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, 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.”

Buy

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.

Police work will never be the same.

Upgraded In 2nd Edition!

  • Push rules make GUMSHOE investigation even faster and more flexible
  • New modes of play help GMs tailor the game to their players
  • Personal crisis rules bring the stress of the job into play
  • Character templates to help players build their officers
  • Expanded chase rules for superpowered action
  • Rules for superpowered private investigators
  • A thrilling new scenario, Blue on Blue, delves into buried secrets of Mutant City and the early days of the Sudden Mutation Event

Random Case Generator

If you’re stuck for inspiration in your Mutant City Blues campaigns, take this random case generator for a spin. Just roll a d6 on the tables as directed. (Note that some of the investigative abilities mentioned are from the upcoming 2nd edition of the game, which you can playtest until 30 September 2018).

Inciting Incident

How do the characters discover the crime took place?

  1. Reported by victim (or by whoever discovered the body, in the case of a murder)
  2. Handed off from another section (HCIU gets mutant-connected crimes)
  3. Reported by ordinary (probably uninvolved) citizen
  4. Reported by intelligence gathering (tip-off, wiretap, ongoing surveillance)
  5. Reported by family member or co-worker
  6. Public incident

Nature of the Crime

What happened?

  1. Assault
  2. Burglary
  3. Fraud
  4. Murder
  5. Criminal Activity (drug dealing, organised crime, etc)
  6. Minor complaint (graffiti, noise, domestic disturbance – roll again to find the actual major crime discovered in the course of the first scene. For example, uniformed cops are called in to intercede in a bar brawl, and they discover a kidnapped mutant child chained up in the basement…)

Milieu

What sort of environment or social class is involved?

  1. Wealthy
  2. Middle-Class
  3. Poor
  4. Institution (corporation, university, military)
  5. Mutant (mutant-centric groups or factions play a key role in the case)
  6. Liminal – roll again twice. The case involves the borderland or interplay between the two circles. For example, a Wealthy/Poor crossover might involve the body of a wealthy socialite showing up in the alleyway behind a tenement in the most dangerous part of town; a Mutant/Middle-Class crossover might involve a children’s entertainer who uses her Gravity Control powers for kids’ birthday parties.

If you roll Liminal a second time, assume it just indicates an obvious mutant presence, not necessarily connected to mutant politics or factions.

Location

Where did the crime take place?

  1. Domestic
  2. Office or workplace
  3. Industrial (factory, docks, storage facility etc)
  4. Street
  5. Other (rural, park, public building, subway etc)
  6. Unusual – roll again, but it’s somewhere odd. On the roof of an office building, in the fallout shelter dug beneath a domestic house, in the sewers under a factory…

Initial Suspects

How many potential suspects are there?

  1. One
  2. Two
  3. Three
  4. Group (“everyone in the office building” – the players can quickly narrow this down through investigation)
  5. None (the players have to do some investigating before they can identify any potential suspects)
  6. One, but that initial suspect is a red herring/framed/killed by the real perp during the adventure. 

Motive

The motive of the perpetrator or any suspects. The players may not figure this out until the end of the investigation.

  1. Greed
  2. Self-Defence (or desperation)
  3. Passion
  4. Blackmail (roll again for the motive of the blackmailer)
  5. Revenge
  6. Ideology

 Complications

What factors – unrelated to the case at hand – affect the game?

  1. Mean Streets.There’s an unusually high level of violent criminal activity on the streets right now; the characters are likely to run into violent groups (pro- or anti-mutant) or encounter people affected by this outbreak of conflict.
  2. Emotional Entanglement. One of the player characters has an unexpected connection to the case; maybe a family member is involved, or they know one of the suspects or victims socially, or they’re attracted to a witness or suspect.
  3. Bad Weather.The city’s struck by an unusual weather event – a torrential downpour leading to flooding, a crippling snowstorm, a summer-long heat wave, a widespread power cut.
  4. Due to budget cuts, a crime wave, sickness or some other problem, the police department is terribly understaffed right now. Don’t bother calling for backup unless you’re being shot at, and don’t expect the labs to get anything done quickly.
  5. Jurisdictional Complication.The case was reassigned to Heightened Crimes from another section, and you’ve got to work with them to solve the case.
  6. One of the player characters is under Stress that’s unrelated to the case at hand.

