Here is the second batch of original playtest feedback for our first in-house Mutant City Blues session. Please bear in mind It was never intended for publication, and was written to the designer robin_d_laws. Comments which offer explanation to you, gentle commenter, are like this [comment]
In this session, I noticed a subtle difference between an OV-style game [The OV are the PCs in Esoterrorists] and a police procedural, and that is that clues are not just a way to move between scenes, they are often literally evidence. So leads which would be redundant to the OV were pursued by the players because it built a case. So, I offered many dangling threads to lead to the same point which they carefully noted. Following only the core clues may not have built a proper case against the potential villains. Of course, some of the police work can go on off-camera (put uniform on it, send it to SOCO [Scene of Crime Officers. American acronyms are so much better. I give you Asdic vs Sonar.]), but it gives the GM an excuse to use fun scenes that otherwise wouldn't happen. There is some kind of clue type going on here - a bit like floating core clues, but redundant clues. Any one of them will get you forward, but you might want to collect more to build a case. A sidebar might be apropos.
The players churned over this week, with only two players the same as last time, and two new players. We had a few holes in the investigative skills, which I reminded people they could use under the Eso rule for that purpose.[If other players aren't there, they can use spare points set aside for this purpose - remembering other PCs skills and asking what they'd do.] I ran the two "power onset" scenes for the new players.
One player wanted a power suit, and I had to explain why that wouldn't work with the game - you’d need a whole new set of investigative skills to differentiate between a power suit and say Strength. [As well as superpowered investigative skills, for example, X-Ray vision, there are also normal investigative skills which address superpowers. In particular anamorphology - the study is the study of mutant powers and their genetics. In GUMSHOE the available clues should match the sill set. In retrospect, this could have been done with the available skills - but wouldn't have been a proper playtest.]
One player chose Radiation Projection, but this one like many others is simply not suitable for PCs except for a back story, even though it's great for a villain. I suggest we mark such powers in the chart [The Quade Diagram - the chart of related superpowers]. He swapped to Explosion, and we assumed he had worked for the bomb squad.
I did have to stop them prevaricating a few times. Even openly saying "here are you leads, you need to stop talking" and get out their didn't work. Still, I suppose if they wanted to talk that much...
There was almost no power use in this session, but it should kick off more next week.
The pathologist reported that there were fang marks in the charred corpse of Nigel Griffiths the plant controller, leading them to look at the Quade diagram. They didn't notice absorption at this stage. They took a mould of the fangs.
They got the address of the agency which ran the drug place (Black Homes).
There was another murder in a gambling den, where all the oxygen was depleted. Four bodies were known low lives, the other unknown, but they figured out with linguistics that the other guy was Eastern European from gambling slips. The Absorber had extracted the deplete oxygen powers from him. I noticed linguistics is missing from the list of academic investigative skills. Is that right? What is it rolled into otherwise?[Linguistics is added again.]
I imagined that Absorber had got the drop on them - all the weapons were missing from the the holsters. However, I might make it some kind of Sexual Chemistry or mind control thing that an associate has, as I haven't tested the mind control powers yet. Is there anyway you can find out from a fresh corpse whether their minds have been manipulated? Does Sexual Chemistry leave distinctive traces?
It was now they considered both Possession and Absorption as possible causes.
The found that this gambling den was also let out by Black Homes, and they got the remaining three addresses and the name of the guy paying for them - Nikoleta Mita. The officer investigating Black Homes was strangely drawn to the women who worked there. [I had to be careful not to to flag her up too obviously as a person of interest at this stage, as she is the perpetrator, but thought that using a touch of her borrowed Sexual Chemistry would be fun. In most cop shows, you meet the perp early on, but they try to deflect you into thinking they are just an extra. This fails horribly when you recognise the actor as a guest star. Not a problem in an RPG.]
