log in or register to remove this ad

 

The Story Now Discussion

Campbell

Legend
I think this is one of those areas where we are mixing up No Myth and Story Now. A lot of games are both, but No Myth is not required for Story Now. In Sorcerer games I have had murders where I knew who committed crime when players did not, but it still was nothing like a whodunit because the players addressed the murder with regard to their own agendas. No one particularly cared who actually was responsible. Even if they did I would not have put purposeful red herrings in because the point of the scenes I was framing were based on the personal impact to the player characters.

As a player in a Story Now game the expectation is that you are primarily going to be oriented towards your character's struggles. It's not a problem solving exercise primarily. We're going for fairly clear emotional stakes and really engaging the current moment of play. We care a lot more about moral choices than strategic ones. In a Story Now game the interesting bit happens when you know who committed the murder.

I do think you can have for example a Story Now game that would handle characters like Sherlock Holmes, but like solving the mysteries would not be the interesting part. The choices you make once you know what's going on would be. So a lot like Sherlock on BBC.

I'm running a game right now which should test this pretty well. Apocalypse Keys is a Medium Myth game about playing monsters who investigate other monsters so as to avert the Apocalypse. So there is some secret backstory in terms of NPCs who have relationships to the victims, clues, and what happens if the mysteries go unresolved. However it leaves the exact details more open. The point is not really solving the mysteries though. It's player characters dealing with the fallout of using their dark powers, their relationships to each other, the temptation to give into darkness, and how the characters interact with a world that is afraid of them.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I mean the prefabricated endstate is 100 % independent of player input (eg a player cannot make a move at any point during play to affect that endstate...the endstate is always going to be something like "Colonel Mustard in the Kitchen with the Knife")

But that isn't the endstate. That's the starting condition! The cards defining that are set and hidden before play begins!

What happens as the PCs explore this situation in which this event has happened? If they figure it out, what are the PCs going to do about the fact that Colonel Mustard did it in the Kitchen with the Knife?

In RPGs, the mystery of "Person X killed Y, and then X goes to jail," is pretty boring. Having some moral or ethical or political complexity arise that are grounds for PC actions is important.
 

But that isn't the endstate. That's the starting condition! The cards defining that are set and hidden before play begins!

What happens as the PCs explore this situation in which this event has happened? If they figure it out, what are the PCs going to do about the fact that Colonel Mustard did it in the Kitchen with the Knife?

In RPGs, the mystery of "Person X killed Y, and then X goes to jail," is pretty boring. Having some moral or ethical or political complexity arise that are grounds for PC actions is important.

You’re referring to something different than what I am.

Remove everything except the revealed event (which is why I want to excise the distracting TTRPG particulars).

In both Clue and Sherlock Holmes, the following are true:

* The revealed event is decided before play begins.

* The details of the revealed event are independent of player input (player input here meaning “I think/hope a knife was the murder weapon”...their thoughts won’t change whether the Clue envelope or the back of the SHCD book says “the murder weapon was a knife”).

* The revealed event is the endstate of the game/mystery portion of play.

EDIT FOR CONTEXT - I’m trying to have the conversation exclusively be about how a mystery and a reveal are (a) operationalized and what that says about (b) Skilled Play, (c) and how people are cognitively oriented about that a and b (including visceral response).

That is where the nuts and bolts of the conversation around x, y, z prep Story Now play are. The other stuff won’t tell us about a - c.
 
Last edited:

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I should clarify. I didn't mean that the GM would just arbitrarily decide that. I meant that whatever system you were using would have a baked-in "nope, not this time" chance. The GM would just roll with it, like everyone else.
Then this would be system force, and I'm not sure I can think of a concrete example of this.
As for your earlier example, I'm sorry if it seemed like I was ignoring it, because I certainly wasn't. It clearly illustrated the Story Now end of things, so thanks for that. But it didn't strike me as an actual whodunnit, which revolves around a mystery that has been deliberately created by the actions of another person, who, in fact, wants very much for it to remain a mystery. Not quite what you described.

