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.

Mario Bava’s final film, 1977’s Shock, offers up exactly the dreamlike take on the psi-horror cycle of the period you’d hope for from him. Ultimately it goes in a more supernatural direction than more pseudoscience-oriented titles like Carrie, The Fury, Firestarter, or Scanners. That’s just one of the ways in which it prefigures Kubrick’s The Shining. Seven years after her first husband’s death, a woman moves her son and current husband into the old house. It doesn’t take long for the kid to turn into both a psychokinetic and psychosexual menace.

Psi-horror picked up in the 70s as the demon horror cycle initiated off by The Exorcist trailed off. The Omen can be seen as a transitional title, with a definitively demonic kid killing from a distance in a decidedly psionic way.

Our current demonic horror cycle, which has merged with the haunted house movie and is typified by the Paranormal Activity series, has now gone on longer than the original 70s wave. I keep wondering if a psi revival will follow it. Certainly attempts have been made, like Beyond the Black Rainbow, but so far they’ve been more about evoking retro influences than tapping into the current zeitgeist.

The most popular property to draw on this imagery lately has been “Orphan Black”, though it’s more on the thriller side of the fence than an example of pure horror.

For a psi-horror one-shot or limited series, I’d use Fear Itself, dropping the supernatural trappings of the Outer Dark for weird pseudoscience. The straight up version would have the group of ordinary people at first menaced by the TK or firestarting powers of a pint-sized GMC relative or charge. Then they have to get the kid to safety as the evil corporation or government research agency responsible for the forgotten experiment. You could steal some Night’s Black Agents mechanics for the ensuing chase scenes, especially if you then bring in elements of the spy genre, the way “Orphan Black” does.

Or you could start out that way, going for Bourne-meets-Scanners, with adult experimental subjects waking up to their new powers (borrowed from Mutant City Blues), then having to figure out who did this to them before they get captured and packed off to the vivisection lab.


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the creatures of the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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.

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.

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.

Ten years after the ghost flu hit, the world is changed — but the secret world stays the same. Enemies of your country still plot, terrorists still scheme — but now they might have superpowers. An espionage-specops frame for Mutant City Blues takes the super fights into the shadows.

Mutant City Spies is the fourth installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in July. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Mutant City Spies is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH31D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Marc Steinmann, Jérôme Huguenin
Pages: 14pg PDF

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.

a column on roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Looking for a new way to spark ideas for your next player character? Consider stealing a dramatic pole from classic literature.

As Hillfolk players know, a dramatic pole is the essential opposition that defines a character tuned for, you guessed it, dramatic storytelling. It allows the character to be pulled in two directions through the course of the story, fueling inner conflict.

Is Huckleberry Finn innocent, or corrupt?

Is Don Draper real, or an advertising image for a created self?

Is Rick Blaine of Casablanca selfish or altruistic?

You can usually define any classic character in a couple of ways. How you nail this down reveals your perspective on the work and the character. What matters is that you identify a key opposition that spurs the character to pursue emotional goals. This pursuit becomes the action of the story.

Shakespeare serves as a deep mine of classic internal oppositions. As a dramatist, he has to get his characters moving and into collision with one another.

Is Hamlet a man of action, or a man of contemplation?

Is Lear a king or a fool?

Is Brutus an idealist or a betrayer?

Is Juliet a loyal daughter or a romantic lover?

Let’s take Caliban from The Tempest. You could define him in a couple of ways. Rebel vs. servant would work, for example.

For this article, let’s pick another: man or monster. This one reverberates down through the story tradition. We see it again with Frankenstein’s monster, The Wolfman, and “Dexter.” A huge swathe of Marvel comics heroes use the man or monster opposition: the Hulk, the Thing, the Beast, Nightcrawler, and many more.

(To digress for a moment, if you want to sum up the difference between the Marvel and DC heroes, Stan Lee’s creations tend to have dramatic poles, whereas the earlier DC characters don’t so much. Spider-Man’s hero vs loser opposition takes center stage. Superman’s divided nature doesn’t get much play until much later revisionist takes like Man of Steel. The inherent wrongness of that film suggests that the character wasn’t built to support an internal opposition and can’t stand having one bolted onto it retrospect.)

