Page 1048 - Crime Seen

7th Apr 2018, 6:00 AM in The Return of Harmony, Part 1
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Crime Seen
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Author Notes:

Newbiespud 7th Apr 2018, 6:00 AM edit delete
I'm not a big fan of withholding information when an inconvenient knowledge check is rolled, even if they roll low. But I don't want a player following a red herring down a rabbit hole, nor do I want to accidentally give them the answer too early. This is where we get the art of the non-clue clue – an answer that feels rewarding and satisfying and will make sense when the full answer is revealed, but doesn't make players spiral out into trying to guess the full answer for ten minutes.

As it turns out, constructing even minor mysteries is tough.

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BackSet 7th Apr 2018, 6:13 AM edit delete reply

Story time idea: tell a story related to the above rant.
Wrat 7th Apr 2018, 7:03 AM edit delete reply
Perfect story from just a week ago.
Our DM tends to make up all his campaigns on the spot, which is usually fun for us. But at our last session, he tried to make up a mystery as he went along.
We were searching for some mysterious thing called "The Land of the Elves." Nobody seemed to know what it was until we found some random shopkeeper, who claimed to know where it was. Just as he was about to tell us, he fell over dead of a knife in his back.
We chased down the assassin and interrogated him. Just as he was about to tell us where the land of the elves was, he was stabbed in the back. So we chased down another assassin, this time surrounding him on all sides. A knife was thrown into his back, so we gave up and murdered the assassin who killed him.
And that was how our experience went. For the next two hours, we would describe how we prevented witnesses from being stabbed in the back (lock the door, use magic to scan the room for people, barricade every entrance, surround the witness) and then just as they were about to tell us anything, they would be stabbed in the back because, "Oh, you guys didn't see the giant open window when you spent ten minutes real time securing the tiny room."
Eventually, the DM caught on that there were only so many times that "Surprise! He was stabbed!" Carries any real effect, so he tried a new approach. Every potential lead we approached would tell us, "I don't know anything. But I know somebody who does..." So we would go speak to that person, who would tell us, "I don't know anything. But I know somebody else..."
It was an excruciating session, and the DM even apologized for it, telling us that he really had not had any ideas for what to do and was stalling for time to make the mystery. So I guess that Newbiespud is right, mysteries are hard to make.
Evilbob 7th Apr 2018, 8:43 AM edit delete reply
Yeah. Mysteries ARE hard.

Although it sounds like your GM needs some help with pacing. Excessive stabbing, repeatedly or "I don't know anything but someone does" repeatedly is pretty bad, lol.

I'm surprised he didn't try to break the cycle by either making one of the leads a straight up dead-end or force-feeding another plot-thread ("The peacekeepers arrest you for questioning in relation to multiple deaths", etc). Something to derail y'all from the obsession... at least until next session where he can get some formal planning in-between since his impromptu planning fell through...
RandomRex6 7th Apr 2018, 7:17 AM edit delete reply
My Dad was in a campaign when he was younger, and was playing a wizard who had gotten his hands on some sort of ancient spellbook. He told the DM that in any downtime the character had, he'd be trying to decipher it. A good while later, a few in-game days, he asked if he had learned anything. The DM claimed he still hadn't figured anything out. This frustrated my father, since his INT was 18 and should at least have gotten something by then, even if he hadn't learned any spells or anything.
Evilbob 7th Apr 2018, 8:32 AM edit delete reply
Yep yep. Understandably frustrating. Hopefully the GM made the frustration rewarding by eventually giving a clue or explanation for why it was so difficult to comprehend...?
Anvildude 7th Apr 2018, 1:28 PM edit delete reply
Heh. What he could have done is say "It seems to be laying down a very convoluted and impractical way of casting "Melf's Acid Arrow", claiming that nobody has ever done so before. Looking at the cover again, you notice a monogrammed 'M' in the corner, encrusted with grime so that you couldn't see it before.

The entire book is filled with diagrams and reagents required for the spell, which it says takes 10 minutes to perform the ritual for."