Really, though, you've just said what I'm beginning to think, i.e. that Story Now is as suited to any other approach when it comes to delving into mysterious circumstances but, by its very nature, is poorly suited to elaborate whodunnits.
By "other person" you mean another player, namely the one wearing the GM's badge? Again, this kind of thing is the opposite of what Story Now espouses, so, yes, it doesn't do this. I find this a curiously narrow definition, seemingly intentionally drawn as to try to highlight a failure rather than engage the concepts. To put a less fine point on it, you're asking if Story Now can be a way to have players attempt to find out what the GM thinks a clever mystery is and the answer to that question is no, it doesn't do that. Intentionally.
 

@JonM

I don’t think running a “whodunit” style mystery would be the best fit for a Story Now game. At least, not if the participants were looking for the experience of “solving” the GM’s prefabbed scenario.

If that’s the experience they want, then no, I’d run it in a more traditional method.

But I’ve recently actually given some thought to how Blades in the Dark would handle a whodunit. And I think it absolutely can be done, and could potentially be a lot of fun...but the actual specifics would have to emerge in play rather than being decided ahead of time.
 

JonM

Explorer
I think this is one of those areas where we are mixing up No Myth and Story Now. A lot of games are both, but No Myth is not required for Story Now. In Sorcerer games I have had murders where I knew who committed crime when players did not, but it still was nothing like a whodunit because the players addressed the murder with regard to their own agendas. No one particularly cared who actually was responsible. Even if they did I would not have put purposeful red herrings in because the point of the scenes I was framing were based on the personal impact to the player characters.

As a player in a Story Now game the expectation is that you are primarily going to be oriented towards your character's struggles. It's not a problem solving exercise primarily. We're going for fairly clear emotional stakes and really engaging the current moment of play. We care a lot more about moral choices than strategic ones. In a Story Now game the interesting bit happens when you know who committed the murder.

I do think you can have for example a Story Now game that would handle characters like Sherlock Holmes, but like solving the mysteries would not be the interesting part. The choices you make once you know what's going on would be. So a lot like Sherlock on BBC.

I'm running a game right now which should test this pretty well. Apocalypse Keys is a Medium Myth game about playing monsters who investigate other monsters so as to avert the Apocalypse. So there is some secret backstory in terms of NPCs who have relationships to the victims, clues, and what happens if the mysteries go unresolved. However it leaves the exact details more open. The point is not really solving the mysteries though. It's player characters dealing with the fallout of using their dark powers, their relationships to each other, the temptation to give into darkness, and how the characters interact with a world that is afraid of them.
That does seem like a good test, although, as you said, the focus is slightly different. I'd be quite curious to know how it works out, if you would like to post about it, later.
 

JonM

Explorer
@JonM

I don’t think running a “whodunit” style mystery would be the best fit for a Story Now game. At least, not if the participants were looking for the experience of “solving” the GM’s prefabbed scenario.

If that’s the experience they want, then no, I’d run it in a more traditional method.

But I’ve recently actually given some thought to how Blades in the Dark would handle a whodunit. And I think it absolutely can be done, and could potentially be a lot of fun...but the actual specifics would have to emerge in play rather than being decided ahead of time.
Yes, that's the feeling I'm getting, at this point. Really, in that sense, the answer is obvious and applies to any approach: you will generally be happiest if you play to an approach's strengths.

Having said that, maybe I will try, again, to run some sort of Story Now investigation, if not an actual whodunnit.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Yes, that's the feeling I'm getting, at this point. Really, in that sense, the answer is obvious and applies to any approach: you will generally be happiest if you play to an approach's strengths.

Having said that, maybe I will try, again, to run some sort of Story Now investigation, if not an actual whodunnit.
What system are you planning to use?
 

Yes, that's the feeling I'm getting, at this point. Really, in that sense, the answer is obvious and applies to any approach: you will generally be happiest if you play to an approach's strengths.

Having said that, maybe I will try, again, to run some sort of Story Now investigation, if not an actual whodunnit.

Investigation was a huge part of one Blades in the Dark series I ran because the PCs were cops. So that’s why I was kind of wondering about a whodunit and how it would work.

