How to Referee a Murder

One of my favorite genres of movie is the mystery. I’m not talking about film noirs and gangster pictures – though I love them as well – but the films in which a wealthy man or woman is found dead in her mansion, and a detective has to weed through a bunch of suspects to find the real killer, all the while more victims are piling up.

This sort of plot can be a fun diversion for a game of Grit & Vigor, provided you have players interested in such things. A small group of players, from one to three, works very well with such a mystery. Usually, one player is the head detective and the others are his or her assistants. To get you started, here’s a handy list of potential suspects. Roll as many times on the table as you see fit, but the more suspects there are, the longer the mystery should take.

1 The man-child – always large, strong and dangerous
2 The devious woman – manipulative to the extreme, and after money
3 The wayward son – wealthy young man, usually with a drinking problem
4 The genius – a house guest, usually a scientist, psychologist or doctor … with a secret
5 The housekeeper – an older woman, cold in demeanor
6 The playgirl – female version of the wayward son, she loves “unwisely”
7 The maid – a young woman of common parentage, either stalwart or superstitious (or maybe a mix of both)
8 The caretaker – an older man who looks after the grounds, suspicious of everyone
9 The chauffeur – usually seems worried that he is suspected
10 The ingénue – young, pretty and destined to inherit a fortune
11 The butler – did he actually do it?
12 The ardent – a foolish young man in love with one (or more) woman in the cast of suspects

Each suspect should have two of three of the following – motive, means and opportunity. One suspect, the murderer, has all three. Each suspect should also have a piece of information useful for solving the crime. It is the job of the detectives to clear the suspects and gather the clues, all the while running against the clock as suspects (and their information) are eliminated by the murderer. The murderer will try to eliminate the most useful pieces of information first.

The action should all take place in a mansion, with nobody permitted to leave. In a pinch, use a Clue board for the first floor, with note cards to represent the cellar, the attic and the upstairs bedrooms and any other rooms you want to include. A few useful clues should be spread around the rooms, so detectives have a reason to search them. The least useful clues should be the easiest to find.

And don’t forget secret passages!

Mannix!

Mike Connors recently passed away. He’s best known for playing Joe Mannix, private investigator, on the TV show Mannix, which ran from 1967-1975. Great show, and one of my all-time favorites. It was also an odd duck for its time because it forewent the idea of a detective with a gimmick (fat, wheelchair-bound, old, etc.) and just created a detective in the hard-boiled tradition.  James Rockford was probably Mannix’s spiritual successor on television.

Mannix is an interesting character with an interesting history, and that interesting history makes him a perfect character for a game of GRIT & VIGOR.

R.I.P. Mike Connors, and thanks for the fine entertainment.

Joe Mannix
High school football and basketball star, Korean War veteran, former P.O.W., mercenary in Latin America and current private investigator

5th level fighter, 7th level private eye

Strength: 13 / +1
Dexterity: 14 / +1
Constitution: 16 / +2
Intelligence: 11
Wisdom: 13 / +1
Charisma: 11

Hit Points: 3d6 + 4d10 +14
Armor Class: 11
Attack: +4
Saves: F11 R10 W12

Feats: Pugilist, Power Attack

Knacks: Athletics, Communicate, Drive Car, Endure, Pilot Aircraft

Fighter Skills: Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Endure*, Jump, Lift Gates, Ride Mount

Private Eye Skills: Cant, Crack Code, Gather Intelligence, Hide in Shadows, Listen at Doors, Move Silently, Search, Sleight of Hand, Track (humans only)

Class Abilities: Note clues and concealed items, mull things over, backstab +2d6, extra attack vs. opponents with 3 or fewer Hit Dice

Equipment: Colt Detective Special (1d6), 1975 Chevrolet Camaro (in the show’s final season, but Mannix drove an astounding array of cool cars over the course of the series – check Wikipedia’s entry for a list)

Back from Vacation

After a week away from work (the real job), I’m back delving into the wonders of the Las Vegas real estate market. Over the past nine days, I managed to almost finish NOD 29 and got some heavy work done on my World War II supplement to GRIT & VIGOR. I also watched some B-movies, did some yard work, got the hard copy of MYSTERY MEN! Second Edition created and ordered a proof copy (it’s going to be in color), found some cheap old AD&D artifacts at a used record store, watched my daughter in her first Shakespeare play (she played the nurse in Romeo & Juliet) and didn’t shave.

