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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 134 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Mysteries. Step by step instructions.  (Read 45959 times)

Posts: 1557

« Reply #15 on: October 18, 2004, 08:18:27 PM »

I agree with pretty much everything M.J. wrote.  A few points might be worth extended discussion, which is to say, are things we have both touched on in one way or another but really deserve a broader conversation:
Quote from: M. J. Young
The first thing that's not been discussed is the critical question: why do the players' characters care about the answer to this mystery? There's been an assumption from the beginning that "this is what they do"; but why do they do it?
There are really two questions here:
    [*]Why do they care about mysteries?
    [*]Why do they care about this mystery?[/list:u]So for example Adam Dalgleish is interested in mysteries in general because of his complex personal problems and his odd philosophical perspective on human nature and justice.  He's interested in this mystery because it's his job.

    Nero Wolfe is interested in mysteries because, he claims, he is very good at solving them and they provide him a lot of money for very little labor other than that of the mind; it is quite clear, however, that there is rather more to it, in particular his peculiar notions of justice.  He's interested in this mystery because Archie has hounded him into it, probably, and/or he is being offered a big fee, and very often because having gotten into the thing if he bails out he will feel he has failed and this he finds intolerable to his ego.

    And so on.

    My inclination is that all the PCs ought to have fairly similar answers to the second question -- their professional or hobbyist involvement, their status in it all, and so on -- but that in a lot of games the answer to the first question is going to be what drives personal development stories and character expression.  This is a great place to work toward narrativist play, incidentally -- Neel was dead right that narrativist mysteries don't necessary require narrative freedom.  

    M.J.'s suggestion, that the PCs will be suspects if they don't do something, feels to me like a bit of a railroad; more to the point, it doesn't lend itself to sequels.  Everyone knows the Murder She Wrote lady did all those murders herself; nobody stumbles into that many.  But on the other hand, M.J.'s suggestion is a lot like a Kicker, and that seems to work well.

    I think this pair of questions needs more discussion.
    Chris has several times suggested that you kill the character the players have come to suspect if it's the wrong character; that can work, but it faces a second set of complications. Why did the killer kill the person on whom suspicion has fallen? It's much more common for the second death to be someone who knows something but hasn't told anyone yet--whether because they were thinking of blackmailing the killer or because they haven't yet realized what it means.
    The suggestion is an excellent one, but it's not quite what I was getting at.  My point was simply that you shouldn't usually let the players get from stage 4 to stage 5, i.e. from the end of whodunnit to howtogettem as it were, unless they are correct about whodunnit.  If they're really adamant it was the butler, my inclination is to bump off the butler; another way that fits both models is to bump off the maid who was thinking about blackmailing Sir Nigel (the real killer), but make sure that the butler was down in London and seen by eight gazillion people while it happened.

    Again, the technique of heading the players off at the pass when they're about to accuse the wrong guy deserves some discussion.
    Another technique that works fairly well is the limited suspects approach.
    Sorry, I should have said that.  Yes.  Don't even think about trying to have 87 suspects!  I was sort of thinking of that classic English model where there really aren't that many people to keep track of.  One of the cleverest things about the Nero Wolfe mysteries is that there is an in-character reason why these are the crimes we hear about: Wolfe's technique isn't suited to crimes where there are a hundred real suspects, so he doesn't take them on.  Even if there are a hundred, he will Abduce a wide set of cases under which only a limited set could be the killer, because that makes the problem tractable for his technique.  And, of course, he's always right....  Well, usually.

    Any general opinions on size here?  Or ways of reasonably constricting the cast?
    You should also distinguish in your mind the whodunnit from the howtogettem.
    Yes.  For me, this is the difference between stage 4 and stage 5, but what M.J.'s talking about is something where the whole stage 5 really requires the previous stages as its components.  Columbo is indeed a good example.  Actually, this is a place a lot of mystery writers stink: they just put all the characters in one room and have the detective announce the solution, and ta da! the bad guy admits it all.  My inclination is to make the players do this work themselves, because there are more minds there and they can probably come up with something.

    Ideas about how to get them to move toward such plots would be valuable, since this is another fillip in the old, "Make my players proactive!" thing.
    In creating the mystery, you must work backwards from what actually happened to what clues will exist because of it; then you have to make them available to your detectives beginning with the most evident clues and working in to those which can be found with a bit of digging.
    Well put.  I would point out that you don't have to invent all that much of this, because you can simply adjudicate whether the players have made correct inferences about the Case, in which case the clue they have postulated now exists.
    Also, this discussion seems fixated on the murder mystery.
    Yup, I love 'em.  Nothing sends a thrill like a nice murdered body in the locked library, his back impaled by a dagger of oriental design.  You're right, there are other crimes.  I just happen to like dead bodies and peculiar murder techniques.


