Review: Anachronistic Adventurers: The Investigator

January 6th, 2012 by DungeonGrrrl

What would an RPG character from a modern background look like in a traditional fantasy RPG campaign? Super Genius Games takes a stab at answering that question with the investigator class and three archetypes.

Genre fiction is full of modern characters ending up in medieval or fantastical settings, often using their advanced knowledge and superior intellect to overcome foes and think their way through dangerous adventures. From older classics like L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall to more recent stories like Eric Flint’s 1632/Ring of Fire series, characters that have backgrounds in “modern” settings (ranging from the 1930s to the current century) regularly are dropped into ancient or mythological eras.

Anachronistic Adventurers: The Investigator is the second .pdf in Super Genius Games “Anachronistic Adventurer” line, which provides rules for playing man-out-of-time characters in fantasy-themed Pathfinder campaigns. That conceit is an important part of the entire idea behind the .pdf, so if you aren’t interested in allowing ideas that play out like a cross between A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court and Sherlock Holmes, the product isn’t going to be as useful to you (though not entirely without merit, as I’ll discuss below) regardless of how well-written it is.

The product is 23 pages long, with the first page being both cover art and a single column of text, and the last page containing the credits and OGL text. One two-page section, Progress Levels, is a shorter rendition of the same material from the previous .pdf in the line, Anachronistic Adventurers: The Enforcer. This highlights one of the nice points about the book, which is that it is both entirely self-contained and able to be used by itself, and blends seamlessly with The Enforcer to create an expanded list of options for an anachronistic character. All told, that leaves about 20 pages of entirely new content.

The biggest part of that content is the investigator class itself, described as, “a searcher for answers, a solver of riddles, and an explorer of the unknown.” The class has the same attack progression and nearly as many skill points as the rogue, though it lacks anything to match the rogue’s sneak attack ability, and is similarly built around gaining special abilities in the form of talents. The talents range from the purely combat-oriented (for example canny strikes, which allows the investigator to add his Intelligence modifier to attack rolls, rather than Strength or Dexterity) to the more obviously investigation-related (for example crime scene analysis, which allows the investigator to learn about whoever committed a crime by observing the crime scene), but they all uphold the premise of the character using brains over brawn.

After the investigator class come three archetypes, the Great Detective, Inventor, and Medical Examiner. The investigator class is designed to include an archetype as part of it’s “core” abilities, and in addition to those presented in this product, archetypes can be used from its predecessor (Anachronistic Adventurers: The Enforcer) or any of the Archetype Genius Guides (The Genius Guide to Arcane Archetypes, The Genius Guide to Archer Archetypes, The Genius Guide to Divine Archetypes, or The Genius Guide to Martial Archetypes). This means in addition to replicating characters like Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Nero Wolfe or House M.D., a player with more Super Genius games products can replicate spellcasting detectives in the mold of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, or those found in Elizabeth Bear’s New Amsterdam series.

Further, the three archetypes used here can be applied to other classes (again using the rules from the Genius Guide to X Archetypes books) to turn any class into a classic detective trope by sacrificing other abilities. The Great Detective archetype is unmistakably inspired by Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, and the other major characters of mystery fiction. The abilities like The Game is Afoot and Conspiracy Theory, the Great Detective is built to solve crimes and find criminals. This is done with solid game mechanics that effectively treat criminology like divination spells, telling GM and player alike exactly what kind of information can be gained when examining a scene without requiring the player be particularly good as mysteries or asking the GM to create clues with the kind of minutia classic mysteries depend on. Rather than talking out that the presence of a rare pollen in a bootprint suggests the killer was a half-orc blacksmith, simple rules just outline what kinds of information the Great Detective can gain, and what he needs to do to learn more.

The Inventor is in many ways a less interesting archetype, built around the Create Invention ability. This allows the character to craft items using rules very similar to how magic items are crafted (rather than build on the Core Rulebook‘s broken crafting system for mundane items), but restricts the inventor to nonmagical devices. That means mostly the character can make improvements to existing items, such as faster sea ships, sharper swords, and lighter armor. There is a mechanism for crafting “anachronistic devices,” but it explicitly leaves a lot of specifics of how such devices would work to the GM. While there’s a benefit to that (the GM<can sit down with the inventor player and go over what is and isn’t acceptable), I’d still rather have seen more examples. Still, the flexibility of the system (and ease with which it could be coupled with equipment lists from something like d20 Modern) easily explains why this design choice was made.

