Running games where the focus is investigation are tricky, or at least they have been in the past for yours truly. They require a lot of planning, and sometimes your players just don't catch the clues. Plus they have to sit there and listen to you describe every detail to hear those clues in the first place, which is more like being read to from a book than playing a game.
Pondering the problem, I hit on what might be a different approach to the issue. Using Jeff Rient's infamous carousing rules as the germ of an idea, I put together some tables to serve as sort of a framework for either coming up with investigative adventures or running them on the fly. I'm attempting to make these system neutral, so anybody who might want to use them can flesh them out with their specific game of choice.
Now to be clear, the sort of investigation I'm talking about is field work. Canvassing neighborhoods, searching wilderness areas, patrolling a planet's surface in your scout ship. The Lovecraftian method of "Quickly! To the library!" is peripheral to this kind of search at best, beyond the assumption in modern crime contexts of searching a suspect or victim's belongings for a paper trail.
The general method of using these tables is based on two factors. Time spent searching or investigating, and the detection skills of the individuals doing the investigation.
Time is divided into four hour chunks spent searching a given area, be that a house, a neighborhood, a street, or a hex of wilderness. This allows the GM to track for story related events and exert some pressure (find the bomb in 4 hours or the whole installation's gonna blow, find the kidnap victim before the kidnapper's deadline, etc.) and also, if they're so inclined, the GM can add fatigue factors if investigators are spending whole days and nights in a row searching.
As for detecting ability, if the system you happen to be using has an Investigation or Search type skill, use that. Streetwise or Wilderness Survival and their like are good too for specific environments. Otherwise, I'd suggest averaging a character's intellectual attributes, be it wisdom, intelligence, perception, smarts, or what have you and rolling an attribute check based on that.
The basic method is to roll a check for each 4 hours search. If the check suceeds, roll on the Success table, if it fails, roll on the Complications table. The character group can split up, each rolling their own checks, or they can work as a team, rolling a single check with bonuses as deemed appropriate by the GM for recieving help. A successful group effor allows a roll on the Success table for each member of the group, but the group only suffers one Complication if they fail the check.
GM's may use these tables either proactively or reactively. On a basic level they might look at the different results and plan out assorted clues and encounters based on the tale they wish to tell and their campaign world/genre, and have them ready to slot in when they come up. Or they could use the tables to manufacture an adventure with the "exquisite corpse" method, letting the dice assist them in planning their mystery. Or they could improvise what the results mean on the spot. It all depends on how you roll.
Happy hunting, gumshoes!
Just one more question... What's a dodecahedron?
Investigative Complications: Roll 1d12
01: Complete waste of time
02: Get lost
04: Property Damage
06: Wild Goose Chase
07: Caught in the middle
08: Tempting Distraction
09: Unrelated Evidence
10: Implicated in Unrelated Event
11: Implicated in Investigation
12: Trail/Evidence destroyed
01: Complete waste of time:
That's 4 hours and however many layers of shoe leather, horseshoe wear, or vehicle fuel you're not getting back.
02: Get lost:
Roll a second check to find way back to HQ or lose another 1d4 hours. 1 in 6 chance roll on Run Ins Table
EXAMPLES: "Boy, all the streets in this neighborhood start to blend together, don't they?", "Forsooth, all these glens in the misty wood bear a marked resemblance.", "Zarking fardwarks. All these asteroids are starting to look alike."
Investigators are stuck in one location unless they can contact friends or allies for a rescue. If they can't, roll on Run Ins table every 4 hours.
EXAMPLES: You accidentally lock yourself in the building you were searching. Your jeep gets bogged down in a mudhole in the middle of the Everglades. Etc.
04: Property Damage:
While investigating you break something in a way that may come back to haunt you if you choose not to acknowledge what you did and make restitution. Roll 1 in 6 chance each subsequent day that someone on the Run Ins table takes notice. When rolling, ignore wildlife, security measure, or mugger results.
