One of the things that I have been thinking about lately is how to do investigation heavy games better. This is coming up because I am currently running a Deadlands Noir game, and one of the most frequent and wide-spread issues is pacing and keeping the players from flailing around without knowing where to go next. There are probably several causes for the players feeling like they are flailing around trying to find the “right location” for the clue. Some of this is just not remembering the clues that they have and some of this is that different people put connections together differently. This is probably two different problems one of which is the subject of the rest of this post1.
Previously I wrote something up about Cthulhu Dark‘s rules on investigation. Where you always get the clue when you search, but if your highest dice is a five, you make an unexpected connection to the clue, and if you roll a six, you catch a glimpse of the horrific truth of the universe.
That combined with my recent reading of The Goon RPG‘s setting rule Gettin’ the Clues which basically says they always get the clue pass or fail. If they get a raise, they get some kind of benefit with the clue (found it faster, etc.). If they fail, they pay for the clue with it taking them longer to find it, and with a Critical Failure, they pay for the clue in blood taking 1d4 wounds (with the fourth wound being treated as non-lethal).
These two ideas combined with thinking about how I can make sure that the players remember the different relationships and clues that they have found over the course of the week or months in time inspired this idea for me to try with the next case.
Setup the clues on note cards like I have been doing ahead of time. Whenever they search for a clue give them the appropriate card. If they fail it takes extra time, if they critically fail they get injured (roughed up by those who take an exception to the groups sticking their nose in things that don’t involve them). If they get the raise I ask them how does the clue that I just handed them remind them of someone or something else that is relevant to the case. If they get multiple raises, they also need to make a fear check because they caught sight of something that was best not seen in addition to the previous benefits.
An example of how this would change things from what has already happened in our game would be.
The party knows that a “strange man” forced the Black Hand goons to commit the assassination of Alex Rossetti. They then start hitting the streets looking for anyone that might be that “strange man”. They roll their Streetwise. They get a raise, so I give them the clue about a man with a wound on his face that looks partially rotten has been seen around town. Since they got the raise, I turn around and ask them how does this make them think of Theodore Sedgwick a villain that got away from them in their first case.
This will help remind them of previously discovered things and give them extra to leads to follow-up. This will just mean that I must have the clues planed out a bit better up front and a note for me as to who or what the clue should point to for the raise question2. Which also means that I need to plan out my clues a bit more concretely than I have been doing for my cases that I created whole cloth instead of lifted from other sources.
The one main thing that I might tweak is the cost for a critical failure. The more I think about it, the less I like just assigning wounds to the players.
- The other issue is probably related to not everyone being on the same page as to what the case is really about. This has shown up a couple of times with the hook that brought them into the situation is not what they have to solve, but the situation itself is what needs to be dealt with. I will have to think more about this potential issue and how I want to crack it. ↩
- It shouldn’t be a problem for my players to get raises in most cases. The primary clue searcher has a D8 in both investigate and notice, and gets a +2 bonus when searching for clues and the primary face person has I believe a +4 Charisma bonus. ↩