The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in April 2008. 

News from Pelgrane Press

We’ve had a great month, although some shipping issues have reared their ugly heads, mainly with shipments from the US taking their time to reach Europe. We’ve fixed those now. Leonard Balsera’s Profane Miracles, another fastplay Esoterrorists adventure is also out now from sale from Indie Press Revolution. You can also get it from the Pelgrane Press Store.

Trail of Cthulhu

Trail of Cthulhu is our quickest selling game ever, and I am delighted with the response, through all channels. We’ve sold through 70% of the first print run already, and I’m now concerned that we won’t get the reprint out in time. We had a great Trail of Cthulhu launch party, and I had the pleasure of going to see James Semple in his amazing studio. We are very lucky to have him working with us to create original music for the various GUMSHOE games. We’ll be putting together a package of sound effects music, and stings as a new RPG product.

Out Now

Out recently

Available from the Pelgrane Store and IPR.

Printing

Laid Out and Ready to Print

Stunning Eldritch Tales, a set of four Trail of Cthulhu adventures is in playtest,

Further Work

Robin is writing an action-packed new adventure for Mutant City Blues, and Jerome is working on new illustrations for MCB.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in February 2008. 


Find James Semple’s stings for Trail of Cthulhu here, and you can also find the soundtracks James composed for Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents.

A column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

Sting, Sting, Sting

A GUMSHOE issue we’ve talked about before is the challenge of smoothly ending investigative scenes, especially interactions with witnesses and experts. In the fictional source materials on which the game is based, authors and scriptwriters deftly and invisibly handle scene endings. A mystery novelist need merely end a scene on a pivotal line and then cut to the next one. Shows like Law & Order make a science out of finding interestingly varied reasons for witnesses to scoot offstage as soon as they deliver their core clues. Whether they have classes to attend, clients to see, or children to look after, minor characters on procedural shows are always halfway out the door. Scenes in the interrogation room are usually cut conveniently short by the appearance of the defendant?s lawyer, or the squad lieutenant, appearing to bring yet another piece of crucial intelligence.

Although you can sometimes give your NPCs reason to cut off interview scenes after the clues have been dispensed, continually coming up with these organic scene-enders can be taxing. So in the core GUMSHOE rules, as per The Esoterrorists, p. 55 (of the first edition), we offer this suggestion for an out-of-character signal that a scene has ended.

Before play, take an index card and write on it, in big block letters, the word SCENE. As soon as the players have gleaned the core clue and most or all of the secondary clues in a scene, and the action begins to drag, hold up the card. When the players see this, they know to move on.

Since then I’ve found a better technique which seems more organic still. (It requires the use of a laptop, which some groups find disruptive.) In place of the SCENE card, use brief music snippets. In soundtrack parlance, quick clusters of notes signaling a jolt or transition are known as stings. That’s the music you hear in a horror movie when something jumps out of the closet, but turns out to only be the house cat. Although they’re grouped together for jarring effect, the most famous movie stings of all are the piercing violin glissandos accompanying the shower murder sequence in Psycho.

Music works differently on the brain than a visual cue like a card with text on it. We’re used to having music appear under our entertainment to subliminally direct our emotional responses. Text jars us from one mental state to another, forcing us to more consciously decode the contents into meaning. The card is disruptive, breaking us from the imaginative state required for roleplaying, where music enhances that state. Oddly enough, the appearance of the music cue begins to seem like a reward for a job well done than a strange intrusion from another mode of cognition. It feels more like permission to move on than a jarring shove forward.

I started using the stings at a player’s suggestion, borrowing the most ubiquitous sting in television, Mike Post’s cha-chungggg scene transition sound from the various Law & Order shows, as a scene closer for internal playtests of Mutant City Blues.

When it came time to playtest Trail Of Cthulhu scenarios I opted for the three-note threnody that is the monster’s motif in Franz Waxman’s seminal score for The Bride Of Frankenstein . The use of a score from the 1930s period greatly enhanced the period atmosphere.

Now, courtesy of longtime gamer and media scorer James Semple, we have four custom stings for your GUMSHOE pleasure. They evoke the classic horror scores of Waxman and Max Steiner but, because the scary music grammar they laid down seventy years ago persists to this day, work just as well for Fear Itself or The Esoterrorists as for Trail Of Cthulhu.

