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A Question Of Agency?

I don't disagree about whodunits--as whodunits--being at least potentially problematic. That said ...

I knew what was going on and who was doing it and why, and I knew (at least mostly) how they were going about it. I didn't know how the PCs were going to approach the situation, and I didn't know how they'd handle things--and it was at least in principle possible that they'd be able to demonstrate the merchant was innocent without digging up and triggering the larger problem.

As I said, I kinda ad-libbed myself into running that mystery. The merchant hired the party to escort him to the dwarven stronghold, and I ended up needing reason/s for him to be persona non grata there. I didn't think the PCs would continue with the job if he was guilty, so he wasn't. So, if he wasn't guilty, something else needed to be going on, and that something else was what the party ended up finding as they were solving what looked like a whodunit.

Yeah, there are ways to make it work. And I wouldn't say that my games don't wind up with some of this kind of content involved. It can sometimes come up as a natural progression of the game and what the players do.

Also, I want to clarify in regard to my recent posts....when I say "erred" or that things are "going to go poorly" or any of that, I only mean for my own tastes and what I am hoping to get out of a game, either as player or GM. There may be any number of games where this works great for all involved, and I realize that. A lot of this is just my preference.
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Yeah, there are ways to make it work. And I wouldn't say that my games don't wind up with some of this kind of content involved. It can sometimes come up as a natural progression of the game and what the players do.

Also, I want to clarify in regard to my recent posts....when I say "erred" or that things are "going to go poorly" or any of that, I only mean for my own tastes and what I am hoping to get out of a game, either as player or GM. There may be any number of games where this works great for all involved, and I realize that. A lot of this is just my preference.
Yeah. It's not a type of story I'm ever looking to drop into a campaign; the one that happened, just kinda happened--as you say, a natural progression of the fiction. I was not--honest!--taking it as any sort of personal statement that I had erred or that my game had gone poorly, though I gotta admit I was worried I had erred, when I realized I was committed to running a mystery.

I think part of GMing is knowing the tastes of the people at the table, and at least not aiming dead-center at something someone detests. I honestly think that if the mystery had been nothing but frustration for the players, I could have worked something out--probably explicitly out-of-game--to get around that. Sincere apologies go a long way, I've found, in cases like that.
 

I like to call this do you want to be in a Sherlock Holmes story or do you want to try to be Sherlock Holmes. Those are very different goals. One expects certain story tropes to emerge, clues to come together in certain ways, for the mystery to be solved by the master detective, and for him to find and piece together clues most of the time (even if he is stumped, you expect Sherlock Holmes to figure it out eventually). But if you are trying to be Sherlock Holmes, you want to experience the challenge of solving a mystery, which demands the possibility of not solving mystery to have any value.

So this is an interesting look at it. And it kind of raises a question in my mind. And this is just something that popped into my head reading the above, I don't mean this as a question specifically for you, @Bedrockgames , though I am interested in your take, too!

How does a player feel like Sherlock Holmes? How do we try to portray that in play?

There's the idea with this kind of mystery that there is information that's been intentionally obscured, and Holmes is going to find it, right? That's kind of the essential element.

Is the best way portray that in a game to be to try and replicate it? By that I mean, have the players be searching for the clues that are hidden in hope of finding them?

Or is there some other way? Because to be honest, Holmes stories sometimes require major intuitive leaps made by the character because he is a fictional character allowed to make those leaps......it's all the product of one author, and so Sherlock can make these crazy proclamations and he seems amazingly intuitive and observant. But it's all artifice.

I would think that trying to replicate that would either see the players fall short because their crazy intuitions will not likely be right, or the mystery itself would be simple in comparison to those of the kinds Holmes tends to get involved with.

Would that still make for an engaging game? Very possibly.

Or would it feel more Holmesesque if the players had some kind of ability to steer things beyond simply finding what's there? Would that feel more like Holmes?

If we think of his deductions as being class abilities and Doyle as his player......maybe there's a case for approaching mysteries in another way.

Not that I have any idea how you would do that. But just some thoughts.
 

