A while back we learned of the vials of supposedly destroyed smallpox virus that turned up in a laboratory storage room in Bethesda, Maryland. Luckily, no one was exposed to the deadly disease, allowing us to guiltlessly mine the incident for scenario inspiration. How you might use it depends on the game you’re currently running:
Ashen Stars: The lasers get a contract to find out what happened to an archaeological survey team tasked to explore the ancient alien ruins of the outlying world Cophetus. They arrive to find the team’s base, with evidence that they had located the tomb of a great emperor and were set to open its entry hatches. The team’s interpretation of the hieroglyphs found on the side of the complex alert them to a different story—this was the tomb of the ancient pathogen that nearly extinguished this mystery civilization. Can the team learn enough to locate, rescue and decontaminate the archaeologists before they succumb to the disease—or spread it to the stars?
Mutant City Blues: Conspiracy blogger Warner Osterman is found dead in your jurisdiction, a .22 bullet in his brain. His last story was about finding serum sample vials in a disused military laboratory. According to the contents of his laptop, Osterman believed these contained a version of the disease that caused people around the world to gain super powers ten years ago. That’s the angle that gets the case assigned to the HCIU. Did Osterman die because he got too close to the secret of the Sudden Mutation Event? Or just because he made people think he did?
Dying Earth: Locals in an isolated village your neer-do-wells happen to traipse through run a lucrative sideline in waylaying treasure hunters. When visitors come, they let slip the presence of an ancient treasure vault, one they pretend to be too superstitious to venture near. Over many years they’ve learned the right words to trigger the greed of arrogant freebooters. The adventurers head off to plunder the ancient temple, which in fact is the repository of an enervating energy left behind by a heedlessly experimental arch-magician. The magical plague kills off the visitors. Then, armed with protective amulets, villagers head on down to strip their corpses of valuables. Can our anti-heroes escape the fate of so many likeminded troublemakers before them. If so, do they turn the tables on the rubes who so impertinently used their own greed against them?
Given the persistent weirdness of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, it should come as no surprise that they were the first major sports administration to permit the use of mutant powers in professional competition. In the DNA-twisted future of Mutant City Blues, only one thing has changed about the world’s love of football: America now adores it too. After all, the US team boasts such world-class players as Kirk “Force Master” Larson, Lyle “Nonstop” Watts, and Shane “the Ghost” Lowe.
Larson uses his concussion beam to move the ball around, and kinetic energy dispersal to fizzle the opposing team’s kicks. Thanks to his pain immunity and endorphin control (self), Watts simply doesn’t tire. And, attracting the greatest hate from rival fans, Lowe’s mutant brain makes lightning decisions, instantly evaluates threats posed by the other side, and allegedly reads their minds from time to time, too.
This year the World Cup has come to Mutant City, with all the revelry and security issues needed to keep a police officer up at night. HCIU officers have been pulled from normal duty to keep the city safe for visiting fans from around the globe.
The juxtaposed atmospheres of celebration and terrorism fear that accompany any high profile sporting event might hang as a background element over several other cases the squad pursues as the World Cup rolls on.
After sufficient foreshadowing, a case puts the tournament center stage. Options include:
- The squad gets evidence of a credible death threat against one of the above-named players. FIFA won’t hear of a star player being pulled, so the players have to track down the would-be killer without being able to stash the victim safely.
- Anti-mutant terrorists, angry that non-mutant players have been pushed to the sidelines, regard the games as a prime target. This allows you to stage your super-powered, footie version of Black Sunday.
- Trinidad Güngör, the FIFA board member most responsible for bringing mutation into the game, is found brutally murdered in his hotel suite, with several underage prostitutes dead for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Initial indications point to an attack by a non-mutant player whose career declined after the genetically enhanced were permitted on the field. Investigation points to another possible angle— Güngör was about to implicate fellow board members in a bribery scandal over the bid to hold the next games.
Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
NASA’s Cassini probe has detected any icy object in Saturn’s rings that may be a nascent moon.
The small object may already be falling apart, making for a story less less impressive than the “baby moon” headlines suggest. So let’s fix that by ripping it from the science headlines for Ashen Stars.
