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Peace Lily
2016-02-04, 09:29 PM
I have only been playing D&D for about 2 years, and I have started running my first campaign. I am struggling with the current section because I don't know how to effectively run a mystery/information gathering type of adventure. I have read the 3 clue rule, a ton of posts on this board, and various other things, but I am having trouble putting the abstract advice into action and could use some more specific advice directly tied to my campaign.

Campaign Background (D&D 3.5)

The initial premise of the campaign is that there are two countries ("A" and "B") which, with a few individual exceptions, are unaware of each others' existence. Several of the PCs were magically transported from Country A, where they lived, to Country B, which they had never heard of, and do not know how or why or how to get back. (Sidenote: I have a houserule on teleportation to accommodate this premise.) Along the way they have teamed up with some other PCs from Country B.

In the meantime, Country B is being invaded by some monstrous humanoids. The war effort has been going poorly and is quite disorganized. Most of the people fighting are untrained volunteers rather than actual military types.

The group decided to travel to the wizard college that the party wizard had attended in order to ask them for help getting back to Country A. The campaign so far has consisted of them traveling across the country to the college, engaging with the invaders, and performing a few side quests. All of that has (as far as I know!) been ok.

Current Issues

In the last session, the party finally reached the wizard college. In exchange for their help, the wizards asked the party to go to a major city and try to find some information about why the war effort has been going so poorly. They have been hearing rumors that the King and Princess may be being misled about what is going on, but they are hoping for some concrete information/proof of what/who/why.

The city where the party was sent is the same city where one of the party members previously lived. The backstory I was given for her included her having a fiance who was killed approximately a year ago. He was a guard, and the PC was told that he was killed during a guild raid but was stonewalled when she tried to find out more and gave up. When the party arrived in the city the PC was given a note from a friend of her fiance saying that he had come across some new information about the fiance's death and wanted to look into it.

The problem is that the party is pretty lost and aimless and the session consisted of a lot of foundering while the players tried to come up with ideas and I (not very successfully) tried to come up with ways to make their ideas bear fruit. As a result I think everybody left frustrated.

With respect to the first issue, the party doesn't know where to start or what to do at all. This is my fault, and there are two main factors involved in it. First, I didn't want to give them instructions on how to go about it because I wanted to see what they would come up and go from there. Second, while I haven't really provided any clues to this effect yet, the two issues are not actually independent. The reason that the fiance was killed is directly related to what is going on with the war effort, and so solving that mystery would put them well on the track to dealing with their quest from the wizards. I neglected to really focus on the way the party would attempt the first task when they believed it to have nothing to do with the second. I haven't provided them with any way of coming up with a reasonable idea of what to do here, and I am not really sure how to go about doing so or to otherwise fix this problem quickly.

The ideas that the party was coming up with did not seem particularly likely to be fruitful (at least immediately) and I was rolling % to see if they might happen to yield something, which did not favor the players.

The PCs have tried: going to the library to research the political structure/history of the country; putting chain of eyes on one of the guards that the fiance's friend told them had been acting suspiciously; going to a market place and listening to see if anybody happens to say anything relevant; going to a bar and mentioning the invasion to see what people say about it; and spreading information about how poorly the war effort is going to see if it garners a reaction, since people in the north don't really seem to know that (this last just began at the end of the session so I still have the option of making something come of it). Another PC is planning to talk/listen at the barracks, but that hasn't happened yet.

All the PCs have really learned so far is that the ordinary folks in this northern city don't seem to care much about the war anymore because the invasion has been confined to the south and doesn't seem to be affecting them personally.

Not a lot of real time was spent on the first task. Most of the time was spent on the second, so while the party has more information about it, there was also a lot more time spent spinning their wheels on unhelpful stuff, also causing frustration. The fiance's friend told the party that he had found a witness to the guild raid who did not see anybody get killed or see a body in the location where the the guards said the fiancÚ was killed, which was just outside the door of the building. The party spoke extensively with both the fiance's friend and the witness.

The witness's story (which is all true) is that he happened on the guild raid when it was happening and hung around nearby until it was over so that he could go in after the guards left and look for anything of value that might have been left behind. He did not see anybody get killed outside the building and did not see a body outside the door when he went in. After searching the place for a while, he went to leave and saw a couple of guards outside the door, so he hid inside until they left, waited a little while, and then left himself. He heard the guards whispering to each other but could not make out what they were saying, and he saw one of the guards kneel down and do something in that location. He does not know the guards he saw and couldn't describe any particularly distinguishing features about them, but he thinks he would recognize them if he saw them again. He is sure he would have noticed if there had been a body there when he left.

At the end of the session the wizard put chain of eyes on the witness. Although it seems contrived for it to happen that same night, I was figuring that I could have him happen to run into one of the guards. He did agree that if he saw them again he would let the party know.

