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Title: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: boswok on June 08, 2007, 12:25:25 PM
I have one suggestion for your mystery subplots.  This references the characters erroneously assuming that spirits were involved.  When they began hunting down info they seemed to be showing real interest in the mystery, if not a real sense of perspective about it.

When players create their own red herrings through assumption, rather than changing your plot to suit their assumptions you can instead accomodate them to some level without altering the story.  They wanted to find a spirit?  Let them find a spirit.  There are all sorts of spirits of murder and such in the new world of darkness.  Let them do whatever they want with the spirit, capture it, bribe it, even kill it (which will draw more vengeful spirits).  Eventually, though, you could reward their misguided effort with the wisdom of the spirits, who were also curious about the mystery (who wouldn't be, at least a little) and have said spirits set the PCs on the right track.  That way you reward their efforts in researching the spirit lore and whatnot without compromising your established plot.

Of course, I suck at doing this myself; so I'm not saying it's easy to do on the fly.  Still, sometimes it's easiest and most rewarding to the game to accomodate the players' actions and use their inertia to angle them back on track.


Title: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 08, 2007, 09:39:59 PM
Wow, this is some serious thread necromancy. :P

I like your ideas though.

Letting them persue a red herring to an alternate, wrong, yet still fun and engaging scenario is a great idea. And the ability to continue to drop clues and hints as they go is great.

I have, without really realizing it, done similar in the past, but only when it was super-obvious. Now, with actually identifying this as a "tool" I think I'll use it more.

Thanks!


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 09, 2007, 04:58:42 AM
Hello,

The above posts were split today from [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing ... (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21809.15) from last October.

The rule for the Actual Play forum is not to post to threads which are off the first three pages. If you'd like to, then begin a new thread with a link like the one I used above. The discussion continues with the explicit understanding of intervening time, and points made in other threads in the interim, and all is well. This thread is a fine extension of the previous one and now that it's split, it may go forward without stress.

Boswok, it's no big deal, as the Forge is a different place and it always takes a bit to get used to it. Please feel free to continue the dialogue and bring in examples of your own experiences.

Reithan, when someone does this, do not compound the error by replying, even if the reply is directed to you, or even if the reply is perfectly reasonable. Let me split it first and explain the rule. When you reply, you legitimize the behavior, regardless of any statement you make such as your comment about thread necromancy.

Best, Ron.



Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: boswok on June 09, 2007, 02:00:22 PM
Sorry about that.  Honestly I wasn't expecting a reply to my reply.  I'll try to use links in the future to keep from starting any confusion.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 09, 2007, 02:10:43 PM
Hi there,

Please, no apologies. You didn't harm anyone or screw anything up.

Let me guess a little ... when perusing a new site, people often try to fit in by joining conversations and taking an agreeable position in a low-profile way. Is that more-or-less what your posting to the original thread was? And now, well, it's a bit like being singled out and having a spotlight shined on you?

I'm hoping that you can see it's a friendly spotlight. Discussion of White Wolf games can be rather intense here, at times, and in those threads, all input about real, actual play observations and experiences are greatly valued. So! Please accept my invitation to tell us, here, about the technique you're talking about.

The slang term for it is the "moving clue." If the players are interested in, for instance, spirits, and the GM has no spirit involved but the players show no interest in his stuff, then he invents a spirit, partly so they stay engaged with what's going on, and partly to nudge them onto the track he wants them on (and is prepared for). It's interesting to me that many published RPG scenarios, particularly for AD&D2 and for White Wolf games, do not include direct instructions for doing this, but often require its use in practice.

... and yet, the moving clue is often unsuccessful in that very practice. Arguably, it is characteristically sucky, across many groups, and indeed across the decades of the hobby's existence. You say that you suck at it; I suggest that it is the sucky thing, when utililized as a patch in the way I think we're talking about. (There are games in which it is the primary mechanic, like InSpectres, but which emphatically do not suck, so that's why I specify the patch-element of the technique.)

I am genuinely interested. I'm not trying to put you on the spot. I'd really like you to report, sort of like a journalist, about a time in which you tried to utilize the technique in a real game of Mage, or perhaps another game if it's a better example, and about how it went.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: boswok on June 10, 2007, 09:33:13 AM
Actually, Ron, I've been lurking for a while and thought on this thread "I wonder why this hasn't been mentioned," and so reaponded.  Spotlight doesn't bother me and I have a policy against jumping to conclusions and inferring offense when on the internet.

Anyways, the jumping clue method is a horrible method of building a story.  Horrible.  However, I've found that it is useful for jarring players out of their complacency and away from a tangent that will do nothing but slow the plot by venturing into uncharted territory and put unwanted stress on the storyteller to create said territory on the spot.  To put it in allegorical terms, the plot is something like a path (hopefully not a railroad, right?) and sometimes the players branch off of the path into the woods, so the storyteller can use the moving clue as a sort of jumping plot to branch their trail back to the main path.  The only good reason to do this is to keep them from getting lost and therefore it can keep them engaged in their trail while leading directly back to the main path.  The players don't lose interest because their method of exploration is being given proper attention, but they don't wander so far off the path that the story is lost to the storyteller and the players all end up mired in a bog somewhere with no way to get back.

I will agree with you, though, that it's a flawed way of building the groundwork of the story, because all it will do is send the characters zig-zagging until their players get whiplash and slam their heads into a desk out of confusion.  The people best at utilizing the moving clue are the ones who can think on their feet as a method of getting the story back on track when it is in danger of slowing down.

Now, as to why I suck at it... that's a difficult thing to remember because I haven't played or ran any iteration of Mage in years.  However, for an example there was a game I once ran that intersected with Mage: the Ascension.  jIn it, an insane will-worker (a marauder) in Lebanon was causing horrible havoc in the desert near a battlefield between two opposed military forces.  The characters spent their first night in-game out clubbing, where they heard worried reports of the soldiers invovled and decided to find out more.  So, they got rooms in the hotel that was hosting several of the soldiers.  One came up with a feasible story for why they would need to tag along with the soldiers when they headed back near to the point of engagement with the mad mage.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the happy-go-lucky party maniac I would have assumed would be shacking up with a couple of the ladies he met the night before whilst dancing decided he genuinely liked these autocratic gentlement and wanted to get to know them, sort of become one of the boys.

