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Mankcam

Simple Murder Mystery scenario

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Okay I am a GM with not much prep time at present, so I'm just trying my luck by throwing this out to the forums and seeing what comes back.

I am running an Astounding Adventures series of games, using the 1920s Masks of Nylarthotep campaign as the mainframe for plot, so this is Pulp Era game with alot of cinematic elements. Lots of fun, and less TPK than MoN would otherwise be.

The characters have just arrived in Egypt, but have chosen to stay at the famous Palace Hotel in Heliopolis outside of Cairo. This is a grand hotel resort town, a little removed from the hustle and bustle of Cairo, full of Europeans sitting around parlours and attending formal dinners etc. An ideal location for a little 'whodunit' like something Agatha Christie might pen aka Death On The Nile.

I would really like to have a bit of fun and run a murder-mystery set at the Palace Hotel before the characters start following their leads in Cairo to continue with the rest of the MoN campaign.

Does anyone know any scenarios (not necessarily BRP) which are following a murder-mystery format and are set in a location like a resort or a mansion? I could easily tweak it to fit this setting, but ideally would like to have the plot and a large list of cast/suspects.

Kinda after a one-session game if possible, but willing to consider more complex scenarios as well

Any ideas folks?

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Drawing a blank on murder mystery scenarios. Hmm. That would be perhaps be an interesting idea for a Chaosium monograph, three to four short 'drawing room'  murder mysteries.

 

You know  you wouldn't  really need  anything in the  way of fully 'statted' NPCs,  as it isn't likely that your mini-scenario is going to end in a huge gun-fight: just 'types' really, the Professor, the Heiress,  the Colonel, etc.  Then you choose one to be the Murderer, one to be the Victim. Set a motive, and the method. Decide what the Clues will be, and how they will be  found.

 

I do have say I'm not a big fan of the 'filler scenarios'  within a larger campaign: while it does seem that the characters in a Pulp adventure have murder and mayhem break out everywhere they go1,  it  does seem to stretch the credulity envelope a little and it seems to me that they  could potentially dilute the impact  of the whole.

 

1. "And we wonder why we never get invited anywhere!"

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Not after this being credible, I dont mind this little one shot being corny in fact, I want it to run lighter than MoN as an interlude. I normally don't run filler episodes either. I ran the characters through two scenarios before leading them into MoN, but have kept to the core plot threads in the campaign and ignored the sideline scenarios, fearing that too much digression would lose traction with the plot.

 

However the campaign is at a stage that a sideline scenario can occur, and I thought it was a great opportunity for a non-supernatural mystery investigation for intermission, so to speak. Things get more urgent from here onwards, so this would be the only filler scenario I intend to run in this campaign

 

It would not necessarily be a murder, it could also be a theft or fraud. Just as long as it is a 'whodunit' of some kind, and there are no supernatural elements to it. A holiday from the Mythos. in some ways.

 

Yep I don't think I need to stat the suspects up beyond their concept and personality traits, and I certainly dont mind them being stereotypical for this session, in fact that may even be better. I could make up my own plot, but I was really hoping to find a scenario that is a bit more fleshed out, particularly detailing the dynamics and interplay between the assembled suspects.

 

Its quite hard to locate any old fashioned well-mannered mystery plot presented for rpg scenario purposes. Maybe this could be worth a monograph at least...

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I ran a quick scenario for my wife and daughter, based on The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I started reading the novel, but it was taking too long. I remember reading plot summaries online, and I made it into a short scenario we played in one session. I used a map of the Clue(do) mansion, but you could use anything. This was all as a result of some helpful online suggestions. If you still need something, I can see if I still have it somewhere on my hard drive.

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Not a prepared scenario, but the old radio show Rocky Jordan seems to be exactly what you need:

 

https://archive.org/details/RockyJordan

 

http://www.radiolovers.com/pages/rockyjordan.htm

 

http://www.otr.net/?p=rkyj

 

The mystery series is set in Cairo during the late Forties and early Fifties.  Rocky Jordan is an American expatriate who runs a semi-reputable restaurant and bar located between the native and European sections of the city.  Jordan, unfortunately, is something of a trouble magnet.  Criminals, dangerous dames, spies, treasure hunters and ne'er-do-wells show up at Cafe Tambourine each episode, seeking to embroil him in their nefarious schemes.  Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Jordan has become chummy with the local police chief.  If a murder, theft or kidnapping has occurred, the battered restauranteur is sure to be mixed up in it somehow.

 

Listen to a few.  Each short episode provides crime, suspects and clues -- compact and ready to steal, er, emulate.

 

A similar program is Bold Venture:

 

http://www.radiolovers.com/pages/boldventure.htm

 

http://www.bold-venture.co.uk/

 

http://www.oldradioworld.com/shows/Bold_Venture.php

 

Slate "Humphrey Bogart" Shannon runs a hotel in Cuba that seems to attract an endless stream of troublemakers.  Unfortunately, the Havana police chief is less supportive than his Cairo counterpart when Shannon gets tangled up in crime.

