Grab a group of psychic-sensitive friends and sketch your way to the solution of a grizzly murder in Exquisite Crime, an upcoming tabletop RPG from the publishers of Alice is Missing that combines surrealist art, detective fiction and a play-to-find-out approach to collaborative fiction.
Exquisite Crime is designed by Banana Chan - her work includes Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall and the recently Kickstarted Suburban Consumption of the Monstrous - and Sen-Foong Lim, who co-authored Jiangshi and contributed to Avatar Legends, among others. Coupled with publisher Hunters Books, who handled the ENnie Award-winning Alice is Missing, and this title sports plenty of bona fides before one even looks inside the box.
Yet, that’s where things truly begin to get interesting, as Exquisite Crime has mashed together the parlour game-turned-art form that is Exquisite Corpse with a spooky mystery that must be solved one bit of information at a time. Means, motive, opportunity and the eventual profile of the guilty party are all created through a series of collaborative doodles stitched together to create a portrait that might trend towards the silly or the horrific in equal measure.
Two to four players begin by creating the setting from an ad-libbed prompt. Character creation is fairly simple, but each will take a Secret (yeah, capital S) that twists their motive or roleplay. Then, the group will use Zener Cards - inspired by the real-life perceptual psychologist Karl Zener - to assign traits to their psychics. Players will be asked to guess the symbol on their neighbour’s card, earning one of two traits depending on their accuracy. Perhaps they earned their position through nepotism and crony bootlicking, or they might be an overworked, burned-out shell of the optimistic youth that entered this field.
The story plays out through Vision cards the group will interpret according to the chosen scenario’s prompt. One player will start a drawing in the top cell of a tri-sectioned sheet before hiding their part and passing it along. The second player continues this sketch innocent of the previous psychic’s work, and the last will finish it off in the same fashion. The group will continue this somewhat baffling exercise for several rounds, each drawing a vital clue - the scene, witnesses, suspects, etc. - from the psychic ether and etched upon their doodle pads.
As shown on the crowdfunding page, the unfolded results can be initially impenetrable or at least hilariously unsettling. Is the suspect a puffin wearing gigantic jewelry and shorts to hide its lizard tail? Or are they closer to the lead role in a high school drama production of Napoleon’s life? The key here is understanding everything is open to interpretation - these sketches are hints and intuition pulled from the psychic ether and should be read as metaphor. The designers even encourage those lacking conventional artistic talents to decoupage or clip art their way through the game.
Exquisite Crime will contain six scenarios that each take about two or three hours to run, and more are planned as stretch goals. Like the rest of the game, these can range in tone and subject matter. For example, A Murder Most Fowl takes place aboard a bird-stuffed train to the Antarctic capital, Polar Bear Town, to attend a penguin marathon, but then somebody assumingly gets their feathers plucked, so to speak. Safety tools will be included alongside other calibration tools to help gauge what kind of evening the group wants to experience. All of the art comes from illustrator and comics artist Julianne Griepp.
The Kickstarter campaign for Exquisite Crime runs through November 16th and is offering the game as a digital PDF, a Roll20-compatible version and a physical box. All three cost $20 (£15), $30 (£22) and $40 (£29), respectively. The two digital versions will be available in June of 2022, while the boxed version will make its way to backers later that same year in December.