Clues

Decide on how many investigative scenes you want, and roll up at least one Core clue per scene.

1-2 Roll on the Academic subtable

3-4 Roll on the Interpersonal subtable

5-6 Roll on the Technical subtable

Academic Subtable

  1. Object (Archaeology, Art History)
  2. Background Knowledge (Criminology, Law, Popular Culture)
  3. Cultural Cues (Anthropology, Forensic Psychology, Languages)
  4. Crime Scene (Architecture, Archaeology, Natural History)

5-6. Document Discovery (Forensic Accounting, Research)

Interpersonal Subtable

  1. Questioning Suspects (Interrogation, Intimidation, Reassurance)
  2. Questioning Witnesses (Community Relations, Reassurance, Interrogation)
  3. Questioning Informants (Intimidation, Streetwise, Negotiation)
  4. Lucky Break (Charm, Streetwise, Impersonate)
  5. Pulling Strings (Bureaucracy, Cop Talk)
  6. Hunch (Bullshit Detector, Influence Detection)

Technical Subtable

  1. Digital (Cryptography, Data Retrieval)
  2. Forensic (Fingerprinting, Forensic Anthropology)
  3. Surveillance (Electronic Surveillance, Photography, Traffic Analysis)
  4. Crime Scene (Ballistics, Evidence Collection, Explosive Devices)
  5. Mutant (Anamorphology, Energy Residue Analysis)
  6. Lab Analysis (Chemistry, Document Analysis, Pharmacy)

 Obstacles

What might stop the players from solving the crime?

  1. Destruction of Evidence.One of the suspects (not necessarily the guilty party) tries to destroy or conceal evidence. Arson? Hiding documents? Dumping the murder weapon? Hiding ill-gotten goods? The characters need to find another lead to investigate, or locate/reconstruct the stolen/destroyed evidence.
  2. Missing Witness.A key witness either goes missing (scared? Bribed?) or is unwilling to co-operate with the police. The characters need to find this witness and convince them to talk (possibly involving a leveraged clue).
  3. Explosive Situation.This case requires a delicate touch – there’s considerable interest in the case from the media or some special interest group.
  4. Ulterior Motive.One of the suspects or witnesses has a secret reason for being involved in the case, not necessary related to the crime under investigation. An affair, another criminal scheme, a dark secret of some sort.
  5. Emotional Resonance. This case brings up difficult emotions for one of the investigators, possibly triggering a Genetic Risk Factor or other stress crisis.
  6. Political Interference. Some powerful interest – City Hall, a big corporation, an influential public figure – is indirectly implicated in the case, and wants to ensure the police investigation never reaches them.

 Twists

What’s the bigger picture that’s revealed 2/3rds of the way through the game?

  1. Ticking Clock. The initial crime was a trial run or preparation for a larger crime of the same sort. Unless the characters solve the case quickly, the perpetrator will strike again.
  2. It Goes Deeper.The initial crime is a comparatively minor offence, but during their investigation, the player characters discover clues pointing to a larger crime. For example, a stolen car turns out to have a dead body in the trunk.
  3. You Don’t Know Who You’re Dealing With.The suspects are part of a larger criminal organisation or conspiracy. Their crime might be part of the organisations’s larger scheme – or maybe the organisation just wants to cauterise the wound and cut off further investigation.
  4. Something Stranger.Someone involved in the case has a hidden mutant power, and secretly employed it recently.
  5. Cold Case.The initial crime connects to an unsolved mystery or cold case.
  6. The Twist is There’s No Twist.The initial crime is the crime. There’s no deeper mystery here.

