This last one is especially awesome because it provides Agatha Christie-like cozy mysteries in the jianghu world. And cozy mysteries are in part what Brindlewood Bay does amazingly well. Stories of a group of detectives, a murder, and a colorful cast of characters. So could you bring some of BB's tech over to Hearts of Wulin? I think you can.
What follows assumes some knowledge of Brindlewood Bay and Hearts of Wulin. If you haven’t bought BB, you should. You can pick it up on DTRPG right now.
For a murder mystery investigation, substitute the following move for most instances of Study. GMs will have to adjudicate on the fly where one’s more appropriate than the other.
When you investigate the murder—through questioning, searching for physical evidence, or other means—roll.
- On a 10+ you uncover a clue which the GM will provide and narrate.
- On a 7-9 you uncover a clue but there’s a cost the GM picks. It could be ticking a clock towards a second murder, alienating someone important, using up time, alerting the killer that you’re getting close, or other similar things.
- On a 6- you fail to discover anything and the GM makes a hard move as appropriate (possibly a darker version of the costs above).
The mystery has a difficulty. Once they have a good number of clues, the players should have a freewheeling discussion about a possible solution. The GM may help focus and organize this conversation. Ideally each clue should be explained in this hypothesis (even if to show how it’s a red herring).
Once the group has agreed on a solution, subtract (the # of clues worked into the theory) from (the mystery’s difficulty). Then roll this move. Bonds may not be spent to improve this roll.
On a 10+, the solution is completely correct. The Killer gives themselves away during the investigators' presentation or the stage is set to catch the killer off-guard with the support of others.
On a 7-9, the players choose: the solution is partially correct or the solution is fully correct, but there’s a cost. For the former, the GM will say how one detail of their hypothesis in incorrect. This may allow accomplices to escape, implicate an innocent, or hide the face of the true villain. For the latter, the killer is exposed but something hinders the player’s ability to bring them to justice (for now). The GM chooses: the edict of an authority protects the killer, they have an elaborate escape they now trigger successfully, someone else steps in to confess and takes the blame, etc.
On a 6- things go wrong and the GM makes a hard move against the group (everyone may have to mark an element of their choice). The solution may be right but no one believes them and favor turns against them. The whole thing was a set up to implicate someone falsely and the players have done their dirty work. A trusted friend or lover turns out to be part of the killer’s conspiracy. GM may present some of this off-screen to the players rather than the characters, setting up a villain to be dealt with in the future.
This set up can be easily rewritten with your own characters and setting. The PCs are invited to attend a great ball or party being given by Prince Zemin. As they mingle and interact with the NPCs they will note friction between Locust Le-Ang and several other prominent persons. Le-Ang hints at old secrets, the repossession of valuable properties, and the like. Some ignore him, while others grow visibly angry as the night continues.
Later everyone hears a scream and they discover Locust Le-Ang's body in a garden within the palace walls, accessible from the event itself. A cup is still in his hand and poisoning seems to be the cause of death, but there may be more to it. (Note: this scenario set up could be undercut by the Five Deadly Venoms or The Promise playbook moves from the Aware. If a PC has one of this, talk to them about the set up and offer them some in-game compensation).
Victim and Suspects
Locust Le-Ang, Leader of the White Onyx Society: This wuxia faction has long been held in disrepute. They’re rumored to be involved with assassinations, but no proof has emerged. In recent years they’ve worked hard to appear more respectable. They’re acknowledged more openly, though some say only through a campaign of blackmail and intimidation. When the new Prince arrived, he recognized them as one of the important factions in the region and treated them as equals with others.
Le-Ang enjoys his new status and role. He throws his weight around. He has been calling in old debts and obligations to gain support and wealth. Rumor has it that he’s completed at least one secret mission for the Prince and that’s why he was invited to the gathering.
Prince Zemin: Sent to oversee this region by the Emperor. Speculation runs rampant about whether this is exile, a test, or something else. Was sick when he arrived, but has recovered after a period of seclusion and now seems hale and hearty.
Seventh Mountain, the Prince’s Childhood Friend: Raised alongside the Prince in the Palace. He returned from the military to serve his old friend in his new role overseeing the region. He’s devoted but also worried about the Prince’s illness and reliance on spiritual advisors.