EXAMPLES: You trample someone's flowerbeds while searching a suburban neighborhood. You prang your speeder on someone's moisture harvester while searching the desert at the colony's perimeter. Etc.
Whether you willfully ignored the signs or didn't notice them, you are someplace you shouldn't be and you must roll on the Run Ins table.
06: Wild Goose Chase:
Come across a false lead that causes you to waste 1d8 hours chasing it down. Roll on the Success table to determine its nature. Roll another investigation check as appropriate to system or spend another 1d8 hours. Repeat as long as the dice don't bounce your way.
EXAMPLES: The missing cow had been mistagged and was grazing happily on the north pasture, not abducted by aliens. You find the dreaded bandit cheif's hideout and it's a burnt out shell and picked bones from an orc raid. The distress signal was really coming from a shorted out diode in your navitron. Etc.
07: Caught in the middle:
Roll twice on the Run Ins table. Results are in conflict with one another when you turn up. What do you do?
EXAMPLES: Local is being assaulted by Mugger. Criminal Element is rolled twice, you've just stumbled into a gang war. Wildlife and Security system, you find a wolf caught in a bear trap. Etc.
08: Tempting Distraction:
Encounter something that could cause you to blow 1d4 hours of investigating time on frivolous pursuits. It's strongly suggested that the GM offer some kind of irrisistable lure, like an exp. reward a'la the Carousing Rules, or something pursuant to their general goals, like treasure for the taking or the chance to aquire knowledge or skills, to make it hard for players to say no.
EXAMPLES: $5 Dollar shooters at that strip club across the street. You come across a beautiful, pristine fishin' hole while searching the national park. "My goodness! A greater crested crimson podsucker! The Imperial Xenobiological Society would pay top credits for a live specimen!" etc.
09: Unrelated Evidence:
You find evidence or information of an unrelated affair. Roll on the Success table to determine its nature. Properly reporting it to the authorities is gonna cost you 1d4 hours. Not properly reporting it could get you in trouble with said authorities. 1 in 4 chance the GM rolls on the Run Ins table and the result spots you around this evidence.
EXAMPLES: You don't find where the killer stashed the murder weapon, but you do find evidence that a bike was stolen out front. Your search of the deceased's records doesn't turn up a motive, but a wanted fugitive is visible in the background of a recent photo taken at the club. Etc.
10: Implicated in Unrelated Event:
Witnesses spot you at location where something unrelated to your investigation is going on. Roll on Run Ins table for witnesses, ignoring wildlife and muggers.
EXAMPLES: You're poking around the body of a mugging victim, just as the cops arrive. A car matching your car was involved in a robbery across town. Etc.
11: Implicated in Investigation:
Your actions during your search raise some suspicion as to whether you're more involved with the object of you inquiry than you'd be comfortable with. Roll on Run Ins for the source of this suspicion, ignoring wildlife, security measures, and muggers.
EXAMPLES: You seem to turn up pretty quickly after the masked villain makes his exit, as far as the cops are concerned. The only footprints at the crime scene are size ten boots, and guess what you happen to wear as well. Etc.
12: Trail/Evidence destroyed:
Through some sort of terrible blunder, a useful lead is eradicated. If you are investigating under the direction of some higher authority you will spend 1d4 hours filling out reports and getting called on the carpet for it.
EXAMPLES: You accidentally roll over some vital footprints in your ATV. You leave a window open and the wind blows away some suspicious wood shavings. Etc.
Run Ins - Roll 1d12
02: Security Measure
08: Criminal Element
09: Rival Investigators
12: Crazy Person
Roll on encounter table and play out encounter. Creatures encountered are non-sentient and will fight/flee as their instincts dictate. They are incapable of giving testimony.
EXAMPLES: A pack of stray dogs in an urban setting. A grizzly bear in the wilderness. A brain wiped wire junkie in a gritty cyberpunk setting, A cleaning robot that doesn't care if it picks up trash bags or unconscious investigators in a futuristic setting.