Investigations fit quite well. I’d expect tjat in other games with a similar approach.
 

I'm going to take one more crack at this.

Why does the type of Skilled Play of Moldvay Basic dungeoneering require a pre-prepped (mapped, keyed, stocked) dungeon while the type of Skilled Play of a mystery does not require a pre-prepped whodunnit matrix (who/where/with what/why)?

Its because of the multi-dimensional nature of dungeoneering vs the investigation + inference-exclusive nature of whodunnit-ing.

Consider the dimensional requirements of Skilled Play in a Moldvay Dungeon Crawl:

1) Exploration Turns are tightly encoded and unit based on multiple axes and they all matter (time, space, and how these integrate with the rest of the system).

2) The engine of Wandering Monsters every x Turns + Required Rest every y Turns means that Turns have to be tightly kept and players are making decision-points based on the integration of this stuff along with the integration of all of the other encoded bits of the system.

3) Loadout (which has multiple dimensions itself; HPs, Spells, Gear) has to be tightly kept.

4) Resource management has multiple dimensions to consider in both this moment, the next moment, and in the Crawl at large (including the question of "can we locate and fortify a location so we can make camp and recharge?").

5) Encumbrance + Hireling considerations (Porters have costs and they have to be protected) and this integrating with Gold for xp and the strategic decision to push-on vs withdrawal.

6) Decisions at the encounter level (parley, fight, evade, etc) are all integrated with everything above.


Simply put...if you're eliding, fudging, failing in your book-keeping/accounting, it impacts the actual signal of the Skilled Play of the delve. A person may not care about the "purity" of that signal of Skilled Play...but that doesn't mean that its not impacted by any of (a) not prepping, (b) eliding essential aspects of play which feeds back into the delve as a whole, (c) failing to book-keep all of the various moving (and integrated) parts, or (d) fudging rolls (either the GM or a player). Something as simple as removing Encumbrance (5) has a huge impact on play. Remove the Wandering Monster machinery (1) and Encumbrance? You're suddenly playing a different game.

Now you may like that game better, but the fact its fundamentally a different game cannot be questioned.




Now conversely, what is happening in a "whodunnit?"

* You're investigating framed scenes.

* You're putting together pieces of a puzzle.

* Finally, you're drawing an inference.

Those things do not require the acutely tracked, multi-dimensional, and deeply integrated operationalizing of play (including all of the mechanical resolution requirements) that is required in a Moldvay Delve. Those things require (a) a GM who can effectively frame provocative scenes that address the premise of the whodunnit, (b) players who can investigate/collate information, (c) and an inference that draws upon the coherence of the continual play loop of (a) + (b) until the puzzle is solved by a player.

I mean, you can do multiple continuous loops of Framed Scene > Investigate > Collate > Rinse/Repeat until Inference-based Conclusion and derive the same sort of Skilled Play in whodunnit-ing entirely in Unstructured Freeform without any mechanics and without a single prefabricated piece of the who, what, why, how puzzle (that stuff can be stitched together on the fly). Or you could have the who and why and have to stitch together the what and how. Or any 2 or 3 of that matrix and figure out/allow to emerge the last 1-2 pieces during the continuous loops.

Conversely, you fundamentally cannot do that in a Moldvay Dungeon Crawl. Its impossible. No human can keep all of deeply acute spatial/temporal information in their head and all of those multivariate interactions that occur in the course of a singular delve. The kind of Skilled Play that Moldvay Dungeon Crawls distills would be entirely lost.

The fact that a person might feel differently about the operationalizing of that whodunnit play doesn't mean that the litmus test for Skilled Play in that sort of play loop is lost. It just means they feel a certain way about it (its less real...its less substantial...less grounded perhaps). The fact that a GM/table might suck at operationalizing it, doesn't mean it cannot be done...because it trivially can.

But the other one. Its not feel. Its a binary of on/off. Are my individual delving decisions interfacing with all of the multi-dimensional and integrated properties outlined above such that the entirety of the delve was the product of Skilled Play? Yes, then Skilled Play. No? Something else.

