The Hard-Boiled Detective

Category: Archetype of the Week
Created on Saturday, 08 August 2009 Written by Steve

Hello, and welcome to the first installment of our new weekly feature, aptly named Archetype of the Week. Every week, we'll be posting a new Archetype that you can use as a starting point when creating a new QAGS character. For those of you already familiar with the Hex product line, we're not using the Jungian definition of “archetype” here—we've already described those in Q2E. Instead, these will be archetypes of the sort used in Spooky and Rasslin', which give descriptions and suggestions for creating archetypal characters for a particular type of story. For the first installment, we're going to tell you about one of our all-time favorite character types: the hard-boiled detective.

Everyone from stoners in colorful vans to little old ladies can be found solving mysteries, but when it comes to solving a tough case, nobody does it better than the hard-boiled detective. The hard-boiled detective is a tough, no-nonsense man of action who doesn't particularly give a damn what anyone thinks of him. Hard-boiled dicks have seen humanity at its worst, which may explain why so many P.I.s are cynical, grumpy, or just plain mean.

Likely Stories

While the hard-boiled detective archetype is very much a product of the first half of the 20th Century, that's just because nobody thought of it until then. If Raymond Chandler had been around in the 12th Century, the Arthurian legends would have included a chain-smoking guy in a fedora snapping photos of Lancelot and the Queen. This character type works in just about any setting, as long as there are mysteries to be solved, dames to fall for, and bad guys to beat up. However, because of their tendency to punch first and ask questions later, hard-boiled investigators are not recommended for stories that require the characters to act with patience and diplomacy.

The Name Game

Hard-boiled detectives have strong, forceful names. Most detectives have simple, common first names, with monosyllabic names (Mike, Joe, Sam) being particularly popular. Surnames are either used to make the character sound like even more of a bad-ass (Hammer, Danger, Magnum) or to suggest the character's ethnic heritage (Tudeski, McClane, Hallenbeck).

The Numbers

A hard-boiled detective is tough, stubborn, and usually at least a little intimidating. Therefore, Nerve is the most important Word for this archetype. Whether the player chooses to focus his remaining Yum Yums on Body or Brain depends on whether the character relies more on investigative techniques or just beating information out of people.

Suggested Jobs: Crime Scene Investigator, Criminologist, Detective, Diagnostician, FBI Agent, Gumshoe, Inspector, Investigative Reporter, Police Detective, Private Detective/Dick/Eye/Investigator, Profiler, Security Consultant, Shamus, Sleuth, Vigilante

Gimmicks: Bad Mother Shut Yo' Mouth, Car Fu, Clue Magnet, Contacts, Escape Artist, Gun Fu, Hard-Boiled, Hard to Kill, Hide In Plain Sight, High Pain Threshold, Intuition, Ladies' Man, Lateral Thinking, Lucky, Notices Everything, Photographic Memory, Prepared, Reputation, Sheer Determination, Square-Jawed Man of Action, Tough, Unbelievable Timing

Weaknesses: Anger Management Issues, Bad Reputation, Can't Get A Break, Chain Smoker, Dames, Drug Addiction, Enemies, Getting Too Old For This Shit, Gambling Addiction, Glass Jaw, Impulsive, Lecherous, Luddite, Owes Favors, Punching Bag, Red Tape, Strange Vehicle Magnet, Victim of the Past, Unlucky, War Wound

Skills: Ballistics, Bourbon Appreciation, Brawling, Breaking & Entering, Chess, Criminal Psychology, Disguise, Distractions, Drinking, Eavesdropping, Fast-Talking, Firearms, Forensics, Frank Sinatra Trivia, Gambling, Good Instincts, History,  Intimidation, Joke Telling, Local Knowledge, Magic Tricks, Nazi Fighting, Petty Theft, Research, Sports Fan, Stealth, Stunt Driving, Surveillance, Tailing, Trivia, Undercover Investigation, Vehicular Assault

WWPHITM? Humphry Bogart, Jeff Bridges, Andrew “Dice” Clay, Robbie Coltrane, Robert Downey Jr., Fred Dryer, Peter Falk, Dennis Franz, Andy Garcia, Pam Grier, Ed Harris, Dennis Hopper, Samuel L. Jackson, Stacy Keach, Harvey Keitel, Val Kilmer, Hugh Laurie, Ray Liotta, Viggo Mortensen, Joe Pesci, Ed O'Neil, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Richard Roundtree, Kathleen Turner, Tom Waits, Bruce Willis

Tag Line: “All private detectives are scumbags.” --Joe Hallenbeck, The Last Boy Scout

Tools of the Trade: Hard-boiled detectives are not required to wear a trench coat and fedora, but most do. In addition to the clothes on their back, most detectives will also carry a gun and a few carry other useful tools (flashlights, Swiss army knives, a notebook). While some detectives may use computers and other high tech gear for research, surveillance, and tracking, most hard-boiled dicks are technophobic, computer illiterate, or just too set in their ways to learn new tricks. Cameras and simple bugs are about as high-tech as they get. When it comes to cars, hard-boiled detectives prefer large American sedans and nondescript vans. Smokes, lighters or matches, and flasks full of hard liquor are also popular with hard-boiled detectives.

Where You'll Find Him: The City. Specifically, the seedier parts of the city. Most hard-boiled detectives have offices in run-down buildings on the bad side of town and live somewhere even worse. No matter what city a hard-boiled detective calls home, he'll probably act like a life-long New Yorker.

Social Circle:  The hard-boiled detective's friends and relatives consists mostly of normal, everyday blue collar types, with a few criminal informants, police contacts, and colorful oddballs thrown into the mix. Vengeful ex-wives and under-appreciated secretaries are also popular support characters. 

Sample Character

Joe Hallenbeck

Body: 13

Brain: 11

Nerve: 14

Job: Scumbag Private Detective (14)

Gimmick: Unbelievable Timing (12)

Weakness: Confrontation Magnet (12)

Skills: Bodyguard +3; Gambling +2; Joke-Telling +1

WWPHITM?: Bruce Willis

Dumb Fact: Took a bullet for President Carter.

Tag Line: “Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You’re gonna lose. Smile you fuck.”

HP: 13

YY: 3

Inspirational Material


Raymond Chandler

Max Allen Collins

Dashiell Hammett

Mickey Spillane



Mickey Spillane's Mike Danger by Max Allen Collins


Blade Runner

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

The Last Boy Scout

The Maltese Falcon

Sin City


“Theme from Shaft,” Isaac Hayes






Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer


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The Hard-Boiled Detective.
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