A Taste for Murder 2008-04-01

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A Taste for Murder Playtest: Milton Keynes RPG Club, 1st April, 2008

Players: Scott Dorward, James Mullen, Matt Sanderson, Neil Smith

Having finished our Cold City game prematurely, we found ourselves with a couple of weeks free for playtesting and agreed to try A Taste for Murder. Three out of the four players had read the rules, and two had been present at a previous playtest, so the game setup was quick and problem-free. The characters and relationships were as follow:

James played Diana Hopworth, the matriarch of the family, a widow and a devout spiritualist.

Neil played her son, Gerald Hopworth, an avaricious ne'er-do-well. His elder brother had died some years previously.

Matt played Perkins, the family butler who was also rumoured to be the widow Hopworth's lover.

Scott played the Reverend Cuthbert Pickersgill, the head of the local spiritualist church and Mrs. Hopworth's spiritual advisor.

The relationships were:

Gerald/Diana: Gerald is resentful that Diana is spending his inheritance on funding the spiritualist church.

Perkins/Diana: They are rumoured to be lovers.

Diana/Pickersgill: Diana is supporting the reverend and his church financially

Gerald/Perkins: They are clashing over future plans for the development of the estate.

Perkins/Pickersgill: Perkins is devout Church of England and hates Pickersgill for being a "heathen".

Gerald/Pickersgill: Gerald blames the reverend for the death of his brother.

This initial situation helped create a gratifyingly coherent and satisfying story from the word go. In the first round of action, the reverend convinced Mrs. Hopworth to change her will to leave everything to the church, which led to most of the conflict driving the rest of the game. Certainly over the next two rounds, most of the scenes were related to the potential ownership of Mrs. Hopworth's estate, Pickersgill trying to drive Gerald from the house using some phony mediumship and a battle over the disposal of a purportedly cursed idol that the late Mr. Hopworth had brought back from darkest Africa. This idol was initially passed to Pickersgill, who was charged with ridding the family of the curse (and was only too happy to once he realised how valuable the idol was), but Perkins ended up in possession of it.

At the end of the second round we drew a name randomly, and Diana was found in her bed, bludgeoned to death with the statue the following morning.

The household gathered in the drawing room, waiting for the inspector to arrive, and the knives came out immediately. It took three full rounds to uncover the murderer, as there were almost as many influence as mystery scenes, but the conflicts were brutal. We had blackmail, assault, attempted murder, slander and general backstabbing galore. Pickersgill coerced Perkins into arranging an “accident” for Gerald, to avoid any legal unpleasantness over the will, and Perkins blackmailed Pickersgill into getting 51% of the estate. Various fights erupted, leading to all three suspects being quite injured by the end of the game.

The escalation of the relationships went as follows:

Pickersgill/Diana: They were secret lovers; The relationship had started many years ago, and Mr. Hopworth had taken his own life when he discovered it.

Gerald/Diana: Gerald needed the money from the estate to pay off some debts; he had already been stealing money from his mother; the debts were due to him being blackmailed over having murdered his brother to make sure he was the sole inheritor of the estate.

Perkins/Diana: While was her lover, he was only such because she pays him for his services; in addition, he was blackmailing her; the basis of the blackmail was that Perkins is actually Gerald's father.

The denouement played out well, with Perkins being revealed as the murderer and going out fighting, taking Pickersgill with him.

Everyone reported that they enjoyed the game thoroughly. As mentioned above, the structure of play made it very easy to create a coherent story, and there was never a feeling of “What do we do next?”. The new suggestions about framing conflicts worked very well, as did the suggestion to ask the killer question while pointing at the target. We also had particular fun trying to narrate the effects of the black and white dice in.

A number of questions and comments did come up. In no particular order, they are:

  • A couple of players felt that there was a bit of an inverse death-spiral going on with influence scenes. I ended up accumulating an obscene number of dice by the end of the game, mostly through luck, and it became increasingly unlikely that I'd lose a conflict. The black and white dice do mitigate this, and the probability of someone else winning never becomes negligible, but it did raise a few eyebrows.
  • If a conflict in a mystery scene is unsuccessful, there is no real outcome and the result can feel a bit flat.
  • What scope of narration rights does winning a conflict give you? While it decides who wins, can you use it to throw in other details? At the moment this seems to be down to consensus, which may not always work. In one case we had a disagreement because Matt narrated that Diana was pregnant when winning a scene, which James didn't like. While we sorted this out amicably, some explicit guidelines may be in order.
  • Also relating to guidance, we had a situation where the agreed outcome of an influence scene was that Pickersgill convinced Perkins to arrange for Gerald to fall down a flight of stairs in order to frighten him off. The accident wasn't arranged immediately, and we ended up not having it happen, which became a bone of contention between Pickersgill and Perkins. Was this just a poor stake?
  • Apologies if this in in the rules and we just missed it, but when Inspector Chapel is in a mystery scene with another character, what dice are rolled by the other character? We assumed it was their influence over the victim, but couldn't find it in the rules.
  • One very minor point relating to the examples is that Graham suggested in the notes on the playtest at Concrete Cow that having relationships based on secrets was a bad idea, but one of the examples in the text is that Rufus is blackmailing Lady Mortimer. This probably wouldn't be common knowledge.

In all, this was a very successful session. Everyone stated an interest in playing again at some stage. If any of the other players want to step in an fill in missing details (I know I've been very brief with the story), please come and help me out!