Thursday, 3 April 2014

Faces in the Crowd: Monty Egg & Inspector Japp (Trail of Cthulhu)

From time to time it occurs to me that campaigns can benefit from borrowing fictional characters. Not the famous ones, necessarily; there's a danger of overkill if the protagonists suddenly realize they're dealing with Sherlock Holmes, for example. The non player character shouldn't overshadow the player characters, and someone of Holmes' reputation is bound to take up center stage. In my own scenarios I've borrowed real people, like Holmes' creator, but I've tried to keep them as advisers or background color. Anything else risks derailing the plot.

Yet there are times when a more obscure fiction could come in handy, and for this post I'm going to talk about two detectives: Dorothy Sayers' Monty Egg, and Agatha Christie's Inspector Japp.

Montague Egg is a commercial traveler, operating on behalf of wine merchants Plummet & Rose, Piccadilly. He's a young man, well mannered, and usually well - if not expensively - dressed. He served in the War, though there's no mention of any distinctions, and is unmarried. There's no suggestion of a romantic life; the closest Egg gets to that is in Maher-shalal-hasbaz, in which he comes to the rescue of a young woman. Like most fictional detectives, his personal life isn't nearly as important as his deductive ability, and Monty scores here by being both observant and, in his own field, very clever. In once case, Sleuths on the Scent, he picks out which, of all the people currently in the same pub as he, is the chemist suspect the police are looking for, because he knows how chemists will pour out small samples from a bottle. In The Poisoned Dow '08, he suspects the killer - a servant - from the start because the last time Egg called at the house the servant was rude to him, whereas on this occasion he's startlingly polite. He's the sort of person who knows a lot of little things, and is willing to put the work in. His characteristic habit is to quote from his favorite reading material, The Salesman's Handbook, which contains such gems as:

To serve the public is the aim of every salesman worth the name.

Don't trust to luck but be exact, and certify the smallest fact.

The salesman who will use his brains will spare himself a world of pains.

The salesman with the open eye sees commissions mount up high.

A commercial traveler, for those not familiar with the term, is a traveling salesman. He might own his own car, or travel by train; Egg has a car. He goes from place to place persuading customers to order his company's spirits, in an age long before the internet, and in Egg's case he usually targets individual buyers rather than trade orders. A commercial traveler, by necessity, knows everything there is to know about the roads, rails and pubs on his beat; he relies on them for his food and lodging.

In a Trail of Cthulhu game someone like Monty is both antagonist and potential ally. The characters are often up to no good, even if their intentions are noble; Monty, in his role as amateur sleuth, might work out what they've been up to. As an ally Monty has a wealth of information to offer, both about his clients and about his beat. He also knows a great many police officers, which might come in handy if the protagonists find themselves in need of official help.

Montague Egg

Abilities: Athletics 4, Conceal 4, Driving 5, Firearms 4, First Aid 3, Fleeing 5, Health 6, Scuffling 4, Weapons 5 [note: his combat scores reflect his Great War service; Egg never got into scuffles in any of his stories.]

Alertness: +1

Stealth: +0

Special: If he becomes an ally, he acts as a free 1 point pool Cop Talk, or Evidence Collection.

Inspector Japp is slightly more famous than Egg, but that's thanks to his association with world-famous detective Hercule Poirot. Japp has a career of his own, and the Keeper may find it useful to have a Scotland Yard policeman on call who everyone will recognize. Japp is a competent investigator in his own right, but Poirot deplores "his general lack of method," and Poirot's friend Hasting thinks Japp's "highest talent lay in the gentle art of seeking favors in the guise of conferring them!"

His television appearances are much more frequent than his fictional history would suggest. He appears in seven novels and a handful of short stories, whereas in Suchet's television series he's pretty much the only policeman Poirot knows. Christie spends very little time describing Japp - she spends very little time on any of her characters, really - but if we take Philip Jackson's Japp as a model then he's an older man, probably in his mid-to-late 30s or early 40s, in good physical condition. He doesn't often get into fights in the stories, but it's reasonable to think he can hold his own in a brawl. In the television series he's more of an action hero, and is often seen taking down a suspect or chasing after one. As an investigator he is thorough and has good instincts, though he will sometimes come to the wrong conclusion because, as Poirot would describe it, he accepts what he sees without question, when he ought to see with "the eyes of the mind" and work out what must have happened from the available facts.  He rises to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector, which means he ought to have significant authority, but it may be more sensible - from a game perspective - to keep him at lower rank, at least to start with.

As a policeman Japp's obvious use, to the Keeper, is as a potential antagonist. In The Many Deaths of Edward Bigsby, Detective Inspector Howard is a Japp-alike, capable of causing the protagonists a lot of trouble. But if they manage to win Howard over, he can be a tremendous help to them. At the same time, Japp isn't going to overshadow the protagonists. He's no deductive genius, nothing like as clever as Poirot. He's very energetic and determined, but if the protagonists try, they can out-think him. 

Detective Inspector James Harold Japp

Abilities: Athletics 6, Conceal 2, Disguise 2, Firearms 5, Fleeing 6, Health 8, Scuffling 8, Weapons 4

Alertness: +0

Stealth: +1

Special: If he becomes an ally, he acts as a free 1 point pool Cop Talk, or Forensics.

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