Detectives can come in a wide variety and a campaign could easily have several types working together to solve cases. So here are some examples with brief notes on notable traits and descriptions about how they worked and what made them memorable.
The goal of these entries are not full write-ups but to give you an idea how to emulate certain things and show the breadth of options in what might seem a narrow niche.
was a tv detective in 1970's. He was a plain clothes detective and had a pet cockatoo. He was considered a master of disguise.
I don't recall the series all that well but he was a tough guy, good at billiards, and pretty smart - though not a genius. He also had several regular informants.
Attributes: IQ 14, ST 12, HT 12.
Skills: Acting; Disguise; Fast-Talk; Games (Billiards); Guns (Pistol)
Advantages: Contacts (Streetwise); Legal Enforcement Powers; Pet.
A personal favorite. Columbo
seemed like he knew who the bad guy was on first encounter and then spent the rest of the episode trying to prove it. His catch phrase "Oh, just one more thing" could be a use of Fast-Talk as it throws the suspect off and they say something they often immediately regret and definitely did not have prepared. He is a blue collar worker type, despite apparently being one of the police forces better detectives. Despite most of his cases being High Society, I would not give him Savior-Faire (High Society). I would however give him Diplomacy at IQ as he manages to not offend anyone he does not want to, and even then does it in a manner that makes it hard to really call him out on it. I would give him Empathy based not just on his instinct for people but how he reacted to them, he seemed to really care about and understand most people.
Columbo is an example of a likeable but not cinematically so, face type and uses social skills to get the bad guy to incriminate themselves or even confess.
Attributes: IQ 14-16; Per 16+.
Skills: Acting; Body Language; Criminology; Detect Lies; Diplomacy; Fast-Talk; Law; Observation; Search; Sleight of Hand.
Technique: Elicitation (Fast-Talk) - see Pyramid #3/54 The Civil Arts.
Advantages: Charisma, Empathy; Intuition; Legal Enforcement Powers.
was a police commissioner, much higher ranked than typical for a player character. He was notable as a detective for the power he could bring to bear as the head of the police department. He was a former lawyer and solved cases that occurred at high society events where he was present with the aid of the police force. This could work in a campaign where one PC runs interference for the rest and helps them get the aid and tools they need.
Attributes: IQ 12+
Skills: Administration; Criminology; Law; Leadership; Politics; Savior-Faire (High Society); Savior-Faire (Police).
Advantages: Charisma; Handsome; Legal Enforcement Powers; Patron (San Francisco Pole Dept.); Rank (Police) 5?; Very Wealthy.
was an author, dilettante, and amateur detective who had the help of his police inspector father in solving crime. His father would bring him in as consultant or Ellery would be doing a story or requested by someone to solve a murder and he would have his father at hand to make the arrest. While most people freelancing for this kind of irritate the police who see them as competition and possibly disrespectful the father son relationship allowed it to work.
Attributes: IQ 14
Skills: Criminology; Intelligence Analysis; Writing.
Advantages: Ally (Police Inspector)
Kolchak the Nightstalker
was an investigative reporter who stumbled on supernatural or alien mysteries. He wasn't really impressive in most ways but had a knack for being in the wrong place at the right time. Also caught more than a few lucky breaks in escaping deadly danger. While normal police would not cooperate with a reporter, player characters are another matter. An investigative reporter does not have police resources, nor a paying client but they can get access to many things with press credentials. And a camera makes many people a bit more wary. The trick here is most reporters are assigned not just a "beat", but specific stories so they lack freedom to act on their own leads. In modern day however independent media makes this more possible - if still financially risky.
Skills: Photography; Writing.
Advantages: Luck; Serendipity.
was a short lived tv series with a very violent gun toting protagonist. Very much like Clint Eastwood's Dirty harry character. Fun show, notable for her tendency to shoot things or people. Not every detective has to be subtle or a genius :)
was a detective in the late 1900's on an alternate earth. This was a series of novels and short stories. He uses magic to solve crimes but primarily with forensic magic that finds and analyzes clues. He was very smart, being called in by the King and others for very sensitive investigations.
Attributes: IQ 15; DX 12
Skills: Criminology; Diplomacy; Forensics; Shortsword; Savior-Faire (High Society); Soldier; Thaumatology
Advantages: Ally (Sean O' Lochlainn, Sorcerer); Claim to Hospitality; Intuition; Languages, Language Talent; Status 3; Wealthy.