After gathering this information, the party continued to question the witness for a long time, believing that he must know more that he wasn't saying or that there was some other question they weren't thinking to ask. This guy was mostly there to introduce the notion that what the party thinks happened isn't what actually happened. I didn't have anything else to give them from him.

Then the party decided, for reasons I still don't understand, to go spend a bunch of time visiting the scene of the guild raid. I wanted to throw them a bone by this time, but since the murder was over a year old, I couldn't think of anything relevant that could be there. At one point I stopped and said, "guys, I really don't know what you are expecting to find here," but they didn't give me any idea what they were hoping for.

This is my intention regarding what is actually happening: The leaders of the military are planning a coup. (Military and guards are fairly interchangeable here because the country has not had an enemy to fight in a very long time.) They don't care about losing some land in the south and are trying to make the King look bad for the way he is handling the invasion. Around a third of the guards are aware of or involved in the coup plot. The fiance overheard a couple of the low level guards talking about the plot where they shouldn't have been and so they killed him and used the guild raid as a convenient excuse for what had happened to him. What the witness saw was them planting some blood outside of the guild house so that they could make it look like somebody had died there.

Thank you for reading this far. Any ideas you can provide about what clues I can give and how to introduce them, as well as how to minimize everybody's frustration, would be greatly appreciated.

Airk
2016-02-05, 02:57 PM
I was expecting a much worse train wreck than this, honestly, and good job with the clear, concise writeup. I don't think there's anything too hard to salvage here, but it does sound like you haven't really been putting stuff like the three clue rule into practice.

But let's check that - What are your three clues for the first stage of the investigation? If you don't have any, you can probably see where you started to go wrong. I realize you're trying to give your PCs freedom to discover stuff, but it kindof sounds like you haven't put in any thought on what they might discover.

Another useful sanity check I like to use is "If I were in this situation, what would I try?" - not because you need to specifically plan for those expediencies, because your PCs will almost certainly do something different, but if the "what would I try?" actions end up leading nowhere, you need to stop and think about the problem some more.

I find this actually a relatively common problem in GMs - they think upon a problem, and then think that by not thinking up any solutions, they are giving the PCs "freedom" to find their own. This is... not really true, because what you've actually done is set up a problem that doesn't HAVE any reasonable solutions. This is the sort of thing the "three clue rule" is supposed to help prevent.

Finally, it sounds to me like you really haven't given the PCs a start on their "adventure" here. By which I mean "You've basically just sent them somewhere and you're hoping they can find the plot once they get there." This is a problem. You should always, always provide the PCs with at least one obvious path forward from the start of the adventure. It even makes sense here - if you're a council of powerful wizards, you probably can't be arsed to do stuff yourself, which is why you recruit PCs, but at the same time, you DO want stuff to get done, right? So sending half a dozen people with no political connections to a place they barely know and expecting them to come back with information is... not a good move. There are a few options here, ranging from "When you get to the city, find a moneychanger named Melville; He's my brother in law, and knows to keep his ear to the ground." to "Here is a wizards' writ. It will get you into the palace to talk to the Captain of the Guard about the issue." to "This bauble will glow when someone is concealing information from you." etc.

All that said, it's a bit late now for most of that, and your PCs are floundering, so it's on you to GIVE them something to work with here. The old standby here is to give them someone to interrogate - someone has heard that the PCs have been nosing around and asking pointed questions, so they send some guards/hired toughs/whatever is appropriate to make sure they stop. You may need to be careful with "guards" though, since the PCs may not want to get into a brawl with them - though you could set it up where at least some of the guards in question have a conscience and start wondering "Why are we locking people up/beating people up for asking perfectly fair questions?" which allows you to introduce a way to another (probably small, but informed) faction amoung the guards who feel that something is up. A group of hired toughs won't know as much, of course, but someone stammering "Guard Captain Vance told us to make sure you stop asking questions!" and "Yeah! We've done this before! <details>" etc. is a pretty good way to feed the PCs some leads as well.

Also, honestly, I'd ditch the wonky "roll percentile to see if this gets you anything" method. That's just a needless roadblock and you surrendering control of the world to the dice for no good reason. If you think that a route of investigation should yield something, it should yield something, and if it shouldn't, it shouldn't. And if in doubt, especially when your PCs seem to be floundering, you should err on the side of "Yes, you find something."

So... think about what clues are OUT there. Who has been talking to who about this? Who has loose lips that could sink this ship? And then get a couple of those out to the PCs, stat.

Hopefully that's helpful. You may also want to read some of the Angry GM's stuff about Adventure Writing (http://theangrygm.com/category/how-to-gm/how-to-write-adventures/) and the like; I don't agree with everything he says, but he hits a lot of fundamental concepts that you really won't get anywhere else.

