Author Topic: Running an investigative game  (Read 9535 times)

JonHook

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Running an investigative game
« on: February 17, 2010, 11:32:25 PM »
Hey Ross & Tom,

I really enjoyed episode 41, and I thought I'd start this thread so we can all share our ideas on how to run an investigative game.

As Tom noted in the episode, clues are critical in an investigative game, and if the players miss a clue, (especially a clue pivotal to the story), it can throw the game into a tailspin. Since I'm mostly familiar with Call of Cthulhu and Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying system, I'll base my advice on that.

Clues. If I'm designing a CoC scenario I'll try and tier the clues: Optional, Required, and Critical. Oftentimes, each individual clue will fit into multiple tiers, and depending on how well the investigators succeeded in their Spot Hidden or other investigative skill will determine how much of the clue they get.

If the clue is a major Critical clue, then I make it so that its nearly impossible for the investigators to miss the base information from that clue. For example, if it's critical to the adventure that the investigators know that the missing dilettante was taken to the old shipping yard, then I ensure that they get at least that amount of the clue. If the investigators succeed in their skill check by a certain degree, then maybe they also learn that the missing dilettante was recently seen cavorting with the dock-working scum, and that his "disappearance" may not be what it seems at first glance.

On a side note, the Gumshoe rules were designed around the basis that the investigators never miss the basic clues.
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Setherick

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Re: Running an investigative game
« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2010, 11:39:53 PM »
From a player point of view, I play almost every game now as if it were an investigation game. In the "Omar Shanti Must Die!" game that Ross is in the process of encoding, my character is one of the view characters to use any investigation skills throughout the entire game. However, the reason why I've adapted my play style to always be an investigative player is because I've been constantly rewarded for using investigative skills in game. This could be the number one priority from a players point of view of how to run a good investigative game is reward players for every investigation they do especially if it advances the plot.
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ArtfulShrapnel

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Re: Running an investigative game
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2010, 11:15:32 AM »
A few rules of thumb I use for running an investigative game that has always served me well:

"If the players miss an important clue, give them some random items instead. Figure out what they mean between sessions."

"If you create a mystery that hinges on finding a single clue, the players will miss it. If you make an adventure that relies on keeping a single secret, the players will figure it out."

"If the players don't know what to do next, have something happen to them instead. It doesn't even need to be related to the mystery." (paraphrased from Fred Hicks' "When in doubt, send in the ninjas.")

"The villains do not wait around for the players. If they are stuck, have the plot progress. This will generate new clues."

"There is always one more step for the villains to complete, until the players solve the mystery. Then there is no more time."

"Failure is the start of a new adventure. Be sure that it isn't the end of your story."

"Wherever the players go, it is in some way related to the mystery. Move elements around as needed. They will never notice."

rayner23

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Re: Running an investigative game
« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2010, 03:17:52 PM »

"The villains do not wait around for the players. If they are stuck, have the plot progress. This will generate new clues."



Great advice, but this one is my favorite. Investigation games should be much more cloak and dagger with you working against the players rather than in adventure games where the players are playing out a story. I think that mindset helps a little.
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clockworkjoe

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Re: Running an investigative game
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2010, 03:19:23 PM »
Room B12 and the Fear Itself (with Cody and Tom) game are pretty good about that I think. Tom and I both had the villains act on their initiative and it made for a good game.

Tadanori Oyama

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Re: Running an investigative game
« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2010, 05:49:24 PM »
Quote
"If the players miss an important clue, give them some random items instead. Figure out what they mean between sessions."

This is my favorite. If you try hard enough (and have enough time) than you can force connections between anything.

ArtfulShrapnel

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Re: Running an investigative game
« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2010, 01:57:19 AM »
Room B12 and the Fear Itself (with Cody and Tom) game are pretty good about that I think. Tom and I both had the villains act on their initiative and it made for a good game.

Actually, the Fear Itself game helped inspire that rule. I was listening to it right before I ran my most recent CoC game, where that concept was a key part of moving the plot along. :)

bislab

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Re: Running an investigative game
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2010, 04:28:21 AM »
I've played in and am currently running RPG's that have, as a basis, a murder mystery plot.  The toughest thing that I have found, is getting the players out of the "kill it and take it's stuff" mind set.  You can lay out clues, you can set up an environment of police procedural ideals....but it takes a while for the group to change gears and start thinking instead of swinging.  To help foster the idea that deduction is the primary goal, I ask the players to bone up on current T.V. shows like: Castle and Monk, or go old school and watch a few episodes of Murder She Wrote.  Investigations games are a lot of fun and there is a certain satisfaction when a player suddenly "gets it" and stages a "here's what happened" moment.  On the GM'ing side of things, this sort of game needs lots of preparation and plotting.  I use a piece of mind mapping software called Free Mind that allows you to graphically show links between text objects.  Sort of a flow chart for ideas.

