Murder Mystery? , whodunit? in Gamemasters Corner, Adventures & Plots
SanChristo Jul 15 2018, 14:14 Group: Heroes, Level 7 Quote Post
Hey folks, anyone had any luck developing a murder mystery? If so, got any advice?

Here's the hook: A dozen potential investors are invited to a demonstration by a cliched rich philanthropist who claims to have created a perpetual motion machine that will supply free energy to everyone. They arrive at his hotel in a snow storm and are (of course) trapped there. Then (spoiler alert) someone dies, and the remaining characters have to figure out whodunit.

Here's my idea on some mechanics: I've created a dozen characters with a wide variety of skills and backstories. Only two of them have any real fighting ability. A couple are charmers. One's a hacker. One's a thief. Etc. Before we begin, players will each randomly choose a character. (I'm pretty sure I'm going to make sure that they can't choose the character who's the murderer, but that could be fun too).

I've got some scenes in mind, and some trails of clues; however, one of the things that I'm stuck on is what to do if the players don't follow the clues. For example, if they search the body, they find the victim's phone, if they use his (or her) thumb print, they can access the phone and see the text message conversation he was having with someone. If they call that number, one of the guests' phone will ring, etc. But what if they don't search the body? What if they don't use the thumb print? What if they don't call the number?

Anyone tried anything like this before? Got any advice?
CarlZog Jul 15 2018, 19:48 Group: Heroes, Level 14 Quote Post
In different games and campaigns, I've taken two alternative, but similar approaches to this. Both approaches ensure that any clue they pursue or don't pursue, could be equally valid.

For a one-shot in which the PCs are the pool of suspects, don't let the players know in advance which one of them is the murderer, but create backstories in which they all have motive, all feel a bit guilty, and are all eager to prove their innocence. To each other, any one of them could be the murderer. This is the classic Agatha Christie setup.
As the game evolves, fill in the facts until you secretly let one of them know that they are the real murderer. This creates a sense of suspense as they're all trying to defend themselves -- each of them fearful that this is going to get pinned on them if the real killer isn't found. Yeah, maybe the cell phone rings one of the PCs, but maybe if they ignor the phone to look at the victim's notes, maybe he wrote that he was afraid of another PC, or needed the cooperation of a third to make the machine a reality. Or knew that it would put one of them out of business.
Bottom line is that they have to convince each other what the real story is, and the one who takes the fall in the end, may actually not be the real murderer if the real murderer does a good enough job of pinning it on someone else.
Needless to say, this requires a group that's OK with this kind of PC conflict.

On the other hand, another way around the dead-end conundrums you're describing, is to not have a predetermined empirical solution that they have to find. Instead, craft your clues based on the direction the players choose to take, and as they begin to craft their explanations of what happened, you build your own explanation of who did it and how.

This approach works best when your group are the outsiders investigating a murder they are not part of, and it does require good improvisational DMing from you. Crafting the story on the fly, you need to stay one step ahead of the players in order to create some sense of mystery and occasionally redirect them, without backing yourself into a corner where no solution makes any sense.

You don't want it to be a cakewalk where every clue they find railroads them to the killer, but on the other hand, you're rarely hitting a dead-end when you're not sure what you're looking for in the first place. You want to create the possibility that every clue MIGHT just open the door for them to create some new theory of what happened. If they are not looking where you want them to, where ARE they looking? And what are they expecting to find there? Drop a clue that might fulfill that, or reject that. Let them come up with their own explanation. Do any of their budding theories make sense to you? Make it, or some variation of it, the truth, then craft the ensuing clues to support that. Or don't. Create new clues next that support some other theory, or that encourage them to dismiss all their existing theories for something else.

Admittedly, this approach seems to fail to answer the question of who REALLY did it, and can seem like cheating if done poorly. But if you can pull it off, it creates a very real sense of suspense, as there are multiple, genuine possibilities they're pursuing -- all either unfolding into something bigger or collapsing into dismissal as you go.

Both of these approaches are also darkly cynical and dystopian in a very noir kind of way that I think suits Alternity settings.....
Whodunnit? Whoever you can find enough evidence to pin it on, that's who.
uncle_jimbo Jul 15 2018, 19:49 Group: Grid Cop, 5éme Corbin Quote Post
Many such games (not just, or primarily, tabletop) make one of the players the murderer by random choice. That player can then try to misdirect the others while not giving their role away. edit: I suppose in a relatively small group, that has the opposite effect of telling players a Supporting Cast Member can't be the murderer. It sounds as if CarlZog has done much more with it though.

GUMSHOE hopes to address this very problem by ensuring players find Core Clues: a player with the right Investigative Ability gets it and character generation ensures that the party has all Investigative Abilities. A different line of advice I've seen is to make each vital piece of information discoverable at least three ways.

This post has been edited by uncle_jimbo on Jul 15 2018, 20:06
SanChristo Jul 15 2018, 22:27 Group: Heroes, Level 7 Quote Post
Author (CarlZog @ Jul 15 2018, 19:48)
In different games and campaigns, I've taken two alternative, but similar approaches to this. Both approaches ensure that any clue they pursue or don't pursue, could be equally valid.

Carlzog, I don't think we've talked before. That's a lot of super helpful ideas. I'm leaning away from having a character be the culprit because of how far that falls from the way we've typically played. However, you ever play the game Secret Hitler? It's awesome.

That second option isn't something I considered at all, and it's really got my creative juices flowing. I can imagine it feeling (like you said) like cheating, but maybe I could boil it down to three or four possible culprits--like the end of the movie Clue. Maybe that would be a fair balance between having a plan and having it open ended.

UncleJimbo, brilliant as usual. I really like the idea of there being three ways to come to crucial clues.
CarlZog Jul 16 2018, 15:01 Group: Heroes, Level 14 Quote Post
I'll echo UncleJimbo's recommendation of the Gumshoe system. It's built around solving mysteries and is expressly designed to prevent those dead ends. It's great for one-shots like this.
If you're looking at doing this in your current Alternity group or in an Alternity setting however, I think you can use the Alt's degrees of success to achieve similar results by encouraging appropriate skill checks, and effectively narrating the results. Maybe an Amazing Success check at something that's a dead-end actually still provides a hint that redirects them where you want them to go. For example, in your victim's case, if you're trying to get them to check the phone, but they are fixating on his email, maybe their successful hacking check shows a security warning from the phone company that there's been unusual activity on his phone account.

I also strongly agree with Jimbo's advice on multiple sources of the same clue. Never have just one path to success.

This reminds of the best one-shot advice I've ever gotten: the narrow-wide-narrow rule. I'm paraphrasing, but this is from Kevin Kulp, who runs some of the best one-shots I've ever played and has run thousands of them. He advocates starting your adventure "narrow". There's really one clear way to go, and you're shuttling the players toward it. Then, in the middle game, you go "wide". The players have more freedom and they can pursue any number of possible directions. But in the end, you want to be able to pull it all back in to a satisfying conclusion; you're "narrowing" it down again to the ending you want.

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