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Author Topic: [GAS: Investigation] The Pieces  (Read 2161 times)
Vulpinoid
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Posts: 803

Kitsune Trickster


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« on: September 06, 2008, 03:15:19 PM »

I've considered two options for this challenge and I haven't been able to fully decide between them. At this stage I'm seeing both options to have merit, and both warrant further investigation. They both take the meta-game in different directions though, so I'm presenting them as two separate threads.

My first idea is going by the working title of "The Pieces", unsurprisingly it works off the notion of a jigsaw puzzle and uses this as a metaphor for the questions being investigated and the riddle being uncovered in game.

The catch here is determining a puzzle of suitable size (in comparison to factors such as investigative skill of the characters, significance of the puzzle to the plot, cognitive skill of the players, etc). Many discount stores have a range of kids puzzles with 20 to 100 pieces that could work for simple in-game enigmas, otherwise I've seen plenty of mid range puzzles in supermarkets and department stores (from 500 to 1000 pieces) that could work as much more complex investigations. There are puzzles around with far more pieces, but I'd reserve these for campaign play where the puzzle stretches over many games.

The reason I emphasize the puzzles found in discount stores and supermarkets is because I'd actually write on the back of the puzzle. You don't want to deface one of the expensive art puzzles when doing this. This writing on the back of the puzzle is a way to link the physical world's actions of puzzle construction with the imagined world's actions of enigma solving. If the investigation is crime related, an easy method to accomplish this is to simply write the word "location" so that it covers a dozen pieces, or write the word "motive" so that it covers a similar space.

A more complex method could be to write a sentence that specifically describes the location of the events. Making sure that the wording is atmospheric, flowery and covers a decent number of pieces.

The emphasis of this investigation factor should be proportional to the amount of space that the text takes up on the back of the puzzle.

A body is found dead, thrown on the side of the road, but obviously murdered somewhere else. How did they die? Where did they die? Who did it? and Why?

I'd write onto the puzzle a series of names that stretch across a few pieces each in a simple sentence. "Jacob / Black / has an / alibi"...the players could end up with one or two parts of this ("Jacob / Black"...cool a suspect), only to find out that this ends up as a false lead.

Words should be scrawled across the back of the puzzle in all manner of directions, sentences could curve or sinuously twist across the puzzle. It shouldn't be easy to guess what's happening at the early stages of puzzle solving.

The catch here is pacing. Ensuring the players are picking up enough pieces for the puzzle to remain relevant and fun, but not picking up pieces so quickly that they solve the puzzle in a single scene. Second catch is making sure the gathering of pieces matches the competence of the characters in their investigation skills.

(Beth maxxed out her character's mental attributes and investigation skills, while Charlie didn't bother with buying anything investigation related at all. Both score a success on their investigation rolls...do we just give them an equal number of pieces to contribute to the puzzle or do we give Beth a proportionally higher amount because of her obvious expertise in this area??)

This is something that can lead to all manner of arguments within a group. It could be resolved that dumb-luck allows Charlie's character to pick up a vital part of the puzzle (giving him three or four pieces to contribute), or it could be resolved that Charlie's lack of skill just doesn't allow him to see clues in front of him that Beth's character might see as plainly obvious (therefore he can never earn more than a single puzzle piece no matter how well he scores).

For me though, the whole thing comes back to a balance between the story and the immersion. Determining how important I think the puzzle is to a story and how long I want to keep the puzzle drawing out. Do I want the "Ice Truck Killer revealed in the first episode?" or can they wait until a few episodes have passed? Do I want players to be busy trying to solve multiple puzzles at the same time? Do I throw the pieces from multiple puzzles together and let the players try to sort out which puzzle piece belongs to which puzzle?? Do I throw a couple of key puzzle pieces in with other puzzles to reflect that when players are investigating other problems they may find clues toward the main storyline?

Tying this back to a game system is pretty easy when there are already fixed mechanics in place for investigation. 

But I'll get to that in my next post.

V
 
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A.K.A. Michael Wenman
Vulpinoid Studios The Eighth Sea now available for as a pdf for $1.
imago
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Ian Berger


« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2008, 08:47:22 PM »

Hey.

I like this system better and less than your Clue entry - better, because it's inherently more interesting than just-try-until-you-get-it; less, because it's easier to go astray.

Quote
(Beth maxxed out her character's mental attributes and investigation skills, while Charlie didn't bother with buying anything investigation related at all. Both score a success on their investigation rolls...do we just give them an equal number of pieces to contribute to the puzzle or do we give Beth a proportionally higher amount because of her obvious expertise in this area??)

It would depend on the base system - if the system has degrees of success, that would inform how many pieces the player can draw. If not, the skill difference is already taken into account before the roll, making Charlie less likely to contribute to the investigation in the first place.

