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 […]

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In April a member of the Oita, Japan municipal assembly known as Skull Reaper A-ji sued for the right to wear his mask while conducting official business. A costumed wrestler by trade, he argued that it was discriminatory to prevent him from concealing his civilian identity while working his side gig as a local politician.

Such a suit could also occur in Mutant City Blues, where a small percentage of the enhanced bow to comic book tradition by operating under costumed identities. Given the police procedural structure of the game, that hook must surely lead to murder.

Let’s say that it’s our masked local official who winds up dead not long after his press conference announcing his suit. He hassled street criminals and sold merch as the burly, blustering King Lion, but now he’s been found with a bullet hole in him in his humble downtown apartment, rented under his real name, Leo Henderson.

The list of suspects the investigators assembles looks like this:

Ira Alvarado, a protester from the Neutral Parity League who disrupted King Lion’s press conference. Like all NPL members he stridently opposes anything he construes as special rights for the enhanced.

Margaret Becker, Henderson’s ex-wife, embroiled in a lawsuit over his attempt to break their prenuptial agreement and force the sale of their second home so he can take half the proceeds.

Lance Gordon, a fellow assembly member hoping to conceal his past as a drug dealer. King Lion knew all about that, having put a beating on him during an anti-drug vigilante patrol. Was he threatening blackmail?

Kelli Reeves, a freelance writer King Lion was threatening to sue, after she blamed him in print for a vigilante attack he had a solid alibi for.

Marcia Burton, formerly his crimebusting partner Queen Lion, who has suffered from uncontrollable rage after taking a bullet for him.

Abdul Melton, the super strong downstairs neighbor who began receiving threatening anonymous messages after refusing to become King Lion’s sidekick.

Darren Maki, whose husband shot himself after King Lion released a cellphone video of him as part of his crusade against the sex trade in his district.

It’s never the most obvious suspect in a police procedural, so Alvarado has a core clue to offer but didn’t do it. Pick the suspect you prefer or roll a die.


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.

“While America needs you, my son, you shall not die!”

— Bruce Carter I, to the Fighting Yank (Bruce Carter III), in Startling Comics #35 (Sep 1945)

A typically robust Alex Schomburg cover for the Fighting Yank

The Shield was the first, and Captain America was the greatest, but lots and lots of heroes donned the red-white-and-blue and punched Nazis in the 1940s. Many of them, having bravely seen off mad scientists, and robots, and gangsters, and the Axis powers, then vanished forever. Or somewhat vanished somewhat forever. Without the holy rites of copyright spoken over them, they rise again and again in reprint volumes and reboot attempts, some better than others. One of the best of the public-domain patriotic superheroes was also one of the longest-lived: the Fighting Yank bowed in Startling Comics #10 (Sep 1941), and headlined Startling, America’s Best Comics (sharing top billing with the Black Terror), and his own title, which ran from September 1942 until August 1949. Writer Richard E. Hughes (one of many pseudonyms of Leo Rosenblum) and artist Jon L. Blummer created the Fighting Yank for Ned Pines, publisher of Standard Comics, also known as Better Publications and eventually as Nedor Publications.

The Fighting Yank was actually a young socialite named Bruce Carter III, descended from a Revolutionary War courier named Bruce Carter (the first). Ambushed and killed by British spies while carrying dispatches for George Washington, his unfinished duty drove Bruce Carter I to rise as a ghost. That spirit showed Bruce III where to find his old cloak and tricorn hat, which had somehow become imbued with magic. When the young Carter donned the colonial garb, he gained super-strength. The cloak deflected bullets and other attacks, although like most Golden Age superheroes, the Fighting Yank could (and very often would) be knocked out by a bonk on the head. On his missions and adventures, Bruce’s ghostly ancestor spoke to him, giving him vital information about his foes’ whereabouts, and on occasion materializing to help the Yank out of a jam. Carter’s girlfriend Joan Farwell guessed his secret identity within minutes of meeting the Fighting Yank, and often helped out with investigations and by hitting Nazi agents with her car.

So in honor of the Fourth, and of things old becoming new again, here are two takes on America’s Bravest Defender and on the undying legacy of his undying legacy!

