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Author Topic: "Suspicion" - the Police Procedural Content Generator  (Read 445 times)
Morgenstern
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« on: July 08, 2013, 11:12:08 PM »

  So... I'm tinkering with a uniform way of writing adventures so that GMs can quickly and easily set up a mystery scenario aided by a formatting tool that also structures the process of unraveling the mystery in a consistent way so that class abilities and other character options can hook into it. Basically a big(ish) chapter 7 add-on I need in place to make some of the New Pie base classes work. It's coming from watching about 8 seasons of NCIS straight through + a heap of Bones, Castle, and recently Perception. So, emphasis on homicide cases, but I think the tool will be flexible enough for other types of mysteries.

  Basically I'm looking to set up a robust puzzle structure where each discovery jiggles a weighted list - a really longwinded way of saying missing a clue here and there won't sink the entire effort. I'm putting a lot of emphasis on there not being 'clue chains' when missing one link breaks the chain. Instead clues/evidence are used two ways: to populate a suspects list (expending the pool until you are confident the actual perpetrator is on the list) OR to eliminate suspects until only the perpetrator remains. Since most clues are the sort that suggest guilt, they serve to populate the suspects list and help you prioritize your investigative efforts or create new leads. Missing these sorts of clues mostly makes your efforts less focused and therefore slower (with the clock being your #1 enemy...). Exonerating clues either remove a suspect from your list, or at least shuffle them towards the bottom of your suspicions. I expect "hunches" to mechanically fall into this group - you are able to eliminate an innocent suspect, thereby speeding up your efforts without short circuiting the whole adventure by instantly pointing out the bad guy from a line-up of suspects.

  From the player side they are managing the investigation as a suspect list and a clock. Wrong moves eat into the clock, with things like the criminal escaping or striking again if the clock runs out. They then decide how to spend their time gathering evidence. Evidence is grouped into means, motive, and opportunity categories, and can either implicate or exonerate a suspect. After breaking down the NCIS cast into roles and base classes, it was clear that several different classes could contribute to the effort in unique ways. Examiners will excel at the gathering/extraction of physical evidence, be it a medical examiner's autopsy or a forensic specialist's lab work. The Oracle class will specialize in producing evidence from records and the analysis of electronic intelligence. Investigators come to the fore dealing with the psychological aspects of the crime and are the best equipped to speak to witnesses and conduct interrogations (a confrontation mini-game). Manhunt and chase confrontations also have a place - the pursuit of suspects is an extremely common obstacle in the average hour-long homicide drama Grin.
  The Intruder, Politico, and Spook all have good hooks to involve them in mysteries by granting specialized access (physical or organizational) to evidence that would be beyond the reach of parties including only the primary solver classes (Examiner, Investigator, Oracle). The Stormbringer and Highroller both give their group teeth in chases, and the combatant classes can easily take the spotlight when suspects resort to force (or are in some way guarded and beyond the reach of polite requests and arrest...).

  GM-side starts with picking the crime and deciding on how many plausible suspects they want to flesh out. The GM may also establish a clock to keep pressure on the party. The crime usually determines if means, motive, or opportunity will be the initial key sorting logic. Isolated locations will limit the initial number of suspects to those who had opportunity. Crimes of passion will focus on motive. Exotic tools like poison or a high-priced hitman will put the initial emphasis means (access to the poison or huge amounts of cash). Then the GM can simply work through the suspect list distributing evidence that implicates or exonerate each suspect based on means, motive, and opportunity. In more advanced adventure structure each suspect may also go about placing/providing false evidence - even when they're innocent! Several key suspects may not be added to the list until evidence is discovered that links them to the crime. Every innocent suspect will have at least one piece of evidence that removes them from suspicion (a reliable lack of means, motive, or opportunity). This way players have the possibility of reducing the suspect list to only a single candidate. They may also be able to leap ahead by focusing on the true culprit and acquiring solid evidence of their guilt - a murder weapon with copious physical evidence, a series of damning financial transactions or video of the crime, or even extracting a confession during interrogation.

