The following articles originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in June 2008.

In this issue Robin D Laws discusses the use of genre conceits in Mutant City Blues, we have more music from James Semple, and a second interview by Luke Crane. This issue sees the return of Mystic Moo – learn how to get your fondest wishes, with cosmic ordering. I was very pleased with the results of the last poll – our readership is higher than I expected – so I’ve included another one, with a peculiar question. Your feedback really helps.

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

A column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

The Trouble With Tasers

Technology is ruining the storytelling business. Lately it seems like every new innovation of communications technology renders another classic plot device moot. GPS tracking, widespread closed circuit camera use and electronic paper trails make contemporary detective stories harder and harder to write. The screenwriter Todd Alcott, analyzing the works of the Coen brothers, noted that all of them are set before the cell phone era as we know it. Their plots inevitably revolve around disasters of miscommunication and couldn’t happen in a world where people can easily contact one another while in transit.

I recently underwent a tussle with another annoying piece of technology that threatens to wreak special havoc on roleplaying game scenarios. In real life, the taser may be, as its proponents argue, a useful piece of putatively non-lethal weaponry allowing for the peaceful capture of dangerous criminals. In game mechanical terms, they’re a freaking nightmare. They break the paradigm of suspenseful back-and-forth fights on which gaming’s bread is buttered. A taser rule that successfully models the way the things work in real life brings about an instant end to a physical confrontation in one shot. You get hit by a taser, you go down, end of story.

Roleplaying games have traditionally differed from the action genres they derive inspiration from in the ease with which it is possible to KO opponents. In a movie or novel, the hero can conk out an enemy with a karate chop to the neck, sap to the back of the skull, or old-fashioned Vulcan nerve pinch, raining no particular problem down upon the author. The characters are all under his control, so he can count on them not to transform into cold-blooded killers at the sight of an unconscious foe.

PCs, controlled as they are by players, exhibit no such compunctions. When it comes to the chance for an easy kill, players blithely have their characters engage in behavior they’d recoil from if performed by their favorite movie or comic book heroes.

Combat mechanics traditionally rush in to to fill this morality hole, by making it no easier to KO an enemy than to kill him. That way the PCs wind up killing in self-defense, or at least in the process of a fair fight against an opponent who chooses not to surrender. Some rules sets of yore make it even harder to grapple or disable a foe than to kill him, though this is as much a case of simulation gone awry as an attempt to enforce genre norms.

A designer can fudge the relative difficulties of a kill versus a KO when it comes to most forms of combat. It’s easier in genre fiction to render an enemy unconscious without lasting consequences than it is in real life, where vigorous thumps on the head lead to concussions and brain injuries. Taking on a heavily armed and armored opponent who’s trying to kill you probably does make it difficult to score a harmless knockout.

Several of the games I’ve worked on, starting with Feng Shui, allow characters to specify that they’re fighting to disable even while using the standard combat system, making it just as easy to kill as to KO.

Tasers, if rendered accurately, screw up this balance completely. They really do make it almost trivially easy to take an opponent out of the fight in one shot.

Here our genre sources do provide the answer. You’ll notice that sympathetic protagonists, even the cop characters in procedural shows, do not go around zapping perps with tasers. In TV and movies as well as in games, the one-shot nature of the taser makes for boring action sequences. More crucially, there’s the sympathy factor. We can accept heroes who shoot or manhandle the bad guys, but taser use just seems sinister. Perhaps it’s the humiliating nature of a taser bring-down that triggers a sympathy switch. We’d end up identifying with the defeated villain instead of the basking vicariously in the protagonist’s victory.

As audience members, we may also be haunted by real-life abuses of the technology. Anyone who follows the news on this subject has seen the horror stories, starting with sudden death by cardiac arrest. Because the consequences of taser use are, compared to a gun, advertised as negligible, cops and security personnel have shown a distressing tendency to treat it as a weapon of first resort. As it would be in a gaming situation, it’s too easy to use in real life. We’ve seen it deployed to curtail the civil liberties of peaceful protesters. (This will be a huge problem in the years ahead as mass non-lethal technologies come on line and fall into the hands of authoritarian regimes.)

In short, pop culture has, perhaps aptly, tagged the taser as a bully’s weapon.