“His own face was in shadow, and he wore a wide-brimmed hat which somehow blended perfectly with the out-of-date cloak he affected; but I was subtly disquieted even before he addressed me.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “He”

Indolent scion of wealth Bruce Carter III became obsessed with his ancestor’s portrait, studying it until he believed it spoke to him revealing the location of a magical artifact hidden away since colonial times. Sound familiar? I have previously addressed the overlap between Lovecraftian horror and the Golden Age of Comics in my Adventures Into Darkness, and feel free to peruse that tome for further leads. Or you could certainly treat the Fighting Yank as yet another pulp hero (Ned Pines happily overlapped his pulp magazine heroes with his comic heroes) of the sort I have played with previously in these pages.

But here’s an old-school Yankee who talks to ghosts, and probably ghouls, and maybe rat-things. He’s rich, and bored, and obsessed with his ancestor Edmund Carter, “who was nearly hung during the witch-trials.” Like his cousin Randolph, he comes from money and studies the occult, and sounds a lot like a certain antiquarian of Providence who likewise sometimes acted like he lived in the 18th century. In a Trail of Cthulhu campaign he might begin as a helpful (if creepy) figure, granting passage to certain locked churchyards at night, or offering the loan of his library. He just needs the Investigators to do a little favor for him once in a while, dig in a certain spot or read a certain poem under the new moon, or track down and kill a lich-hound that’s guarding a tomb where just possibly his ancestor Edmund Carter buried a certain “cloke or clout” used by the Arkham witch circle …

Bruce Carter III, Randolph’s Disreputable Cousin

Athletics 3 Firearms 4 Fleeing 6 Health 5 Scuffling 3 Weapons 3

Magic: 3; it costs him 1 point to Contact Ghost and speak with his ancestor, and 2 points to learn something unseen by him from his ancestor. In addition to any other spells he might have, Carter’s cloak transmits an unholy vitality to him from his dead ancestor, along with that sorcerer’s memories and skills. Carter can use the cloak’s pool of 36 points on any of his General abilities, including Health and Magic; the cloak recharges 4 points per hour of exposure to pitch darkness (such as the inside of a chest).

Alertness Modifier: -1 (dreamy and distracted) without the cloak; +3 with the cloak

Stealth Modifier: +0 without the cloak; +3 with the cloak

Hit Threshold: 3 (5 with the cloak)

Attacks: -2 (fist; +1 with the cloak), +1 (sword; +4 with the cloak), +1 (Colt 1902 Sporting .38 ACP semiautomatic target pistol)

Armor: The cloak protects Carter from all injuries except those aimed at his head (+2 to Hit Threshold)

 

“I told you, I’m finebetter than fine, in fact. It’s funny … I’d forgotten how much more confident a mask can make you feel.”

— Carol Carter, the new Fighting Yank, in Terra Obscura v1 #5 (Dec 2003) by Alan Moore and Peter Hogan

Bryce’s father, Bruce Carter IV, moved to Ohio from Granger, Massachusetts, in 1980 and never really talked about his family at all. This didn’t really bother his youngest daughter Bryce, who pursued a career as an architectural photographer (with a sideline in crime novel writing) until she got the ghost flu and started having dreams about an ancestor in Revolutionary War times. She went to Granger and looked around her grandfather’s old house, and found a cloak and hat — ideal for cosplay! — and thought she’d exorcised the ghost … until she got the ghost flu a second time (very unusual! One in a million, they said!) and developed powers. The therapists claimed she had “multiple personality disorder” (which even she knew was pseudoscientific claptrap) brought on by the ghost flu, and the geneticist from the University claimed she had some long-dormant recessive gene that triggered two sets of powers depending on her endocrine levels.

Bryce isn’t sure what to believe, because it sure seems like her ancestor Bruce Carter tells her things (or is it her subconscious putting together her prodigious research) and saves her life when she needs it. And since she’s moved to your Mutant City Blues campaign city, she needs it more and more. Cops can’t do it all for you, and she’s not sure she trusts them to use their powers fairly for everyone. And as her ancestor points out, it’s every American’s duty to fight injustice and help out their neighbor. (This writeup leaves Bryce’s politics aside from police reform vague, but in your campaign they should be whatever version most tends to annoy your PCs.) To the police, she’s a vigilante, and to corrupt cops, she’s frighteningly good at finding where the bodies are buried.