  It's kind of a large mini-game and it sits on top of about 4 other mini-games, so it's gonna take a hunk of text to fully execute, but it feels like it'll work Smiley.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2013, 11:30:36 PM by Morgenstern » Logged

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Morgenstern
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« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2013, 11:15:52 PM »

Anyone good with worksheets want to pitch in? I have some ideas for how to format the critical information for writing adventures to this spec. A combination of worksheets and step-by-step guidance with copious hints and suggestions seems promising.
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Mister Andersen
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« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2013, 12:17:00 AM »

Yeah, sounds like fun. I'll put my hand up.
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Morgenstern
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« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2013, 01:01:40 AM »

So, just rambling for a moment, I see there being two main worksheets for the GM.

The first is the Crime worksheet. This is builds the overview of the scenario. Sections include~

  Brief description of the crime.
  Checkbox for identifying initial suspect pool - means, motive, or opportunity.
  Circumstances under which it was reported or came to the attention of the authorities (this can frequently be far away from where the crime actually took place).
  Space to list up to 8 suspects. This is just a name + 1-2 sentence description. Each suspect will get a detailed sheet of their own.
  Clock: how long is available until the initial investigation has failed to prevent serious consequences.

And a Suspect worksheet. This is where the GM can catalogue and put into context all the evidence players may or may not discover.

  Name and general character info.
  Residence. Where, how big, general reflection of occupant.
  Suspects' possible motive after cursory examination.
  Suspects' actual intentions..
  In three columns (sort/categorize by means/motive/opportunity):
  Spaces for evidence that reduces suspicion or clears the suspect .
  Spaces for evidence that increases suspicion or incriminates the suspect.
  Spaces for misdirection or evasion suspect may attempt.
  Cause for evasiveness.
  Flag possible events (chase, manhunt, combat...)
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Bill Whitmore
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« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2013, 01:11:33 AM »

One of the things that interests me about this is the clock. Any advice that can be put in to help determine the amount of time to be put on the clock would be nice. When I have used clocks in the past one of two things happen. The group solves the problem so quickly that the clock never becomes an issue or the group hits a snag and beating the clock becomes an impossibility. I've never really succeeded in having any tension behind the clock.

So it might also be worth considering a section for clock modifiers, a list of events or actions that could effect how much time they have to solve the crime.
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Morgenstern
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« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2013, 01:18:12 AM »

I've been thinking on the clock, specifically guidance for setting one - I believe that the evidence on the suspect sheets will produce a good baseline - its should be possible to determine the minimum number of steps the players will have to take to legitimately eliminate all false possibilities. With that as a base, then you just need to decide on the number of missteps that can be allowed (and this number will likely go down as a group matures both as seasoned players and more capable characters) and add the 2 together to set up you clock. Also the clock doesn't have to represent mission failure, just an escalation has occurred (kidnapped character's condition worsens, killer strikes again).
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Morgenstern
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« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2013, 01:52:49 AM »

Ok, second look thoughts.

The crime sheet needs the initial report section expanded on/followed by a "Crime Scene" entry.
This lays out where its at (jurisdiction is often tied to this), what the location IS (residence, parking structure, alleyway, etc), and a list of evidence that can be found at the scene.

All the evidence entries need room to mark where they can be found (public records is also a place for these purposes) and the base number of PC man hours it will take to find them. Time is the essential currency of this system, measured in hours.
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Mister Andersen
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« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2013, 02:37:08 AM »

How does the clock concept interact witht he Drmatic Pacing CQ?
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« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2013, 03:49:53 AM »

  The Dramatic Pacing campaign quality is the default mode of operation in my head, so I'll tailor any new class abilities to fit smoothly in that context Smiley. If anything, its good to be reminded not everyone plays that way.