EDIT - So what can No Myth Story Now fundamentally not do? It CANNOT operationalize the sort of high resolution dungeon delve in the vein of Moldvay Basic. Torchbearer, which is a Story Now game more akin to Blades in the Dark (but waaaaaaaay south of Blades in terms of resolution of setting), can do it (and do it awesomely), but it is certainly not No Myth. Its north of Dogs in the Vineyard Prep (which isn't quite No Myth but its not terribly north of it where you're preparing Towns which = pivotal NPCs and provocative, entangled situations which orbits around one or more Sins/PC Relationship and requires Paladin-ey intervention).
 
Last edited:

Aldarc

Legend
But I’ve recently actually given some thought to how Blades in the Dark would handle a whodunit. And I think it absolutely can be done, and could potentially be a lot of fun...but the actual specifics would have to emerge in play rather than being decided ahead of time.
Maybe instead of a lair, the mystery itself would have a playbook or sheet. The mystery sheet would have different aspects of the mystery that they could then select what to engage, discover, unlock, or work towards. The actual outcomes could involve either oracles or some variety of character tie-in from their own playbooks. Clocks could apply pressure and complications to the investigation.

I'm also reminded, for example, of a mystery in a Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures regarding angered fey. The NPC "whodunnit," whether intentionally or not, comes from the GM putting in NPCs from the village (usually determined by players creating their characters and generating NPCs) into a table and then rolling that.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm responding to the first page of the thread. Apologies if I'm out of date already!

What is Story Now? Maybe add a basic definition in the OP for those who have no idea what it means.
I find that having the GM playing to find out what happens gives players a deeper sense of danger or mystery. Initially, I had concerns Story Now could end up with sessions that feel surreal or unfocused, but the opposite happens. Everyone at the table has to be fully engaged, and as a player, knowing that not even the GM has an answer key, or full knowledge made things feel really dangerous in Dungeon World. A sense of, "Oh God, we are really on our own." I dont think I'm explaining this very well, but my character had a strong sense of vulnerability, that I haven't felt since my very first RPG.
There have been some answers to the question what is story now?. Here's mine. It relates to Arilyn's post too.

Story now contrasts with story before ie when the table (or the GM) has already decided what the story is. (Eg a typical modern module is story before.)

It also contrasts with story after ie when there is no story during play, just "stuff happening", and a story is imposed after the event. (Playing B2 KotB will typically look like this.)

The reason that it produces the vulnerability that Arilyn mentions - in my view, at least - comes from a combination of the above. Unlike story after, we care about our PCs and the game is set up to put them at the centre of events as protagonists with dramatic needs. Unlike story before, there is no safety net of the pre-established plot. Caring about your character, and pushing his/her dramatic/thematic interests hard, with no guarantee as to what might happen, can be scary!

What helps make this sort of play work are elements in PC build, action resolution, GM method, etc that allow the players to flag their PCs' dramatic needs/thematic concerns and to make those front-and-centre, and also that allow the GM to put pressure on those things.

How do super hero games work with Story Now? Especially initial sessions.
In comics, villains usually have plots. Does the GM create a loosish plot to get the ball rolling, or does it come from questions, rolls. This genre often has secret knowledge. How is this handled in Story Now, so it has the drives of the characters, an important aspect of supers, and have those nefarious plans without too much pre planning?
The only supers RPGing I've ever done was with MHRP - which is a version of Cortex+. Here's a play report.

I didn't worry about what the villains' plot was. I just presented the villains and played them in accordance with the logic the system gives them plus my own knowledge of Marvel stuff, and found out what happened next.

In the next session we had the male PCs (in civvies) meet up with the B.A.D girls (also in civvies) at a bar in Washington DC, which started as a social scene and then turned into standard fisticuffs as it turned out that the villains were trying to steal a Stark-tech M-PORV (from memory that's Multi-Person Orbital Re-entry Vehicle - I made it up on the spot) and hoped to get help from James Rhodes (ie War Machine).

