Last year Fearlight Games released Baker Street: Roleplaying in the World of Sherlock Holmes.
Now Fearlight is kickstarting a second book of cases for the game and a combined London Sourcebook/Jack the Ripper Campaign
Bryce Whitacre, the man behind Baker Street and Fearlight, was kind enough to allow us to interrogate him about his crimes… er… to allow us to interview him about this great game.
Victorian Adventure Enthusiast: The options for RPGs are open ended, why did you choose to base a game around Sherlock Holmes?
Bryce Whitacre: I had just finished some work for another RPG project and I was writing some investigation rules for a homebrew game set in Victorian times. My wife came into my office and asked what I was working on. I told her mystery mechanics in Victorian times. She said “like Sherlock Holmes?” I said “yeah” she said “has their ever been a Sherlock RPG?”
I thought “I don’t think there has….”
(photo courtesy of The Other Side blog*)
VAE: Since you already had a home brew Victorian set game in the works does that mean you’re more drawn to that historical era than to Holmes as a character?
BW: I’m a Holmes fan. I read most of the stories years before and my wife and I watched all the Jeremy Brett TV shows. The era does fascinate me however. My degree is in History and the Victorian Age is one of my favorite eras.
VAE: What is it about Holmes makes people obsess over him (even though he was created more than 100 years ago)?
BW: I think in many ways he’s the first superhero. He the smartest guy in the room. At times he seems beyond humanly smart. His stories contain Crime Drama and that’s something the public responds to with all the CSIs and detective shows on Television and all the mystery novels published between Conan Doyle’s time and today.
VAE: Roleplaying games seem to handle things like super-speed and super-strength very well, but often stumble when dealing with super-intelligence. Was that a concern for you when creating Baker Street?
BW: With Baker Street we wanted to expand the game beyond just your typical “spot hidden” or investigate roll.
VAE: Is that part of the reason that the game is set “post-Holmes”?
BW: The game is set during The Great Hiatus, the three years Sherlock was thought to be dead. Of course, in the Canon he comes back after those 3 years. He’s included in the back of the corebook if you want to bring him back earlier. I personally use him as a helpful presence in the shadows, watching out for the investigators.
VAE: Dealing with a hyper-capable character like Sherlock (or Doc Savage or The Doctor) can be problematic as the Player Characters may find themselves “out classed”. Other than putting the famous character on hiatus, does your game offer any other advice on handling them?
Bryce Whitacre: In the game we advise against using Sherlock directly for that very reason. Watson, Lestrade, and all the other characters are there, but no one wants to compete against Sherlock.
“We All Three Shook Hands” by Sidney Paget, 1902 (L to R: Lestrade, Holmes, and Watson)
VAE: I’ve heard horror stories from other game developers about dealing with licensed properties. Did you have a hard time getting the rights to make this an “official” Sherlock Holmes RPG?
Bryce Whitacre: Not really. The deal was struck a couple years before some Sherlock stuff went into public domain. I think now it’s just the last six stories that are under copyright. The estate was fairly easy to work with and have been super helpful.
VAE: What other games have you published material for?
Bryce Whitacre: I wrote for a game called Colonial Gothic, it’s the American Revolution meets the supernatural. I wrote a few things for them, including the French and Indian War sourcebook.
I wrote the Age of Apocalypse stuff for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game but the licensed was pulled before those books went into layout.
I’ve written a miniature old west ruleset for Fearlight Games called Coffins and Tombstones.
Coffins and Tombstone in action.
VAE: The corebook for Baker Street is currently only available as a PDF. Will there be a print on demand option in the future?
Bryce Whitacre: You can order physical copies either from Fearlight directly or game stores. Also you can get the corebook as an add on with the upcoming kickstarter.
VAE: Speaking of the upcoming kickstarter, what are you rolling out next?
Bryce Whitacre: Two new books:
Sherlock by Gaslight, a London Sourcebook and Jack the Ripper Campaign.
Casebook #2: Missions from Mycroft. It features solving mysteries for Sherlock’s older brother in the British Government.
VAE: Why did you go the route of making Sherlock by Gaslight both a resource for Victorian London *and* a campaign featuring the Whitechapel Murders?
Bryce Whitacre: I think it was because we were already doing lots of locations in Whitechapel and it made sense to expand on that.
The number 1 question I get is “how do I make my own cases“.
We decided to make every location into a plot hook to get your ideas going.
VAE: The “Jack the Ripper” slayings remain unsolved, but stacks of books (almost every one of them positing their own theory or solution) have investigated the subject. Was it a challenge for you to find the “right” mystery for the game?
Bryce Whitacre: Heh. I’m a little bit of a ripperologist myself. I read a few books on the subject. The challenge with this was “how do I solve the unsolvable crime?” In the end what I decided to do was just pick a culprit but include as many of the original suspects as I could. So during the case you are wondering if this is the guy, or this is the guy…..it takes a few winding turns and then you find the killer. It’s probably not the most believable ending, but it makes for an exciting ending.
VAE: Regarding Missions from Mycroft, are the cases to be presented traditional mysteries or do they have more of a cloak and dagger feel? Is there information on Victorian Espionage and the “Great Game” at large?
Bryce Whitacre: I think they have a more “worldly importance about them”.
The two in particular I worked on was an adaptation of “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” and a Mycroft version of “The Adventure of Sussex Vampire”. Both were adopted from ACD Stories. Everything else in the book is original.
Mycroft Holmes as depicted by Sydney Paget.
VAE: Other than a print version of the core book, what other rewards are slated for the kickstarter?
Bryce Whitacre: The print version is an add on, not a stretch goal reward. You can pick up a print copy of the corebook and Casebook #1 at any point in the kickstarter. Stretch goals will include extra mysteries in the Mycroft book, a special Sherlock die that replaces Professor Moriarty with Jack the Ripper. A Mycroft die that replaces Sherlock with Mycroft. New Professions for the investigators and new Reprobates for the Mastermind. I think there’s also a bonus mission for Sherlock by Gaslight that concerns the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.
The Sherlock Die
VAE: What’s envisioned for the “future” of Baker Street? Will we ever see the system applied to other investigative eras, like the drawing room whodunits of the 1930s or medieval mysteries in the vein of The Name of the Rose or Brother Cadfael?
Bryce Whitacre: Wow. Good question. I really love The Name of the Rose and Brother Cadfael!
The future really depends all on sales. I’d love to branch the system out. It all comes down to successful funding and then successful game store sales.
VAE: Thank you so much for your time, Mr Whitacre!
For a closing would you care to offer a tidbit if gaming advice?
Bryce Whitacre: I think the best advice I can give is work on your game, build a world, prep, think about it, think about presentation, and what you can do to make your game better. We have a rule with my group: no gaming is better than bad gaming. Make an effort to make your game better each and every time you sit down.
Thank you again, Bryce!
Support the new Baker Street kickstarter here: