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Suggestions for running an investigative-type game?

jaults

First Post
I am planning on starting an Iron Kingdoms game in the near future. Usually, my games tend to be combat-heavy. But this time, I would like to gear the campaign toward more investigation and problem solving challenges.

Does anyone have suggestions for this? Anything from "this book has interesting rules," to "this DM technic is useful," to "this premade adventure is good in that respect" would be greatly appreciated. Also, any Dungeon adventures (3E only, please) that are focused on investigation would be great.

Thanks,

Jason
 

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Voadam

Legend
Murder mysteries are good.

I'm running Demon God's Fane and it has a murder mystery with different people knowing different information.

The key is for stuff to be revealed with reasonable investigation. If everything just comes out of the blue the players are not involved in the plot. If the information is too hard to find then it never comes out and intricate plots are only for the DM to know. So having information be revealed by PC actions is key.

Have charts of NPCs with short descriptions of them and their role in your plots.

The game I'm in now is high plot and intrigue with theocratic imperial politics, an arcane witch hunt about to take off, evil nobles dealing with slaves and evil magic trading, infernal powers ascending, different religious factions active, secret societies, and my PC in the middle of it with vague references to his role in certain prophecies.

I have an in-depth chart of NPCs I've encountered, who they are and what I know about them.

I love figuring these things out and diving into the politics and intrigue. And then when I come upon the slavers blowing them up with chain lightnings.

Have different factions always active even if not necessarily antagonistic to the PCs.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
The first part of the Witchfire trilogy, which luckily is already in your setting of choice, is pretty investigative heavy. You might want to start there.
 

Raflar

First Post
I ran a campaign this past year where the PCs were Private Investigators for the City of Westgate. I found the key to their enjoyment (and involvement) was in depth characterization of the NPCs. I had a list of over 50 NPCs each with a picture (almost all were famous Hollywood Celebs) and a brief blurb on their personality and where they fit in the storyline.

My PCs love to interact and fortunately for me I love to 'act' so I had a lot of fun being all these different people, changing my voice as much as I could. Sometimes it was hard (especially at a Noble Dinner Party with over 80 guests) but I found I could feed the PCs information without it being forced on them.

For example: Their next door neighbour was a kindly old lady who ran a bakery and loved to talk. Her husband was an aging Seargeant in the City Watch. She started to tell the PCs how the 'old guard' is being replaced by these new younger men, and they hope they could still make ends meet with the bakery.

In my storyline, Westgate's Army and City Watch were slowly being replaced by men from Teziir. On the day when all the key positions were replaced, Westgate was attacked (by monsters & pirates hired by these same men). This 'new' army quelled the attack and became heros, thus cementing themselves into the City heirarchy.

Now the PCs have to convince the Ruling Nobles & the citizens that the 'watch' is evil and that Westgate was taken over and they didn't even know it...

but then my game stopped due to new jobs for my players and I had to move on to another campaign....

If you want more information on my Westgate Campaign you can see it here: http://www.raflar.com/fantasyrpg/westgate-background.php
 


maddman75

First Post
jaults said:
I am planning on starting an Iron Kingdoms game in the near future. Usually, my games tend to be combat-heavy. But this time, I would like to gear the campaign toward more investigation and problem solving challenges.

Does anyone have suggestions for this? Anything from "this book has interesting rules," to "this DM technic is useful," to "this premade adventure is good in that respect" would be greatly appreciated. Also, any Dungeon adventures (3E only, please) that are focused on investigation would be great.

Thanks,

Jason

One method I've found useful is to drop many hooks, and see what the PCs will bite on. Maybe you have several possibilities in your home city - corruption in the guard, a looming war with a neighbor, a new theif guild rising to power, and a cult of demon worshippers setting up shop. Let them hear something about each of them and go with that.

Another important thing to remember is not to set up enemies to be defeated, but conflicts to be resolved. This requires more thinking on your feet than location based gaming, but can be much more rewarding. Determine who the players are, what they want, and what they will do to get it. Then throw the PCs in the middle and see what happens.