Another musical enhancement worth considering is the introduction of a theme song. You’ll be expecting your players to sit through this every week, without the visual accompaniment that comes with a TV title sequence, so trim your chosen theme music to twenty to thirty seconds. The main purpose of a theme song is to produce a cognitive marker separating the preliminary chat phase of your session from the meat of the game. Again, this is a much more pleasant and subtle mood shifter than the old, ‘OK guys! Are we ready to start? OK, good!’

A theme song also provides thematic indicators to any campaign, GUMSHOE or otherwise. Want to emphasize sleek futuristic action? Pick a chunk of your favorite techno track. Is your emphasis more on psychological destabilization? A spiky work of classical modernism may prove suitably unnerving.

To help players think of their characters as part of a fictional reality, I also often kick off a first session by having them describe the pose they strike during an imaginary credit sequence.

Of course, this just scratches the surface of the uses to which cued-up audio can be put during a game session. When the heroes walk into a smoky bar, you can signal the kind of establishment they’ve entered by playing the music pounding from its PA system. Sound effects are all over the Internet, from amateur freebies to expensive cues created for professional productions. Once you get used to using your laptop’s audio program as a game aid, you’ll never have to describe a wolf howl again. Instead you can cue up real wolves to do the howling for you.

As technology becomes cheaper, multimedia game aids will become increasingly prevalent. When digital projectors hit impulse-purchase pricing levels, look out.

Related Links


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in February 2008. 


Ten years after the Sudden Mutation Event, 1% of the population will possess Class A mutant powers. Dr Lucius Quade of the Quade Institute in Your City will have created his seminal diagram which maps out the connections and defects which relate these new powers…

by Douglas W. Edgar

I’d heard he was like Morgan Freeman — that he had that look that spoke implicitly of wisdom and understanding. I expected knowing eyes, looking deep inside people with an insight borne of experience. But smiling wide, shaking hands on his way down from the podium, and laughing with audience members in search of autographs, he looked more like Will Smith, ripened by age, and with more hair.

This is Dr. Lucius Quade, the famous creator of the namesake Quade Diagram that has revolutionized the way we see and study mutants today — and changed what we expect of them. Not since Einstein has a scientist been more widely recognized both by name and by picture. The college kids who used to have posters on their walls of Einstein with his tongue sticking out now have posters of Quade’s Keeper’s magazine cover photo, the one with him in Armani, flanked by beautiful women in lab coats, in front of the giant martini glass. Science has gone from the purview of the eccentric genius to the brilliant and stylish sci-mogul.

If he’s not the most famous researcher today, he is certainly the most exposed. From talk shows to book tours to television biographies and his own Science Channel miniseries, it seems Dr. Quade is always on television somewhere. It’s like he has a super-power of his own: amazing visibility.

His attitude, his confidence, radiates. It gets on you. It’s infectious, and like anything infectious, it can make some people sick.

Dr. Quade stands at the edge of confidence, leaning over into arrogance when the subject of his work comes up. Can we blame him? Imagine if the Periodic Table was a celebrity scientist, rich and famous, and then you questioned its veracity to its face. It’d be pretty sure of itself, too.

When I got my chance to sit down with Dr. Quade on behalf of Mutant City Tribune Culture magazine, we had just a few minutes to talk between stops on his busy schedule. We settled into leather chairs in a foyer of the MCU lecture hall where Dr. Quade had just given a rare in-person lecture to a paying audience (proceeds to the Quade Institute). In less than an hour, he’d be back in a limo on his way to the airport, and then to a summit in Vienna.

The subject of that summit? Anamorphology: the science Dr. Quade created.

Tribune Culture Magazine: So, it’s been a while—

Dr. Lucius Quade: I’m sorry, I didn’t think we’d met before.

TCM: No, no. We haven’t. I was going to say, it’s been a while since you did the lecture circuit.

LQ: This really isn’t the circuit. This is just one sort of little event. A lecture like this — getting me to talk for a couple of hours, especially about anamorphology — this is nothing. I do that over dinner.

TCM: So you don’t miss the lecture circuit, then? You still get your fix?

