Grey Cells – Australian Mystery RPG

We’ve all been burnt by Kickstarter before, some of us never go back, others shrug it off completely. Me? I kind if float in the middle. I’ll only back something if it’s really, really good and only then at the lowest tier.

I’m also a big fan of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG, have been for years. While walking through haunted mansions, discovering lost tomes, and slowly going insane are all fun, it’s the mystery and deduction that I enjoy most.

So naturally when I saw an Australian made ‘Streamlined Mystery RPG’ with a $3 pledge level that included all the material in PDF format I was intrigued.

Bogdan Constantinescu has been working on Grey Cells for quite some time now. It’s not the first game he has designed, but it is his first professional release. It’s also not the first version of Grey Cells either, the game having gone through two major rewrites.

You can engage in a mystery in just about any RPG ruleset you care to mention. What makes Grey Cells different is it’s designed from the ground up to revolve around mysteries and those who investigate them.

Even with Call of Cthulhu there are times when the players aren’t playing investigators, rather they are simply ‘average’ people in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Grey Cells by and large assumes that everyone is an investigator, whether it be a beat cop, detective, reporter, or your Miss Fisher type. You’re not just simple investigators either, more like super investigators. You’re a Sherlock Holmes, a Hercule Poirot, a Miss Marple, or maybe a Columbo. You have skills, contacts, special actions, and powers that revolve around investigation.

The rules are quite streamlined and easy to understand, and instead of a 100 different skills activities are simply linked to basic attributes. A character with good observation skills will spot a hidden button just as well as they would someone slinking in the dark. Makes sense.

An interesting aspect of Grey Cells is the ability for players to directly impact the course of the story. For instance, if the party where to become stalled or stuck, a player could use a special power to introduce a brand new NPC to the story who can help the team out and point them in a new direction. I’ve enjoyed this aspect of co-operative story telling with other systems and find it enjoyable, provided you’re a game master who can ad-lib and roll with it.

Another interesting mechanic is that investigations are timed. The players can only do so much before the villain of the story completes their objectives. Players will need to not only move fast, but effectively. Working together might mean more skills on the ground and less chance of missing something, but splitting up will cover more ground.

The Kickstarter Campaign for Grey Cells has been a great success, already smashing it’s humble goal of $1,500 AUD with just over $7,000 at time of writing. As such, backers get to enjoy a number of ‘Stretch Goals’.

Role20.Net functionality will be included for those who can only (or prefer) to play their RPGs online.

A supplementary zine had been released that includes five popular mysteries and how to run them in the Grey Cells system. These will include such mysteries as ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and ‘The Silence of the Lambs’.

A supplementary zine will include three new settings – ‘Fantasy’, ‘Science Fiction’, and ‘Lovecraftian’. The Fantasy portion will introduce a magic system, which no doubt will need to be carefully balanced as magical divination could solve a case fairly quickly. The science fiction portion will include space ships and ‘Cyberpunk’ themes, which should satisfy those looking for a ‘Blade Runner’ experience.

As a Call of Cthulhu player I’m naturally intrigued by the inclusion of the ‘Lovecraftian’ supplement and the inclusion of madness. This wasn’t announced until after I had made my pledge so it wasn’t a deciding factor for me initially.

If anything I’ve written above has you intrigued, and you enjoy your tabletop RPGs, then you’d be mad not to throw $3 at this project. Prefer physical material? No problem, for a meager $15 you can snap up all of Grey Cells in printed form (with the PDF’s included as well).

Head on over to the Kickstarter Page for more information, and to slap down a couple of dollars. I hope to have a full review of the game once I have the finished PDF in my virtual hands, and some time to play.

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