Brindlewood Bay

Posted 16 Jun 2021 to Urban Fantasy

PbtA mystery solving game, inspired by Murder She Wrote. Is "Urban Fantasy" even the right category for this game?


XP Card

Sessions GM'd: 3
Sessions as Player: 0

I Used

40 page PDF. I ran the included "Dad Overboard" mystery twice for 2 groups.


This Powered By The Apocalypse game is a good option if you want to play with non-rpg folks. Drawing heavily from the TV show "Murder She Wrote", you play as a granny in a sleepy town who solves murder mysteries. We created characters and solved the mystery in 1 or 2 shortish sessions of 2.5 hours each. I lacked confidence in running it, and could have done better. I'd happily play it again to try to brush up on my PbtA skillset.

In the first play through, the group solved the mystery and leaned into a supernatural explanation for a solution. The second group failed their Theorize roll and did not correctly solve the mystery.


The Good

  • Great premise. After giving the elevator pitch for this game, most people chuckle and are keen to give it a try. For a certain age group, Murder She Wrote was a family TV staple and is a fond memory. Everybody loved creating their characters, picking their hobby (which is used to recover from damage).
  • Fun nods to other old TV shows. Each PC has one special move. Each move is named after an iconic character from a TV show. Knight Rider, Magnum PI, MacGuyver, and others. They brought some laughs to the table.
  • Includes 5 mysteries. A generous inclusion and very welcome. I chose "Dad Overboard" because it was one the author recorded on YouTube. The mysteries are quite simple, present in 2 pages: a handful of NPCs, some location ideas, and a list of clues that the GM scatters where they please. The game loop involves presenting a scene, players roleplay what they do, they make a dice roll to try find a clue. If they fail then something interesting or escalating happens. If they succeed, the GM picks a clue and describes how it is discovered.
  • Difficulty can be adjusted. The GM simply declares how difficult the mystery will be, by deciding a number. This is the target number to solve the mystery. The party will gather clues, which each give +1 to your final solve dice roll. Whenever they feel ready, you kick off a final scene and make the roll.
  • Campaign play, with a changeable cast. The PCs will discover things about themselves and gradually begin to learn troubling things about their town (when they fail certain dice rolls). The episodic nature of the game, where each mystery is its own self-contained story is a great option if some of your players can't make every session.
  • Steps for Session One are spelled out. It makes a handy checklist for a GM, and adds structure to the session. A big help for new GMs in general, and even experienced GMs who are new to this game will benefit.

The Not-So-Good

  • These are very minor, and I will definitely enjoy running this game again. Gaps in my own confidence and skillset were highlighted at the table, and that is on me, not on this cute game.
  • The mysteries don't have a solution. Or rather your group just invents one. In the final scene, the group makes their dice roll, modified by the number of clues they found. If they succeed, then their solution is correct. The first group invented a silly explanation, and rolled well. It was late so we just accepted it. In the days after the session, I regretted allowing that explanation because it felt a disservice to the genre. The solution to the mystery is very important in getting a satisfying conclusion to your story. As GM, I needed to guard that more than I did, and I found our solution unsatisfying.

    The second group theorized a more in-genre solution, but failed their dice roll. So their solution was wrong. This felt jarring and I didn't quite know how to handle that. We said that the accused was able to produce a solid alibi. This felt very out of genre, like the Murder She Wrote theme song had a sudden vinyl halt.
  • GM improv skills are needed. The GM does not know who the murderer is. Your job is to refer to a list of provided clues and scatter them in the path of the players. I found this hard. I had to, on the fly, invent a way to introduce a clue. When I glanced down at the list of clues, I struggled to improv. I found myself panicked, mumbling and stalling. Eventually I would choose one, but my skills in this arena clearly need some work. For example: the players decided to head down to the waterside to see where the dead body washed up, and rolled success on the dice. They found a clue. Now this was a crime scene, already swept by local police, the victim's body had already been removed. None of the clues on the list seemed to fit, or would realistically have been overlooked by the police. Eventually I said that they found a letter from a lawyer washed up on the rocks.

    Another example. The PCs were in the morgue, examining the body of the victim. They rolled their check and failed. Now the GM is supposed to introduce a complication or escalate the situation. Examples are things like kill a suspect, separate the PCs, remove an item. None of those seemed realistic in this scene. I was suddenly caught on the spot trying to invent a plausible escalation in this scene. I'm not good at that.



The game was fun and different. I feel the game demands strong improv skills from a GM, who can invent details and guide sudden unexpected twists on the fly. These are not my strong skills. I want to work on them though.



No signup.
Just let me know.

Share this page

© 2023 SpandexAndy