Bryce Carter, the Fighting Yank

Architecture, Bullshit Detector, Charm, Criminology, History, Intimidation, Photography, Popular Culture, Research

Athletics 8 Composure 6 Driving 5 Firearms 6 Health 8 Infiltration 6 Scuffling 12 Sense Trouble 10 Surveillance 5

*Flight 4 *Illusion 2 Kinetic Energy Dispersal 6 Strength 10 *Telekinesis 18

Powers marked with an asterisk (*) are associated with Bryce’s alternate personality, “Bruce Carter the First” and only emerge under great stress: to save her life or that of someone she knows. She only uses her Illusion power to (unconsciously?) project an image of Bruce Carter’s “ghost.”


Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game originally written by Robin D. Laws, and developed and extended by Gareth-Ryder Hanrahan, 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.

District Knowledges, used in the Station Duty campaign frame in The Esoterrorists and in Cthulhu City, are a special set of investigative abilities designed for use in games where a particular city is of paramount importance – and the city’s right there in the title in Mutant City Blues!

The districts in your Mutant City will vary, but you’re going to end up with something similar to the list below. Allocate the suggested elements from Building Mutant City (p. 138) to different districts.

  • The University: Including the Quade Institute
  • Financial District: Including Birch Towers
  • City Centre: City Hall, the Precinct
  • Historic Downtown, including the Bulwark of God Church
  • The Strip, lots of clubs and bars.
  • Helixtown, the mutant district, including Capecon Enterprises, the Heightened Information Alliance, New Heliopolis and the other mutant-related groups.
  • Industrial Zone
  • The Docks/Airport
  • Wealthy Enclave
  • Suburbia
  • Poverty-Stricken District

Don’t stick with the dull technical names – use the actual names of districts and areas in your city. If you’re basing your Mutant City off an existing city, then use areas from that city (“I’m taking Soho, you take Clapham”). If you’re making your Mutant City up, then take the opportunity to create a real sense of place; proper names really help ground a campaign.

Using District Knowledges

With a District Knowledge, you can obtain clues through:

  • Your knowledge of the streets, buildings and other features of the area
  • Your expertise in local history and current events
  • Your relationships with local leaders, influencers, experts and figures in the community.
  • Picking up rumours and efficiently gathering information about that district

You can

  • Tell when crowds or passersby are acting strangely
  • Tell whether a passerby or bystander is native to a particular neighbourhood
  • Navigate unfamiliar street layouts and locate buildings without marking yourself out as a stranger

A District Knowledge push can:

  • Create a useful contact or ally living in that district
  • Call in a favour related to that district
  • Allow you to declare some fact about that district

District Knowledges and other investigative abilities often overlap with one another. A character with a District Knowledge could certainly substitute it for Architecture or Community Relations. However, such substitutions are only permissible when the investigator is in the district they are familiar with.

Gaining District Knowledges

Each character starts with one free District Knowledge. A player taking any template that includes Streetwise can swap that ability for a more focused District Knowledge. More District Knowledges can be purchased with build points or experience as desired.


Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game originally written by Robin D. Laws, and developed and extended by Gareth-Ryder Hanrahan, 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.

The advent of some mutant abilities has created whole new categories of criminality, while other powers are covered by existing laws. It’s still aggravated assault with a deadly weapon if you threaten someone with a sharp blade, even if you grew that blade yourself using your Natural Weapons ability. Some of the more obscure legal interactions that might crop up in your Mutant City Blues campaign…

The use of the Cognition power is treated as card-counting in Mutant City casinos; it’s not technically illegal, but those known to possess the power are banned by the casino owners and forcibly ejected if found to be gambling.

Of all the Command powers, Command Insects is the most likely to cause serious property damage or degrade the ecology of the local area. A common use of the power is the so-called ‘Pied Piper’ effect – instead of spraying a structure for termites or other insects, a mutant can just compel the insects to leave. Practising this form of extermination commercially requires a licence, and proof that the mutant has somewhere to safely dispose of the insects.

