Solving in-game crimes

Steve Hatherley

One of the problems that I’ve experienced in a freeform is how to solve crimes that are committed during the game. Things like pickpocketing, stealing from rooms and various forged documents that the players might create at a moment’s notice.

Crimes already written into the game as past history are usually solvable - the clues to solving this murder or that kidnap are usually woven into the backstory of enough characters that it can theoretically be solved.

The same isn’t true of a crime committed during the game, and that means that villains can often get away with all sorts while law-abiding characters struggle because they don’t have enough evidence to bring the villains to justice. So here’s a thought on a way to deal with that.

It starts with an ability, suitable for detectives and investigators (and possibly even reporters):

Detect Crime: You may use your sleuthing skills to solve an in-game crime. If you discover an in-game crime and want to try and solve it, see a GM. This does not work with crimes committed before the freeform starts.

So someone who has been pickpocketed (or their room ransacked, or a forgery created) can find a detective and ask them to investigate. The detective checks with a GM and plays scissors-paper-stone:

  • GM wins: The detective learns nothing.
  • It’s a tie!: The detective learns who was behind the crime, but doesn’t have definitive proof.
  • Detective wins: Proof of the crime! The GM gives the detective a “proof of crime” item card with details of the crime - enough to bring before a judge, if it’s that kind of game.

(This could be done on a roll of 1-6 just as easily, for those that don’t like SPS.)

The detective can then go back to the victim with the news that they’ve either identified the culprit (and maybe even have sufficient evidence to try them) or that they haven’t.

Behind the scenes, the GMs have a bit of paperwork to do, but if it’s organised correctly it doesn’t have to be too onerous. Here’s what I’d do:

GM Crime Sheet

Perp Victim Crime Pickpocket$ Breaking & entering$ Forgery$ Other Detected
Col Mustard Miss Scarlett Stole diamond ring Y
Rev Green Dr Black Stole gun from room Y

$ Use these to create categories for whatever crimes you think you’re likely to have.
The “Detected” column is so to prevent a detective from trying to solve the same crime multiple times. (This is mainly an issue if you have several GMs.)

During play, when a crime happens, you just add the details to the sheet. And when a detective comes to try and solve the crime, you have all the information you need in one place.

Article by Steve Hatherley.


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