I highly recommend abandoning the CR/ECL/XP system for this kind of game. While it works well for 'kill em all and take their stuff' kinds of gaming, I find it lacking for a more story or investigative style of game. Personally I just hand out XP so everyone will advance at the rate I want them to advance.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
I am not very good at making mysteries, but here is what has worked for me:

1. Decide the truth. Decide what has already happened, and who, what, when, where, and why.

3. Reverse-engineer those things. Work backwards to figure out what happened stage by stage, and clues and evidence will automatically suggest themselves. Did A have to hire killer B to murder victim C? Then Killer B is still out there somewhere with A's true identity, or at least info on how to contact him.

4. Throw in complications when it's too easy. Perhaps the characters have to FIND killer B. Perhaps as they corner him, he is shot (as in the case with Zam Wessel in Attack of the Clones). Perhaps Killer B is gone, but his apartment/notes/transactions are still around.

5. Throw in a chase. Players love a chase scene. :D

The important thing is to make sure the trail makes sense going forward from unsolved to solved, and to do that, it should make sense going backward from solved to unsolved.
 

kolikeos

First Post
played in one such game, DMd in one such game, both were crapy. maybe i'll try that again sometime when i have more expirience (-points :p )
 

Kalendraf

First Post
The devil is in the details. Be prepared to develop some very in-depth stories and NPCs...at least more detailed than most combat-intensive campaigns require. Each NPC should have well-thought-out motives along with various bits of information that they know and can relate. Some of them may provide that information readily, others may be quite difficult to deal with. Some may even lie to prevent undesireable information from being uncovered, all of which may be unrelated to the direct investigation. Red Herrings can be used to intentionally lead the party off track.

As more questions are asked, the party will undoubtedly garner the attention of various power groups who may take an interest in their pursuit. For example, if the party is about to expose a wealthy baron's sordid past, the church may step in to try and carefully prevent this from being exposed if the baron has donated heavily to the church in the past. If the party is about to uncover juicy details about the guard captain's prior lifestyle, the local Thieve's Guild may become involved and attempt to prevent that information from being announced publicly so they can instead use the information to blackmail the captain.

Experience needs to be handled differently. Obtaining information from a reluctant source should probably earn exp, while obtaining info from a very willing source should earn little or no exp. You can base the exp on the CR-rating of the person who has that information, but that may not work for all cases. Information gathering thru alternative means (sneaking into a house, magical divination) are viable options as well. I'd recommend giving each detail an associated EXP value.
 

Gothmog

First Post
maddman75 said:
One method I've found useful is to drop many hooks, and see what the PCs will bite on. Maybe you have several possibilities in your home city - corruption in the guard, a looming war with a neighbor, a new theif guild rising to power, and a cult of demon worshippers setting up shop. Let them hear something about each of them and go with that.

Another important thing to remember is not to set up enemies to be defeated, but conflicts to be resolved. This requires more thinking on your feet than location based gaming, but can be much more rewarding. Determine who the players are, what they want, and what they will do to get it. Then throw the PCs in the middle and see what happens.

I highly recommend abandoning the CR/ECL/XP system for this kind of game. While it works well for 'kill em all and take their stuff' kinds of gaming, I find it lacking for a more story or investigative style of game. Personally I just hand out XP so everyone will advance at the rate I want them to advance.

maddman75 offers some great advice here- heed all of it. I really enjoy running investigative dark fantasy type games- very similar in feel to the IK stuff (except for steamjacks), and over the years I've gotten pretty good at it. My main advice would be:

1. Set up situations, not adventures. Have several plot hooks ready, knowing who the major players are, what their motives are, and how they are planning on achieving their goals. Present the hooks to the players, and let them decide which ones they want to follow up on and pursue. Once the players decide on a hook, flesh it out in more detail, and give some thought to how the NPCs would react to someone screwing with their plans.

2. Pacing. This one is really important. Sometimes players will get stymied and frustrated in an invesitigation, and thats when its time to give them a gentle nudge, but be subtle- let them think they figured it out. Maybe present them with a street urchin who tries to pick one of their pockets, and when the PCs catch him, have him offer to tell them a secret if they'll let him go- and his secret provides them another clue into the mystery. Players have a greater sense of accomplishment thinking they figured something complex out than if you present them an obvious clue. Conversely, if the players have a "Eureka!" moment and figure things out quickly- don't change things. Their insight should be rewarded.