An interesting feature of MHRP is that each character has Milestones which are loosely-described events that differ for each PC (eg Nightcrawler has one involving romance; Wolverine has one that involves meeting old enemies and friends) and which - when triggered - allow the character to earn XP. So the player has an incentive to either generate these events, or to respond to situations by reference to their Milestones (eg in the next session, when Wolverine bumped into the others in a Clan Yashida skyscraper in Tokyo, and then defeated a ninja there, Wolvie's player established that the ninja was an old enemy of his with whom he'd crossed paths before).

This means that the GM doesn't have to do the same sort of framing work as in eg Burning Wheel to make sure that the PCs' dramatic needs can be engaged. (Which fits with the comic convention that it doesn't really matter, thematically, whether the X-Men are fighting Dr Doom or Arcade.) It also means that play will typically be lighter and less demanding than (say) Burning Wheel.

It's a good system if you can still find a copy.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You’re referring to something different than what I am.

Yes. Because to me you seem locked into a certain framing of the issue, and I'm saying the whole thing works out better if you think of it differently. I am also stepping away form Sherlock and Clue, because you expect no Story Now in either of those games.
 

Maybe instead of a lair, the mystery itself would have a playbook or sheet. The mystery sheet would have different aspects of the mystery that they could then select what to engage, discover, unlock, or work towards. The actual outcomes could involve either oracles or some variety of character tie-in from their own playbooks. Clocks could apply pressure and complications to the investigation.

I'm also reminded, for example, of a mystery in a Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures regarding angered fey. The NPC "whodunnit," whether intentionally or not, comes from the GM putting in NPCs from the village (usually determined by players creating their characters and generating NPCs) into a table and then rolling that.

That’s an interesting thought, for sure. The Bluecoats/Inspectors’ Crew Sheet is actually a Mandate, which is similar to what you’ve described. Instead of having a Claim Map like those on the standard Crew Sheets, the Mandate is kind of the Case Status.

You start at the bottom and work your way up, with some boxes listed as Evidence and Key Figure and the like.

I think your suggestion would be a very good way to handle it.
 

I'm going to take one more crack at this.

Why does the type of Skilled Play of Moldvay Basic dungeoneering require a pre-prepped (mapped, keyed, stocked) dungeon while the type of Skilled Play of a mystery does not require a pre-prepped whodunnit matrix (who/where/with what/why)?

Its because of the multi-dimensional nature of dungeoneering vs the investigation + inference-exclusive nature of whodunnit-ing.

Consider the dimensional requirements of Skilled Play in a Moldvay Dungeon Crawl:

1) Exploration Turns are tightly encoded and unit based on multiple axes and they all matter (time, space, and how these integrate with the rest of the system).

2) The engine of Wandering Monsters every x Turns + Required Rest every y Turns means that Turns have to be tightly kept and players are making decision-points based on the integration of this stuff along with the integration of all of the other encoded bits of the system.

3) Loadout (which has multiple dimensions itself; HPs, Spells, Gear) has to be tightly kept.

4) Resource management has multiple dimensions to consider in both this moment, the next moment, and in the Crawl at large (including the question of "can we locate and fortify a location so we can make camp and recharge?").

5) Encumbrance + Hireling considerations (Porters have costs and they have to be protected) and this integrating with Gold for xp and the strategic decision to push-on vs withdrawal.

6) Decisions at the encounter level (parley, fight, evade, etc) are all integrated with everything above.


Simply put...if you're eliding, fudging, failing in your book-keeping/accounting, it impacts the actual signal of the Skilled Play of the delve. A person may not care about the "purity" of that signal of Skilled Play...but that doesn't mean that its not impacted by any of (a) not prepping, (b) eliding essential aspects of play which feeds back into the delve as a whole, (c) failing to book-keep all of the various moving (and integrated) parts, or (d) fudging rolls (either the GM or a player). Something as simple as removing Encumbrance (5) has a huge impact on play. Remove the Wandering Monster machinery (1) and Encumbrance? You're suddenly playing a different game.

Now you may like that game better, but the fact its fundamentally a different game cannot be questioned.




Now conversely, what is happening in a "whodunnit?"

* You're investigating framed scenes.

* You're putting together pieces of a puzzle.

* Finally, you're drawing an inference.