I could tell the other players didn't have a lot of interest in talking to a bunch of stuffy soldiers so I began having them refer to the mage again as an example of why they were fighting, to keep their families safe from bogeymen such as this desert demon.  "Speaking of which, time to go," one said.  Voila, player tangent becomes another plot point.  Sure, they hadn't gone way, way off base, but in that limited fashion I could make it work.  If the player had decided to join up with the military and completely remove himself from the actions of the other players, I may have had to pull the group of soldiers back into the conflict somewhere near when the PCs stumbled into the mage, in the middle of him frying the combatants, but this is something I realized after plenty of retrospect and wouldn't have been likely to come up with on the spot.

So, I'd say I suck at it when it's necessary, but whether or not it sucks itself it can still be necessary in its own right.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 10, 2007, 09:51:23 AM
I was interested in the tool, though not if it sucks, lol, becuase my plot IS so open ended. I generally just keep track of a large list of NPCs and NPC organizations, and rather than having a set story laid out I just let the characters interact with that backdrop. I'll drop hooks here and there when they get "stuck" to nudge them back into action.

By stuck, I don't mean them not moving in the direction I want...I mean not moving at all. Like they all get back to their communal sanctum and decided to simply sit for a while and catch their breath. Doesn't seem like that's very world-of-darkness-ish, and in a way, they've all agreed that they like the frantic pace I keep them at. Sometimes though, they're just at a loss for what to do next - that's when I nudge them.

Though, that being said, even with them basically picking 99% of the plot of the game (though, I agree it is still sort-of multiple choice) they sometimes get stuck. We agreed at the start we wanted "mystery" and "intrigue". Those words don't mean a whole lot without the ability for the players to "get it wrong". If every answer they come up with to your mystery is the right answer...it's not so much a mystery anymore. If every path through possible drama works, it's hardly "intrigue" anymore.

So - what do I do when my players, in the face of one of these challenges, decide to chase, to ludicrous lengths, a red herring?


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 13, 2007, 11:05:48 AM
Hi there,

I'm seeing a couple of things to talk about.

One is the issue of "track" vs. "railroad," and I gotta say, I have come to a point where my criteria are really harsh about that. I recommend considering Bangs to be a viable technique, whereas a planned sequence of outcomes is basically not viable.

Let's say we're playing, oh, Mage, and I'm GMing, and I'm prepping. I say, "hey, it's about time, I want to have them to face Henry Coyote." Let's look at my current reasoning during prep and my reasoning during play, as opposed to how I used to do it.

How I do it now: basically, between sessions, I'm simply musing about playing Henry Coyote, as my NPC, which isn't (now) isn't much different from playing him as a PC, maybe even not different at all. It's as if you were contemplating the next session in your mind, prior to play, and saying, "H'm, I think it's about time to chase down Henry Coyote and give him what-for." So my prep as GM is ... well, surprisingly easy.

Now, during play itself, the only special bit is that I'm also framing the player-characters into scenes as well as instigating my own NPCs' actions. That's more mutualistic than it looks, and I'm only mentioning it to set up for my main point - which is that during play, when and if I bring in Henry Coyote, all pissed off and ready for a fight, is not set in my mind at any particular point. If the players all tell me what they're up to, and nothing really seems to call for a conflict of its own, then wham - in comes Henry, magic and guns blazing. Or maybe what they decide to do takes them right into Henry's path toward them anyway. Or maybe some stated goal of a player instigates some raging conflict of its own that strikes at another NPC entirely ... and in that case, either I'll bring Henry in right into the middle of that, or maybe I'll save him for later - with this decision based solely on playing Henry, in my mind, and not on any kind of scheduling or pacing logic at all.

See, that's the main difference between how I do it now and how I did it back then (say, ten-fifteen years ago). Back then, I would have decided two or three sessions before this one that "there's going to be a showdown with Coyote Henry," and in the intervening sessions, and then during the session itself, I would have worked hard to set it up and to get the players to it, in a kind of breadcrumb-ish or paced way. I would have had to nudge them. I would have had to provide enough information, but not too much. I would have taken all the responsibility for the timing and pacing upon myself, not only between sessions, but within them. If someone had gone after Henry "too early," I would have had to stop them. If they had done nothing relevant to Henry, I would have had to prompt them.

Now I don't have to do anything like that. And what I'm getting from your posts, both of you, is that you're still kinda stuck in that older way. "Session #3 - showdown with Henry." And then all this effort goes toward making it happen without making the people feel forced, or whatever. All of which means that now I'm reading this talk about "well, it sucks, but it's sometimes necessary," and all that ... with which I disagree. Suckage is suckage, and it's never necessary.

It also means there's no such thing as a red herring. Why not? Because if they go after X, then it gets resolved. It may get resolved straightforwardly and without conflict. It may get resolved because X is just as interesting as Henry, and you ought to work with X then, as a GM, period. It may get resolved because Henry blasts in and demolishes X (or replaces it) as the topic. Either way, and in any case, you're not forcing them not to investigate X. If you approach it as conflict resolution, then the players know when it's resolved, and won't go into push-button-push-button mode via trying various investigative tasks over and over again.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 13, 2007, 01:14:26 PM
Now I don't have to do anything like that. And what I'm getting from your posts, both of you, is that you're still kinda stuck in that older way. "Session #3 - showdown with Henry." And then all this effort goes toward making it happen without making the people feel forced, or whatever. All of which means that now I'm reading this talk about "well, it sucks, but it's sometimes necessary," and all that ... with which I disagree. Suckage is suckage, and it's never necessary.

Honestly, no. My GM'ing is almost word-for-word the way ou described in your first example here. I write up a bunch of NPCs and Organizations that I may bring into play at any given point. Then I let the players decide what they want to do. I create the setting - they create the plot. The only thing I end up resolving plot-wise is any NPCs that are still in play. Depending on the scope of these NPCs power and how much it effects the players it may develop into a part of the plot - but in the end I purposefully do nothing to restrict their choices.

The things I do to let the players know what's going on with my "side of the table" have so far included: seeing a tv news report on an NPC's activities, getting a phonecall from the local herald, being told about something by one of their contacts, being attacked, etc.