Lorsa
2016-02-05, 03:33 PM
Hello Peace Lily!

There are plenty of groups and DMs that have had this exact problem. I think it happens to everyone at one point or another. Which means there are solutions to be found, so don't give up hope!

I will do what I can to give you some thoughts and ideas, and if they're not suitable for you, just let me know so I can come up with new ones.

One thing to think about for adventures such as these is to try and make the players' ideas work. Unless they're really stupid (the ideas), rolling a die to confirm your "low chance to yield something" isn't helping anyone. You don't have to give them the solution, or even hints towards solving the story, but you should try to give them something.

This something can sometimes just be, or lead to, a sidequest. If they feel like their ideas lead somewhere, even if it's not where they expect, they're more likely to come up with more ideas.

The things they tried are all very common ideas for a roleplaying group. Do research, ask around for rumours, following a suspect. Most groups would expect at least one of these to bring them closer. Basic psychology tells you that if enough things fail, it will be much harder to come up with new ideas.

But all that's in the past, and hardly helps you right now.

So, one thing you can do is to have them attacked by the conspiracy guards. Considering they've been asking questions all over town about the war effort, interrogating a witness to the murder and even followed a guard, chances are great someone has picked up on this. If you are going to do a military coup, you probably keep a close eye on anything that might endanger those plans.

Getting rid of the problem before it really becomes one isn't an all that uncommon reaction.

Did that help in any way?

Geddy2112
2016-02-05, 04:03 PM
It does not seem so bad, nor is all lost, just throw the party a bone. D% rolls can really hose the party, so I would cease using these to see if the party advances. You might use these to see the degree of success, but having multiple attempts to get somewhere go absolutely nowhere stops the game. You don't need to give them the witches hut, but at least have them hit some breadcrumbs.

You can always have the coup happen, or start to happen- the Plot should not be waiting for the PC's, it should happen on schedule regardless of if the party was there or not. It might blindside them a bit, but it sets things back in motion.

Peace Lily
2016-02-05, 08:02 PM
I don't think there's anything too hard to salvage here, but it does sound like you haven't really been putting stuff like the three clue rule into practice.

Yes, absolutely. I knew going in that I wasn't doing it properly. I actually tried asking the group's main DM (who is one of my players) in a non-spoilery way for advice on this, but he kept talking about how to get the party to bite the hook (which I wasn't worried about at all) and about figuring out what the answer to the mystery was (which I had known all along) so it wasn't very helpful. I just couldn't figure out how to plan out what the clues would be and where to find them when I didn't know what the PCs would be trying.


But let's check that - What are your three clues for the first stage of the investigation? If you don't have any, you can probably see where you started to go wrong. I realize you're trying to give your PCs freedom to discover stuff, but it kindof sounds like you haven't put in any thought on what they might discover.

Another useful sanity check I like to use is "If I were in this situation, what would I try?" - not because you need to specifically plan for those expediencies, because your PCs will almost certainly do something different, but if the "what would I try?" actions end up leading nowhere, you need to stop and think about the problem some more.

My thoughts on this revolved around seeking out specific people to interrogate, spy on, break into the houses of, etc. The party kind of did this, but the method they chose (chain of eyes) didn't strike me as helpful because you can't hear through it and the wizard can't read lips, so even if the guy they put it on had immediately gone and talked to somebody about the plot, the PCs wouldn't have known it. In retrospect, I could have had him read a relevant document, but I didn't think of it at the time and this particular attempt was early on before everybody got frustrated. I think a big part of my problem is not having experience coming up with this sort of thing on the fly.


Finally, it sounds to me like you really haven't given the PCs a start on their "adventure" here. By which I mean "You've basically just sent them somewhere and you're hoping they can find the plot once they get there." This is a problem. You should always, always provide the PCs with at least one obvious path forward from the start of the adventure. It even makes sense here - if you're a council of powerful wizards, you probably can't be arsed to do stuff yourself, which is why you recruit PCs, but at the same time, you DO want stuff to get done, right? So sending half a dozen people with no political connections to a place they barely know and expecting them to come back with information is... not a good move. There are a few options here, ranging from "When you get to the city, find a moneychanger named Melville; He's my brother in law, and knows to keep his ear to the ground." to "Here is a wizards' writ. It will get you into the palace to talk to the Captain of the Guard about the issue." to "This bauble will glow when someone is concealing information from you." etc.

I definitely should have done this. I'm thinking that if things get worse, I can have one of the wizards show up and say, "Having any luck? No? Well, why don't you try XYZ." There are other hapless questers performing the same task in another city, so I have an excuse to do this based on something that they find out.


