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Author Topic: Mystery-- Essay  (Read 5577 times)
Walt Freitag
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Posts: 1039


« Reply #45 on: April 08, 2004, 09:38:17 PM »

Daniel, in my early years of GMing I've used most of the techniques you describe in your essay. Here's the problem I eventually had with them.

Let's suppose my players and I are talking about the loose ends and minor mysteries after the end of a campaign or after the conclusion of a major plot arc. I didn't see the point of keeping in-game secrets forever once play had moved on, so there would be a conversation something like this:

PLAYER 1: What I really want to know is who was the thief who took my 75 gold pieces.

ME (GM): If you really want to know, it was...

PLAYER 2: Oh, don't say it yet. I think we can figure out who it was. We discovered the gold was missing when we tried to pass the bribe to Lord DeJeune at the masquerade, right? So it had to be one of the other nobles at court.

PLAYER 1: So you think one of the nobles was actually a very accomplished thief?

PLAYER 3: Aren't they all?

PLAYER 2: Then it was somebody who didn't want to see DeJeune's silence bought. I think it was Lady Maudlin. She wanted to see her cousin Yseult embarassed by the scandal.

PLAYER 1: But it could have been Admiral Rosenthorn, who wanted to be seen as Yseult's protector, by handing over the bribe himself.

PLAYER 3: Well, we know the scandal never leaked out in the end, but we never found out why. So it could have been that, even though we didn't find anything incriminating about Rosenthorn. But do you remember the drunken scene Prince Marcus made during the Longday Dance? That would have been the perfect distraction to steal your purse, if the Prince was working in league with Lord Trevor, who we were talking to at the time.

PLAYER 2: But why would he or Trevor want to steal a lousy 75 ducats? That's like a day's drinking money for the Prince.

PLAYER 3: Gambling, maybe? Or part of one of his elaborate practical jokes that never came off?

PLAYER 1: Maybe. So, which was it?

ME: Um, actually, it was a thief you never noticed in the tavern the afternoon before the masquerade.

PLAYER 2: What? Just some random wandering thief?

ME: Oh, no, he was a very important thief, I had his background all worked out and if you'd noticed him he'd have maybe gotten you involved in a really cool plot about a lot of stuff you never found out about because didn't notice him, and then you found those invitations to the masquerade on that dead guy and Yseult asked for your help and you got involved in other stuff instead.

PLAYERS (obvious disappointment): Oh.

See, my players were proving to be rather creative, and keeping information from them because of some failed secret perception roll or because they didn't say their characters were examining some particular thing had effects kind of like the hallucinations people can get in a sensory deprivation tank. They would come up with all kinds of theories and extrapolations and explanations for things, all of them completely consistent with the limited information I'd given them, and most of them more interesting than the "real" explanation or mystery I'd had in mind. And over and over I had to tell them no, their suspicions didn't pan out; no, their looking further into this or that possibility yielded nothing; no, their plan couldn't work. (Except I couldn't just tell them, of course; they had to figure it out through agonizing trial and error.) This wasn't a problem in dungeon crawls, where if one lever doesn't open the door you just try another until you find the one that does. But in a more dynamic world, where the number of doors is infinite, it was wearisome.

I decided that in a world with (1) characters who were supposed to be exceptional individuals, and (2) magic, this didn't have to be a problem. Human perception, in the real world, is an amazing thing. Humans have been practicing linear reasoning for maybe a few million years, but have inherited from our animal ancestors about a billion years of practice with perception. (That's why programming a computer to play chess, a challenging linear reasoning task, is trivially easy, compared with programming a computer to analyze a picture of a room and find the chess board, a simple perception task.) So efficient, so important to survival, are these perception mechanisms that we often perceive patterns, and come to conclusions based on those patterns, without consciously recognizing exactly what information contributed to them. We have hunches. We sense that a person we're talking to has something to hide. We feel uneasy because some danger threatens even though we can't see anything specific that's amiss. And that's just ordinary people. Extraordinary player-character hero types, with martial training, childhoods survived by their wits on the street, priestly insight into the human soul, access to supernatural forces, great prophesied destinies, and lifetimes lived in a world of imminent peril, might reasonably be expected to do even better.