The lasers snag a contract to investigate and retrieve the object of an unusual theft. The Xeno-Eco Foundation a balla-run organization created to curb environmental crimes in the Bleed, hires the crew to find out who stole a moon. Remote probes located in the Athos Outzone detected the formation of a new moon in the rings of the gas giant Ninurta. They also spotted what looked like a battered hauler entering the rings, capturing it with a tractor beam, and taking it away. In accordance with Combine anti-poaching laws, the Xeno-Ecos want the moon pirates identified and their ship destroyed. As a bonus, they hope that the lasers can restore the moon to its rightful spot around Ninurta.
The twist comes when the lasers use stellar forensics to track the missing moon to its new location just outside the absorption zone of a black hole. The hauler that stole it belongs to the ragtag, wayfaring fleet of a nufaith colony. Its adherents believe that Ninurta is the material manifestation of an evil goddess destined to devour the known galaxy. Whenever Ninurta births a moon, they believe, it is their duty to take it away and destroy it, before it blossoms fully into a marauding engine of death that will eventually undo the big bang and unravel the universe. As the lasers arrive, sect leaders have commenced the multi-day ritual, after which they’ll tip the baby moon into the black hole.
How do the lasers reconcile the conflict between ecological protection and sincerely held religious belief?
A Calgary dentist who two years ago bought John Lennon’s tooth at auction says that he looks forward to cloning him in the near future. After finding a jurisdiction with loose bio-ethical regulation, he intends to raise the child in a music-friendly environment—though without exposure to drugs and cigarettes.
Rip this story from the headlines for Mutant City Blues with a case involving a murder at a gene sequencing lab. The HCIU catches the case because it specializes in prenatal screening for mutations. Co-founder Allen Gould turns up dead in the underground parking lot beneath his office at Sequencing Services LLC. Initial indications point to a business dispute between the vic and his partner, Helen Mack. Further digging reveals Gould’s scheme to divert especially promising samples to an illegal cloning program. Did Mack kill him when she found out, or was it Gould’s shadowy partners in the clandestine cloning operation? A moral dilemma arises when the detectives discover that several clonings have already taken place. Women get implanted with super-powered fetuses in the Grand Caymans and then return home to Mutant City. Sometimes they’re surrogates, in other cases the women who intend to raise them bear them. Although the murder of Dr. Gould clearly falls under their jurisdiction, the scheme itself occupies a legal gray area, far above their pay grades. Still, the way they handle publicity arising from the arrest will likely shape the political outcome. Can the detectives influence how the children born as a result of the scheme are treated? Do they even try, or do they keep their heads down and move on to the next homicide on the whiteboard?
Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Pick up Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
Insurers specializing in high-end art have become increasingly worried by the proportion of their clients’ art collections stored in a small handful of warehouses, mostly in Switzerland. By stashing their art at a so-called free port, the hyper-rich avoid taxes and customs fees.
To rip this story from the headlines, we can see an obvious plot for a heist flick, in which the PCs plot a single score allowing them to scoop up enough masterpieces to stock a world-class museum.
Let’s bend it a little into a premise for a Night’s Black Agents scenario. A venerable vampire, who perhaps once shared absinthe with Oscar Wilde, has transmitted his soul essence into a painting. You know the drill—it ages, he doesn’t. The only way to destroy him is to burn the canvas. He’s stashed it in a free port, confident that its experts will give it all the security they’d provide to a Rembrandt or Picasso.
The mission: under the guise of an ordinary heist, get in there and grab the painting—either to end him, or gain leverage to squeeze favors out of him, in furtherance of your broader war against the international bloodsucker hegemony.
A Ripped From the Headlines Scenario Hook for Ashen Stars
In a development that raises the prospect of bespoke organs created with cells extruded through a 3D printer, a patient in a June 2011 procedure received a new windpipe grown specifically for him. 3D scanning technology provided the template for an exact replica of his original windpipe, sculpted from polymer around a glass mold.
In the future timeline of Ashen Stars, the utopian space empire known as the Combine once assiduously policed its ban on sentient-species cloning. Like so much else, this has fallen by the wayside in the frontier region of the Bleed. But so far it’s proven impossible to create true replicas of intelligent beings—you can make a physical copy, and even age it, but you can’t recreate all of the experiences that shape personal identity.