All that said, it's a bit late now for most of that, and your PCs are floundering, so it's on you to GIVE them something to work with here. The old standby here is to give them someone to interrogate - someone has heard that the PCs have been nosing around and asking pointed questions, so they send some guards/hired toughs/whatever is appropriate to make sure they stop. You may need to be careful with "guards" though, since the PCs may not want to get into a brawl with them - though you could set it up where at least some of the guards in question have a conscience and start wondering "Why are we locking people up/beating people up for asking perfectly fair questions?" which allows you to introduce a way to another (probably small, but informed) faction amoung the guards who feel that something is up. A group of hired toughs won't know as much, of course, but someone stammering "Guard Captain Vance told us to make sure you stop asking questions!" and "Yeah! We've done this before! <details>" etc. is a pretty good way to feed the PCs some leads as well.


So, one thing you can do is to have them attacked by the conspiracy guards. Considering they've been asking questions all over town about the war effort, interrogating a witness to the murder and even followed a guard, chances are great someone has picked up on this. If you are going to do a military coup, you probably keep a close eye on anything that might endanger those plans.

The PCs, even the good aligned ones, don't seem to have an issue with forceful interrogation, so this would be fine. The Healer would probably leave the room and put her hands over her ears... the Paladin of Freedom would participate.

The party has asked some questions but they haven't been particularly pointed, and they have been trying to keep a low profile so far, so I would feel kind of bad thwarting that. This could work in connection with their information spreading though, in a "shut up and stop telling people things we are trying to hide from them" kind of way.


Also, honestly, I'd ditch the wonky "roll percentile to see if this gets you anything" method. That's just a needless roadblock and you surrendering control of the world to the dice for no good reason. If you think that a route of investigation should yield something, it should yield something, and if it shouldn't, it shouldn't. And if in doubt, especially when your PCs seem to be floundering, you should err on the side of "Yes, you find something."



One thing to think about for adventures such as these is to try and make the players' ideas work. Unless they're really stupid (the ideas), rolling a die to confirm your "low chance to yield something" isn't helping anyone. You don't have to give them the solution, or even hints towards solving the story, but you should try to give them something.


D% rolls can really hose the party, so I would cease using these to see if the party advances. You might use these to see the degree of success, but having multiple attempts to get somewhere go absolutely nowhere stops the game.

Yeah. This is something I've picked up from other DMs in the group, and it seemed to make sense where the PCs were trying something that seemed unlikely but not impossible that it would work. Like, when they are just walking around a market hoping to overhear something relevant, what are the chances that people are talking about this secret plot out in the open where the PCs happen to hear them? Not very good, but rather than just saying no it seemed better to give it a small chance of happening and let the dice decide. I didn't roll when they went to the site of the guild raid to see if they found anything because there just wasn't going to be anything to find there, and if I had been able to think of something I would have given it to them without rolling.



You can always have the coup happen, or start to happen- the Plot should not be waiting for the PC's, it should happen on schedule regardless of if the party was there or not. It might blindside them a bit, but it sets things back in motion.

They have only been in the city for 2 days in game, so I do want to give them some time to figure things out first. Certainly this will happen eventually if they don't wind up preventing it (which they may not even be interested in trying to do).

Lorsa
2016-02-06, 07:14 AM
Yeah. This is something I've picked up from other DMs in the group, and it seemed to make sense where the PCs were trying something that seemed unlikely but not impossible that it would work. Like, when they are just walking around a market hoping to overhear something relevant, what are the chances that people are talking about this secret plot out in the open where the PCs happen to hear them? Not very good, but rather than just saying no it seemed better to give it a small chance of happening and let the dice decide. I didn't roll when they went to the site of the guild raid to see if they found anything because there just wasn't going to be anything to find there, and if I had been able to think of something I would have given it to them without rolling.

While they might not hear about a secret plot, they could encounter several things that would make them feel the adventure ismoving forward, such as:

- People criticising the King openly for not dealing with the war in any good way.

- A person, or a group, trying to get people to sign a petition to get in touch with the King and have him do something about the war effort.

- The above person or group being arrested / pushed off the market by some guards.

- Someone at a tavern speaking how he came from the south to convince the guards / king to increase the war effort, but noone is listening.

or any number of small incidents that would give them something to act on.

Darth Ultron
2016-02-06, 08:15 AM
The Red Flag I see is the one-two quest. And that is never a good idea.

So the first quest: to get home, is a perfectly fine quest by itself. But you ignore it and toss in the war conspiracy quest. Ok? But the big problem is that the players don't exactly want to do that quest. You made that quest a requirement for completing the quest they do want to do. And to make it worse the war conspiracy is a hugely complicated quest. That the players don't really want to do.

It's not like you started the game with ''lets do a war conspiracy with a murder mystery '' type quest. You just just tacked that one on to the quest they wanted to do. So they did not get the choice to pick it.

And when people don't get that choice, they often react in a negative way and do things like not try and play badly.

