Friday, December 4, 2009

Quick Read Review - Mutant City Blues

Ten years ago, one percent of the population gained mutant powers. But one percent of the citizens means one percent of the criminals – and you're the cops who clean up the mess.

As you may have gleaned from the blurb, this RPG is set in the near future, after a virus event seemingly grants a significant percentage of the population beneficial mutations – of the super-powers variety.

Surprisingly, the world is not radically changed by this – not everyone decides to become a superhero or supervillain, not everyone wants to cash in on their abilities, and so some people go on with their lives trying to hide and forget that they have powers and abilities far beyond those of mere mortals.

But enough do, and some of them commit crimes, and that’s where you come in.

Powered by the Gumshoe system – a game system focused on investigation-oriented adventures – Mutant City Blues allows you to solve super-powered crimes and capers committed by a cast that could be taken from Heroes with a tone ranging from Castle’s light-hearted banter to Law & Order’s gritty procedurals.

One of the more interesting elements of this game is the Quade diagram. While most RPGs involving super-powers make a big deal out of being able to replicate any power in the comic books, Mutant City Blues imposes limits and definite patterns to metahuman abilities. In game terms, abilities connected to other abilities with a solid line are free; abilities connected to other abilities with a dotted line cost 2 points for each ability traversed; and abilities not connected cannot be purchased (you have to trace the web of lines to get to the ability you want).

This intriguing part of the game has two immediately obvious effects: (1) it suggests that in this particular setting, there is a predictability to meta-human powers, making professional crime-solving more about investigation, research, and deduction rather than a brainstorming / argument session about what weird combination of abilities was most likely to have been used to perpetrate the crime; (2) it makes certain combinations of abilities more desirable and other combinations of abilities too damn expensive to build.

Mutant City Blues looks like an RPG worthy of the mini-series treatment: build characters and play for a “season” of 3 to 6 episodes, then step back and evaluate how your campaign is going. If there’s promise, then make tweaks and start into the second season.

Suggested campaign inspirations: Law & Order, Heroes, Touching Evil, Castle, X-files, Warehouse 13 and Wire in the Blood.

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