There is a problem, though: you solve the puzzle on one side (right?) but you have to turn it over to read the clues on the back. A solution would be to place it over a glass, so players can lift it and read when needed.


An alternate way could be doing it with a deck of cards, assigning a keyword to each card but then there's the problem to establish connections between cards.
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Vulpinoid
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Kitsune Trickster


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« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2008, 06:40:22 PM »

There is a problem, though: you solve the puzzle on one side (right?) but you have to turn it over to read the clues on the back. A solution would be to place it over a glass, so players can lift it and read when needed.

That's definitely an issue, though I've considered a couple of ways to address it. Most of these focus around the notion that the puzzles used are expendible and cheap.

Option 1: Take the puzzle and spray-paint over the image with a plain colour. Then use marker pens to write on the front of the puzzle.

Using this option, the players aren't distracted by the puzzle's original image. Instead they focus on the words you've provided.

If you were to spray a glossy paint onto the puzzle, you could then use dry erase markers to write the clues (or key words). In this way you can rub the clues off once the mystery has been solved and then a new series of words can be written for a new mystery.

Option 2: Simply keep the pieces face down, so the words show at all times.

This can get a bit tricky at times, especially when the gaming group doesn't play around a table.

Option 3: I actually like the glass suggestion you've offered.

Other ideas:

1.
If you botch an investigation badly, burn one or more jigsaw puzzle pieces...yes, set fire to it. That clue will never be available again because the crime scene was compromised, the witness is killed by the perpetrator before the details can be gathered, etc. The puzzle can't be used again, and this might seem like a waste of money to some, but consider how much money people spend on a game module or scenario that they'll only ever use once.

2.
If you reveal certain pieces of the puzzle, event twists might come into play. Mark a star on a dozen pieces, each star revealed during investigations pushes up the stakes.
1-3 stars: those responsible for the mystery have no idea that the investigation is underway.
4-6 stars: those responsible for the mystery start to get an idea that someone is onto them.
7-9 stars: those responsible have actually started to take actions against the characters.
10-12 stars: those responsible now take things personally and will confron the characters directly. 

Back to the mechanics...

I'm thinking that we need a "degrees of success" mechanism, this applies whether there is one in the core mechanics of the game or not.

I'm going to work on easy numbers here, and take note that the investigations described are for more than a single scene. These are the types of mysteries that build up over an episode(session) or over a season(campaign).

Three types of investigation (short, medium, long), 100 piece jigsaw puzzle.

A short investigation might optimally last 5 scenes, therefore a success would grant 20 pieces of the puzzle (plus or minus 10 based on in-game successes).

A medium investigation lasting an optimal length of 10 scenes would grant 10 pieces of the puzzle (plus or minus 5 based on in-game successes).

A long investigation of 20 scenes would grant 5 pieces per scene (plus or minus 3 based on in-game successes).

This way there is a minimum amount of pieces always being distributed to the players, which gradually builds the tension and reflects the concept that bits of clues can be picked up by random means. Only if the players actively start searching for clues is there a chancethat they can completely botch things and clues will be "burnt".

On the other hand, as time progresses, pieces can be lost as people start to forget details and evidence is eroded by the actions of daily life.

At this stage I'm working off the following concept, with five degrees of result.

Clear Success: Characters gain the maximum number of pieces for the scene, or they may gain an average number of pieces and reduce the number of stars by 2 (hiding their investigation from those responsible).
Success: Characters gain the average number of pieces for the scene, they may push this up to the maximum value but if they do this, they add 2 stars toward alerting those responsible.
Borderline: Characters gain the minimum number of pieces for the scene, they may push this up to the average value, but permanently lose a number of pieces equal to the minimum or they add 2 stars toward alerting those responsible.
Fail: Characters gain the minimum number of pieces for the scene, and may choose to either lose a number of pieces equal to the minimum, or add 2 stars.
Botch: Characters gain no pieces, and instead choose to either lose a number of pieces equal to the minimum, or add 2 stars.

...Still working on more specific examples...

V
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A.K.A. Michael Wenman
Vulpinoid Studios The Eighth Sea now available for as a pdf for $1.
imago
Member

Posts: 36

Ian Berger


« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2008, 10:13:12 PM »

Logistics: have you considered using cards instead? Maybe index cards that refer to other ones and you draw them in no particular order, from a deck, even. Example: Card 7S has the word "silver" written on it and refers to 8S and 7C. 7C comes later has "Daphne". What is written on 8S: "ring" or "bullet"?


You're right on track using Stars on some Pieces. I love how you're tying it both to advancement and antagonistic forces.

And I do agree on your pacing, specially on making dependant on actual degree of success.
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