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I totally love these Rocky Jordan episodes, and it is obvious that Rick Blaine from Casablanca is a Rocky Jordan rip off. I'm not sure if it is what I want for the mystery at the Palace Hotel in Heliopolis, but its perfect atmosphere for other parts of the Cairo chapter in MoN, thanks for introducing me to these gems Seneschal. I will try to check out Bold Venture as well, although I am on a tight time frame at present. Both are bookmarked

 

Mysterioso that is a great suggestion regarding GURPS Mysteries. Yes I have it and if I had more time I would use it to develop a great old cozy mystery. However I am getting writers block and was hoping to find a pregen scenario that I could transplant to my setting. But yes, GURPS Mysteries is an excellent resource for this kind of thing

 

Baron I may like to take you up on that offer of your scratch notes from that mystery you ran, so I may contact you directly, thank you for the offer

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Will dig around. How's Astounding Adventures? I picked up Justice Inc, because I loved Allston's Land of Mystery, but haven't read it yet. Also curious about Mercenaries Spies & Private Eyes...

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Well...this is only my personal opinion, but Astounding Adventures could have been a bit more realised from my point of view. I love the setting concept however, it is great to have cinematic pulp for BRP, but some other game companies have simply done it a bit better.

The character gen is much more limited than I would have liked, and quite unbalanced. I am used to White Wolf 'Adventure', Savage Worlds 'Thrilling Tales' and FATE 'Spirit Of The Century' and they are all much more rounded and balanced with options as far as char gen goes.

 

One obvious issue is the lack of a fully fledged Pulp Abilities system (ie: Feats/Knacks) which I think is a must for cinematic characters, it really helps bring out the Pulp flavour. There is an attempt in this direction, but its quite limited compared to other Pulp rpgs, and very unbalanced.

 

There are Action Points which are good, which work along the lines of the Fate Points option in BRP or the Hero Points option from LEGEND or RQ6; they work fine for alot of situations. I briefly considered just using these, but perhaps having a quick refresh for actions in keeping with the character concept, or a bonus to the chance etc.  That way it could almost replace a Feat system, and also still have wider applications. In many ways this would have been a simple option, although I think some players may have struggled defining it.

 

However I ended up going with the Stunts system from Blood Tide, which works great as well, and I think my troupies prefer this. I have ported these over to the Pulp Era  setting and it works well, and I have made up new ones using these mechanics which are influenced from the Feats in the above listed games. We still have Action Points for broad luck rolls as written, and they would well alongside the Stunts system.

 

However the Astounding Adventures book itself is great for capturing the flavour of the Pulps, and has two neat Pulp Plot Generators as well as a few good little Pulp scenarios. Its not a bad release in itself, with good art direction and atmosphere. Despite such it is rather slim, and from my point of view I do feel it needed more work with character generation and a more comprehensive Pulp Abilities system.

 

My current troupe is very Pulp orientated rather than Purist, so I am running Call of Cthulhu scenarios with the Astounding Adventures rules and getting much more mileage out of my Cthulhu library now. I do run a low-pulp adventure however, so its certainly not  a far fetched concept like 'Sky Captain vs Mighty Cthulhu'; but rather it is much more influenced by a mismash of Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Indiana Jones, Casablanca, The Mummy films, etc. In fact I think it kind of runs more like the old Daredevils rpg than anything else, which works for us :-)

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I totally love these Rocky Jordan episodes, and it is obvious that Rick Blaine from Casablanca is a Rocky Jordan rip off. I'm not sure if it is what I want for the mystery at the Palace Hotel in Heliopolis, but its perfect atmosphere for other parts of the Cairo chapter in MoN, thanks for introducing me to these gems Seneschal. I will try to check out Bold Venture as well, although I am on a tight time frame at present. Both are bookmarked

 

Baron I may like to take you up on that offer of your scratch notes from that mystery you ran, so I may contact you directly, thank you for the offer

Glad you enjoyed the radio shows.  Actually, Casablanca came first, but the writers for Rocky Jordan took the basic setup and ran off in their own direction with it.  The show indicates that tourist companies sometimes bring groups to Cafe Tambourine to experience native color, strictly by daylight mind you, so snooty day trippers could come slumming from the Palace Hotel.

 

The novel Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist (1997) employed a much-used pulp gimmick that might help you bedevil your gilded guests:  Bad guys sneak a McGuffin into Egypt by hiding it in a cheap curio that is given/sold to one of your player-characters.  Of course your PCs have done at least a little shopping during their travels, the hand-off incident wouldn't have been especially memorable, so this is easy to ret-con.  Once the McGuffin is past customs and across the border, the bad guys will do anything to get it back.  Burglary, murder, robbery, no crime is too low.  For more fun, maybe multiple groups of bad guys and Egyptian and/or British authorities are after the McGuffin, which means they're all stalking, spying on, chasing your genteel adventurers, who have no idea why they suddenly have targets painted on their backs.  If the adventurers discover the McGuffin for themselves -- say, by accidentally or purposefully breaking said curio -- they've got another mystery to solve.

