Navigating Starfinder Mystery Campaigns
The Threefold Conspiracy Adventure Path begins February 26, 2020. What begins as a normal trip through the Drift back to the Pact Worlds turns into a mind-bending whodunit as a crewmember goes missing. The heroes must unravel an intricate web of motives and opportunities before they discover the seeming truth behind the disappearance.
The details of this campaign are classified. Therefore, in preparation for this or any mystery campaign, I’ve scoured the Starfinder archive to collate some general advice and inspiration you.
Let’s set the stage with an excerpt from the six-page article Mystery Adventures by Jason Keeley in volume one of the Starfinder Adventure Path #25: The Chimera Mystery.
“You see, Mrs. Braintner, only you have knowledge of the rare poison that was found coursing through Count Correndo’s veins, only you were seen leaving the hedge maze on the night of the crime, and only you were aware of the last-minute change to the count’s will in which you wouldn’t have received a solitary credit. You had the means, the opportunity, and the motive. Those are the facts, and there’s no use in saying otherwise. Therefore, only you could have committed this heinous murder! Ghenkins, if you would be so kind as to escort this cold-blooded killer to the police hovervan waiting outside?”
—excerpt from the popular weekly holovid “Detective Death”
A MYSTERY’S THREE PILLARS
Whether the mystery occurs on a high-tech space station or in a colony settlement on a backwater planet, the culprit has a means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crime. Some suspects might have one or two of these elements. However, the true criminal must have all three.
A suspect has the means to commit a crime if they are physically able to do so. Could they reliable fire a pistol to kill the victim with one shot? Are they dexterous enough to reach the only window that showed signs it was forced open? Do they have the knowledge to be able to create a malignant computer virus?
Some crimes are simple enough that all suspects could conceivably have the means to commit them. Other times, the means by which a crime was committed are unknown or indefinite. In such cases, discovering the culprit’s motive and opportunity becomes even more important. However, knowing that a suspect couldn’t possibly have had the means to perpetuate the crime is probably the easiest way to eliminate them from the list.
A suspect’s motive for committing the crime should be compelling enough for them to want to break the law or at least act outside norms. Might they inherit a large estate when the victim passes away? Are they trying to keep the victim from revealing a devastating secret? Did they fly into a fit of rage at the mention of some past misdeed?
No criminal acts without a motive, even if the motive has little connection to reality. Money and love are common motives in classic mysteries. Motives might abound in a mystery adventure, and should in a good one. Then, it’s up to the investigators to determine which of the possibilities is strong enough to warrant the perpetrator’s actions.
A suspect has the opportunity to commit a crime if they could have been at the location of the crime at the correct time. Were they having dinner with a large group of people at the time of the incident? Did they redeem a fare for public transportation in a city hundreds of miles away? Do the security logs show them entering the restricted building before the crime occurred?
Most perpetrators try to have an alibi for when the crime happened. It’s important for it to seem like they had no opportunity to perform the deed. Investigators need to sort through the alibis to discover which are true.
You can proceed by watching How to run a Conspiracy Campaign - Game Master Advice where Jason Keely and Jason Tondro share their wisdom to help you keep the mystery alive in your Starfinder campaign.
For basic Pact Worlds conspiracy related lore, you may want to refamiliarize yourself with the section on galactic threats starting on page 494 of the Starfinder Core Rulebook and Chapter 3, Supporting Cast in Starfinder Pact Worlds.
In the Against the Aeon Throne Adventure Path The Rune Drive Gambit read The Stewards—a detailed exploration of the peacekeeping organization, including a pair of new archetypes for Stewards agents, by Lyz Liddell. Then watch The Stewards, Where X-Files Meets Starfinder!
If GMs want to twist the knife, refer to the Signal of Screams Adventure Path to read Horror Campaigns by Ephidah Ravachol in The Diaspora Strain. The paranormal investigator theme introduced in that same volume might appeal to players in a mystery campaign. Starfinders may also wish to take a look at the history and motivations of the Shadow Plane outsiders known as velstracs, by Isabelle Thorne, in The Penumbra Protocol for dark inspiration.
In the Dawn of Flame Adventure Path, read Criminal Organizations of the Galaxy—a look at a handful of nefarious criminal organizations operating across the galaxy and equipment of use to those who engage in questionable activities, by Lacy Pellazar in Sun Divers. Consider the cult hunter theme with its conspiracy web feat from The Blind City.
Starfinders can acquire PDF or print copies here or at your favorite local or online game store.
Please comment on what Starfinder material inspires the conspiracy theorist in you!
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Motive, Means, and Opportunity
Tuesday, February 18, 2020