Using Earth Control’s earthquake ability is a legal nightmare, exposing the user to endless suits for damage to property. Earthquake-hit structures must be thoroughly examined by a qualified engineer to ensure they are still sound.

Illusion is a tricky power when it comes to the law. Many uses of illusion fall under existing laws covering fraud, deception, intimidation and so forth – there’s no difference, legally, between conjuring an illusion of a monster, and putting on a monster costume to scare someone. However, as illusions leave no traces or physical evidence, it makes proving a crime considerably harder. Attempts to have non-consensual, non-declared illusions deemed illegal have foundered in the courts, and there’s a growing number of professional illusionists who use their abilities for quasi-legal activities like providing alibis (‘six witnesses saw my client drinking in the bar when the prosecution claims he was robbing the house’).

Plants under Plant Control count as tools or weapons, so using a plant to entangle someone counts as assault even if you never lay a finger on them. That said, it can difficult to conclusively prove that a particular plant controller was commanding a particular plant, leading to the trope of the ‘Mad Gardener’, a hypothetical plant controller who wanders around Mutant City controlling plants at random, and who just happened to be passing when the defendant was alleged to have used the same power.

Reduce Temperature can result in reckless endangerment charges if the mutant uses the ability in an enclosed space with others present.

Speed limits do not apply to runners or cyclists, so the Speed power is not restricted. However, using Speed in highly trafficked areas may result in charges for jaywalking.

Webbing counts as littering.


Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game originally written by Robin D. Laws, and developed and extended by Gareth-Ryder Hanrahan, 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.

In the latest episode of their anomaly-detecting podcast, Ken and Robin talk science mystery scenarios, a cannibal fugitive, hardboiled 30s Mutant City Blues, and changing the condiment timestream.

The Old Guard (Netflix) – when you put ALL the points into Regeneration (connected: Messiah Complex)

Maybe you were already on this path when the Sudden Mutation Event happened, or perhaps your newfound superhuman abilities gave you a life you never expected. More likely, you got into this line of work because you needed something from it: more money than you could ever make through conventional employment. A fresh start, away from the mistakes of the past. A chance to really cut loose with your powers.

You’re a mercenary. A soldier of fortune.

Of course, when it comes to mutant powers, the notion of marketable abilities is a lot wider than it used to be. Anyone can be trained to use a gun. Walking through walls, that’s a different matter. Unsurprisingly, private military contractors were among the first to recruit and offer “special talent services” to clients.

‘Super-mercs’ have a somewhat better reputation than conventional soldiers-of-fortune, as their talents have a wider range of application. A biotech company might, for example, trumpet their hiring of a super-merc with plant communication and plant control who can safely locate and retrieve rare orchids from disputed jungles in South America, or have a mutant with read minds and lightning decisions spearhead their negotiations with disgruntled locals. That said, most super-merc missions come to down to “there’s the hard target, go work your mutant magic and eliminate it”…

Creating Your Mercenary

Pick one of the templates below to get started.

Personal Security

8 investigative, 48 general

You put yourself between the target and the bullet

Investigative: Ballistics, Bullshit Detector, Community Relations, Cop Talk, Criminology, Influence Detection, Intimidation, Streetwise

General: Athletics 6, Composure 4, Driving 6, Health 6, Medic 4, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 4, Sense Trouble 6, Shooting 4, Surveillance 4

Trainer

8 Investigative, 40 General

Ready to turn militias and regular security into elite fighting forces

Investigative: Anamorphology, Anthropology, Community Relations, Forensic Psychology, Interrogation, Intimidation, Languages, Streetwise

General: Athletics 4, Computer 6, Driving 4, Health 4, Mechanics 2, Medic 4, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 4, Shooting 6, Surveillance 4

Special Operations

6 Investigative, 48 General

A very particular set of skills

Investigative: Explosive Devices, Impersonate, Intimidation, Photography, Research, Traffic Analysis

General: Athletics 6, Computer 6, Driving 4, Health 4, Infiltration 6, Mechanics 2, Medic 4, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 4, Shooting 6, Surveillance 4

Counter-Insurgency

10 Investigative, 36 General

Identifies and analyses threats

Investigative: Anthropology, Architecture, Community Relations, Forensic Accounting, History, Languages, Law, Negotiation, Streetwise, Traffic Analysis