Thomas Magnum was a private investigator who did security work for a very wealthy guy and lived in a guest house on his estate. He was a retired naval commander and pretty much a tough guy kind of detective. Though not as hardboiled as say a noir genre one. He was a former SEAL and Intelligence Officer so has some unusual skills and contacts. Very social and generally likeable. He is a good mix of social and connected with solid combat ability. He very much fits into the Action series type.
Skills: Carousing; Diplomacy; Electronic Operations (Security); Electronic Operations (Surveillance); Guns;
Advantages: Charisma 2; Courtesy Rank 5 (Navy); Very Handsome;
was a cowboy on assignment to the New York City PD. He was good with a gun, horse, and lasso. He tended to be rough around the edges and as an out of towner had no local informants. He was above average in most respects and quite the charmer when he wanted to be and a good brawler. The concept of an out of towner could fit in with a group, the new guy needs a local to keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't go too off the rails. But his actions can often be smoothed over as an outsider who simply doesn't know better, and yes ma'am well discipline him. He was actually used that way several times by the Chief of Detectives in charge to sort of rile things up but retain plausible deniability. He was very likeable, (essential for the role of getting away with things) but I would call it Charisma more than actual skills. he had a knack for figuring things out and what the bad guy wanted that I think is best represented by Criminology and Detect Lies.
Attributes: Probably 12 across the board.
Skills: Brawling; Carousing; Criminology 14+;Detect Lies; Guns (pistol); Guns (Rifle); Lasso; Riding;
Advantages: Attractive; Charisma 2;
is a reclusive detective who relies on another to do the legwork for him. He then pieces together the clues and presents the evidence to the police. As such he does not need combat or first hand investigation skills so much as brain power and the ability to piece it all together. He is reputed to be a genius and has an eclectic skill set.
Attributes: IQ 16
Skills: Criminology; Intelligence Analysis.
Advantages: Reputation; Wealthy.
was a medical examiner in the late 70's tv series. He typically found something odd doing an autopsy and when his boss or the main police detective wanted to go for the easy answer he would stick his nose in and investigate himself. He wasn't great or subtle in most of these investigations but got the job done. Had to be rescued fairly often and in real life would have been fired. One thing we found out later was he was a retired Navy Captain so he probably knew how to handle a gun. While in many places you can be an M.E. without being a doctor it was required where he worked so he had full medical training. He was stubborn and very smart, often out thinking the other cast members.
Attributes: IQ 16
Skills: Boating (Sailboat); Chemistry; Diagnosis 16+; Physician; Physiology; Research; Sex Appeal; Surgery.
Advantages: Charisma 2; High Manual Dexterity 1; Intuition; Tenure*.
*Tenure is normally used for professions where its almost impossible to be fired. However nothing about the advantage says it has to come from professional channels. It could represent someone too good or dangerous to fire (including social and political repercussions), has very rare skills or abilities, survives through blackmail or other hold over his superiors, or just plain old nepotism.
Sherlock Holmes has already been written up in GURPS so I wont repeat it here, except for some Fourth Edition contributions. Basically though he is a solid archetype. Socially awkward, a real genius (though not the smartest in the family), and solves crimes through deductive reasoning (Intuition with Hypersensory and Reliable) and an insane ability to notice the smallest detail (Pyschometry with Hypersensory), Photographic Memory, and an Encyclopedic type Wildcard skill.
Starsky and Hutch
This pair of police detectives
were the tough guy mold and also worked undercover. I dont think any real stats need be inferred. The style of two buddy cops with complementary but similar skill sets was the main thing that stands out. They both had good driving and shooting skills as well as decent Acting.
While one detective type is the norm in most campaigns it is easily possible to have a full team of different types.
- The Sponsor or Patron is often the leader and can help smooth things over legally, and offer resources. This could be a high ranking official or even a high Status and respected patron.
- The Sleuth is the investigative genius, able to put it all together.
- The Technician is often a Forensics specialist but could also be a pathologist or other specialty who can find and interpret clues.
- Reporters and Darn kids can offer plausible deniability and outside help.
- Hardboiled tough guys are a classic and most player groups will have at least one person eager to fill the role.
- The Charming face who has lots of Contacts and Influence skills to ferret out information.
- The reclusive desk jockey or Nero Wolfe type is a solid choice for a solo campaign but hard to run in a group.
Of course several roles can be combined, and most should have a mix of capabilities. If the campaign is to have a strong focus on solving mysteries and investigating it is best to have some overlap, yet also unique abilities. Overlap lets the players do more together and unique abilities (including significantly better skills in one area) can give each character a chance to stand out during the game.
Mystery campaigns can be very satisfying but take a lot of prep work by the GM and creativity as well as good note taking skills.