Those things do not require the acutely tracked, multi-dimensional, and deeply integrated operationalizing of play (including all of the mechanical resolution requirements) that is required in a Moldvay Delve. Those things require (a) a GM who can effectively frame provocative scenes that address the premise of the whodunnit, (b) players who can investigate/collate information, (c) and an inference that draws upon the coherence of the continual play loop of (a) + (b) until the puzzle is solved by a player.

I mean, you can do multiple continuous loops of Framed Scene > Investigate > Collate > Rinse/Repeat until Inference-based Conclusion and derive the same sort of Skilled Play in whodunnit-ing entirely in Unstructured Freeform without any mechanics and without a single prefabricated piece of the who, what, why, how puzzle (that stuff can be stitched together on the fly). Or you could have the who and why and have to stitch together the what and how. Or any 2 or 3 of that matrix and figure out/allow to emerge the last 1-2 pieces during the continuous loops.

Conversely, you fundamentally cannot do that in a Moldvay Dungeon Crawl. Its impossible. No human can keep all of deeply acute spatial/temporal information in their head and all of those multivariate interactions that occur in the course of a singular delve. The kind of Skilled Play that Moldvay Dungeon Crawls distills would be entirely lost.

The fact that a person might feel differently about the operationalizing of that whodunnit play doesn't mean that the litmus test for Skilled Play in that sort of play loop is lost. It just means they feel a certain way about it (its less real...its less substantial...less grounded perhaps). The fact that a GM/table might suck at operationalizing it, doesn't mean it cannot be done...because it trivially can.

But the other one. Its not feel. Its a binary of on/off. Are my individual delving decisions interfacing with all of the multi-dimensional and integrated properties outlined above such that the entirety of the delve was the product of Skilled Play? Yes, then Skilled Play. No? Something else.

EDIT - So what can No Myth Story Now fundamentally not do? It CANNOT operationalize the sort of high resolution dungeon delve in the vein of Moldvay Basic. Torchbearer, which is a Story Now game more akin to Blades in the Dark (but waaaaaaaay south of Blades in terms of resolution of setting), can do it (and do it awesomely), but it is certainly not No Myth. Its north of Dogs in the Vineyard Prep (which isn't quite No Myth but its not terribly north of it where you're preparing Towns which = pivotal NPCs and provocative, entangled situations which orbits around one or more Sins/PC Relationship and requires Paladin-ey intervention).

I would say there is basically two approaches to who-dunit and investigations: skilled play and creative play. Skilled play is there is a thing that happened, which establishes stuff like trails of clues and the skill is in finding, analyzing and putting together of those clues to figure out what happened (and the clues don't all have to be generated before play as the players might come up with an angle of investigation that is sound, even though the GM hadn't thought of it, but the event being investigated needs to be fleshed out prior to play). Creative approaches would be more the story now approach but also stuff like how the Tarokka deck in Ravenloft used to work. These were fortune telling cards and a lot of Ravenloft adventures were mysteries and investigations. The deck could be used to feed players information about objective content that was generated prior to play or by the GM, but there was also a method for having the tarokka deck generate those details (i.e. this card will reveal the location of the big evil's lair, etc). Both approaches are fine. I did a session of drama system recently where we had a murder investion and one of the challenges for me, because I am more accustomed to the skilled play approach, was realizing there were certain details about the murder that weren't pinned down and really couldn't be pinned down until they came up in the scenes. While it didn't feel like skilled play solving of a mystery (because we weren't really solving anything so much as coming up with what happened ourselves) it was a really great mystery story in the end. So both approaches are trying to emulate a genre, but in different ways.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Yes. Because to me you seem locked into a certain framing of the issue, and I'm saying the whole thing works out better if you think of it differently. I am also stepping away form Sherlock and Clue, because you expect no Story Now in either of those games.
How odd. @Manbearcat didn't refute what you said, they pointed out that your response was not directed at the distinction they were making, and they were right about this. Yet, here you are, saying that @Manbearcat is "locked into" a viewpoint when he was talking to a different point than you were. Nothing you've said refutes or even addresses what @Manbearcat was saying, but you're demeaning him as "locked into" a viewpoint that you haven't even addressed, much less offered a different take on. What you've said is orthogonal, not a different take.
 