Trying to reconcile these issues with the known properties of taser weapons sent me down several blind alleys as I worked to develop GUMSHOE rules for them. Before finally accepting the simple solution that was in front of me all along, I considered:

  • dodge rules making it easier to avoid a taser hit
  • fumble rules making a taser harder to use than it is in real life
  • allowing characters to shrug off taser strikes

None of these attempts to nerf the taser passed even GUMSHOE’s loose reality demands. Finally I realized that this was not a matter of rules mechanics, but of literary conceit: PCs in GUMSHOE don’t use tasers because heroes in pop culture don’t use tasers. For Mutant City Blues, there’s the suggestion that lawsuits over inappropriate taser use have led to mountains of paperwork and career setbacks for detectives who resort to them. Maybe in The Esoterrorists we’ll specify that tasers are the fruit of an occult plot to enable tyranny, and that their use weakens the membrane. But really these are fig leaves of credibility placed upon an overriding literary convention:

Real heroes don’t use tasers.

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

Tools, toys and transport are the theme for this issue of Page XX. Robin D Laws discusses the use of music to end scenes in GUMSHOE games, and James Semple provides some stings for Trail of Cthulhu. Jamie Maclaren says the fidgeting and playing with toys at the gaming table isn’t all bad, and Simon Carryer closes his excellent series for Trail of Cthulhu GMs with an article on the majestic liners and tramp steamers of the thirties. For Mutant City Blues, we present interview with Dr Lucius Quade, the world’s premier scientist in anamorphology, the study of mutant powers (toys for gamers, at least).

Contents

This post originally appeared on DyingEarth.com between 2004 and 2007.

A column on roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

In Make It A Gimme I talked about looking for instances where the resolution system offered by the rules should be jettisoned in favor of an automatic result—in this case, a success for the player.

This time we’ll look another case where outcomes determination should be taken away from the resolution system—when players and GM all agree that something ought to happen. If the GM alone makes an outcome determination without reference to resolution mechanics, we call it fiat. Here, by incorporating the players into the decision-making, it becomes decision by consensus.

Outcomes amenable to consensus most often occur in character development scenes. They’re harder to find in procedural scenes where the PCs overcome the obstacles of a set mission or battle adversaries.

For example, let’s say you’re playing Mutant City Blues, where the PCs are detectives with extraordinary powers investigating crimes involving the genetically enhanced. Two of the characters, Rafe (played by Wes) and Ted (played by Stan) are on opposite sides of a tricky case, as Rafe’s retired police mentor, a GMC called Sheila Teague, is suspected of murder. Ted comes out of the interrogation room after having treated Sheila with withering disrespect. Rafe has been steaming on the other side of the one-way glass, and confronts Ted in the police station hallway. Rafe is a hothead, and it’s entirely in character for him to take a swing at his colleague.

If the two come to blows and you use the ordinary resolution system, anything could happen. Ted and Rafe are easily matched in the fisticuffs department; either could beat the hell out of the other. However, if this happens, a realistic sense of consequences dictates that the series will go in directions that will displease both players, and you. To maintain fictional credibility, Rafe would have to be bounced from the force (if he wins the fight.) If Ted badly injures Rafe, he might or might not face similarly dire disciplinary hearings. Even if the GM comes up with some credibility-straining way to keep Internal Affairs from checking out a beatdown in the middle of the precinct, the hostility between Rafe and Ted would escalate beyond repair.

Rafe wants to clobber Ted. If Rafe goes for him, it would be out of character for Ted to do anything but return the favor, full-force. If Rafe doesn’t go for Ted, he’s out of character. Yet neither Wes or Stan, the players, want things to go this far. For that matter, you, as GM, would likewise be dismayed to see this get out of hand. You don’t want the dramatic logic of a serious outcome to force either character out of the series.

So instead you ask for a consensus. What do the players, as opposed to the characters, want to happen? Genre precedent suggests a dramatic physical action that nonetheless remains contained, requiring no lingering consequences afterwards. “What if I take a swing at him,” suggests Wes, “but he grabs my wrist as it’s coming toward his chin, and stops me cold?”

“Works for me,” nods Stan.

“That leaves Rafe pissed, but it’s enough to chill him out.”

“I imagine some hard-nosed words will be exchanged on both sides,” reasons Stan. “Sure.”

You accept the consensus, specifying that this is exactly what happens. They play out their dialogue as Rafe and Stan. They’ve managed to stay in character without forcing the narrative down a road that will make everyone unhappy.

Consensus may not appeal to players very strictly wedded to the immersive mode of play. They tend to dislike mechanisms that encourage them to think as both their characters, and as collaborative authors.