I also didn’t do any blog posts, though I did keep in touch with the gaming community via Google +. For those who didn’t see that, I present two characters for GRIT & VIGOR, one a character from an old movie, the other an actor. For those who did, I’ll throw in a third character – a dangerous lady.

Vince Kane – A Character You Probably Do Not Know

Vince Kane is the main character in an old George Raft picture called A Dangerous Profession (1949). It’s not a great movie, but a movie doesn’t have to be great to inspire usable game material. The beauty of B-movies and simple stories is that they’re usually easier to adapt into modern game scenarios. Much of what makes a movie great – strong characterizations, interesting character relationships, etc. – does not always translate well into a game, or at least should come from the interaction of the players and game master, rather than be programmed and forced on everyone. A good game often revolves around a good plot that is not too hard to follow, since players are usually grasping around in the dark during game play. Vince Kane is also an interesting idea for an detective who isn’t technically a professional detective, much in the way that Matlock and Perry Mason are detectives who are technically lawyers.

Vince Kane is an ex-cop turned bail bondsman. Things heat up when a buddy of his from the police force, Lt. Nick Ferrone (played by Jim Backus) picks up Claude Brackett, who skipped bail a few years back for an embezzlement charge. Checking Brackett’s room, Kane discovers that he’s in town with the woman who broke his heart, who turns out to now be the embezzler’s wife, Lucy Brackett. When Claude Brackett turns up murdered, Kane investigates and discovers a web of lies.

N Private Eye, LVL 8, HP 36, AC 11, MV 40, ATK +5, SV F12 R7 W9

Str 10 Int 12 Wis 15 Dex 14 Con 13 Cha 8

Special: Detect clue (2 in 6), detect lie (4 in 6), get a clue from Venture Master, back stab, note concealed items, +2 save vs. fear

Knacks: Cant*, Influence People

Skills: Cant*, Crack Code, Gather Intelligence, Hide in Shadows, Listen at Doors, Move Silently, Search, Sleight of Hand and Track (humans only)

Feats: Grappler, Iron Will, Lighting Reflexes

* Cant in this context is the tough talk of old Hollywood gangster movies

Hoot Gibson, A Man More Interesting than His Characters

Now we shift from a character to a real person who was, himself, quite a character. It’s not too often you come across an actor’s biography which is more interesting than the characters he played. Hoot Gibson is one of those fellows.

Hoot started riding horses as a boy in Nebraska, and after the family moved to California he started working on ranches. He showed a talent for it, and soon started competing in rodeos, winning several honors. It was during his rodeo days that he started acting in silent movies. After a stint as a sergeant in the Tank Corps in World War I, he went back to rodeo and movies, usually as a bit player and stunt rider. In 1922, when demand was high for cowboy pictures, he moved into starring roles and made a whole slew of pictures. Hoot also learned to fly planes and even got injured in a crash while racing planes.

Like I said, he was an interesting fellow.

N Cowboy/Fighter, LVL 7/3, HP 39, AC 12, MV 40, ATK +4, SV F9 R8 W12, Str 13 Int 9 Wis 11 Dex 16 Con 13 Cha 13

Special: +2 save vs. trample attacks, rope (add half horse’s HD to lasso attacks), select exceptional horses, surprised 1 in 8, no penalty when grappling large animals, extra attack against opponents with fewer HD

Knacks: Don Disguise, Handle Animals, Pilot Aircraft

Skills (Cowboy): Appraise value (livestock), endure, gamble, handle animal, jump, ride mount, survive outdoors, track

Skills (Fighter): Bend bars, break down doors, endure, gunnery, jump, lift gates

Feats: Dodge, Knack, Pugilist

Weapons: Colt Single-Action Army (1d6), Winchester M1894 repeating rifle (2d4)

Ma Barker

I don’t know how much cache’ the gangsters of the Depression have these days with the young people, but they once had a standing approaching folk heroes. Bonnie and Clyde, ‘Baby Face’ Nelson, John Dillinger, etc. And then there’s Ma. Ma Barker. Ma Barker had four criminal sons, Herman, Lloyd, Arthur and Fred, and served as their ring leader … or did she?