LQ: That’s right. Well, no, you know what? I miss the faces I’d see along the lecture circuit. Seeing people’s minds change and expand in the audience is great, but meeting someone two or three times over the course of several lectures, and seeing them come around to anamorphology and seeing their perceptiveness change, that’s a thrill I sort of miss. I get some of it on the television programs, you know, but Oprah’s audience isn’t the same from show to show and most of the people behind the scenes on those shows are already pretty well informed, so.

TCM: Do you prefer doing television to doing lectures?

LQ: I prefer reaching a wider audience.

TCM: You reach a pretty wide audience already. There were a lot of cameras at your lecture today.

LQ: I’m very fortunate in that. I’m not blind to the issue here — the celebrity scientist who does more guest spots than he does papers, these days — but it has seemed to me, for the last few years, that reaching the multitudes is really more important than reaching more of the scientific field, at this point. It’s not credible scientists who are making threats again the heightened out in the streets, and there are plenty of other scientists following my work, continuing my work, these days.

TCM: Not all of them credible.

LQ: Well, that’s true, but that’s inevitable. That’s not something I can control. And, who knows? Even a scientist without any current credibility to reputation can make a discovery that changes the way we look at new and old disciplines alike. Anamorphology is a new discipline, and there’s still lots of room for new discoveries and insights to be had. I can’t say for sure that they’ll come only from those scientists who get grant money from MIT or Stanford, for example.

TCM: How does that philosophy affect the way you respond to scientific papers that challenge the structure and the definitions of the Quade Diagram?

LQ: That’s not unreasonable. Science is so often about testing boundaries, isn’t it? They’re entitled. You know, I’ll even concede that it’s a good idea for someone to be doing it, though I really think it’s best left to grad students, who can learn more from encountering truth or fact through experimentation. Scientists, particularly now, continue to test the bonds of chemical and physical understandings, even though they’re not going to change the way physics actually operates. So I wish these scientists well, with the utmost confidence that they might reshape the philosophies that surround the Diagram, but that they can’t make a dent in its accuracy and applicability.

TCM: It’s iron-clad?

LQ: All evidence to date says so.

TCM: In some major university circles, the philosophical and anamorphological intersection of your work gets challenged, even while the anamorphological methodology gets praised. What do you say to people who claim that personal or psychological categorizations based on the Quade Diagram are damaging?

LQ: You’re talking about the Foucault wannabes — the new post-structuralists.

TCM: They’re a vocal group.

LQ: They’re coffeehouse philosophers.

TCM: Dr. Eloise Maas at the University of Edinburgh has written extensive papers on the psychological ramifications of your—

LQ: She’s mistaking our psychosocial analyses with psychological assertions. She’s misusing some of our definitions. I’m not a psychologist and I’m particularly interested in the psychological issues that surround the Diagram. They’re really not psychological, as Dr. Maas presents them, anyway. They’re philosophical. And I think the best arena for philosophy is the arena of debate.

TCM: You don’t think psychological assessments of the Quade Diagram are relevant?

LQ: I think one that took into account serious consideration of the biological factors and the psychosocial — not merely psychological — ramifications would be more… impactful. But let’s remember that the primary function of the Diagram is in anamorphology, and in that regard it is a set of good, solidly researched findings. It’ll just take us a little bit longer to sort out how the Diagram gets assimilated by other disciplines.

TCM: So a book like The Soft Helix

LQ: I haven’t read it.

TCM: You’ve heard of it?

LQ: I’ve heard of it.

TCM: So you know that—

LQ: I don’t sign off on any of the claims made in it, as I haven’t read it. It’s written by persons whose scientific qualifications I don’t know and whose credibility is maybe unproven. I don’t know these people, and I don’t know if they’re…

TCM: You know Dr. Aaron Rosenblum.

LQ: He works with us at the Institute, yes. I haven’t read the paper of his that’s in the book, but I know his research, of course.

TCM: In it, he’s analyzing mental powers of the heightened with comparisons and theses about how they interact with brain chemistry.

LQ: Right. That’s his work with us at the Institute, but his essay was a personal project, and I haven’t read the book, though, so—

TCM: You have scientists and researchers at the Institute studying the biological and psychiatric angles of mutation, though?

