Saturday, December 3, 2016

RPG Review: Baker Street

Baker Street Cover
This issue we review Baker Street, published by Fearlight Games (site). Baker Street is a role playing game (RPG) involving the most famous of Baker Streets, based upon the work of the late-great, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This review concerns the Portable Document Format (PDF), which is available at and The game was successfully brought to life via Kickstarter to the tune of just over $31k.

Disclosure: This review is property of Kenzer and Company, republished here with permission, and may Links to product pages include my
affiliate identification. I receive token % if you purchase something on the landing page. Baker Street was provided by Fearlight Games free of cost for the purpose of this review.  
“The year is 1891, and Dr. Watson needs your help. Holmes is missing and cases are pouring into Baker Street. It is up to you to select a Victorian profession and put your brain power to work against Sherlock Holmes’s greatest foes.”  (Pg. 5)
The player characters will be thrust into the spot light of consulting detectives in the stead of the most famous consulting detective of all time. The timeline of Baker Street is the Victorian era, shortly after Holmes and Moriarty have had their (perhaps) deadly confrontation at Reichenbach Falls.

The mechanics of Baker Street involve the use of standard six sided dice (D6) and a special D6 named the Sherlock Die. This dice is numbered one thru three, on three of the sides and with a Holmes, Watson and Moriarty icon on each of the other faces of the D6. Though I don’t possess the Sherlock Die this is easy enough to simulate with a different colored dice.
Something to understand is that the characters (investigators) in Baker Street don’t have attributes. Actions and conflicts are resolved with skills. The number of skill points indicates how many standard D6s are rolled to determine whether the skill attempted was successful. Rolling the standard D6s for a skill check, fours, fives and sixes indicates a success. The amount of success needed for a specific skill check is determined by the Mastermind (Game Master/ Referee), though a difficulty chart is provided and entails the basic idea of how this works.  

Two nuances to this are that using a professional skill (listed with a specific profession) allows the investigator to roll additional dice and that any sixes rolled may be rerolled (similar to dice penetration or an explosion mechanic) for an opportunity to roll additional success and add them to the total, with no maximum of successes.
In addition to the standard D6s-the Sherlock Die is rolled. With this dice if the player rolls a number (1-3) they can change any standard dice of the same number from a failure to a success. If the Holmes icon is rolled they get to choose which of the dice they change, while rolling the Watson icon allows one extra success or to distribute the success to a fellow investigator on their next roll. Rolling Moriarty removes successes equal to the number of rolls which did not succeed. Brutal-I love it!         

This really is a wonderful dice system. I wasn’t sure at first-so I broke out the dice and did some experimenting. Also the choice to design a skill based system over any other sort be it attribute or ability based system eliminates number crunching and focuses on exactly what this game is-a detective fiction RPG.
Creating an investigator in Baker Street is broken down into four easy steps, the first of which is selecting a profession, which there are a total of thirty-five to choose from. Professions run the myriad of Victorian social casts from street urchins to the middle class and wealthy. The number and variety of professions in Baker Street is a definite plus, be it in creating a diverse party of player investigators or the Mastermind needing a few NPCs to fill into a scenario. Each professional profile has a list of skills and specialties that make it unique as well as a social class and status rating, which are elements to add to the flavor of role playing.

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Second, after a profession has been selected players get to distribute thirty Investigator Points be it towards the improvement of professional skills-new skills, specialties and/or item characteristics for their investigator. The Skill list and Specialties do a very adequate job at giving a glimpse of the setting and the manner of gameplay. Item Characteristics is an interesting section and gives the player an opportunity to create special items which may work exceptionally or not so exceptionally as well as these items may impact resolutions.
Players will later be able to improve their investigator abilities by distributing experience points that have been awarded at conclusion of their cases. This serves as the games experience point system a good deal is outlined in how the Mastermind should decide to distribute points among the players, as well as what cost involves for character improvement.

Third, players are tasked determining the characteristics of their investigator. Every player investigator is tasked with coming up with two characteristics for Personal, Professional, and Negative. There is an ample list provided to get players started in the right direction for each category, as well as with Mastermind approval they can create their own. Characteristics provide both the opportunity for role playing (and the accumulation of experience points) as well as a potential boom or bust toward skill rolls.
The last step is completing the investigators profile and giving the basic details of character such as name age and a few other details.

Beyond creating investigators, there is a great amount of detail to towards the Victorian setting. Laws as well as sections regarding custom and status-even a good sized list of criminals to add to the mix; these sections really help fill in some of the details and bring the setting to life. How action and initiative functions brings a fresh approach to game mechanics. It is a turn based system with the first character acting being able to select the next.
Investigation in Baker Street feels like a game unto itself. Like a mini-game-within a role playing game, and adds an entirely different dynamic. To be fair-the investigation element of Baker Street is hard to simulate how it works without actually playing it. I haven’t yet had the opportunity, but I will. Just reading how it works, the investigation pays homage to the investigation elements present Sherlock fiction.

"Investigation Scenes play out in a series of rounds. During these, Observation, Reason, and Deduction Rounds, investigators make Skill Rolls to uncover clues, weed out false clues, and uncover possible leads to aid in their investigation. Players can choose to take additional scenes after the first - each extra scene taken increases the Threat Meter of the Adventure." (Pg. 64)
Observation, Reason and Deduction are skills. One player for each of the three phases of investigating a scene will become the player groups lead investigator-corresponding to the higher skill total and/or player decision. The lead investigator also borrows some skill ability of the overall group to conduct the phase.

An important element of the investigation (though most obvious) is the actual scene of the investigation, the Masterminds narrative. There is also the matter of who is giving the case to our investigators and what they say etc. Investigators can (usually) ask four questions per scene to help them narrow down clues.  

Clue cards are provided with the Observation phase of the investigation. A chart is provided which mitigates a roll difficulty for a scene corresponding to the number of clues-which may be discovered and the appropriate number of successes to maintain balance. Clue cards each provide three potential leads which will be further scrutinized in the Reason and Deduction phases. Some of these clues are false leads and will need to be scrutinized using reason and deduction.
Investigations will have a number of scenes, typically four per investigation (case). An investigation scene works as described above but the investigators may take on another scene (in the same place) to gather more clues/leads. However doing this raises the Threat Meter.

The Threat Meter in Baker Street is meant to provide tension to the story. Basically, the higher the threat meter gets-the more difficult the investigators will have in solving the case. As the threat meter rises, investigative rolls become more difficult in an addition to other possible difficulties-determined by the Mastermind. There may be points in the investigation where the investigators may have to decide to forgo the gathering of clues, in order to avoid raising the Threat Meter-this can happen if the rolls for gathering clues are really awful etc.
Baker Street comes with an investigation. The Case of the Jilted Bride is based on Mr. Doyle’s Fiction. This is very essential to the game itself-showing a future Mastermind the ins and outs of the game itself. Reading through it, it really helps to put some of the pieces of this game together in a meaningful way.

I don’t do scores for my reviews. If I did, Baker Street would get a pretty high total. I like this game. I’m also a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle-so I can’t help but wonder if that makes me a bit biased.
That said, Baker Street has a bit of everything. The dice mechanics and system is unique. The setting material is well presented, which a Mastermind can build more than a few cases around. I wouldn’t like printing out this PDF (full color and costly)-though the pages of parchment look rather excellent on my screen. There is respectable amount of illustrations used from the Doyle estate and quotes of Sherlock and other characters from these same works.

Overall, the game really does what it sets out to do and does it very well. Baker Street is an excellent game with a unique style and resolution to ins and outs of detective fiction in an RPG. The game as we say, is most assuredly afoot!

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