The only plotline I've forced on them so-far was their initial game. And that was just basically a crash-course on how the game plays - since many of them hadn't played it before.

Everything else, plot-wise has been instigated by one of them getting involved with one of the NPCs or NPC groups and creating some sort of conflict. I've even had players decided to leave the city altogether and I've written up NPCs and groups on the spot to accomodate them in an area they wanted to explore.

It also means there's no such thing as a red herring. Why not? Because if they go after X, then it gets resolved. It may get resolved straightforwardly and without conflict. It may get resolved because X is just as interesting as Henry, and you ought to work with X then, as a GM, period. It may get resolved because Henry blasts in and demolishes X (or replaces it) as the topic. Either way, and in any case, you're not forcing them not to investigate X. If you approach it as conflict resolution, then the players know when it's resolved, and won't go into push-button-push-button mode via trying various investigative tasks over and over again.

With all due respect, I don't think that adequately covers my problem with "red herrings". My problem isn't that the players are running off to get involved with some other entity when I want them doing <X> - simply because, in effect, I don't care what they do. My problem is whenever the players say "I want to investigate mystery <X>." because we all initially stated that we wanted to investigate mysteries as part of the game. They (and I) wanted a game involving problem solving and investigation. So, they say "I want to investigate mystery <X>." - I come up with, or pull out my pre-made mystery for that scenario. I give them the clues and respond to their inquiries about it.

Then they all jump to some crazy illogical conclusion and spend the next 3 game sessions tracking down some NPC's nephew's ex-boyfriend's mother's college roomate. Because they think it's relevant.

But it's not.

Now, I've still tried to create some interest on these pursuits and I hope people have have fun doing them - but no matter how much fun you have on a fact-finding mission, it still hurts when you find no facts at the end of it.

I could just twist the mystery I've designed so their "red herring" is actually involved in it...but that would sort of kill the entire premise of mystery-solving, imho.

If no matter what solution you come up with will always be the right solution - no matter what thing you investigate, it always has relevant info - what's the point in even solving TRYING to solve the mystery? You can just pick something at random to investigate and boom - it'll solve itself.

I guess, I'm just trying to find a happy medium between the two.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Falc on June 14, 2007, 05:28:08 AM
HERE (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=13089.0) is an old thread (2004) about running mysteries. I don't remember everything about it, but I know I found it interesting enough to boomark directly a while ago, and when you brought up mysteries I just felt it might be worthwhile to point to it.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 14, 2007, 05:49:16 AM
Hello,

I'm really glad you bookmarked that thread and posted it now, Falc! I was trying to hunt mystery threads and could not find that one. 

Reithan, your post reads a bit as if I were accusing you of doing something wrong in your game. My criticisms are aimed at a technique, and I'm addressing the concerns boswok brought up - this isn't directed at the whole of your sessions or gaming experiences.

As I said, I went on a hunt for thread about the important side issue you've raised - mysteries:

Actual Participationism candidate (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=3358.0)
Star Wars d20: Is this Sim vs. Gamism? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16489.0) (as with so many threads with titles like this, the title question turns out to have nothing to do with what he really wants to know, which is all about mysteries and clues and "where do we go next" issues; the most relevant information is limited to the first page and then the thread goes into something else)
Wide angle gaming (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=6805.0) (this is more about player-kept secrets but all the points apply well)
Questions for those who've played long-running GMless games (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=9750.0) (this one ends up being about mystery-based play after you get through the first few posts)
But the one Falc linked to is actually the one I'd had in mind, but missed while hunting.

If you want to pursue that issue, then it really ought to be started up as its own thread.

For boswok, here's a relatively recent thread in which Joel describes what it's like to play once the entire notion of any "track" gets thrown out. (which is not to say that anyone makes up anything as they go along; it still relies heavily on prep and back-story)

[OTE] A paper trail to nowhere (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20477.0)

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 14, 2007, 06:06:00 AM
Shit! I totally forgot to put in the later threads of Joel's, without which the "Paper Trail to Nowhere" thread is totally depressing.

Here they are:

Confessional: I was an Illusionist wanker! (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21641.0) (which gathered a couple defensive bullshit responses, but a lot of good ones too)
[OTE] Dice for the masses (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21844.0)

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: boswok on June 14, 2007, 09:49:37 AM
Quote
Now I don't have to do anything like that. And what I'm getting from your posts, both of you, is that you're still kinda stuck in that older way. "Session #3 - showdown with Henry." And then all this effort goes toward making it happen without making the people feel forced, or whatever. All of which means that now I'm reading this talk about "well, it sucks, but it's sometimes necessary," and all that ... with which I disagree. Suckage is suckage, and it's never necessary.

As a preface, let me first say that this is all entirely academic as I'm not regularly running games of any kind, so like any philosophical debate any theories about my actual play will be more conjecture because, unfortunately, we haven't gathered enough substantial evidence to come to any truly verifiable solutions.  That said, who knows if I'm stuck in that older way?  Maybe I am, maybe I was four years ago during my Mage example, or maybe I simply misremembered my own experience to make it suitable for an example.  Don't know.

Personally, I don't think the method I was discussing sucks... not when it's necessary.

And why would it ever be necessary?  Because the PCs are deliberately trying to follow a specific path and you as the storyteller are trying to help them but, as Reithan points out, they jump to conclusions that you can't even conceptualize as being connected to the path the PCs are trying (or claiming to at least) to walk down.

If I were running Reithan's game as a guest storyteller and the PCs tell me, first thing, "all right I want to do this crazy jump-roping shit... it's, uh, a rote to get that evil spirit that's responsible for these murders to appear to me," I'm going to be pretty floored because Reithan has explained to me that they're chasing a self-created red herring and that spirits are not responsible for the murders.

So I would improvise and have them enrage a murder spirit (with the crazy jump-roping shit, which the spirit considers vulgar for inscrutable reasons of its own) that happened to be drawn to the murders because that's what said spirit feeds upon.  The PCs then become engaged in battling the spirit.  They may capture it, destroy it, drive it away, I don't know, I'm just the ST.  Whatever.  For brevity, let's say they capture it.  It then informs them of details about the murders in return for its release.  Thus they are set back upon the path.