Campbell

Legend
I am not opposed to mysteries, even of the who killed this man variety. I am just not super big on it being the main course. Even if we are playing a game where we play detectives it should be more like Homicide - Life on the Street than Sherlock Holmes or the mystery genre. There should be multiple balls in play, the perpetrators should have real goals and plans, and our characters should have their own shit going on. Like everything should not slow down and be about solving this one single crime. I love PC Adventure games, but I am not looking for that experience in a roleplaying game.

Part of the issue from my perspective is that I believe scenario design should be focused on what the player characters will do when faced with a given situation. The story in mystery novels are not about the detectives. It's about the crime that already occurred. I am looking to focus on what's going on right now. Mysteries can and should inform that, but should not be primary for my tastes.
 

So this is an interesting look at it. And it kind of raises a question in my mind. And this is just something that popped into my head reading the above, I don't mean this as a question specifically for you, @Bedrockgames , though I am interested in your take, too!

How does a player feel like Sherlock Holmes? How do we try to portray that in play?

There's the idea with this kind of mystery that there is information that's been intentionally obscured, and Holmes is going to find it, right? That's kind of the essential element.

Is the best way portray that in a game to be to try and replicate it? By that I mean, have the players be searching for the clues that are hidden in hope of finding them?

Or is there some other way? Because to be honest, Holmes stories sometimes require major intuitive leaps made by the character because he is a fictional character allowed to make those leaps......it's all the product of one author, and so Sherlock can make these crazy proclamations and he seems amazingly intuitive and observant. But it's all artifice.

I would think that trying to replicate that would either see the players fall short because their crazy intuitions will not likely be right, or the mystery itself would be simple in comparison to those of the kinds Holmes tends to get involved with.

Would that still make for an engaging game? Very possibly.

Or would it feel more Holmesesque if the players had some kind of ability to steer things beyond simply finding what's there? Would that feel more like Holmes?

If we think of his deductions as being class abilities and Doyle as his player......maybe there's a case for approaching mysteries in another way.

Not that I have any idea how you would do that. But just some thoughts.

In the answering the question it is really, really important to put your game bases aside in terms of style I think. Everyone, myself included, tends to answer this question with their own preferences in mind. This is why I drew a distinction between being in a sherlock holmes story (which is more what you describe) and being (not feeling) Sherlock Holmes. Neither approach is wrong or right, they are just different goals (and to be clear, there are more distinctions to be made here. The type of play I think aligns with being Sherlock homes is where the players are experiencing the challenges of solving, or failing to solve, the mystery by finding clues, piecing together the clues, etc. This is, I think, for the kinds of fans of mystery for whom so many bookshelf games were made in the 70s (you can look these up to see what I am talking about). So I think the answers your questions suggest are much more in the realm of players who want to be in a Sherlock holmes story, or those who want to simulate sherlock holmes (i.e. they want to make a character who can do the things Sherlock holmes does, and use something like a set of skills or abilities to do those things, rather than do those things as directly themselves as possible). Again, there is nothing wrong with any of these preferences, but they are preferences you see emerge in discussions around mystery adventures where some people want Sherlock Holmes to be able to make 'crazy proclamations' and have those be true, others want to see if they can piece together the available data and arrive at something true.
 

If I were to break it down more clear types of distinctions, it would be:

Do you want to emulate a Sherlock Holmes Story
Do you want to simulate sherlock holmes
Do you want to play the game of detective that Sherlock Holmes plays

There are probably better ways to describe this. You can easily discern three or four different sets of preferences around mysteries in these discussions (and in truth some campaigns are going to be a blend because groups are made up of people with all different kinds of preferences and sometimes people like to engage all three of these things at different points in play: humans are complicated
 

So this is an interesting look at it. And it kind of raises a question in my mind. And this is just something that popped into my head reading the above, I don't mean this as a question specifically for you, @Bedrockgames , though I am interested in your take, too!

How does a player feel like Sherlock Holmes? How do we try to portray that in play?

