Pen & Paper Roleplaying Central => Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion => Topic started by: spektrefyre on November 21, 2021, 12:59:25 PM

Title: Modern mystery prep
Post by: spektrefyre on November 21, 2021, 12:59:25 PM
I'm setting up a modern day detective game pretty soon (using mini-six) and I'm finding that prepping mysteries tends to take a long time, building lists of clues, suspects, etc. What are some methods you've used to prepare mysteries before?
Title: Re: Modern mystery prep
Post by: S'mon on November 21, 2021, 02:49:42 PM
I don't really do mysteries, but this is a good resource -
Title: Re: Modern mystery prep
Post by: FingerRod on November 22, 2021, 08:50:16 AM
It has been a several years, but there were a few things we did.

In game, the detectives had a bi-weekly review with their captain on all open cases. We obviously tracked time, so every other Monday morning was a meeting with the captain. The players were put on the spot to provide updates on their cases.

Players would review and provide an update on their evidence, suspects/people of interest, open questions, next steps, and case status.

1. Players were given their experience/level up opportunities for successfully closing a case during this conversation.
2. For open cases, players would indicate which cases they were still considering active, and which ones they were making inactive.

I have read the three clue rule, but I go a different route being that I am okay with unsolved/open cases. I do not want redundancy built in to that level. It adds to the realism, and eventually, the catharsis of solving a case.

The meeting with the captain was amazing for gathering notes, planning out future sessions, and understanding what was going through my players’ heads. It erased all frustrations I had experienced over the years running those types of games.

Cases could fit on an index card. My old notes are packed up, but I could provide an example or two later, if interested.
Title: Re: Modern mystery prep
Post by: spektrefyre on November 22, 2021, 09:31:27 PM
I've read the three clue rule, I do find it useful for adding some structure to my prep. The bi-weekly review sounds like an excellent tool for figuring out what players are thinking, I think I'll give it a shot. I'd be interested to see what the index card sized cases look like if you wouldn't mind.  :)
Title: Re: Modern mystery prep
Post by: FingerRod on November 23, 2021, 11:12:20 AM
Searched for nearly an hour, nothing. I will build out an example from memory. I start with a quick title on the card followed by the synopsis of the crime. The title includes a name and some sort of title as a memory aid. All of this fits on the side of the card with the lines.

Julia - Single, Ready to Mingle
Late night/early morning Julia was strangled and stabbed 13 times, the word ‘SLUT’ carved into her back. COD, strangulation—stabbing post. No witnesses. Rage killing by her neighbor after seeing other men come and go for weeks. Herrings: DNA under nails (consensual evening before) and phone/dating app will identify four POIs, two with criminal backgrounds.

On the other side of the card I draw a line down the middle, breaking down NPCs with name, alibi and a couple key words on the left side. After I roleplay them the first time, I expand my notes a little.

On the right side I use the top half for forensics, the bottom for misc items.

Left Side: People
Neighbor Jack—murderer, paralegal, slight build, Islander’s hat, quiet
Neighbor Elaine—asleep, retired teacher, nosy, “men coming and going”
App Tim—friends, unemployed, sex w/Julia night before, skin under nails, texts, six months battery of ex
App Brian—asleep, banker, date (no sex), smells bad
App Mark—asleep, teacher, date (no sex) two weeks ago, unanswered texts
App Drew—working, Uber driver, date (sex) month prior, stoner, minor possession

Right Side Top: Forensics
Body—deep cuts, carving likely kitchen knife (coroner 3 days), DNA (lab 7 days)
Phone—dating app names four POIs, text messages with Tim and Mark, two separate pictures Julia at clubs, one with Tim, one Mark, background small male with hoodie in hat blue/orange logo (blurry) in Tim, same hoodie in Mark

Right Side Bottom: Misc
Knife under bedroom floorboard in Jack’s apartment w/small box of Julia’s trash, article of clothing. Jack has no alibi for evening/morning of murder or when photo’s taken. Will admit to crime upon interrogation if evidence is found/presented. Hoodie from pictures found in closet.
Tim has violent/jealous history, harassing texts to other women in his phone

Looks like a lot, but it really isn’t. I had over a dozen of these at any time and would introduce them slowly to the game. Several went unsolved, or were solved much later. Waiting on reports and DNA spread them out over multiple sessions as well, so players had 3-4 cases going at a time.

If I had to do it today, I would use manila folders with notecards and post-its. I might even type up reports and aids to hand the players. Post-its would describe things such as photos, exact texts, etc. I remember it was a lot of improve with post-session notes. I want to say we played for about six months. We used a custom d100 system.
Title: Re: Modern mystery prep
Post by: Omega on November 25, 2021, 06:52:59 AM
Overall what I did was have the initial crime scene thought out.

