We’re back and we’re wrapping up our investigation into, um, investigations. This is the second part of our look at investigative games. Once again, we are joined by Mike Mason, line editor for Call of Cthulhu. Following on from last episode‘s discussion of player techniques, this time we delve into tips and tricks for GMs.

Step 1: gather a good supply of breadcrumbs. Step 2: arrange the breadcrumbs in a trail.

We give over a large part of the episode to the different ways we can create and structure investigative scenarios. Our discussion leads us to analyse what makes a good clue, offer some tips about ensuring the PCs find these clues and flag up some of the possible pitfalls that may stop them doing so.

Although if you look up from your magnifying glass every now and then, you should be able to see the pit before you fall into it.

In our news segment, Matt mentions a few current Kickstarter campaigns. He has helpfully gathered them all together in a single post. We also discuss the upcoming session of Paul’s scenario Gatsby and the Great Race, organised by good friend of the Good Friends, Cory Welch. Cory and friends will be running this at the Nexus Game Fair in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on the 27th of May.

In our social media catch-up, we offer a dramatic reading of what might be the strangest prose we’ve ever encountered. A spambot produced some cut-up text to offer a spurious download of The Two-Headed Serpent, and the result is the tastiest word salad imaginable.

Westminster is the arab. Thereby viscid settee was being authentically Pulp Cthulhu about the stockholder. Signwriter uncloaks through a joannie. Togs is the epichthyolite. Family is munificently The Two-Headed Serpent toward the bane. In posse aforethought license is the nicholle. Thrillingly afghani slowpoke is a intension. Arabick enoch extremly implacably gets around snarkily for the stagnantly unsophisticated furfur. Sootflakes were the modishly jurassic episcopes. Transrhenane frazzle was decadently boring. Personable jana can round up. Misleading arman can mingle. Serial methadone must plead from the splintered possessorship. Neoprenes can bloat. Pulp Cthulhu is the handsomely deplorable gaiety. Unspoilt reselection infixes. Bearably unvarnished jarrod has quipped from the gastronomic foraminifer. Superfluous aborts were the threnetic multivalves. Concussive spaniel can unfetter per the synthetically drony yardage.

We also mention two conflicting reports of the similarities between Lieutenant Columbo and Detective Kinderman from The Exorcist, following on from our passing mention of them on the previous episode. Evan Dorkin quite rightly points out that the first appearance of Columbo pre-dates the publication of The Exorcist. Then Tore Nielsen sent us a link to an interview with William Peter Blatty where he claims that the creators of Columbo had seen his unpublished manuscript and ripped it off. We shall probably never know the truth.

Especially as the one man who could get to the bottom of it is implicated himself…

When reading Evan Dorkin’s post, we make mention of his Lovecraftian comic, Calla Cthulhu. I’m a huge fan of Mr Dorkin’s work, such as Milk and Cheese and Dork, but embarrassingly, I haven’t read this yet. I shall have to rectify this soon and post a proper discussion.

And, finally, we should warn you that we sing again in this episode. We have two new $5 Patreon backers and we defile their names with our eldritch warblings. This should have cleared the backlog of lovely, generous and brave people to thank, so there may be a song-free episode next time. Unless, of course, a new backer offers themselves up for such unholy immortalisation before then.

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6 comments on “The Appeal of Investigative Games (part 2)

  1. Neil Smith May 11, 2017

    That was an interesting discussion. I was surprised how much you were proposing what I’d call Illusionist techniques. There was a lot of agreement that the GM should create a set of clues and then find excuses to present them to the players, all the while giving the impression that the players’ actions have an effect on the finding of the clues. I accept that you weren’t saying that all clues should be given to the players in this way, and that there should be in-fiction consequences of missing clues early. But this kind of “deliver the clues no matter what” leads to the “clue hoover” phenomenon Scott mentioned in that ToC AP he heard.

    An alternative was put forward in Dogs in the Vineyard. While it may, on the face of it, look like an investigation (the Dogs come into a town and must uncover the secret corruption at its heart), it’s not. The GM is basically shoving exposition (I hesitate to say “clues”) down the players’ throats just as fast as they can, dressing it up in roleplaying to keep it palatable. Once the players have understood what’s going on, play moves to the actual core, which is working out what to do with the information that’s been discovered.

    • I think the concept of Illusionism in gaming may provide rich picking for future discussion. The technique appears to me to be looked down upon, and something to avoid, but perhaps I am wrong – wouldn’t be the first time!

      I think within the context of our discussion, we were placing material into other scenes, but often in an altered format. But perhaps not always. Hmmm.

      • Agreed. Illusionism is a difficult thing to remove from investigative games, or at least ones played in a traditional manner. We should definitely give some thought to how we might do so.

        • Neil Smith May 25, 2017

          Illusionism is only a problem when it’s a problem: if no-one objects to having the clues placed in front of the player, no matter what they do, that’s fine. Not to my taste, but not wrong. (A lot of CoC, perhaps what’s called “purist,” seems to be in this mode.)

          As well as the Dogs approach above (perhaps shared with the Gumshoe approach) where the focus is on dealing with what’s discovered rather than the discovery, there are others. One is the “three clues” model, where the GM ensures there are at least three clues that lead to each fact to be revealed. It’s somewhat less of the GM forcing clues on the players. Another approach was the “inductive” one, where the GM pre-prepares few, if any, clues, but instead works to include the results of off-screen actions in responses to the players’ actions. For instance, the GM may not have explicitly considered footprints in the flowerbed, but that’s how the murderer got in, so of course the PC can get a boot cast when they look in the flowerbed.

  2. Neil Smith May 11, 2017

    Failure modes of investigation games. Like you, I don’t think I’ve seen many (if any) games that have ground to a halt because the players have missed a vital clue: there are plenty of ways to get clues into the players’ hands.

    I have seen games grind to a halt because of excessive planning and deliberation, where the players have lots of leads they could follow up and don’t know which to work on first. I’ve also seen games slow down when there’s lots of legwork to do. These are cases where there at a lot of things to follow up, and everyone knows that most of them will lead nowhere. But the players don’t know which one will lead to the next vital clue, and they either have no enthusiasm for any of them, or they wait for the GM to suggest which would be interesting.

    There are ways of getting around both of them, but it requires some confidence and experience around the table. The most obvious way is doing some more assertive scene framing. “Everyone make ‘police procedure’ rolls. OK, in your experience, the car number plate is easiest to follow up, but the interview will give the most information.” Or, “OK, you interview all the residents. Most of them tell you nothing, you get a couple of bits of background, but it’s only when you interview Mr Jenkins that something interesting comes up. Let’s cut straight to that one.”

  3. Excellent show, Good Friends! Had a great time listening and picking up tips – I’ll be listening to this episode a few times, I’m sure. I am another Keeper who would like to write some Call of Cthulhu level scenarios, but I’m pretty uncomfortable with the level of sophistication I can achieve. This was an excellent discussion to help move folks like me forward. Matt is in my mindset – I see each game as a bit of a psych experiment – seeing what people come up with on the fly to the crazy stimulation is glorious. 🙂 I have run scenarios of all three of you at Cons, and they definitely contain the right components to brew up a lot of fun and insanity! Thanks a great show to get us thinking and plotting and a “Pro-Keeper” mindset!

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