“Find anything?” Yuri asked his twin sister, even as he scanned the churned up mud and overgrown weeds of the fallow field.
Yura looked up. She was holding a forearm loosely in both hands. A leg was less than a stride away. There was no sign of the rest of the body.
“Claws. Long ones and sharp. Clean cuts done in a slicing motion. None of the crushing damage to the flesh you’d expect from a bite mark.” Yura dropped the body part to the ground and stood up, turning to face her brother. “You?”
Yuri motions with his axe towards a clump of broken weeds.
“Looks like bear tracks but they’re twice as big as they should be. So, either a giant bear or something else. Got no idea what.”
Yura bounced up and down with excitement.
“You know what it means when we don’t know, right?”
Yuri groaned in despair.
“That’s right!” Yura threaded her arm with her brother’s and began leading him away. “To the library!”
A key concept for dealing with monsters in the Witcher Tabletop RPG is “being prepared”. Knowing what you’ll be encountering ahead of time can make the difference between leaving an encounter in triumph and being the poor sod whose pieces Yura examined on the ground in the opening fiction bit above.
Figuring out what monster has been stealing into the village at night to accost residents or what beast has been munching on the livestock is a basically a mystery and those can be hard for a GM to plan. What clues do you lay down? How many blanks do you fill in? Do you rely on the players fitting together the pieces of the puzzle out of character or do you leave it to Skill Checks? Mysteries, be they of the “who killed Mister Body” variety or the “what’s eating our sheep” variety can be among the toughest plots for a GM to put together.
Which is why A Witcher’s Journal, our upcoming bestiary for the Witcher TRPG, will have an Investigation System to help guide Gamemasters in assembling and running any mystery.
What Kind of Mysteries?
The Investigation System will be useful for any kind of mystery! It is designed to work with short mysteries which form just one small part of a greater adventure (what monster are we hunting?), intense and detailed mysteries which make up the whole of an adventure (can we figure out who killed Lady Lira before the crime gets pinned on us?), and even campaign-long mysteries such as those that get generated by a character’s Lifepath (where did the bandit who murdered my one true love vanish to?).
How Does it Work?
Essentially, the Investigation System treats a mystery like a monster to be slain, by giving each mystery a Complexity score, which acts like something akin to Health Points. Every time a character finds a clue, they roll damage to determine how many points the mystery’s Complexity is lowered by. Once a mystery’s Complexity is lowered to 0, the investigation is solved and the solution presents itself.
Of course, if we’re treating the mystery like a monster, that means it can hit back, doing damage to a new derived Statistic characters will have known as Focus. The GM can throw Obstacles in the path of the party to represent problems with the investigation, ranging from red herrings to uncooperative authority figures to the passage of time. When characters fail the Check for those Obstacles they take Focus damage. Characters can also take Focus damage when they fail to find a clue, representing the weariness and mental strain being unable to solve a puzzle can have on a body. Once Focus hits 0, they’ve got investigator’s block and are too overwhelmed to continue on until they take a break and recharge their mystery solving metal batteries.
There’s a bit more to the Investigation System but that’s the basic breakdown.
How Does it Help Me Plot a Mystery?
The Investigation System doesn’t just help GMs run a mystery but also helps them cobble the mystery together. Clues are divided into the common types characters are likely to encounter. Each clue type details which Skills are normally used to acquire them and how much damage acquisition does to a mystery’s Complexity. A number of different possible Obstacles, and the Skills used to oppose them, are provided as well.
Beyond that, we note how many clues are needed, on average, to reach a solution based on a mystery’s Complexity so you can plot in advance. There’s also guidelines on what to do if you need to improvise a new clue or Obstacle in the middle of an investigation. Plus some advice on what to do when a clever player, who mainlines Murder, She Wrote like a drug, comes up with the solution before a mystery’s Complexity has dropped to 0.
The Investigation System isn’t intended to replace plot development and roleplaying or to turn research and investigation into a soulless minigame of nothing but rolling dice and doing math. The goal is to offer gaming groups a way to organize mysteries and track progress, enhancing the experience and minimizing the frustration that comes when clues don’t quite come together the way a GM had intended.
Look for the Investigation System in our upcoming bestiary for the Witcher Tabletop Roleplaying Game, A Witcher’s Journal, alongside a host of new monsters, lifepaths for true dragons and high vampires, and never before seen information about the golden age of witchers.