Just for clarity, I do think the path is necessary in this case, because spirits are not the cause of the mystery, even if I've decided for the sake of the players to make them a part of it.  Now, if the players want, they can follow the spirit angle up and go off on a completely different tangent, but if they want to look into this particular murder mystery thread that has been laid out for them, they're very likely to be on some kind of path because some crazy jump-roping shit isn't going to give them any insight into a complex series of murders, in my opinion, without me going crazy with exertion (which I want to avoid since the game is supposed to be fun for me as well, right?) in trying to bend logic to suit their seemingly random acts.

I look at it not as railroading, because they have an interest in a certain plot which is analogous to a certain area on the gameplay map, but by leaping to illogical conclusions, they're effectively leaping off the map into uncharted territory.  If they begin demanding to find answers to this particular plot while they're wandering lost, I won't be able to plausibly offer them much without pointing them back towards the plot, which is what they want to be involved in in the first place.  They can wander however they like, but they're not going to find story gold if they just follow the first random bird they see happen by when they enter the woods.

Thanks for the links, Ron, I'll get to them sooner (I hope) rather than later.

This rest is for Reithan specifically.  I think the point of mystery is to make it seem that everything is connection, not that all answers are correct.  If the players are constantly confounded by having the possibility of answers dangled before them whichever direction they have chosen to move, you're probably getting the mystery bit right.  If they're chasing a red herring, the trick isn't to give them information by dispelling the mystery and having them be right even though they jumped thousands of li to the wrong conclusions, it's to have them encounter something that makes them ask more questions and deepens their curiosity of things that are strangely related to the truth, without revealing it.  So, having them run into a spirit that might have some information (after all, any spirit that happens to randomly be related to a series of murders might equally randomly have some knowledge of the murders it's hovering near) keeps them interested, confounded and maybe, just maybe, leads them nearer to the right answers along with a boatload of other questions.

If your players are seeking answers and progressively finding more questions, you've succeeded in creating an atmosphere of mystery.  In a good mystery, I think, everything is connected; but that just makes it harder to find solid answers without getting sucked into the world of knowledge you are accumulating.

The intrigue comes from being only partially correct at any given turn.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: David Artman on June 15, 2007, 08:38:34 AM
Hi, boswok;

Let me just point out some key terms you are using in your thinking/reply:
...they jump to conclusions that you can't even conceptualize as being connected to the path the PCs are trying (or claiming to at least) to walk down.

...It then informs them of details about the murders in return for its release.  Thus they are set back upon the path.

...I do think the path is necessary in this case, because spirits are not the cause of the mystery, even if I've decided for the sake of the players to make them a part of it.

...they're effectively leaping off the map into uncharted territory.

...They can wander however they like, but they're not going to find story gold if they just follow the first random bird they see happen by when they enter the woods.

...The intrigue comes from being only partially correct at any given turn.

Thanks for the links, Ron, I'll get to them sooner (I hope) rather than later.

OK, based on the flow of this thread and the way you are phrasing those points, above, I'd advise you to RUN, not walk, to this thread:
HERE (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=13089.0) is an old thread (2004) about running mysteries.

That thread... blew my mind. It introduces what amounts to a totally different way of approaching mysteries and investigations in general, in an interactive context. If you adopt abduction as your means of running such play, none of what you've said above would be coherent or meaningful.

In short--to get you juiced to go read that thread NOW, before even replying again--the GM doesn't need to know the clues at all! Seems crazy, huh? I thought so too, until I grokked the nature of the technique and the way in which it presents challenge while also empowering player creativity. I won't wax too lyrical about the technique, but it's far, far better than anything alluded to in this thread so far (I mean this with the utmost respect and support and encouragement). It might take a simple mystery or two to get your players accustomed to the technique, but I, for one, am willing to accept such a learning curve to (a) significantly reduce GM prep, (b) significantly empower player creativity, and (c) excise the boring-ass breadcrumb hunt that sucks all the allure out of games like Call of Cthulhu or Top Secret/James Bond.

Read it. Ponder it. Then do with it what you will... but I'd be surprised if you ever went back to "seed the world with clues, lead the player to the clues" style of mystery.

Hope this helps;
David


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 15, 2007, 04:55:19 PM
As testimony, that's some good stuff, David. However, let's all remember that no one has to agree in any given thread here, nor is disagreement always a signal of utter dismissal of one another.

I understand what Reithan and boswok are saying. I don't think it's right for me to say "well, when you finally see it right one day, you'll agree," or "well, you're just a dolt and don't get it," or anything like that (or for anyone to say that to me either). I know you're not saying that, but again, my point is to say that if boswok, for instance, has said his piece, then I'm saying, I get it. I see where you're coming from. And we can talk more about it with some more actual play as a basis.

Also, one thing - posting about actual play isn't about gathering evidence in a substantiating, debate sense. It's about knowing what the terms and concerns someone's posting about might be. So if you want to post about one little instance from umpty-ump years ago, that's OK, as long as it's the basis for some point or inquiry you'd like to make.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 16, 2007, 08:08:35 AM
After reading through THIS (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=13089.0) thread it seems that this is already what I've been trying to do - though poorly. Actually having had this laid out and explained and pointed at, I think, will help me do it better though. This is great.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 16, 2007, 08:17:03 AM
Looking through I think my main problem is this:

Quote
If their hypothetical clues fit the GM's Case, then those clues exist and are true; if not, not.

The rest I seem to be doing, and the players, with varying levels of competancy are playing along by Abducing...but the problem is, we get to step three, with some random level of success on parts one and two.

Then the players start testing their hypotheses. But when one doesn't fit and doesn't pan out - they refuse to give up on it. Investigating it over and over and over, more and more throuroughly and in more depth, until the entire player party is sick and tired of the mystery as a whole and just wants to move on, success be damned.

How can I get them to stop doing that?


