Sunday, December 26, 2021

Living Magic

 Recently I was watching Magi on Netflix and was reminded of the wild magic used by elves in The Hallows series by Kim Harrison. Both settings have magic as a living thing, with the Hollows wild magic is little eyes that are avatars of a goddess and in the Magi series magic is based off souls and energy that comes from them.

Here is an idea for duplicating that concept.

Spirit Ally with Injury Tolerance: Diffuse! (Magic, -10%) [360]

This allows the spirit to do various powers with the special effect that it envelopes or flows over the subject. This typically includes elemental shaping but not creation effects as it can condense water or move air. The power must be less than 360 points and have the Magic PM, typically Affects Substantial, No Range or Melee based are included in the modifiers.

Mages then summon the ally to do their bidding by giving it specific instructions. In both settings the base are nonsapient so orders typically require a Concentrate (fitting for magic) and abilities are really limited only by imagination.

Perhaps different effects each require a skill roll to achieve, except for alternative abilities representing learned commands (much like Learned Prayers in Divine Favor or Sorcery).

Obviously this could be just a special effect for regular power builds or perhaps an alternative to an existing spell casting system. In that case perhaps replace the typical Magic power modifier with a variant that allows Affects Insubstantial attacks to counter the spells. Essentially a dispel magic is shattering the cohesion of the spirit, or perhaps even killing it.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Example Detectives

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.


Baretta 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.

Commissioner McMillin

McMillin 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.

Ellery Queen

Ellery Queen 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

Kolchak 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.
Attributes: average.
Skills: Photography; Writing.
Advantages: Luck; Serendipity.

Lady Blue

Lady Blue 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 :)

Lord Darcy

Lord Darcy 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.

Magnum P.I.

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;


McCloud 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; 

Nero Wolfe

Nero Wolfe 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.

Quincy, M.E.

Quincy  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

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.

Friday, December 10, 2021

How to be a GURPS Detective

 I have played a few detectives in GURPS and my current favorite character is in a Monster Hunters type supernatural horror campaign that is in hiatus (the GM likes to skip around between several campaigns, so we will get back to it eventually). Running a good detective takes a lot so here are some ideas.

GURPS Resources

GURPS Mysteries is the go to book for playing a detective, especially a procedural one. It covers a lot of material, real world and fictional mystery solving, useful traits, GM tips, etc.
GURPS Action 2: Exploits is good for a cinematic and more fast paced investigation.
GURPS Classic: Cops is from GURPS Third Edition so some of the gear may need rework but goes into a lot of detail on law enforcement and playing someone from those professions.
GURPS Social Engineering is very helpful at the social aspect and this is an important part of most investigations.
Transhuman Space: Transhuman Mysteries is a good resource for science fiction mysteries, even if you do not use that setting.

For the GM

Before allowing a player to build a detective you should make a few decisions on how you want to run the campaign and let the player know.

Will Mystery be Important?

If solving mysteries are important to the plot you need to make sure the players have a good chance of solving them. So make sure they have key traits that will be useful and not too many things that will get in the way or derail the plot. Ideally you want the players to work at it, too easy and they are unsatisfied and too hard and they get frustrated.  This will be easier to manage in a group where you know the players.

If mysteries are not important, let he player know so they do not get their hopes up.  Managing Expectations (above) is a helpful resource here.

Time Management

If everyone is participating in solving the mystery that is terrific. However in most groups you will have your puzzle solvers and your combat and action types.  The time needs to be managed so no single player is left sitting out most of the game session, much less the majority of them!
If only one player is trying to find clues and solve the mystery you need to keep the time short, or do individual sessions. An easy way to do this is to handle things with die rolls, such as skills or even the use of spells and powers. This is likely to be unsatisfactory to the player hoping to figure things out though. So set proper expectations.

What Traits?

What traits are allowed depend on the genre and setting. However, as GM you have a lot of wiggle room. Some abilities seem to be supernatural, yet with the right modifiers could be merely cinematic. Oracle (Digital), Psychometry and senses with the Hype sensory modifier are good examples of taking an obviously supernatural trait and making it "merely" cinematic.  Sherlock Holmes instead of Lord Darcy for example.

High skill levels and especially certain powers or spells can make many investigations trivial. They also make the character feel special. In a campaign where the mystery is just a quick plot device and not meant to be something to spend considerable time on researching supernatural and cinematic abilities are the GMs friend. They let you easily justify the character finding the next link or whatever you need them to do and keep things moving.
In a more mundane setting they may not be allowed and if you want the players to take a lot of time investigating this is a good thing. But even here something like Intuition can help nudge things along as needed.  Especially if one player is the detective and the rest are waiting around for the fighting.

For the Player

So you want to be a detective?  GURPS really lets you shine in this roll and in a lot of possible ways.
You really need to get with the GM and be sure your on the same page as to what rules will be used and how much of the campaign will be focused on finding things out.  If you want to be a detective and the GM plans on simple mysteries or wants them solved in a few minutes time you should put fewer points into these abilities.  Even if much of the time is solving things you likely will want other skills so keep that in mind!  Also if others are going to be involved what will they be doing while you investigate?

The first decision is what style and type of detective you want to be. GURPS Mysteries lists common archetypes and goes into skills and advantages that can be useful. Note that Spiritual Advisor costs the same as a 150% Ally and should probably be built as such. GURPS Action 2: Exploits is more for fast paced gaming but offers solid advice that is useful at any pace.  Both supplements will be useful in building your character.
Since I am not aiming to write Mysteries 2: The Detective here as a blog post I wont go over much more but want to stress this again. It is very important to be on the same page as the GM and to not take too much screen time away from others.

How to share?

Hand tasks to offscreen Contacts or Patrons.  Many things can take a lot of time and be boring to play out, Contacts can do a lot of that for you.  Also you do not need high reliability levels for most tasks.
Get others involved. That stealthy ninja type? Let them break into things to get clues.  The mage or psychic? They can find out information normal methods can't (though countermeasures are likely for known powers). The muscleman or deadly warrior can be your backup in risky meetings. Fighter types often have high HT and can be good at Carousing, let them find out basic info or even lure suspects into a trap for capture.

Sometimes You Have to Do it Yourself

If you never get to use your skills what was the point of paying for them? Again, be on the same page as the GM!  A good GM will let you do some stuff on your own but do not expect it to happen all the time, nor for very long.  When its your private moment try to be well prepared and have your modifiers and questions ready to go.  Also, try to be entertaining for the others at the table. Most players will want thier own screen time but they will be a lot happier when not doing anything if the ones who are at least put on a good show. Its really boring to watch a bunch of die rolls and someone take  minutes to decide what questions to ask or how they are going to break into something.
Prepare common mission items in advance. Its usually faster to tweak to the situation than to come up with a plan on the fly. Also have page references handy.

Example Detectives