Review of The Mystery Business!

Bringing in some wonderful Saturday morning mystery vibes, The Mystery Business sets you up for some cartoony fun and some whacky shenanigans with your friends as you find clues, trigger chase scenes, and meddle with the villains plans!

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The Mystery Business can be played with all ages (d100 and modifier math required)

The Mystery Business is appropriate for all ages in it’s content – it clearly specifies that it’s intended to capture the feel of a Saturday morning cartoon mystery where no one really gets hurt and there’s no combat (but there are fun traps and chase scenes). It’s pretty easy for players to follow the sequence of events during the game, and it gives lots of examples that can be read to young players or players who are new to TTRPG to learn the gist of the game.

For math and reading skills required, players should be able to follow along on their character sheet or get help from a player/GM who can read, which should be fairly easy to assist with since it’s a one page character sheet with a logical structure. With regards to math, it uses a d100 system where you roll and total two d10 percentile dice to get a score out of 100 and then compare to a target or add modifiers. With my kid, they can confidently add numbers below 20, so for this part, I just helped with showing how to do larger math problem, and my kid caught on, so it ended up being a good learning experience and was easy for me to help with mid-game.

The Mystery Business is set in a world of mysteries ready for solving

Like I mentioned in the first section, The Mystery Business is set up to feel like a Saturday morning cartoon mystery! This means that the group of players is used to finding questions, secrets, and problems wherever they happen to find themselves. They likely have a tendency to breakdown just outside of a spooky mansion, go to the only summer camp in the state that’s regularly visited by Bigfoot, or answer the call when someone rings them up to tackle a suspected haunting. It’s also clear from the descriptions and set up that this is MEANT to be cartoony and fun, encouraging the GM and players to lean into tropes and have fun making references!

Your character in The Mystery Business

In The Mystery Business, you play either a teen/young adult OR a talking animal companion (or other strange team member, like a robot or a disguised alien) who is on the case to solve the mystery at hand!

You’ll choose from a set of archetypes like the Cowardly one or the Intelligent one to determine your particular core skill targets, contested skills modifiers, starting luck and fear points, and more. Once familiar with your character, you’ll choose a catchphrase, answer some questions as a group to solidify your characters’ bond, and you’re all set!

The archetype sets made it really easy to start off a game and go in with balanced characters, and there’s an option and rules for creating totally custom characters once you’re used to the mechanics and know how to tweak particular stats to get the feel that you want.

There are also suggestions listed for balancing when you only have one player and want to run an adventure Nancy Drew or Sherlock Holmes style with a solo PC, which I really liked since sometimes you do only have one GM and one player but still want to enjoy the game.

Mechanics in The Mystery Business

As always, I can’t cover all the mechanics in the review, so I’m going to highlight my top two favorite elements that really stood out during our game. These are the d100 system and the element (like chase scenes, clues, etc) that drive the story forward and reference cartoon mysteries from my childhood.

While I’ve used percentile dice before, this is the first game that I’ve played that was primarily based on the percentile dice as the main, and in this case only, dice.

Using a d100 system

Whenever you need to make a skill check, you are rolling your d100 to try to beat a target number, denoted on your character sheet – this target number can be lowered, so easier to beat, if you have the appropriate bonuses or help from your friends. If you want to make a contested roll against the villain, you’d roll against them making the same check and add a modifier (if applicable) to try to beat their roll.

And that’s the gist of it! There’s extra bits and pieces that can help you out, like other players teaming up or using your pool of luck points, however, this is basically what the mechanics are, and they were wonderfully easy to understand and then explain to my kid while also giving a decent variety in the outcomes and requiring strategy on how PC skills (or PC and NPC helpers) balanced each other out.

I also really liked how easy it was to calculate probabilities when setting up encounters – since it’s all based on a percentile system, I can very quickly calculate by just looking at the numbers on everyone’s sheet the odds of success for stats that I give the villain compared to the players.

Saturday morning mystery elements

The Mystery Business also incorporates a lot of mechanics that drive the story in a direction that embodies cartoon hijinks. The main sequence of events in the game is to explore, trigger chase scenes with the villain if you fail a fear roll, find clues that reduce your fear until you get the confidence to set a trap, and then attempt to trap the perpetrator.

Some characters, like the cowardly one, start off with 99 fear points are most certainty going to trigger a chase scene right off the bat, and possibly also push the group into trouble that results in finding a clue that helps the whole group.

Trapping a villain also often requires the whole team to come together to brainstorm and support each other so they can add bonuses and increase their odds of success in the final trap roll.

There’s also a mechanic for having preferred partners, where you get a certain type of bonus if you team up with your usual “let’s split up the party” buddy, and another type of bonus if you toss the trend and go with a different member of the crew.

ALL of these mechanics are throwbacks to cartoon tropes, however, they aren’t just there to be tropey – they’re impactful and well integrated into the story and event sequence. They’re meaningfully incorporated into the game while still being a fun reference.

Overall thoughts on The Mystery Business

I had fun with this, and so did my kiddo! I grew up on Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes and tons of other mystery books and games, and it was cool getting to share this with my kid now. They were able to connect with the genre through the game, and the lighthearted tone and the easy to understand mechanics were great for engagement. The art throughout the books was also wonderful, and I liked the actual play examples as a way to demonstrate how the mechanics worked and how to RP during a game for newer TTRPG players. I recommend checking this out – it’s great for veteran players, and I think it would be fantastic as a gateway TTRPG for new players who love a good mystery and are willing to branch out into a new format.

Find a copy of The Mystery Business

You can find The Mystery Business on DriveThruRPG!

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