If you employ this technique, make it clear to players that they can ask for a consensus resolution at any time. To use the above example, it’s possible that Ted and Wes are thinking ahead to the possible series-wrecking consequences of a fight that gets out of control, while you’re worrying about other things, such as the empath character’s read on Sheila’s moods during the interrogation. They’ll be doing you a favor by prompting you.

Player-requested consensus might prove a handy way out of plot logjams. Let’s say you’re running a fantasy game in which the players are Greek heroes. They’ve retreated to an isolated fortress to plot out their next moves, but they’ve gotten themselves bogged down and don’t know what to do next. That the fortress is supernaturally well hidden is one of the major character schticks of the scholar Menetriaus (played by Ashleigh.) You could have a messenger show up and give them the information they need to get themselves out of their planning rut, but that would undermine one of the central coolness factors of Ashleigh’s character.

Fortunately, the players realize that they’re stuck and ask for a consensus result. “Can we stipulate that one of us has a secret to reveal, but which also contains the information we need to get us on the right track?” Ashleigh asks. None of the other players have any objection to this, and it gives you the opportunity to supply the needed nudge. You ask another player, Chris, if he has an objection to a reveal indicating he spent the night trysting with dodgy company. Chris shrugs and allows you to add this detail to his character’s recent backstory.

“Xenophides sheepishly admits that he was with the female gladiator Polydora last night, and that she told him something that might change your plans…”

By definition, every party has a veto over a consensus decision. If your players call for consensus suggesting that they bypass the famous fiery archway of Triopos and go straight to the minotaur’s lair, but you feel this too easily absolves them of the adventure’s challenges, you simply grin, say “Nice try,” and leave them to solve the problem the old-fashioned way, using their character abilities. If Rafe’s player felt so strongly about his characterization that he was willing to exit the series over it, he gets to refuse, too.

Resolution systems, like any other part of an RPG rules kit, are tools, to be used only to solve problems that require them. By adding this technique to your repertoire, you may find that you can leave them in their toolbox a little more often.

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

Robin D Laws discusses the nature of believability in RPGs, and we present not one, but three interviews from Luke Crane. This month also sees the launch of a flurry of new products, including a Keeper’s Screen, and James Semple’s first Pelgrane release – music for Trail of Cthulhu. The sleeve notes are here for your edification. Finally, Jason Durrall has provided a summary of character creation guidelines for Trail of Cthulhu. Perhaps this is gilding the lily, but who I am to begrudge our customers golden petals?

News from Pelgrane Press

In August we had our most succesful GenCon Indy ever, with lots of demos, record sales and two silver Ennie awards for Trail of Cthulhu. This month we have seven releases for GUMSHOE including a new Keeper’s Screen and music for Trail of Cthulhu. Mutant City Blues got its first public airing at GenCon, too, with a limited edition and demos.

Trail of Cthulhu

As I reported last month, we reprinted Trail. We’ve sold about a quarter of them already, which is pleasing. We’ve also got four new releases for Trail – the Screen, our first music release, the leatherbound and a new PDF. There was a shrinkwrap problem with the new Keeper’s Screen which affected only retail versions, but they should be out next week from your retailer.

New Trail of Cthulhu Releases

  • Regular readers of See Page XX will be familiar with the inspiring and atmospheric music of James A Semple, and this month we release Four Shadows, four music tracks for use with Trail of Cthulhu (and dare I say it) other period horror games. The musicianship is of the highest quality, and features Pulp and Purist themes. You can get it at rpgnow.com, and the Pelgrane Store.
  • We’ve released the Keeper’s Screen and Resource Book for mail order sale from the Pelgrane Store.  The Keeper’s Screen is a three panel portrait affair, with all the important charts on the back, and the Resource Book lists sample clues equipment, foibles and benefits for abilities and occupations; and a set of NPCs.
  • Stunning Eldritch Tales took a while to reprint, because of machinery problems at the printer, but it’s available now, and we’ve also released it in PDF format at IPR, rpgnow, and the Pelgrane Store. Existing Pelgrane mail order customers will be able to get the PDF from their order page.
  • We have a few copies of the Trail of Cthulhu leatherbound edition available from IPR on a first-come, first-served basis. They are signed by Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws. They aren’t the last available copies – we still have another twenty to be released later in the year.

