RPGaDay2020 Prompt 20 - Investigate

Reposted from https://write.as/chuckdee/rpgaday2020-prompt-20-investigate


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Prompt: Investigate

I've tried to run investigation games before- they've always turned out poorly. At first, I could blame the root cause on one thing- me as a GM. In preparing the adventure, I didn't follow the rule of 3s- have three sources of information, so that the players wouldn't get stuck by not seeing the clues or a faulty dice roll. But even after having that, in some cases, players just didn't see things in the same way that I did when making the adventure.

Then I found Gumshoe. For those who haven't heard of it, Gumshoe is a roleplaying system designed in 2007 by Robin Laws. It's designed to solve the flaws of players finding the clues by changing the focus of clues in a game to deciphering their meaning. It does this by having two different sorts of abilities - Investigative Abilities and General Abilities. Investigative Abilities center for the most part around professional skills, and as a professional, you are assumed to have more than a basic level of competency. Investigative abilities always work; there are no dice rolls involved. If a scene contains a core clue and a player character uses an investigative ability that relates to the clue, the character will find the clue.

A spend for an investigative ability costs points from the Investigative Ability pool, in exchange for additional clues. These clues are not necessary to solve the scenario, though they should give additional information or other benefits. Spent pool points from investigative abilities are refreshed between scenarios.

This method of telling a mystery keeps the onus of continuing the trail off of the players and off of me when writing the scenario, so that we can just narrate the story of what happens. It's one of my favorite systems now!

As a result of the DramaSystem Kickstarter, the SRD has been released, and can give a good overview of what the system is like before you dive in. The SRD can be found on The Pelgrane Press Site.
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I'm increasingly of the opinion that investigation scenarios should contain an optional railroad. If they find and decipher the clues on their own, then great, but if they somehow don't, then there should still be an obvious continuation of the story that's eventually going to lead to solving the mystery.

Either that, or failure needs to be an acceptable result.
@Martijn Vos - I think that's the purpose of the investigation skills. You don't have to hope that they find the clues or worry about the rule of 3. It also allows the gm to pull their coat tails to do just as you say.