The Rockford Files is a free-wheeling detective program starring James Garner that was originally broadcast between 1974 and 1980. Its also a source of easy to steal RPG scenarios, loaded with characters ready to be turned into NPCs. The program featured the misadventures of Jim Rockford, an ex-con turned P.I. as he lived hand-to-mouth working on cases that inevitably proved to be more trouble than they were worth. The show’s appeal had a lot to do with its breezy scripts, James Garner’s charm and one of the greatest opening sequences of all time.
The Rockford Files is a standard, ‘done-in-one’ old-school episodic television show. In nearly every episode:
- Jim takes a case, reluctantly gets in over his head
- Is framed for a crime or hunted by someone with bad intentions (often both)
- Trashes a rental vehicle (seriously, who rents to him?)
- Solves the mystery and either gets the girl or gets paid (rarely both).
- Usually this is supplemented by wise-cracks by his father (played by the great Noah Beery, Jr) or Sgt. Dennis Becker his reluctant ally in the police (played by Joe Santos).
122 episodes of The Rockford Files were produced, so don’t expect me to get into any details on individual episodes, but I will say this: GMs running mission based games could do a lot worse, than to steal the occasional scenario from The Rockford Files. Each plot has more than enough twists and reversals to offer a good GM a trick or two to have up their sleeve.
Easily the most liftable element of The Rockford Files is that Jim Rockford’s antagonists are never sitting still. The show takes a page from the Raymond Chandler/Mickey Spillane school of detective writing in that Jim tends to blunder into a situation, usually posing as someone or something that he’s not, stir up a hornets’ nest and then react to the fallout. In many ways, Rockford is more a con-artist than a detective, with the consequence that the show is usually about Rockford forcing people to act in order to uncover the truth.
To me this is gold. Look at it from an adventure writing perspective. Each episode provides you with a solid investigative mission hook for the PCs and a sense of how the various NPCs and factions will react once they inevitably start poking around. Especially if the poking takes an unusual form.
While not all PCs are likely to show up on a mobster’s doorstep pretending to be a health inspector as Rockford is wont to, they do tend to do off-the-wall things and an average Rockford Files episode might inspire you with ways for characters to react to unorthodox behaviour. Bonus points if it inspires you to react in a manner other than ‘they try to kill you,’ although that happens often enough in The Rockford Files.
At any rate, whether you intend to steal some ideas or not, The Rockford Files is currently streaming on Netflix, so if you have an hour to spare and are looking for a good time, check it out. You won’t regret it.