I believe it's therefore the most realistic thing in the world to tell a player, in-character, "you sense he's holding back on you," or "something's wrong and you feel that you really want to get out of this room," or "you're suddenly on edge; something's just happened and you missed it." Really, that kind of cueing is only slightly compensating for the ridiculously low bandwidth -- verbal narration -- by which the players get to perceive the world. Without that compensation, the characters are like people walking around looking at everything with one eye through a paper towel tube.

In other words, even someone who shares your philosophy of player-character immersion, as I did at that time, might choose different techniques to achieve that goal.

- Walt
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Andrew Norris
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« Reply #46 on: April 08, 2004, 10:24:00 PM »

Very interesting thread to read, thank you.

I would be interested in reading the original poster's followup essay, as my stumbling block was one that seems to be shared by several other people in this thread. Namely, the "Mystery" essay explains *how* you would carry out this kind of play, but not *why*.

If the reason is simply "We enjoy it", that's fine, but obviously in a final roleplaying game's text additional explanation as to how the game works when played in this stance is helpful.

Finally, not to retread covered ground, I think that one of the most interesting things about the Forge is its diversity of viewpoints. As such, I'm glad to see a new poster whose interests lie towards exclusive Actor stance, because we don't get much of that here. (I personally didn't enjoy such play, so I'm not that experienced with it.)

I think that in the long run you'll probably get more useful feedback on your work here, rather than on a forum where a majority of posters take what you're suggesting without question. Or in other words, "Okay, but why?" seems a better jumping off point for you than if we'd all said "Okay, sounds good."
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #47 on: April 09, 2004, 08:36:08 PM »

Quote from: Permit me to add to what Andrew Norris
If the reason is simply "We enjoy it", that's fine, but obviously in a final roleplaying game's text additional explanation as to how the game works when played in this stance is helpful.
It would also be helpful to consider, and explain, why the game would not work as intended if played in a different stance. That is, the reason to play it in this strict limited information actor stance may be that the game wants to encourage the feeling of being the character, but apart from that one aspect, what is lost if played a different way?

--M. J. Young
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Cemendur
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Posts: 61


« Reply #48 on: April 12, 2004, 07:09:02 PM »

Quote from: John Kim

Hmm.  I think both analogies (players-as-PCs and players-as-audience) are partly true and partly false.  Given that the players are controlling the PCs, I think it is almost assured that OOC dramatic tension won't work the way that it does in film.  In film, the bomb under the table works precisely because the audience is powerless to change it.  They are drawn to yell at the screen for the characters to realize their mistake and run, but they know it does no good.  


This is quite true.

Quote from: clehrich
Mourlgin,

I wasn't thinking that the creepy guy in the corner was the thief at all.  What's telegraphed here is that there's something important to pay attention to.  But a really good sneak thief is the guy you don't notice, that fat guy next to you who's clearly mostly interested in the conversation he's having, and keeps waving that beer stein around and making big gestures to distract your attention to the wrong hand.  If you go and grab the creepy guy when you've been robbed, aren't you going to be annoyed when he denies everything?  And that's going to lead to arguments, and maybe fights.  And that happy fat guy is, like any sane person, going to duck out when the scene in the bar goes bad.  He just wants a nice drink with his pals, doesn't he?  Pity he has your purse in his pocket, of course....


This type of suspense is quite different than the type created from the movie audience metaphor.

As I have not picked up on all the terminology yet, I will attempt to crudely describe this with expectations that perhaps someone can correlate this with accepted Forge concepts.

This is setting the mood of the bar. This style of play can be affectively played within both the "immersion"  (simulationist) and several versions of the "story-telling" (narrativist) styles of play. I'll focus on the immersion styles, framed from the immersion perspective.

The GM could, secretively or openly, roll abilities, or skills, the higher the success the more nuances the character picks up which in turn influence the ammount of description given to player.