And even if the players ''agree'' they like the war conspiracy quest, they still don't have a stake in it. They don't really have any role playing reason to do the quest, other then ''some wizards told them to do it.''

All of this can effect game play and make for a bad game.

Peace Lily
2016-02-06, 04:32 PM
The Red Flag I see is the one-two quest. And that is never a good idea.

So the first quest: to get home, is a perfectly fine quest by itself. But you ignore it and toss in the war conspiracy quest. Ok? But the big problem is that the players don't exactly want to do that quest. You made that quest a requirement for completing the quest they do want to do. And to make it worse the war conspiracy is a hugely complicated quest. That the players don't really want to do.

It's not like you started the game with ''lets do a war conspiracy with a murder mystery '' type quest. You just just tacked that one on to the quest they wanted to do. So they did not get the choice to pick it.

And when people don't get that choice, they often react in a negative way and do things like not try and play badly.

And even if the players ''agree'' they like the war conspiracy quest, they still don't have a stake in it. They don't really have any role playing reason to do the quest, other then ''some wizards told them to do it.''

All of this can effect game play and make for a bad game.

I don't think any of that is really fair. I didn't include all of the details on what has happened in the campaign before this point because my post was already really long and it didn't seem to bear on the current issues, but I didn't mislead the players about the campaign or force them into something that they had no interest in. It's really not a surprise to anybody that if they go ask a bunch of wizards for help with something, the wizards are probably going to want something in return (and it's usually not going to be something they already had an independent reason to want to do). I highly doubt that anybody thought they were going to show up at the college and ask to be sent home and that the wizards would just say "ok sure" and that would be the end of it. The conspiracy part is something that the characters didn't/don't know about, but the war itself has been there all along and they have been involved in it.

I originally started this as a solo campaign for my SO (who introduced me to D&D) as a way of helping me to understand the game better. I started the game with his character waking up in a ditch by the side of the road in what turned out to be Country B with no idea how he got there and no prior knowledge that there was such a thing as Country B. I introduced the war as something that was going on in the background that he could choose to engage in or not, and I left it entirely up to him to what extent he wanted to focus on trying to get home or doing something related to the war or ignoring both of those and just making a new life for himself. Once he discovered that he was in Country B and that the few people he spoke to had never heard of Country A, he stopped trying to do anything related to getting home and, after a fairly generic "go to the caves and get the thing" adventurer quest, chose to go with the people involved in that quest to sign up for the war effort. The rest of the solo portion of the campaign consisted of him leading a small troop of recruits in fighting the invaders.

When I expanded the campaign to introduce the other players, I told them what had been going on so far and gave them the choice of being from Country A or Country B. I told them that if they chose to be from Country B, they should have a stake in or reason to get involved in the war effort because that was what the existing character was currently involved with. (Those from Country A were his friends who had been trying to track him down after he went missing.) The Wizard began the game with the intention of signing up to fight in the war. The Healer (the character with the dead fiance) left the city she had been living in to go to where the fighting was taking place to provide healing to the soldiers.

When the party decided to travel to the wizards' college to seek helping getting (back) to Country A, they had two main choices about how to get there: travel a longer distance along the main roads that would take them through the north and be fairly safe, or take the more direct route through the south where the fighting was taking place. I did not try to influence this decision in any way and fully intended to design the campaign around whatever they chose. (I did a short intro session well in advance of starting the campaign in earnest so that I would know what they were planning to do and could prepare for it.) They chose to travel through the south so that they could continue to fight some of the invaders and help those who might be in need along the way. Without any prompting from me, they left one of the invaders they were fighting alive at the end of a combat and questioned him about the invaders' intentions and motivations. Later, when they found out that the invaders were kidnapping local nobles, they tracked down somebody who was working for the invaders and got him to disclose where the nobles were being held and went there to investigate.

So, they have involved themselves in and do seem to have an interest in what is going on related to the war. And if they really didn't want to do this quest, they could always try to find a different way to get home.

Lord Torath
2016-02-08, 11:27 AM
How visible is the group's investigation? Is it possible that someone who already knows something about this, but is relatively powerless, could realize the PCs are investigating and step forward? Perhaps a mother whose son has been killed in the war received a letter from her son before he died that so-and-so is part of the conspiracy. This mother doesn't know who to approach, but if she hears the PCs are investigating, she might approach them to share her story.

Hopeless
2016-02-08, 12:46 PM
Have you thought about combining your plots?

The event that teleported your PCs from Country A to B is actually due to the establishing of a permanent portal system allowing travel between the two countries.

Their arrival was due to an unexpected wild magic event due to the dangerous levels of magic involved.

Now what if Country A has elements planning to invade Country B the coup is just a cover for the real threat something that could be introduced by adding appropriate artefacts or trade goods recognisable by those from Country A.