 Climactic Scene

How does it end?

  1. Confrontation. The perpetrator must be confronted with proof of their crimes and arrested.
  2. Chase. The perpetrator tries to flee before the police can make an arrest, leading to a car or foot chase.
  3. Shoot-Out. The perpetrator resists arrest.
  4. Clean-Out. The perpetrator tries to cover up any remaining evidence and clear up any loose ends – including witnesses.
  5. Revelation. The climax isn’t solving the crime; it’s dealing with the fallout as the investigation brings uncomfortable truths to light.
  6. Confession. The perpetrator confesses once confronted with sufficient evidence.

 Example: The inciting incident happened in public, and it’s fraud at an institution. It took place in an unusual part of a park or other public space. There’s one potential suspect, and the motive is ideology.

This sounds like some sort of scam or falsified experiment – maybe a researcher claims to have a way to suppress or remove mutant powers, and one of his test subjects committed suicide when his experiments failed.

The complication is Jurisdictional – maybe the parents of the suicide victim don’t want the players investigating her death, and the complaint was made by a friend.

The obstacle is an Ulterior Motive, the Twist is Something Stranger. Climactic scene is a Shoot-out.

The GM decides that she only wants three investigative scenes for a quick one-evening game, and rolls up three core clues.

  • Academic – Document Discovery
  • Technical – Surveillance
  • Interpersonal – Pulling Strings

Putting all that together – the players interview the scientist, he denies everything, but when they get hold of his files, they discover the names of his test subjects – and that one of them recently committed suicide in the park.

Checking security cameras in the park, they discover that there was someone else there that night, but the images aren’t clear enough to identify the other person. It’s only when the PCs use Cop Talk to chat to the security guard that they learn that the victim’s friend was also a mutant.

So – Dr. Vornley in the university claims to be able to suppress mutant abilities. He’s a fraud, but convincing enough to take some people in. The parents of one teenage mutant, Francie Grey, tried to “cure” their daughter. Eden Jones, a friend of Francie’s – also, secretly, a mutant – objected, and tried to persuade her friend to stop taking Vornley’s treatment. When Francie refused, the two girls fought, and Eden accidentally killed her friend. She’s now trying to frame Vornley for Francie’s suicide. She needs a power that might be a plausible murder/suicide weapon – maybe Water Manipulation for drowning, or Induce Fear or Possession.

The adventure breaks down scene-by-scene like this:

Intro: The police receive complaints from the Heightened Information Alliance about a mutant researcher at the university. A young woman, Eden Jones, went to the HIA claiming that her friend killed herself after one of Vornley’s treatments.

The Scammer: Dr. Vornley claims that his treatment is harmless – but checking his files confirms he was treating Francie Grey with his anti-mutation formula.

The Family: Questioning Francie Grey’s family is a dead end – they were horrified when their daughter developed mutant abilities, but now regret their involvement with Vornley after their child’s death.

The Park: Checking surveillance cameras in the park confirms there was someone else with Francie on the day she died. Asking the park security guard connects Eden Jones to Francie’s death.

Confronting Francie: When the players question Eden again, she panics and tries to use her powers to eliminate them.

Possible optional scenes:

  • Vornley goes on the run when he learns about Francie
  • Anti-mutant backers of Vornley’s work try to interfere with the investigation
  • One of the player characters with a troublesome power is tempted to try Vornley’s formula

 


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.

In the setting of Mutant City Blues, approximately one in a hundred people developed a mutant ability in the wake of the still-mysterious Sudden Mutation Event. Some powers had obvious social or commercial benefits, and mutants with these powers could easily find a place. Mutant healers transformed parts of healthcare, telepaths and dream-peepers revolutionised psychology, transmuters made new wonders possible in chemistry and material science.

Other people were gifted with more dangerous powers – they could shoot blasts of fire from their fingertips, or spit venom, or drain all the oxygen from a room with a touch.