pemerton

Legend
OK, but that's just the "I wonder where the werewolf is hiding" kind of "mystery" I mentioned in my post. That's not a mystery-focused whodunnit kind of thing, which is what I'm interested in, here. Your answer seems to be "no, Story Now isn't meant for this"....?
mysteries. By this, I mean real whodunnits, with suspects, motivations, clues, red herrings, unexpected twists, and so forth, not just the run-of-the-mill "I wonder where the werewolf is hiding" type of questions that come up all the time, in RPGs.

Traditional mysteries, to me, are always a special case. I run them only occasionally, because they are high-effort high-reward - that is, they take a lot of work, but, when done properly, can have the players talking about them months or even years later. But therein lies the problem: high-effort, in this case, translates to major prep. I usually have to come up with lots of NPCs, locations, past events, possible points of confusion, etc. I have to plan out everything that happened, to make sure there are no contradictions and that, once the mystery is solved, it will all make satisfying sense. A mystery that lacks a satisfying sense of resolution is a pretty lame mystery.

So, my question, of course, is: how do you handle this, in Story Now?
I'm left thinking that the answer is, "The Story Now approach can be used for most types of stories but is not well suited to traditional Mysteries." Well, unless you try to do it as I described in my original post, but, again, I speak from several personal experiences when I say that running one improv like that just seems shallower. Was it fun? Sure. Was it is as fun and satisfying, for the players, as the carefully crafted Mysteries? Not a chance.
In a traditional Mystery, it seems like there ought to be some sort of procedure that creates at least the Illusion of a planned scheme that must be disentangled and brought to light. It is that "brought to light" part that really matters, since it is the "aha!" moment that the players really seem to enjoy.

Now, in a traditional RPG, that procedure is simply the GM coming up with a clever framework that makes logical sense and is convoluted enough to be interesting. But does that work, in Story Now, given that the GM must, instead, allow a convoluted plot to evolve on its own, as the players explore the situation? At first glance, the two seem almost antithetical.

<snip>

If anyone can demonstrate otherwise, in a practical can-actually-be-played won't-annoy-real-mystery-fans way, I'd love to hear it.
If mystery/whodunnit RPGing gets defined as the players resolve the GM's pre-authored plot, by engaging the fiction the GM has pre-authored and generating the narration from the GM that will reveal the necessary puzzle pieces - eg classic CoC modules are like this - then I think by definition it can't be done in Story Now. As these posters have noted:

Whodunnits and procedural mysteries have a structure to them that Gumshoe captures really well, but is more challenging in Story Now. The whole joy most players get from these kinds of mysteries is to figure out the GM's secrets and solve the pre - thought out riddle.
I don’t think running a “whodunit” style mystery would be the best fit for a Story Now game. At least, not if the participants were looking for the experience of “solving” the GM’s prefabbed scenario.

<snip>

But I’ve recently actually given some thought to how Blades in the Dark would handle a whodunit. And I think it absolutely can be done, and could potentially be a lot of fun...but the actual specifics would have to emerge in play rather than being decided ahead of time.
But as hawkeyefan says, we might be able to prise the notion of whodunnit RPGing away from the particular GM-driven methodology I described above.

I've run Cthuhlu Dark in what I would call a Story Now fashion. There were clues, inferences, and moments of revelation. To use PbtA terminology, the GM needs to reveal unwelcome truths at appropriate points, and some of those unwelcome truths can be that earlier conjectures were mistaken.

part of the atmosphere, if you will, of a traditional Mystery, involves the feeling of "ah! so that's what happened", ideally sweetened by the fact that some earlier assumptions turned out to be wrong. And that might be the problem. Because the "ah!" part can work, in Story Now, with the added bonus that the GM may get to experience it, too. But the "sweetened by the fact that some earlier assumptions turned out to be wrong" part, which adds to the atmosphere, nuance and layering? That I'm less sure about.

