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

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

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

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

Using District Knowledges

With a District Knowledge, you can obtain clues through:

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

You can

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

A District Knowledge push can:

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

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

Gaining District Knowledges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Webbing counts as littering.

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

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

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

You’re a mercenary. A soldier of fortune.

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

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

Creating Your Mercenary

Pick one of the templates below to get started.

Personal Security

8 investigative, 48 general

You put yourself between the target and the bullet

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

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

Trainer

8 Investigative, 40 General

Ready to turn militias and regular security into elite fighting forces

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

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

Special Operations

6 Investigative, 48 General

A very particular set of skills

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

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

Counter-Insurgency

10 Investigative, 36 General

Identifies and analyses threats

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

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

 Technical Specialist

10 Investigative, 36 General

Network security and counter-bugging

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

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

 Ex-Civilian

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

 Desirable Powers

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

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

Rules Changes

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

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

Mercenary Companies

Some sample employers for the player characters…

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

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

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

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

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

Adventures

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

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

 Night’s Black Mutants

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


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

 

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

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

Mutagenic Meteor

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

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

The Outsiders

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

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

Project HELIOS

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

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

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

Wild rumours that might be true:

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

Mutant Vector

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Police HQ

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

Crime Rate

  • Major Crime
  • Antisocial Behaviour
  • Vice
  • Heightened Crime

Town Hall

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

Mutant Relations

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

Setting Up Your City

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

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

Adjusting Parameters

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

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

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

Effects of Parameters

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

Police HQ

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

Crime Rate

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

Town Hall

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

Mutant Relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

1-2 – No more powers

3 – one linked power

4 – two linked powers

5 – three linked powers

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

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

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

 

What might someone do with that combination of powers?

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

Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. The updated 2nd Edition is coming soon.

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.

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