Walking in Gumshoes ~ Setting and Set-up

According to the GM, we are perilously close to starting our campaign of Mutant City Blues by Pelgrane Press. The GM has been encouraging a collaborative approach for laying the foundations of the setting, and so I think it is best to start this second entry on playing Mutant City Blues (MCB) with that before the game itself gets underway.

Location x 3

Our group will have three PC characters and their squad will follow the basic pattern for the Heightened Crimes Unit as outlined in the rules. The city we have chosen is a fictionalized version of Montreal with a starting point of 2022. Already a city with great atmosphere and radical extremes, Montreal does not take much of a push to become a retro-futuristic, noir version of itself, with a renaissance in airship travel and faux neon lights demarcating where realism ends and visions begin.

Initially, an entirely fictional city was desired by the GM and other players, but as I am now on the other end of a campaign where no settings were real, I suggested in the name of sanity and time management to use a location familiar to the GM; a new father. It is hard to get a more familiar and manipulable setting than a city in which you actually live, and I have discovered first hand with him as one of my players how little time he really has. I expect him to be working on the game during his commutes to and from work.

I live in South Korea, but the rest of the group lives in Montreal, so to help add this in as a story element, we have posited that my character has recently arrived in Montreal, does not speak French, and has to start working right away – before having a chance to really get settled. It may come to nothing, but I am hoping it will provide ways for characters to communicate with each other about mundane details such as traffic, restaurants, parts of town, and so on with great freedom and detail.

According to the background worked out so far, the HCIU was set up prior to the commencement of the campaign, and its first retirees or reassignments will soon be leaving the squad. The PCs will join them for a few weeks before they do so. I like this touch quite a bit, and will enjoy helping to create a sense of continuity.

Collaboration and Contributions

It has been a pleasure to communicate with the GM as he has been quite open in these early stages to our interests and input. Beginning with the choice of game, then to the choice of location, then to a suggestion of additional powers which we voted down, and finally to the investigative conceits we wanted to include and exclude, we walked through the foundation of the campaign like a pre-flight checklist.

One player began researching real-world techniques for evidence collection, job opportunities and conditions in fields related to investigation, one player offered his linguistic facility to get good translations and common terms for the game concepts worked out so that the use of natural French could add to the mood, and I suggested brainstorming newspaper headlines and rumors from which the GM could draw like a collection of story seeds. We have an impressive collection of real and fictional headlines now that are very interesting.

The GM also asked if I would create a new ‘Leon Philbin‘ for  this campaign. Philbin is the most popular version of a prop character I like to use in table top games to add atmosphere, give a broader sense of what the average citizen thinks, and of course to deepen the sense of the world. Imagining a world with long, boring stakeouts at late hours, the GM requested a radio DJ with a surreal and thought-provoking style. The challenge for me will be to circumvent the urge to tap into my memories of LeCroix’s Nightcrawler persona from Forever Knight when I do this. The fun part about this sort of character is making actual radio broadcasts and modulating my voice so I can do the whole cast of the show, complete with ads, by myself. Playing them at opportune moments will be left to the GM.

As my character will be moving to a new city, and I have never been to that city (apart from the airport occasionally as I pass through coming or going on my very infrequent visits to Canada), I checked the real-estate listings looking for something he could afford, in a neighborhood in which he would like to live. Once discovered, I sent it off to the GM to use and locate in his version of Montreal.

The final touch is the idea of the Investigator’s Notebook. Here is where having been exposed to some real life knowledge is a great boon, as the GM has a background in private investigation and security. Using Gumshoe’s approach of ensuring that you get the clues you need, the GM will provide the initial entry for each character on each crime scene with the clues that that character has gleaned. Once those clues are established, we will take over the writing of notes and speculations in these notebooks as the game progresses. To facilitate this, we will be using Google Drive and sharing the notebooks with the full group to ensure that all the puzzle pieces are in plain view, but keeping the chain of evidence and discovery intact so that those who uncovered the clues can quickly access them to be able to speak about them with authority.


