Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 122: Inspiration for Social and Investigative Games

Main Topic

We will be tackling the idea of where to draw inspiration for different types of games for the next few episodes. Today we are going to talk about Inspiration for social and investigative games. There are similarities between these two styles of games and often will bleed between each other. Both can provide a lot of opportunity for roleplaying and character development.  The second is that they frequently have a level of obfuscation going on.  Social games are built around social needs and goals – this is very heavy on the GM’s need to know the social structure of where the adventure happens.  Investigation games are literally about solving a mystery of some kind – this is heavy on the GM to know what the answer is… usually. 

Where would you get inspiration for either of these sorts of sessions? Books, Movies, and Television abound with examples and they also show how either may end up with action or conflict moments.  Specific examples include:

  • The Father Dowling Mysteries
  • Good Omens
  • Scooby Doo
  • Gosford Park
  • Nero Wolfe Adventures
  • Avatar the Last Airbender
  • The West Wing
  • Doctor Who/Torchwood (the later Seasons)
  • Get Shorty
  • Five Nights at Freddy’s (Lore Discovery)
  • The Name of the Rose 
  • Dr Stone
  • Agatha Christie

Remember that sometimes, the players are getting the truth. Not everything is a misdirection or a lie.  Aside from being a truism, this also messes with the players since the trope of everyone lying is widespread. When making an investigative game, try to have 3-4 clues that you specifically plan out.  These clues are things that will point to the answer, but don’t worry overly much about exactly how to find them – let the PCs find something.  This avoids the potential brick wall of the players not knowing how to find the clues or the questions to ask to get them to the next stage.  When making a social game, have a plan for what the social outcome is or what the different groups want.  This will let you have them react to the players rather than railroading the players through a specific set of actions.

Let’s look at a few things that can help to set the mood for the game. It might seem counterintuitive to worry about mood but it matters. If you have a clandestine meeting then you don’t want to have the lights bright and everything be quiet. That feels the opposite to that kind of meeting. While you can do that to throw them off of their game it isn’t something you should do all the time. Play into the tropes. Look at the tropes of the style of game you are doing to give them those touch stones. 

Now while you have the solid tropes also look at how you can subvert them as well. But that is an entirely different episode. 

Stat Blocks


The Agency

The Agency as it is known is where the research into the mind gets done. Diving into how the mind works as well as unlocking its deeper mysteries. What deeper mysteries are those? Psychic manipulation as well dream manipulation are the hallmarks of the Agency. Finding the ways to open subjects’ minds to the possibilities can be difficult. Not everyone can find that wellspring in them. The Agency has uncovered a large cadre of substances and physical exercises that can help. 

The doctors that are present in the labs cover a wide range of specialties, from psychologists to neuropathologists. While not all of them are researching how to unlock the mind they are all working to help create the “awakened” as they call them. The mental, physical and social wellbeing of these people is very important. What would you do with someone that has the ability to make you forget that you have ever met them and what they can do? While those are the lofty goals of the Agency the boots on the ground truth is much darker and grim. If you can be made to awaken then you are drugged within inches of your life. Now if you are useful then you are made to be a good foot soldier on the front lines of this new war that is spreading out into the unknown world. 

How to Use The Agency in Game:

This organization can be used a number of different ways from a straight up antagonist to a more shadowy group that is recruiting the players. Either way they can be and should be working in the background to make the things on their agenda come to fruition. 


Mythic Exchange

Seems that many mythical characters (both humanoid and bestial) get the proverbial “short end of the stick”.

There’s been a program in the works for the past decade or so.  A way to balance the scales as it were.  A mythic/mystic exchange program.

Medusa has been coming into her own in Japan, finding kindred spirits in the local Nure-Onna and Uwabami.  Japan’s reverence for snakes as symbols of death, life, and rebirth have opened new aspects for Medusa as well.  

Coyote and Robin Goodfellow have spent many an hour swapping tales of human foolishness and confessing their own (few) missteps.

Baba Yaga and the Witch of the Gingerbread house have been swapping sweet meat and sweet bread recipes. Discussing the various dark aspects that make up their stories..

So many mythological characters seem to have grown from these experiences.  They feel like they have more agency in their lives and a deeper, yet nuanced understanding of who they are.

Seems that the Mythic Exchange had a larger impact.  The ripples altered more than just the fantastic

This program has brought about a unique and rich cultural cross pollination.  It has given rise to various takes and new interpretations of old fairy tales.  Old stories from one culture told through the medium of another culture.  Giving rise to a deep cultural camaraderie that transcends both time and borders.

How to Use the Mythic Exchange in Game:

This allows (or explains) the cultural shift in myths that occurs naturally as the society changes.  But it also allows a doorway for appropriate yet non native supernatural entities to make an appearance.


Giancarlo Moretti

Giancarlo, or Johnny, is someone who seems to be straight out of a noir story.  They have a P.I. license and end up with clients from the most desperate of populations.  Deeply troubled and a sucker for attractive clients, Johnny is never far from trouble with both the cops and the crooks. 

The thing about Johnny is that they have been around for as long as anybody can remember … and hasn’t been stomped so far down they packed up or died.  Something keeps Johnny going, and also, somehow Johnny hasn’t stepped on the feet that would otherwise have them summarily removed from the city. Johnny gives hope, you see, and sometimes people need that.  Sometimes that hope isn’t always the best but it is an answer one way or another.  The skills in place, from tailing to browbeating have served Johnny well but even more so is the way most people take a liking to them.  Something about being a rough around the edges palooka with a deep awww shucks charm comes through even as the cynical observations about the state of the city flow like a running narration whenever they are around. 

A cigarette here, a warm slug of scotch there, there is little that isn’t a caricature about Johnny.  It is strange, though, that Johnny seems to know every unspoken and unwritten rule of etiquette.  It is almost as though no offense is given even as they traipse through any scenario sticking out like a sore thumb. The ability to make a call or find a friend in every single establishment, without fail, is almost as disconcerting as the looks of fear that sometimes accompany their arrival.  The real problems, though, only show up when Giancarlo comes back.

How to Use Giancarlo Moretti in Game:

Aside from a stock noir detective, Giancarlo and Johnny are both full of options.  If the characters need a nudge into an investigative story, Johnny is the way in.  If you need a shocking twist for a villain, the secret of Giancarlo versus Johnny may just provide that needed spice. 


camarilla noun cam·​a·​ril·​la | \ ˌka-mə-ˈri-lə  , -ˈrē-ə  \

Definition of camarilla

: a group of unofficial often secret and scheming advisers

also : CABAL

First Known Use of camarilla

1834, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for camarilla

Spanish, literally, small room

Look-up Popularity

Top 12% of words

Closing remarks 

Zendead – The Nevers This is a very cool show if you want to do a lower power super hero game. It is a nice way to look at the Victorian era as it is winding down. It really showcases the classism and racism of the time. Which is something that needs more light shined on it. 

Joules – Return of the Obra Dinn video game.  Created by Lucas Pope, the creator of Papers Please.  

Guard-a-Manger – The Usual Suspects.  A mystery and a moody stylistic thriller about  a group of criminals and a criminal mastermind boogeyman.  If you haven’t seen it, I can’t really say anything else right now. 

Music is courtesy of Sim on Twitter you can find him at @TheSimulacrae

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And Thanks to Merriam-Webster  and Online Etymology Dictionary for our Lexicon segment

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