Murder in the Countryside

Introduction | Session Report | Comments

Introduction

Over holiday break, I finally got a chance to try out an RPG I’ve been wanting to play for a while, A Weekend in the Country (Second Edition) by Lari Assmuth. It’s a GM-less RPG that takes inspiration from The Wretched and from Brindlewood Bay. I’ve also never played either of those before, so the mechanics in this were entirely new to me. The concept of A Weekend in the Country is to solve a murder of the kind you might find in an Agatha Christie novel. Since I like those kinds of books and have an interest in GM-less games, I got a copy to try out. It’s just $5 USD and is available on itch.io at https://lari-assmuth.itch.io/a-weekend-in-the-country. With just the PDF and a standard deck of cards, you are ready to play. Oh, and you will also need to look up a chart of poker hand rankings, if you’re not already familiar with those.

Here’s how the author described it in the reddit post that caught my attention: A Weekend in the Country is a GM-less game for one or more players, in the British cozy mystery style of Hercule Poirot. Spend a weekend relaxing in the Adlers’ country home with the old cavalry colonel, his wife, his family friends and his staff. Until… a murderer strikes! Gather clues to find out what really happened at the Adlers’ estate, and to find out which of your main suspects had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crime!

Session Report

Dramatis Personae

Victim

Lord Adler, retired colonel of the Imperial Yeomanry Cavalry.

Suspects

Lady Adler, Lord Adler’s young wife. A child of merchant wealth rather than the aristocracy.

Lady Blakeley, amateur artist and friend of Lady Adler. Her sickly older husband is not visiting the estate.

Lord Entwhistle, a young lord here with his mother, the widow Lady Entwhistle. His late father served with Lord Adler but was dishonorably discharged following a court-martial.

Mr. Cooper, Lord Adler’s ambitious valet.

Having 5 rooms to investigate fit nicely with the 5 columns on my foldout dry-erase mat.
Detectives

A Weekend in the Country is designed to have a single detective investigate the Adler murder, with all players controlling that one detective. However, our group of four players decided to each create our own character. 

  • Mrs. Belvedere, middle-aged widow. Her spouse’s murder was her first case. After she solved it, she became a private detective. She is at the estate at Lord Adler’s invitation.
  • Charlie Swift, young adult and former street urchin. His major break was a high-profile robbery that he was able to solve using his underworld contacts. He is now a partner in Belvedere & Swift Detective Agency. He is at the estate at Lord Adler’s invitation.
  • Spencer Marks, horse-breeder extraordinaire. Although not a detective himself, he has helped solve many horse-related crimes, such as breeding scams and racetrack riggings. He has frequently consulted on cases for Belvedere & Swift. He is at the estate as a friend of Lord Adler.
  • Col. Farnsworth, young officer currently in charge of the Imperial Yeomanry Cavalry. Although not a detective himself, he has investigative experience due to participating in courts-martial in the service. He is at the estate as a protégé of Lord Adler.

Clues

1. Study/2♠: Mrs. Belvedere is not convinced that the murder happened where the body was found, so she investigates the place she last saw Lord Adler, his study. There she runs into the butler, Jones, who reports having overheard Lord Adler last night talking to someone in the study. The lord was melancholic and reflective as he reminisced about betraying someone when promoted to colonel. Jones says the words were slurred, so the lord could have been drugged or drunk at that point in time.

2. Servants’ Quarters/7♥: Meanwhile, Charlie Swift talks with the lower class sorts like himself in the servants’ quarters. Miss Mary, the chambermaid, reports hearing voices drifting down the staircase that leads up to the master bedroom. The shouting was intense, but she could not make out the words. One of the voices was Lord Adler’s, but the other was not one she was as familiar with. It could have belonged to a young man or a lady with a deeper voice. This incident occurred around 10 pm, she estimates.

3. Bedrooms/2♥: Spencer Marks investigates Lord Adler’s bedroom, as that is where the body was found. There he uncovers boxes of very old and yellowed paper, letters that have been kept for a long time. They are all signed Your Dearest H, and based on the contents, they were written by a woman.