My group runs A Skype based, Steam punk thriller every other week and podcasts it.  The every-other-week comes from the length of time it takes me to hash out plots that are internally consistent, give fair clues to make the story actually solvable, and making sure I haven't left any gaping holes in the plot!
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TigerStorm

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Re: Running an investigative game
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2010, 12:44:03 PM »
Timing is everything...

I have a few friends who I only recently found out gamed. They played mostly Shadowrun with only a smattering of DnD. After talking for a while, the subject of Mutants & Masterminds came up and they decided they wanted me to run a game. Awesome... One thing I found that I enjoy about these guys is that, during character creation, they were more concerned with what would make for a good story than what was most powerful (i.e. they didn't min/max, loophole the rules, break characters, etc). Another thing I discovered was that they don't have the "kill and loot everything" mentality. There were portions of the game where they started investigating very in-depth detail. Here's where the timing came in. Only the day before, I had listened to the podcast episode about running an investigative game... So, when we took a food break, I was able to map out some options in my head based on the clues that I had made up on the spot when they were investigatng (I had no idea what connection they were going to have when I put them there, but I wanted to reward them for actually taking the time to investigate... haha).

Short version: that episode definitely helped me fake as though I had it all planned from the start  ;D

clockworkjoe

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Re: Running an investigative game
« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2010, 02:10:41 PM »
Timing is everything...

I have a few friends who I only recently found out gamed. They played mostly Shadowrun with only a smattering of DnD. After talking for a while, the subject of Mutants & Masterminds came up and they decided they wanted me to run a game. Awesome... One thing I found that I enjoy about these guys is that, during character creation, they were more concerned with what would make for a good story than what was most powerful (i.e. they didn't min/max, loophole the rules, break characters, etc). Another thing I discovered was that they don't have the "kill and loot everything" mentality. There were portions of the game where they started investigating very in-depth detail. Here's where the timing came in. Only the day before, I had listened to the podcast episode about running an investigative game... So, when we took a food break, I was able to map out some options in my head based on the clues that I had made up on the spot when they were investigatng (I had no idea what connection they were going to have when I put them there, but I wanted to reward them for actually taking the time to investigate... haha).

Short version: that episode definitely helped me fake as though I had it all planned from the start  ;D

RPPR: Helping you fake it since 2007

golieth

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Re: Running an investigative game
« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2010, 09:23:04 AM »
Bureau 13 has always been an excellent investigative game because, being set in modern day, the characters have access to modern and futuristic analysis and surveillance tools.  Also you are usually hunting monsters and that's really fun.

As a gm and designer of adventures I've learned that you need to give the players at least 3 paths to the solution to guarantee success.  Once you have mapped out those paths, you can add cross connections between them so if the players eliminate a path (say kill an important witness), they can either backtrack or move laterally to one of the remaining paths.

As a player these are the questions I ask myself:

1.  What's different?  Even if this has been a long standing problem (like Innsmouth), something has to have changed recently to bring it to my attention.  Monsters leave inhuman traces.  Look for them

-- unusual injuries in emergency rooms or increase in traffic
-- someone going on sick leave for extended periods
-- toxic spills or reports of strange smells
-- rat swarms.  plant blights, etc.

2.  A correllary is "who's new in town".  Problem with that is it only works in small towns and most locals if questioned will say "YOU".  Still there are recent rentals, new utility accounts, new acts at the local strip joint, etc.

3.  Who has the most to lose if this is publically exposed?

4.  Follow the money - even monsters have to support themselves.  and people afraid of exposure will pay for silence.  Check large bank activity

5.  Go to bars and churches and listen to the gossip.

A caveat is to not ask "Seen anything unusual lately?"  Imagine how that would sound to you at the local bar.

6.  Find out who's awake in the dead of the night.  Usually you have to find time to do nefarious things.

7.  Always keep a few team members in reserve in case you need them to show up and get you out of jail with a forged federal prisoner transfer document.

8.  If you've got money, spread it around.  You may only attract rats, but monsters need to pay the netflix bill too.