We will get into who the characters are, how they are connected, who they work with, what motivates them, what subplots the players have identified for them, and hook of using Article 18 to bring them together in a later installment of this series. The basic framework of who they are, however, is related more strongly to the ideas of preparation of the campaign and so will be touched on here.

The characters, two familiar with or from Montreal and one not, have been chosen to replace retiring officers in the HCIU, and many of the reasons for these appointments are political. The watch commander is a politically savvy officer, with eyes on advancement and an intention to raise the profile of the department in concert with an increase in funding by city officials to deal with Montreal’s ongoing crime problems.

The two characters familiar with Montreal will have already established a certain rapport prior to play. One will be a detective, and the other a forensic consultant permanently attached to the unit. This gives the squad 4 detectives (2 PC, 2 NPC), two outside contacts they might trust to really understand a problem (NPC), and an on-call consultant (PC).

The Players

The GM and I have known each other since junior high and our survival of the vile little town that spawned him, and nearly killed me. His wife, also a long-time friend who sometimes comments here under the name of Murder Bunny,  will be playing the consultant. They have just produced offspring, so their mangled schedule and indentured servitude to their progeny are big factors in our interest in playing a rules light game with a variety of time-saving preparation choices in play. A stranger to me, but friend to them rounds out the group.

So far, it seems like the greatest progress in reading the rules has been by me (my second time through the book in an analytical mode), and the GM. Amusingly enough, but unsurprising with our shared roots in the formative years of our gaming, we both report yelling at or speaking firmly to the book in disagreement of some of its basic assertions. We are both committed to running the game as written, but… will the GM be able to stick to that? Will we have to earn some of those essential clues? Only time will tell.

The Method

We will be using Google Drive for our permanent record, the character sheets, investigator’s notebooks, and chat for story advancement. We will begin with posts in e-mail to get the campaign in motion, but ultimately, the GM wishes to move this to chat. I have doubts that transition will ever be possible, but in keeping the nature of this experiment before me, I have not yet closed my mind.

Next Time

Next time we will talk more about character creation, player expectations, and possibly the opening scene of the campaign. I hope that those of you who have commented and started this exploration with me will stay tuned, and that others will join us~

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3 Responses to “Walking in Gumshoes ~ Setting and Set-up”
  1. I love the idea of gaming in the town/city you know. Ran a dangerous zombie game a couple of years back. It was supposed to run for a couple of weeks as they PCs were everyman level and the zombies were very thick on the ground. To make it more fun for people I pre-genned characters that were caricatures of the group, but mixed them up so they wouldn’t be playing themselves, then let them know the game would start at the end of week long camping trip in some uninhabited moorland near our home town (Huddersfield, England). They knew the place so well, and had a few ideas about what to expect, zombies being kind of predictable, they lasted over a month of game sessions by using their knowledge of the town to their advantage, making every attempt on their lives by both zombies and survivors a hell of a lot easier to survive.

  2. Brian says:

    I know of one gaming group here in Lubbock that is running a zombie apoc game set in… Lubbock. Their party is currently barricaded in the Cinemark theater down on University Ave and 82nd.

    • Runeslinger says:

      Brian and Shortymonster, I think many of us do it whenever possible to, as you say, allow for deeper involvement and facilitate more effective descriptive shorthand. I know a lot of people, myself included, who veil and repurpose familiar places often as well. There are many who prefer a fictional setting to allow greater control or provide a specific experience too, but when pressed for time, or when tactics and immersion are essential, such as the survival scenarios you both presented, I like to build off of the real.

      In my long-running, all-encompassing WoD Chronicle, the setting was our city, and taking trips to specific locations to discuss what was the same, what was different, and how things like graffiti might appear were useful and fun. It was a great way to prepare and to survey the players about things that could enhance the game.

      The primary motivation in the case of this MCB campaign is time management, but I suspect that daily commutes will spark some great ideas for the GM.

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