There's the idea with this kind of mystery that there is information that's been intentionally obscured, and Holmes is going to find it, right? That's kind of the essential element.

Is the best way portray that in a game to be to try and replicate it? By that I mean, have the players be searching for the clues that are hidden in hope of finding them?

Or is there some other way? Because to be honest, Holmes stories sometimes require major intuitive leaps made by the character because he is a fictional character allowed to make those leaps......it's all the product of one author, and so Sherlock can make these crazy proclamations and he seems amazingly intuitive and observant. But it's all artifice.

I would think that trying to replicate that would either see the players fall short because their crazy intuitions will not likely be right, or the mystery itself would be simple in comparison to those of the kinds Holmes tends to get involved with.

Would that still make for an engaging game? Very possibly.

Or would it feel more Holmesesque if the players had some kind of ability to steer things beyond simply finding what's there? Would that feel more like Holmes?

If we think of his deductions as being class abilities and Doyle as his player......maybe there's a case for approaching mysteries in another way.

Not that I have any idea how you would do that. But just some thoughts.
Well.... Doesn't this kind of point at a sort of 'Story Now' approach? I mean, the players indicate they are wanting to solve a mystery, or the entire game is pitched that way/falls into that genre or whatever. So the GM frames a scene, which establishes the essential starting point. Inspector Lastrade calls the doctor in (or these are analogous characters anyway), there's been a murder! It is vital that it be solved, 'Scotland Yard' is stumped, etc. From here on out the players start asking questions and 'looking for clues'. The GM might have certain answers, there is some mud on a shoe, etc. That doesn't mean he knows exactly what it all means! As the players achieve successes they dig into further levels of story, danger, intrigue, whatever the GM thinks to frame into a scene that 'turns the screws'. Complications likewise arise, perhaps there are red herrings, or evidence is missed or destroyed. Even Holmes was sometimes stumped for a time, and did make mistakes.

In this sort of process there isn't 'one single solution' to the mystery. There could be no specific solution in the GM's mind at the start, or perhaps she's thought of several possibilities. There can definitely be surprising elements which come up, but it may well be that one or more of the players actually defines the 'solution to the mystery'. This is still finding a solution, and it is still clever, though it might be a bit different type of puzzle solving than figuring out a mystery defined entirely by someone else. I can certainly see it as potentially entertaining.
 

I am not opposed to mysteries, even of the who killed this man variety. I am just not super big on it being the main course. Even if we are playing a game where we play detectives it should be more like Homicide - Life on the Street than Sherlock Holmes or the mystery genre. There should be multiple balls in play, the perpetrators should have real goals and plans, and our characters should have their own shit going on. Like everything should not slow down and be about solving this one single crime. I love PC Adventure games, but I am not looking for that experience in a roleplaying game.

Part of the issue from my perspective is that I believe scenario design should be focused on what the player characters will do when faced with a given situation. The story in mystery novels are not about the detectives. It's about the crime that already occurred. I am looking to focus on what's going on right now. Mysteries can and should inform that, but should not be primary for my tastes.
True. Something like 'CSI the RPG' would probably work better. There are various threads going on, the PCs are parts of a team, each with their own areas of expertise and skills. Several cases could be going at once, and the focus is more on how they go about what they do vs just focusing on solving a crime which is over and done with. This sort of setup would also work in a pretty wide variety of settings. It could certainly be pulled off in a D&D game, for example. This also mitigates the 'dud problem'. Yeah, maybe some cases will be easy to solve, but there are always other harder ones, and maybe some that stump the party.
 

Well.... Doesn't this kind of point at a sort of 'Story Now' approach? I mean, the players indicate they are wanting to solve a mystery, or the entire game is pitched that way/falls into that genre or whatever. So the GM frames a scene, which establishes the essential starting point. Inspector Lastrade calls the doctor in (or these are analogous characters anyway), there's been a murder! It is vital that it be solved, 'Scotland Yard' is stumped, etc. From here on out the players start asking questions and 'looking for clues'. The GM might have certain answers, there is some mud on a shoe, etc. That doesn't mean he knows exactly what it all means! As the players achieve successes they dig into further levels of story, danger, intrigue, whatever the GM thinks to frame into a scene that 'turns the screws'. Complications likewise arise, perhaps there are red herrings, or evidence is missed or destroyed. Even Holmes was sometimes stumped for a time, and did make mistakes.

