Sunday, August 30, 2009

Murder Mysteries and Fantasy Role Playing

I recently read a blog, wherein the author commented on how to design and run a fantasy murder mystery adventure.

If I remember correctly, that blogger noted that the gathering of clues, and the identification of the culprit, depends on the skills of the players and the DM, in addition to the quality of the clues provided. Sometimes, what seems the obvious solution, to the DM, eludes the players, either because the DM failed to provide certain clues (or gave ambiguous clues), or the players assigned higher value to macguffins or peripheral information, and did not pay attention when a particularly critical clue was revealed.

While the players must play an active role in gathering clues, ultimately, the success of a murder mystery adventure relies heavily on the DM. If the DM does not provide the necessary clues, or misdirects the players with macguffins, the players ability to identify the murder will be fatally impaired.

I have always enjoyed running murder mystery adventures, but my DM skills are mediocre at best. As a cheat, in order to compensate for the inevitable misdirections and macguffins which I inadvertently pass on to the players, I tend NOT to prepare one correct solution.

Instead, I come up with several clues, usually 20-30, that point to different suspects. I sprinkle those about, in various locations, and with various NPCs. The characters must gather up the clues, visiting several locations, and talking to different NPCs. As they gather the clues, they will come up with their own solution. If it seems a reasonable solution, based on the clues gathered, I make that the solution.

This may seem like pandering. Perhaps it is. But to me it results in a far more satisfying conclusion to a murder mystery adventure, since the players still do all the leg-work, gathering the clues, and their solution is based on their synthesis of those clues. The alternative, with the players and the DM staring in frustration at each other because a clue was missed or misunderstood, is less palatable to me.

Of course, a better DM will not have to rely on this method.


Tim Shorts said...

The skill of the DM is only part of it. You would need players with patience, which is sometimes difficult to find. I definately not the best DM, but I've run a few mystery games and they have went because I knew my players well and tailored it to them the best I could. They were able to find all the minute clues, but for some reason were oblivious to the bigger or what I thought obvious clues. So its hard to tell sometimes. Being fluid is key. Players to the weirdest things.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Agreed, I have had many murder mystery adventures derail because I was too inflexible to go with the flow.

It's hard for me to blame the players, as their knowledge is only as good as the information passed on by the DM. I have played with some DMs that are amazing at creating a clear and evocative setting. I'm not one of those DMs, but playing with them has certainly inproved my games.

Tim Shorts said...

Oh and forgot to add, I loved that you used a picture from the Name of the Rose. What a great flick and perfect for your topic.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

It is the quintessential example of a good fantasy murder mystery. Atmosphere, tension, dark secrets, and multiple suspects.

Plus it has Sean Connery.

Slam dunk.

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