What if there's actually a very good reason for the coup but until they're only going to find that out when it becomes clear they know more than the coup leaders leading to them taking action that leads to those in charge framing them as part of the coup.

Just how far are you planning to go with this?

What details did your Country A PCs provide?

Airk
2016-02-08, 02:24 PM
The Red Flag I see is the one-two quest. And that is never a good idea.

So the first quest: to get home, is a perfectly fine quest by itself. But you ignore it and toss in the war conspiracy quest. Ok? But the big problem is that the players don't exactly want to do that quest. You made that quest a requirement for completing the quest they do want to do. And to make it worse the war conspiracy is a hugely complicated quest. That the players don't really want to do.

It's not like you started the game with ''lets do a war conspiracy with a murder mystery '' type quest. You just just tacked that one on to the quest they wanted to do. So they did not get the choice to pick it.

And when people don't get that choice, they often react in a negative way and do things like not try and play badly.

And even if the players ''agree'' they like the war conspiracy quest, they still don't have a stake in it. They don't really have any role playing reason to do the quest, other then ''some wizards told them to do it.''

All of this can effect game play and make for a bad game.

I don't really agree with this assessment. We don't have anywhere near enough information to assume some kind of "bait and switch" going on here, nor do we have an information on the premise of the game, and "chained" quests are perfectly fine in my book. And it sounds like some of the characters DO have personal connections to this if they can be brought forward. I think you're being too harsh.


How visible is the group's investigation? Is it possible that someone who already knows something about this, but is relatively powerless, could realize the PCs are investigating and step forward? Perhaps a mother whose son has been killed in the war received a letter from her son before he died that so-and-so is part of the conspiracy. This mother doesn't know who to approach, but if she hears the PCs are investigating, she might approach them to share her story.

This is a GOOD ONE.

Peace Lily
2016-02-08, 02:43 PM
How visible is the group's investigation? Is it possible that someone who already knows something about this, but is relatively powerless, could realize the PCs are investigating and step forward? Perhaps a mother whose son has been killed in the war received a letter from her son before he died that so-and-so is part of the conspiracy. This mother doesn't know who to approach, but if she hears the PCs are investigating, she might approach them to share her story.

It's not very visible yet, but this is a good idea. I can definitely work with this, thank you.


Have you thought about combining your plots?

The event that teleported your PCs from Country A to B is actually due to the establishing of a permanent portal system allowing travel between the two countries.

Their arrival was due to an unexpected wild magic event due to the dangerous levels of magic involved.

Now what if Country A has elements planning to invade Country B the coup is just a cover for the real threat something that could be introduced by adding appropriate artefacts or trade goods recognisable by those from Country A.

What if there's actually a very good reason for the coup but until they're only going to find that out when it becomes clear they know more than the coup leaders leading to them taking action that leads to those in charge framing them as part of the coup.

Just how far are you planning to go with this?

I haven't thought about that. It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it helps with the current problems. It seems to just make what the PCs have to figure out even more complicated, which, from posters' reactions so far, doesn't seem to be the right direction to go.


What details did your Country A PCs provide?

I'm not sure what you mean by this - are you asking about their backstories? Only one of them (the fighter/paladin) gave me a detailed backstory. It involves being a rebellious teenager and joining a gang, then seeing the error of his ways after he almost got killed, and subsequently helping to take down the gang.

caden_varn
2016-02-11, 07:31 AM
Lord Torath's idea is a very good one, and there are a number of ways you can implement it. The mother of the dead guard works well. If you want to drop more information to the PCs, a low-level guard who is part of the conspiracy is having second thoughts but fears for his life - he sees the PCs as a way to salve his conscience and stay safe at the same time.

I assume by guild you mean Thieves guild. If so, if the PCs have been sniffing round, someone from the Guild could contact them. They know they didn't kill any guards, so they have done some investigation over the past year and have discovered it was another guard - they don;t know why yet, but they want revenge on the guards for the attack, so they give the information to the PCs hoping they will use it to hurt the guards.

There are ways to make the ring of eyes work. The person being monitored could write a note asking someone to have 'busybodies asking questions' watched to Captain Smith, giving them a name to investigate, or they see him putting on a dark cloak and sneaking to a covert meeting with someone with a recognisable face or well-known military commander.

I'd probably use the wizards academy as a last resort, but if you need to, have them contact the group magically to pass on some information that the other group found to give them a start. Wizards can preety easily communicate over distance, it is not much of a stretch.

Finally, on rolling to see if they find information - this is OK to do for minor information that is tangential or just a bit useful, but not for plot-critical information. Decide this for yourself, don't be trapped by the tyranny of the dice. Yes, it is a big coincidence for them to overhear just what they need to, but if that is what you need to get the session rolling, do it. Certainly don't overuse it, but it is better than having your players flounder round getting frustrated every now and then.