They, too, could easily find a place.

In the course of their duties as part of the Heightened Crime Investigative Unit, Mutant City Blues characters might bump up against mutant-related military activity or espionage. They might have to liaise with military police to arrest a mutant recruit who fled the Army’s GXI section, or discover that the disease-spreading criminal has powerful friends in Washington thanks to her connections to a secret mutant bioweapons group.

Select Operations Support Group

Part of the USSOCOM Special Operations Command, the Select Operations Support Group brings together the most powerful mutants from the US military and trains them to take part in special operations missions. The Select Operations Support Group’s primary purpose is support for conventional SOCOM tasks – they’re more interested in having teleporters carry supplies to units behind enemy lines, or water manipulators who can disable underwater drones without being detected. Still, anyone in the SOSG has passed the supremely demanding Q Course used to vet all special forces recruits.

1stGXI

The 1stGenetically Expressive Infantry Brigade is a newly-formed US Army unit made up entirely of mutants. Ostensibly, the 1stGXI’s purpose is to group mutant Army personnel together to develop methodology and tactics using heightened abilities, similar to the Heightened Crimes Investigative Unit. The GXI program has been troubled since its conception; initially it was seen as an exercise in PR, and mutant soldiers tried to avoid a transfer to the unit to avoid damaging their careers. Since then, it’s been rocked by a scandal involving a cell of mutant separatists who were caught stealing explosives and ammunition from the army. The GXI still has a tarnished reputation.

CIA Program GRIDFIRE

The CIA reactivated their old STARGATE program within days of the first mutant manifestation, and quickly identified and recruited mutants who might be useful either for intelligence gathering or for their black-ops section. The program isn’t called GRIDFIRE any more – its current codename is classified, but the GRIDFIRE name was used in a tranche of documents leaked by a whistleblower who revealed details of the program’s use of mutant mind controllers and telepathic interrogation techniques.

Of particular interest to police was a subprogram called SPEEDRUN, which monitored the prison population for mutants with useful abilities, and offered them reduced sentences or special treatment in exchange for the use of their abilities.

FBI Talent Resource Office

FBITRO is a section within the Bureau’s Human Resources division that recruits and trains mutants who might be useful to agents in the field. If an FBI agent needs a Tracker, or someone who can command birds, or bulletproof backup, the TRO can find the nearest reliable and thoroughly vetted mutant. TRO prefers, where possible, to use law enforcement personnel, so HCIU mutants might be temporarily seconded to FBITRO and assigned to a federal investigation.

FBI Mutant Screening Centre

The Mutant Screening Centre’s primary role is to identify and monitor mutants with Article 18 powers. It also functions as the federal equivalent of the HCIU, taking on investigations that involve considerable use of mutant powers. MSR hands off most of its cases to local law enforcement when possible; it’ll inform local authorities when a registered A18 subject moves into their jurisdiction – or when a rogue A18 needs to be apprehended.

Brightlane Services

Brightlane’s a private military contractor that provides “security consultancy” across the world, especially in war-torn and unstable regions. Brightlane employs a considerable number of mutants; they’re especially interested in recruiting mutants with combat abilities. Brightlane’s been accused of pressuring mutants into working for them; allegedly, if they need a particular talent, they’ll use blackmail or other threats to ensure compliance – or so the rumours go, anyway…


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 column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Pelgrane co-publisher Simon Rogers has been thinking about Mutant City Blues lately, and maybe someday he’ll tell you about that.

In the meantime, he asked me how you might play the game for a duo of enhanced police detectives, in true buddy cop fashion.

Here’s a quick rundown:

One player takes on the role of the maverick cop who gets justice done, dammit, even if he has to bend the rulebook to get it.

The other becomes the by-the-books cop, the voice of reason who warns the maverick that regulations are there for a reason and slow and steady police work wins the day.