  My expectation is that scenes will play out largely in the spaces _between_ the hours-long tasks. Using Castle as an example the team frequently converges at the station to look at their white board, with 1 or more characters showing up moments after the process has started with the results of their task - walking in after canvassing the neighborhood for witnesses, the call from the morgue to come down and look at the newest finding, etc. I actually very much want to align the "whiteboard scenes" with the reality of tabletop play: given some new information, the players actually sit around and chew on it a bit before launching into the next activity. I'd like for the players to discuss theories and make a case to each other what needs to be done next if their theory is largely correct. The more traditional encounters are spawned from that - odds are good the party willingly splits up to cover more ground, and so while one person is down flashing a badge at county records to get an old box that hasn't been uploaded yet, 2-3 other players are walking up to knock on suspect number 2's lovely townhome when the place explodes! That then becomes a scene and provision can be made to maybe have a loaner character/faceless minion temporarily promote up if there's an need to keep one of the other players directly involved and flinging dice.

  Now the bit of "dramatic pacing" I was giggling over at one point was that all of these shows I'm working from have one absolutely rigid formula that all share - get it done in an hour of viewing time. In that spirit a lot of legwork will happen off camera so that screen time (and table time) is spent only on the most interesting parts of the process Cheesy.
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« Reply #9 on: July 11, 2013, 04:19:02 AM »

Is the default assumption that the mystery will be solved? There's a newish system out there called Gumshoe -- that works on the basis "that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward'.

Characters have two types of abilities: investigative and general.

Investigative abilities include fields of knowledge such as Ballistics, Forensic Anthropology, and Streetwise. These have a rating which serves as a pool for use of that ability. Possessing at least a one rating shows the character has expertise. When a player uses that ability to examine a scene, they do not have to roll. Instead, if there are core clues present which can be found by that means, they locate them. Points may be spent from an investigative ability to gain additional or extra information, at the GM or player's suggestion.

General abilities cover areas where players can risk failure- Athletics, Health and Shooting for example. Use of these abilities is uncertain and success or failure can have a dramatic impact on the story. General abilities also have a rating which represents a pool. To make a test, players roll 1d6. If they wish they may make a spend from the relevant ability's pool and add that to the roll. Players must meet or beat a difficulty set but not revealed by the GM. General ability pools require special circumstances to refresh (end of a story, time in a hospital, etc).
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« Reply #10 on: July 11, 2013, 04:44:57 AM »

Is the default assumption that the mystery will be solved?

  No. Only that if assembled correctly (from the GM side) it can be solved. If you have infinite time and resources you will solve it - which is where the clock comes in. In some instances you simply do not make enough headway to be left on the case when new crimes are piling up.

  To me its not a game if you can't lose. The clock can offer a whole variety of ways of 'losing' that don't terminate the campaign. And frankly, round 2 against an opponent you've learned to hate is always more interesting Wink.

  If anything I WANT there to be the occasional 'oh shit' moments were everything seems to be a dead end. One of the things I anticipate is a very forgiving system of re-tries. While no clue should be the singular lynchpin of success or failure (the aforementioned not relying on flimsy clue chains), its a common scene to retrace not the steps of the crime but the steps of the investigation and choose a point to re-examine. The relevant checks can be made again without penalty (unless the evidence some how actually decays rapidly) with the main cost being hours against the clock. Missing something in the phone records the first time through is commonplace.

Quote
There's a newish system out there called Gumshoe -- that works on the basis "that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward'.

  I'm familiar with it. My opinion of that solution is... not high. For one thing it assumes there is ONLY ONE STORY that could be "moving forward".

  Ideally the events that launch the mystery are fixed and then the player's choices create the story (within the boundaries of unbeatable hot-streak and worst. rolls. ever.). I'd only use this with players who WANT to do mysteries, and who will find satisfaction in pitting their real live personal wits against the limitations of their characters' skills. If I wanted to watch ONLY ONE STORY advance like clockwork, I'd still be sitting in front of the TV catching the latest NCIS Smiley.
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« Reply #11 on: July 13, 2013, 05:35:27 AM »

I'm liking this idea Scotty. Although I have to admit I live L&O SVU myself. Although, it and the other shows you mentioned have one big thing that has allowed them to endure: cast chemistry. The interplay and banter is what makes them as much as the stories.
 
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