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Background to the question:

I will be playing Mutant City Blues with a group via e-mail and chat. Most of us have read the rules for this and other Gumshoe games, but not run or played in one to any great degree, if at all.

The question:

What factors should we consider when assigning points for skills and powers to avoid having pools which are too low to go the distance in a normal investigation, or too high to allow for a wide enough spread of investigative abilities in a three person team?

The chargen section of the rules (p12 onward) makes recommendations for levels of 1-3 in as wide a range of skills as possible for Investigative abilities, and skills of 8 for 'core skills' in the General and Powers ability pools. In play, do these suggestions swing toward the conservative or generous?

Desired Information in Responses

To put things in proper perspective, examples of initial character design regrets you have had or heard from new players of Gumshoe, particularly Mutant City Blues, would be very helpful. Knowing that most people regretted the same typical newbie chargen choices will help us avoid them ourselves. As this game will be played at a glacial pace via PBeM, avoiding this aspect of the system learning curve is of particular importance.

Do some specific skills, abilities, or powers end up requiring a higher or lower level in actual play than it seems they would prior to play?

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I'm in the same game as Runeslinger, and I too would very much like to know. –  user3948 Jul 1 '12 at 22:33

1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Gumshoe relies so heavily on the Investigative/General skill split that I'm going to address them separately.

Investigative skills

The core of Gumshoe. The points allocation suggested in Mutant City is moderately generous, but this is by design. Gumshoe is expressly about making sure the plot can't stall due to of lack of a relevant skill.

The group should collaborate in character design to ensure all or almost-all skills are taken, but it's not crucial to worry about how good you need to be at each - go with whatever fits the characters. It's inherent to the Gumshoe system that as long as all the investigative skills are covered you'll always get the information you need, and the actual skill point totals provide helpful bonuses, not required information.

So, short form: As long as you cover the range of skills, you can't have mis-designed the characters. If you do stall completely, it's the GM that's made a mistake, not the players.

Powers

Asking whether the default superpower allocation is generous or stingy is a somewhat relative question. What counts as 'a lot' of power in a supers game? Depends whether you prefer your superheroes at the 'Superman' level or the 'Daredevil' level. However, MCB's default power allocation fits pretty well with the theme and setting - powers make you significantly more capable than unpowered humans, but not so much that there's no interaction. You can still die of being shot. Unlike Marvel/DC, a typical character will have two or three related powers in a group at low-to-medium level rather than one awesome power. (The Quade diagram works well as a character creation tool, although it really shines in play as a forensic tool.)

Since the game is ultimately about policework, the level of power isn't too important - superpowers are bonuses to aid your police skills. (Unless the GM is going to focus heavily on fights with powers, in which case the PCs had better have some characters with 'classic hero' powers like Armor, Fire Projection etc.) But this isn't Marvel Heroes; you're the police. If massively outpowered, 'contain and call for backup' should always be the option.

(Note in particular that the Quade diagram makes the classic 'super-strong tank' in the Juggernaut/Rhino/Colossus vein impossible as a character. This is a deliberate and important design choice; MCB is not about having to slug it out with a villain that can smash everything and won't go down. You just can't get from Armor to strength or energy projection powers. Strength/Regeneration is possible... but won't win a fight against a normal human with a shotgun. And if built in Mutant City, Phoenix would be defeatably weaker... and autistic.)

Investigative powers make policework easier, general powers make fights and crises easier, and both can safely be picked based on what seems to fit the character. Although the group as a whole should try to have some of both, as you'd expect.

(Mutant City Blues would actually work really well to do an early 'Powers' style game, in which the PCs don't have any powers and chase single powered-villain antagonists. Just skip the power part of character creation.)

Errors to avoid

As far as I can tell, there aren't any - no beginner player in our group expressed any regrets about character choices. Honestly, it's quite hard to go wrong in Gumshoe.

Summary

Mutant City Blues has a forgiving game design. Make sure the investigative skills are covered; maybe put a few more points into the most obvious frequently-used skills (Law, Interrogation, Negotiation, Evidence Collection, Forensic Anthropology, etc.) If your game is going to contain arrest firefight scenes, take the usual care to have some combat-capable PCs - Health, Scuffling, Shooting, Sense Trouble. Other than that, you really can't go wrong.

If you're still worried - our group has a house rule for all new systems that you can reallocate your skills at the end of the first game. Try it.

There are some sample characters here that might help serve as a guideline: Example PC Sheets

Don't miss the 'legal summary' reference sheets available from Pelgrane's site.

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Thanks for the detailed answer. I use the same revision rule when I pitch and run a new system when a skill has failed and is not what we expected it to be. –  Runeslinger Jul 2 '12 at 7:16

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