Monday, April 11, 2011

H is for Hardboiled Hollywood

This is kind of a repost from my previous roleplaying experience, but I don't really know how many people check out old threads about Inspectres on RPGnet these days.

In college, I was in charge of a detective radio drama called the Dead Hear Footsteps. We would write half-hour long scripts detailing the exploits of our hero, Hardin Lovelace, private eye (say it quickly), then perform them live on the college radio station. It's probably the most rewarding activity that I was ever involved in and I've been trying to do something similar with distant friends ever since I graduated last year.

As a huge fan of detective novels, radio plays and television shows, I've always been incredibly frustrated by their seeming lack of transferability to the gaming table. They can either be an exercise in pixelbitching for the right clue or GM overload in adapting a mystery to fit the players' actions. I was reading about the Gumshoe system used in Esoterrorists and Trail of Cthulhu one afternoon when I realized that I already owned a game that could be used to run a dynamite goddamned mystery: Inspectres.

You'd have to run it with a group of people well-versed in Chandler, Hammett, Nero Wolfe and Johnny Dollar, but I think that's a feature, not a bug. The mission ratings, players describing the clues or information that they uncover, the simple character creation, everything just... fits for a hardboiled detective game. Even the 'Confessional' works as radio-style inner monologue. So as follows are my Hardboiled rules modifications for Inspectres.


Character Creation

Characters in this modified Inspectres have four basic skills, each covering an area of expertise.

Wits is the skill you'll use to piece together theories, outsmart armed guards, remember facts and figures and research information through records and libraries. Characters with high Wits are like Nero Wolfe, able to hypothesize and make connections even when the circumstances are dire.

Brawn is the skill you'll use to sucker punch a torpedo, make your roscoe cough 'Ka-chow!', resist physical torture and do all sorts of physical activity. Characters with high Brawn are like Mike Hammer. His gun is quick.

Legwork is the skill you'll use to tail a mark and remain unseen, get in touch with your contacts, question witnesses or break into someone's house to find evidence. Your Legwork skill is also used whenever you want to buy (or have access to) equipment. Characters with high Legwork are like Boston Blackie, with contacts in the underworld and a criminal disposition.

Cool is the skill you'll use to con someone into believing you're someone you're not, seducing the gangster's moll and convincing people to tell you secrets. Characters with high Cool are like Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, able to talk their clients and enemies into revealing everything.

You have 9 dice to distribute amongst your character's Skills. No one skill can be rated higher than 4 or lower than 1.

Each character also has a Talent, either something they're naturally good at or a skill they picked up before working at their detective agency. Choose an area where your character will gain a bonus die. Whenever this area comes into play, you'll roll an extra die. Sample Talents include:
  • Car Mechanic
  • Ex-Stuntman
  • Incredibly Beautiful
  • Academic
  • Cast Iron Stomach
  • High Society
from the rulebook (don't sue me, Jared)
When using a Talent, strive to be creative! And remember that your character is allowed to use their Talent in any of the four skill areas. So if your ex-mechanic gets into a scrap, boost your Athletics roll by using a monkey wrench as a weapon. If your agent is sexy as all-get-out, maybe you can get the team a good deal on a used car (a bonus to the Legwork roll).
Agency Creation

Since you're just a fledgling detective agency, you get 6 dice to divide among your Agency's accounts.

Gym Membership - Gym membership dice can be spent to add to Brawn rolls.
Library Card - Library Card dice can be spent to add to Wits rolls.
Expense Account - Expense Account dice can be spent to add to Legwork rolls.

All unallocated die go into the Bank, which can be spent on any roll and used to alleviate the effects of Stress on your investigators (nights in the speakeasies, movies, pleasurable companions, etc...) However, there is a much bigger risk in spending Bank dice. Whenever a Bank die is rolled, there is the potential to regain it, lose it, or lose your entire Bank.

Example Stress

Get shot at by two guys bursting through the door with guns (as per Chandler's Law): Two dice
Find your dead client: Two dice
Tortured by syndicate henchmen: Three dice
Double crossed by...
- Sneaky Peter Lorre type: Zero to one die
- Femme Fatale: Two dice
- Best Friend: Three dice
- True Love: Four dice


  1. Another good one! I must investigate this game. See what I did there?!....yeah OK thats wasnt funny.

  2. Yeah, Inspectres is probably the best "Indie" RPG out there. It's so easy to understand, especially for people who have never played an RPG before and, as I talked about in the other post, you can basically go into it blind and still have an incredibly fun hour to an hour and a half session.