LQ: Absolutely. Psychiatry is sort of the happy medium between psychology and anamorphology — or at least that’s the direction we’re going in now. We’ll see where it takes us. While I’m concerned about the social circumstances for the heightened, and how their manifesting mutations affect their lives, I can’t personally study the way they feel. I don’t claim that the heightened are so different from other people that they need another approach to psychology and therapy. Many of them should probably see therapists when their powers manifest, but I don’t think that’s any of my business as a scientist.

TCM: The other scientists whose writings appear in The Soft Helix

LQ: [sigh]

TCM: —these are not unknown figures. Some of these are well-known science writers—

LQ: Essayists. They write about science, but many of them do journalistic research, not scientific.

TCM: What is it about them that you don’t find credible?

LQ: Well, let’s be clear here, if we’re going to talk about this: I don’t necessarily think they are not credible, but I don’t know where their supposed credibility comes from. I don’t take credibility for granted based on someone else’s assessment. I don’t find someone’s science credible because a magazine or a TV show says I should. If I haven’t read them, if they’re not working with us at the Institute, I can’t yet form a meaningful opinion of their work.

TCM: That brings up an interesting question: If you don’t trust television to tell you what scientists are credible, how do you feel about appearing on television in the name of science and trusting television to reflect your credibility, and even admiration, in the scientific community? Do you think that comes across the average viewer?

LQ: Foremost, I think my credibility is widely known. An audience who sees me on television already knows I’m credible, thanks not only to the various specials and programs that have been done about me, but because TV and print news has carried the word-of-mouth out of the scientific community and into the popular culture. I’m very fortunate in that regard. It’s not often that scientific renown and respect — which I’m flattered to have, and treasure — translates into popular recognition.

Where it really stands out is at a lecture like today’s, where I don’t have to restate my core research. The Quade Diagram is a household term — people may not know the periodic table, but they know what it is, they know a few elements, they know that it’s recognized because it has been thoroughly vetted and proven. It’s the same with the Quade Diagram and myself.

Beyond that, and I think this is important, I hope that people do read my book or look up my articles online, do look at and really think about the Diagram, after they see me on television. I don’t expect people to trust me without proof, but I think the proof is easy enough to find that people can quickly see that I’m the real thing. Most people aren’t as strict as I am about testing and verifying credibility, of course, and I’m not naïve. I know most people at home will take my credibility for granted. Maybe that’s a shame, or maybe that’s a luxury they’ve been afforded by my success. I worked hard to win that kind of respect.

Anyway, testing the credibility of findings — whether they’re mine or someone else’s — is what makes me a natural fit for my work. I’m a scientist.

TCM: The Institute has grown considerably in the last few years. Do you still keep up with all of the work that goes on there?

LQ: As best I can. I trust the people under me — we work with the best — and that’s one of the reasons I feel confident, and also responsible, being skeptical of the researchers who don’t work with us. If they were the best, we’d know them at the Institute.

TCM: What’s next then, for you, as far as the research goes?

LQ: Our big project, now, is a series of forensic anamorphology labs designed to apply what we’ve learned of anamorphology to a practical, real-world problem.

TCM: Crime.

LQ: Right now, I like to think of it more broadly as helping people. One of our staffers put it this way the other day, and I thought this was brilliant: Not all Missing Persons cases actually involve a crime, but all of them can probably benefit from an intelligent use of forensic anamorphology. We want to help people, whether that means solving crimes or just solving problems. We think anamorphology can find answers where we couldn’t before, and that’s a great step forward for all of us.

TCM: What’s the relationship between these new forensic labs and local police departments then? Is this the sort of relationship where they’ll send you samples of DNA and you’ll run tests?

LQ: We’re looking at a more aggressive approach to our operational dynamics. We intend to work with police departments when we can, but we’re not going to let stale municipal systems slow us down either. We have an advantage, as a separate entity, of being able to move around without all the bureaucratic restrictions that unfortunately keep the police from developing or implementing forensic techniques like ours. We hope to take advantage of that freedom.

TCM: As a kind of privatized police force?

LQ: Well, let’s be clear: I wouldn’t strictly characterize what we’re doing as enforcement. We’re a little bit more like a well organized and funded private investigation firm with top-line forensics labs of our own. It’s an exciting project.

