Teen Detective Design talk: Motivations
One aspect of the design of Teen Detective that could be easily overlooked is Motivations. These are utterly insignificant for Puzzle players (and can be skipped), but are important for Pulp and Collaborative playstyles.

Why do different motivations matter when all the PCs are still trying to solve the mystery? Because for Pulp and Collaborative players solving the mystery is only part of the game - different motivations are all about what happens next.

Say one teen has the motivation 'justice should be done' and another 'justice should be seen to be done' - they sound very similar, but when the culprit is the local sheriff who's embezzled a hundred thousand dollars, simply destroying the money will not be enough for one of the teens. What if the culprit is one of their friends? Then one teen might be satisfied with the appearance of justice but not the substance, while the other would not.

There is deliberately no weight behind the Motivations, each player is free to play them as much as they wish as some motivations (such as only doing this for the money) might be considered disruptive.

Instead, Motivations act as a offers to the players, a justification for acting or reacting in a certain way without fearing that other players will think that it represents your own morality. Our own morality can be messy and full of contradictions; there is far more joy to be had and drama to be made when your character's attitude is clearly written dow in front of you.

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Teen Detective Design talk: Lightbulbs & Making Trouble
Having covered Edges, Danger and Dark Secrets, the third and most controversial element of design is Lightbulbs.

Lightbulbs are primarily to support the Collaborative style of play. Collaborative players don't just wish to work through a mystery set by the GM, they wish to contribute to that mystery, often tying their teens closer to it.

Players start with one Lightbulb each, unless they decide that their teen has been ostracised from their peer group in which case they get two.

Lightbulbs can be used in two ways: first to gain an Edge in a current scene, second to add something to a prior scene.

For Puzzle and Pulp players, buying an Edge helps work through content they're less interested in. Maybe a student has a clue but is unwilling to talk. Rather than spend time working out how to put pressure on him, the players want to move on; one player spends an Lightbulb to give themself the Edge of being close friends with the student so he opens up. Or a player spends a Lightbulb to make their teen a member of the AV club so that they then have access to equipment they need.

In a way, such use is akin to retroactive character creation or unspent build points, in the genre teen detectives already have the skills or contacts needed to solve the mystery. This Lightbulb use doesn't create a clue, it just helps the players to get to the next clue. It therefore helps out GMs who would otherwise have to drop heavier and heavier hints to players who are stuck and it does so without taking agency from the players. They are the ones deciding how they will get the clue, they're just doing it in a different way than the GM envisaged.

The second, more controversial, way to use a Lightbulb is to add something to a prior scene.  This is designed to duplicate the 'Aha!' moment in the detective genre where the detective has a flash of insight and understands the significance of something they had previously overlooked. A classic example would be a detective suddenly remembering that an ashtray in a prior scene contained the stub of a cigarette only smoked by one of the suspects who had previously denied being there.

Why is this controversial? Because the players are not just creating how they get the clue, they have the power to create the clue itself. While the GM does get a veto, this is likely anathema to a GM trying to run a tightly plotted, pre-determined mystery. If they can't make the clue immediately fit their original structure, they will likely veto it or have it lead to a red herring, dispiriting the players who had so eagerly chased it down. That's why this use of Lightbulbs is suggested only for GMs interested in collaborative play, who enjoy the challenge of GMing a player-led mystery and making adjustments behind the scenes on the fly.

What can be awesome about this use though? It's that - when the players add something - they're telling you what's interesting them and they're telling you through the game. Say they've established what the murder weapon was and a player spends a Lightbulb to say that they remember seeing it in the Principal's office. Even though you intended the Principal to be a bit-part NPC, through this the players are saying that they found them interesting and want to interact with them more.

Pulp players may also use Lightbulbs this way after the mystery has been solved as part of putting things right. Say they discovered the culprit owns a software company, a player may spend a Lightbulb to say that - when they were previously at their offices - they noticed a gap in security allowing them to sneak in.

Finally, just as players may spend Lightbulbs so too may they replenish them. Here, the game asks players to collaborate with each other; a player may refresh a lightbulb if another player (whether using their character or not) makes trouble for their teen. Collaborative players do not necessarily expect their teens to have an easy life and so will instinctively create such content. Doing so refreshes each other's Lightbulbs so that they can continue to shape the mystery. Puzzle and Pulp players, meanwhile, are generally less interested in such content and so will naturally limit the number of Lightbulbs in the game.
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Teen Detective Design talk: Danger and Dark Secrets
Edges are about the only things that are core to a game of Teen Detective; everything else is there to support a particular playstyle (and the absence of anything else supports the Puzzle style).

The danger rules are there primarily to support the Pulp style. For Pulp players the fun is putting their teens in danger and (ultimately) triumphing. They want uncertainty in their outcomes and so Teen Detective borrows from Cthulhu Dark the simplest uncertainty mechanic: rolling a die.

Simple randomness isn't enough for most players though - as much as we may congratulate ourselves for rolling high, deep down we know it's luck not skill. So the game includes a way to exercise our judgement. When you put your teen at risk, you make the choice of how many dice you roll. How important is a high result for you? How many dice do you think you need? How many can you afford to roll?

Because there must be something to risk - just as in Cthulhu Dark you risk your mind, here you risk exposure of a dark secret about your family. The exposure takes your teen out of the investigation, just as killing an investigator would, but is more genre appropriate. Such revelations about the main characters' families are staples of shows like Veronica Mars and Riverdale and it allows the character to return in the future.