That may have changed, the lasers discover, when they get the terms of their latest contract. Famed inventor Sian Sar hires them to track down her ex-husband, Rog Trainor, who, without her knowledge, used her own scanning technology to make a complete cellular scan of her brain. She believes that he’s printed out a meat version of her brain, and is using it for competitive advantage—putting her genius to work on the same technologies her company is feverishly developing. Their mission: to bring Trainor to justice, and destroy the counterfeit of her brain.
The twist: Trainor has not only grown a replica of his ex-wife’s brain, but installed it in a clone copy of her body. The result is a new person, who shares Sar’s experiences and personality up to a point, but then diverged. She may not want to remain imprisoned and working for Trainor, but she doesn’t want to be murdered, either. Do the lasers fulfill their contract, or accept her claims of full personhood?
A Ripped From the Headlines Scenario Premise for Ashen Stars
As this article reveals, the conversion of mortgages into complex financial instruments did more than provoke the 2008 global financial meltdown. The data-tracking process used to spin fragments of mortgages off into a tradeable derivative—creating a sort of mortgage slurry, if you will—now makes it impossible to determine whether homeowners, banks, investors, or anyone at all really owns certain real-world property. A nebulously owned property can’t be used as collateral, undermining a key value of everyday finance.
Speaking of slicing and dicing, this springboards a scenario that perfectly fits the Ashen Stars setting, where information loss has been one of the prices paid by a former stellar utopia torn at the seams by recent warfare.
Unlike most planets of the Combine, the synthculture planet Trump’s World practiced 20th century capitalism –albeit in idealized, tourist-park form—even before the Mohilar War. Private ownership of property underpinned this historical reenactment economy. Now info-saboteurs have struck at the heart of the system, scrambling the worldwide property database. The PCs are hired to track down the McGuffin on which the entire economy rests—the single accurate copy of the pre-disaster real estate registry. Complicating the mission: plenty of Trump’s World moguls want the database back up—after they get a chance to fiddle with it, just a little…
According to a conspiracy theory both odd and oddly un-sinister, a youthful Barack Obama, as part of a secret CIA program, used to teleport to Mars. Why, the official denials only serve to confirm it!
To rip this from the headlines into an Ashen Stars scenario…
Teleportation technology doesn’t appear in the game setting. It’s a notorious plot-hoser. And in a roleplaying game you never have to leave out an establishing shot of a shuttle for pacing or budgetary reasons.
With this in mind…
A wealthy woman hires the lasers to locate her missing daughter, Rika True. Like many missing persons contracts, the arrangement calls for them to bring to justice anyone responsible for any harm that may have come to her. Rika, they learn, was last seen applying for employment with the utopian Eden Corporation. They find the uncharted company world that serves as its headquarters: a lush paradise that provides Eden settlers with a life of ease and luxury. They discover that Rika won the coveted right to participate in an Eden teleport experiment. The experiment turns out to be a scam to feed willing volunteers to a bi-dimensional predatory entity. The twist: it’s the entity that makes the planet inhabitable. If they destroy it or drive it away, the atmosphere immediately becomes toxic. Should the lasers reveal this to the populace, the residents decide that they’d rather continue the modest sacrifices than abandon their paradise. Do the lasers bring the system crashing down, as their contract demands, risking the lives of thousands?
As with other GUMSHOE games like The Esoterrorists and Mutant City Blues, Ashen Stars GMs are encouraged to look to the news for episode inspiration. Like the writers of the various Treks and the nouveau Battlestar, they might use the space opera form to examine issues of the day.
Alternately, they can start with pop science articles and either work their way to political allegory, or not, as desired.
For example, a recent study indicates that drug addiction piggybacks on the same neural impulses that lead animals to crave salt.
In the episode this inspires, the crew is hired to investigate a series of attacks on Combine ships near the Bleed’s far edge. They discover that the hostile party is a heretofore unknown advanced species called the gretherin. Although at first they seem merely xenophobic and implacably hostile, a twist reveals their motivations. A gang of human and cybe drug runners has infiltrated their home world, engineering a synthetic drug by hijacking the gretherin’s necessary craving for arsenic, a trace metal they require to regulate metabolic function. The gangsters aim to addict the entire planet to a substance only they can manufacture, draining it of its wealth. The gretherin take this for an act of war waged by the entire Combine. Can the PCs avert a nasty local conflict by taking down the drug gang and destroying the technology used to create the drug?