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The Consulting Detective

This was a featured article in the March/April 2019 issue.

Editor’s Note: In a few cases, most notably The Sign of the Four, the US and UK titles differ slightly. All have been changed to US usage.

My analysis of Sherlock Holmes (“Sherlock Holmes as a Traveller Character”) suggests a set of character generation tables can be constructed for a consulting detective and just to round it out we could add to a ‘Holmes’ speciality, a ‘Poirot’ and a ‘Marple’ to cover two more greats of English literature. Others might wish to substitute a Marlowe, Rockford, Spade, or Wimsey. (I might have added Columbo and Elijah Baley to a list of favourites, but they were with official forces.)

“A connoisseur of crime” (The Valley of Fear)

Consulting Detective

Also known as a Private Investigator, these detectives work outside of official channels, hired by clients for individual cases or happening to be on hand when a crime is committed.

Qualification: Intelligence 10+
DM +1 for previous career as Agent

Choose one of the following:

Holmes: Observation and deductive reasoning are at the forefront of your methods with an energy and doggedness to follow clues wherever they might lead.

Marple: Observation of human nature combined with long experience make the most of conversation, gossip and ‘cosy’ settings.

Poirot: Great intelligence and logical reasoning use the “little grey cells” to solve cases by getting to know the individuals concerned psychologically and using order and method.

Career Progress
  Survival Advancement
Holmes DEX 8+ INT 7+
Marple SOC 7+ INT 6+
Poirot INT 6+ INT 8+
Mustering Out Benefits (DM +1 if SOC 10+)
1D Cash Benefits
1 Cr1000 Scientific Equipment
2 Cr5000 Blade
3 Cr10,000 Contact
4 Cr10,000 Gun
5 Cr20,000 INT +1
6 Cr50,000 SOC +2
7 Cr100,000 Memento
Ranks & Bonuses
Rank Holmes Skill or Bonus Marple Skill or Bonus Poirot Skill or Bonus
0       Steward 1    
1   Deception 1       INT +1
3   Art 1   Art 1    
4           Recon
5       EDU +1    
6   SOC +1       Persuade 1
Skills & Training
1D Personal Dev Service Skills Adv Edu (Min Edu 8) Holmes Marple Poirot
1 STR +1 Investigate Science Investigate Investigate Investigate
2 DEX +1 Recon Language Advocate Recon INT +1
3 END +1 Streetwise Art (writing) Jack of all Trades Art Admin
4 INT +1 Deception Navigation Science Steward Tactics
5 EDU +1 Stealth Persuade Athletics (dexterity) Profession Language
6 SOC +1 Drive Leadership Art (instrument) Diplomat Diplomat
Mishaps Table  
1D Mishap
1 Someone you are investigating leaves you for dead. You are severely injured (this is the same as a result of 2 on the Injury Table).
2 An illness allows a competitor to solve a case before you do. Reduce any physical characteristic by one and lose one point of SOC.
3 You choose to let a miscreant go due to special circumstances. Roll Advocate 8+. If you succeed you may keep the Benefit from this term. If you roll 2, you must take the Prisoner career in your next term.
4 A client is killed before you complete your investigation. Lose a Benefit roll and two points of SOC.
5 Your investigations amongst low life expose you to a wasting disease. Roll on the Injury Table and lose one point of INT.
6 Injured. Roll on the Injury Table.
Events Table  
1D Events
2 Disaster! Roll on the Mishap Table, but you are not ejected from this career.
3 An investigation takes a dangerous turn. Roll Investigate 8+. If you fail, roll on the Mishap Table. If you succeed, increase one of these skills by one level: Deception, Persuade, Tactics or Language.
4 Your investigations uncover a vast conspiracy. Roll INT 8+ to increase any one skill you already have and gain two Enemies.
5 You experience a long drought of cases, roll INT 8+ to avoid losing one point of INT and gaining an addiction.
6 You are attacked by enemies. Gain an Enemy and roll Melee 8+ or Gun Combat 8+ to avoid a roll on the Injury Table.
7 Life Event. Roll on the Life Events Table.
8 You discipline yourself to learn new skills. Roll EDU 8+ to take a new skill.
9 You establish a network of contacts in your locale. Gain 1D Contacts.
10 A client asks for help with a risky case. If you accept, roll 1D: On a 1-2 you are injured, roll on the Injury Table. On a 3-4 you solve the case – barely! On a 5-6, you succeed. Gain DM+4 to one Benefit roll.
11 You gain the respect of a regular police officer. Gain an Ally.
12 You successfully solve a case for a high noble. You are automatically promoted and gain SOC +1.

Bringing Sherlock Holmes into the 57th Century

“facts are facts” (“Dying Detective”)

There is a school of thought that allows direct references to contemporary events, people or culture in Third Imperium based Traveller games. After all, we need points of reference in order to have a game people can understand and we already take, for example, our own language and knowledge into the future. On the other hand, there are those who point to the gulf of time – not to mention the shift in space and government to the Third Imperium. We don’t regularly trot out culture from even a few hundred years ago here on Earth, why would be remembering details from thousands of years back?

I have sympathy with both views and can both argue both sides and am happy to play in either type of game – although the first option above would tend to work better for one shots or convention games but might work to a limited extent in a more serious ongoing campaign.

If any culture of the here and now (and I realize I use that term advisedly with Sherlock Holmes who hails from the 19th Century) was to survive far into the future it might be something or someone such as the detective who seems to cross culture and time even now. For more than a hundred years he seems to have captured the imagination of people groups around the world and he seems to be as popular now as he ever was – just look at the success of the BBC’s Sherlock series and Elementary over on CBS.

Arguably stories from today have rather more chance of surviving into the future than word of mouth fireside tales of millennia ago. We can have exact records of them in digital formats that should theoretically be able to go on for ever, although digital rights, file format changes and a lack of systematic storage and upkeep of data are all problems we haven’t really begun to solve yet for the really long term. In addition, simply the sheer quantity of material across all that time is going to mean only the very best stories and characters survive. Consider the number of other detective stories written in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Virtually none are remembered now. Even Edgar Allen Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Émile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq are largely only known now because of their mentions in Doyle’s writing. Holmes is dismissive of them. The former he calls “an inferior fellow” and the latter a “bungler” (although he has energy) – see A Study in Scarlet. Professional jealously, perhaps?1

If you don’t want Sherlock Holmes, or those of his ilk, in your Traveller games then fine. But if you’re interested in exploring such characters within a far future setting then the following might be helpful. I’m sure imaginative referees will have other suggestions.

How far such usage or technology has spread into the nearby Third Imperium or beyond, is left to the Referee although it should be noted that the concepts and cultural references would presumably have existed throughout the Second Imperium or Ramshackle Empire and could conceivably have travelled even as far as the Vargr or Zhodani borders. It is interesting to note the Aslan tradition of the Huiha Rukt’hao – said to right wrongs with the brilliance of her mind, the Zhodani Shanzapl or “knowing one”, and the K’kree Rakrix Gengrraak Gh’ee or “well-born explorer of small, unnoticed details”.

It’s perhaps also worth noting here that Holmes himself was interested in thinking about the future. He believes that one day “our children” will be “some-day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.” (“Noble Bachelor”) So perhaps we might argue he was considering the very Far Future! He could speak about warships of the future as if he’d made a special study of them2 (The Sign of the Four) and he foreshadows Asimov’s psychohistory in his quotes from Winwood Reade: “you can never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant.”3 (also The Sign of the Four). In addition, there is his speech about the east wind coming just before World War I (“His Last Bow”):

“There’s an east wind coming… such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”