The strength of Brindlewood Bay’s core mystery system is that each mystery has Clues that are not tied to any particular person or location; no matter where or how the Mavens are searching, the Keeper can just scan the list and pick a Clue they think would be fun or interesting to reveal in that moment. This flexibility is a major strength of the game versus other TTRPG mystery systems, but it comes with a trade off: the Keeper has to be ready to improvise a little bit in order for the Clue to feel coherent with the scene. If the Clue is a physical one, such as “a blood-soaked rug,” how do you reveal that in a scene where the Maven is questioning someone? If the Clue is something overheard, such as “a heated argument about British politics,” how do you reveal that in a scene where the Maven is poking around a Suspect’s office?
Fortunately, this type of improvising is fairly easy (and forgiving) in Brindlewood Bay. The best way to show what I mean is to work through some examples.
A typical Clue: Instructions to cut someone out of a will
This Clue is from the starter mystery, Dad Overboard, which means there’s a good chance every Keeper will have an opportunity to use it at some point. Like many Brindlewood Bay Clues, it’s very open-ended, which makes it easy to work into a variety of scene types. The most straightforward scene type for this Clue is when a Maven is snooping around a Suspect’s personal space, such as an office or bedroom. The instructions might come in the form of a letter to a lawyer that is found on a desk or in a drawer, or perhaps the letter is from the lawyer and indicates that the will change has been made. Maybe it comes in the form of an answering machine message confirming the change. You can even give the Clue more context: perhaps the specific person being cut out of the will is named when revealing the Clue.
But what if the Maven is having a conversation with someone? This is a little trickier, but still straightforward: just have the person being questioned mention the change to the will. Maybe they’re upset about the change because they were the person cut out, or perhaps they were the one instructed to tell the lawyers about the change.
The trickiest investigation scene to reveal this clue in is when the Mavens are doing archival research. How do you reveal something so private as a change to a will in something so public as a newspaper or archival records? Here’s how I would do it: I would have an old newspaper article mention a very public fight between two Suspects, and the reporting would suggest that one of the Suspects had recently been cut out of the will, which is what sparked the conflict.
An extremely vague Clue: A taboo love affair
The first thing you have to do with a Clue like this is decide what the taboo love affair even is. It helps to think about a Clue like this before you actually start playing, but it’s ok to take a few moments and come up with something on the spot. We’re going to say our taboo love affair is between a rich, older woman and a very young sailor.
Once you’ve established what the taboo love affair is, the improvisation of how to reveal it becomes much easier. It can be mentioned in a conversation; there can be physical evidence of the love affair, such as a sailor’s kerchief smudged with lipstick, or a steamy love letter; the characters in question can be observed behaving in a very flirtatious way with one another (a well-timed “Hello, sailor” sounds about right); or the Mavens might find cell phone records indicating a lot of late night phone calls.
A very common action: examining a corpse
Murder Mavens examine corpses—a lot. The problem is that the Clues rarely (and by design) have forensic details such as you might uncover in an autopsy. It’s the first thing you’re going to run into in Dad Overboard: the Mavens will want to look at Albert’s body in the cold storage to see how he was killed, but literally none of the Clues in that mystery indicate a cause of death. The Mavens can certainly work such details into their final theory, and you can even just say outright how he died (“...he was clearly bludgeoned to death and thrown overboard”) but the mechanical, per se Clues have nothing to say about it. This is intentional so that the players can be as flexible as possible when doing the Theorize procedure. But the question remains: what Clue do you give them in this circumstance?
Well, start by scanning your list and looking for Clues that might be found somewhere on Albert’s body. “Stock certificates in an unusual place,” “piles of receipts for extravagant purchases,” and our favorite, “instructions to cut someone out of a will,” are all things that might be found in Albert’s pockets or stuffed in his trousers. They will be a little waterlogged, of course, but that’s just an excuse to obscure the identity of who was cut out of the will or who made the extravagant purchases.
Another approach is this: maybe the Mavens don’t find anything on Albert’s body, but while they’re looking, they overhear a conversation outside the cold storage where someone mentions a Clue, such as a couple of fishmongers discussing a strange thing one of them found: “a cod with a rat stuffed in its mouth.”
The key when trying to figure out which Clues to drop where, especially in a circumstance where the Clues don’t seem to match the action the Mavens are taking, is to think expansively about the scene, and not worry too much about everything lining up neatly. After all, this is how it goes on Murder, She Wrote, which is a major inspiration for this game: Jessica Fletcher frequently just stumbles onto things. The Murder Mavens can just stumble onto things, too, and that’s ok, because this game is about making those weird, seemingly-disconnected details make sense.
You can purchase Brindlewood Bay and its supplement, Nephews in Peril, on DTRPG here.