Originally, Teen Detective copied the Cthulhu Dark mechanic verbatim, but during development I made some changes:
- Because putting your teen at risk is always optional in TD I could allow for the roll to result in failure on a low result (and therefore a mixed success for a middle result).
- Because the impact of the exposure of a Dark Secret is less permanent than losing your mind in CD, it's more attractive. I wanted therefore to allow players who wished to trigger their teen's Dark Secret the ability to do so, by rolling as many dice as they want. This then removed the need to offer dice for particular specialisms.

How Dark Secrets are set is taken from Archipelago by Mattijs Holter. I made two changes:
- the player gets to write a Dark Secret of their own so there's always something they find acceptable in the mix
- the player doesn't choose their teen's Dark Secret, so they can be surprised an enjoy the revelation from the GM when it comes.
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Teen Detective Design talk: Edges
Edges are probably the most traditional aspect of Teen Detective and yet they also have a controversial side. Anyone familiar with GUMSHOE will recognise this as a leveraged clue. They're a way of providing structure to the investigation 'To get B you must first have A' that ensures the players follow the prescribed path.

In a way, a designer doesn't even need to have something like this in their rules. It's hardwired into the genre: witnesses don't tell the whole truth right off the bat, physical evidence is of limited use until it is placed in the right context, the detective has a skill or speciality which allows only them to grasp a clue’s significance.

Why include such a ‘rule’ then? Because it's the designer communicating to the players. The designer is saying “When you encounter an obstacle, don’t just give up. Think what you may have or be able to get to overcome it before you write it off a dead end”. It's the keyhole in the door. Yes, you can't progress right now but you are meant to go this way and the keyhole tells you what you need to progress.

So what's the perhaps controversial aspect of Edges? It's that they really can be anything. Players don't need A specifically to get B; they can use anything that would reasonably succeed.

A witness is obviously holding something back? A player can befriend them and encourage them to open up, or impress them, or intimidate them with their position or reputation, or try to bribe them, or offer them protection from retribution, or accuse and put pressure on them, or hack their computer and blackmail them or just about anything else

There’s not a single key they have to have to move forwards, it’s down to the players to think about what they already know or what they can find out that will overcome the obstacle they face and lengths they will go to do so. And then it’s for to the GM to play out the consequences, both good and bad, for their investigation and for themselves.

Teen Detective is available, now for $2, here
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*Teen Detective released (and free for a short time)*
Delighted to announce that this teen detective genre game is now up on DriveThru, designed by myself and with cover art by the talented Aviv Or.
Follow this collection to read more about the design over the next few days:

Why should I care?
Teen Detective is my take on adapting my favourite investigative game (Cthulhu Dark by Graham Walmsley) for the teen detective genre. If you're down with Cthulhu Dark's ultra-light ruleset, its fundamental trust between players and GM, and you like Veronica Mars or other teen detectives then you should give this a look (and download it, because it's free, but not for very long).

Wait, didn't you release this game about a month ago?
That was Teen Noir (which is still available here: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/222346/Teen-Noir ) it's in the teen mystery genre but a very different game. TN is GMless, designed for one-shots, and really about the strain of a friendship group where one friend is guilty and another is going to take the fall. Teen Detective is far more your classic GM brings a mystery, the players investigate, they find the culprit (or they don't) and then put things right however they think best. They're both teen games, but they scratch very different itches.

So this one is like Veronica Mars?
Yeah, right down to the differing motivations between the teens, dark secrets in the families, and maybe even occasionally destroying evidence to protect themselves at the cost of the investigation.

You've heard of Bubblegumshoe right?
Absolutely, but just as there's Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark and dozens of other horror investigative games I'm hoping there's room for both Bubblegumshoe and Teen Detective in the teen mystery genre.

What's this about three different playstyles? Puzzle, Pulp and Collaborative? How can the same game support all three?
The basic levers in the game are Edges, Lightbulbs and Taking Risks (which may trigger your Dark Secret). The different playstyles are all about the emphasis the GM gives each lever and how she encourages their use. I also write about the basic structure of the mystery and advise GMs about how to weight that structure for the different playstyles.

I couldn't have written Teen Detective for just a single playstyle, there are too many players out there who are into investigative games but enjoy very different approaches to them. I want GMs and players to be up front about the way they want to play this game and then support them in that choice. I know from experience that if a puzzle player, a pulp player and a collaborator all try to play with each other their own way they just piss each other off.

Say, hypothetically, I was writing a systemless teen mystery scenario, could I include the Teen Detective rules in the back of my book so buyers could play my scenario without necessarily having another game system?
That's a highly unlikely scenario, but almost certainly yes! Please talk to me first.

Teen Detective
Teen Detective
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Barring the unforeseen, I'll be publishing Teen Detective tomorrow. I'll be making it free for a short while after publishing it , so when you see the link go up I recommend grabbing a copy.
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“the cynicism of the private eye, the sense that she can read your guilt on your face, and her status as an outsider”
Part of the brief for the main cover character for_Teen Detective_
Read more from the artist Aviv Or in her blog post
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Separate from Teen Noir, this is a collection for my Veronica Mars inspired teen detective game built on Cthulhu Dark.
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