The list above shows us that Caliban’s man or monster opposition serves as a rugged chassis for genre characters.

Most but by no means all genre characters appear in procedural stories, which are mostly about the overcoming of external obstacles. Very often the character appears in a serial format, undergoing multiple distinct adventures. This is the pattern that all traditional roleplaying games emulate.

As the Marvel examples show, serial characters who star in procedural stories can still use dramatic oppositions to hold our interest. However, if they’re to continue their adventures, the opposition can never truly resolve itself. Should Bruce Banner get cured, he becomes 100% man and 0% monster, but that means no more Hulk stories. That’s why experienced comics readers know that a new cure for Banner’s condition will never last very long. It’s just a temporary way of finding a fresh angle on man versus monster theme.

If you start with the idea of playing a man or monster PC, the task of adapting it to various genres falls readily into place.

In a fantasy game, you can literally be a monstrous being, whether an orc or minotaur, who aspires to acceptance and a higher self. If you’re playing 13th Age, you could select icon relationships that heighten the opposition. A fraught relationship with the Lich King, Orc Lord, Diabolist or Three could represent your monster side, even as you aspire to a greater connection to the Emperor, Elf Queen, or Priestess.

Science fiction dramatic poles often center around the nature of humanity. Your monstrous side might be represented as a grotesque or brutish alien morphology, or as extensive cybernetic implants.

Some horror games might permit you to have a bit of monster in you already as you start play. In Trail of Cthulhu, give yourself the drive “In the Blood” and you’re off to the Innsmouth races.

To use the opposition in Mutant City Blues, select mutant powers that make you look freakish, and make sure your powers grant you a defect allowing the question of your slow mental or physical deterioration to drive personal subplots.

When a setting doesn’t allow for literal monstrosity, you can always go for the metaphorical kind. As a cursory glance at history tells us, the real monsters out there are all people. To go back to Shakepeare, his portrayal of Richard III could easily be classified as having a man/monster opposition. (Like pretty well all of the history plays you could also give him just ruler vs. tyrant, but since that fits them all it fails the specificity test of great storytelling choices.)

Your ultra-competent agent in The Esoterrorists could have passed Ordo Veritatis psych evaluation by cleverly hiding her psychopathic nature. She starts out as a sociopath for the forces of good, just like 007 in his classic conception. But what happens when her Stability starts to slide below 0?

Any opposition you can find in literature can work in DramaSystem. The settings described in the various series pitches merely dictate whether the monster side of you is literal or metaphorical.

So for the core Hillfolk setting, as well as other non-fantastical pitches like “Brigades”, “Maroons” and “The White Dog Runs at Night” reality as we know it restricts you to the limits of human deformity. You might give your character a curved spine, paralyzed hand or missing eye in order to underline the monstrous side of his dramatic pole. Or you might find the way it associates disability with monstrosity unnecessarily stigmatizing and decide to chuck this longstanding literary trope into the dustbin. In that case you’ll make your character monstrous by action but not by outward appearance.

Other DramaSystem series pitches draw on genre elements allowing literal monstrosity. Your “Alma Mater Magica” or “Under Hallowed Hills” character could be half human, half goblin. A mecha pilot from “Article 9” could be infected with an advanced case of ATI (anime tentacle ichor.) In “Against Hali” you could be emotionally warped by exposure to the banned play, The King in Yellow. “Transcend”, with its theme of extreme futuristic body modification, revolves around this opposition. If you’re the central character, you might not see yourself as part monster, but family members run by the other players might.

Likewise you can take any of the other oppositions mentioned here and use them as a springboard for your character. The intersection between pitch and opposition makes for a different character each time. Your choice of family vs. love leads you to create a quite different character in the Icelandic saga of “Blood on the Snow” than it would amid the smoky cross-cultural intrigue of “Shanghai 1930,” because the historical contexts are so different.

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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