The two characters divide up the investigative abilities like so:

Maverick Cop

Academic

Forensic Psychology

History

Languages

Natural History

Occult Studies

Trivia

Interpersonal

Bullshit Detector

Cop Talk

Flattery

Flirting

Impersonate

Interrogation

Intimidation

Streetwise

Technical

Ballistics

Cryptography

Data Retrieval

Electronic Surveillance

Evidence Collection

Explosive Devices

Photography

By-the-Book Cop

Academic

Anthropology

Archaeology

Architecture

Art History

Forensic Accounting

Languages

Law

Research

Textual Analysis

Interpersonal

Bureaucracy

Cop Talk

Negotiation

Reassurance

Technical

Chemistry

Document Analysis

Electronic Surveillance

Forensic Entomology

Evidence Collection

Forensic Anthropology

Fingerprinting

Each player picks 4 investigative abilities to assign 1 point to. The others all get 2 points.

Each player spends the usual number of general build points, usually 60 for standard abilities and 40 for mutant powers.

The maverick cop might consider starting the power acquisition journey through the Quade Diagram with any of the following enhancements: armor, wall crawling, lightning, concussion beam, strength, natural weaponry, or fire projection.

The by-the-books cop might start with: plant control, psionic blast, read minds, lightning decisions, cognition, thermal vision, sonar, teleportation, illusion, impersonate, or observe dreams, or suppress memory.

Once per session, the maverick cop can refresh 4 points of any general standard ability or 2 points of any general mutant ability, by describing any one of the following actions:

  • earning a verbal dressing down from the lieutenant
  • making fun of the by-the-book cop’s staid clothing or attitudes
  • blowing off steam at the gun range
  • waking up hung over
  • obsessively stalking a suspect you’ve been warned away from
  • telling off an influential politician or businessman
  • driving on a sidewalk or median
  • knocking down garbage cans, newspaper boxes or other roadside obstacles during a car chase
  • clambering up a chain link fence while pursuing a perp on foot
  • cleaning your gun as a way of clearing your head
  • sloppily eating junk food in the car or at your desk
  • accepting a token gift from a grateful citizen, so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings; then, once out of sight, pass it along to someone who wants or needs
  • shrugging and concluding that one drink on the job won’t hurt anyone
  • exposing the hidden dangers of vegetable consumption
  • working out at a boxing gym
  • cranking up a CD with your favorite chase music, either a classic rock tune or the latest hottest hip hop track
  • grousing about judges letting humps go on technicalities
  • threatening a member of the Internal Affairs Division
  • losing it, so your partner and other cops have to pull you off a guy you’re whaling on
  • frighten or bully a suspect in the interrogation room

Once per session, the by-the-book cop can refresh 4 points of any general standard ability or 2 points of any general mutant ability, by doing any one of the following:

  • turning in a detailed report to the lieutenant
  • warning the maverick cop that the lieutenant’s not gonna take any more shenanigans
  • describing a new, eccentrically boring hobby
  • going home to the spouse and kids
  • consider purchasing a safe, reliable family vehicle
  • invite the maverick cop for dinner with the family
  • breaking from the case to attend to a school emergency
  • studying for the sergeant’s exam
  • placating a civilian angered by the maverick’s behavior
  • catch a fleeing suspect not by running after him, but heading to where he will soon wind up
  • rearrange photos on a corkboard laying out the details of the case
  • turn down a coffee or other small gift offered by a grateful shopkeeper
  • fastidiously eating a salad
  • extolling the virtues of kale
  • working out at a spin class
  • refusing a drink while on duty
  • stopping at one beer
  • explaining the necessity of checks and balances in the criminal justice system
  • listening to classical music or jazz
  • assuring Internal Affairs of your full intention to cooperate
  • stopping your partner, who has lost it, from whaling on someone
  • promising a suspect in the interrogation room that you can protect him from your unhinged partner, “but you gotta give me something to work with here”

Clip and save your character’s to jog your memory when you need it!

