A SINS game should be run somewhat like a 90s detective TV show, and so it's helpful to get a handle on a "theorized" episode format.
Helpfully, a lot of this is stuff I've actually seen work at a table, as it comes directly from the 80s theme cop game I played in.
Cold Opening & The Hook
Sometimes called a teaser, each episode should start with a short bit of story, possibly involving the PCs, or not, that leaves the players wanting to know more. It should normally foreshadow the plot of the episode, but it can also end up being a red hearing or a chance show off some backstory for a character. As a "Hook," the scene should end with things unresolved, leaving the players eager to step in and get involved.
A scene involving parents disusing how hard it was to get their daughter to go to sleep because she's scared of the monster under the bed. They are interrupted by a their daughter screaming, which they react to with frustration, only to become alarmed when a strange noise cuts in, and the sound of glass shattering ends the scream. The scene ends with the parents finding their daughter's room empty and the her windows smashed out.
Feel free to use phrase things in camera cut or shots. "At first the shot is just darkness and the city skyline at night. The camera pulls back to reveal first the broken glass, then the window frame with pink curtains flapping in the breeze from the shattered window, and finally the camera stops once it's reveling the the crying parents holding each other as the sound of police sirens grows. Cut to Opening Credits."
At the start of the episode have the group make their Case Board checks to determine how the unit is doing. Hand out any earned Favor Tokens and note any Negative PR draws accumulated.
In most cases you can assume it's the start of the night shift, and all characters are in the SI office. Captain Decoudreau should offer up the two new cases for the episode. If the players did poorly on the Reputation Test at the end of last session she should also pull aside which ever character is targeted and let him know that IA has taken an interest in their activities.
The Two Case Structure
Most episodes should have a Primary and a Secondary case. The primary case will become the focus of the episode, and likely involve magic and/or monsters. The Secondary Case is a chance to show off the kind of odd and/or messed up cases other units drop on the SI Unit. As the Director, it's best if you don't spell out which case is just the Secondary. In some situations, it will be obvious becuse one will match the Cold Opening, but keeping it vague, or even doing a change up now and again helps keep the players honest and guessing.
"Missing Person's gave us a lost husband, white male age 73. We also got a probable suicide case from hommicide. Roll common knowledge with a +1 for being police. Those of you that make the check realize that for homicide unit to give up an easy-to-solve suicide case something must be odd about it."
Let the players determine how to split the case load, but each case needs a Primary Detective. A Lieutenant can be the Primary if he/she so chooses, but as the stars of the show, they can't pawn a case off on Extras. The primary detective doesn't have to be the senior officer, but does have to be a Detective. K9-Units and other Uniformed Officers can't be primary.
In most cases the players should break up into pairs of partners, with one Primary Detective and one assisting officer that need not be a detective. While this is standard, many tv shows break this concept regularly, so lone wolf detectives are fine, especially if you have an odd number of players or a Rookie Partner hinderance throws off the balance.
Just because the players can't give a case to an Extra doesn't mean you can't. If someone took the Rookie Partner hindrance, consider handing the player a Benny and making the Rookie Partner primary detective on the case.
Depending on the cases, the players will likely need to visit crime scenes, interview witnesses and victims, and gather evidence.
- Canvas the neighborhood for witnesses - Streetwise. Include the Fear level as a penalty, as people are afraid to talk about what they have seen or heard.
- Look for physical evidence - Notice. If the players bring in Crime Scene Techs, any pertinant details will come up later in their report, but by looking around in person, the players might spot key clues immediately. Spending a Favor Token can get the lab to make a particular case a priority and get the results back faster than normal. Without getting Crime Scene Techs onto the scene in person, the best a character can do is bag evidence themselves and bring it into the lab themselves. The lab is the only way players can get trace evidence like finger prints, DNA, hairs, etc analyzed.
- Talk to witnesses/victims - Intimidate, Persuasion, Taunt, etc. Remember that the responding officer(s) on a case may be a witness, and will be subject to the unit reputation penalty.
- Medical Examiner Evidence - Medicine and/or Notice. Similar to Physical evidence, the ME is likely to notice most obvious things and give rough ideas, with more details after the body is taken back to the morgue and autopsied. Players with the right skills might notice something interesting before the body is taken back to the morgue, and a Favor Token can get the Autopsy and Toxicology results much faster.