In this sort of process there isn't 'one single solution' to the mystery. There could be no specific solution in the GM's mind at the start, or perhaps she's thought of several possibilities. There can definitely be surprising elements which come up, but it may well be that one or more of the players actually defines the 'solution to the mystery'. This is still finding a solution, and it is still clever, though it might be a bit different type of puzzle solving than figuring out a mystery defined entirely by someone else. I can certainly see it as potentially entertaining.

The problem is, for a lot of players this isn't actually solving the mystery, this is helping to write a mystery story. Which is fine, but it isn't what someone who wants to have a go at the challenge of being a detective is looking for. And in such a case, I think having a concrete mystery external to the player is crucial. That said, it shouldn't mean there is only one way to solve. There may be one true event that occurred, but there ought to be many paths to arrive at the truth of that event, and the GM should be open to pathways that would realistically yield clues to the truth (even if the GM has not foreseen those pathways). In this sort of scenario, the GM is basically doing his or her best to run a holodeck Sherlock Holmes scenario for Data. If the GM just allows Data's theory, even if it is wrong, to become the truth, it isn't really beating the challenge (and players in this style want to genuinely win or genuinely lose)
 

The problem is, for a lot of players this isn't actually solving the mystery, this is helping to write a mystery story. Which is fine, but it isn't what someone who wants to have a go at the challenge of being a detective is looking for. And in such a case, I think having a concrete mystery external to the player is crucial. That said, it shouldn't mean there is only one way to solve. There may be one true event that occurred, but there ought to be many paths to arrive at the truth of that event, and the GM should be open to pathways that would realistically yield clues to the truth (even if the GM has not foreseen those pathways). In this sort of scenario, the GM is basically doing his or her best to run a holodeck Sherlock Holmes scenario for Data. If the GM just allows Data's theory, even if it is wrong, to become the truth, it isn't really beating the challenge (and players in this style want to genuinely win or genuinely lose)
Well, 'multiple paths' might work, but at that point is there some value to there being one and only one correct solution? My experience with other sorts of Story Now play indicates that, as long as the results are consistent and plausible, and engage the PCs in the expected way, that the literal solution isn't usually the primary point. I certainly don't, myself, as a player feel like there can really BE one and only one solution, that's more just a fixed idea that the GM came up with. It is all fiction.
 

Campbell

Legend
I think nuance is important here. Story Now is a creative agenda. It just means that the GM is designing scenario with regard to the PCs' dramatic needs. While there are plenty of Story Now games that operate under the assumption of No Myth it's not an intrinsic feature of Story Now nor is any particular resolution method.

My Scion game is mostly run in a Story Now fashion, but there is a decent amount of binding secret backstory. It's also not utilizing intent based resolution. A lot of my approach to scenario design is based on Sorcerer which does very much utilize some myth.

This article, which I want to dig into later this week lays out the Standard Narrativistic Model like this:

The Standard Narrativistic Model said:
Here’s how games like Sorcerer, Dogs in the Vineyard, some varieties of Heroquest, The Shadow of Yesterday, Mountain Witch, Primetime Adventures and more games than I care to name all work:

  1. One of the players is a gamemaster whose job it is to keep track of the backstory, frame scenes according to dramatic needs (that is, go where the action is) and provoke thematic moments (defined in narrativistic theory as moments of in-character action that carry weight as commentary on the game’s premise) by introducing complications.
  2. The rest of the players each have their own characters to play. They play their characters according to the advocacy role: the important part is that they naturally allow the character’s interests to come through based on what they imagine of the character’s nature and background. Then they let the other players know in certain terms what the character thinks and wants.
  3. The actual procedure of play is very simple: once the players have established concrete characters, situations and backstory in whatever manner a given game ascribes, the GM starts framing scenes for the player characters. Each scene is an interesting situation in relation to the premise of the setting or the character (or wherever the premise comes from, depends on the game). The GM describes a situation that provokes choices on the part of the character. The player is ready for this, as he knows his character and the character’s needs, so he makes choices on the part of the character. This in turn leads to consequences as determined by the game’s rules. Story is an outcome of the process as choices lead to consequences which lead to further choices, until all outstanding issues have been resolved and the story naturally reaches an end.
  4. The player’s task in these games is simple advocacy, which is not difficult once you have a firm character. (Chargen is a key consideration in these games, compare them to see how different approaches work.) The GM might have more difficulty, as he needs to be able to reference the backstory, determine complications to introduce into the game, and figure out consequences. Much of the rules systems in these games address these challenges, and in addition the GM might have methodical tools outside the rules, such as pre-prepared relationship maps (helps with backstory), bangs (helps with provoking thematic choice) and pure experience (helps with determining consequences).
 
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In the answering the question it is really, really important to put your game bases aside in terms of style I think. Everyone, myself included, tends to answer this question with their own preferences in mind. This is why I drew a distinction between being in a sherlock holmes story (which is more what you describe) and being (not feeling) Sherlock Holmes. Neither approach is wrong or right, they are just different goals (and to be clear, there are more distinctions to be made here. The type of play I think aligns with being Sherlock homes is where the players are experiencing the challenges of solving, or failing to solve, the mystery by finding clues, piecing together the clues, etc. This is, I think, for the kinds of fans of mystery for whom so many bookshelf games were made in the 70s (you can look these up to see what I am talking about). So I think the answers your questions suggest are much more in the realm of players who want to be in a Sherlock holmes story, or those who want to simulate sherlock holmes (i.e. they want to make a character who can do the things Sherlock holmes does, and use something like a set of skills or abilities to do those things, rather than do those things as directly themselves as possible). Again, there is nothing wrong with any of these preferences, but they are preferences you see emerge in discussions around mystery adventures where some people want Sherlock Holmes to be able to make 'crazy proclamations' and have those be true, others want to see if they can piece together the available data and arrive at something true.

Yeah, I agree that it's all a matter of preference. And I absolutely understand what you're saying about "emulating a Holmes story"; I get that as a description.

But I'm making a small, but maybe significant, distinction about how it would be best to put the players in the shoes of someone like Holmes. About "being" Holmes and what might best promote that.

I mean, Holmes is a genius, and most players are not. Do they feel like Holmes if they solve a relatively mundane mystery of the sort that would work for a game? Or if they fail to solve a more involved mystery because of the limitations of the format and also their own "limits" as non-genius people who don't benefit from being the star of the show?

Would playing it in that more mainstream, GM driven mode be as satisfying as a game? The answer for me with the Star Trek scenario I posted above, was a pretty resounding no, although there were a few things that contributed to that.

Also....players' actual physical capabilities never (almost never, I suppose) limit their characters' physical capabilities. When we're talking about mental capability, there are inherent limits. Does it make sense to try and bridge that gap some way? If so, how so? How do we do that, and still have a scenario that would be an interesting game? I'm not sure.

Also, I'm not proposing any specific method. I'm not saying that having the player be able to make proclamations and have those be true would be fun for a game. Just that Holmes is able to do such.

Again, preference will matter of course, but I'm just asking the questions because they occurred to me and I think they're interesting. I don't think there's a right or wrong answer.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Mysteries are one place where node based design really shines. The clues are essentially an information dungeon where each clue has obvious links to other places and people. If there are enough nodes that there is some choice in approach, and no dead ends, then it's up to the players to put the pieces together as quickly as they can. You could use rolls for some of that I suppose, but I'd rather lean on my design. I tend to do layers where you have smaller nested sets of information, sort of like mysteries within mysteries. Not to make things more complicated, but to provide a sense of accomplishment and cleverness at multiple steps. I set things up more like a web than a line, so there's always the chance for a clever party to strike right to the heart of things.
 

