This framework adapts many of the concepts of Brindlewood Bay to simulate wuxia detective stories (Ancient Detective, Lady Holmes, the Lu Xiaofeng novels). It has modified moves, new playbook roles, and a system for setting up and resolving mysteries collaboratively. You will need some familiarity with Brindlewood to run this.
Differences from Brindlewood: no Day/Night structure, no structure for a conspiracy, changes to the idea of Crowns, mystery facets.
Differences from Hearts of Wulin: modified Study move, new Shadows mechanic, new roles, new mystery resolution system.
As in Brindlewood Bay, players accumulate Clues and add these to the “Mystery Map” (more on that in a moment.
When you study something in order to learn about the world or establish new facts, roll.
ON A 12+ gain three hold. ON A 10+ gain two hold. ON A 7-9 gain one hold or gain two hold if you take a cost (alienate someone, cause a misunderstanding, reveal a secret, endanger an NPC, etc.).
- Ask a question about a situation or place (escape routes, hidden details, threats, dangers, etc.).
- Ask a question about a person (motivation, desires, intentions, means of manipulation, etc.).
- Ask any other question.
- Learn a person’s Scale (below, on your level, above).
- Reveal a detail—declare something
- Gain a Clue (two hold)
- Gain a Clue, associate it with a Mystery Facet, and rewrite that Facet (three hold)
When a player gains a clue, they add it to the Mystery Map and note who uncovered it.
The mystery map organizes clues. As in Brindlewood Bay, each mystery has a difficulty. It also has a central facet, the big question which is usually “Who Killed X?”. But the mystery also has 2-3 additional facets, questions which feed into the motive and circumstance of the murder or point to the larger context of what’s happening. This larger context may be the meta-story or conspiracy, present connections to previous mysteries, or be an interesting tangent to explore.
For example, The Secret of the Puzzle Sword Mystery has the following facets:
1 – Who killed Master Fan?
2 - How does this connect to the fall of the Green Leaf Society?
3 - What is the true secret of the Puzzle Sword?
4 - Why did the authorities shut down the ceremony?
During the Theorize move (see below), clues are connected to the facets.
The 12+ result on Study allows players to rewrite one of the facets. They should check in with the table to make sure everyone’s amenable to the change. For example, in play one of the characters rewrote the first facet into: Why has the Killer taken one of the Puzzle Swords? This shifted the mystery to be less about the killing and more about the purpose of the Puzzle Swords and the mystery they concealed.
One a facet has been rewritten, it cannot be rewritten by another player.
This is the process by which the heroes decide on the truth behind the mysteries and then roll to see if they are correct.
When the Heroes move to discuss the solution to a mystery players take turns associating the clues they found with a particular facet and describe how they see the connection. Continue doing this, with the playing building on each other’s suggestion. Once all clues have been associated, the group should discuss the “big picture” of the solution.
Throughout this process, the GM should ask questions to clarify responses, recap connections made, and generally keep the discussion moving. Some players may have more clues discovered than others. In this case, if a player has run out of clues and some still remain to be associated, they may choose to connect a clue someone else found. Tell players this is how you plan to handle things beforehand. Also, should two players wish to swap clues, they may do so.
After this process and once the players developed a working theory which answers at least the question of the first facet, roll. For this roll take the number of Clues incorporated into the theory or otherwise explained away, minus the mystery’s complexity. Bonds, dice swaps, and other bonuses may not be used on the roll.
On a 10+, it’s the correct solution. The Keeper will present an opportunity to take down the culprit or otherwise save the day.
On a 7–9, it’s the correct solution, but the Keeper will add an unwelcome complication to the solution itself; present a complicated opportunity to take down the culprit or save the day; or say how one secondary facet’s answer is wrong or incomplete.
On a 6-, the solution is incorrect, and the Keeper reacts.
On a 12+, it’s the correct solution and you may declare an additional truth about the larger situation.