From the sound of it, Ma Barker as criminal mastermind of her sons’ foul play is the bunk. One gangster, Alvin Karpis, described her as “superstitious, gullible, simple, cantankerous and, well, generally law abiding.” She was clearly an accomplice in the criminal activities of the gang, helping them before and after crimes, but probably was not the gun-totin’ mama of popular culture. When J. Edgar Hoover described her as “the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade”, he was probably full of shit. I know – J. Edgar Hoover, an agent of the federal government – lying is hard to believe.

But in GRIT & VIGOR, when truth isn’t stranger than fiction, we slap it around a little until it is. Our Ma Barker is the gangster of the movies, engaging in gun play and maybe even chomping on a cigar while her minions rob banks.

NE Rogue, LVL 8, HP 28, AC 10, MV 40, ATK +5, SV F12 R9 W10, Str 8 Int 15 Wis 13 Dex 11 Con 11 Cha 12

Special: Backstab for +2d6 damage, note concealed items

Knacks: Gather Intelligence*, Treat Injury

Skills : Appraise Value, Cant, Don Disguise, Gather Intelligence*, Hide in Shadows, Influence People, Listen at Doors, Move Silently

Feats: Exploit Weakness, Improvise, Iron Will, Leadership

Weapons: Thompson sub-machine gun (1d6)

Gentleman Dog

Philo was a sophisticated man about town, a bon vivant with a mind like a steel trap. While he spent his days with the smart set, at night he often rubbed shoulders with a rougher element, aiding the New York City police when a crime proved too tough to solve. It was a day trip into Greenwich village, though, that proved his undoing.

A trip to a coffee house in Greenwich led to the discovery of a murder in the backroom, and through his investigations, Philo found himself confronting a rather powerful magician, one Hayden Olivier. Hayden murdered the woman in the coffee house accidentally, but has no intention of serving time in prison. More importantly, he has discovered in murder a powerful new form of magic, and now sets his sights on another, a sorceress of no mean ability named Leah. In the final scene of Philo’s case, he found himself caught between the two sorcerers, and though Olivier was forced to quite this plane, mortally wounded, he left behind a dead rival and a transformed detective. Philo was now a dog – a cunning, dashing little hound, of course, but a dog just the same. With her dying breath, Leah lays down a final, tender curse upon Philo – that he should live until the magic was reversed.

So it was that Philo became known as Gentleman Dog, a surprisingly cunning beast with a strange knack for making himself understood. With top hat and monocle, he lives an almost immortal existence, solving crimes and seeking out practitioners of the occult in hopes of reversing Hayden’s curse.

GENTLEMAN DOG, Adventurer 7 (Dog, Detective)
STR 1 (+0) | DEX 4 (+1) | CON 4 (+1) | INT 9 (+2) | WIL 5 (+1) | CHA 7 (+2)
HP 35 | DC 11 | ATK +6 (+6 melee, +7 ranged) | SPD 3 | XP 8,125 (start with 25,000 XP)

Ability Boosts: Charisma +4, Constitution +1, Dexterity +2, Intelligence +6

Powers: Sending (must make eye contact, humans only, short messages that come to the person as sudden realizations), Super Speed +1

Gear: Top hat, monocle, pipe

Found here … yeah, all this, because I found a picture of a dog in a top hat with a pipe and had to do something with it … I am at least proud that I managed to turn it into a half-assed mash-up of Philo Vance and Aleister Crowley. 

PS – Anyone out there want to do a comic book set in the “Mystery Men! Universe” – or maybe more properly the Shore City Universe? If so, let me know. I’d love to publish some 1 or 2 page quickie stories in Land of Nod.

Krime, Italian Style

I was perusing Super Punch this morning when I came across of a skull-faced gentleman called Kriminal. Having never heard of him, I checked him out on Wikipedia and one thing led to another. Here, for your edification and enjoyment are three Italian anti-hero/villains from the mid 1960s.