General: Composure 6, Health 4, Mechanics 2, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 4, Sense Trouble 6, Shooting 4, Surveillance 6

 Technical Specialist

10 Investigative, 36 General

Network security and counter-bugging

Investigative: Architecture, Cryptography, Data Retrieval, Electronic Surveillance,  Energy Residue Analysis, Evidence Collection, Explosive Devices, Photography, Research, Traffic Analysis

General: Composure 4, Driving 4 Health 4, Mechanics 6, Preparedness 6, Scuffling 4, Sense Trouble 2, Shooting 2, Surveillance 4

 Ex-Civilian

Alternatively, you can play a regular civilian who developed mutant powers and got recruited into the shadow world of private military operations. You’ve got 60 General Points  to spend with no restrictions, but start with a -1 Stress Penalty in the category of your choice, reflecting your comparative unfamiliarity with military life.

 Desirable Powers

Article 18 powers – abilities that pose a danger to national security like Teleportation, or abilities that endanger large numbers of people like Radiation Projection – are especially sought after by PMCs. Of course, picking a power that makes you a walking national security threat means you (or your employer) will need to deal with government scrutiny – and paints a big target on your head.

Potent combat abilities like the various Blasts or covert action powers like Invisibility, Flight or Nondescript are more generally useful for mercs. Some powers that are of extremely limited utility for Mutant City cops come into their own in merc games – the cops rarely need Gills or Earth Control, but one can easily imagine an action thriller involving submarine sabotage, or see the utility of a mutant who can easily create defensive structures or clear rubble from roads.

Rules Changes

Consider borrowing the Thriller Combat rules from Night’s Black Agents. Some of them, like chases, are already part of the Mutant City Blues rules, but mercenary operations tend to involve a lot more fistfights and suppressive fire.

Make liberal use of Stress cards like “Hair Trigger”, “Flashbacks”, “Maverick” and “Wracking Guilt” to emphasise the questionable morality of the soldier-of-fortune lifestyle.

Mercenary Companies

Some sample employers for the player characters…

Betula Security Consultants (Mutant City Blues, p. 141) is a private security company that hires a considerable number of mutants. Betula’s operations are almost entirely domestic, specialising in corporate and personal security, not military work overseas. That said, some shareholders are pushing Betula to compete by offering a more professional and respectable alternative to Genestorm.

Genestorm: Genestorm’s the best known of the ‘mutant merc’ companies – or at least, the most notorious. The company sells itself as having ‘heroes for hire’, goobering its employees up by giving them flamboyant uniforms and superhero names. Of course, in the field it’s all camo gear and proper callsigns. Genestorm hires its mutants out to virtually any client, so it does a lot of business with autocrats, warlords and especially rapacious corporations. A cross between Blackwater and the World Wrestling Federation, with less ethics than either – but at least they pay well.

Heliopolis National Guard: The armed wing of the Heliopolitan separatist movement, the HNG intends to fund the establishment of a mutant-only state through mercenary contracts. They also undertake ‘humanitarian’ missions for groups and states near the planned mutant state in Somalia, in the hopes of establishing a buffer zone of friendly nations around Heliopolis. The legal standing of the HNG is questionable, and some have pushed for it to be declared a terrorist organisation.

Mutant Foreign Legion: The MFL was founded by a group of mutants whose lives were completely disrupted when their powers manifested. Now, the company is a place where mutants can begin again; new recruits are given new names and passports (the MFL has an arrangement with Malta) and a fresh start. The MFL’s under severe financial strain, and its mercenary teams are unusually underequipped and undergunned for their missions.

Greenman Group: A long-established Private Military Contractor, Greenman Group is in the process of hiring more mutants. The Group is extremely discreet, to the degree that they prefer their mutant hires keep their powers secret even from clients unless absolutely necessary.

