Creating Mysteries part 2

Those that didn’t read part 1 can click the link here

To the rest of you, now that we have our villain figured out, it’s time to build our victim. What did they do to deserve the fate that befell them? Did they have a cool magic toy that the villain wanted? Murder is a dance, and it takes at least two to tango. Things that the victim owns could provide clues to discovering the identity of the person who killed them. Did they suspect that they might become a victim of foul play? Did they meet their doom secretly meeting an accomplice? Will they be caught completely unaware? Will they fight back and hurt the villain in the process?

Scene of the Crime

Keeping with our murder motif, the scene of a crime must contain enough information to get the players started, but inexplicable enough to ward away your average constables. What kind of stuff is up to the villain, and how confident they are that they will get away with it.

The scene of the crime should be described to the best of your ability, using lots of color. This scene must be a memorable one, but remote enough that a killer can do what he has to without being seen by too many people. The villain will need a means of committing the crime, this could be the scene itself, such as pushing somebody off of a ledge, or drowning them in water. It could be a weapon, or even a creature such as a poisonous snake. After committing the crime he will also need a means of escape.

If the murder is committed on the street or in a place other then the victim’s home, then the identity of the victim will also need to be solved before the killer is found, but what clues should the DM lay out, and what constitutes a clue?

Clues

The first part of investigating a crime is looking at the corpse and discovering HOW the victim was killed, sometimes this is obvious, but it can be a mystery all on it’s own. Sometimes the murder weapon is left behind, sometimes it is not. This clue might run cold quick but the murder should also say something about the villain’s personality. Was it done neatly, or is the victim barely identifiable as human anymore? Did they take anything? Could finding this object in the killers possession be evidence against them? The crime itself has a signature, even well thought out murders will be unique to that killer’s personality.

Physical Evidence

Physical evidence is any clue that can be used to either narrow down a list of suspects, or identify them completely. You want to hide these things by simply describing them and not identifying them yourself. A polished curved material that is red on one side and whitish on the other, is of course a fingernail that’s been broken off during the struggle. Answer all of the questions that the players ask, but lead them to figure out what the small clue actually is.

Sometimes the clue cannot be identified by the PC’s, and they’ll need an expert. While the middle ages didn’t have DNA testing and ballistics tests, they did have one thing in their favor: All materials were hand crafted. A horseshoe can be taken back to the blacksmith and he can identify if he made it or not. A tailor knows all of his customers and can be instrumental in identifying a button torn from a shirt. If some of the poison can be obtained, an “expert” can identify it and possibly where it came from.

Physical evidence is also in signs left by a killer. While they didn’t have fingerprinting until the 1900’s a bloody hand print can identify a large killer from a small killer. A foot print can tell the investigator if the killer was male or female, and possibly if there were more then one killer. If a handprint was left on a window, a door, or some small object, then this should be taken with the investigator and if he can identify the motive, and collaborate it with a hand print that is the same size, this could make the case!

Witnesses as Evidence

If one does enough digging, they can find people who accidentally saw or heard something. These can be possible witnesses to the crime, or be suspects themselves! The key to collecting suspects is to give the players different NPCs with motives to kill the victim. By mixing evidence collected in the field with what people say, they have enough information to properly identify what happened, and who did it.

Witnesses will of course lie sometimes. Others will spread a bad rumor, but sometimes they have seen something that is very important to the case. They can identify the killers dress, or they got a good look at the knife because they found it beautiful. For witness’s that live or work around the scene, you should construct a Rumor chart, of Twenty things that NPCs will tell the PCs, most are true but some are false. These can be randomly determined with a d20. For star witnesses that you’ve created as suspects, they should have their own version of things, and different triggers before they hand over the information. Maybe a fishermen has seen something odd, but wants some money before he’ll talk? Others won’t want to get involved, but will crack after you beat some sense into them. Mix it up and have some fun! Clearly not all of this stuff can be preplanned, you just have to know what whom saw, and how afraid they are of blabbing about it. Sometimes you have to trick an NPC before you get the information that he’s keeping in his head.

Magic and Crime

Clearly magic greatly effects how crimes are committed, as well as how they are solved. There are lots of spells, that if used creatively can aid in the investigation, but in the hands of a killer, creative spell casting can lead to committing nearly unsolvable crimes. Thankfully there are good wizards as well, and while the PC’s probably can’t demand to see high level wizards to examine the murder of some jeweler, he can leave items in their care for them to investigate at their leisure . . . For a price of course. Perhaps a wizard can sell the investigators special potions that can aid them in their small quest. Magic IS the science of the day, and creative players and DM’s can use this to their advantage.

End Notes

I don’t know what it is about crime solving that infatuates us, but it really does. The most popular shows on TV are cop shows, they never seem to go out of style! The beauty of creating crime scenes for your players to solve is that you can put as much or as little work into it as you want to, and as long as you put some kind of twist in there, then players love it! It furthers their local fame, introduces them to NPCs, gets them to use their minds, and are hell of a lot of fun to solve! Heck, if the PC’s can come up with a better reason why so-and-so killed so-and-so, then maybe you should just go with it! Make them challenging, but not impossible to solve.

Some players do need to be led around by their noses for a bit, just until they get their feet wet, for them I usually call for a Perception check which is INT+WIS divided by 2. (Example: Rath has an Intelligence of 12 and an 8 for wisdom, giving him a perception of 10. While in a library chamber where a maid has been murdered, the DM calls for him to roll a d20, he rolls a 5. The DM tells him that he spots a small piece of paper sticking out of her apron.)

Don’t make it too easy, but if the players are having a hard time trying to figure out what to do, there is no shame in tossing them a few things right into their laps. This is how I handle mystery, have any of you guys tried this? Perhaps forming a list of baffling clues would be worthwhile? One of my best was a small ring of iron, too small to fit on even the daintiest finger. It turned out to be a toe ring owned by a slave girl, once they figured this out they knew that it was a female who stole the object, and that it belonged to either the gypsy or the Sheik’s harem girl that stole it.

BLOG BONUS!!!

NEW NONWEAPON PROFICIENCY

Crime Scene Management
Category: General
#of Slots req: 2
Relevant Ability: Wisdom
Check Modifier: +1

Characters who know Crime Scene Management can, after a successful ability check, identify potential clues that none proficient characters would miss. They always know how to close off a scene, and not disturb evidence while searching. They also gain some insight into criminal activity which may or may not require a check, at the DM’s discretion.



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