Eighth Raven, Seventh Mountain’s sister: Followed her brother here to aid and assist him. Worries that his devotion to the Prince will drag him into a conspiracy or political plot. An assassin killed their older brother who got caught up in such a thing.
Pale Willow, The Prince’s Spiritual Advisor: From an obscure sect she doesn’t speak much about. Casts the fortunes for the Prince and is said to have been the one who cured him of his recent illness. Prince Zemin relies on her advice.
General Huan, The Iron Throated General: A powerful figure in the region. Huan has accumulated power and influence over the years, even more since he retired here. He suspects that the Prince has been sent here to either spy on or destroy him. His association with the White Onyx is an open secret.
Dai Shu, Representative of the One Soul Legion: She has risen to become influential within this sect which her father, General Huan, nominally heads. In this role she has butted heads with the White Onyx several times. Quick to fall in and out of love.
Minister Amber Chill: Before the Prince’s arrival had great influence and power in the region. He has shifted with the tides and works his best for the Prince, but has also had to divest himself of several opportunities and interests. A gourmand.
Minister Rong: A notably corrupt minister. The Prince has utilized him to undertake some questionable activities, but he’s also served General Huan in the past. The pressure of being caught between these two forces is getting to him.
Onyx Spider, a PC’s Romantic Interest: Ideally this character had an argument earlier in the evening with Locust Le-Ang. Decide what the circumstance of that was.
Crystal Lion, a PC’s Romantic Rival: It’s always good to have a rival on scene who can interfere and show up one of the PCs. If they turn out to be the killer, so much the better.
Dawning Sword Deming, representative of the Sun & Moon Masters: The Prince has moved to gain the fealty and obedience of the wuxia orders in the region. Deming’s order took to this easily, being ambitious and calculating. Deming, on the other hand, is devoted to his martial practices and bridles at all the political goings-on.
The Dusk Blood Sage, representative of the Autumn Leaves Savants: An order of scholar warriors. They have tried to find a middle ground in the face of the Prince’s efforts to bring the wuxia of the region in line. The Sage is here to observe and find an opportunity.
- An exquisite empty wine bottle hidden away
- Two people argue but then speak in conspiratorial whispers when they believe no one is watching
- A beautiful apple somehow frozen.
- A ceremonial blade missing from its appointed place
- Smoke stains in an unusual place
- An anonymous love poem written in elegant verse
- A broken arm
- The missing royal cat
- Rare incense from beyond the borderlands
- A writ for a large sum to be drawn from a bank
- The remains of a gown shredded or burned
- The seal of a lost official
- Secret passage to a hidden cave
- A tattoo of striking skill and color
- Golden acupuncture needles
- A broken branch
- A shattered porcelain mask
- Silken threads of an unusual color
- A guqin with a missing string
- A writing brush dried with red ink
- Bruises which mark the use of a lost or forbidden technique
Adjusting the Void
If you want to lean further into Brindlewood Bay territory, you might consider adding a larger conspiracy. In BB this is represented by two parts: the Void Clues and the Layers of the Conspiracy. It would be easy enough to add Void Clues and Signs of the Conspiracy. For the Investigation move on a 10+ they may gain a Void Clue or Sign instead. On a 12+ they gain two of the three.
For the Conspiracy layers, you’d have to choose how many you want and how many Void Clues you need to access that information. I would suggest only three layers and a modest number of clues needed, especially if mysteries are only part of the ongoing story. The first layer would be the mythic hints and history of the conspiracy. The second would be learning who is part of or controlled by the conspiracy. Alternately they could learn of lesser plots to stop. The final circle would be the revelation of the real threat behind the scenes and actions taken against the PCs.
But what is the Conspiracy? In Sheng Tang Huan Ye there’s a set of magical treasures sought by a sinister force. These grant immense power. In Smiling Proud Wanderer it’s the revelation of the betrayal by the main character’s master seeking powerful techniques. In Ancient Detective, it’s the secrets of what happened at a famous battle in the past and why people are trying to conceal that truth. If you’re using a Fantastic Wuxia setting, it becomes even easier to weave in strange details.
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