Where is the body, if any?
From there I radiate outwards with what possible clues or hints might be present based on what I as the GM know of the crime.
Are any tools used in the crime still present?
How did the criminal get in and out? Assuming they are not still present and concealed somehow.
What was the goal or reason for the crime? This may not necessarily be what the PCs think. There might be a dead body in the mansion. But that was incidental to the real goal of procuring a hidden treasure from a long forgotten hiding place. Or flip that. The stolen treasure is just a trick to distract from the murder of a rival and make it look like some petty criminal did it.
Title: Re: Modern mystery prep
Post by: Bedrockbrendan on November 25, 2021, 09:01:22 AM
I'm setting up a modern day detective game pretty soon (using mini-six) and I'm finding that prepping mysteries tends to take a long time, building lists of clues, suspects, etc. What are some methods you've used to prepare mysteries before?

I second the three clue recommendation. It is on the opposite end of the design spectrum but you might check out the Esoterrorist as well by Robin Laws (this I believe ultimately became Gum Shoe). Between those two you will get the two perspectives that work in practice but are guided by very different gaming philosophies.

One bit of advice I will say is with a mystery try to have a strong enough understanding of the circumstances being investigated that you can extrapolate and figure out what clues might be found when players search in places you didn't anticipate. Especially in a modern setting, players will be able to search in ways you didn't think of ahead of time. So being able to adapt to that and think through whether something unexpected will yield information (and what information it might yield) is helpful. And I think that comes from having a pretty firm understanding of what happened. This also applies to outcomes as well. For example if you overlook the possibility of a closed circuit security camera from a nearby store capturing footage of something and the players ask about it; or if the players have law enforcement powers and put out an all points bulletin to look for a vehicle that meets a particular description, or if they get phone records you had never considered, etc. Being able to reword clever actions on the fly but preserves that sense of solving an actual puzzle (not just being handed information, but being given it because it seems to you it would result from that action) is I think a pretty solid skill to cultivate with mystery adventures.

Also don't be afraid to have active components in the adventure like a countdown to something horrible or a group of cultists who can take action against the party if they delve too deep. Having something present that can keep things interesting if the investigation grinds to a halt (and whether it ought to be able to grind to a halt is something that both the Alexandrian and Laws address), is helpful at times
Title: Re: Modern mystery prep
Post by: Lunamancer on November 27, 2021, 05:22:24 PM
Here's a different answer.

First: Play DMG 1E Appendix A. Use it to design a dungeon adventure. The idea here is that in design mode, you're still "walking through" the dungeon the way, or at least one potential way, the players might walk through the dungeon. The problem with starting with an idea then building logically around it is, you're starting already knowing the answer.  Make use of Appendix I (dungeon dressing), give roughly a 1 in 3, 1 in 4, or 1 in 5 chance of there being one or more items from Appendix I whenever you hit a side passage or empty room. Add a direction component where appropriate. (d8: n, ne, e, se, s, sw, w, nw). The idea here is to experience how a simple sight, sound, or smell will nudge you into a particular course of action.

Second: Adapt it to your genre. Swap out the wandering monster list with your cast of NPCs. Keep in mind, many monsters have built-in motives, albeit typically base and uninteresting ones. When you make it human NPCs, you have to be more conscious about giving them motives. Swap out dungeon dressing for whatever is appropriate to the locations and environments. These will ultimately serve as physical clues and evidence, but don't think of them as that quite yet. They're just world details about the world. Sometimes the random placement is going to be logical. Sometimes it's going to be something awesome never thought of yourself. A lot of the times, it may seem odd or out of place. The idea here is to try to make sense of it. Just like players would have to try to make sense of it. This is actually what gives a huge feeling of mystery. As creator doing this in advance, your rationales about misplaced items actually become what happened. You may have to go back and do some curating. Something that blatantly points to what happened might be altered by the perpetrator. That thing having been eliminated but perhaps there being some clue or clues that the physical evidence has been altered in some way.

It's a little extra work up front to do the mindset shift. But once you've got it, you can pump out mystery adventures effortlessly. The flow of the adventure is generally going to be following up on leads. This is as opposed to the sort of mystery stories you might see in Columbo, where the detective usually has it figured out from the start and is just trying to get the perp out himself.

Title: Re: Modern mystery prep
Post by: jeff37923 on November 27, 2021, 05:34:35 PM
I'm setting up a modern day detective game pretty soon (using mini-six) and I'm finding that prepping mysteries tends to take a long time, building lists of clues, suspects, etc. What are some methods you've used to prepare mysteries before?

Remembering that information is not easily gotten via Internet.

Every modern or science fiction mystery that I've ever run has had to deal with players thinking that if they have Internet access, then they can get whatever information they could ever possibly need. The sad part of this is that about half the time, players are perfectly content to allow someone else (usually an NPC) to solve the mystery via that same internet access and can get annoyed when the answer isn't found in just a few keystrokes. Limiting the technology at hand can be pretty important. I guess that falls under the heading of "know your audience".