Advice needed: Mystery adventures





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  1. #1
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    Advice needed: Mystery adventures

    And by mystery I mean just that: I'm preparing to run my PCs through a mystery adventure, wherein they will need to discover the reasons behind the protection being given to a small village against the wrath of two ogre-magi.

    The secret is a very Lovecraftian/Gothic one: a few of the townspeople have been sacrificing children to an evil god to gain protection for the town. (They've been doing this for years, its just recently that there has actually been a threat to them).

    At any rate, I've never really run a detective/mystery style adventure in my many years as a DM, as I tend to put a focus on political/character ineraction/sometimes combat. But never mystery. It's odd that I haven't before, but the point is:

    I'm looking for some advice. Some suggestions. How to make it believable/workable. I think I'll be able to do it pretty well, as I'm good with realistic NPCs, but I was wondering if anyone had some helpful tips to throw in.

    Thanks, and if the mods want to move this into the DM section that's alright, I'd just like to get a bunch of responses first, and it is a pretty general question.

    Laters,
    -John-
    "Hunger is the handmaid of genius."
    -Mark Twain

 

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    They can be hard. The biggest problem is the clues. If there are to many, it's a cakewalk and the PCs or GM feel that it was more of a story and less of a mystery. To few clues and then the PCs are just confused. The big problem is what to do when the PCs miss a vital clue. Do you give them repeated chances to learn the information? This is sort of like bailing them out. But if you don't, they are lost and confused.

    So, first of all figure out the big mystery. THen figure out who knows what and what are they willing to share. PCs with Gather info skills will talk to people. Plant false leads and false clues.

    Good luck with this.

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    Thanks for the reply...I'm assuming that the PCs are going to miss some clues, obviously, but I think the way I'm planning it out is two have three scenarios:

    A best case scenario, where the PCs totally avert more deaths, etc.

    A middle case scenario (which will involve them missing some things but eventually picking up on the big problem) which will involve some bad outcomes but will generally be ok for them, and

    A worst case scenario, where they don't figure out the mystery in time, and where the bad guys do, bringing it out in the open before starting an all-out war against the town.

    So, in any case the PCs will KNOW what happened, but their degree of success in storyline terms and rewards will be determined by how well they can put their heads together.

    Laters,
    -John-
    "Hunger is the handmaid of genius."
    -Mark Twain

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    Well, Ive never run such an adventure myself either, at least nothing short-term, but I have played in one. If you're interested in actually reading it, it's the Savannah Knights Storyhour in the Storyhour forum: http://www.enworld.org/messageboards...s=&threadid=87

    But anyway, let me say at first that it's hard to do a satisfying mystery that is only one session, since the party needs time to stew over the facts and eventually come to a conclusion. If you go for more than about 4 sessions, though, the mystery becomes more of a diabolical plot. If a mystery can absorb the PCs for so long, it's probably more the basis of a campaign, rather than one chapter along the way.

    My suggestion for designing a mystery is first start off with life as usual, then toss in something slightly amiss. Have encounters that don't appear to be directly based in the mystery, but that actually do have some type of link, maybe by introducing a possible suspect, giving a clue, or again cueing the party in that something is wrong.

    Then, after a few such encounters, if the PCs haven't taken the hint yet, have them get directly embroiled in the mystery. Maybe the PCs go to confront the Ogre Magi, and are almost hurt by the defending forces protecting the town, or perhaps they find a child crying in the woods, who hysterically refuses to go home to her parents.

    The key thing is to make sure there are a lot of possible suspects. Maybe they hear rumors that a ghost has been prowling the city, attacking indiscriminantly, and it has been attacking both villagers and the Ogres. If they know that an Orc tribe is looking to raid the town, and hear that a powerful sorcerer left his position at a local magic school a few weeks ago, the PCs might think the Orcs hired the sorcerer to weaken the city's defenses. They might even hear that the Ogres were allies of the city, but a power-hungry noble who wants the town's land for his own made a pact with a demon to scare off the villagers.

    Then of course include a few less obvious rumors to be misleading red herrings--the well was dry for three days last week (in truth, some kids were mischevious and just tied a knot in the rope to shorten it), baker Turlus's business has been doing a lot better than it should (coincidence), a group of three children were buried together last week (the villagers claim it was an accident and they all drowned together, but in truth the evil god demanded one child be killed for each Ogre to be destroyed; the third boy did drown, making a convincing lie).