TCM: Are these labs up and running now?

LQ: They’re in various stages of readiness, depending on the labs. We have people in the field right now, though, and the future looks to be very exciting.

TCM: Outside of your work with mutants at the Quade Institute and the forensic anamorphology lab, do you have much contact with them?

LQ: With heightened persons?

TCM: Yes.

LQ: That’s an interesting question. When I’m asked this I always feel a responsibility to remind people of the way things are. The answer I give is, “How could I know?” How many mutants do I come into contact with and not know it? The Quade Diagram, even for me, isn’t something that you can use to cold-read people, really. It requires careful observation and an appreciation of data. I think it’s important to remember that their abilities shouldn’t define the way we interact with them.

Now, to answer your question, I work with heightened individuals every day at the Institute and on the circuit. I spend a great deal of my time with them, mostly related to the Institute and my work, because that’s so often why they come to me, but I know more than a few socially. My wife and I both.

The point is, I don’t know how many mutants I know in daily life, but I do know a great many of them, and some quite well. But how can I know? I mean, you could be a mutant, and I just haven’t picked up on it. [laughs]

TCM: I’m not, but it’s funny you should put it that way, as my brother-in-law is actually a minor—

LQ: We say “B-category.”

TCM: Sorry. He’s a B-category person, and I didn’t know until after I was married.

LQ: Yes, exactly. See? So he isn’t a visible case, with manifest mutations. How could you know?

TCM: Right, I didn’t until he told me. It’s his toes. He doesn’t have toes.

LQ: That’s not an uncommon B-category mutation, actually.

TCM: But you must have lots of contact with openly manifest mutants. Is it common for you to interact with their abilities, day to day? Or just within the course of your work?

LQ: You know, it’s actually less common now, especially when I’m touring like this. I get approached sometimes after summits or TV appearances, but I don’t have many heightened persons announce their presence in my audiences. I get some correspondence, though. Lots, actually.

TCM: What’s that like?

LQ: Not so remarkable, really. They’re ordinary people, with their own distinguishing characteristics — in their case, heightened abilities — just like you and I. Some are nice, some are rude, some are shy. It’s really an odd question to answer.

But I see what you’re after — you need an anecdote — so here’s one for you: I was once levitated right off the ground by a mutant after a live TV appearance I did in Chicago. It was simply this young woman who wanted to meet me and say thank you for helping her and her doctors identify and make sense of her minor autistic symptoms, and she thanked me by giving me this unique experience. Then she teleported away and I haven’t seen her since. But here’s a young woman whose found some balance between her powers and her pain, and that really stuck with me.

TCM: Did you like it? Levitating?

LQ: I appreciated the gesture, let’s say. [laughs] But it turns out I like to have one foot on the ground. I have been teleported, though, and that’s terrific. I really loved doing that.

TCM: What power would you want, then, if you were to manifest a mutation?

LQ: I get asked this all the time, and I honestly can’t say. I try not to think about it too much, because I don’t want to be biased in my work. Also, though, I have a tendency to change my mind based on what kind of day I’m having. When my wife and I were training our dogs, I’d have given anything to be able to influence them directly, you can imagine. I guess I’d want access to them all. Who wouldn’t?

TCM: You’ve answered this question before, but the rumors persist. I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring it up: your powers. You deny having any—

LQ: That’s correct.

TCM: Have you ever been examined by your own people? Wouldn’t there be a conflict of interests there, anyway?

LQ: I have been examined, but that was largely for publicity. The fact is that if I was somehow heightened, I would know it by now. That’s the nature of things. I’d love to have some special ability, like you said, but we don’t get to choose, do we?

TCM: So what would you say to Bryce Dyson, the author of Super-Scientist, Mutate Thyself, who claims you have powers of telepathy and hyper-cognition?

LQ: I knew you were going to say that! Seriously, if only that were true.


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 following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in February 2008. 

News from Pelgrane Press

Short and sweet. The blog has more Pelgrane details and a caption competition. This month we’ve released Fields of Silver, Lynne Hardy’s Turjan-level adventure, and Ian Sturrock’s Esoterrorist adventure Albion’s Ransom.