GM NOTES AND ADVICE
While this set up doesn’t have the The Void or The Daughters from Brindlewood Bay, you can introduce larger conspiratorial elements which connect mysteries. For example, the thread running through the three sample mysteries (one provided here and the other two available online) is the Fall of the Green Leaf Society and the murder of its leader and his three senior students.
This becomes a larger mystery which may be slowly uncovered with standard Study questions and/or details integrated into the final solution of mysteries. Characters can be introduced throughout who had some connection to those events (were there, lost status becomes of it, are investigating, etc). Lots of people benefited from the Fall—so who was really behind it? What really happened?
Beyond the changes which add Clues to the Study move, notice the change for the 7-9 result. Players may choose to take a complication or cost to gain two Hold rather than one. The GM can offer these and then the player can choose if they want the extra Hold or not. Example costs: they make someone angry, they alienate a friend, someone from their entanglements misunderstands their action, they inadvertently accuse someone, they’re seen or overheard, they’re caught somewhere they shouldn’t be, etc.
One of the pieces of game tech here which may take some getting used to is players being able to change the focus of the mystery by changing a facet in play. It’s a little more “running without a net” than other parts of the rules.
Any change in facet should be discussed with the table, including the GM. This means that the players may refine it and make it fit through group collaboration. As well, deleting a facet in favor of something else doesn’t necessarily mean that question goes away. It is still there, but becomes more secondary to the new facet. So we still need to know who the killer is, but the story becomes more about this new issue of question and how that killing fits in with that.
In my experience, most Brindlewood Bay mysteries play out in about two sessions. This depends on the group, mystery, and if you’re juggling several at once. In play we found that Hearts of Wulin mysteries played out best in four or so sessions. This room for NPC interactions, engagement with entanglements, exciting fights, and the slow burn of a mystery novel or mini-series. It allows you to have a full session of set up, with the actual murder only coming at the end of the first or second session.
Player entanglements give you a wealth of NPCs who can get caught up in later mysteries– fall under suspicion, ask the PCs to accompany them somewhere, show up on scene. Romantic interests, friends, and foils are good for this. And if they’re revealed by the players to be involved with the crime– that’s good as well.
One technique that helps make later mysteries flow well is to have a few NPC suspects appear on the scene for the next one. Players have already built a rapport and may have learned some secrets about them. This also allows you to make use of NPC suspect who might not have gotten enough attention in the previous case.
The following are new roles for each of the playbooks which reflect the mystery theme. Players may still choose a standard playbook role. This hack offers a good opportunity to open up options for the players from the Courtly and/or Fantastic playbooks. In the case to the former, the GM will need to decide how to handle the social combat and influence elements. In the case of the latter, the player will need to explain how any apparently supernatural effect actually has a mundane source.
<i>For example, the Aware’s Phoenix Flying in the Sky might be messenger birds or Once Upon a Time reflects historical knowledge or deep deductive observation. </i>
The Historian (Aware)
You’re part of the group dedicating to recording the stories of the Wulin world and updating the rankings of members in the world. When you meet a new, named member of Wulin society, roll. On a 10+ they desperately want a good story of them told or to have their rank adjusted. Take +1 Ongoing to Hearts and Minds against them as they work to impress you and curry your favor. On a 7-9 they reveal a secret about someone or something in the Wulin world. You may declare this or ask the GM.
On a 6- the person has an abiding dislike for your society due to perceived bias, inaccurate reporting, or some kind of discourtesy. They will ignore or abuse you.
The Eccentric Expert (Bravo)
You’re bored with the little cases everyone brings to you. *Yawn* When you’re faced with an inquiry which is not directly part of the Mystery, roll. On a hit, narrate what actually happened. (If it involves a PC or someone closely connected to a PC check in with them). You impress and astound those around you convincing them of your expertise. Word of your skill spreads. Gain a bond with someone present. On a 7-9, name one person who resents or grumbles about your “methods.” On a 6- you’re wrong. Choose: you’re wrong and realize it, but you can’t admit it; someone of lower status points out a flaw in your work; or this is all a set up by an enemy to undercut you.