HammeredWharf
2016-02-11, 09:04 AM
What I'd do to kickstart the investigation:

Give the PCs some subtle clues during the next session. Lord Torath's idea is good for that. Let them investigate those for a while and let those investigations lead to some other minor clues. Then, in the middle of all that, kill someone. Uh, an NPC, that is. Someone like the party's contact or informant. The player characters may have kept a low profile and as a DM you're wise to reward that, but you still control the profiles of NPCs. This will give the party a fresher trail and liven things up, as murder usually does. Here's a possible chain of events:

1) Sam the soldier overheard something and got killed.
2) Sam's mother Meg is sad, but can't find help.
3) She finds out about the PCs and gives them tips.
4) She's happy and tells Sam's squad mate Bruce about her progress.
5) Bruce is the guy who killed Sam.
6) Now that Meg is spreading her info, Bruce can't ignore her any longer. He reluctantly kills Meg.

This'd also give the PCs a more personal stake in the matter, especially if Meg is memorable.

Segev
2016-02-11, 09:39 AM
I will say this, too: drop the d% rolls. If you can think of something that could be obtained to hook into the plot where the PCs are going, do it. Don't roll to see if you will or not. The PCs have a goal, even if they've no clue how to go about it. As long as they try SOMETHING, you can have excuse for them to notice the relevant detail or to BE noticed by somebody with useful information.

No, they don't have to "just happen to hear" somebody "just happen" to talk about the plot in the market. But if they so much as roll Gather Information (or a similar mechanical tactic), that gives you a) reason to let them get information in accordance with their roll's success, and b) an excuse why somebody might notice THEM asking around, and approach them with the next hook. How well they did on their roll would determine how much independent information they already have when the hook comes to them, and influence their ability to make the best deal or understand they're being played or to realize that they actually can trust this guy (rather than having to be overly wary).

But my point is, if you know what you would have done with that d% roll succeeding...just do it anyway. Don't roll.

A great rule of thumb I've seen is that you should never roll unless all possible results are interesting. (A corollary is that simple failure IS often interesting, as long as it doesn't lead to "well, we can't advance the plot.")

goto124
2016-02-11, 09:41 AM
I wonder: what if the DM pretends to roll, by rolling a die behind the DM screen, but not actually using the result for anything?

Airk
2016-02-11, 12:35 PM
I wonder: what if the DM pretends to roll, by rolling a die behind the DM screen, but not actually using the result for anything?

In what context? o.o

Lorsa
2016-02-11, 02:59 PM
I wonder: what if the DM pretends to roll, by rolling a die behind the DM screen, but not actually using the result for anything?

I think that happens a lot. The good old scare tactic always work.

I have a GM that used to ask

"Sooo... anyone that has danger sense?" while looking intensely around the table. Great way to make the players paranoid.

Airk
2016-02-11, 03:04 PM
I think that happens a lot. The good old scare tactic always work.

I have a GM that used to ask

"Sooo... anyone that has danger sense?" while looking intensely around the table. Great way to make the players paranoid.

I've always wondered what this was supposed to accomplish. Okay. The players are nervous now, so they waste everyone's time being really cautious. Good job, Mr. GM?

The only reason I've ever thought even vaguely passed muster is so that the players WOULDN'T get paranoid when there was really something being rolled for, because the GM is rolling all the time. But even that is pretty weak unless you're delivering your narration like "Okay, you enter the room and uh..." <rolls dice, tabulates> "...don't see anything dangerous." which is just poor GMing all 'round.

Zumbs
2016-02-11, 04:18 PM
How visible is the group's investigation? Is it possible that someone who already knows something about this, but is relatively powerless, could realize the PCs are investigating and step forward? Perhaps a mother whose son has been killed in the war received a letter from her son before he died that so-and-so is part of the conspiracy. This mother doesn't know who to approach, but if she hears the PCs are investigating, she might approach them to share her story.

Lord Torath's idea is a very good one, and there are a number of ways you can implement it. The mother of the dead guard works well. If you want to drop more information to the PCs, a low-level guard who is part of the conspiracy is having second thoughts but fears for his life - he sees the PCs as a way to salve his conscience and stay safe at the same time.
Adding to these two, you could also bring in NPCs from earlier adventurers, e.g. the killed son could have a sister that the party helped some time back, or the party could discover that they helped someone who now lives in the city and wants to invite them to dinner with his friends, which happens to include the guard with cold feet.


I'd probably use the wizards academy as a last resort, but if you need to, have them contact the group magically to pass on some information that the other group found to give them a start. Wizards can preety easily communicate over distance, it is not much of a stretch.
A variation over this could be to let the party be the second group sent by the wizards academy to investigate. The other group knows of the party and intents to use them to attract attention while they keep themselves hidden. This could include dropping hints all over the place that the party is snooping around and then looking for whatever takes the bait. Naturally, the other group could also end up way over their head and a lone survivor could approach the party.