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Callan S. on June 16, 2007, 01:26:24 PM
Hi Reithan,

I just read the passage that quote is from - I can't say I understand it under the title of 'moving clue'. The quote refers to whether the hypothetical clue fits the GM's case. When a moving clue, as I understand it, is where the GM's case changes to fit the clue. Taking the AP this thread was split from, if the players keep pursuing a hypothesis about a spirit and the story is about finding an evil drug dealer, then the GM's changes the case so yes, traking down the spirit is part of getting the drug dealer. Or you can even make a hybrid - the GM intended the player to go into a seedy little market with threatening people and talk to a snitch - now they have to go into a seedy little graveyard with threatening spirits and zombies, and talk to a spirit who's a snitch. Same thing, but with an unexpected twist for both sides of the GM screen.

The quote seems to be just refering to the idea that there may be more than one clue around that could progress the case. Yes, that's true - but if the players fail to find the GM's clue or one of these other clues, game play halts.

Quote
How can I get them to stop doing that?
I don't think it's so much success be damned, but that they have identified that there is no way of succeding. And they are right. Take this as a 'puzzle'. There are one hundred buttons, one opens a door. There is no way of succeding at this puzzle - it's just a matter of 'when', not 'if' they will succeed. Thus success isn't possible.

In your example it's the same - they tried an approach, it didn't work, so the only option left is - to hit every 'button' around the place. Thus success is impossible. It's simply a matter of time, rather than success.

At this point the players should have triggered some losing conditions and play ends, or you use the moving clue, as I described it above. There's no inbetween that I know of. I think your question is asking for something that's inbetween and so it's not possible to have.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 16, 2007, 03:20:31 PM
I think one of us has mininterpreted that passage. It's anyone's guess as to whether it's me or you. What I gathered had nothing to do with "Moving Clues" as far as I understand the term usually being used.

A moving clue, as I've seen it used, such that there is a clue for the players to discover, and the GM places it in an 'obvious' location. For some reason the players overlook or leave the clue and the GM then MOVES the CLUE to someplace new so the players again may be forced to take it. The clue has been moved, thus, "Moving Clue."

This is different.

There is a mystery. In any Mystery there is a Case, there may be any number of Results and there may be a number of Rules which link the two.

Given in the article is the given example:

Case: The beans are from the bag.
Rule: All the beans from the bag are white.
Result: These beans are white.

There are 3 ways to link these: Deduction, Induction and Abduction.

In deduction, we know the Case and the Rule(s). These lead us to the Results quite easily. If you know the Beans are from the Bag and that all the Beans from the Bag are white - it's simple logic that these Beans are white.

In Induction, you know the Case and the Result. If you know these Beans are white and you know they're from that Bag, then if they're all white and you've seen what you think is a good portion of the Bag's Beans - you may conclude that all the Bag's Beans are white. The further you progress, taking more beans from the bag - provided they're all white, the more definite, statistically, your guessed Rule is.

Now, in most mysteries, unlike in the two methods above, you do NOT know the Case - the Case is the solution - it's the "Who Dunnit."
There comes ABDUCTION:
In Abduction, you know the Results and the Rules. You know the Beans are white. You know that all the Beans from the Bag are white. You can then GUESS that those Beans are from the Bag - though, unfortunately, white beans may have many other sources than the Bag - so they may have come from anywhere! Though, you may test your hypothesised Case by checking the Results using new Rules that you may discover.

So - in an actual-play example take the following.

RESULTS:

The player group is surprised by a dead ghoul which has been staked to their sanctum door. The ghoul has a bullethole through his head made by a large caliber handgun. The stakes are steel, pointed throwing spikes.

The group, seeing this result, starts coming up with RULES:

This ghoul's head-wound was made by one of the player's handgun during a fight with a vampire.
The steel throwing spikes similar to the ones used here are also used by the same vampire.

They, thus, postulate a CASE:

The vampire staked the ghoul to their door.

They were, in this case, correct. Though, as noted, anyone with access to steel throwing spikes and the ghoul's body COULD have been the culprit.

Now, say these two clue were not enough - or perhaps I hadn't mentioned how the ghoul died, or how he was fastened to the door. The players could have come up with any Case or Rule and then tested it against the Results.

Quote from: From the Passage
In the first block, the characters investigate the Result, trying to find out every possible detail, however trivial. 

In the second block, the characters discuss (Holmes's "brown study"), and try to generate a small number of Abduced Cases that would cover all the known Results and depend on certain or at least likely Rules. 

In the third block, the characters investigate possible violations of the Cases.  They check to see if the Rules they have postulated are valid: does this poison actually produce this result?  They check to see if further likely Results of the Case are valid: did the dog bark in the night?

In the fourth block, the characters rebuild their Case to be as watertight as possible, if necessary repeating bits of the third block until they're certain.

In the fifth block, the characters develop a plan of action that will confront the criminal with the complete Case in such a way that he or she cannot avoid it without demonstrable lies or the like, and they put this plan into action, producing a nice climactic scene.

In the First Step, I gave them the Result of the dead ghoul staked to their doorway.

In the Second Step they created the Rules that this ghoul was killed by them and that the fasteners were used by their vampire stalker.

They sort of skipped step 3, as it was fairly evident already, given their results in Step 2. In-effect, Steps 2&3 were combined.

Here, in Step 4 they decided their Case was that the Vampire staked the ghoul to their door.

Step 5, though important to the plot's resolution, isn't really important to the resolution of the mystery itself.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 16, 2007, 03:34:20 PM
Starting a second post here as the first one was getting rather long.

Here are two actual-play examples that didn't go as well as the first:

EXAMPLE ONE:
RESULT: One of the characters was getting lunch at an ourdoor cafe and noticed he was being watched by a dishevled, sunken-eyed patron. Shortly after this discovery, the patron purposefully stepped out onto the street in front of a buss - spattering the cafe's patrons with his remains.

They met later to discuss something unrelated and the same man's blood was splattered onto them from something unseen overhead.

The figured out the following RULES:

The blood is the man's.
The man was watching one of them.
The man's mind was damaged.

They then guessed the CASE that the man was an enemy mage who for reasons unknown decided to kill himself and persue them in ghost-form. In this case, their Case, is highly unlikely, given the Rules which were, incidentally, correct, and their Results.

Though, they then spent a lot of time trying to uncover more Results, given their (incorrect) Case and Rules.

In the passage's example, once the characters start trying to check their hypthesized Case, if new, congruent Results or Rules cannot be found, then, obviously the Case should be revised through re-evaluating the Rules and Results.

