So, I was thinking about this little test game mentioned below while I was running to get caffeine (in the Diet Mtn Dew form, of course), and decided to try something maybe a little different.  Here’s kind of a summary of how the thinking went as I was walking to and from the store.

I’ve ranted about how perception and communication are somewhat less focused on by existing RPGs, and how they were far more crucial in pen-and-paper, at least from the GM perspective.  Thus, I decided I should do something to try to flesh out and test my own ideas on potential gameplay systems for perception and communication.  I already have systems I want to try out… I just need to do something with them.  The question is, what?

Thoughts then turned to different games I’ve enjoyed, and different settings… I was re-reading an old Lord Darcy novel last night as a night cap (think Sherlock Holmes in a world of scientific magic)… how about a “Clue” style thing?  A multiplayer, find-the-murderer, method-motive-opportunity type thing.

Maybe make it a bit more involved than typical Clue.  Still have suspect-weapon-location (which is “method”), but add motive and opportunity somehow?  Something to keep in mind, at least…

Have the setting be a mansion on a island, ala Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians.  Throw in some side quest/easter egg stuff, like hidden caverns beneath the mansion, an old pirate’s cove with treasure, a random haunted room complete with ghostly child that can provide a clue if you find her lost locket, that kind of stuff.  Maybe even some Gilligan’s Island silliness… eh, note for later.

Allow a time limit to solve the mystery, in real life hours or days.  Day and night cycle in the game: problematic?  What happens to the PC when logged out?  Possibility: sits in their “room”, will answer the door and act/react as a limited NPC, providing feedback on accusations, sharing clues.  Possibly a good chance to test the possibility of “out-of-game” play options… questions asked of the NPC could be emailed to the player, who could choose how to respond via email or web interface.  Maybe some kind of note passing/front desk messaging system instead?

Need NPCs.  Butler, maid, gardener/groundskeeper, other guests, spouses and children.  Part of the root gameplay should be detecting and attempting to adjust NPC emotional states and reactions to the player.  Calm them down, make friends, or maybe scare and intimidate them instead.  NPCs would be major source of clues, of course.  Possibilities: “I saw A and B doing C in room D at E o’clock.”  “A was yelling at me for failing to change the sheets in room A at F o’clock”… that kind of thing.  Creates a source of information for nailing down (and eliminating possibilities) along the opportunity vector.

(I got home from my walk again about here, so now I was taking notes.  Only noticed one person who crossed to the other side of the street as I approached, mumbling to myself…🙂 )

Method

Typical Clue-style thing here, with some twists.  Who with what, where?  Assume the body is largely missing (found the bones in the incinerator, or some such plot device), so that “with what” is not entirely obvious from an examination of the body itself.  OR… make the body one of things to be found.  I like that better…

Give each player a virtual notebook with the prototypical cross-hatch charts, room for notes, etc. 

Probably ties most strongly to the Perception mechanic.  Identifying possible weapons and noticing clues in rooms which make them candidates for accusations are both strongly perception-based tasks.  Indirectly should feed into other stuff, too: identifying emotional states of NPCs, finding easter eggs/clues pointing to potential motives.

Motive

The question to be answered is not “what was the motive” per se, just “which of the possible motives was the actual killer’s motive”.  This needs to be tightly defined and determined, with plenty of clues that “person X could not have known motive Y”, or alternatively “person X would not have cared about motive Y”.  

However, nailing down that “person X had motive Y” should not be indicative of actual guilt.

Need to work through whether allowing the elimination of all possible motives from a person makes the logic puzzle unsolvable.  I wouldn’t think so, but I need to make sure.  More important, I think, to make sure each potential suspect has only one possible motive.

Determining what the possible motives are could be a part of the game as well.  Ties back to the random side quests.  Who knew about the pirate hideout with possible treasure?  Who knew about the victim’s secret collection of antique pens?  Who knew about his illicit affair with the second floor maid, and who would have been jealous?  That kind of thing… have to identify the operative motives (need a wide selection of possibles for replay value) before you can eliminate suspects from each…

Opportunity

“Who was where, when?”  Ties strongly back to NPC manipulation. (Side note: can NPCs lie?)  Each player should start with their own schedule during the possible time of the crime already marked off on the opportunity grid, as well as who was there with them at said time.

The two items of information that come into play here are “where did the murder take place”, and “who was unaccounted for at that time”.  Each suspect thus needs a specific time or range of times they cannot be vouched for by someone.  Finding the body should help restrict the range of times, but not nail it down.  (and maybe the longer that it takes to find the body, the wider the range of possible times…)

Basic style of play 

Waffling on the basic game play.  Fox-and-hounds, cooperative, competetive?

Fox-and-hounds, the person selected as the villain would be stuck out there alone, trying to muddy the waters without tipping their hand… some would love that, others wouldn’t.

Cooperative is relatively straightforward to implement, but how do you create any tension?  Time limits?  Seems weak.

Strictly competitive could be interesting, but I’m not entirely sure how that would work out in the long run.  Clue has that cooperative component, in that when someone makes a accusation, if you have exculpatory evidence, you have to show it.  Is there a way to get the same effect via a different mechanic?

Maybe just plan for any of the three, offer them as configuration options…

Game mechanics

Knowledge-based gameplay, which fits the Voyages design well.  “Clues” are elements of knowledge, just like lessons, concepts, recipes, and so on.  (side thought: recipes, maybe take a page from Glen Cook’s Garrett, P.I. series, allow PCs to get in good with the kitchen staff by helping with meal prep)

Perception mechanic:

Two awareness meters, general and focus.  Elements to be found have both a “detect” and “identify” target value.  Reaching the detect value cues the player into the fact that there’s something to find, but not what or precisely where.  Reaching the identify value highlights the specific element and it’s location.  (Side note: traps?)

Persuasion mechanic:

Combination of factors… performing basic tasks and errands (making beds, setting tables, fetching hedge clippers) is the obvious way.  A variety of skills and techniques should be implemented to nudge NPCs toward specific emotional states… can always just try to get them drunk, too, I suppose.  NPCs definitely need to be able to respond to accusations… but should not always do so, only if friendly (or intimidated, I suppose).

Still need to think about…

  • Meta-game: scoring system, same characters across multiple scenarios?
  • Multiple scenarios: potential other settings? (break out the mystery novels)
  • Security personnel: place to provide accusations for end-game, possible enemies?
  • Restricted areas: areas with clues the player is not supposed to be, avoiding security
  • Equipment: what equipment is necessary
  • Medical skills: autopsies?  Expand out to “CSI” style investigation options?  (more precisely: Quincy MD, Diagnosis:Murder)
  • Additional murders: problematic because it makes the opportunity matrix far more complex, even if all slayings are performed by the same person (god help the players if there was more than one)… also removes potential clues.  Maybe tie it to a difficulty setting…

So, that’s what I’ve got so far.  Fun, but as is always pointed out… ideas are cheap.  Now I’ve got to code it all…😉

Update: somewhat more seriously, could someone with some cash make this game, please?  The more I think about it, the more I really really would love to play it…