Murder, They Rolled
a Mystery Game
This will be in quite a different genre to most pen-and-paper-style roleplaying games; it’s intended for fans of crime fiction who want to roleplay detectives, characters who’re sent out to Solve a Crime. It’s a real-world setting – for this case, interwar California – with no supernatural elements. I want a game that’s about roleplaying, telling cool stories, and about investigating, player-driven. You get dumped into this setting, and have to be the ones who make the crime-solving happen. You can interrogate people, look for clues, explore, reason, anything else you can think of – and you’ll have to think of things, because there won’t be a pre-set plot dragging the characters along. Just a mystery, which sits there in the hope of solution (or theoretically, failure).
This sort of game wouldn’t be for everyone. The narrative structure is unusual, demanding out-of-character initiative, and it’s not really escapist in the SFF sense. Crime fiction is, of course, escapism – a world where puzzles have answers, to be provided by brilliant detectives with strange quirks of personality – and yet it’s quite different to the adventure of Dungeons&Dragons or the psychological intrigue of White Wolf games.
I’ve been GMing for longer than I prefer to remember, and I’ve run everything from hack-and-slash wargames to science fiction Questing to political scenarios, but nothing quite like this. My experience is that many RPG players – perhaps most players – don’t enjoy this sort of puzzle-solving gameplay. They don’t like the direction-setting it entails, or the need to respond to barriers by investigating other possibilities, or they want in-character intelligence to be represented by statistics, just like the in-character ability to use a weapon.
I’d love to play in an investigation-style game, however. Some of the best experiences I’ve had as a player have been when it comes close to that, and I know there are other people out there who’d like to try this sort of thing. So, if you are interested, please post about it or otherwise contact me! I want to give you a world of characters and connections and secrets to be cool in, to reshape into a better configuration.
We’ll be playing in IRC, around once per week. I’m in Australia, so my timeslots are a little constrained; if we play on a weekday, it’d have to be in american-time morning, well before noon. Otherwise, I could do this in the morning on a weekend (that’s when my Vampire game is); that’d mean late night for Americans, getting towards midnight for east coasters. Essentially, this is something we have to work out once we know who’s playing. Several people have expressed interest and I think all of them could do at least one of those times.
This, too, is subject to player input – but I was thinking of using The Window. It’s a free RPG with rules for download here or online here. It’s a rules-light system, where dice rolls are used for conflict resolution and random chance, but don’t frame the action. We wouldn’t roll to see whether someone answers your question, but would just roleplay asking and answering it; checks would be for things like “do I manage to quickly climb this wall”, or “did i notice anything strange about how she just replied”.
The Window writeup is quite didactic about the virtues of rules-light gaming, and includes its own theatrically-inspired terminology for most RPG concepts, but we won’t bother with that. All I want is the simple rules system, which boils down to this: your character has arbitrary traits represented by a size of die, you roll to see if you succeed at something, and 6 or lower is a success.
The PCs in this game will be detectives, employed by the San Francisco branch of the Pinkerton Agency. You’re the elite of the detective arm – a group who specialise in finding the answers to difficult questions. I’d like a small group of characters, ideally unique and interesting people – much of the fun of the game comes from interactions between characters, and applying their particular methods of detection to a problem. There’s no need to have a detailed background in SF; that will be just a backdrop of the game, and is subject to change. Rather, I’m looking for characters who can be placed, entire, into unfamiliar settings, and then go about picking them apart.
It’d be cool if people designed some of their characters together, coming up with complementary skills or interrelationships. In any case, once you’ve got enough of a concept (or want one), please talk to me to help work out the relevant details, and post the character sheet here. There’s no need to rush; I don’t plan to start this game Immediately, but once everyone’s available and ready.
James J. Watts