3. Have consequences for PC actions. NPCs in investigative type games are not static, and they do not wait in a dungeon room with their treasure waiting to be slaughtered. If the PCs start asking around about them, or cause a scene or scuffle with some minions, you can bet the NPCs involved will take steps to learn more about these interlopers, and deal with them if they are dangerous. Investigative type games rely on logical consequnces to work well, and this is going to mean you need to be able to ad lib plot and NPC actions to a much greater degree than you would in a normal game. The bad news is that this is kinda difficult. The good news is that its easy to get better with practice, and its a lot of fun once you are good.

4. Don't ever say "you check the chest and there are no traps." Investigative type games rely on some uncertainty, so instead say "you don't find any traps on the chest." Things are not always as they seem in these types of games- allies can double-cross you, and the enemy of my enemy can be my friend. Play this to the hilt- your players will thank you.

5. Try not to let situations be resolved with a massive combat or firefight every time. While it can be fun, it does kill the theme and mood of the game. Instead, let the players outwit and cripple an enemy's operation that they can't kill- for example the PCs destroy the alchemical distilling operation the son of a local noble is using to produce a drug to addict the population. Killing a noble isn't an option (at least not without SERIOUS consequences), but getting rid of his illicit business might be.

6. Finally, and I can't stress this enough, DON'T use the CR/EL/XP system for giving out XP. Killing enemies to gain XP is the bane of an investigative campaign. Just decide how many sessions it will take for the PCs to level up, and go with that. Reward good roleplaying and problem-solving in this type of game, not bravado and combat prowess.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
Some great advice here. Let's see; my own game is fairly investigative, although I do throw combat at my players a fair amount as well. I'll be echoing a lot of things already mentioned here in this thread, but here's what I do.
  • Yeah, I got rid of XP as well. Levelling is arbitrary in my game.
  • You need to have some method around the "solve the mystery in one quick flash" type of spells. In my case, I've changed the magic system entirely; I only have one spell that my PCs have access to; it's a direct damage spell, and my PC is afraid to cast it unless things are really desperate as he's pretty much guaranteed to go insane every time he does.
    evil.gif
  • At the start of my campaign, I had to have a somewhat linear adventure set-up because my PCs didn't yet have any strong roots in the setting, but by the end of the first adventure a few sessions in, I had all kinds of potential mysteries and plot hooks for them to follow, and it's up to them to pursue what they're interested in. In fact, I'm trying to get a read on what they want to do next before we meet again so I can prepare a little better...
  • All of my NPCs that are more than simply throwaway extras have some kind of secret associated with them. For some, the secret is merely a clue that the PCs need to find, but for others it's much more sinister. NPCs that the PC may think are allies are often simply using them for their own ends, and will throw them under the bus when their usefulness is at an end. My players are a bit paranoid, but I think I've got them trusting all the wrong people, for the most part. ;) Of course, since hardly anyone in my setting is trustworthy, they can't go too wrong being paranoid.
  • And you have to know your players. My players will jump on potential plot hooks with little encouragement from me, but I've known a lot of people that really want a more heavy handed "tell me what I'm supposed to be doing now" approach. In general, these types of players aren't going to be great at the investigative play anyway, but a lot of specifically D&D players do this, because D&D is often about simply getting together with friends and bashing some orc heads after a week at the office. Keep in mind your players interests and acuity for the type of game you want to run.
 
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maddman75

First Post
Gothmog said:
4. Don't ever say "you check the chest and there are no traps." Investigative type games rely on some uncertainty, so instead say "you don't find any traps on the chest." Things are not always as they seem in these types of games- allies can double-cross you, and the enemy of my enemy can be my friend. Play this to the hilt- your players will thank you.

Heh - I do this, and my players often get in on the act as well. A typical exchange might go like this

Rogue: I search the chest to see if its trapped. *Rolls search* Er, 12
Me: You don't see any traps.
Rogue: (to fighter) There's no traps - go on open it up!
FIghter: Heh - if you're so sure why don't you open it up?
Rogue: What, you don't believe me? Or maybe you're scared?

Though considering my love for crazy Wile E Coyote style traps I don't blame them. Why have a spear do 1d6 damage, when you can have a trapdoor drop them into a slide, over razorblade, into a pile of filth...with something moving under the muck. :D
 
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Hypersmurf

Moderatarrrrh...
maddman75 said:
Why have a spear do 1d6 damage, when you can have a trapdoor drop them into a slide, over razorblade, into a pile of filth...with something moving under the muck. :D

"There's something alive in here..."
"That's your imagination."

-Hyp.
 

