Walking in Gumshoes ~ Investigating

For all intents and purposes, our three characters are now in the thick of investigating our first crime scene for our Mutant City Blues campaign. We opened in the Montreal Heightened Crime Units bullpen, where the three of us were assigned a homicide case at a local culinary landmark. We  have spent the last two weeks collecting and verifying all the leads we can (a little more than an hour of time from the perspective of our characters). At this stage of the game we are exploring a chance at learning a little more about the killer, but we are expecting that it’s time to pause and share our notes to see what inconsistencies and interesting items pop.

A Duster, a Bamfer, and a Bloodhound walk into a blah…

The introduction to the crime scene was set through a decent roleplaying exchange where each character had the chance to make their presence felt. Arrival at the scene had us separating to collect the evidence that we were most suited to find and evaluate and running with that a bit before coming back together to briefly compare notes before we finished taking witness statements and looking at the physical evidence. Video security cameras from a nearby store managed to confirm data intuited via Spatial Awareness and flesh out the two phone videos witnesses managed to make. No useful images of the suspect’s face appeared to be captured – at least not with the viewing technology at our disposal in the field. The suspect fled on foot with several eyewitnesses indicating direction, but appears to have eluded the police for now.

How did this all play out? Frankly, it all seemed like a massive burden on the GM. No matter how you slice it, preparing to run this game requires a huge investment of planning and time so that evidence collection takes on a sort of TV Drama montage of the flow of details before roleplay and some actual gaming takes place on the other side. Our GM scouted a real-world location, took pictures, photoshopped evidence into them, captured and edited Google Earth maps, sketched frame captures from video files, and compiled testimony collected by beat cops for the 15+ witnesses. All of these were then presented as notes from the first officer on the scene, or data files representing our own notes from the initial stages of questioning. In our group we always used to call the sharing of data that all the players knew but not all the characters did ‘blahing’ as in blah, blah, blah. It was not uncommon to hear a player inform the GM when the cast regrouped, “I blah to everyone what I just learned!”

Our GM for Mutant City Blues, generated a roughly 50 page blah for us filled with all the details we ‘deserve’ based on the underlying conceit of the game, plus the details we asked about that he felt we should have. That’s a lot of work. Any mystery scenario is a lot of work, but that in particular is a lot of work. Perhaps not all GMs in this system would do that, or do it in such a conscientious and detailed way. Perhaps it is a little bit of overkill, but…  it is the sort of work that should be done. He has given us the clues. He has set up a reasonable scene, with a reasonable number of witnesses in a reasonably public place, and provided us with the sort of information which detectives would collect.

If he gives us anything less, such as by compiling it all for us into distinct data points, then who is actually playing? It becomes more novelization with occasional interruptions than a roleplaying game. Interestingly, if we were given a crime scene with fewer or no witnesses, his burden would have been less and the likelihood of solving the crime would remain exactly the same.

Discord in Deployment

One unsurprising element in the implementation of the campaign was how little time it took for the GM to bail on the idea of playing the Rules as Written. He is trying really hard to do so, but as so many of them stick in our collective craw, it really was just a matter of time before something gave. The first to go was the idea of having a storyboard of scenes prepared with clues designed to take characters from one pre-envisioned scene to the next. The GM explained during the first investment of points for an ability that we were not playing a console game despite what the designers of MCB may have intended. He was not going to tell us we could spend points to try for a reward, and he was not going to caution us not to spend them when there was nothing to gain. He was simply going to have the spending of points ramp up the effectiveness of the ability in question and let the chips fall where they may. MCB, sandbox style.

Somehow, I doubt we are ready for that intellectually, but we are certainly ready for it emotionally.

Deductive abilities of the players aside, a far bigger threat to the game is whether or not the players will keep playing it. With the massive investment of time it takes from the GM every time we check for clues, and with the requirement on the players to wade through them all, this game is starting to play that old refrain, “Doomed from the Start.”

Who knows, it may have more life in it than I fear.  The next installment will detail the crime for you, Dear Readers, so that you may try to solve it at home~

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2 Responses to “Walking in Gumshoes ~ Investigating”
  1. mxyzplk says:

    Reading this series with interest. I am also attracted to certain things about GUMSHOE but get some of the ways that it works wrapped around my brain’s axle. Feel free and ask some RPG,SE questions on your issues; I’m interested in hearing various people solve them!

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