I mean, I guess you could throw in some some sort of chance of "oh, here's the answer - no wait, we're wrong - plot twist!" This would then lead to a new round of investigation, to find the real answer, and so on. But I suspect that might feel a bit artificial, to a lot of players. Which damages the atmosphere.
I don't understand why it would feel artificial for the GM to reveal the unwelcome truth that an earlier conjecture was false. In the Cthulhu Dark session I mentioned above, a PC found a topographic map. It turned out that in fact it wasn't a topographic map at all: it was a phrenological diagram of the skull of a hyena. And so the solution to the mystery wasn't somewhere else but rather were-hyenas in London.

This is where I think @Manbearcat's remarks upthread about the weirdness of reality become relevant. If the system is reliable, then it should be producing a stead pacing dynamic (eg Cthulhu Dark uses a mixture of degrees of success/failure and sanity checks to do this) which allows the revelation of unwelcome truths to come at a steady pace. When I've GMed it I've also kept an eye on the clock, so early in the session I narrate upshots that keep things moving and open up possibilities, while later in the session I tend to narrate stuff that hones in on whatever the players are focusing on - which also becomes easier for the reasons that @Manbearcat has given upthread, that as more fiction is introduced options (a) through (d) and (f) have been winnowed out so it's either going to be (d) or (from left field) (g). (This is like a session-long, clue-based version of starting with a blank map and filling in blanks.)

As a player in a Story Now game the expectation is that you are primarily going to be oriented towards your character's struggles. It's not a problem solving exercise primarily. We're going for fairly clear emotional stakes and really engaging the current moment of play. We care a lot more about moral choices than strategic ones. In a Story Now game the interesting bit happens when you know who committed the murder.
The couple of times my group has played Cthulhu Dark it's been relatively light-hearted and with somewhat cardboard cut-out PCs: the journalist, the legal secretary, the English butler, the longshoreman, etc. So their dramatic needs and struggles are not too complicated. But I think you're right that it has been what does the mystery mean for these PCs that has tended to be the focus of things. We've had the PCs enmeshed in the mystery - they've not been external to it and brought in simply as investigators.

In that sense it has been (unsurprisingly) more like HPL's own Call of Cthulhu than a hardboiled detective story. I reckon that could be fun, and could also be done Story Now style, but you'd need a slightly more developed protagonist I think so that the right noir elements can be introduced to draw them in.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Monster of the Week is a PbtA mystery game that works just fine. The GM has a basic countdown running in the background (things getting worse) and a handful of NPCs and Locations roughed out, and everything else is the PCs and the 'mystery' that unfolds isn't preplotted at all (and you are told specifically not to preplot anything). It works in part because the moving parts, Monster, NPCs, and Locations are all specifically described in terms of what their function in the game is, or motivation, so you have a built-in idea what that thing does when it's button gets pressed, or when it does something in the background. I think MotW is an excellent example of a clearly laid out framework for running Story Now mysteries.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I would not call Monster of the Week as typically played a Story Now game. It uses techniques curbed from Story Now games, but the actual creative agenda at play is pretty much traditional.
Here's an excerpt from Edwards' Story Now essay (not that I love it, but that's word we're using)

Can it really be that easy? Yes, Narrativism is that easy. The Now refers to the people, during actual play, focusing their imagination to create those emotional moments of decision-making and action, and paying attention to one another as they do it. To do that, they relate to "the story" very much as authors do for novels, as playwrights do for plays, and screenwriters do for film at the creative moment or moments. Think of the Now as meaning, "in the moment," or "engaged in doing it," in terms of input and emotional feedback among one another. The Now also means "get to it," in which "it" refers to any Explorative element or combination of elements that increases the enjoyment of that issue I'm talking about.

There cannot be any "the story" during Narrativist play, because to have such a thing (fixed plot or pre-agreed theme) is to remove the whole point: the creative moments of addressing the issue(s). Story Now has a great deal in common with Step On Up, particularly in the social expectation to contribute, but in this case the real people's attention is directed toward one another's insights toward the issue, rather than toward strategy and guts.


I think this maps to MotW and a lot of PbtA games very well. Maybe you could be more specific about why you think it doesn't fit?
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top