Playtesting

The Mutant City Blues and Stunning Eldritch Tales playtests continue apace, and I’ve had the pleasure of doing some in-house testing of MCB with players are members of the Met Police Heightened Crime Investigation Unit.

Trail of Cthulhu

Trail of Cthulhu is due out mid-February. Pre-orders have been fantastic, and you can get yours as a pre-order from Indie Press Revolution. You can also get it from the Pelgrane Press Store.

Out Now

Available from the Pelgrane Store and IPR.

Laid Out and Ready to Print

In Playtesting

Stunning Eldritch Tales, a set of four Trail of Cthulhu adventures is in playtest, as is Mutant City Blues.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 

October heralds the relaunch of See Page XX to fit in with the new look Pelgrane Press website. But it’s more than cosmetic; there are other changes – this month features more articles than we’ve ever had before. We have two interview, one with Kenneth Hite, author of the forthcoming Trail of Cthulhu, the other Brennan Taylor, President of Indie Press Revolution. Graham Walmsley shows how adaptable GUMSHOE is, in this case as a basis for Live Action Roleplaying, and Robin D Laws shows you how to create use GUMSHOE with other settings. Fred Hicks talks about the fine balance between character empowerment and danger. As a resource for the forthcoming Trail of Cthulhu, Simon Carryer offers us a fact-packed article on air transport in the 1930s and finally, dear old Mystic Moo gives us the RPG Horoscopes for the season, and acts as an agony aunt for roleplayers with “issues.”

News from Pelgrane Press

Since the last missive, we’ve attended GenCon, released three new books and playtested the first pass of Trail of Cthulhu. Three new manuscripts have been laid out and are queued for printing, one awaits layout and another is queued for playtesting. Jérome Huguenin has been doing amazing work, illustrating and laying books out. New products have been added to the store, and they’ll soon be available for sale in retailers. Finally, the collected wisdom of Robin D Laws first twenty-four columns are available from rpgnow.com. (Ed. – These articles are now being released into the main Pelgrane Press blog feed.)

GenCon

I haven’t been to GenCon since the first Indy, and it was a real pleasure to see all the people I haven’t seen for years, and meet for the first time fellow industry professionals and players I’ve got to know online. Robin Laws spent a decent amount of time behind the stand, and Ken Hite did a Trail of Cthulhu Q&A. It was great to see so many excellent games rewarded at the Ennie Awards, in particular Qin, published by French publishers 7ème Cercle. They have done a great  job translating Esoterrorists and Fear Itself, and they are aiming to publish Trail of Cthulhu in French simultanously with us.

New Releases

The Book of Unremitting Horror a crossover book for Fear Itself and The Esoterrorists is now out. For the first time, it is released simultaneously as a PDF and print book. For the Dying Earth RPG, the paperback version of the Compendium of Universal Knowledge is also out. The hardback has been delayed due to printing issues.

Printing Problems

Problems with the printer mean that there has been a delay in publishing GUMSHOE Unremitting Horror and The Compendium of Universal Knowledge. A few were delivered to GenCon, and these are the ones available from our store . I do hope that the others will delivered to Impressions, our fulfilment agent so we can get retailers stocked soon.

Reviews

A review (and mini-review) of all of our GUMSHOE releases here. Fear Itself has been reviewed here on rpg.net.

Laid Out and Ready to Go

Now ready to print are:

Ready to Lay Out

Leonard Balsera has completed Profane Miracles, a short Esoterrorists adventure, which is being illustrated and laid out now.

In Playtesting

Trail of Cthulhu has completed its first round of playtesting, and is waiting on Kenneth Hite’s next draft to enter the second round. In addition, I’ll be soliciting for Mutant City Blues playtesters shortly.

You may be wondering, either as a thought experiment or something to actually put in place, how to combine Injury and Shock cards from QuickShock, as seen in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, with the more traditional combat system found in other GUMSHOE games.

Reasons to do this: It shortens the learning curve for players who already know the other version. It extends fights longer, allowing excitement to build. It provides more details of the blow-by-blow, requiring less abstract thinking to narrate.

Reasons not to do this: It takes the most complicated element from one version of the game and bolts it to the most complicated element from another. It extends fights longer, devoting an increased chunk of time to bashing and getting shot that could be used interacting with GMCs and solving mysteries.