I think nuance is important here. Story Now is a creative agenda. It just means that the GM is designing scenario with regard to the PCs' dramatic needs. While there are plenty of Story Now games that operate under the assumption of No Myth it's not an intrinsic feature of Story Now nor is any particular resolution method.

My Scion game is mostly run in a Story Now fashion, but there is a decent amount of binding secret backstory. It's also not utilizing intent based resolution. A lot of my approach to scenario design is based on Sorcerer which does very much utilize some myth.

This article, which I want to dig into later this week lays out the Standard Narrativistic Model like this:
Right, so 'narrative play' as I have often called it, certainly doesn't require zero myth. However, in the context of a mystery it does require that the plot progress (at least I would find it hard to understand how a stalled/thwarted investigation in a game largely focused on that element would produce drama). Now, the 'CSI RPG' I mentioned before (is there one?) would probably not have an issue with that, as there would be multiple plot threads and within that genre a failed investigation could be dramatic, if handled right (the issues would simply be elsewhere, I'm pretty sure at least one of the CSIs had some plots like this).

I classify at least my earlier 4e campaigns as being in a similar vein. There was PLENTY of setting, a huge amount! The game also focused, to a degree, on 'D&D themes', that is it was D&D and it could lean on all the classic tropes and common genre assumptions of a D&D campaign. Quest givers and other plot devices work fine in this genre because they are expected, and can be built into setting and scene framing.
 

Yeah, I agree that it's all a matter of preference. And I absolutely understand what you're saying about "emulating a Holmes story"; I get that as a description.

But I'm making a small, but maybe significant, distinction about how it would be best to put the players in the shoes of someone like Holmes. About "being" Holmes and what might best promote that.

I mean, Holmes is a genius, and most players are not. Do they feel like Holmes if they solve a relatively mundane mystery of the sort that would work for a game? Or if they fail to solve a more involved mystery because of the limitations of the format and also their own "limits" as non-genius people who don't benefit from being the star of the show?

Would playing it in that more mainstream, GM driven mode be as satisfying as a game? The answer for me with the Star Trek scenario I posted above, was a pretty resounding no, although there were a few things that contributed to that.

Also....players' actual physical capabilities never (almost never, I suppose) limit their characters' physical capabilities. When we're talking about mental capability, there are inherent limits. Does it make sense to try and bridge that gap some way? If so, how so? How do we do that, and still have a scenario that would be an interesting game? I'm not sure.

Also, I'm not proposing any specific method. I'm not saying that having the player be able to make proclamations and have those be true would be fun for a game. Just that Holmes is able to do such.

Again, preference will matter of course, but I'm just asking the questions because they occurred to me and I think they're interesting. I don't think there's a right or wrong answer.

When I say be Holmes, I mean in Holmes shoes to play detective. What you are describing is what I mean by simulating Holmes, which is a totally viable option. But it isn't the same as playing the game Holmes is playing. In this style I am there to strive to be like Holmes, to pit my wits against the scenario the way Holmes does. I think a lot of people who are fans of mysteries, approach mystery novels this way (they are interested in solving the mystery before the story reachers its conclusion). That is how I read mystery novels, and for this type of person and for me, the most fun I have in mystery scenarios is getting an opportunity to truly play detective. This isn't about Sherlock Holmes specifically. This is about seeing how good of an ace detective you can be, and trying to become a better one. My point is, that is the game some players want to be playing. If you are playing it this way for this reason, you don't care if tests of strength in the game are testing your real world strength, you care that your mind is solving the puzzle. Bridging the gap between the players mental abilities and the characters makes sense if you want to simulate Sherlock holmes, but bridging that gap interferes with playing the game of solving the mystery i you want to be in Sherlock Holmes' shoes.

Again, both approaches are fine.
 

