Alteregomania – Designer’s Notes

by Michael Duxbury

Alteregomania is out on sale! It’s a standalone GUMSHOE One-2-One release, including all the core rules and background information needed to take investigative journalist Klara Koenig through her first adventure. I can’t wait to hear how players and GMs get on with the story!

The world Klara inhabits is a dystopian take on the superhero genre. It centres the action in the city of New Olympus, where corporate-sponsored, superpowered, law enforcers exploit their position of power to oppress the common citizenry. In the scenario Unmasked Avenger, Klara attempts to bring one of these corrupt “superiors” to justice, by discovering and revealing their civilian identity.

Several commentators have noticed the similarity of this premise to Garth Ennis’ The Boys, and its popular television adaptation. The Boys was certainly inspiration for Alteregomania, but the truth is it was one influence amongst many. Other pieces I ruminated upon whilst writing Alteregomania include Marvel’s Civil War: Frontline, the Watchmen TV show, the 5th season of The Wire, the 1st season of Daredevil, and the song Worldless by I Will Never Be The Same. This assignment was also the impetus I needed to (finally!) watch All the Presidents Men, the template upon which all GUMSHOE adventures are built.

If there’s one respect in which Alteregomania most distinguishes itself from The Boys, it’s the choice of protagonist. The hero of our story is not a “good super”, or a selfish amoral vengeance seeker, but a true-hearted investigative journalist. This reflects the comparatively optimistic tone of our setting, where despite the injustice built into the system, good people who speak out can nonetheless make a distance. Klara herself is mostly closely modelled on Serial podcast host Sarah Koenig – even sharing the same surname – but some personality traits, and an alliterative forename, were borrowed from Lois Lane. Her Jewish background is partly a nod to Sarah Koenig and Carl Bernstein, but also seemed the right choice for a hero defying an autarchy of “supermen”.

Mechanically, I was of course inspired by previous GUMSHOE One-2-One adventures. I’ve been an evangelist of the system for years, enthusiastically joining the playtests for both Cthulhu Confidential and Night’s Black Agent’s: Solo Ops. At the same time, I was careful to distinguish Alteregomania from Pelgrane Press’ other GUMSHOE superhero setting – Mutant City Blues – by using a fixed setting, and leaning into more outlandish powers, costumes, and naming conventions. I think Mutant City Blues is a terrific game, but my personal preference was not to write a story centred on the perspective of police or law enforcement officers. Alteregomania was the perfect place to indulge my anti-authoritarian tendencies.

New Olympus can be a dangerous place for meddlesome journalists. Klara is not a combat-capable character, and her enemies possess a range of deadly superpowers. GUMSHOE veterans should expect a play experience somewhat similar to Cthulhu Confidential, where physical engagement against a superior foe is a method of last resort. Luckily, like all GUMSHOE One-2-One protagonists, Klara has a collection of Sources on speed dial, who can help her out of tricky situations with their own range of talents. Maybe if Klara doesn’t survive the adventure, they can finish the story in her honour…

I’d like to thank my fiancé Emily for volunteering to review my first draft. Thanks also to Stephen Morffew, who helped me break my writer’s block (“The question isn’t HOW do they discover the superior’s identity; the question is WHO already knows. That’s how the supervillains do it.”). Finally, huge thanks to the team at Pelgrane Press for giving me this wonderful opportunity. Here’s hoping I get a chance to put together other GUMSHOE One-2-One adventures in the future!

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