by Dru Pagliassotti
So you’re sitting around trying to figure out the next adventure for your modern or near-modern RPG—spy-based, occult-based, whatever, you’ve got to come up with some sort of investigative plot. Feeling a little burned out? Here are some places to get ideas or to help you develop characters for a modern-day action campaign.
If you’re running a spy-based game, you absolutely have to be familiar with your federal and international crime-busting organizations. Check out the FBI or the U.S. Marshals websites for plots to occur within the United States. Let’s not forget the U.S. Secret Service, either! If your campaign spans a larger scope, try visiting the CIA, Interpol, or United Nations websites. If your interest is in drug smuggling, make sure to visit the Drug Enforcement Association website. These sites can provide you with information on creating realistic agents or player characters, on what the scope of each organisation is, and give you a head start on the “secret ops” parts of those agencies that you just know have to exist, even if they aren’t on the website. For something a little less official, try browsing through Mario’s Cyberspace Station [Webmaster’s Note: unfortunately, it looks like this link has gone…], a good place to stop if you’re looking for ideas.
If you’re running an occult-based game, the official sites can be useful, but you’ll also want a dash of something a little stranger. Try checking out Dossier: Covert Ops and Secret Documents, a really fun paranormal site that contains loads of adventure ideas about government cover-ups. Apocalypse & Millennium offers a number of articles and links to weird, out-there conspiracies involving governments, miracles and aliens, and Conspiracy A-Go-Go not only offers some conspiracy information but lets you add your own conspiracies to the site … definitely a fun read.
No matter which kind of game you’re running, you need some basic world facts. The CIA World Factbook (available from the CIA website) is a pretty good place to start—it offers a form for you to look up information on countries or organizations. For maps, try the slightly dated but still useful offerings at World City Maps site. In addition, the About.com guide to geology has provided a list of world and US maps.
Almost every type of modern games includes some sort of investigation—whether you’re looking for spies, personal enemies, occultists, a renegade time-traveler, a missing friend, etc. For players or GMs who want to go a little more realistic in their investigations, there are numerous fascinating websites out there. For the basics, check out the Crime Scene Investigation site, which provides information on techniques including crime-scene photography, response and evidence collection. For links to specialist sites in criminal evidence, Crime and Clues is a good site for information and articles on investigation and numerous categories of evidence (tired of using eyewitness reports and dropped notes? Try something more unusual from this site!). And speaking of unusual evidence, ever consider bugs as evidence? For the stout-hearted, check out the Forensic Entomology Pages and learn all about bugs and dead bodies. (Remember the clue in “Silence of the Lambs,” anybody?)
More mundane types of evidence information can be found at FirearmsID.com and Footwear and Tire Track Impression Evidence. The firearms site offers information on how to recognise residues and cartridge marks from various firearms, and includes an image gallery on firearms, bullets, cartridges and other items that might make neat handouts during the game. The impressions website also offers a number of photos of the imprints left by different types of shoes and tires—more neat handouts for your game!
Finally, let’s not forget those criminal profilers who have been so popular in fiction. You can learn about forensic psychology from The Ultimate Forensic Psychology Database, which offers numerous articles about aspects of criminal behaviour. Also take a look at Psychiatry and the Law for information about laws in the U.S. and around the world, insanity defences, and other interesting stuff that you might use in a game.
A dash of realism can add a lot to a modern or near-modern game. Try browsing through these sites as you develop your next adventure or outline your next campaign, and see where they take you!