Saeviomagy

Adventurer
My suggestion:

1. Start out with what happened. Work out where things happened, what happened there, and what's around the places where things happen.

Example - Benny, hired by a mafia capo broke into a 5th story window and stole a diamond necklace from a safe. So Benny was talked to by someone from the mafia capo, and has or will be dropping the necklace off and receiving payment. The first meeting probably occurred somewhere that benny is comfortable (ie - known). Benny broke into the window - how? We'll say he's an expert cat burglar.

2. Work out what you WANT the players to THINK happened.

In this case - the individuals who own the thing are getting a big insurance payout for the necklace.

3. Plant evidence that gently pushes them down path 2.

The individuals leave the insurance papers somewhere around the crime scene, which the players, of course, investigate. Benny is a good cat burglar - he leaves very little evidence, and locks the window behind him. The couple appear to have made a great effort to have an alibi - they scheduled a meeting for a certain time, despite it being difficult to do so. They were very insistent. They made sure the desk clerk saw them leave, etc etc.

Possibly the biggest tactic for this is to have someone who is innocent conceal some information for private reasons.

4. Leave SOME evidence for the players to find that will, if they follow it up, lead to 1.

Finally - don't feel like the players HAVE to solve the mystery "right". They'll still have a sense of accomplishment if they get it wrong, and you've got some plot hooks.
 
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Dr. NRG

First Post
There is some solid advice here regarding how to come up with mysteries and plots for the PC's to address and solve. However, that's a whole pile of hard, creative work. And I'm a lazy bastid ;)

When I GM homebrewed investigations, I rampantly steal mystery plots from Raymond Chandler, Alfred Hitchcock, and others. Disguise the characters a little and adapt for the proper milieu, and players are quite unlikely to catch on. It saves a lot of work, and gives you a set of interlocking NPC's upon which to base your adaptations. They present pre-existing relationships, and a cohesive world that allows you the luxury to improvise upon an existing base.

Just be sure not to tell your PC's your sources.

NRG
 

jaults

First Post
Thanks for all of the suggestions, guys! I am planning on running the Witchfire Trilogy of adventures, but it has been so long since I read them, I forgot if they were investigative or not.

A few people suggested modelling my adventures after books and/or movies. Does anyone have any specific examples to point to? Also, as I mentioned, I am always hard-up for time. Does anyone have suggestions for Dungeon magazine adventures that I can stuff into the IK setting?

Thanks for your help,
Jason
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
One last bit of advice -- investigative adventures can tend to move more slowly than the GM often thinks they will. I know mine do, and when we played the first Witchfire module a few years ago, it did too.

That's not necessarily a problem if you've got players who really enjoy that type of thing a lot, or of you're really good at slowly building an aura of tension and suspense throughout several sessions. It's not a bad idea to have some throwaway combats to give them just to make sure they stay interested. The first Witchfire book takes place mostly in and around Corvis, so you can have things like random street thugs that try to ambush them to score a robbery, or other types of things like that break up the (potential) monotony of wandering around town looking for clues.
 

Herpes Cineplex

First Post
Dr. NRG said:
When I GM homebrewed investigations, I rampantly steal mystery plots from Raymond Chandler, Alfred Hitchcock, and others.
Oh man, I was just about to make this same suggestion. Except I was going to recommend Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and any cheap detective novel you can find at your local used bookstore. ;)

I'll go ahead and refine the suggestion a little bit, using something from a foreword to Raymond Chandler's The Simple Art of Murder: make your mystery about the PEOPLE, not the props.

There's a reason why Hammett's The Maltese Falcon is hailed as one of the best detective novels of all time, and one of the few detective novels to have genuine literary merit, and that reason is because the actual mystery (who shot Miles Archer?) is the least important part of the story. The amount of time Hammett spends describing the scene of the crime and evidence and how Sam Spade is investigating it can be fit into something like two or three pages; the actual story, on the other hand, is all about Spade ferretting out the relationships between the other characters, making tough decisions, and playing every conceivable angle to get things to work out to his benefit. Instead of the old-fashioned puzzle mystery stories where the point is to keep the reader trying to crack the case before the main character does, this was a story about people and the things that really motivate them. (It's also a fantastically stylish novel and one of my all-time favorites, obviously.)