- Research - Investigation. Checking various records can turn up past offenders, financial history, marriage and divorced records, deeds, and other useful paperwork details about people, places, and things pertinent to the case.
- Ballistic Evidence - Shooting. Simply finding shell casings and bullet holes is a notice check, but determinig the angle of fire, location of shooters, and caliber of weapon based on damage is all variants on shooting.
- Paranormal Investigation - Knowledge: Occult. Besides being used to recognize occult symbols or the possible implications of a bowl of cream, players might try waving a magnetic compass around, looking for "cold spots," or possibly using a weegie board get some sense of the sueprnatural. These kinds of ghost "hunting tricks" tend to give vague answers at best.
The big question with crime scenes is: is there a body? If it's a murder scene, it gets an elevated level of coverage, and at the very least a Medical Examiner should be present to inspect the body before it's moved. Otherwise, the players are free to inspect things as they see fit.
If there is a human
corpse, they players can expect the Medical Examiner to check the body before it's moved. Because it's moddled on a TV show, this happens right around when they arrive on scene. The players will have to spend Favor tokens to get Crime Scene techs on the scene if they want checks for trace evidence. If the players are low, or out, of favor tokens, they might try using a persuasion check to get the techs, but remember to include the unit's current reputation penalty. Most crime scenes are secured by the responding officers. The scene might be a few hours old by the time SI gets there, and a small crowd of gawkers may have gathered.
Medical Examiners come free with a human corpse, but players should have to spend a Favor Token to get them involved with animal remains.
Some evidence requires advanced techniques to best be utilized, and when that's the case the players will need to make use of the crime lab. Unlike modern CSI focused shows, 90s detective shows largely gloss over the complicated science instead of trying to make test tubes and microscopes look exciting. For SINS, a trip to the Crime lab is either to drop of evidence the players have collected themselves, or to pickup results from the techs on evidence they already got in earlier scenes. It doesn't cost the players anything, other than time, to bring "bagged" evidence to the crime lab for anylasis. Spending a Favor Token can get the crime techs out to a scene to sweep it for trace evidence, effectively increaseing the quality of related skills checks one step automatically. Don't bother rolling for the Crime Scene techs.
While the Medical Examiner does cursory check of a corpse on scene, likely noting probable meathod and time of death, full details don't happen until after an Autopsy and Toxicology report... and that happens back in the morgue. TV Detectives frequently find themselves standing over a dead body having various details pointed out by the Medical Examiner. Especially gruesome or disturbing bodies might call for Spirit check to avoid getting sick. Favor Tokens spent at the Morgue might get your test results back faster, as toxicology reports alwasy seem to be holding a warrent for TV detectives, but for SINS episodes it might also be helpful to borrow a part of a vicitim from time to time.
The interogation room at SI is not of the highest quality, but it works, complete with a only slightly cracked one way window. For TV Detectives, persons of interest are taken into the box for questioning, and cases frequently hinge on prying a confession from a suspect while he's in the box. In SINS, a full interogation is handled using the Social Conflict rules. Failure means the the suspect demands a lawyer and shuts up, success means he tells the truth, depending on the level of success. This isn't just limited to getting confessions. TV style interogations are often used to convince an uncoperative witness to admit what they saw, for exmaple. There are two good reasons to hold interogations in the Box. First: Admisions of guilt held else where have a tendancy to be inadmissible. Secondly, trying interogations else where comes with penalties, likely around -2 or worse for not having the right environment. On the other hand, getting a suspect into the box generally requires a warrent, or convincing the suspect to come with you of his own free will. A classic TV cop trick is to ask the suspect to come in and give a statement, make an identification, or review some evidence, implying they aren't a suspect until they are already in the room and talking.
If the players have managed to find a witness, getting a description of a suspect might not be enough to help locate them. A Favor Token can get a department sketch artist to do produce a likeness of a target, while another favor token can get it on an APB to patrol cars and beat cops across the city. A crafty player might take "sketch artist" or a similar enough artistic trait for one of their defining characteristics, implying they had art training or talent in their backstory. In that case a Common Knowledge roll is sufficient for getting a likeness from working with a witness.
