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

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.

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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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).

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.

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