Walking in Gumshoes ~ The Crime

Our Mutant City Blues campaign started off with a brief out-of-character discussion about how the Heightened Crimes Unit would be represented in Montreal, an overview of altered history and the future’s altered history, a primer on changes in Montreal, and then we segued into the Google Drive Document for the start of in-character play. That we are doing this game online as posts instead of live or in chat is a favour to me, as I am living under the dark side of Janus-faced day. At the start, the suggestion of Docs for this was a solid one, but as it morphs into Drive, I am finding it to be slower, and less convenient all the time. Of course, a part of that was how quickly our game ballooned up to 64 pages of text and images once we started collecting evidence. More on that later.

The Crime

The call given to our squad of two detectives and one forensic analyst to take the lead on was a murder in broad daylight in the back parking lot of a popular historic eatery. Witnesses saw the suspect fleeing the scene, and two even managed to capture shaky footage of the escape from the scene, but all of that plus security camera footage from a neighboring business and a store the suspect passed en route to his get-away car all failed to penetrate the protection of his red hoodie. Either the suspect was aware of the location of all of these cameras, or he is really into over-sized clothes. Despite this evidentiary hurdle, it is our good fortune to have a talented forensic analyst on the team whose mutant traits include heightened olfactory senses and the ability to track prey by scent. Even without a facial ID placing the suspect at the scene, scent will place the skell there just as firmly. Nice.

Evidence found at the scene backs up the video footage and witness reports that the killer used a Disintegration beam power to showily take down his target – missing the first time, but killing on the second. That detail has been bothering me from the start, but for now we will just keep on with the basics. The victim was the new owner of the restaurant, but the general scuttlebutt has it that he was much less interested in the venue than the money it generated. More interesting to his neighbors and the gossip mill was his believed involvement with a young lady with ties to a mob family, beatings he had taken in recent days, and a known gambling problem. Lovely fellow.

The long and short of it is that the victim walked out of the back of his cash cow, and was cored by a disintegration effect thrown at range by some punk in a red hoodie. The perpetrator fled the scene and was not pursued. Witnesses reported his escape accurately, but police patrols were not fortunate enough to be able to resume the trail. A store security camera has a record of his departure from the area in a waiting car. No plates were visible, so we are pulling traffic control records to see if anything can be uncovered by time stamp, and car make and model.

Where is this going?

At this stage of the investigation, my partner will need to broach the subject through his own family mob ties, while I embrace the thrilling details of ledgers, accounts, and money trails; and the good doctor slaves in the lab under cool blue lights, haloed in classic rock, and sporting an attractive frown of concentration and intelligence.  While I hope to find something which ties the victim to the mob and leads to some sort of indication of legally useful motive, I am expecting something more along the lines of money owed, and territoriality over the girlfriend.

More than this, the questions I have over the means of attack have me wondering if the victim was not the intended victim. I have no confirmation either way yet, but in the back of my mind it seems plausible that the real target might have been behind the victim in his car, and what we see as murder right now might have been a sacrifice. Hmmm….   Of course, that could just be the romantic in me. All the evidence points to the victim being a dick.

Who’s going to Drive you home?

I am afraid that Drive is letting me down. It has potential, but as far as real-time collaboration via desktop and mobile…? It is not hitting on all cylinders yet. Each of my mobile devices renders the pages differently and is more or less capable of displaying attachments, charts, and images. My Acer A500 tablet works fine, within the limits of Drive itself, but my Galaxy SII will only render place holders for these. Huh.

Once the lag and other oddities were noticed, the GM quickly copied all the evidence into smaller notebooks for each detective, but that has not prevented the main game file from bloating up to 60+ pages which you have to navigate sequentially each and every time. The only way to see a useful notification of any edits is in your desktop browser. Further the chat function doesn’t seem to offer notifications at all, and often retains false details about who is looking at a document long past their point of actually departing the doc.

There are strengths. Editing is fairly rich in all formats and on all devices, and it is easily synced with other devices. It tracks edits and revisions usefully, and you can basically see what your collaborators are working on when you are in the document together… more or less.

Speed limit?

One of the classic curses of the online game has hit us already. Updates from two of the three players have trickled off quite a bit. All of this will increasingly tax the memory of the GM who has generated a massive number of details no one could possibly keep straight. There is a good chance this will be yet another PBeM that can’t be kept in motion. Drive’s seeming lack of post notifications is one part of it, but the primary reason is of course the tried and true, “I’m too busy.”

This may end up causing the squad to split into solo groups which will speed play in fits and starts, but will ultimately lead to its fading away.

Is it too hard to play Gumshoe this way?

In some senses, yes – it has a massive typing load, even for the investigators, but in a stronger sense, no. Parts of the game are ideally suited to having an accurate text record of everything which transpires. The dice and detail acquisition mechanic also works very well with PBeM because in most cases, you just succeed. Players don’t even have to miss the feel of dice in their hands – they wouldn’t have been rolling them anyway. That said, there is something about that which encourages players to tune out until the part where there is some risk of failure, and that Dear Readers is the death knell of any game.

…but yet, PBM games have been around as long as the hobby has and Gumshoe is undeniably popular…

In our next installment we will look at our progress, and talk about how to help players less-inclined to pure narrative navigate play in Gumshoe games.

Suggestions and tips welcome!

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