DIABOLIK
Created by Angela and Luciana Giussani in 1962

Diabolik is a master thief who mostly steals from criminals. He is not averse to killing, but rarely kills innocents or the police. Well versed in chemistry, mechanics and computers, he has a collection of life-like masks that allow him to adopt any identity. Diabolik was raised on a secret island by a criminal combine, the head of which he killed when he reached maturity. He is assisted by his partner and lover Eva Kant. The two live in the tiny kingdom of Clerville, the capitol of which is also Clerville. His arch enemy is Inspector Ginko.

KRIMINAL
Created 1964 by Magnus and Max Bunker

Anthony Logan is an Englishman, a master thief who wears a costume of black and yellow and a skull mask. Early in his career he is a brutal killer seeking vengeance against the criminals that pushed his father into committing suicide. He was raised in a reformatory, having lost his mother and sister when he was quite young, and eventually escaped from the place to pursue his revenge. Logan is assisted by Lola Hudson, ex-wife of his greatest rival, Inspector Patrick Milton of Scotland Yard.

SATANIK
Created by Max Bunker and Magnus, 1964

Satanik is a skilled chemist named Marny Bannister whose face is marred by an angioma. Following the theories of a mad alchemist, she develops a formula that transforms her into a charming beauty that has the side effect of making her a murderous criminal mastermind. She is hunted by Lt. Trent, whose companion she had killed. She eventually becomes engaged to marry black private detective Kriss Hunter.

League of Groovy Gentlemen (and Ladies)

Sorry I’ve been away the last couple days. Still working on Tome of Horrors, Mu-Pan and Mystery Men! In the mean time, I have this odd little thought experiment (that took waaaay to much time to produce) …

So I’m working in the yard the other day, and an idea pops into my head – essentially doing something like the League of Extraordinary Gentleman using only ’70s television as my guide (with a few nods to older and later television). What would a super hero/sci-fi/fantasy world built with ’70s television look like? Well, I think it might look a little something like this …

Note: I’m building most of these heroes with 30,000 XP (except some of the big boys and girls, who get 60,000 XP) to keep them even and maintain the reduced power level usually found on the small screen.

Early 1970’s
Prior to the coming of the disco decade a few heroes had already made their mark on the world. During the WWII, Wonder Woman arrived from Paradise Island to aid the allies against the Nazi threat, but by the end of the war she left Col. Trevor to return home. Whether she ever worked with government agent Steve Rogers is unknown. Since the 1950’s, the incredible Superman had been protecting not only Metropolis, CT but the entire world. The dynamic duo of Batman and Robin had been active in Gotham City, NJ for a decade. The main focus of the nation during this period was, of course, the Cold War with the Soviets, and a whole host of heroes had answered their country’s call, from legendary agents 86 and 99 of Control to the men from UNCLE to the U.K.’s Avengers initiative, which unfortunately closed down by the end of the 1960’s (though whether Steed, Peel and the others ended up in the Village is, of course, a state secret).

As the 1970’s dawns, Dr. Michael Rhodes travels the country with assistant Nancy Murphy solving supernatural crimes and mysteries. Whether the due ever investigated rumors of a genie in Cocoa Beach, FL, witches in Westport, CT, hauntings in Schooner Bay, ME or a flying nun in Puerto Rico is unknown. Magician Anthony Blake, on the other hand, uses prestidigitation and his skill as an escape artist to solve crime.

In 1970 the world still mourns the loss of the fist sub-orbital passenger carrier Spindrift to a cosmic storm. The fate of the crew remains unknown.

A number of organizations, private and public, are in operation in the early 1970’s to protect the world from evil, including Division Seven’s Impossible Mission Force, Hawaii’s Five-O squad on the public side and the World Security Corp of San Francisco and high-tech detective agency Intertect in Los Angeles. World Security Corp’s key agents include Probe One (Hugh Lockwood), Omega Probe (Nick Bianco) and Backup Probe (C.R. Grover), while Intertect soon loses their top operative, soldier-of-fortune Joe Mannix. Agents 86 and 99 are still active with Control in Washington D.C. and still thwarting the plans of Chaos, now with the help of android Hymie. Glenn Garth Gregory of the Delphi Bureau uses his photographic memory to conduct counter-espionage operations.

Meanwhile, a loner known to government agents as “The Immortal” makes his way across the country, pursued by Fletcher.