GMs likewise reward other actions in a similar archetypal spirit.

By-the-book cops should be advised that discussing retirement plans, especially those concerning a houseboat to noodle around the Florida Keys in, drops their Hit Thresholds by 1 for the duration of the session.


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.

We might get Gar to write about the GUMSHOE and Fear Itself implications of the great Netflix series "Stranger Things" soon. Before that happens I’d like to sneak in to highlight one particular moment.  Without delving too far into spoilers for those who have yet to binge, a point comes where rumpled police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) needs to get information on the other side of a guarded door.  As seasoned GUMSHOE hands know, if you have the Locksmith ability and a locked door stands between the PC and that info, the PC gets the info, no spend required. Here we have a classic example of that setup, except that it’s a uniformed stooge of the evil conspiracy and not a lock. What does our hero do? He knocks the guy out with a surprise shot to the jaw, opens the door, and heads on in.

This brings us to an obvious extrapolation: in GUMSHOE, you ought to be able to do the same.

I’d restrict this to characters the tactic feels right for. If your investigator has the investigative ability Intimidation and at least 4 points in Scuffling (or the equivalent, depending on which GUMSHOE iteration you’re using), you can KO a guard to get a core clue. In certain GUMSHOE games you could describe this in different ways: using a stun pistol in Ashen Stars, a Concussion blast in Mutant City Blues.

Hopper suffers no direct repercussions for knocking out the guard. It never gets mentioned again, in fact. We must assume then that he spent a point of Intimidation to ensure that he not only got the clue but did not suffer any blowback for resorting to the rough stuff.

When building or improvising scenarios where punching your way to information, you might include the opportunity to stave off later consequences with a spend of Intimidation, Bureaucracy, Cop Talk, Credit Rating or whatever else seems appropriate to the setting. This might cost 1 point or even 2, if it would otherwise seem unlikely for the investigator to get away with this entirely.

Since you can’t count on a player to think of this fun but extreme solution, or for the punch-enthusiast among the party to be the one that shows up at the door, also allow a more typical alternate way of getting past the guard.

When Mutant City Blues came out, examples of super powered police procedural TV shows were hard to come by. Back then we had to imagine a hybrid of those two genres. With examples now popping up on network and streaming TV, you kids today have it easy!

“The Flash” comes closest to the structure envisioned in MCB. (Full disclosure: I recently caught up with the first season on streaming and haven’t seen any of the second.) Barry Allen is a civilian forensic specialist who works hand-in-hand with a police detective-slash-father figure. Cases of the week involve super-powered bad guys, referred to here as metahumans. Like MCB, the powers all stem from a single event and yield to scientific analysis. The rest of the DC universe, as seen in connected shows, may have magic and other mystery-busting elements, but at least in the first season, Flash mysteries can be cracked with good old reliable technobabble.

The show diverges from MCB by having most of the clue-gathering take place in a civilian lab facility rather than down at the squad room. But there’s still a gruff lieutenant whose chief function is to bark at Barry when the case isn’t closing fast enough.

A darker, unconnected adaptation of the DC universe, “Gotham” started with an interweaving of “Boardwalk Empire”-style gangland soap opera with case-of-the-week cop investigations. It has shed some of its unevenness in its second season by largely ditching COTW. Although literal super powers don’t figure in its mythology, MCB GMs could use it as inspiration for an alternate campaign frame in which mutations have only begun to manifest, and a city reacts to the first tremors of what will become a dangerously changed world.

“Jessica Jones” points the way to an alternate campaign frame in which our relatively low-powered super-PCs are private detectives and those around them. Its first season still shows a few vestigial traces of the cast of the week structure that must have been part of the pitch when it was first envisioned as a network show. As reconfigured for serialized Netflix binge-watching, we mostly see Jessica use her investigative abilities to turn the tables on a threat that’s coming at her. In that regard, it’s more like Night’s Black Agents than MCB. It’s easy enough, though, to use it as a tonal reference and imagine an MCB game in which the characters free themselves from barking lieutenants and concern for what Internal Affairs will say by making themselves investigators for hire.

