Fonebooks and other fun things
Gaming systems are like shoes, they come in many styles and fits but they are basically built around the same principles. New shoes have a novelty to them, but they’re not as nearly as comfortable as old ones and can chafe and give blisters. And, of course, people have the own opinions about which types are better…
Anyway, enough about shoes, as I think my point is basically made. And what I have to address this time is about new gaming systems. It’s been a while since I’ve run a new one, and coupled with this it’s a new style of game. Not adventure, investigative.
Add to that the following elements: it was a joint-session and we were dealing with real-world places and organisations. So we were in for a bit of a ride.
The system is GUMSHOE but the game itself is Mutant City Blues, where the players portray mutant detectives that investigate crimes committed by mutants, or as they are called in the game “heightened individuals”. After I played it at Eyecon, I had to go out and get it. (Along with Rapture but that’s another story.) It’s very similar, and even strongly encouraged within the game itself, like an episode of Law & Order or CSI. Players need to find the clues to move onto the next scene and interpret the clues in order to solve the mystery.
When I played it in Sydney, we were part of the NYPD and even had the Law & Order theme as an opening to the game. I wanted to go a bit more familiar, but not overly so as it’s my opinion game settings need to have an “other place” feel to them. And this is even though having it set locally would have made things easier, as one of the group is a member of the police here. I knew I wanted to run it, but with her as a player it could create problems. The major one, she would know more about how little things worked than me, who has been tainted by the American media.
So we set the game in Sydney, and as the game goes it’s ten years into the future. I had to do quite a bit of research into the NSW Police Force to see how the Heightened Crimes Unit, which the players are a member of, would actually be a part if it existed in real life. And this required a fair amount of guesswork, as NSW does have quite a bit more middling positions than here. This is tiresome in some respects but it meant that we could have one of the best NPCs in the game, Senior Sergeant Aaron Davey. And the players hate his guts.
There were disadvantages, I think there were only a handful of people at the table who had been to Sydney, let alone knew it well. We had an argument if it would take twenty minutes to drive from Hyde Park to Vaucluse at 11.30 on a saturday night (I found out later, this is right). But I swear next time we play, which won’t be for a while, I am letting the players have a map.
Other than Hunters, which has investigative elements, this is the first game of an investigative nature that we have played. Sure, there have been plots when myself or another GM have deceived the players which spurred them on to find out what was really going on, but these were still about adventurers. And GUMSHOE as a system is specifically set around investigation.
It should come as no small surprise then when this is the area where we need the most work, as the players managed to catch us out in a major plothole that we were unable to rectify as the entire case more or less rested on it. Aside from that rather big gaping hole, the game moved logically if not exactly smoothly, as there were some elements that we simply did not anticipate and we were forced to improvise, without even communicating with each other so we wouldn’t give away the major plot elements. There was one time when I was out of the room for what could have been no more than about five minutes, and in this time a major plot detail had been revealed incorrectly. I had to apologise and say that this was a point we had specifically discussed that afternoon and had to be rectified.
Unlike other systems we run, where the size of the group really depends on whether the GM that night is willing to handle it, Mutant City Blues works best with small groups. I’d say four is a good size, we had six, though to be honest we were only expecting four or five. Fortunately, the story was shared around the players and they all had a turn at interviewing people. But, with so many people there, the game tended to dragon on more than it should and it took me longer than usual to get everyone to shut up and listen.
There were memorable moments that made the game fun, and I can see us playing it again. One which I have to mention here, even though it’s pretty much a player’s solution to metagaming. The interviews were usually conducted by two players, but other players not there wanted to contribute in a benign way. Thus the Fonebook was born, a touchscreen tablet that allows the players to instant message each other, look up people on crime databases, view and analyse images and take and compare fingerprints. It was such a cool idea that we just had to go with it.
Even if there was a rather significant absence of bagels.