In an older article I celebrated the Support Squad, the characters that weren’t the front lines of a gaming group. These were the ones who didn’t have the guns, nor the combat capability normally expected for a game. Instead, they bring in an entirely different benefit, one of information, resources and overall assistance to the team.
And so we’re looking at the Support Squad more closely now, checking out what benefits they bring to the team, how they’re played, and what makes them a viable player role.
Today, we’re looking at The Researcher.
To go back to the very core of what they do, Researchers embark on activity based on human intellect in the investigation of matter. They are Specialists, capable of bringing a considerable amount of Intellectual strength to the fore in order to analyze and make breakthroughs in the investigation of a given concern.
While research might seem boring in most games, usually relegated to mere Investigation, Academics, Lore or Library Use rolls, it might be a good idea to examine the nature of the process from both real life, and in the dramatic point of view.
Researchers of a more scientific bent prefer to us the Scientific Method, which I’ll list here for the sake of completeness:
- Define the question
- Gather information and resources (observe)
- Form hypothesis
- Perform experiment and collect data
- Analyze data
- Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
- Publish results
- Retest (frequently done by other scientists)
The reason why I listed this is because each of these steps can be dramatized in an RPG. Let’s run through the list again and give a scene for each:
- Define the question – Situation comes up, a body is found, dead from an unknown cause. The Researcher’s job is to find out how the person died, what caused it, and how to prevent further, similar deaths.
- Gather information and resources (observe) – Starting with the body and moving to the scene of the crime, talking to witnesses or performing experiments, the Researcher begins to build a body of knowledge via means available to him or her. This is also usually when the GM slaps down a time limit. Either a fellow infected person is going to die in 24 hours, or some other tension cranking moment.
- Form hypothesis – A hypothesis is created, minor assumptions made. A primary course of action is prescribed and executed.
- Perform experiment and collect data – This is usually where the GM (or scriptwriter if this was a medical TV series) throws a curveball. Complications arise. New data manifests leading to clues on just what was really going on, or how something is actually not what they assumed. The clock is ticking.
- Analyze data – This is the climax. Research efforts turn into true methods of stopping the threat based on what is hopefully a complete set of data. Science rolls ahoy! White Wolf’s nWoD has an excellent system of extended rolls that eat away at crucial time with each roll… that’ll make the player sweat.
- Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis – This step doesn’t usually happen in RPGs and TV shows since they usually only get one shot at it. But it’s still useful to keep in mind just in case the GM decides to ramp up tension even further and say that due to the failure to stop it once, further complications just arose… Mutations, an Outbreak, etc.
- Publish results – Again another step that usually doesn’t happen, this is a good way for the Researcher to gain accolades for their efforts. Success in dealing with the threat should be properly acknowledged, whether it be with recognition in her field or some other in-game reward.
- Retest (frequently done by other scientists) – Nothing validates a Researcher character more than seeing the same trick tried twice and foiled by something she formulated before. Likewise, nothing riles a Researcher more than assuming her solution works in all cases to learn that the new threat was bio-engineered around her published findings.
So far we’ve gone through the list without a single punch thrown, and yet we’re full of ideas of how a Researcher’s role is not a boring knee-deep in papers routine job. It’s tension-filled, and equally important if it leads to finding out how to innoculate the field team in time so that they can start going out to a plague zone and start saving lives.