The third archetype is the Medical Examiner, who clearly borrows from House, M.D. and the older Quincy, M.E. Television shows, although it can also be used to portray any crime-solving character with medical training (which surely suggests it was included to allow a Doctor Watson to join in a Sherlock Holmes fantasy campaign). While there are solid crime-solving abilities presented (read the dead being the major one, allowing the character a speak with dead-like ability to learn from a corpse), there are also some great medical powers that allow the character to get more out of a healing kit and suppress the effects of broken bones and other nasty conditions. While it might be surprising that an “investigator” character would focus so much on healing, realistically a player with a doctor as a character wants to be good at healing in combat, and this archetype delivers on that desire.

Overall the customizable nature of the investigator and the provided archetypes are nice design decisions, as they allows a character to fulfill a wide range of potential roles, and not all of them require a character hail from a “modern” background. While a player and GM would need to discuss how appropriate some of the talents and archetypes would be, the investigator could easily be used to create a detective or philosopher raised within a fantasy-medieval setting, in the style of Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. Series or Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy books.

The archetypes are followed by a brief (but useful) section on how (and if) to run mystery plot-lines in a fantasy game setting, what effect divination magic is likely to have on such plots, and how to prevent a failed skill check from bringing such plots to a halt. That in turn is followed by some simple, but very useful, research rules that allow a question to be investigated in a more interesting fashion than, “Make a Knowledge skill check.” A big part of those rules are “research archives,” which are information storehouses (like church archives and libraries) that can be used to advance a research question. These are given simple statistics based on Knowledge skills, and several examples are given. Finally comes a short list of forensic tools from advanced cultures (given in broad terms), and a short rehash of the Progress Level Proficiency rules first presented in The Enforcer.

If the product has a fault, it’s in totally ignoring the question of conflicts in societal norms. Characters from a “modern” setting are classically presented in time travel stories has having some difficulty dealing with the attitudes and traditions of medieval societies and characters, but there’s no mention of how to handle such issues in either Anachronistic Adventurers books. While it could be argued the best answer is to “role-play such conflicts,” a short discussion of how to handle the problems that might arise from such conflicts would have been helpful. Indeed, given there are rules for Progress Level Proficiencies (which define what counts as “simple” or “martial” weapons for a character), I could easily see applying non-proficiency penalties to social skill checks (Bluff, Diplomacy, Sense Motive, and so on) for characters who have not yet acclimated to a new setting. This is a minor oversight, and doesn’t mar the product’s value overall, but is worth mention.

The end result is impressive, and I’m happy to rate it a 4.5/5. The addition of a section that at least addresses the social impact of “modern” characters in a feudal, stone age, or fantasy-themed and one more proofreading pass could elevate the book to a 5/5, but it’s still much better as-is than most third party Pathfinder products. Even more exciting is the idea that more Anachronistic Adventurer products may be on the way, as each one expands the utility of all those that come before it. With a few more books, the series could even be used to run a mystery men/pulp heroes type of game, which is a definite bonus in the line’s overall usefulness.

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4 Responses to “Review: Anachronistic Adventurers: The Investigator”

  1. Comment by OStephens

    Hey, thanks for taking the time to do a review! (And such a nicely illustrated one!)

  2. Comment by Billy Gibbs

    I WANT THIS!
    I’m going to buy the .PDF right now. Canny Strikes is awesome!

    On another note, Ed, I’ve been away from my computer for three days and you’ve had 2054 tweets as of last count. You writing a novel of of those?

  3. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    2,000 in three days? No way. I’ve got just short of 5,000 total, and that’s across like three years.

  4. Comment by Billy Gibbs

    I really wonder what’s going on, then. Maybe the counter was just freaking out, but I got back and thought that the gaming world had exploded while I was gone.