A few days ago I was the privileged recipient of a draft copy of New Hope City PI. This book is a supplement for Two Hour Wargames' 5150: New Beginnings rules. For those not familiar, this a sci-fi skirmish game with a heavy emphasis on story and characters. If you read game reports from this and other THW rules, you'll notice two things. Firstly, they always seem to have a great narrative and secondly, they are great for solo play.
NHCPI focuses on solving crimes in the city, with the player characters typically being PIs or police, although others are usable. It can be fully integrated into 5150:NB, meaning you can play games using those rules and then branch off to investigate a crime that has happened using NHCPI.
One of the things which I find the rules tread a fine line with, is the balance between player created narrative and rule created narrative. By the former, I mean elements that are player driven and made up on the fly and by the latter I mean emerging directly from the game mechanics. I love rules to be comprehensive. It's not enough for me to be told 'Wow, the way the game unfolds is great, so much cool stuff happened' when really someone means 'I wanted to do a lot of things not covered by the rules, but that was cool because I just rolled a die for it and made it up as I went along'. I think that, as THW rules have evolved over time, they have grown to be more comprehensive (note, this does not mean more complex!). For me this is a good thing, and you only need to look at the evolution of popular sets such as All Things Zombies to get an example of this. Anyway, the above is offered so readers understand how I like to approach rules and also to explain how I am presenting these previews. So it is clear, I will be presenting sections where the rules are the focus as underlined text and sections where I 'explain what is happening' in normal text. In this way, it should be clear how much is 'from the rules' and how much I'm 'making up', hopefully resulting in a transparent and clear account. But anyway, on with the show!
My games of 5150 are set in the Star Wars universe (or at least my interpretation of it) and this test game takes place before my main campaign starts. The planet my games are set on is predominantly jungle covered, with some large urban/industrial areas. It lies in the outer-rim and is currently under the control of an Imperial governor. The main industry is focused on mining and processing metal for droid circuitry, so there are several droid manufacturers vying for control of the resources. Plenty of opportunity for industrial espionage as well as rebel insurrection and bounty hunter action.
The first thing to do when starting NHC:PI is to determine the details of the crime. This uses a few rolls on some tables and cross referencing a couple of charts, all of which conspire to create a lot of variety.
A 2d6 roll determines the crime. I get a result of 'theft' and two additional rolls tell me the crime will be investigated by a PI and that a vehicle has been stolen.
Okay, no surprises so far. I have a couple of ideas about what this will look like for my particular setting, but I'm going to hold fire on deciding that until I have figured the who, when and where of the situation. Why is a PI involved and not the police....? That's a question for later.
A roll on the victim table tells me it's an 'ordinary joe' and cross referencing this with roll on a sub table shows that it is an Engineer. A couple of further rolls show the crime took place in the evening and in a parking garage.
Right, so an Engineer is likely an employee of one of the major droid factories, presumably with access to restricted materials. Was he daft enough to leave something in his car, or was it a random theft from a car park?
The next step is to find the difficulty factor. Theft has a difficulty of 1 plus 1/2 d6. I roll 4, for a difficulty of 3. This is doubled to find the number of clues my PI must find, 6. I also roll to find my employer. I roll a 10: Employer or Associates of Victim.
Okay, so not an overly difficult crime to solve, but no real back story emerges from this. On the other hand, the fact that my character is being hired by the Employer (I choose this over Associates) of the victim suggests that there may be more to the theft of the vehicle than it being a chance event...
There is a 50% chance that 'Theft' will be a pressing investigation. I roll and find out that it is. I have half the difficulty factor in days to solve it. 2 days... If it is not solved, the crime can be investigated again but at additional difficulty.
Wow... 2 days to solve a vehicle theft. Okay, so we know it is important. I'll have to ask the employer more about why this is when we meet. Sounds to me like some important data may have been in the vehicle and perhaps a competitor was interested in this... Or did the engineer leave the information intentionally and it was all set up to look like an accident... but if so, how does the employer know what happened...? At this point, anything is possible!
So what's next? Well, I actually skipped a step before finding if the investigation is pressing. I need to meet my employer and have a proper chat with them. This is always the first encounter of the investigation before you go off hunting clues.
As this will be an actual game, I'll cover this in part two. For now I will leave things as they are, partly because I'm aware of the lack of pictures and don't want this to be a massive wall of text. I hope I have demonstrated a bit of how just a little time spend on some background development, stimulated by the game mechanics already leads to an interesting starting point for a series of games. It probably takes less than 5 minutes to make the required rolls and then it's up to you how you put some 'flesh on the bones'. I certainly find myself wanting to know what is gong on! A promising way to start!