Adventures

At least initially, present mercenary adventures as tactical challenges. The mercenaries might be hired to…

  • Kidnap a scientist from a rival corporation
  • Secure a mine or pipeline in an unstable region
  • Find out who’s been blackmailing a company executive and recover the incriminating evidence
  • Retake the boss’ superyacht after it’s overrun by pirates
  • Defeat the mutant-led insurgents

 Night’s Black Mutants

For a full-on mercenary campaign, lift the structure of Night’s Black Agents wholesale. The player characters sign on with a mercenary company, run a few missions – then discover their employers are even more corrupt and shady than they thought, and have to go on the run while fighting their way up the Conspyramid. Maybe the mercenary company is conducting experiments on mutants, or only hiring mutants to harvest powered organs for transplant…


Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game originally written by Robin D. Laws, and developed and extended by Gareth-Ryder Hanrahan, 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.

 

In the world of Mutant City Blues, there’s a single origin for mutant powers:  a mysterious virus called the ghost flu caused approximately 1% of the population to develop incredible abilities. In most campaigns, the ghost flu’s just part of the background, putting the focus on regular criminal investigations flavoured with tasty mutant weirdness.

However, if you want to push the mutant mystery to the forefront, here are four alternate origins for mutant powers. All these origins leave the signature Quade Diagram unchanged, but offer an additional line of investigation.

Mutagenic Meteor

Ten years ago, a meteorite broke up as it approached Earth. Portions of the meteorite fell through the atmosphere (other portions are still in orbit, and expected to pass close to Earth in a few years…) Much of the planet was bathed in dust; larger chunks of alien rock crash-landed more-or-less intact. People exposed to the dust developed mutant powers. Some of the fragments were collected and studied, but others have ended up on the black market. Snorting ground meteorite dust can trigger mutant powers; larger chunks have been fashioned into jewellery or tools, and are rumoured to boost mutant abilities to astounding levels or warp reality in other, stranger ways.

Investigating dust dealers and mutant-rock incidents are part of the remit of the Heightened Crimes Unit. Mutant City was hit especially hard by meteor fallout; they’re still finding meteor rocks in backyards and parks after all these years. And finding one of those rocks can literally change your life…

The Outsiders

The abductions began 10 years ago. About 1% of the population got beamed up by flying saucers (or stolen by the fairies, or folded into a higher dimension by hyper-beings). Those abducted sometimes developed mutant powers; others came back transformed in other ways, or were returned apparently unchanged. The military tried to intervene, but the aliens possess hypertechnology far beyond anything humanity can muster – and while the aliens’ intent may not be benign, it’s not overtly hostile either. These days, the abductions are just part of background weirdness – everyone knows someone who’s been abducted, and it’s common enough that ‘alien abduction’ is accepted without question as a reason for taking a sick day.

The Heightened Crimes Unit is responsible for following up on reports of abductions, and monitoring recent abductees to determine if they develop mutant abilities. HCU’s also tasked with investigating UFO sightings and other alien activity. Whatever the aliens are up to, they seem to be increasing the scale of their experiments in recent months.

Project HELIOS

Experiments in genetic enhancement of humanity began during the cold war; both the USA and the Soviet bloc carried out experiments to create super-soldiers. Their greatest success was Project HELIOS – a retrovirus that unlocked incredible powers. Only a handful of test subjects survived the HELIOS procedure, and the whole experiment was conducted in the greatest secrecy…

… until an augmented, airborne version of the HELIOS virus was released in the Hartsfield-Jackson airport in what’s now called simply the Incident. The virus rapidly spread all over the world, causing an outbreak of mutant powers. Unlike the military version, HELIOS2 caused few casualties. A year to the day after the Incident, a mysterious group called the Ascended claimed responsibility for the augmented virus, and declared that mutants would soon control the world.

There have been several other, localised, HELIOS outbreaks in the years since the Incident; these are referred to as HELIOS3, HELIOS4 and so on. These local outbreaks all caused powers restricted to a particular part of the Quade Diagram; while some credit the Ascended with these outbreaks, the official line is that they were caused by mutated versions of HELIOS2.

Wild rumours that might be true:

  • One of the original HELIOS subjects developed either super-intelligence or the ability to control viruses, and was responsible for the Incident.
  • The Ascended are a global network of mutants, plotting to overthrow society and usher in a mutant-dominate era.
  • The Ascended are a psychological operation, designed to turn ordinary people against mutants and justify oppression.