4. Study/4♠: Col. Farnsworth shares with Belvedere & Swift his own observations from the study, where he had talked with Lord Adler last night. Their conversation ended when Farnsworth saw suspicious movement out through the window. He left Lord Adler alone in the study a little before 10 pm and headed into the gardens to investigate. He was not able to find any tracks, but clearly someone was out prowling about on that side of the house. And Lord Adler’s bedroom is right above the study.

5. Kitchen/8♦: In search of a murder weapon, Mrs. Belvedere heads to the kitchen. In the pile of kitchen scraps bound for the compost pile, she finds letters addressed to Lord Adler from a collection agency. They demand that he pay his debts. The letters look like they were all in one stack that was quickly torn in half.

6. Bedrooms/5♦: Charlie Swift notices a painting is missing from the hallway that the bedrooms all connect to. Lord Adler became quite an art collector after retirement. Some have even said he squandered his wealth on this habit and became a bit of a hoarder.

7. Bedrooms/5♥: Still sitting on the floor in Lord Adler’s bedroom, Spencer Marks continues reading letters. Eventually, he has enough to put together a timeline of sorts. The mysterious H was not married in the earlier letters, but clearly she was in the later letters. Yet she continued to carry on this forbidden affair of the heart, even after giving her husband a son. Spencer wonders if the mysterious H in these letters could be Lady Helena Entwhistle. Perhaps the young Lord Entwhistle learned of the affair and acted out of rage.

At this point, the best hand we can make is two pair, fives and twos, which is not strong but might beat a random hand drawn in Lord Entwhistle’s defense. The tension mechanic we are using (discussed more below) has just narrowly missed resulting in another murder. We decide that if we find any other clues that can strengthen this hand, we’ll accuse Lord Entwhistle. And then the very next card we draw is another five! A full house is a much stronger poker hand, one we can confidently act on.

8. Attic/5♠: Col. Farnsworth investigates the attic, looking for signs of foul play above Lord Adler’s bedroom. He finds the floorboards loose above Lord Adler’s closet, which could have allowed the murderer to get into and out of the room undetected.

Accusation

With fives full of twos, we accuse Lord Entwhistle of killing Lord Adler. The young Lord Entwhistle overheard that Lord Adler had betrayed his one-time friend, the previous Lord Entwhistle, by having an affair with Lady Entwhistle. While initially the young Lord Entwhistle was going to be satisfied with stealing one of Lord Adler’s valuable paintings as revenge, things turned violent when Lord Adler caught him with it. Entwhistle murdered Adler and then escaped the scene of the crime via the attic. Given his weak defensive hand of high card nine, Entwhistle confesses when confronted. The detectives recover the missing painting from his bedroom as additional incriminating evidence. 

Accusation and Defense

Comments

A Weekend in the Country definitely was not our usual type of RPG. It is more of a shared storytelling opportunity than an avenue to embody a character and explore their personality and activities. It was an interesting challenge to come up with clues that fit the prompts and provided some meat, while also remaining vague enough to back multiple explanations of events. The whole thing from set-up to accusation took less than an hour. We really had a lot of fun and will certainly play it again in the future as a sort of RPG-lite activity. 

In fact, our main discussion after the game centered on replayability. The juiciest clues in the game are face cards, and we drew none of those, so we could do the Adler murder again to have some new experiences that way. Eventually, though, we will exhaust interest in the intrigues of this household. We brainstormed some ways to use the Mythic Game Master Emulator to help generate new suspects and clue prompts or even increase the difficulty. If/when we get around to trying that out, I’ll be sure to share more.

One last thing I want to comment on is the tension mechanic in the game. As written, it is completely optional and requires a tumbling block tower and a d6. We did not have the blocks, but we wanted something to force us to act. The method we settled on was that the murderer would strike again if we rolled >17 using 2d6+clue#. This would guarantee we had at least 5 cards (so some sort of poker hand) before the murderer struck again. And since we were adding the number of clues to the roll each time, it increased the chance of another murder as the game went on. I’d be curious to hear other ideas for tension mechanics that don’t involve tumbling block towers.