Example: Rorgue (a rogue) perception score gets rolled against the fat guy's acting (distraction and pick pocket) ability score. The fat guy narrowly beats  Rorgue. a tie. Rorgue picks up a few clues to the fat guy's tricks - the GM narrates the bar scene with suspense, the guy in the corner being a distraction, the bumping room is a distraction - instead of these distractions affecting the fat guy's roll mechanicly, they get interspersed as false clues through narration (drama). Peppered through these false clues (perceived through simulation as situations the fat guy is using to his advantage), is the clue of the "fat guy next to you who's clearly mostly interested in the conversation he's having, and keeps waving that beer stein around and making big gestures".

If Rorgue had botched his perception check, that peppered narration could be reduced to the "fat guy next to you is rapt in conversation with (describe those people)" or even a more ellaborate description of the seedy nature of the robed individual in the corner or a description of somebody bumping into you.

Perhaps if you had tied on rolls, your perception momentarily shifts to the other hand, "fat guy next to you who's clearly mostly interested in the conversation he's having, and keeps waving that beer stein around and making big gestures, nudging you with his other hand" or whatever.

If Rorgue had critically succeeded at his perception check, all the peppered descriptions would still be included, with the addition of something like, "fat guy next to you who's clearly mostly interested in the conversation he's having, and keeps waving that beer stein around and making big gestures. You notice his other hand moving toward your purse".

Crudely, this is story-telling (narrativism) _supporting_ immersion (simulation). Their is an essay around here about that I need to reread.

Quote from: Walt Freitag

I believe it's therefore the most realistic thing in the world to tell a player, in-character, "you sense he's holding back on you," or "something's wrong and you feel that you really want to get out of this room," or "you're suddenly on edge; something's just happened and you missed it." Really, that kind of cueing is only slightly compensating for the ridiculously low bandwidth -- verbal narration -- by which the players get to perceive the world. Without that compensation, the characters are like people walking around looking at everything with one eye through a paper towel tube.

In other words, even someone who shares your philosophy of player-character immersion, as I did at that time, might choose different techniques to achieve that goal.

- Walt


This could easily be translated in the technique stated above.

Example: Instead of, "you sense he's holding back on you,", you could say, "their is something in the way he's averting his eyes from you that bothers you" (which could just as easily be his failed ettiquete check (or yours), because of cultural differences, as it is his failed bluff).

Example 2: He keeps shuffling his feet in an odd way (Does he have to pee or is he withholding information?). Its up to the player to wonder, is he lieing or does he need to pee, not the GM to suggest it, or perhaps the player could suggest, "I look at his feet to see what kind of gesture he is making"? In which case a high "perception", could notice he's twisting and pressing his thighs together suggesting he really needs to pee!

"That player inevitably has taken the knowledge received from playing in that world with former characters and is using that knowledge with this new character. The solution has been for the player not to use the knowledge which he has gained through past characters, pretending his character is ignorant. While this is a fair guideline to follow, it interferes with the fun for the player since actual discovery (for the player) has been removed. Races, monsters, skills, spells, & even the history should slightly change sometimes. The only time to make these alterations is when one or several characters have died or passed out of the story."

Wow, I used to play this style of immersion but have taken up another sort of play. This is an exploration-centered form of immersion that if I remember correctly is mentioned in one of the essays around here.

P.S. I also enjoy narrativist RPGs and suggest that these type of RPGs have their own merits for a different type of play.

Also, I am no expert and I have not read the articles in a while, hopefully some one will correct me if they think I am off base in my analysis or choice of terms.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #49 on: April 12, 2004, 11:55:30 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: clehrich
 And the desired effects happen upon players, not characters, who are after all only fictional constructs.  So if the players know there is a bomb, the question is whether they will have their characters leave the room in time.  The suspense generated in that case depends on whether the structure of the game -- in terms of everything from movement rates to dramatic consistency -- allows the characters to notice the bomb and leave or else leave quite accidentally.  The players are constrained by a web of system; given that web, can they get out?  