A Mutant City Blues Scenario Premise

Backstory: The local chapter of the Genetic Action Front has long been a lightning rod for tension between the city’s enhanced and unaltered communities.

The Crime: When a recent recruit to the organization is found murdered in its offices, slumped over a photocopier, its enemies exult in the scandal. Detectives ID the vic as Brad Carpenter, a hothead who recently moved to the city after hellish bullying at his small-town high school. His enhancements included speed, reflexes, and lightning decision making. Carpenter showed signs of the attention deficit disorder typical of that confluence of powers on the Quade Diagram.

The Suspects: This seems like an open and shut case. Carpenter is found with puncture wounds in his throat, consistent with fangs, and died from a biological toxin, its effects bolstered by his speedster metabolism. The GAF’s sharp-elbowed second-in-command, Guadalupe Ramirez, has fangs and describes herself as also disease and pain immune. Bite venom is adjacent to fangs on the Quade Diagram, so she could easily have that, too.

The Twist: After the detectives win her over, Ramirez makes a shameful confession: she isn’t enhanced at all. She identifies with the movement, and is sure she will any day now manifest latent powers. But the fangs she wears are cosmetic, and although she has a strong constitution she isn’t actually immune to disease. Nor does she resist pain much better than the average person. Guadalupe begs them not to reveal the truth: it will ruin her career and worse, cost her all her friendships. Renewed testing shows that the killing was actually performed by mundane means intended to ape a murder using Ramirez’s supposed powers.

The Culprit: Is it Lance Mullins, who bullied Carpenter at school and then himself mutated, blaming his classmate for infecting him? Ramirez’s wife, Katrina Richards, who came to hate both her and the Genetic Action Front and sought to extravagantly punish a recent affair? Or anti-mutant bigot Denis Price, who decided to kill one enemy and frame another? Only the dedicated detectives of the Heightened Crimes Investigation Unit can close the case.

 


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.

In the world of Mutant City Blues, so-called muters pursue an obsessive hobby. Fascinated by people granted extraordinary powers by the Sudden Mutation Event, they attempt to log personal sightings of mutations used in the wild. Like bird watchers, they maintain journals logging their sightings. The object of the exercise is to tick off all the major powers of the Quade Diagram. Incidents of powers in use must be spontaneous in order to fully count. Attending a scheduled performance by mutants, or worse, paying a mutant to deploy venom or flame blast so you can tick it off in your journal constitutes a huge no-no in muter circles. To fully score a sighting with the World Muter Association, one must witness without participating.

Mutant rights groups describe the hobby as discriminatory, casting genetically altered as exotic Others to be ogled and cataloged. The threat of constant surveillance by muters adds another level of anxiety to life with an expressed helix. It doesn’t just border on stalking, mutant leaders say; the entire hobby is one of harassment, full stop. Yet some mutants themselves participate in the hobby. Any mutant in need of a little status can easily find it at the nearest muter gathering. Cooperative mutants may lead muters on a tour of your city’s mutant district, either for the emotional rewards, or perhaps for covert payments. After all, you don’t have to write everything down in your journal, do you?

Muter groups can feature in your Mutant City case files in a number of ways.

  • A hate group sets itself up as a group of harmless muters, giving themselves quasi-respectable cover as they stalk their victims.
  • A muter witnesses the murder of a mutant, but fears to come forward due to the slayer’s heavy duty connections. Your officers must convince the witness to testify in court—and keep him alive long enough to do so.
  • A muter is shot to death by a mutant he was trailing. The shooter claims self-defense. Did his quarry have reason to fear for her life, or was the deadly incident set up by a third party, hoping for a fatal outcome?
  • A muter’s journal, collected as evidence in one case, contains evidence of more serious crime committed by a dangerous mutant the squad has never been able to hang a charge on. Yet the warrant doesn’t cover that incident, and the muter, fearing for the integrity of his beloved hobby, refuses to voluntarily release its full contents. Do the cops use his notes to capture their quarry now, and hope the assistant D.A. can smooth over the differences in court? Or do they find another way to bring down the perp that won’t get tossed on constitutional grounds?

