The Guy That Wrote This (uhlrik) wrote in roleplayers,
The Guy That Wrote This
uhlrik
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Whodunit?

Allrighty, I just watched Clue for the umpteenth time, and it got me thinking. No, I don't mean thinking about the awesomeness of Tim Curry, though he is brilliant in it.

I love that film's frenetic pace and complexity, and how there is a constant stream of revelations that are, as Mr. Green puts it, "All too shocking!"

Which leads to this question: What systems do you folks think would work well for a whodunit game in the vein of Clue or Murder By Death* (as opposed to procedural crime drama like CSI or two-fisted cop drama)? A few constraints must of course attached, because what I'm talking about is quite specific. I get that a whodunit game where anybody could be a suspect works best as a one-shot where the protagonists have as much reason to suspect one another as much as any NPC, so that would be more of a general thought on how it would be run rather than a systemic requirement... sort-of.
The game must be suited to:
  • Fast and furious play, so the system must not be cumbersome, and must be integrated with the action. I know that any game can be fast if you never touch the dice, but that's not what I'm talking about.
  • It must be well-suited to play in a 20th- or 21st century earth setting that contains no supernatural or scifi elements whatsoever, and where the protagonists are normal people rather than swat cops or police detectives.
  • It must have a system that supports the whodunit genre. I leave the meaning of that stipulation up to the reader.
  • Solid support in the system for noncombat endeavors. Any system that's pretty much a combat simulator with some skills tacked on is out of the running. Whodunits aren't about facing off with the baddies, they're about scrambling for hints and clues while sifting through confusing leads and lies.
  • It must be a system that supports a darkly humorous style of play. Pretty much all can, in theory, but some are definitely better for that than others.
As I was contemplating this question myself, a rather odd choice came to mind that I thought I'd share. Actually, it's not so odd given that I've advocated this system a number of times in other contexts. Actually, some considerable time ago zamiel put me on to this idea and it resurfaced during my Clue musings.

That system is Capes.  Now, Capes is a very non-traditional RPG and doesn't remotely support having a tightly-scripted backstory behind the murder and a set plot rewarding the players for solving the in-game mystery at all. What it does excel at is fast, frenetic and rapidly-changing stories with a lot of back-and-forth, messy conflicts and fun social dynamics that leave everyone guessing what will happen next.

One particularly fascinating possibility that Capes' system architecture makes possible is for the actual identity of the killer ("who dun it") to change in the course of play as new and shocking revelations about who was where at what time, as alibis get blasted out of the water and sordid pasts get literally pulled from nowhere into play, as confessions get reveleaed as coerced fabrications and so on, retroactively influencing all that has come before ("He was my driver during the war..." or "I was in disguise in disguise in disguise.. in this business you gotta work hard for $50 a day plus expenses..."). Also, players can control situations, groups, objects and scenery too rather than just individual humans, which can have a very significant influence on this sort of story.

That dynamic conflict-based formation of the narrative is heck on the traditional notion of the set-piece murder mystery, but for a madcap caper that keeps everyone on their figurative toes and makes for a memorable crime story full of surprises and twists it just might be unbeatable.

So enough about my ideas. What system do y'all recommend for fast-paced whodunit?

*Fun Fact: Eileen Brennan is in both movies, as Tess Skeffington and Mrs. Peacock.
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