Mysteries are one place where node based design really shines. The clues are essentially an information dungeon where each clue has obvious links to other places and people. If there are enough nodes that there is some choice in approach, and no dead ends, then it's up to the players to put the pieces together as quickly as they can. You could use rolls for some of that I suppose, but I'd rather lean on my design. I tend to do layers where you have smaller nested sets of information, sort of like mysteries within mysteries. Not to make things more complicated, but to provide a sense of accomplishment and cleverness at multiple steps. I set things up more like a web than a line, so there's always the chance for a clever party to strike right to the heart of things.
Yes, but there are difficulties. The 'walls' of this 'maze' are invisible, which is a big problem. I have a section in my 'classic dungeon' where there is a whole sub-level with invisible walls (they also shock you if you touch them, just to be even meaner). Nobody gets through that. Trying to navigate that stuff is just super nasty. There are almost no landmarks, it is hard to orient, even if you invent some tricks to (partially) map it. A mystery of this sort of similar. Nobody knows where any clue really leads. At best you must be VERY VERY specific and spell everything out in great detail. This was not so needed in Doyle's writing because most of the things described tied in to common knowledge people had. If Holmes found a clue, people could interpret it, at least to some degree. Of course, if the game is set in a modern 'real world' type setting, then this helps a lot here!

'sub-mysteries' I agree would give a sense of progress. So a mystery that was, perhaps, an intricate conspiracy, where it is revealed in layers, would be a good design. I feel like we're getting into some very elaborate game scenarios though, which are hard to actually implement.
 

Well, 'multiple paths' might work, but at that point is there some value to there being one and only one correct solution? My experience with other sorts of Story Now play indicates that, as long as the results are consistent and plausible, and engage the PCs in the expected way, that the literal solution isn't usually the primary point. I certainly don't, myself, as a player feel like there can really BE one and only one solution, that's more just a fixed idea that the GM came up with. It is all fiction.

When you say correct solution, what do you mean? Does solution here equal who did it, or does solution mean the ways you can discover who did it? I would see those as two very different things. I think for the style of play I am talking about, you need an objective event that is set: Frank killed John by strangling him to death in the attic, because he was jealous over Loraine. The GM might plan out all the possible ways clues could be found (and these, in my view, should fit a consistent and logical backstory so the clues all make sense). But the players might come up with a way to find clues that would reasonably yield them in this scenario, even if the GM hadn't considered them. That is what I mean more than one path to a solution. Understand with mysteries for someone like me solving what actually happened is the point. If you are a fan of mysteries this is also often the point of reading them (if you sense the writer didn't know who did it and how from the beginning, and didn't have all the details pinned down, it can ruin the book). So if the GM is deciding that Loraine Kills Frank instead because the players went down that path of reasoning instead, I think this would take away from any real sense I had of solving it were I to know this (and I think one would start to suspect this after several sessions)
 

If Holmes found a clue, people could interpret it, at least to some degree. Of course, if the game is set in a modern 'real world' type setting, then this helps a lot here!

Certainly the players can take things to a lab for analysis if that is a resource available to them. It is also worth considering how modern law enforcement gathers evidence if the players are in the FBI or something. If that is the case you can also have evidence gathering teams, and the situation might be more about the players directing where those teams go. Another thing modern games introduce is phone communication. A good example of this in an investigation like show is 24 (which made cell phones central just as they were starting to become ubiquitous). That changed so much in terms of how the characters got information in the field (to the point that there is a parody of 24 set in the 90s where Jack Bauer has to use the pay phone to communicate with Chloe). These are the kinds of alternative paths to a solution I think the GM has to be open to.