02: Security Measure:
This creature or device was placed to protect a given area, like a guard dog or a burglar alarm. If you fight them or remain in the area the authorities will arrive in 1d20 minutes with some strongly worded questions for you. If you vacate the area the passive security will not identify you as the interloper.
EXAMPLES: A guard dog in a junkyard. A robotic gun turret in a futuristic military installation. A motion sensor in an office complex. Etc.
One or more individuals employed to guard an area will spot you. They will follow you to observe your actions, and will confront or attempt to detain you as appropriate. If violently resisted or evaded, they will contact authorities with your description, leading to complications down the line.
EXAMPLES: Rent-a-cops. Groundskeepers. Yeoman warders. Etc.
A random bypasser spots you snooping around and becomes suspicious. There's a 10% chance they will follow you to see what you're up to, and a 10% chance beyond that that they will confront you. Roll reaction check appropriate to system. If friendly, they may have some small bit of info. If hostile, they will leave and contact the authorities (50%) local residents (40%) or local criminal element (10%)
EXAMPLES: Vacationing hikers in a national park. Random foot traffic in an urban location. Itinerant traders on the king's highway. Etc.
Someone who lives in the area you're searching sees you snooping around. Roll a reaction check appropriate to system. If friendly, they may have information. If hostile, they will contact authorities (70%) defend their home with force (20%) contact local organized crime (10%) These percentages may be altered depending on what sort of area you're searching.
EXAMPLES: Shopkeepers and residents in civilized communities. Farmers and foresters in wilderness. Planetary colonists or station dwellers in space. Etc.
A patrol from the local government or similar power structure spots you and asks you some pointed questions. Roll a reaction check. If you have authority to investigate they will accept it and be on their way unless they come up as hostile, in which case you may be asked to go to HQ to speak to someone in authority, burning an additional 1d4 hours of time. If you don't have legitimate authority you will be arrested unless the result is Friendly.You may be detained from 1d4 days to several years depending on what they might have caught you doing.
EXAMPLES: The police in any modern or futuristic urban setting. The town men-at-arms in a medieval setting. Park rangers or game wardens in a wilderness setting. Etc.
Encounter with random criminals who wish to rob, kidnap, or otherwise harm you. Fight or evade. 20% they will subsequently be arrested by authorities and tell them about their encounter with you.
EXAMPLES: A small gang of meth addicts in a gritty urban setting. Bandits in a medieval wilderness. Organleggers in a future setting. Etc.
08: Criminal Element:
Encounter territorial local gang who want to know why you're snooping around in your territory. Roll reaction check. Anything but friendly will lead to a violent encounter. Friendly result will let you off with a warning, and the next time they see you it will be a fight. Presenting official credentials will cause them to attack or flee depending on relative position of strength. If investigator has criminal contacts they may bring these into play for a more positive reaction.
EXAMPLES: Street gangs. Organized crime syndicates. Thieves guilds. Spy rings. Supervillain's secret world domination organizations.
09: Rival Investigators:
Encounter group who are after same quarry you are. Depending on situation, may contact authorities or local criminal element about you, might fight you, or might flee the scene.
EXAMPLES: A competing band of treasure hunters. Agents from a different govt. agency. Your contemptuous time clones sent back to get it right this time. Etc.
Encounter with someone in power in area. Roll reaction check. Negative results will result in the authorities being called, which in turn may result in arrest or trouble from higher ups if you are part of that authority. A positive result could garner more assistance from said authorities, or at least more information. For good or ill, this personage's attention can have a big effect on your investigation.
EXAMPLES: The local duke and his huntsmen chasing game on horseback. A city councilman out watering his flowerbeds. The colonial administrator touring the new oxygen conversion facility. Etc.