This is NOT what happened. Instead, the characters, absolutely convinced of their hypothesized Case, continued trying to find new Results and Rules to support it, continually found none, and eventually just gave up. Even in the face of evidence DIRECTLY to the contrary of their hypothesized Case, they refused to abandon it.

EXAMPLE TWO:

RESULTS:
The characters, while fighting a vampire assassin decide to try taunting the vampire to frustrate her by amplifying echos in the area and talking smack to her.
When the spell is cast, other echos start emerging, strange, demonic-sounding echos which frighten them and seem to be speaking in an ancient dialect of high-speech.

RULES:
The characters know, from previous experience, that the nearby military base's unusual architecture generates unusual echos.

Here, the characters didn't even come up with anything. They didn't investigate the Results further, didn't uncover any new Rules, and didn't hypothesize a Case.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Callan S. on June 17, 2007, 09:55:55 PM
Hi Reithan,

Quote
In the passage's example, once the characters start trying to check their hypthesized Case, if new, congruent Results or Rules cannot be found, then, obviously the Case should be revised through re-evaluating the Rules and Results.
I think the design issue is here

Imagine the players are on track, getting results for what really is the right case. But then the fail to find a result - by the procedure above, they should give up straight away because if they can't find a result or rule, it can't be the right case. But it was the right case.

Your procedure for determining when a case should be given up on/revised, wont meet your goals for the design. I think your players are using another procedure entirely because of that - but their procedure doesn't meet your goals either.

I'm trying to refer to this as a design issue, like you'd showed me a piece of computer programming and I'm demonstrating why it isn't meeting your goals. I've actually written programs with a similar 'give up instantly' program fault in them. I hope it's not treading on sacred ground for you - I lack the ability to penerate a problem and at the same time do so with utmost delicacy.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: David Artman on June 18, 2007, 09:08:42 AM
This is NOT what happened. Instead, the characters, absolutely convinced of their hypothesized Case, continued trying to find new Results and Rules to support it, continually found none, and eventually just gave up. Even in the face of evidence DIRECTLY to the contrary of their hypothesized Case, they refused to abandon it.

That Mystery by Abduction thread speaks to this, I believe. It points out that the tension in--and motivation to solve--a mystery must be maintained, and it mentions things like "more murders" or "murder the suspect" to ensure that the players both want to continue solving and are not left stuck with a false Case.

It also points out that there is regress created by the "murder the suspect" solution, because there is (rightfully) a need for motive to kill what in all likelihood is an irrelevant character. So you might not want to apply that in the Mystery of the Suicide Mage; rather, as the players stumble along trying to find a ghost-form mage and pin the death on him (i.e. prove that it IS a suicide), you might have another apparent suicide occur, with additional Results and commensurate Rules, to help them get back on track.

Finally, that thread DOES treat mystery as a (Gamist) challenge. As such, the players must be able to fail or, at a minimum, have a very qualified (i.e. undesirable) "success." If the players MUST solve the mystery to "move the plot along" or whatever... well, you're back to breadcrumbs and railroads. Which can work as an entertaining plot device (think Easter egg hunts--they're fun) but doesn't really evoke "mystery" in the sense meant by most novelists and book store shelf organizers.
:)

(And, for clarity, this is not intended as a direct critique of that latter method, nor as a declaration that abduction in the One True Way to do an interactive mystery. Just tryin' to help clarify the referenced method in the context of the unsatisfying actual play situation....)
David


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 18, 2007, 09:32:52 AM
Callan:

No problem with the metaphor, I do some programming as well. The thing, as I see it, they're referencing is not quite just "not finding any more Results or Rules." It's more lke, once you have a Case postulated, you can infer from that Case a new Rule and what that new Rule's Results would be - then go look for those Results.

Think about it like this, with the mystery of the ghoul at the door. They found Results of a Ghoul, a Bullethole and Spikes. They Ruled that the ghoul was one from a certain earlier fight with a vampire, the bullethole was made by one of them and the spikes belonged to the vampire. Their supplied case was that the vampire spike the ghoul there.

Now, their lawn was a WRECK, an easy test for this would have been saying, "If the vampire left the ghoul staked here, she had to walk across the lawn - which would have left some trace."

Then they could have checked for footprints, bent grass, etc.

If that trace was not there - at very least the vampire didn't WALK to their door and leave him there, and more probably it wasn't even her.

So yes, in MOST cases, a single failure is a good reason to drop a Case and get a new one.

David:

Tension and Motivation to continue solving may have indeed been lacking in the two failed examples and you're right that the "murder the false lead" is a litle "shaky" - though I'm sure there's other equally definitive ways to poke holes in false lead.

As to mystery being a gamist challenge - yeah, in part it is. Simply because, in the end, the PLAYER has to solve the mystery, the character just determines which clues the PLAYER has access to. I'm okay with that. I'm no anti-gamist elitist or anything. I figure, as long as everyone has fun with it, it's good as far as games go. :P

My problem is ensuring the mystery flows smoothly and that everyone DOES have fun - when the mystery breaks down, no one does.

As to failure, yes there are consequences to failing to solve a mystery in any setting. The murderer escapes, the vampires kills all the characters, the demons that incited the suicide take over the city (this happened), etc.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: David Artman on June 18, 2007, 01:34:08 PM
I figure, as long as everyone has fun with it, it's good as far as games go.
...
As to failure, yes there are consequences to failing to solve a mystery in any setting. The murderer escapes, the vampires kills all the characters, the demons that incited the suicide take over the city (this happened), etc.

Cool, OK, then all you really need to do with regards to abduction as mystery technique is to make sure you have two Stage 5 outcomes prepared:
1) Showdown (the one in that thread) - The culprit is faced with the Facts that prove their guilt. Chase, combat, and hilarity ensues.
2) Endgame - The culprit begins to accomplish/accomplishes its desired ends, of which the actual mystery/crime was but a means: murderer gets away scot-free (to murder again?), thief uses Stolen Widget to cause Big Trouble, demons invade, whatever. Note that, by making the crime/mystery only a means (i.e. not the final goal of the culprit), you drive plot no matter what the players do.