For those who feel the pros outweigh the cons and are ready to tackle a surprise wrinkle or three, these unplaytested initial notes might point the way

Final Card

As in QuickShock, decide how many cards of one type, Shocks or Injuries, a character can take before leaving play: a harsh 3 or a forgiving 4.

Shocks

Entirely replace the Stability point loss system with the QuickShock approach. Players test Stability or Composure to avoid lingering emotional consequences, usually with a Difficulty of 4, taking a Shock card in the case of failure. The character receives a minor Shock with a margin of 1 or a major Shock with a margin of 2 or more.

Reach your Final Card threshold, either 3 or 4 Shocks, and your character leaves play.

Hazards

Physical dangers outside of combat work the same way, except that you’re testing Athletics, Health or Sense Trouble to avoid Injury cards, taking the minor on a margin or 1 or the minor on a result higher than that.

Fighting

Combat proceeds as it does in standard GUMSHOE, up until the point where a player character drops to or below one of the Health pool thresholds: 0 points, -6 points, and -12 points.

At the 0 threshold, the character takes the minor Injury card dished out by the opponent who landed the blow. If that takes you to your Final Card threshold, you die, narrating appropriate details for your demise. Depending on the situation, your G may let you expire with a touching dying speech, surrounded by your grieving colleagues, after the fight has wrapped up.

At the -6 threshold, the character takes the major Injury card dished out by the opponent who landed the blow. If that takes you to our Final Card, you die, as above. Otherwise, you continue. Your character will also almost certainly have the minor card still in hand. Effects of the two cards stack. Where the two cards present effects that are incompatible or make no sense when combined, the character keeps the major card and swaps the minor one for “Reeling” below.

At the -12 threshold, the character takes the Shock card “Down for the Count,” below. Once more, if that’s a Final Card, the character dies immediately or by the end of the scene.

An attack that blows through two thresholds gives you two cards. Three thresholds, three cards.

REELING

Injury

-1 to all tests.

Discard when you discard another Injury card, or after an hour (table time.)

DOWN FOR THE COUNT

Injury

You collapse to a prone position. You can’t make tests or stand unaided. Your Hit Threshold drops to 2.

Trade for “On the Mend” after a day in intensive care (world time.)

The GM may design certain foes so that they dish out custom equivalents of these two cards.

Further Adjustments

Reskin and adjust cards for the game and genre you’re playing.

Divide general abilities into the three sub-categories (Physical, Presence and Focus) if your version of GUMSHOE doesn’t do that already. Use YKRPG as your model for that.

Make sure cards refer only to abilities that appear in your game. Revise references to Pushes if your GUMSHOE uses investigative spends instead. Rename cards to reflect your world: you’ll need laser blasts for Ashen Stars and damage for obscure super powers in Mutant City Blues.

Ignore Shocks from games that don’t take characters out of play for mental strain, such as Ashen Stars.

For Trail of Cthulhu, drop Sanity as a separate game statistic. Achieve its effect by making Shocks arising from Mythos contact Continuity cards with punishing or nonexistent discard conditions.

Create cards whose effects leverage statistics that appear only in standard GUMSHOE, from Hit Thresholds to Armor to weapon damage.

Conversely, don’t use “Don’t For the Count” in actual QuickShock games, where Hit Thresholds are not a thing.

And if you try this, let me know how it goes!


QuickShock GUMSHOE debuts in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. YKRPG takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game 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.

 

 

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 tell if one suspect could have used both – or if you have two perps on your hands.

If chases, interrogations and mutant battles weren’t enough to handle, you also serve as a bridge between the authorities and your mutant brethren. To successfully close cases, you must navigate the difficult new politics of post-mutation society, and deal with your own personal issues and mutation-caused defects.

Police work will never be the same.

Upgraded In 2nd Edition!

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

 

Stock #: PELGM201 Authors: Robin D. Laws, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artists: Gene Ha, Tangmo Cecchini, Mary Corbalis, Douglas P. Lobo, Miguel Santos, Lily Serrentino, Phil Stone, Jessica Trevino, Karolina Węgrzyn Pages: 216 pages, case bound, B&W

Buy hardback edition now
 
Buy PDF now

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.

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