A Key Clue is any clue that if not
found, will derail the epsidoe. Essentially they are the bare minimum to needed to string an episode's main case togeather, and as such they shouldn't be tied to skill check success. This doesn't mean there are no skill checks, only that the results of failure are not catstrophic. Key Clues are not nessisary for Secondary Cases. Players can fail to solve such cases.
The Detectives are investigating the scene of a back alley shoot out that narcotics has dropped in their laps. There's blood on the scene, but no bodies. The detectives can look around, call in Crime Scene Techs, or both. The players decide their detectives look around, so the Director calls for a Notice check. The Director needs the players to discover the Key Clue that the shoot-out involved silver bullets to advance the plot, so even if the players critcally fail the roll, they will still find a richochet on the brick wall leaving a clearly silver trail. If they succeed on the check, they will find some bullet holes with silver slugs in them, which they can examine with a shooting roll and/or bring into the crime lab for full anylisis. If the detectives get a raise, they will find even more bullet holes in the other direction (across the street, and easily missed) as well, but oddly still using the silver ammo from the same gun. This also allow for a Balisitics check to realize that the second set of shoots across the street likely weren't fired by the same person. Using a favor to call in the Crime Scene Techs automatically elevates the situation, so if all you find are richochets, or if you don't bother looking at all, the Techs find bullets. If you find the bullet holes before calling in the techs, they find the other shots across the street and let you know the gun changed users in the shoot out. Of course, Crime Scene Techs take time to be so thuorogh, so the players won't get the results until a later scene when their detective characters visit or call the crime lab for the results.
Closing the Secondary Case:
Around the time the players are getting into the details and supernatural repercusions of the primary case, they should also be closing up the simpler secondary case. If they manage to solve the case, by finding conclusive evidence and/or getting a suspect to confess, the Unit is awarded a Favor Token. An unsolved or abandonded case earns a Negative PR draw.
When the Secondary Case closes, or is lost, and the primary case really begins to heat up, it's often a good point to take a 5 minute break. Reveal something interesting and declare "Cut to commercial." Besides being a good time to grab a drink and snack, it's also a good time to ready the table for probable combat. Because the first investigation portion of the epsidoe probably didn't need much combat or grids, it's handy to prepare, and calling it a Commercial Break fits the theme.
Magic and Monsters
SINS primary cases are rarerly finished once the truth is uncovered. A rampaging werewolf isn't something you can just arrest and have sign a confession. The later half of most games will likely involve the group coming togeather to track down and fight some supernatural threat. In the case of supernatural monsters, they may also need to figure out how to best make use of the creature's weaknesses. Research in old books, talking with voodoo preistesses and preists, and producing odd type of ammo are common tasks leading up to final confrontations, although in many cases proper police investigations are need to locate the werewolf's home, or a ghost's estranged spouse. Because lead bullets aren't very effective on many supernatural threats, players may regularly find themselves Fighting face to face with things with fangs, maws, and claws.
With the monsters killed, and the day saved, the only thing left to do is the paperwork. One of the eligible players will need to make a Persuasion check explain away all the magic and monsters in the final reports and public statements. If the mosnter is gone, and the rational explination sounds good enough, you might even lower the fear level.
The other task is dealing with the fallout from the often unorthodox policing style of the Special Investigations Unit: The Repuation Test. Remember that reputation doesn't go above 0 or bellow -2. Some rewards, and penalties, carry over into the next episode, so be sure to note them somewhere. If the players earned an IA investigation, it's handy to have some time between sessions to think on what activities from the episode they are looking into, and thus WHO they are looking into. After all, you don't have to tell anyone until the next episode starts.
Special Note: Red Ball
In TV police slang, a Red Ball is a case with lots of dreaded media coverage. In SI, tht's doubly worse as reports of cops fighting "demons" is not something that the department wants on the nightly news. For players, Red Ball cases have the advantage of making it easier to get police resources. You don't need to spend a favor to have the Crime Scene Techs show up at a scene. On the flip side, the enhanced scrutiny may require you to spend Favor Tokens to keep the department off your back while you do something abnormal. Red Ball cases tend to involve the famous, high body counts, or missing children, and shouldn't be too common.