Some party in opposition to your investigation is encountered. They will attempt to eliminate clues or evidence (30%), attempt to mislead investigators by planting false leads (40%), or attack (30%). These percentages may vary greatly depending on the nature of the adversary.
EXAMPLES: A supervillain's quirky miniboss squad. A mad scientists' hunchback. A dead bank robber's old gang. An fugitive murderer's wife and son. Etc.
12: Crazy Person:
A random individual who thinks they know something about the investigation but are completely and utterly wrong. They will hound the investigators, slowing the search down by 1d4 hours.
EXAMPLES: A wild eyed town drunk who says space pixies told him who the killer is. An earnest amateur detective who swears their cockamamie computer model will predict where the monster will strike again. A bored kid who wants to be your sidekick. Etc.
Investigative Success - Roll 1d12 01: Clue to whereabouts
03: Clue to Identity
04: Clue to Upcoming Occurrance
08: Find Victim
09: Object of Interest
10: Clue to Motive 11: Loot 12: Quarry
Critical success, my good Watson!
01: Clue to whereabouts:
You learn the general location of your quarry, allowing you to half the time spent searching.
EXAMPLES: The deed to a farm outside of town. An envelope full of dated taxi reciepts. Crumbles of clay on the suspect's shoes that point to them visiting the riverfront often. Etc.
You find someone who can give you information about the investigation and fill in gaps or make connections. Roll a Reaction check or interrogate as per the system.
EXAMPLES: A building custodian who happened to be napping in the supply closet when the heist went down. A security camera's video cache from the prior night. A jogger who passes the crime scene every night but was delayed on the night of the crime by a cramp. Etc.
03: Clue to Identity:
Something that indicates the identity of an unknown subject.
EXAMPLES: A photograph. Ripped off threads of a trademark item of clothing,. Footprints of the proper size. A preferred brand of cigarettes. Etc.
04: Clue to Upcoming Occurrance:
Something that gives you preknowlege of an incident relevant to the investigation.
EXAMPLES: A group photo with the faces of murder victims crossed out. A circled date on a day planner. Transportation tickets with dates and times. Etc.
The subject of the investigation leaves behind signs of its movement. Roll again at end of trail.
EXAMPLES: Blood drops leading away from crime scene. Occasional claw marks and freshly snapped branches from something large. Etc.
Different than clues or objects of interest in that it implicates a specific individual in the eyes of the law, and thus has value beyond the investigation.
EXAMPLES: A murder weapon with fingerprints. A recording of a phonecall. The severed paw of a werewolf that becomes a human hand with a signet ring upon the sunrise. Etc.
Someone who's in cahoots with a sought after individual. If detained and interrogated, can provide information about quarry.
EXAMPLES: One of a supervillain's squad of mooks. A kidnapper's wife. A poacher's lookout. Etc.
08: Find Victim:
May be the end goal of an investigation. Can provide forensic evidence or testimony depending on their state when found.
EXAMPLES: A corpse drained of all its blood. A trussed up security guard with a bump on his head. The missing heiress in a ransom case. Etc.
09: Object of Interest:
Also known as a macguffin, this object provides some plot motivation, and may be the end goal of the investigation.
EXAMPLES: The famous Tiger Heart Ruby. An enemy spy's transmitter and codebook. The deed to the old Cranston place. Etc.
10: Clue to Motive:
A piece of information that leads to an individual or group's possible involvement with the investigation.
EXAMPLES: A missing executive's financial records offering proof of embezzlement. The revised will of a murder victim. Someone's typo riddled revolutionary manifesto. Etc.
This is a cache of fungible material that has value but isn't particularly identifiable. The investigators might be tempted to claim it for themselves depending on who they work for and the nature of the investigation.
EXAMPLES: A chest full of gold coins. A cache of ammunition hidden in a bandit hideout. The PIN number to an offplanet bank account. Etc.
You find the object of your search. The jig is up and its a fair cop. Time to read them their rights or open fire.