Ring Side Report- RPG Review of Baker Street
Originally posted at www.throatpunchgames.com, a new idea everyday!
Product- Baker Street: Roleplaying in the world of Sherlock Holmes
System- Baker Street
Producer- Fearlight Games
Price- $20 here http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/142228/Baker-Street-Roleplaying-in-the-world-of-Sherlock-Holmes?term=Baker+Street
TL; DR- If you want to investigate some Victorian crime, you can't do better. 93%
Basics- Holmes is dead, but the world still needs heroes! In Baker Street, the players all take the roll of inspectors hired by Scotland Yard to help solve cases that would normally be throw to the late Sherlock Holmes. Are you on the case?
Mechanics or Crunch- This is its own complete system, so let's break this up.
Base mechanic- This is completely a skill based system. You only have a handful of trained skills, and when you do an activity, you choose a skill and roll that many six-sided dice along with a Sherlock die. If you are not trained and you need a skill, you roll two six-sided dice. You succeed on a 4, 5, or 6. The Sherlock die will add some randomness to the other dice. The Sherlock die has a 1, 2, 3, Watson, Moriarty, or Sherlock face. The 1, 2, and 3 sides of the Sherlock die make the 1s, 2s, or 3s successes on the other dice. Watson gives you a free assist to help another player or an extra success. Moriarty makes all non-successful die faces count against the successes! The final face Sherlock, Sherlock himself, allows you to name a dice face number and those dice now count as successes. The last thing to mention is professional skills and specialties. When you use a professional skill (think a skill you have ranks in) any 6's you get on dice allow you to reroll the die for extra successes. This can continue until you don't roll a 6 again! Specialties allow you to gain two extra dice on a check because of your degree of training in a particular area. The whole system is quick and easy.
Combat-Combat happens, but this isn't the main push of the system. Sherlock fights some foes, but that's not the big pull of the books. However, this game does have some interesting twists to fighting. The basics of combat work just like any other skill. If I try to hit your character, you would roll you dodge skill, and I would roll my weapon or attack skill just like the base mechanics above. If your dodge roll has more successes than my attack, you didn't get hit. However, if I have more successes on the attack, I roll a weapon damage roll. This weapon damage roll works just like above, but I use a chart to determine how many dice I would roll for the attack instead of a skill. I still roll the Sherlock die however. The most interesting thing is combat is not done with initiative like any other RPG. It's done by naming another character or the game master. Players start, then after the first player goes, and he/she chooses who gets to go next. However, keep in mind if all the players go, and choose the bad guys run by the GM to go last in the round, the GM can choose to have the bad guys go again at the start of the next round almost taking two turns in a row! That's a simple turn order mechanic, but it does lead to some interesting thoughts and discussions around the table! It's also fun to see a novel way of managing combat in a RPG.
Investigation- Here's the real meat and potatoes of Sherlock Holmes! When players investigate a murder or a crime scene, they enter a new phase of the game to gain and eliminate clues through several sub-phases. First, players Observe the scene revealing clues. One player rolls the dice for their observe skill, but every other player can give that player half their dice pool rounded down for their observe skills. The number of successes reveals clue cards that the players can begin to investigate. Each clue has a description as well as three leads that may go deeper down the rabbit hole or throw them off the trail. After the Observation round, players then do a Reason round. One player rolls his/her reason skill and other players aid as above. This will eliminate a number of clues that are false or erroneous. Finally, players then enter the Deduction round. Just like the previous two phases, one player rolls deduction while the other players help. This phase gives players a number of times they can ask the GM about different leads on each card to ask if they are real or not. Some leads on a clue card are not useful at all, while some are the next area that they players must observe or interrogate to determine who did the dastardly dead.
Threat-Sometimes a player want to ask more questions to a NPC then there is time to do. Sometimes a player want so re-investigate a room. Sometimes a player just wants to ask the GM for an assist to find the best way forward. When that happens, the threat level of the investigation raises! This is a behind the GM screen level of general tension that can only hurt the players. When the threat level rises, some bad events may occur like thugs ambushing the players, making the Sherlock die's 1 phase not work, or just adding extra bad guys to the final fight. It's an addition to keep pushing the players forward in their quest to solve the crime while preventing them from spending days looking over the first room.
Characteristics-This game doesn't have feats like Pathfinder/DnD, but what it does have are characteristics. You start with two personal characteristics, two professional characteristics, and two negative characteristics. These characteristics not only give you roleplaying hooks, but when you invoke a professional or a good quality you get extra dice on that skill roll. The negative characteristics give the GM some story hooks in you as well!
Resolve-I love story candy for my players. Resolve is that currency in this game. It's used for several things from adding dice to a dice pool to preventing damage when you are hit with a weapon. Also, when a GM invokes a negative characteristic of your player, you can spend a point of resolve to avoid the flaw. If you don't have some resolve, then you follow your darker impulses and do something that most likely won't end well!
Summary- Overall, this is a good system, but it does some minor flaws that are flaws in how investigations are narrated in all stories. You know every day you sit at the gaming table that there will be an investigation scene, kind of like every episode of CSI will have an investigation scene. If you can't get past that or don't want that in your game, then this system might not be for you. The system of investigation means that pretty much every charter has to have some ranks in the three skills used to find and discard clues and leads. Now, that isn't too much fun to have some of your character planed before you get to play, but then again you are playing a criminal investigation game! The basics of the skill system and the ease of it use do work really well. It's quick, fun and easy to play this game, even if I'd like a bit more flexibility in the game overall. 4.5/5
Theme or Fluff- You want some classic Victorian crime novels? You got it! This game has some great world building describing in vivid details the different classes of servants the upper class has to the various different kind of criminals that stalked Whitechapel in the 1890's. Baker Street is set up to tell a Sherlock Holmes' story well, and it succeeds in spades! Even the provided adventure looks like it's printed on a newspaper from the time! 5/5
Execution- Overall, this book is really well set up, but there are some problems. The general character building and how to play are all done well. It reads quickly and has some good spacing, all of which are very important to me. The PDF is presented like an old book with some wear and tear, which does give some excellent flavor. However, the PDF isn't really hyperlinked well with the hyperlinks just listing all the pages. Also, the adventure that is presented has great flavor as it looks like an old newspaper, and I'm happy to see an adventure here to help me run my first game. However, the use of Victorian newspaper format makes it harder to really read and digest quickly. You can't really scan it to find what you need in a hurry as it isn't really spaced well. It's some minor complaints, but these small things did hurt my overall experience slightly. 4.5/5
Summary-This is a great way to run an investigative RPG, but the problems you might have are if you want an investigative RPG. This game solves the absolute hardest and worst problem to correct in a RPG investigation-are the players and GM out-thinking each other? Much like old school point-and-click adventure games, investigation in a RPG might stall out because neither side of the GM screen finds the train of logic from the other side. The investigation system here is top notch allowing for really deep stories to be told. However, my only real problem with this system is its build really well to do what it does. If you want to do something that the system isn't designed for like run a Sword and Sorcerery campaign on Mars, this isn't what you should use. Also, you need to want to play a criminal drama and build your character for that. Pathfinder/DnD will have this one beat for variety, but if you want some really well done Victorian sleuthing, then you can't do better than this out of the box! 93%