AMFV
2016-02-11, 09:00 PM
I've always wondered what this was supposed to accomplish. Okay. The players are nervous now, so they waste everyone's time being really cautious. Good job, Mr. GM?

The only reason I've ever thought even vaguely passed muster is so that the players WOULDN'T get paranoid when there was really something being rolled for, because the GM is rolling all the time. But even that is pretty weak unless you're delivering your narration like "Okay, you enter the room and uh..." <rolls dice, tabulates> "...don't see anything dangerous." which is just poor GMing all 'round.

But it's not a waste of time if the suspense is the point. I mean if Psycho had opened by revealing that Norman Bates was the murderer, it wouldn't have been nearly as good. The idea is to put everyone on edge so that there'll be a heightened feeling of suspense. Particularly if they wind up not finding something immediately, but are later expecting it.

goto124
2016-02-12, 05:40 AM
I wonder: what if the DM pretends to roll, by rolling a die behind the DM screen, but not actually using the result for anything?


In what context? o.o

This context:


But my point is, if you know what you would have done with that d% roll succeeding...just do it anyway. Don't roll.

Airk
2016-02-12, 10:52 AM
But it's not a waste of time if the suspense is the point. I mean if Psycho had opened by revealing that Norman Bates was the murderer, it wouldn't have been nearly as good. The idea is to put everyone on edge so that there'll be a heightened feeling of suspense. Particularly if they wind up not finding something immediately, but are later expecting it.

The difference between pacing a Hitchcock film and "Okay, we check EVERYWHERE for ambushes, there's gotta be SOMETHING HERE." is pretty vast. I don't think the tension translates at all.

In Psycho, the GM didn't need to roll dice to let people know that there was a MURDERER and he COULD BE ANYWHERE. The GM shouldn't need to do so in an RPG either - good narration takes care of that without leading the PCs down a mechanic time sink of trying to find what perception check they failed.

Airk
2016-02-12, 10:53 AM
This context:

What have you accomplished by making the PCs feel like they had a random chance of something happening when it did? Making them feel lucky? What's the goal here?

AMFV
2016-02-12, 10:55 AM
The difference between pacing a Hitchcock film and "Okay, we check EVERYWHERE for ambushes, there's gotta be SOMETHING HERE." is pretty vast. I don't think the tension translates at all.

In Psycho, the GM didn't need to roll dice to let people know that there was a MURDERER and he COULD BE ANYWHERE. The GM shouldn't need to do so in an RPG either - good narration takes care of that without leading the PCs down a mechanic time sink of trying to find what perception check they failed.

I disagree, although it's possible that your experiences have been with DMs who weren't very good at that. Building tension in my experience generally involves hinting at something being there and then making it difficult to spot, players get paranoid, and that paranoia can filter through to everything, which can increase tension. I do agree that it can be overused (if you're doing it all the time it'll lose it's effect), and it does considerably slow down the game, so it's a technique that people should be using mindfully. But there certainly can be a point to it, if it is used properly.

It's also possible that this particular kind of tension doesn't really do anything for you, in which case it's more of a different strokes type dealie.


What have you accomplished by making the PCs feel like they had a random chance of something happening when it did? Making them feel lucky? What's the goal here?

Or alternatively make them feel unlucky, again that's really a suspense goal, or to convince somebody that something was random when it wasn't. There's certainly a point to that.

Airk
2016-02-12, 12:40 PM
Or alternatively make them feel unlucky, again that's really a suspense goal, or to convince somebody that something was random when it wasn't. There's certainly a point to that.

I don't really see how convincing someone that something that has already happened was random has any benefits; It seems like it would just make people go "Welp, we got lucky/unlucky, great/sucks".

AMFV
2016-02-12, 12:47 PM
I don't really see how convincing someone that something that has already happened was random has any benefits; It seems like it would just make people go "Welp, we got lucky/unlucky, great/sucks".

Certainly valuable, you can have something happening that's a planned event without the players realizing that it is. So the story moves forward, without the players realizing that this element is actually a story element. It helps set up Chekhov's Gun type scenarios, otherwise that would be largely impossible.

Airk
2016-02-12, 04:34 PM
Certainly valuable, you can have something happening that's a planned event without the players realizing that it is. So the story moves forward, without the players realizing that this element is actually a story element. It helps set up Chekhov's Gun type scenarios, otherwise that would be largely impossible.

This seems...farfetched; If there were an event that seemed relevant to the story, players will have a hard time viewing it as random even if it was (and the clatter of a few dice is unlikely to change their opinion) and if the event doesn't seem relevant at the time, well, they're probably not going to even remember it until later anyway? I guess there are situations where this might work, but it seems like an edge case.

Aaaanyway, we're pretty far off topic here, sorry about that.