Elementary, dear Watson!

I love RPG and I love murder mysteries. When I am not blogging, gaming or drinking coffee, I am probably listening to a Sherlock Holmes audiobook or watch the latest CSI episode.
I always wanted to have a great murder mystery adventure perhaps as part of another campaign or as a whole campaign. I still remember the good old times, when I was still in high school, when I discovered the roleplaying game “Private Eye” on a friends’ bookshelf. As far as I can remember we never actually played it, but I found the idea to play a private investigator in a roleplaying game written for murder mysteries and the like intriguing.
When I run or play Call of Cthulhu we normally have a lot of opportunities for criminalistic activities. We hunt for clues, talk to suspects, do research in libraries, so it’s the closest thing I have experienced to a detective roleplaying game.
When d20 Modern came out a few years ago I made some plans for a campaign with psychic investigators like in the Agents of PSI minisetting that never came out of the planning stage. My main problem always was, how do I create a compelling murder mystery without working everything out to the miniscule details and without resorting to a lot of Search and Research tests? And how do you handle psychic abilities in a murder mystery? I haven’t found an answer to these questions yet, so I ask my readers to share their thoughts.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

8 thoughts on “Elementary, dear Watson!”

  1. I did a whole thread about this on story-games, hope it helps. Feel free to resurrect it there if you have any questions about it. It's in the URL.

  2. The 2nd Edition Box Set "Masque of the Red Death" sounds right up your ally. My group and I are currently playing it. It takes place during the 1890's Gothic Earth, at first I thought that the characters would be weak, but this opinion changed shortly after the first real fight. They aren't the same as regular AD&D characters, but they can hold their own.

    The 1890's, is of course, the time of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Jack the Ripper. It has a very horror game feel, but there are always places to have some good old fashion whodunit entertainment.

  3. Are there some tips in that box set on how to run whodunnit adventures? The setting itself could be interesting, so I could try to get my hands on that set on eBay.

  4. Hi there,

    "My main problem always was, how do I create a compelling murder mystery without working everything out to the miniscule details and without resorting to a lot of Search and Research tests? And how do you handle psychic abilities in a murder mystery?"

    When I come up with a Murder Mystery, it sometimes becomes necessary to be detail oriented. I usually start off with the actual details of the crime, and then muddy the waters with npcs with various motives, and a couple of dark secrets not directly related to the murder.

    Search and Research tests are bound to come up in a game, but focus heavily on "interviews" with the NPCs involved. While finding physical clues is a good thing, criminals may plant false clues to throw investigators off their trail.

    This is where having very good NPC motivations and backstories helps a lot.

    Psychic Abilities are powerful and most can blow the top off a good murder mystery immediately, but if you're allowing the players to wield supernatural abilities, why not make it so that the villain also has some form of influence as well? A Mind-controlled dupe would make for a great fall guy for a murder, for example. Also take note that Telemetry and Precognition are also hazy and in no way deliver solid clues, as much as impressions of whether or not they're on the right track.

    One last thing is that you should always throw in an element of danger as they get closer. Not only will this relieve the monotony of research and interviews, but it'll also clue them in if they're on the right track.

  5. Does it have hints on how to run whodunits? It comes with a couple of modules, but the best tips on how to run mystery campaigns is reading mysteries and breaking them down.

    PC's aren't ever going to cooperate with such a thing, and if they are interested in such a game, you may need to give them an NPC such as Van Helsing, or Holmes, but don't let him run the game. He can help point them in the right direction, and can point out when something is evidence and when something is just window dressing, but the trick is to let the PC's figure out the mystery.

    I think that old school D&D can actually help you with such things because of the lack of science to screw everything up. The more scientific the investigation, the higher your chances are as a DM, to mess the whole thing up with some stupid mistake.

  6. While searching the web on info about Masque of the Red Death I discovered that there is a d20 version of the setting, created by White Wolf's Arthaus imprint. Is the book any good?

    There was also an RPGA campaign called Living Death, but the site livingdeath.org is obviously down.

    BUT web.archive.org comes to the rescue! You can even download the Living Death campaign sourcebook. Check out http://web.archive.org/web/20080128030728/http://

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