So anyway, when you're designing a game where the PCs will be doing some investigating, don't get too wrapped up in trying to make the actual crime something that's hard to solve, or trying to build a bunch of physical evidence that will consistently point to the bad guys. Instead, work on making really interesting bad guys, and on finding ways to get the PCs to interact with a wide range of great NPCs in really cool places. Work on mapping out relationships between NPCs and how you can get the PCs stuck in the middle of them.

And play fair. There's a great temptation for many GMs to have all-knowing NPCs who for some reason can never be bullied, coerced, or argued into sharing their info with the player characters. Screw that: every good story needs a weaselly little snitch who'd rat out his own mother for a quick buck. Every story needs a helpful idiot who shares useless theories that lead absolutely nowhere. Even the evil mastermind shouldn't know everything about what just happened.

And like Gothmog says, you need to keep the pacing up. When the PCs get stymied, a fresh lead is just one "a bunch of guys burst through the door with guns" away. When they start bogging down, that's when you can shift your attention to figuring out what the bad guys are doing, and how their actions are going to be noticed by the PCs so they can get things moving again. And you should never, ever have only one piece of evidence that could lead the characters in a particular direction (nor allow only one PC to have exclusive access to that evidence), because when they fail to share that information with anyone else it'll put a bullet right through your game's heart.


The only other suggestion I have is to either require or strongly encourage players to make skill-heavy characters rather than power-heavy ones. Either that, or change the rules to let the power-heavy character types actually be able to have some proficiency with social tasks and spotting clues. If you're using a D&D setting, for example, rogue and bard players will have an awesome time playing an investigation-heavy game, but anyone with a fighter or a barbarian is just going to feel useless most of the time, and magic-users who don't have appropriate spells for what's going on will be bored.

(For example, one adjustment we tried was to let each character have a "spotlight" skill, some class skill they always had maximum ranks in without having to spend skill points on, and to also let them buy cross-class skills at a cost of only one skill point per rank, with the normal cross-class maximum still applying. It let non-rogue-types have a little gather information or bluff or whatever, plus a skill they could really shine at, without making them overly powerful or stepping all over the niche of really social characters like bards. It worked out pretty well.)

--
actually, our group tends to do more investigative games than any other kind
ryan
 

Vecnasaurus

First Post
How about the Sherlock Holmes stories? They may still be the wrong time period, but at least there are no automobiles, and the stories are short enough to read several in an afternoon and pick out the elements you like.

I find the absolute worst thing you can do is make the players roll skill checks for every aspect of the game. Avoid this at all costs:

DM: The knight gives you a wary look, and returns to his wine. "Yes?" he asks, a hint of arrogance in his voice.
PC: I got a 27 on my Gather Information check.
DM: The knight tells you that on the 13th of March, he and his servant were...

The feel of an investigative game demands that PCs do their own footwork when it comes to dealing with NPCs. The best thing to do is simply take the PC's skills into account when deciding how NPC's react, i.e., distraught murder witnesses calm down more quickly when comforted by a paladin with a high Diplomacy skill, the stonewalling innkeeper actually decides to talk to the bard with many ranks in Gather Information, the weasel spills the beans when confronted with the fighter with many ranks in Intimidate, etc. The further advantage of this method is that you want to avoid the reverse of the combat phenomenon. Just as a first level bard or wizard tends to feel useless in combat, its easy for a fighter or barbarian to feel useless if the entire investigation is based on skill checks.

The most common complaint with this method is that not every >player< is a skilled speaker who can convince an NPC to talk, and its not fair to deny a player the skills their character posesses (although you're not, as long as you're aware of what the character can do). To this I would say 1) Give it a try, you may find it fun after all, and 2) You don't get to make an INT check to get past the dungeon puzzle, do you? :]
 

Talon5

First Post
One major problem I have playing in investigation type campaigns is I always play the wrong kind of character.

No Gather Info type skills to be found, the GM sees that his players are running combat monsters and he wants to run a mystery.

Played in one campaign- the party was made up of city dwellers and the GM has us lost in the wilds. Fish out of water works once in a while, but not when you're that far out of your element.

Suggest to your players that they need someone with certain skills.

Oh, ya- good role playing can make up for skills lacking, but it makes little sense to have Kropar the Orc Barbarian with the Cha 8 trying to talk to talk to a murder suspect when he and the Player just wants to wrip the guys head off. ;)

Just a suggestion.
 

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