And, therefore, if your two outcomes are both engaging (i.e. potentially fun) then the "need" to solve the mystery disappears. I would posit that a mystery that "needs" the players to solve it is a very good indicator of a railroading element (again, not a bad thing per se, but I think that's what's going on under the hood when you say things like "when the mystery breaks down, no one [has fun]."

Interesting pondering--best thread I've read in a while;
David


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 18, 2007, 11:11:15 PM
Well, both are correct.

In the end either result of the mystery can/does generate another situation to have fun with. But this is usually over the course of several games. And if the mystery-solving mechanics break down, it still leaves several games at a level of "not fun."

I mean, it should be possible to have fun even if they DON'T solve the mystery. Obviously the consequences can be fun to play through, but the mystery-solving itself should still be fun. You know the whole, "it doesn't matter if you win or lose as long as you have fun?"

Well, that's sort of the problem. It's not that it hasn't been fun because they've 'failed' the mystery, since the 'failure' consequences have been a lot of fun in and of themselves - it's more that when the mechanics break down and everyone sort of just stares at each other like, "Ok - what now??" ...THAT is no fun.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Precious Villain on June 19, 2007, 06:01:03 AM
Quote
Well, that's sort of the problem. It's not that it hasn't been fun because they've 'failed' the mystery, since the 'failure' consequences have been a lot of fun in and of themselves - it's more that when the mechanics break down and everyone sort of just stares at each other like, "Ok - what now??" ...THAT is no fun.

That point is where you bring in the consequences for failure.  With my players, that would most definitely involve some kind of cathartic action scene - "We may not be smarter than you, evil vampire guy, but we can still kick your ass!" 

It seems like the problem here is one of pacing - if your players are sitting there staring at their hands then they are giving you a clear signal that they want you to do something about it. 


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: David Artman on June 19, 2007, 10:06:08 AM
You know the whole, "it doesn't matter if you win or lose as long as you have fun?"
...
Well, that's sort of the problem. It's not that it hasn't been fun because they've 'failed' the mystery, since the 'failure' consequences have been a lot of fun in and of themselves - it's more that when the mechanics break down and everyone sort of just stares at each other like, "Ok - what now??" ...THAT is no fun.

Well, again, it seems that abduction helps this perfectly, because it gives the players some (hell, almost all) of the narrative control--they just have to ask questions about as-of-yet-unrevealed Facts to build their Case(s). I'd suggest that you just break folks into the method easy, with a fairly interesting but obvious Case (i.e. give them almost enough Facts at the outset to solve it, with no red herrings) and then move on to "harder" ones. If folks are just staring at each other in an abduction mystery, then they don't realize the power of simple brainstorming: encourage them to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks, rather than waiting for you to prod them with new Facts. I bet you'll soon suffer the OTHER side of the abduction coin: a bajillion ideas for Facts that you barely have time to consider and respond to!

:)
David


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 19, 2007, 10:46:23 AM
Hmmm... good ideas. :)

I'll have to see how much "wall-sticking" they have to them. :P


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Callan S. on June 20, 2007, 01:14:37 AM
If that trace was not there - at very least the vampire didn't WALK to their door and leave him there, and more probably it wasn't even her.

So yes, in MOST cases, a single failure is a good reason to drop a Case and get a new one.
Yes, but what if it was the vampire - say in your notes it is the vampire. It didn't walk across the lawn, it flew in and out as a bat. Just the chance that it was means equally:
In SOME cases a single failure is a really bad idea to drop a case.

How are you going to differentiate when a single failure means you should give up the case, and when a single failure means you should continue? I mean without social cues, like going red in the face >:)

Or alternatively, can the players just darn well fail for a change after pursuing the wrong case? Each act of pursuit costs time, you have a time limit written down, they use it all up, they just fail?


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on June 20, 2007, 09:16:10 AM
I suppose that's just something to do with Abduction. If you fail at finding a Rule or Result for your Case, I suppose it's up to the person looking for them to try to evaluate if there's a way they could be wrong about their Rule/Result and still right about their Case.

In any case, as covered above, yes there does seem to need to be the opportunity to 'fail'.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: The Dragon Master on June 22, 2007, 12:22:26 PM
I just wanted to thank you all for posting this discussion, not to mention the link to how to run a Mystery game (for lack of time for better phrasing). It has inspired me, and I'm going to work on setting up a Mystery in the MURPG system for them to run through. I'll post my experience with it here on the boards.


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: FredGarber on July 10, 2007, 03:30:19 PM
I've had similar situations, where the PCs Adbuce the wrong Case, and insist on following it to the bitter end. 

Quote
Looking through I think my main problem is this:
Quote
If their hypothetical clues fit the GM's Case, then those clues exist and are true; if not, not.

The rest I seem to be doing, and the players, with varying levels of competancy are playing along by Abducing...but the problem is, we get to step three, with some random level of success on parts one and two.

Then the players start testing their hypotheses. But when one doesn't fit and doesn't pan out - they refuse to give up on it. Investigating it over and over and over, more and more throuroughly and in more depth, until the entire player party is sick and tired of the mystery as a whole and just wants to move on, success be damned.

How can I get them to stop doing that?

One of the questions you need to ask is
"Is it OK for the PCs to fail this mystery?" 

Another is "Why did this guy throw himself in front of the bus, in front of them? " If the bad Guys have a plot, have it go off, and then have the PCs deal with the situation, and move on. 

A third is "Where is their fun, here?  Why are they doing this?"
I have been frustrated by some players keeping the purpose of their investigation secret from me, and using it to "win" in an undeclared Narration Rights conflict with me, the GM.
Player "I search the corpse's house."
GM "You find nothing of value except for a magic rock just like your own magic rocks, and a medallion around its neck."
Player "Did I find any magic rocks in the vampire headquarters?"
GM "No."
Player "Aha!  I knew this corpse was a thief!  He deserved what he got, stealing the rock from vampires! If I meet anyone with that medallion, I'll know they're a thief.  It's probably a Thief Guild symbol."

In the player's head, they've assumed the corpse stole the rock from the vampires, and was killed for it.  I think I've given them a clue that points to the corpse as being the same time of magical rock-user as they were, and therefore a dead ally.  They've totally misinterpreted the clue.  Why?  Because THEY wanted to steer the mystery.