Mutant Vector

Taking a leaf from Greg Stolze’s Progenitor, in this setting, mutant powers are contagious. The first mutant was created by the Ghost Flu, as usual, but everyone after that developed their powers after being exposed to the powers of another mutant. Get hit by a lightning blast, and maybe you’ll develop your own lighting powers. Or superspeed. Or a totally unrelated power, although in general acquired powers tend to be closely related to the triggering power on the Quade Diagram. More likely, you’ll get third-degree electrical burns. Power transfer isn’t guaranteed – it’s a 1% chance per mutant ability point spent on the power use, or a flat 1% for Pushed investigative abilities. If you fail to develop powers on first exposure, you probably never will.

This has created ‘dynasties’ of mutant powers – many of the mutants in Mutant City, for example were created by fallout from an early terrorist bombing by a Self-Detonating man. Tracking ‘promiscuous’ mutants can help solve cases; if four victims of a con artist all develop mutant powers, you’re dealing with a mutant crook.

 

 

Inspired by Ray Winninger’s seminal Underground RPG from Mayfair Games (which is sorely due a reboot), these parameters for Mutant City Blues let the players shape the future of their city, shepherding it into an era of prosperity or fighting against the tide as it’s engulfed in crime and corruption.

Each parameter’s measured from +3 to -3.

The 16 parameters are divided into four categories. Police HQ describes the internal state of Mutant City’s police force; Crime Rate measures four categories of high-profile crimes; Town Hall tracks the general state of the city, and Mutant Relations describes how the city’s mutant population relate to the police and the wider city.

Police HQ

  • Trust In Police
  • Police Corruption
  • Police Efficiency
  • Police Morale

Crime Rate

  • Major Crime
  • Antisocial Behaviour
  • Vice
  • Heightened Crime

Town Hall

  • Civic Pride
  • Local Economy
  • Mayor’s Popularity
  • Public Corruption

Mutant Relations

  • Criminal Influence
  • Social Cohesion
  • Mutant Rights
  • Mutant Pride

Setting Up Your City

Unless you want to emphasise a particular point (there’s a serial killer on the loose – Murder Rate starts at -3!), then start by randomly allocating values to parameters. Roll a d6 for each parameter:

  • 1: -2
  • 2: -1
  • 3-4: +0
  • 5-6: +1

Adjusting Parameters

A new case drops one or more parameters by a point or two each. So, if the case involves tension between mutants and non-mutants, reduce Social Integration by at least one point for the duration of the case. If the officers completely fail to solve the case, those parameters from by an extra point; if they succeed, reset the parameters to their previous levels.

Parameters might also drift due to larger events at the whim of the Gamemaster; often, an increase in one parameter (say, Local Economy) can affect others (more money in the city might also boost Vice and Corruption).

Between cases, players can spend suitable Investigative abilities to temporarily increase a parameter. It costs a number of points equal to the current value of the parameter to increase it by 1 (minimum 1). So, if you want to inspire trust in the police, but Trust in Police is currently at -2, you’d have to spend 2 points of Community Relationsto get it down to -1 for the next case only. Permanently increasing a parameter requires the players to make some sort of permanent change of circumstances – setting up a new group or institution, finding a non-player character who’ll champion a cause, or removing some malign influence that keeps pushing the parameter down.

Effects of Parameters

As a rule of thumb, the value of a parameter describes how often in a particular case that plot element comes into play. So, if Trust in Police is at +1, then once per case, the GM should engineer a scene where the police’s hard-won trust is rewarded with a particularly co-operative witness or unsolicited assistance from a citizen. If Trust in Police is at -3, then have three incidents where the breakdown in relations between police and public impedes the investigation. These incidents aren’t always related to the case at hand – coming back to find your patrol car has been tagged with graffiti, for example, or getting a free donut from a friendly street vendor. Players are encouraged to suggest possible benefits or penalties.

Police HQ

  • Trust In Police measures how average citizens think of the police. Low scores mean witnesses are less willing to come forward or co-operate; high scores garner increased co-operation.
  • A high Police Corruptionindicates how easy it is for criminals to bribe or subvert the police; especially high scores may mean that some cops are in the pay of criminal groups, and cannot be trusted.
  • Police Efficiency measures the effectiveness of the other cops and the rest of the justice system. A low score means no backup, slow processing of cases or forensics, and general malaise.
  • Police Morale determines how enthusiastic and cohesive the cops are. Low morale can bring down efficiency. Of course, an autocratic, hard-driving Commissioner might improve Efficiency at the cost of Morale.