Mid 1970’s
By the middle of the decade Dr. Michael Rhodes gets some competition in the arena of supernatural investigations, in the form of reporter Carl Kolchak of the Independent News Service’s Chicago Bureau. One wonders if a conversation with fellow journalist Richard Cunningham ever sent Kolchak north to Milwaukee, WI to investigate reports of middle-aged auto shop teacher Arthur Fonzarelli and his amazing control over electronics and women. If he did, he might be told the strange tale of a visit from a man from another world (but more on him later).

Even more incredible is the rise of several new super powered heroes. Astronaut Col. Steve Austin (a colleague of Maj. Anthony Nelson and Capt. William “Buck” Rogers) is revived after a terrible accident and turned into a cyborg operative of the Office of Scientific Intelligence (total cost estimated at $6,000,000). A year later a similar operation is performed on tennis pro Jaimie Sommers of Ojai, CA, making her the world’s first bionic woman.

Two invisible heroes are created during the middle part of the decade, including scientist Daniel Westin who is turned invisible while sabotaging his own equipment at the Klae Corporation and secret agent Sam Casey, code named “The Gemini Man”, of Intersect.

In New York City, a young college student named Peter Parker develops the abilities of a spider after being bitten by a radioactive arachnid. Meanwhile, in California, teenaged Billy Batson begins traveling the state with his mentor in an R.V. and helping folks out of problems as Captain Marvel. He is sometimes assisted by high school teacher-turned superhero Andrea Thomas, who possesses the power of the goddess Isis.

In the U.K., the Ministry revives the Avengers program with two new agents, Purdy and Gambit, under the tutelage of veteran John Steed. Apparently, Steed and former colleague Emma Peel were not sent to the Village.

In Los Angeles, there are persistent rumors of a band of ex-special forces operating in the L.A. underground as soldiers-of-fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them …

Late 1970’s
After 35 years away, Diana Prince, Wonder Woman, returns to America to join the Inter-Agency Defense Command with Steve Trevor, Jr. A few years earlier the United States had attempted to create its own Wonder Woman, but the program was ultimately not continued. Meanwhile, former marine Steve Rogers, Jr. – the son of 1940’s government agent Steve Rogers – is given an injection of FLAG (Full Latent Ability Gain, not to be confused with the Foundation for Law and Government) after a terrible accident and becomes the costumed hero Captain America. Cap roams the country in a heavily modified van fighting crime.

Joining the Immortal as a wandering fugitive is Dr. David Bruce Banner, physician and scientist, who becomes a creature nick-named “The Hulk” after suffering a powerful dose of gamma radiation in an experiment meant to unlock the hidden strength inside human beings. Perhaps his travels take him through the County of Hazzard, GA, where a couple of good old boys has recently been put on probation for running moonshine.

Some non-humans are among the heroes that emerge in the late 1970’s. In California, a possible survivor of the destruction of Atlantis is found with amnesia and goes to work for the Foundation for Oceanic Research, a government agency. Perhaps his travels take him to Bay City, CA, home of detectives Starsky and Hutch. In Boulder, CO, the aforementioned man from space, one Mork from Ork, touches down on Earth on a mission to understand human beings.

Sorcery still abounds in the late 1970’s. Perhaps its most powerful practitioner is a mysterious man called Mr. Roarke, who dwells on a fantastic island in the Caribbean making people’s wishes come true. He is assisted, they say, by a strange homunculus called Tattoo. Just as disturbing is the presence of the infamous Count Dracula, posing as a professor at a college in San Francisco.

Scientific wonders of the late 1970’s include the deep space probe ships Ranger I and Ranger II (Capt. “Buck” Rogers is training during this period for his mission on Ranger III, the last of NASA’s deep space probes) to the incredible nuclear Supertrain, which is the size of a cruise ship and travels between New York and Los Angeles.

Beyond
As the decade closes, mankind faces the destruction of their planet in 1987 by nuclear war – a nuclear war that does not catch Buck Rogers, who is frozen in space at the time. The ultimate cause of that destruction might be the robotic servants of the alien cylons, who followed mankind’s last battlestar, Galactica, to Earth. Perhaps that nuclear holocaust can be avoided by the assemblage of a league of heroes under the tutelage of a mastermind like Mr. Roarke or the mysterious time traveler known only as “the Doctor”.