I think the usual concern is that the players will bend everything in the constructed universe to bail out of the situation.  But if it's dramatically effective, why should they?  They just need to see that it's a better scene if they delay, and slowly come to some sort of realization, and then they'll want to come to a discovery of the bomb and then flee or disarm it.

Hmm.  I think both analogies (players-as-PCs and players-as-audience) are partly true and partly false.  Given that the players are controlling the PCs, I think it is almost assured that OOC dramatic tension won't work the way that it does in film.  In film, the bomb under the table works precisely because the audience is powerless to change it.  They are drawn to yell at the screen for the characters to realize their mistake and run, but they know it does no good.  

But in an RPG, the players control the characters.  So this sort of OOC tension has a very different dynamic than in the movie audience.  Off the top of my head, it hasn't seemed terribly effective to me when I've seen it used in RPGs.  I can role-play my way through it, but it hasn't really done anything for me.  The first example that springs to mind for me is my PC mind-controlledly walking into a trap.  It felt like a motion to get over with.  Anyone else have reflections on their experience of this?  

Remember that not all suspense is OOC suspense.  There is also in-character suspense, where both the audience and the protagonist are tensely awaiting the outcome of something.


I would like to suggest that just as that audience is powerless to get those guys to leave the bomb table, so are the players. That is, if they maintain actor stance. For example, you as a player may know how to make gun powder, but be playing in a game world where is hasn't been invented. Does this mean that in any situation where gunpowder would be handy (quite a few to my pyro mind), it's as dull as dishwater?

Really, the techniques of Domhnall seem to be about ensuring that taking a pawn stance always means taking an actor stance. In that if you can only operate your pawn with the information it has as a character, the way you will move that pawn will be just like the character. Basing moves on character info then reflects that character in those pawn moves, making them more like actor stance moves.

If one is used to this technique, to transmute pawn stance into actor stance, I could see the OOC information release making it very dull/unpleasant. Players knowing what their characters don't would instantly reverse the transmutation, leaving it as pure pawn stance.

So this is forcing actor stance. While the other option is to ask players to adopt actor stance, seperating OOC information from character moves. Certainly, just like the gunpowder example, its possible to enjoy the PC's situation even as a player, you know an easy way out. But this pure actor stance is something the GM can't force a player to do, they have to choose to do so (and get skilled in it, as it requires some).
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John Kim
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« Reply #50 on: April 13, 2004, 10:16:33 AM »

Quote from: Noon
Quote from: John Kim
  But in an RPG, the players control the characters.  So this sort of OOC tension has a very different dynamic than in the movie audience.  Off the top of my head, it hasn't seemed terribly effective to me when I've seen it used in RPGs.  I can role-play my way through it, but it hasn't really done anything for me.  The first example that springs to mind for me is my PC mind-controlledly walking into a trap.  It felt like a motion to get over with.  Anyone else have reflections on their experience of this?    

I would like to suggest that just as that audience is powerless to get those guys to leave the bomb table, so are the players. That is, if they maintain actor stance. For example, you as a player may know how to make gun powder, but be playing in a game world where is hasn't been invented. Does this mean that in any situation where gunpowder would be handy (quite a few to my pyro mind), it's as dull as dishwater?  

It seems like you're making a theoretical argument here -- i.e. I really should feel tension and excitement over OOC suspense, based on your theory about stances.  But my experience doesn't match this.  That's why I asked about experience.  Have you had bomb-under-the-table situations in real RPGs that worked to generate tension?  Can you describe them?  

For me, I can't recall that particular technique working in RPGs.  It's certainly possible to play through, but it doesn't have the emotional power for suspense the way that the same technique in movies does.  

