How do you write a Mystery adventure?





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  1. #1
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    ø Ignore Chaldfont

    How do you write a Mystery adventure?

    I am toying with some mystery plots for a D&D adventure and I figure someone out there has some advice.

    Does anyone have any tips on writing and running a mystery adventure in an RPG?

 

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    ø Ignore The Traveler
    I seem to remember there was a rather good Dragon issue recently that handled writing mystery adventures. I'll have to dig it out.

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    The trick is, at always, to create a villain with clear motives and resources. Let the villain hatch a plan that makes sense from his point of view. Then let the PCs stuble across one aspect of this plan. If they decide to follow the trail, you can throw additional clues in their way, and clever research should be rewarded. The clues do not have to make sense to the PCs at the moment they find them, but there should be a general logic behind them that seems obvious - in retroperspective.

    Feel free to improvise the clues - if you feel that the villain could have left a train at some point, then include it. Making your adventure depend on a few subtle hints you have planned in advance seldom works - players in general have an astounding talent for ignoring the obvious.

    Instead, throw them a bone now and then, and listen to them as they argue what is going on (I find that this generally takes up at least a third of my sessions...) and make plans. And some of their ideas are just brilliant - which means you can steal them!

    Put these ideas in the adventure later on. This will save you work, and the players get that nice "I told you so" feeling...
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    when running a mystery you want to create good notes for yourself. Improvised mysteries will not come off as well as a well thought out puzzle of intrigue.

    The best place to start is indeed the antagonist. Give him a motivation and a method. These are more important than his actual stats. What is he doing and why is he doing it? Once you know this you have the foundation. The best mysteries of course have an unlikely villain and the crimes are committed in ingenious but memoriable ways.

    Next, figure out a connection between what the villain does and the PCs. That is, how do the PCs become aware of the crime or mystery? Is it a friend in trouble? Do they witness an unsolvable murder? Are they hired to solve the mystery?

    Next Design clues. Clues should be of various types. Some should point to motive. Some should point to the identity of the villain. Also throw in a few red herrings to keep the PCs guessing (though not too many or they will get too frustrated - Handling Red Herrings is IMO a very delicate business - you have to have them but you can't have too many).

    It is also important to plan ahead for divination in DnD. Avoid the instinct to do away with the divination spells. Instead use them to create further confusion. Design the answers to be cryptic but meaningful once fully understood. For instance, in the game I just ran Monday (you can check it out in my sig links if you want a mystery that has already been run) the killer was a man named Griffin, who goaded by an evil priest had been killing people in a misguided effort to save children. A divination spell revealed the killer was "A maddened Griffin, twisted by death's servant, protecting the children." The information in the divination was very helpful once understood, but it was not immediattely clear to the players what it meant. The existance of divination however almost necisitates that the DM plan the answers ahead of time in a mystery.

    Last, but not least, design the NPCs with which the PCs must interact to solve the puzzle. Like Red Herrings you don't want too many or there will be too much confusion. About 6 significant NPCs would IMO be about right for most games.

  • #5
    Flow chart - Do player find clue 1 - yes, go to clue 2. no, go to clue 5.

    Back tracking - this is the answer, this is how they will have to get to it.
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    ø Ignore willpax
    In addition to the very good advice above, I like to do a rudimentary time line--what will happen when if the players don't get involved.

    A time line can be useful in fleshing out the entire community--what are other NPCs doing in reaction to the events of the antagonist? Not only can that help you create that "lived world" feel, it can also suggest NPCs who can redirect the players if they lose the trail themselves. It can also provide a fruitful source for red herrings (such as the obnoxiously unhelpful people who nevertheless aren't involved in the plot) if the players aren't feeling challenged enough.

    In a world with divination spells, most intelligent villians will do everything reasonably possible to avoid getting put in a situation where they could be directly fingered for something. That means that, in addition to the main antagonist, you may want to flesh out a few subordinates who will be doing the dirty work.

    If you're feeling really ambitious, you can give each of these subplots as well, creating that "layers of the onion" plot structure which can be quite satisfying for players to unravel.

    Almost everything I do nowadays is structured as a mystery; they are very fun to run and to play in. Best of luck.
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    ø Ignore LostSoul
    I make three different factions, all with conflicting goals, that somehow draw the PCs into their web.

    The game usually writes itself, after that!
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
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  • #8

    Mysteries & Alignment

    When writing a mystery storyline for my games I consider alignment a huge factor. One, what is the alignment of the villian. Probably LE (chaotic is tautologically too chaotic), though NE works as well. Far more important, however, are you PCs' alignments. If the majority of the PCs are pretty standard CG, then feel free to make your "villian" CG as well, or LG. This makes for a much more engrossing story because even the most righteous paladin is tempted to evil at times, he has that within him.

    As an example (using a simple murder mystery), the victim is a local merchant & philanthropist, skewered at sword point in an alley on a rainy night. If this is how your PCs first hear of it, they're probably not in full-on pick every detail apart mystery mode yet. They'll probably assume it was thieves. Add the detail a bit later that his pouch was taken & you'll have cinched it for them.

    But if through your carefully crafted discovery process they learn that the "villian" is actually a local hero (even a paladin) who was being black-mailed by the "philanthropist." Now, they've solved the mystery and they're probably still confused. "Was that justified?" "What do we do?" Now, you've forced them to consider their own characters & alignments and what's right & wrong. This can be even more fun. In all likelihood, they'll try to go subdue the paladin, but how do they go about it. What if the town reveres him, and don't believe the PCs. What if they secretly all detest the righteous little hero, and would lynch him at the first sign of wrong-doing but the PCs know that, despite a few bad acts, he's a good guy and has done a lot for the town. This kind of stuff can really add a bunch to your adventure and make it more memorable, IMO.

    Z

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    ø Ignore Jürgen Hubert

    Re: Mysteries & Alignment

    Originally posted by ZSutherland
    When writing a mystery storyline for my games I consider alignment a huge factor. One, what is the alignment of the villian. Probably LE (chaotic is tautologically too chaotic), though NE works as well.
    Huh? Why shouldn't CE work for a villain as well?

    Just because he is chaotic doesn't mean he can't be subtle. Or perhaps there are enough red herrings to lead the PCs on a false path...

    I mean, Jack the Ripper killed prostitutes for no clear reason. Wouldn't you define that as CE?
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  • #10
    I didn't mean to imply that CE NPCs don't make good villians. They often make the best villians, they just don't make the "best" mystery villians. LE characters make better villians because they're more concerned with the unfortunate consequences of getting caught. They go to greater lengths to avoid it, often using underlings to do their dirty work. This just adds extra steps to your mystery story as your PCs work their way through the layers of the true villians evil network. In typical Chaotic fashion, CE characters are more inclined to go out and do it themselves, which removes several potential steps in your plot. Chaotic characters are also more flexible, live more in the moment, which has a tendency to remove some mystery staples, like a specific, ritual way of killing. Finally, the LE character is the most likely villian alignment to leave a calling card at crime scenes, because deep down he feels bad for breaking the law and a part of him wants to be caught and punished.

    As for Jack the Ripper, he didn't kill prostitutes for no discernable reason. It's just that no one has ever figured out what that reason was. All of the prevalent and most plausible theories for his motive that I've heard are very Lawful in a DND context. He hated prostitutes because they spread disease or were a blight on an otherwise decent society. Very lawful, very bloody, and so mysterious all this time later we still don't know who he really was.

    Z

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