 

McGuffin could be anything:  a treasure map, a key to a safe/safety deposit box/rental storage bin, a coded message containing an essential state secret, a stolen gem, a list of all British military intelligence agents working in Country X, a hospital document or birth certificate proving that a wealthy fellow guest at the Palace Hotel is (or isn't) the genuine heir to the famous Lord Flaunteroy estate, instructions to locate the mask and scepter of Genghis Khan, the secret formula that would have enabled Kaiser Wilhelm to win the Great War, etc.

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I should of checked those dates. Yes, Casablanca did come first, so Rocky Jordan is a Rick Blaine rip off and not the other way around...either way its practically the same character almost. I do like these serials, I have them playing while I am ironing my work clothes for the week and they are quite entertaining :-)

 

Regarding the scenario concept you came up with Seneschal, its not what I am envisioning for this one-shot, as I want most of this episode to take place in Heliopolos and primarily at the Palace Hotel, otherwise it will blur too much with the main MoN campaign. I am really just after a 'whodunit' set in one location, perhaps a theft or murder after a formal dinner, so all the characters are holed up at the location and have to work out the mystery from investigating the suspects. There would only be action at the end once the perpetrator is found out and tries to escape, or perhaps injury along the way when someone's line of query gets too close.

 

However I really do like your Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist inspired plot, and it is likely that I may use this somewhere else. It may even be at one of the other exotic locations if I think it will be fun to complicate things by having two ongoing plots. I do believe I will use it, as it is quite generic and all-so pulpy that I will need to fit it in somewhere. Thanks for your ideas.

 

Now if I did not have family commitments after work I would simply watch three or four British mysteries until a plot emerges that I can transplant into my setting. But alas, those days of freedom are no more for me and my GM prepping time is well and truly confined these days...

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Then we gotta break down the essentials of an Agatha Christie style mystery:

 

The victim deserved worse than he (or she) got -- Although Mister Body seemed respectable, charming, successful, a model citizen, in private he was a monster.  He was cruel to his wife, making her existence a living hell.  He disinherited his children and other relatives.  He robbed his business partners and humiliated his employees.  He took advantage of every human being within reach in order to claw his way to the top, and then made it impossible for them to escape his malign sphere of influence.

 

The victim was surrounded by people who had perfectly good reasons for wanting him dead -- As mentioned above, Mister Body enjoyed tormenting everyone around him and was in a position to get away with it.  His family, business associates, fellow club members, and debtors may speak well of the dead but as investigators probe into his demise they'll discover that each person closely associated with Mister Body had good and valid reasons for hating his guts.  The key to solving the mystery isn't motive but opportunity.  Everyone is a suspect.

 

The murderer is a sympathetic or otherwise unlikely character -- No matter how grisly Mister Body's death, no matter how nefarious or greedy the killer's motives, he (or she) has one or more admirable traits intended to throw off the reader (or in this case, the player-characters).  He is devoted to his wife or girlfriend, is kind to children, is beloved by his co-workers.  He seems like Mister Nice Guy, may even seem to genuinely mourn the victim's demise.

 

One murder inevitably leads to another -- Since Mister Body's entourage was such a close-knit group, these people know nasty things about each other.  One suspect may try to blackmail another in the wake of the initial murder, either because he thinks the other person is the murderer or because the presence of the police gives him the chance to shake down an associate with a shady past.  Of course, these people being the folks they are, blackmail attempts never quite work out as planned.

 

Hope that gives you a jumping off place.  It's now time for me to get off the computer and get ready for church.

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Seneschal delivers all the requisite elements.

 

The murder weapon or means of murder should be characteristically Egyptian, of course--probably exotic poison. You probably need to devise some reason the suspects are all locked up in a parlor together for the inevitable denouement. GURPS Mysteries is actually fairly excellent in its advice for the typical Christie parlor drama.

 

A neat twist would be to suggest some supernatural or magical cause that is, in instead, relatively prosaic. A mummy's curse, for example, as misdirection.

 

One thing I think you'll need for RPG is flexibility to assign the murderer appropriate to the direction your PCs desire to take. A few red herrings are okay, but I don't think you want to cement to any particular culprit and instead allow your players to "write the story" a bit. No solution should hang on the discovery of any particular clue, otherwise your (often clueless) players may become mired, and there should be about three ways they can tumble to the solution (even if it comes down to the murderer holding them at gunpoint and telling them how it was all set up, evil mastermind style).

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Thanks everyone for your great suggestions and input. I am so impressed by the response that this thread has had, and I am in your debt.

If our paths ever cross outside of the virtual world, I would buy each and every one of you a pint of something highly alcoholic

Thanks for setting the wheels in motion and getting me out of my writers block. Truly magical and greatly appreciated!

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Please let us know how your mystery one-shot pans out.

 

From what you've told us so far I deduce that the butler did it ... in the library, with the lead pipe.  No, no, you allow superficial appearances to deceive you.  Colonel Mustard is not, in fact, a veteran, but a disgraced manservant from Brooklyn posing as a former officer in order embroil servicemen in his confidence schemes.  The set of his shoulders, the wear on his shoes, and the phony British accent give him away.  Calluses on his hands and knowledgeable remarks about faucet brands indicate he worked for a time as a plumber, hence his choice of weapon.  Elementary, really.

 

;D

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