More Trail News

  • The final installment of Shadows over Filmland, a collection of adventures for Trail is finished, and ready for layout. The last adventure is a collaboration between Robin and Ken, in which the PCs are investigating strange occurrences on the set of the first talking version of a Call of Cthulhu movie. Here is one Jerome’s illustrations:

The Island

  • Gareth Hanrahan is beavering away at new Trail adventures for Arkham Detective Tales, a Trail adventure supplement.

Mutant City Blues

We printed up 60 limited edition copies of Mutant City Blues for GenCon Indy, and we still have a few of these left, but only for customers in the States and Canada. I’ll be adding them to the Pelgrane store by the end of the momth. Anyone who buys one will be entitled to playtest MCB and get a playtest version of the Hard Helix, some new adventures for MCB.

Esoterrorists

The adventures Profane Miracles and Albion’s Ransom PDFs are out now from IPR, the Pelgrane Store, and rpgnow.com.

The Esoterror Factbook, a big setting book for Esoterrorists, is ready to be illustrated and laid out.

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

by Simon Rogers

In this issue Robin D Laws discusses the use of genre conceits in Mutant City Blues, we have more music from James Semple, and a second interview by Luke Crane. This issue sees the return of Mystic Moo – learn how to get your fondest wishes, with cosmic ordering. I was very pleased with the results of the last poll – our readership is higher than I expected – so I’ve included another one, with a peculiar question. Your feedback really helps.

News from Pelgrane Press

Since the last View, we’ve sold out. But in a good way. We sold out of the first print run of Trail, released Stunning Eldritch Tales for Trail, and sold out of that, too – new stock should now be available. We’ve done reprints of Esoterrorists and Fear Itself, too. Trail is available in PDF, in a number of forms, two quite innovative. All our products are available from the Pelgrane Store and IPR.

Trail of Cthulhu Print Version

Trail of Cthulhu sold through the first 2000 copies, and we’ve just completed the reprint, along with a limited number of leather bound copies. I took the perhaps hubristic decision of printing another 2000. The leather bound version, limited to 50 copies for sale, will be released through various channels between now and Dragonmeet 2008, some through competitions, some for online sale or auction, and a bunch at GenCon Indie 2008. Stunning Eldritch Tales , a collection of adventures for Trail was released and sold out though most outlets. You can read about a review on Yog-Sothoth. A reprint has hit the warehouses already.

Other Trail news:

  • An exclusive Trail of Cthulhu adventure is available in participating stores for Free RPG Day, 21st June called The Murder of Thomas Fell. There will be limited copies, so grab them while you can.
  • The Keeper’s Screen and Resource Book is now laid out and illustrated, and is ready to be printed. It was written by Simon Carryer, who wrote the excellent transport articles in earlier Page XXs. Adrian Bott edited it, adding a dash of spice to the mix.
  • Gareth Hanarahan has completed the first of his Arkham Detective Tales – it’s now playtested and awaiting a partner.
  • Shadows Over Filmland, another collaboration between the Hite/Laws dream team is in playtest.
  • Some Trail of Cthulhu customers have produced GUMSHOE conversions for Call of Cthulhu, and conversion notes of for making your own conversions. You can find them here.

Trail of Cthulhu PDFs

In additition to the full version PDF, we’ve released the Trail of Cthulhu Player’s Guide PDF includes all the player’s stuff from Trail of Cthulhu, including the complete Trail GUMSHOE system, character creation, equipment lists, tips and forms. It weighs in at 100 pages. We also released Trail of Cthulhu Game Group PDF Bundle. The bundle was an interesting experiment in the spectrum of honesty of PDF users. The idea is, the GM gets the Trail of Cthulhu PDF, the players get three copies of the Player’s Guide between them. I’m very pleased with the sales, with about 20% of our Trail sales on OBS being bundles.

The Esoterrorists

Robin D Laws has finished the first draft of the Esoterror Factbook, an engrossing setting book for The Esoterrorists written in the style of an OV operatives manual. It’s a great read, disturbing and filled with gaming opportunities. A bunch of additional optional combat crunch for the Special Supression Forces are in need of testing, and Robin is writing a short adventure to test them out.

Dying Earth

Tooth Talon and Pinion (Excellent Prismatic Spray 7/8) is out now. Subscribers copies have just been sent out, and we’ll add the PDF version next month.

Mutant City Blues

Mutant City Blues is in layout. You can read the in house playtest report part 1 here and part 2 here. And, here is some of Jéromes excellent art:

(Ed. – the following art is from the first edition. You can find the second edition of Mutant City Blues here.)

Flight

Mutant City Blues cover

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.

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