The Partner (Loyal)
You’re the assistant, sidekick, or junior to another detective—work out with one of the other players who you’re associated with. This should make for some interesting entanglements.
When another player makes the Study move, you may burn one of your Shadows to boost them up one result level. Narrate how your accidental or deliberate comment assists them with their thinking. Additionally, whenever you take an advance, you may erase one checked Shadow.
The Former Assassin (Outsider)
Only create one regular Entanglement during character creation (romantic or general). For your second, choose someone as your anchor for your past or future. When faced with what could have been or the delights of a normal life, roll Inner Conflict. (Note: making this roll counts as interacting with a second entanglement for purposes of end of session XP).
You committed terrible sins in the past. When you flash back to your secret role in an NPC’s tragedy, describe it and take +1 Forward in dealing with them. When you reveal that secret to them, roll. On a hit, choose: halt their current action, clear an element (you or them), make them answer a question, drive them off. On a 7-9, manipulation or betrayal are revealed- roll Inner Conflict. On a 6-, they reveal how your actions cut them deeply. They turn fully against you."
The Amnesiac (Student)
You have forgotten much of your past. This can range from a complete loss or simply having an incident you cannot remember. Once per session, you may attempt to connect something or someone with those missing memories. When you do, roll.
On a hit you succeed. You may declare the connection or ask the GM to establish it. Gain an appropriate bond. On a 10+ if someone’s trying to conceal the connection, they give themselves away. Take +1 Forward against them. On a miss you can’t draw forth your memories. Choose: you fool yourself with misbelief, someone else’s lies convince you, an enemy is alerted and will take action against something you hold dear.
The Unready (Unorthodox)
You’re in over your head with “detectiving,” but you try. When you want to help another PC, you may choose to skip using Bonds. Instead, roll to assist. On a hit, you boost their level of success by one (a miss becomes a 7-9, a 7-9 becomes a 10+). On a 7-9 if their final result has costs or consequences, you share in those. On a miss, your intervention drags both of you down and the final result becomes a full fail you both share in. (Note: you may not spend bonds on this helping roll).
The Ex-Criminal (Villain)
You used to be a criminal, wrapped up with the underworld. Your reputation may still pursue you, despite your best efforts. But those years of experience serve you well in investigations. When you come upon a murder victim (the one the mystery revolves around or someone else), you gain 1 Hold to spend on a Study declaration. You may narrate the detail immediately or you may wait to share your discovery privately with your companions in the next scene.
HOUSE OF THE FALLING SUN: A sample mystery
The PCs are individually invited to a gathering at the estate of Sun Guanyu, chief of the Sun School. He indicates he has a matter of importance to tell them. On the road they may meet some of the other NPCs for the case. Some of have a history with Guanyu and don’t care for him; they may reveal this in conversation.
Framing Question: How do you know Sun Guanyu and why don’t you care for him? (If you want, you can ask how different PCs know different key members of the school.
Odd Color Incident: On the road they encounter a driver whose cart has gone off the road. In the back of his wagons he has four coffins he’s been instructed to deliver to the Sun estate. He’s been paid ahead of time, with a note claiming this to be orders from Sun Guanyu himself. Guanyu will deny this if asked later.
As the guests arrive, there’s clearly tension between some of them and their host. Sun Guanyu greets everyone warmly, but he’ll be surprised at the presence of at least one PC or NPC.
During the feast that evening it is mentioned that this is the anniversary of the death of the leader of the Green Leaf Society. The leader of that group Lan Wuxian, was killed ten years ago tonight, along with his three most senior disciples. Many others from his clan also fell. Lan Wuxian was, at that time, leader of the Verdant Sword Alliance, which the Sun School is also a member of. It is well known that Sun Guanyu benefited from this death. (This can come up in conversations with the NPCs.