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.

Before we plunge into the endless deluge of “Dracula Dossier bits we couldn’t fit in anywhere else”, let us pause on the brink and consider the utility of pyramids. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Night’s Black Agents offers two pyramid diagrams to help the Gamemaster. The Conspyramid is the organizational chart of bad guys that the player characters beat up until they drop clues to the next level; the Vampyramid lists threat-appropriate responses by the bad guys. (They’re both in this handy bundle of resources).

By default, the two Pyramids are only loosely linked. You might have, say, the ever-popular Russian Mafia gang as a Conspyramid node, and have Probing Attack by hired goon as an option on the Vampyramid, but the two aren’t necessarily associated. After all, it’s an international conspiracy and Night’s Black Agents is usually a jet-setting game. The Russian Mafia might be the go-to hired goons in Eastern Europe, but if the player characters fly off to Tokyo, you might want to probe them with some Yakuza instead.

Now, what if you’re running a campaign that doesn’t involve international travel?

What if it’s all in one city, battling hipster locovore vampires?

What if you’re playing Mutant City Blues instead, and the campaign involves the slow, methodical takedown of a big criminal outfit, ala the Wire?

(What if, hypothetically, you’d just binge-watched Daredevil on Netflix?)

In this setup, each node in the Conspyramid has a corresponding response in the Vampyramid. So, the Skinsky gang node in the Conspyramid lines up with the Probing Attack response. CPC Properties Offers a Payoff. The Conspiracy’s pet journalist in the City Newspaper is the one who plants the Frame Agent story, and so forth.

You don’t have to stick to the default Vampyramid responses either – think about interesting things your Conspyramid nodes could do to strike back at the player characters. For example, bad guys in the City Hospital could abduct injured or sick contacts or Solaces of the player characters; the Thing in the Morgue might Dig Up Dirt, resurrecting problems from the backstories of the PCs.

Tying Vampyramid responses to Conspyramid nodes means that responses aren’t necessarily one-shots. In a regular NBA game, if a Probing Attack fails, the Conspiracy automatically escalates to the next level or response (Hard Feint). In this setup, the Conspiracy can keep trying Probing Attacks as long as the Skinsky Gang are available. Similarly, the player characters can head off potential threats through decisive action. If they take down Welldone Holdings, then the Conspiracy can’t Freeze Their Accounts.

Keeping the action to a single city makes for a claustrophobic, intimately bloody chess match between player characters and Conspiracy bosses. Contacts and Solace are much more in the line of fire in this style of play, so Vampyramid actions that target them can be more common than in regular NBA globe-trotting play.

(And yes, The Dracula Dossier offers two new Vampyramids, one for the comparatively genteel Edom conspiracy, and the other for medieval warlord carnage, Dracula-style, but I swore that I’d hold off on the Dossier tie-in articles for another month…)

Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in the Pelgrane Shop.

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

Anthropology

Archaeology

Architecture

Art History

Forensic Accounting

History

Natural History

Textual Analysis

Occult Studies

Bureaucracy

Negotiation

Reassurance

Chemistry

Cryptography

Data Retrieval

Document Analysis

Forensic Entomology

Forensic Anthropology

Maverick

Forensic Psychology

Law

Research

Trivia

Bullshit Detector

Cop Talk

Flattery

Flirting

Impersonate

Interrogation

Intimidation

Streetwise

Ballistics

Electronic Surveillance

Evidence Collection

Explosive Devices

Fingerprinting

Photography

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.

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