Crime Rate

  • Major Crime: Murders, terrorist attacks and other high-profile incidents – all stuff the mayor wants off the front pages, quick! A high score indicates that not only is crime under control, but the officers have advance warning of possible threats.
  • Antisocial Behaviour:Broken windows, graffiti, minor burglaries.
  • Vice: Narcotics (including jolting), sex trafficking
  • Heightened Crime: Anything involving mutants; keeping this parameter under control is the primary goal of the Heightened Crimes division.

Town Hall

  • A low Civic Pride means public morale is low; a high score means people generally like and cherish their city.
  • Local Economy: High scores indicate prosperity and high employment; low means a downturn or recent job losses.
  • Mayor’s Popularity: Arguably, this one is the parameter the players need to keep the closest watch on; a high score means the Mayor’s likely to win re-election, low means he’s desperate to get his poll numbers up, which means City Hall’s looking for someone to blame…
  • Public Corruption measures the influence of criminal or dodgy corporate money in civic affairs.

Mutant Relations

  • Criminal Influence measures how much reach criminal gangs or groups have in the mutant community, and how likely it is that a given mutant will turn to a life of crime. A high score may indicate mutant vigilantism.
  • Social Cohesion tracks the degree to which mutants see themselves as part of a larger community; a low social cohesion means that extremist and separatist groups have greater sway.
  • Mutant Rights measures legal restrictions on mutants. A negative score indicates added limits or calls for mutant segregation; a positive score implies more acceptance and opportunities to use mutant powers in society.
  • Mutant Pride tracks the attitude of the public towards mutant powers. A negative score  implies added prejudice; a positive score shows that mutants are popular or trusted.

Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game originally written by Robin D. Laws, and developed and extended by Gareth-Ryder Hanrahan, where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Pre-order Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The Quade Diagram in Mutant City Blues is a wonderful thing – it’s a structure for mysteries, an investigative method, an in-world document and a tool for character creation. One thing it doesn’t handle, though, is helping pick a random mutant power for random mutant passers-by or indecisive players.

The hack below is visually ugly, but lets the GM quickly obtain a random power.

11 – C0 31 – D2 51 – D4
12 – D0 32 – E2 52 – E4
13 – E0 33 – F2 53 – A5
14 – F0 34 – A3 54 – B5
15 – B1 35 – B3 55 – C5
16 – C1 35 – C3 56 – D5
21 – D1 41 – D3 61 – E5
22- E1 42 – E3 62 – F5
23-  F1 43 – F3 63 – B6
24 – A2 44 – A4 64 – C6
25 – B2 45- B4 65 – D6
26 – C2 46 – C4 66 – E6

Just roll to determine which square of the Quade Diagram you’re starting in, and then pick one of the powers there. For non-player characters, roll another d6 to determine how many extra powers the citizen possesses. Genetic Risk Factors don’t count as powers.

1-2 – No more powers

3 – one linked power

4 – two linked powers

5 – three linked powers

6 – Another power, but it’s not directly linked.

1-4 – skip one adjacent power, grab the next power after that

5-6 – skip two adjacent powers, grab the next power after that

 

What might someone do with that combination of powers?

  • As A Bystander: The guy running the ice cream stand in the park never has to worry about electricity costs, and the birds that flock around the benches actually tidy up the trash for him.
  • As A Witness: Only one guy was out walking in that heatwave – and a little bird told him who broke into the bank.
  • As A Victim: Our guess at time of death was way off, sir – lab reports say that the vic was a cooler, and he tried to freeze himself after he got shot. Probably prolonged his life by up to 48 hours, but we still didn’t find him in time. Question is, did he use that borrowed time to leave any other messages for us?
  • As A Perp: The victim fled to her car when she was attacked by a flock of crows, and was so scared she crashed into a tree, dying on impact. Only…we found traces of ice on the wheels, too. Someone made it look like an accident.

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. The updated 2nd Edition is coming soon.

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