Solving crimes – with FATE!

Hi there,

the Atomic Robo RPG is an inspiring read (and a great game, too! So buy it if you like FATE and haven’t already done so) and gave me some great ideas on how to play around with the mechanisms of FATE Core and the FATE toolkit. The following is largely based on Atomic Robo’s excellent Action Science rules.

So, assuming you’re into detective stories and want to try some FATE on it, why not do the following:

At a crime scene, ask the players which characters will try to collect evidence and use these to reconstruct the crime. Every player who wants to participate needs to name an aspect of his character that motivates his character to buy in. You as a GM will compel this aspect and hand the player a FATE point.

Note that characters evolved in an ongoing investigation cannot take any other actions in the same scene. If the situation is still tense or maybe even dangerous, at least one player character should try to protect the crime scene or his colleagues instead of collecting evidence.

In the upcoming challenge, the investigators will try to score as many victories as possible over the course of three exchanges, while creating aspects representing evidence.

First exchange: Every investigator picks a skill he wants to use to collect evidence. This must be a skill with an overcome action, but otherwise the choice gets legitimated solely by the explanation of the player on how the character gains new insight into the crime. Make every player roll against a passive opposition of +3.

Whoever succeeds and scores the highest result is the winner of this exchange. If he tied on the roll with a margin of 0, he scores one victory, but at a cost. On a success, he scores on victory, on a success with style, he scores two.

Additionally, he introduces an aspect describing the kind of evidence he collected (for example Bloody knife under the bed, blood on the window frame, or witness saw a large dark-haired man running away). The player is only limited in his choice by the skill he used (you can’t find the knife under the bed with Computer Science), the crime scene itself (in a cave deep in the woods it’s highly unlikely to find a witness) and the limitation that the evidence must be an objective fact and doesn’t solve the crime on it’s own (I have a feeling that the witness saw Mr. Steve Wilson running away after the murder).

Note that this piece of evidence is a normal FATE aspect and therefore always true. There is no way the evidence is a fake or was falsely interpreted. As a GM you won’t throw any red herrings at highly competent crime solvers.

If nobody beats the passive opposition, the exchange was a loss and no new evidence was gained.

In any exchange, every player may try to create an advantage prior to rolling for evidence collection. This comes at an risk, though. If they succeed with cost, the advantage is created, but used by the GM to increase the passive opposition of the exchange. If they fail to create an advantage, they’re not allowed to participate any further in the current exchange at all!

Second exchange: This proceeds like finding the first piece of evidence did. If nobody scored a victory in the first exchange, use a passive opposition of +3. Otherwise, use the winner’s total from the previous exchange (of course it gets harder to find more evidence). As usual, the new situation aspect created for the piece of evidence in the last exchange can be freely invoked in this round.

If you want to make this a little harder for the players, restrict the skill choice to skills that haven’t been used before in any other exchange to generate victories. 

Third exchange: This follows the same rules the second exchange.

Reconstruct the crime: If the investigators collected at least three victories throughout the prior exchanges, they’re able to reconstruct the events of the crime. Everybody rolls for a last time. There is no target number to beat this time, this is just to determine who has the highest total.

Building on the collected evidence, the winner of this roll has the right to declare a new aspect describing the reconstruction. The number of free invocations of this aspect depends on the number of victories the PCs scored before. With only three victories, no free invocation is gained, with 4-5 victories they get one, with six victories they get two free invocations.

Solving crimes: Building on this mechanisms, it is easy to scale up to solving a major crime. Suppose the investigators are chasing a serial killer. Each crime scene the players investigate successfully takes them one step (one aspect) closer to their goal. Make an empty list of four to five event aspects (FATE Toolkit p. 46) and use this to note how far the investigators have come. If they fail to fill the list, the murder gets away. If the players succeed to fill it, prepare the grand finale.

You surely noticed that this is quite a FATE way to play investigative stories. This isn’t about  making Notice rolls and collecting clues. There is no prepared crime to solve, maybe even no predefined perpetrator to catch. While you as a GM have full control over setting up the crime scenes, interpreting them and determining what happened is up to your players. It’s them who build up the crime, who create a dossier of their antagonist. It’s an excitingly different and refreshing way to play detective adventures.

As always, feel free to critize, discuss and tell me what you think about that on G+.

2 thoughts on “Solving crimes – with FATE!”

  1. Yep — the structure of brainstorming can be applied to any mystery-solving situation, from finding a killer to developing a plan to kill the king. Glad you like it!

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