Because if it's an "Ancient Spellbook", why shouldn't the knowledge within it be outdated?
Winged Cat 7th Apr 2018, 2:53 PM edit delete reply
Winged Cat
Indeed. It's a common trope that "ancient lost knowledge must be superior to modern stuff you can easily get", but IRL the opposite is usually the case.
Greenhornet 7th Apr 2018, 4:54 PM edit delete reply
My thoughts exactly. In fact, I had once compared the bad guy's use of the "ancient super weapon" in one of the newer Star Trek movies to a modern warlord wanting to obtain the muslim cannons that were used hundreds of years ago to destroy the walls of Constantinople.
Dusk Raven 29th May 2018, 10:47 PM edit delete reply
The really huge one? For that matter, I don't think said cannon was even all that great.

Mind you, sometimes knowledge really is lost over time. "Greek Fire" was an enigma for the longest time (might still be, in fact), and there are a lot of things we don't really know that would have been common knowledge in the past.

Of course, the "ancient magic was better" trope works best if the ancient civilization in question was more advanced than the modern time, which is something we don't really have a parallel for. Even the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire, most of the loss was structural or logistical rather than technological.
nathan400 7th Apr 2018, 12:03 PM edit delete reply
One time, I was running a game of FATE in a high school setting. Old g-ds laid sleeping at the school, and some nutcase went and woke them up. Things go crazy, and it's up to a small group of students (the PCs, naturally) to set things right. We used roll20 for the game. At one point, I give them a set of school newspaper clippings full of clues for them to piece together and one red herring. I put a lot of work into the red herring, I set it up very neatly and was proud of it. They completely missed it. They got most everything else, but not the only thing I was sure that they'd find.

In the clippings were the names of the article writers. Only one name was repeated, and that guy ended up in the looney bin. One of their classmates had the same last name. They missed that.
Winged Cat 7th Apr 2018, 2:59 PM edit delete reply
Winged Cat
I have heard the three-clue rule is of much use when constructing mysteries in RPGs.

In short, at each stage of investigation, make sure there are (at least) 3 clues the PCs can discover, any one enough to get them to the next stage. They will probably miss one, they may miss two, but all three is extremely unlikely. OTOH, if they get two or all three - great, that's more RP.

Have multiple ways to get the clues in case they keep rolling poorly. This is also a buffer for the upside: a critical hit Knowledge check can get two or three clues by itself, without interfering with pacing.
Digo Dragon 9th Apr 2018, 6:44 AM edit delete reply
Digo Dragon
Yep, this is how I put together my mysteries! It has worked out pretty well for the most part. On occasion the party might put the wrong clues together or jump to a conclusion off the map, but I can usually wing it on those to put them back on track.
Winged Cat 7th Apr 2018, 3:02 PM edit delete reply
Winged Cat
"doesn't make players spiral out into trying to guess the full answer for ten minutes"

Of course not. You want to have them spiral out for 2-3 hours - spend the whole session on it. Assuming you have players that like doing so now and then.

(What lazy GMing? If giving the players what they want needs minimal prep, or involvement beyond nudging things along as needed and otherwise just sitting back to listen to them enjoy what you laid down...)
Space Jawa 7th Apr 2018, 8:43 PM edit delete reply
Do ponies have tupperware?

Inquiring minds want to know...
Digo Dragon 9th Apr 2018, 6:46 AM edit delete reply
Digo Dragon
Well they seem to have plastic, so I don't see why not. Heck, maybe they have better; magically enchanted containers that preserve food.

I'd buy a set of those!
A.A. Baker 7th Apr 2018, 11:30 PM edit delete reply
I have a story with a slightly opposite situation. We were investigating a commotion in a city's cemetery. We ran into some cultists who were raising corpses as undead.
What followed was a running series of battles starting in the cemetery winding up at the edge of town. With things going south, the guy who was leading the cemetery raid tried to cut and run. But, one of our party members caught up with him and began an interrogation, basically forcing the DM to reveal the majority of the first storyline's plot. The DM was so disgusted at this, that he threw his hands up and walked away. The campaign ended there, barely after three sessions.
Pablo360 8th Apr 2018, 6:58 PM edit delete reply
My first time DMing was a murder mystery, and honestly it went really well. There were several clues that gave the players hints about character motivation and the order of events, and one of the more experienced players used a clever bit of roleplaying to tease out the answer after collecting just a few of the clues I'd laid out — not the direction I'd planned on it going at all, but still well within the parameters of the session. My only problem was perhaps not giving the players enough of a heads-up that they'd need to take notes, although they managed to glom onto the important information pretty easily.