing over who’s driving whenever they approach the vehicle, nudge them until they truly embrace the buddy cop spirit.
A while back we learned of the vials of supposedly destroyed smallpox virus that turned up in a laboratory storage room in Bethesda, Maryland. Luckily, no one was exposed to the deadly disease, allowing us to guiltlessly mine the incident for scenario inspiration. How you might use it depends on the game you’re currently running:
Ashen Stars: The lasers get a contract to find out what happened to an archaeological survey team tasked to explore the ancient alien ruins of the outlying world Cophetus. They arrive to find the team’s base, with evidence that they had located the tomb of a great emperor and were set to open its entry hatches. The team’s interpretation of the hieroglyphs found on the side of the complex alert them to a different story—this was the tomb of the ancient pathogen that nearly extinguished this mystery civilization. Can the team learn enough to locate, rescue and decontaminate the archaeologists before they succumb to the disease—or spread it to the stars?
Mutant City Blues: Conspiracy blogger Warner Osterman is found dead in your jurisdiction, a .22 bullet in his brain. His last story was about finding serum sample vials in a disused military laboratory. According to the contents of his laptop, Osterman believed these contained a version of the disease that caused people around the world to gain super powers ten years ago. That’s the angle that gets the case assigned to the HCIU. Did Osterman die because he got too close to the secret of the Sudden Mutation Event? Or just because he made people think he did?
Dying Earth: Locals in an isolated village your neer-do-wells happen to traipse through run a lucrative sideline in waylaying treasure hunters. When visitors come, they let slip the presence of an ancient treasure vault, one they pretend to be too superstitious to venture near. Over many years they’ve learned the right words to trigger the greed of arrogant freebooters. The adventurers head off to plunder the ancient temple, which in fact is the repository of an enervating energy left behind by a heedlessly experimental arch-magician. The magical plague kills off the visitors. Then, armed with protective amulets, villagers head on down to strip their corpses of valuables. Can our anti-heroes escape the fate of so many likeminded troublemakers before them. If so, do they turn the tables on the rubes who so impertinently used their own greed against them?
Given the persistent weirdness of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, it should come as no surprise that they were the first major sports administration to permit the use of mutant powers in professional competition. In the DNA-twisted future of Mutant City Blues, only one thing has changed about the world’s love of football: America now adores it too. After all, the US team boasts such world-class players as Kirk “Force Master” Larson, Lyle “Nonstop” Watts, and Shane “the Ghost” Lowe.
Larson uses his concussion beam to move the ball around, and kinetic energy dispersal to fizzle the opposing team’s kicks. Thanks to his pain immunity and endorphin control (self), Watts simply doesn’t tire. And, attracting the greatest hate from rival fans, Lowe’s mutant brain makes lightning decisions, instantly evaluates threats posed by the other side, and allegedly reads their minds from time to time, too.
This year the World Cup has come to Mutant City, with all the revelry and security issues needed to keep a police officer up at night. HCIU officers have been pulled from normal duty to keep the city safe for visiting fans from around the globe.
The juxtaposed atmospheres of celebration and terrorism fear that accompany any high profile sporting event might hang as a background element over several other cases the squad pursues as the World Cup rolls on.
After sufficient foreshadowing, a case puts the tournament center stage. Options include:
- The squad gets evidence of a credible death threat against one of the above-named players. FIFA won’t hear of a star player being pulled, so the players have to track down the would-be killer without being able to stash the victim safely.
- Anti-mutant terrorists, angry that non-mutant players have been pushed to the sidelines, regard the games as a prime target. This allows you to stage your super-powered, footie version of Black Sunday.
- Trinidad Güngör, the FIFA board member most responsible for bringing mutation into the game, is found brutally murdered in his hotel suite, with several underage prostitutes dead for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Initial indications point to an attack by a non-mutant player whose career declined after the genetically enhanced were permitted on the field. Investigation points to another possible angle— Güngör was about to implicate fellow board members in a bribery scandal over the bid to hold the next games.
Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
A Calgary dentist who two years ago bought John Lennon’s tooth at auction says that he looks forward to cloning him in the near future. After finding a jurisdiction with loose bio-ethical regulation, he intends to raise the child in a music-friendly environment—though without exposure to drugs and cigarettes.
Rip this story from the headlines for Mutant City Blues with a case involving a murder at a gene sequencing lab. The HCIU catches the case because it specializes in prenatal screening for mutations. Co-founder Allen Gould turns up dead in the underground parking lot beneath his office at Sequencing Services LLC. Initial indications point to a business dispute between the vic and his partner, Helen Mack. Further digging reveals Gould’s scheme to divert especially promising samples to an illegal cloning program. Did Mack kill him when she found out, or was it Gould’s shadowy partners in the clandestine cloning operation? A moral dilemma arises when the detectives discover that several clonings have already taken place. Women get implanted with super-powered fetuses in the Grand Caymans and then return home to Mutant City. Sometimes they’re surrogates, in other cases the women who intend to raise them bear them. Although the murder of Dr. Gould clearly falls under their jurisdiction, the scheme itself occupies a legal gray area, far above their pay grades. Still, the way they handle publicity arising from the arrest will likely shape the political outcome. Can the detectives influence how the children born as a result of the scheme are treated? Do they even try, or do they keep their heads down and move on to the next homicide on the whiteboard?
Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Pick up Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
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. – rpg.net 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.
Gareth has written a fantastic scenario filled with anxiety and genuine horror 10/10 rpg.net 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.
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!
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.