In that case, you need to sit down and talk to them out-of-game about how they came to this decision.  Admit that you gave a misleading clue.   Maybe the players are frustrated and they think a ghost-mage is more interesting than the story you want to play.    I did not do this. I tried to Move the Clue to steer them onto another path, and my players, in trying to seize control of the game, took it as another chance to skid farther away from anything I had planned. And the more discomfited and freeform I got, they happier they were.  They felt like they were winning, since I was clearly not enjoying myself and was therefore losing. 

My Ideas to Help The Situation
1> Introduce a (relatively) new NPC into this situation, to whom the PCs have to explain the situation.  I recommend a peer who asks "what's the situation?  What are you going to do about it?"  It may force them to look at their ideas, and realize there are some things that don't fit.

2> "Seven with one Blow"
Based on the fairy tale, where giant-slaying is attributed to a fly-slaying tailor.
The PCs manage to, while tracking their "ghost mage," stumble into the actual solution to the mystery.  NPCs swoop in, announce the real solution, and congratulate the PCs for their deduction, and entrust them with more responsibility.  In my experience, getting praise they don't deserve usually forces the PCs to Do Something about it.  Especially if they know they just stole Someone Else's reward.

3> "The bear is eaten by the crocodile."
This is stolen from the movie Lake Placid (amongst others)  The heroes have been tracking the monster giant crocodile.  They find bear tracks (the red herring), and many of the characters insist that ALL the carnage so far is the bear's fault.  That night, the scary bear appears.  The heroes point at the scary bear, confident they've solved the mystery... and then the Giant Crocodile shows up, eats the scary bear, and disappears into the water.
The Red Herring is clearly disproved, and the PCs are confronted with the villain you wanted.
in this case, I'd have them find the spirit of the "ghost mage," and it gets destroyed by the real villain.

I hope these suggestions help this game!


Title: Re: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)
Post by: Reithan on July 11, 2007, 04:55:44 AM
I've had similar situations, where the PCs Adbuce the wrong Case, and insist on following it to the bitter end. 

One of the questions you need to ask is
"Is it OK for the PCs to fail this mystery?" 

Another is "Why did this guy throw himself in front of the bus, in front of them? " If the bad Guys have a plot, have it go off, and then have the PCs deal with the situation, and move on.

Yes. It's okay to fail this mystery. If anything, this is the world of darkness, failure is nothing new to the setting, and the good guys DON'T always win. In this case I did, after this example, simply let the good guys fail. They gave up, the "bad guys plan" went ahead as scheduled, and there was hell to pay in the end (almost literally).

In fact, their very failure opened up a great storyline and everyone had a lot of fun with it in the end.

A third is "Where is their fun, here?  Why are they doing this?"

That's a bit tougher. I honestly don't think any of them actually did have fun with that investigation. I just think, in the end, they were simply too stubborn, as a group, to give up on their chosen hypothesis.

I have been frustrated by some players keeping the purpose of their investigation secret from me, and using it to "win" in an undeclared Narration Rights conflict with me, the GM.
Player "I search the corpse's house."
GM "You find nothing of value except for a magic rock just like your own magic rocks, and a medallion around its neck."
Player "Did I find any magic rocks in the vampire headquarters?"
GM "No."
Player "Aha!  I knew this corpse was a thief!  He deserved what he got, stealing the rock from vampires! If I meet anyone with that medallion, I'll know they're a thief.  It's probably a Thief Guild symbol."

In the player's head, they've assumed the corpse stole the rock from the vampires, and was killed for it.  I think I've given them a clue that points to the corpse as being the same time of magical rock-user as they were, and therefore a dead ally.  They've totally misinterpreted the clue.  Why?  Because THEY wanted to steer the mystery.

In that case, you need to sit down and talk to them out-of-game about how they came to this decision.  Admit that you gave a misleading clue.   Maybe the players are frustrated and they think a ghost-mage is more interesting than the story you want to play.    I did not do this. I tried to Move the Clue to steer them onto another path, and my players, in trying to seize control of the game, took it as another chance to skid farther away from anything I had planned. And the more discomfited and freeform I got, they happier they were.  They felt like they were winning, since I was clearly not enjoying myself and was therefore losing.

I could see something like this happening - but I don't think this was the case.

My Ideas to Help The Situation
1> Introduce a (relatively) new NPC into this situation, to whom the PCs have to explain the situation.  I recommend a peer who asks "what's the situation?  What are you going to do about it?"  It may force them to look at their ideas, and realize there are some things that don't fit.

This has actually been one of my bigger problems so far. I keep wanting to make the game more social and political, but the players keep alienating, ostrasizing and generally getting rid of any social elements.

I think that is at least 1/2-way on purpose on their part, though. So I can't complain too much. :P

2> "Seven with one Blow"
Based on the fairy tale, where giant-slaying is attributed to a fly-slaying tailor.
The PCs manage to, while tracking their "ghost mage," stumble into the actual solution to the mystery.  NPCs swoop in, announce the real solution, and congratulate the PCs for their deduction, and entrust them with more responsibility.  In my experience, getting praise they don't deserve usually forces the PCs to Do Something about it.  Especially if they know they just stole Someone Else's reward.

This is kind of what happened, only in reverse. The players screwed the town up so bad through their incompetance, that their local consilium figured that it must have been on purpose. So far, the players, through their characters' flaws and their players' playstyle have managed to make a chaotic mess of almost everything they come into contact with. Though, this has create a LOT of interesting side-stories and fun encounters, so no one's complaining (at least, not out-of-character).

3> "The bear is eaten by the crocodile."
This is stolen from the movie Lake Placid (amongst others)  The heroes have been tracking the monster giant crocodile.  They find bear tracks (the red herring), and many of the characters insist that ALL the carnage so far is the bear's fault.  That night, the scary bear appears.  The heroes point at the scary bear, confident they've solved the mystery... and then the Giant Crocodile shows up, eats the scary bear, and disappears into the water.
The Red Herring is clearly disproved, and the PCs are confronted with the villain you wanted.
in this case, I'd have them find the spirit of the "ghost mage," and it gets destroyed by the real villain.

I hope these suggestions help this game!

This is actually a good plot twist. I may have to use something like this at some point. :) Thanks for the idea.