If I’m going to figure out how to get the best out of investigations in games, I really need to set down the things that cause me anguish about them. That way I’ll have a better idea of what strategies to employ to mitigate or avoid them.
They bore me.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I get bored in more than just mystery games. Sometimes it just doesn’t go right on the night does it. But with Investigation based scenarios (herein called IBS), well, they do tend to drag. The players turtle up at the slightest provocation, usually because any kind of violent consequence is extraordinarily lethal (for RPGs). Or they plan. And plan. And plan. Gumshoe has great advice for avoiding this trap: go out and get more clues. A good GM will figure out a way to deliver that advice in game.
Imagine five people sitting in a room. It’s a book club. One has an Agatha Christie novel, which he has read and enjoyed. The others haven’t read it at all. The non readers job is to find out the plot of the book. To do that they can ask questions of the person with the book. Some of the answers will be true, some false, some he won’t answer at all. At the end everyone has to compare notes. What are the odds anyone will get the killers identity?
The roleplay takes a back seat.
They are really all about player skill aren’t they? Especially the ones set in the modern day, where every PC suddenly becomes an IT expert because that’s what the player does for a living. It’s all about short cutting to the clues in order to ‘win’, drawing a relationship map, and staring at it like a particularly tricky Sudoku until there’s a fight at the end. Yes, it fosters talk between the players, normally a good thing, but it’s never in character, never in a cool locale, and is never interesting.
The NPCs suck
They have clues. They don’t give them out. Unless you pull a specific lever. Your only clues are from the way the GM portrays the character. No one is that good at GMing really.
There’s no game
“And we didn’t roll any dice all night!” is not a ringing endorsement of any game. It means nothing really happened that mattered.
Apart from all that, I love investigations!
Gumshoe is bringing me round though. I like a lot of the arguments and explanations it offers, on an intellectual level. Once I’ve finished off Ashen Stars and Mutant City Blues I’ll move on the the scenarios. That will be the real acid test for me: can they follow their own advice?