torsdag 29 november 2018

The Baroness' Jewels: a guess-who adventure

Yesterday, i proposed a structure and process for creating investigation scenarios. Today, I'll give an example.

1. I begin by deciding on a premise: an Agatha Christie-style mystery where one of the people in a large house have stolen something, because it is easy to visualize and come up with clues.

2. I decide on a five column matrix, because it gives more options than a four-column matrix but is neater than the six-column ditto. Also, I want each criteria to match exactly half of the cases meeting any other criteria, and I realized that my six-clue matrix didn't do that.

3. I come up with criteria, and clues to match.

Clues

- a blonde (edit:brown) hair found at the crime scene
- a size 9 (edit:7) footprint outside the window
- Cecil, David, Gabriella, Hector, Karen, Leonard, Oscar, Patricia have alibi.
- The wooden staircase leading between the floors squeaks and creaks terribly. Hector (with his migraine) heard no-one except the Baroness use it.
- the room was remarkably tidy, as if the burglar know where to look. Only seven people have visited the Baroness in her room.

4. I fill out my matrix.


5. I re-write the entries, from YES and (blank) to a more natural language, and introduce some variation within the categories. For example, I decide that not everyone with an alibi has the same alibi (because then you could just ask any of them which makes for a boring investigation), and that not everyone with different-size shoes or different hair color has the same because it feels artificial. I also come up with some reasons for why people have been in the Baroness room.
Since now the characters have different alibi, I also change the criteria from "No Alibi" to "Alibi".

New alibi clues:

- Cecil, David and Gabrielle were in the foyer playing Gin Rummy, when they heard the Baroness' cry for help
- Hector had migraine due to the weather, and was helped in his room by Karen and Leonard when they heard the call.
- Oscar and Patricia are having a divorce, and were arguing bitterly in their room.


Looking at the matrix, some of the clues had to go in certain columns. The two clues  involving the Baroness - having been in her room, and living on the same floor - necessarily had to include her too. Of course, I could have decided that there were 16 suspects plus the Baroness, but I don't think that works in this type of scenario. Of course the Baroness must also be among the suspects - the jewelry might have been glass, her fortune gone, and now she was desperate for insurance money. That could totally happen in Agatha Christie, so it should be a possibility here too.

Filling out the rest of my matrix, I also realized that some of the criteria felt off. I had originally though that the footprint was size 9, but in the matrix it didn't align well with the distribution of male and female names so I changed it to a more neutral 7. The same was true for the blonde hair. For adults, being blonde is more common among women and the distribution in my matrix didn't reflect that. The matrix would also result in a situation where most people were blonde. So I decided to change the clue so the hair found was brown.


Now, in reality if you selected 16 people at sort-of-random, you would often end up with some strange coincidences like all the women having really big feet or all the men being blonde. In this sense, keeping the original structure would actually have been more realistic. But what matters here isn't if something is realistic, but if it feels realistic. If I was playing with statisticians, I would have kept the idiosyncrasy because it would probably have been realistic to them. But I'm not.

The reason I point this out, is that in any mystery solving you are asking the players to look for patterns and irregularities. And in doing this, they will often use their real-world knowledge of things. Like, for example, that you could hear someone walking in a creaking stair, or that you can find out someone's shoe size by asking them, by looking in their shoes or by measuring it. Therefore, I think it is fair to limit the number of accidental patterns so that your players don't spend the evening ruling out the possibilities that the thief was wearing a wig or using wrong-sized shoes to cast suspicion elsewhere.

Result

Premise

Wealthy guests have gathered at a countryside mansion, when sudden storm cuts off the only road leading there. On Saturday night, someone breaks into the Baroness' room at floor 3 stealing  jewelry, but is interrupted by the Baroness returning to the room and flees out the window.


The PCs are detectives.

Clues

- a brown hair can be found at the crime scene
- a size 7 footprint outside the window
- the room was remarkably tidy, as if the burglar know where to look.
- Cecil, David and Gabrielle were in the foyer playing Gin Rummy, when they heard the Baroness' cry for help
- Hector had migraine due to the weather, and was helped in his room by Karen and Leonard when they heard the call.
- Oscar and Patricia are having a divorce, and were arguing bitterly in their room.
- The wooden staircase leading between the floors squeaks and creaks terribly. Hector (with his migraine) heard no-one except the Baroness use it.

Dramatis personae

Alfred. Had breakfast with the Baroness in her room on Saturday morning. Had room next to the Baroness. Shoe size 7, Brunette. (Guilty)

Baroness. Lived in the room. Shoe size 6, Blonde

Cecil. Helped the Baroness carry her luggage. Room on third floor. Played Gin Rummy in Foyer. Shoe size 7, Blonde

David. Was having an affair with the Baroness. Room further down the hall from Baroness.    Played Gin Rummy in Foyer. Size    9, Brunette

Elliot. Had breakfast with the Baroness in her room on Saturday morning. Size 7,    Blonde

Francis. Had breakfast with the Baroness in her room on Saturday morning. Size 8, Brunette

Gabrielle. Gave the Baroness a hand unpacking. Gin Rummy in Foyer. Size 7, Brunette

Hector. Joined the Baroness for tea in her room. Had migraine, w/Karen and Leonard. Size 10, Black hair

Isobel. Room on third floor, size 7 shoes, Black hair.

Juliette. Had room across from Baroness, size 6, Brunette.

Karen. Room on third floor, Helped Hector when he had migraine,    shoe size 7, Red hair

Leonard. Room next to the Baroness. Helped Hector. Size 8, Brunette.

Malcolm. Size 7, Brunette.

Nathan. Size 9, Dark hair

Oscar. Argued with Patricia. Size 7, Brunette.

Patricia. Argued with Oscar. Size 6, Blonde.

The rest can be improvised during play.