Sun Guanyu acknowledges the anniversary and says that he believes that those who killed the Leader are now after him-- citing recent mysterious events (students vanishing, threatening signs, etc). He says that he believes a child of Lan Wuxian survived and is now mistakenly seeking revenge upon him. While the gender is unknown, the child would now be the approximate age of (Cheng Ruogang. First Orchid, The White Monk and King of Pearls) and one or more of the PCs. Guanyu suspects one of them could be that child. The reason for the other invitees being there isn’t made clear, though they all worked for Guanyu or knew him from the past.
Some time after dinner, when everyone but the PCs have retired, screams are heard from the garden. When everyone rushes there, they find the decapitated body of Guanyu though the head is nowhere to be found.
- Who killed Sun Guanyu?
- What is the real reason Sun Guanyu called this party?
- What is the true connection of these events to the death of Lan Wuxian and the fall of the Green Leaf Society?
CAST OF NPCS
- Sun Guanyu (he/him): Master of the Sun School. The host and murder victim. Many suspect him of involvement in the death of Lan Wuxian, but he has enough wealth and influence that he has managed to remain an important part of the wuxia world.
- Sun Zheng (she/her): The daughter of Guanyu and apparent favorite. She is aloof and haughty. Zheng believes someone is after her family, but says she is certain that someone is merely taking advantage of that past incident to scare her father.
- Sun Yang (he/him): The envious son of Guanyu. He appears a little naïve. There are rumors concerning his parentage; while Sun Guanyu claims him as his blood child, some say he is adopted.
- Yellow Shadow Hunter (hehim): Guanyu’s first disciple and day to day leader of the Sun School. There’s some question of who is actually in charge, him or Zheng, after Sun Guanyu’s death.
- Mao Qing (she/her): An older xia who has a history with Sun Guanyu. Some suggest she may have been his lover at one time. While still skilled, it’s clear wounds and time have taken a toll on her.
- Undaunted Zedong (they/them): An ambiguous drunken master whose age and gender are impossible to determine at a glance. Precisely why they’re here is unclear as well, but they seem remarkably well-informed about wulin gossip.
- Starry Garden (he/him or she/her): A wuxia hero with a history with Guanyu and some of the other invitees. He’s clearly reluctant to be here and blanches at the mention of the death of Lan Wuxian and the fall of the Green Leaf Society.
- King of Pearls (he/him): An arrogant, but weirdly nervous wuxia. He makes grand display of his wealth, though his outfit may be a little more threadbare than befits his status.
- The White Monk (he/her): It will quickly be clear that he is not a monk. His attitude suggests he’s here under duress.
- Cheng Ruogang (she/her): A secretive up and coming hero. Though she won’t show it willingly, she carries a strange blade which is a Puzzle Sword, one among several apparently. (Note: Ruogang and the Puzzle Sword are connecting elements to later sample mysteries. Those will have some suggestions about what to do if she dies or is implicated in the murder).
- First Orchid (she/her): Calls herself a diplomat and even a detective, but is actually a spy and a thief. Though they hide it, she and Cheng Ruogang clearly know one another.
- Weighted I Ching coins
- A tiny pot of tattoo remover with an acrid smell.
- A sword is found rusting in a pond.
- Jugs of a fine vintage wine which have been replaced with a common drink.
- Concealed coffins
- Someone reveals they know a corrupt martial style
- Hand drawn sketches are some of the guests
- Evidence of someone’s parentage
- A used sleeping draught
- A carefully crafted snake-skin mask for disguise
- A conversation where someone asks for or demands money
- A forged invitation
- A scarf with a unique design
- A threatening note suggesting black mail
- Stolen records about the death of someone
- A missing weapon
- A broken lock
- Two people argue that they agreed never to be seen together
- Dead koi
- A missing servant
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