For example, I recall at one point being hit by a mind-control device during a fight, which generated apathy in my character (Slick in the http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/crystalpalace/">Crystal Palace campaign).  There weren't any mechanics for this -- the GM just noted to me that the device made me not care.  So my PC stopped doing stuff, even though there was fighting all around that could endanger him and his friends.  From my point of view, I felt like it sucked all the tension right out of the situation.  Now, in principle an audience member could feel tension like "Can Slick overcome the device's influence?"  Under this theory, I could be on the edge of my seat tensely awaiting word from the GM about whether I can break the device.  But in practice I just felt, well, apathetic.
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- John
Callan S.
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« Reply #51 on: April 13, 2004, 04:31:16 PM »

Strangely enough I can remember an inadvertant experience. You see, our GM was running games that basically cloned the Gotrik and Feelix novels (sp?). He knew I hadn't read the next book along and began running a game off it.

The thing was, the previous book had a sample of that next book in it. I knew exactly what was going to happen, because essentially I'd read ahead in the script. Someone was going to have a waitress visit them in their bedroom, then ninja Skaven would attack with explosives or something and the whole place would burn down.

It was very fun!

The thing was, obviously as a player I'm expecting my PC meet conflict. I can't be surprised by running into conflict...I not only expect it, I want it. So no loss there from knowing it would happen in advance.

The next thing is that although it was a combat type of conflict, were all pretty used to those happening. I mean, someone attacking my PC isn't any more surprising if I don't know who those someones will be. Just as much as I expect conflict and suspect a good amount of combat, I already know some creature will fill those boots.

Finally, although I knew the place would burn down after skaven attack, the finer details of it were a mystery. The dice rolls might make my PC dead. My tactics can still help avoid that. If I'm a real ninja about it I might slow or stop the fire (or atleast feel that I should have, despite the GM ignoring any valid efforts...still a win, even if the GM doesn't give me credit for it).

Ultimately, most of it doesn't surprise me as a player anyway, so it's no loss to know that it will happen (or in the case of the pick pocket, has happened). In fact, it can be a refreshing change of pace instead of trying reeeeeally hard to pretend that surprise conflicts are indeed surprising.

Actually, to be frank, with my friends GM'ing technique, it was actually a bit of a relief to be able to look ahead. He just wasn't good enough at sculpting a surprise, they were often quite awful for PC and player. But when I knew what was ahead, I could just enjoy the moment instead of bracing for a potentially badly made encounter. This last point is important, as even a good GM might not be able to sculpt an interesting enough surprise encounters for older players who have a lot of gaming experience. But with shared knowledge, these older players can help get over that.

And in terms of that apathy device, it seems the agreed approach method is the real obstacle. You say you had to wait on the word of the GM? Well, it sounds like your not trusted to even suggest any valid moves your PC could still make under those circumstances, let alone just make them. A lack of trust and a mutual agreement that means you can't do anything your not trusted to do, has basically bound you into doing nothing and being bored. Let's go back to the table with the bomb under it and the players have been informed of this. There are two ways it could be handled.

1. The players are trusted to keep their OOC knowledge seperate and still act out their PC's actions. This means they are trusted to not just flee the table on flimsy excuses, but instead play it out in character.

2. The players aren't trusted and having been informed, now have effectively lost control of their character. Since they can't be trusted to keep the info seperate, they loose control of their character until the GM says they get it back.
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Rob Carriere
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« Reply #52 on: April 14, 2004, 01:16:14 AM »

Quote from: John Kim
Have you had bomb-under-the-table situations in real RPGs that worked to generate tension?  Can you describe them?

Will you take waffles for a bomb?  :-)

Valshares is at a waffle stand, in line directly after a city guard. Guard order a bunch of waffles, Valshares observes that the last waffle comes from a different pile. Valshares orders a waffle and is served from the same pile.

Christian is in a tavern where a guard arrives with a bunch of waffles and meets up with a group of guards already there. Turns out the sergeant has a habit of treating new guard units to waffles. Waffles get divvied up among the guards, eaten, and one of the guards keels over dead.

This was an intro session, Valshares and Christian hadn't even met yet.

Everybody was on the edge of their seats and from then on somebody brought waffles to every session of this campaign.