    Have a lot of small rumors, but don't make big deals out of them. A good mystery sleuth will know that one of the less obvious answers will be the right one, so you need to have a fair share of these. If possible, have the clue be the right one, but point in the wrong direction. Maybe they spot a group of hooded people leaving the church where the rituals are performed, but lose track of them; when they later spot a similarly-hooded rider come into town, claiming to be a messenger from the local feudal lord, they'll assume he's involved. In truth, the hooded figures are the key to answering the mystery, but the PCs will never even guess they're actually villagers.

    The final piece of advice is to be flexible. The players might for some reason be hell-bent on the idea that the Ogre Magi are trying to frame the mysterious events in the town on the above-mentioned noble, so that the noble (who is actually a loyal defender of the town) will be removed from power; this would make conquering the town easier. When the game reaches a break (maybe at the end of a session, or a pizza break), sit back and ponder how you could tie their wild guess back into the real mystery. You might decide that, in truth, the noble is involved in the pact with the evil god, and the Ogres want to get rid of him because then the pact would be broken. This way, the PCs are almost right, but far enough away that the ending would be a twist. When the rumors of the noble having a pact with evil begin to spread around town, it would surprise the heck out of the party if the townsfolk casually go, "Yeah, tell me something I didn't know."

    If you're flexible, and have a good sense of drama, you should be able to come up with a satisfying climax. In fact, come up with a few possible climaxes ahead of time, in case things stray a little bit. Never let the party be entirely right, but try to make them feel as if they were at least on the right track.

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    Sounds like you've got things pretty well figured out, Echoes.

    The only caution I would give is to make sure your scenario includes a reasonable number of red herrings -- clues that are in fact misleading. Have a couple of secret plots in town -- only one of which is the one the PCs need to uncover. If every single person they encounter who seems to be hiding something is involved in the key plot, things can become far too straightforward for any tension to develop. If on the other hand sometimes the nervous bartender is only nervous because he's just gotten the earl's daughter pregnant, the players will get a lot more involved as they try to distinguish the real clues from the false trails.

    Confusion is what you want. Not too much, but some.

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    Great ideas, here. I know that its very important to have many red herrings and the like, and its also quite true that the players will be suspecting the least obvious answer.

    I'm planning on stretching this out over at least a few sessions--I think the idea here is to make sure the players get much more than what they were expecting. I don't think they're too worried about figuring what's going on in the town; they're probably expecting it to be handed to them on a platter. They're in for quite a twist...

    Really, the more I think about this the more I'm considering letting it run itself. The fertile minds of the PCs will think of so many different solutions from so very few clues that it would be very easy to create the mystery half on the fly. As much as I tend to plan things out, there's definitely something to be said for improvisation (which I'm not too shabby at, really).

    I think it's going to help that I tend to describe a lot of little details when I DM--if I didn't, it would put the PCs in a mindset that everything I mention has a meaning attached to it. Since there are going to be so many little details involved here it won't sound out of place in the campaign. Also, now the PCs will have to switch gears and realize that every little thing I mention MIGHT have a meaning attached to it...

    Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to running this arc.

    Laters,
    -John-
    "Hunger is the handmaid of genius."
    -Mark Twain

  • #7
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    Incidentally, don't worry about divination spells. Instead, embrace them. Expect to give vital clues via auguries, to let slip key information via detect thoughts. Smart spell use should be rewarded, and it's fun to let the PCs use their abilities to unravel the mystery.
    - Piratecat, EN World Admin. Now Kickstarting TimeWatch, a time travel game - please go check it out!

  • #8
    What PC said. From posts on these boards, many Dms seem to become upset when players use divinations to solve mysteries. However, if they can't be used to solve these sorts of problems, then they're pointless. Also, most such spells require that the PCs know what questions to ask or who to mindread.

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    I'll chime in with two points

    I too would not discourage divination spells, but I would also not let them be abused. Make some of the divine answers ambiguos and let the party have to decipher them - this adds to the atmosphere of the mystery.

    Second, I think in a town mystery, one of the better ways to keep the plot rolling, despite the inability of PCs to pick up on clues is to follow a timeline in which certain things become obvious at certain times and in which the whole adventure contininues to head towards a dark climax. Mystery adventures to do right require a lot more work on the part of the DM IMO than almost any other type of adventure.

  • #10

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    My first rule of thumb for a mystery is to create a well-rounded view of the locale and NPCs involved. Know what they are all doing -- not every minute of every day, but enough that when the PCs go exploring, they sense realistic depth no matter where they turn. This eliminates the worst problem (IMO) of an RPG mystery: using metagaming hints (namely, what is and is not detailed) to direct the investigation.

    With divination spells, you need to be aware of what the PCs are capable of so you are not surprised. In addition, you need to make sure you consider what the NPCs would have know about such spells and what preparations they would have made.

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