Wednesday, March 28, 2012
A good example of this is Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, written by Raymond Edwards and published by Sleuth Games in 1981. As I understand it, there were several versions of the game released. The one I owned, which I picked up in 1982 or 1983, came in a brown binder, like the one depicted above. However, there was also a boxed version that I sometimes saw in game stores and hobby shops. I suspect the contents of the different versions were identical, but, again, I can't say for certain. The game's components consisted of a brief rulebook, a map of Victorian London, a case book, a clue book, a London directory, a quiz book, and an archive of newspaper clippings from The Times. In the version I owned, these components were either three-hole punched to be held in the binder or placed in pockets at the front and back of it.
Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective was, as you'd expect, a game of mystery solving, with the player -- it was a solo game -- taking on the role of Holmes as he attempts to unravel one of ten cases presented in the case book. Additional cases were made available in boxed supplements that I never owned and were very necessary if you completed the ten integral cases, since they had no re-playability. Cases were presented in a simple narrative form, almost like a story, after the reading of which the player is set loose to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. This was done by consulting newspapers, interviewing eyewitnesses and suspects, and generally scouring London for clues. For example, you might read in The Times that, at the same time as the crime you're investigating occurred, a celebrated entrepreneur disappeared from his home. Looking at the London directory gives you his address, which you then look up in the clue book. If it's pertinent to the case, you might find an additional narrative describing what you learn upon visiting his home and talking to those who live there. This in turn might give you further leads, which you then pursue in like fashion.
If this all sounds a bit like a very free-form choose-your-own-adventure book, with the information scattered across several volumes, you wouldn't be far off. That's certainly how it felt to me, at least initially, but, over time, the game took on its own feel, one that has forever colored my sense of how to handle mysteries in RPGs. Needless to say, I loved Consulting Detective, in large part because I could play it alone and take my time in doing so. There's no time limit on the cases and you can take days or even weeks to puzzle out the mysteries it presents. Once you believe you've solved the case, you go to the quiz book, which asks a series of questions to determine if you have, in fact, come to the right conclusions. The game relies on an honor system to be enjoyable, though the clues and information for all ten cases are scattered throughout to such a degree that it'd frankly be more work to try and cheat than to actually solve the cases the proper way. Only the quiz book contains any real revelations the player must avoid until he's ready.
Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective is a game I spent many, many hours playing alone and I had a lot of fun doing so. The game is very well presented and strangely immersive. Looking through those Times articles for clues and then seeking out suspects through the directory was thoroughly enjoyable and contributed greatly to the sense that I was doing more than playing a "mere" game. Likewise, there were no game mechanics for discovering clues; I relied entirely on my own cleverness, memory, and intuition. That's probably why, to this day, I shun games and game mechanics that attempt to replace (or at least supplement) player skill at solving mysteries. Even Call of Cthulhu's Idea, Know, and Spot Hidden rolls rub me the wrong way much of the time. It's also why I love props, like fake newspaper clippings and diary entries. To me, they're the best way to present a mystery in a roleplaying game.