They followed another lead to plant controller Nigel Griffith's flat (they cleverly phoned all the garden centres asking if they had anyone special employed, and they found his address) [I had a couple of ways they could find Griffiths - they also interviewed the lady next door to the drug house to get a time for the van, and then checked the congestion charge records to track it, too] They didn’t realise he was the dead man at this stage [they hadn't remembered their Absorber theory and were looking for a living plant controller] and were sure that his drug dealing flat-mate Smorgasbord was in fact Griffiths. They couldn't get "Griffiths" to leave the flat, so one cop used X-Ray Vision to look in. and saw drug paraphernalia (I am using the generous interpretation at this stage) [There was a discussion as to whether a warrant was required to use X-Ray vision.]. They thought that this wasn't enough to enter, as X Ray Vision doesn’t mention it was admissible, so they went to an Asian storekeeper opposite and asked to look from their top window. (In the UK, "fruit of the poisoned tree" doesn't apply. If you get evidence the wrong way, you can be done for it, but evidence legally collected as a result is still admissible.)
Meanwhile, another cop paid a prostitute to call Smorgasbord, pretending to be Black Homes Ltd saying that Nikoleta was coming round. Smorg stuffed drugs into his bag and ran downstairs, a swarm of insects in front of him (I'd foreshadowed this with a cockroach under the door, but they didn't clock it). Poor old DC Angelus outside got bitten to crap, so they arrested him "firmly" and took him down the station along with a drug-addled prostitute who was in his flat.
They had fun in the interview room with Smorgasbord, a white dreadlocked drug dealer, and house mate of Griffiths, making use of Martin Minkins - an incompetent legal aid brief - who didn't advise his client very well. Eventually I got them to say what exactly they wanted (a description of the fearsome leaseholder Niki Mita), how they wanted to get it (Intimidation), and what way (pretending that they knew the leaseholder was a terrorist, and he'd be sent over to the counter terrorism squad if he didn't comply.
This lead to the name Johnny Shakalaka - aka Niki Mita - the Albanian gangster. They found he had Disintegration, and surely they should figure out from the Quade diagram where his nickname comes from? Shakalaka Boom Boom. [Disintegration is next to Explosion on the Quade diagram. They never did work it out - but then it's easy if you are the GM.]
They were very keen to make Beth (the prostitute) into an authorised informant, and would really have liked some rules for this. How might this work? A dedicated pool for informants? A streetwise spend? It would be a good hook during character generation.[Actually, I don't think we've done this. Could be a Page XX article, but really it could just be a colour way of describing a Streetwise spend. Also, I make frequent suggestions which are justifiably ignored.]
They had fun in the interview room, making use of Martin Minkins - useless legal aid brief [lawyer] - who they knew wouldn't advise his client very well. Eventually I got them to say what exactly they wanted (a description of the fearsome leaseholder), how they wanted to get it (Intimdation), and what way (pretending that they knew the leaseholder was a terrorist, and he'd be sent over to the counter terrorism squad. One of the PCs was on secondment from
So next time, they will be staking out the other two Black Homes properties, might accidentally end up in a tussle with the Drug Squad who are raiding one of the other houses [they were at the original scene, and there was a bit of friction then], will find Shakalaka is an MI5 informant and have to deal with the Absorber. I'll try to get some more action in, and figure out what the Absorber has against Johnny and his criminal activities.
I did find it very hard to get into player's back stories, but that may be because I didn't show them the list of possible back stories and force them to write something
down. [MCB, like many cop shows, often highlights a character's backstory, relating it emotionally to the main crime. This is thoroughly detailed in MCB. Ironically, it was the initial organisation of the rules which lead me to forget this in character generation. One amusing thing we tried - I asked the PCs to tot up their interpersonal skills, and it was gbsteve's character, the fast-track graduate trainee who suffered. The DCI said "Every squad needs a head. That's me. Every squad needs a body. That's you lot. And every squad needs an arsehole to deal with the shit. And that's you, DC Arsehole." He then suffered almost constant abuse from the DCI whenever they were together. It was fun.]