The way I look at a mystery adventure is I don't worry about the players moving through a bunch of preset place or steps I wanted them to. I come up with a background event that happened, think about where all the clues would plausibly be, apply principles like the the three clue rule (not 100% but I check in on whether clues are abundant enough), then I let the players investigate and see what happens. I also usually have some kind of terrible outcome if they don't solve it by a certain point so things stay interesting. Sometimes I mix this process up, but basically this is it. So usually i have a map of the places and characters where the clues are (or I have a bunch of entries for each of these things). But again, that is more like a base or starting point. If someone was shot in the street, and I have two witnesses who are in custody who are the noted clue bearers for the attackers identity or description, but my players decide instead to go to every single house and see who saw something (and I think to myself, yeah, I guess somebody would have seen something----I live on a street with houses and look out the window when something sounding like gunfire makes a noise), I think it is reasonable and fair to say they can get the information from this path rather than going to the suspects in custody. I find something like this happens several times when I run mysteries.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Yes, but there are difficulties. The 'walls' of this 'maze' are invisible, which is a big problem. I have a section in my 'classic dungeon' where there is a whole sub-level with invisible walls (they also shock you if you touch them, just to be even meaner). Nobody gets through that. Trying to navigate that stuff is just super nasty. There are almost no landmarks, it is hard to orient, even if you invent some tricks to (partially) map it. A mystery of this sort of similar. Nobody knows where any clue really leads. At best you must be VERY VERY specific and spell everything out in great detail. This was not so needed in Doyle's writing because most of the things described tied in to common knowledge people had. If Holmes found a clue, people could interpret it, at least to some degree. Of course, if the game is set in a modern 'real world' type setting, then this helps a lot here!

'sub-mysteries' I agree would give a sense of progress. So a mystery that was, perhaps, an intricate conspiracy, where it is revealed in layers, would be a good design. I feel like we're getting into some very elaborate game scenarios though, which are hard to actually implement.
I wasn't really talking about elaborate conspiracy, although I would use the same design scaled up to do that. I'm going to continue to use the metaphor of node based design, even though that's not actually what going on, precisely. I'll identify groups of places and faces that have obviously strong ties, either of proximity or relationship to form a 'sub-mystery'. Let me spin an example, which will illustrate better than some blathering.

1. I start with the meta connect that the Guild of Stevedores is transhipping illegal cargo for Duke Hufflepuff (who is either the next level or the big bad). Drugs go from a ship, to a warehouse, to a farm just outside of town, owned by the Duke's nephew (who's also in on it).

2. Then I build a bundle of faces and places around the guild, and make a list of the kinds of clues the PCs might find. Lets say you have the Guild Master, his secretary, and one particular group of dock workers. The PCs already have the name of a ship and Wharf inspector, which is what leads them here in the first place. There's the Guild Hall, a club the Master frequents, a couple of bars frequented by Dockers, plus the docks and warehouses.

3. Then I figure out what kind of information the PCs might find that connects the pieces. I decide the secretary is the go between for the Duke and his crew at the docks. I also decide that wagons pick up the cargo late at night and move it to the farm (late night could be noticed, plus maybe there are night watchmen). The crew connects to the ship and the warehouse and the crooked inspector. The Duke connects to the secretary and the farm and the ship (I just added that in because it makes sense). The Duke and the Guild Master connect to the club, as does the secretary. The Guild Master connects to the Inspector and the crew. All of these connections can potentially be identified through surveillance and interviews with locals.

4. Now for hard proof. There are the drugs, shipping manifests, building ownership, letters, bank drafts, diaries, notes, Ducal signets, club reservations, plus assorted other stuff that might be suggested by the NPC details. From that I'll produce a list of what might be found in what location. Keep in mind these aren't master criminals, nor are they going up against the CSI crew, so you can be liberal with clues.

I can do that whole nexus using random tables and without having to locate anything in any particular place. I might put some specific things in places, but the point is that I don't have to.

I'd build another one or maybe two other nexus points that also point toward the Duke, and figure out what initial clues and information would be necessary to get the PCs pointed at least generally toward at least one of those points (like the ship and inspector examples from above). In this case one idea that suggests itself immediately is to build a nexus around drug distribution in fancy clubs to dilettante aristos, a nexus I can connect both to the farm from above, to the duke, and possibly to other nexus points.

Finally, I'll look at the nexus points and see what makes sense to connect any of those together, if anything. I'll massage the idea and move some parts around until the whole web hangs together. What you need to make this model work is a group of guilty parties. It gets very hard when its some kind of lone gunman. This example took me less than 10 minutes to bang out, and it's good enough that I'd run it for my own group with some polishing with some confidence that they won't lose the thread of events.
 


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