    Chris Lehrich
    Eric Provost

    Posts: 581

    « Reply #16 on: October 19, 2004, 06:17:09 AM »

    Lots of great ideas for me to process here.

    Although, this one bit stuck out at me;

    Quote from: clehrich
    My point was simply that you shouldn't usually let the players get from stage 4 to stage 5, i.e. from the end of whodunnit to howtogettem as it were, unless they are correct about whodunnit.

    I might be off base here, but your suggestions for what a GM should do when the players are ready to move on to Stage 5 feel a bit... um... railroady.

    Or perhaps it's just that I'm imagining that, giving advice to a GM that reads "If the players are ready to make a move on the wrong suspect, then make sure to throw something in the way to show them that they're wrong." would lead to some railroady, less than satisfying play.  I mean, if the players know, by virtue of reading the rules of the game presented to the GM, that they will never confront the wrong suspect, then I feel that this takes some of the excitement away.  Your mileage may vary.

    It may not fit into the classic model as well, but I think I'd prefer that the detectives have a chance to fail.  The important thing would be to make sure that failure has entertaining results.  The rules would have to ask the GM to take note of what's going to happen if the PCs fail, and should advise the GM to make these consequenses visible to the players.  If the killer strikes again after the PCs confront the wrong suspect, then the players are likely to figure out right away that they're wrong.  At this point, they'll likely try to catch the proper villian, and likely try to undo what ever wrongs they caused by making incorrect accusations.

    I'm very excited about everything that's coming out of this thread.



    Posts: 51

    « Reply #17 on: October 19, 2004, 11:29:47 AM »

    Quote from: Technocrat13

    Or perhaps it's just that I'm imagining that, giving advice to a GM that reads "If the players are ready to make a move on the wrong suspect, then make sure to throw something in the way to show them that they're wrong." would lead to some railroady, less than satisfying play.  I mean,
    It may not fit into the classic model as well, but I think I'd prefer that the detectives have a chance to fail.

    Possibly this is just a definition issue as to where the different stages begin/end. It seems to me like the point here is "players shouldn't invest a lot of time in planning to trap the villain if it's going to turn out that this isn't really the villain because that's anti-climactic". There is a further point that "the mystery should never go unsolved." Beyond that, though, I think we're pretty open.

    It would certainly be in-genre for poor detective work to lead to the villain escaping or killing themselves, leaving a note behind saying "you poor fools, it was me all along, and here's how I did it." If you're running a more scooby-doo style mystery, I could see the heroes putting some work into a plan to trap the wrong person, only to trap and reveal the right person by accident (though this would be fairly tricky to arrange, I think -- I guess I could see them setting a trap and the real guilty person taking the bait).

    But, right, in general I think the point of this game-style is to execute a successful mystery. If you want to occasionally toss in some curve-balls like the previous that's probably fine and does indeed probably spice it up a bit, but I'd guess that there are lots of ways to make things go bad for the heroes (characters they like are killed; villains get away with things; somebody's tossed in prison for a while and misses their ferry) without making the overall solve fail.

    Dan Shiovitz
    M. J. Young

    Posts: 2198

    « Reply #18 on: October 19, 2004, 08:55:42 PM »

    Again thanks to Chris for those useful insights.

    Regarding the chance to fail, it's a lot more complex and probably violates Chris' proposed stages model, but indeed you could have the players accuse the wrong person. It does happen in real mystery books sometimes, and can be interesting.

    The best recourse in this event may be to have the accused immediately (or shortly thereafter) reveal some secret that is life-shattering for him to admit but clearly means that he could not have done it. He was in fact at that moment making love to his boss' wife, or engaged in a torrid tryst with his gay lover across town; or perhaps he was the person who at that moment was robbing the bank in Mudville, and although he hasn't been so much as suspected for that, he can prove his guilt in that robbery which will clear him of this murder.

    Also, if we are moving from the whodunnit to the howtogettem and we have the wrong suspect, the obvious solution is that the evidence that should be there just isn't. At that point, in the process of trying to nail down the case, our investigators should find that one piece of data that cannot in any way, shape, or form fit the current suspect but has to force them to consider the true culprit. That might feel a bit like "we blew it"; but then, that's part of gamist play, right?

    --M. J. Young

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