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Improving Mystery Adventures

storytelling mystery better roleplaying

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#1 Daniel

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Posted 24 September 2013 - 07:11 AM

Ah, mystery, some of the greatest tales ever told use this dramatic tool to great effect.  The Murder on the Orient Express, to use the classic example.  Given its storytelling roots, it should be no surprise that mystery often features strongly in a lot of roleplaying games.  Yet it is also, perhaps, the easiest to miss-use.  A poorly handled mystery can destroy the dramatic validity of the tale; it can shatter suspense and reduce the enjoyment of the game.  Imagine the following...

 

For the past three months the party has been investigating the murder of Bary Von Barystien King of Bobland.  The prospect would be a lot shorter if the clues weren't so convoluted.

 

Or, perhaps...

 

We were meant to be investigating the Mummy Curse, but nobody in the party really cared.  There just wasn't enough of a hook to draw us in.  A Mummy Curse?  Pfft, ten for a dozen...

 

The above two extreme examples highlight two of the easiest pitfalls to encounter when playing, designing or running a Mystery Adventure.  In the first, the party failed to understand the Adventure's Logic, or perhaps they missed a vital clue early on and the GM is scrambling to try and shoehorn it in elsewhere.  In the second, the mystery isn't interesting enough for the party to be interested.  And Mystery Adventures, perhaps more than any other style, rely on interest.  The players have to want to explore the adventure, as opposed to a dungeon crawl where even an uninvested player can chuck dice and eat nachos.

 

As another example, in a recent adventure I ran, I accidentally miss-logic'd a very essential clue -- namely what condition the body was found in.  What was meant to look like a suicide very clearly wasn't.  In the end I was able to scramble together a sufficient cover for the incident.  But regardless, the tale was damaged, the mystery lessened.

 

So I ask you, my educated and experienced peers, how do you handle mystery in your adventures?  What are the best examples of a well used mystery you can think of, and why does it work so well?  Conversely, what has been your worst experience of mystery adventures?

 

I await your expertise!


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#2 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 25 September 2013 - 10:28 AM

Looks like the Newsbot sniffed out something that might be relevant to this thread.


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#3 Daniel

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Posted 25 September 2013 - 06:15 PM

Ha!  Interesting, might take a look. :)


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#4 Slartibartfast

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Posted 29 September 2013 - 03:52 PM


As another example, in a recent adventure I ran, I accidentally miss-logic'd a very essential clue -- namely what condition the body was found in.  What was meant to look like a suicide very clearly wasn't.  In the end I was able to scramble together a sufficient cover for the incident.  But regardless, the tale was damaged, the mystery lessened.

 

So I ask you, my educated and experienced peers, how do you handle mystery in your adventures?  What are the best examples of a well used mystery you can think of, and why does it work so well?  Conversely, what has been your worst experience of mystery adventures?

 

I await your expertise!

 

I have noticed that mystery games work best if they are designed so that they don't rely on that one knowledge or spot skill roll.  One way of playing investigative games I have tried is to have a set timeline external to the players in the game, if the players were not there then what would happen?  The players are then reacting to events around them and the GM isn't waiting on them to spot the pool of blood in the conservatory before something else happens.  Then the skill rolls and actions the players make can be used to improve their chances of defeating the big bad / stopping the ritual / finding the murderer before she strikes again - but if they don't make them then then ...

 

failure is always an option :cthuhu:

 

It might also be important to establish with everyone present at the beginning of the game the spirit it is to be played in.  I don't enjoy playing an investigation game when I am expecting a dungeon crawl - the in game local law enforcement usually get involved pretty sharpish, but if it is explained to me from the start that I don't win this game by killing the most npc's and acquiring all the gold but by losing my mind whilst unwittingly unleashing a giant squibbly monster from the nether regions it's easier to buy into and I can have fun even if we 'fail'.


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#5 bodhranist

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Posted 06 October 2013 - 10:30 AM

For some good advice on mysteries and how to keep the plot from completely getting buried, I've found the Three Clue Rule to be useful. LOTS of good advice there.
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#6 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 07:47 AM

Advice on Running Mysteries in RPGs - or "This Ain't A CRPG, So Loosen Up!"
 



Examples

Immediate Obstacle: Locked Door

There's a very sturdy door between the PCs and their objective. It's too strong to just kick in, and the security system is fairly advanced. There's no other apparent way to get where they need to go.
[...]

  • Sideways-thinking Solutions: Take advantage of any details the gamemaster didn't establish and declare them to be favorable (some systems have an explcit rules set for this kind of trick). "Fortunately, building codes require that all doors open up in the event of a fire alarm. I'm going to try to spoof a fire alarm signal just to the door." The statement may not be true, and even if it is true the builders might be in violation of building codes. But it's a clever idea, and should be given a pretty good chance of success. And if the roll is botched anyway? Well, then the building is in violation of building codes.

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#7 MrGunpowder

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 08:03 PM

That Three Clue Rule is neat. Totally stealing that for my next adventure. Thanks @Kobold


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#8 Pencil-Monkey

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Posted 13 December 2013 - 04:18 AM

Interested parties may also want to take a look at these four easy steps to write a gripping mystery RPG adventure.

MERRY_CHRISTMAS_by_Emotikonz.gif
 


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