SR
--
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John Kim
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« Reply #53 on: April 14, 2004, 11:46:05 AM »

Quote from: Noon
  Actually, to be frank, with my friends GM'ing technique, it was actually a bit of a relief to be able to look ahead. He just wasn't good enough at sculpting a surprise, they were often quite awful for PC and player.  

While this was enjoyable, am I right in reading that it wasn't actually generating suspense or tension?  In this case it was working as a relief of tension, if anything.  Which is a valid goal, but different than the OOC-suspense technique we were talking about.  

Quote from: Noon
  Let's go back to the table with the bomb under it and the players have been informed of this. There are two ways it could be handled.
1. The players are trusted to keep their OOC knowledge seperate and still act out their PC's actions. This means they are trusted to not just flee the table on flimsy excuses, but instead play it out in character.
2. The players aren't trusted and having been informed, now have effectively lost control of their character. Since they can't be trusted to keep the info seperate, they lose control of their character until the GM says they get it back.  

Ah.  I've been assuming #1 here, without even considering #2.  Let's keep that assumption for a moment.  So now I'm playing my character going about his normal activity, but knowing that if I stay by the table I'll be blown up and if I wander away I'll survive.  Chances are that I'll stay be the table and be blown up, I suspect.  There wouldn't be a whole lot of tension in it for me, though.  

At this point, some players (I think) would enjoy the challenge of trying to find in-character reasons to see the bomb or go away from the table -- trying to use the OOC information to save their character, while finding sufficient excuse to do so without social disapproval.  Maybe there is tension in this approach (?).  I'm not sure.  Now that I think about it, I've often seen GMs expect this -- and indeed they are annoyed if I failed to use the OOC information.  (Like staying beside the bomb.)
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- John
Callan S.
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« Reply #54 on: April 14, 2004, 03:52:04 PM »

Quote
While this was enjoyable, am I right in reading that it wasn't actually generating suspense or tension? In this case it was working as a relief of tension, if anything. Which is a valid goal, but different than the OOC-suspense technique we were talking about.


Ah, correct, it is tension relieving. But remember I described some of that tension already gone? 1. I expect conflict 2. I expect combat. Surprise from these are already lost.

Where you can gain tension from: there were still the fine details of how many and from what vectors. Consider it in terms of foreshadowing. A book or movie scene shows a gun. It pretty much foreshadows that gun being used, but the particulars of how its used are speculation. It's like if school bullies at the start of the day tell you they are going to beat you up at the end of the day. They could have just tried to beat you up at the end of the day, but this way your worrying about it all day before it happens.

Quote
trying to use the OOC information to save their character, while finding sufficient excuse to do so without social disapproval


The social dissaproval part is important to note. At this point we can see social contract is important in how this is resolved. If everyones agreed that using OOC information to then determine what (if any) valid PC behaviour would get them away from the bomb is okay, there is no social disapproval.

But what I would like to say is that the stakes here are too high. The bomb under the table is just too strong a temptation for people to cheat at this. It's cheat or stop playing because your PC is dead. Any game (board and card games even) that let you get to a point like this aren't designed well. I think that this is an entirely different 'session design that denies play' issue. Keep in mind that in the movie, if someone dies at that bomb table, the movie doesn't end for some of the patrons, so we need to 'keep the movie going' so to speak. So I'd like to talk about the bomb as if its a sleeping gas bomb.

That said and the stakes lowered, I'd say the tension is just like that of a group on screen around a table with a bomb under it (cept we switch to sleeping gas). Each player really thinks about their character and mundane behaviours they would do. The tension lies in all the mundane crap they would do, the player realises. Just like the movie plays out each characters mundane movements, so will the players mind, working through it all thoroughly to look for a way out. The player may even feel the urge to shout at his character as the tension rises, like the people watching the movie. All the while, they don't know when the bomb will go off...perhaps their character will drink enough beer in time that he'll need to use the toilet. Actually I should mention I've been running off the assumption that the actual detonation time hasn't been told to the players, it has merely been foreshadowed.

So essentially I think that its just employing forshadowing and mystery as to how or when the foreshadowed thing will be employed. And as such it still works.
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