Tuesday 13 August 2013

Running a Mystery: Chandleresque Clues

Another topic Raymond Chandler touches on in his essay "The Simple Art of Murder" is Clues.  He points out that Hardboiled stories, such as his own and those of Dashiel Hammet, are inherently different from the Classic Detective Story, such as Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories or the Locked Room Whodunnit.

Chandler defines the Classic formula as presenting the reader with a logic puzzle and then solving it ingeniously:

Two-thirds or three-quarters of all the detective stories published still adhere to the formula the giants of this era created, perfected, polished and sold to the world as problems in logic and deduction. 

On the other hand, he defines the Hardboiled story as eschewing such external considerations and just giving an "honest" story of crime and the detective who follows up leads and solves it.

A Tale of Two Mystery Games

So just like there are two types of mystery story, I would propose that there are two ways to run a mystery game.

1. The Classic-Style Mystery Game

The mystery is treated as a logic puzzle with the clues presented up-front and the players must figure out the riddle.

The problem with this approach is the problem with Gygaxian Traps, they are ingenious, funny, perplexing, but you don't have much chance of solving the riddle unless you're able to probe the DM's mind telepathically.

An example of this type of mystery game is the recent Schroedinger's Cat game of "Creatures!"  The players must figure out the nature of the monster and how to defeat it before it kills everyone.  It's very smart, but relies on some considerable Player Skill at cracking mind-teasers.  In the playtest, for example, the players were completely flummoxed by the riddle, ending  in a presumed TPK.

2. The Hardboiled Mystery Game

The mystery is treated more realistically.  There are still clues, but they lead to people who can shed light on the case.  Solving the case is less about solving a logic riddle and more about tracking down leads and following up on them.

Once the clue is found, it's a much more human exercise, figuring out if people are lying, withholding information, and getting them to admit what they know.  Cyberpunk 2020 is built for this, with a wide array of investigative skills like Interrogate, Intimidate, Human Perception, Interview, Seduction, Social, Persuasion & Fast Talk, Awareness/Notice, Library Search.  Also Streetwise for finding underworld contacts and science-skills for extracting clues.

An example of this type of mystery game is Masks of Nyarlathotep.  The clues are more "leads" to
follow up on than "riddles" to crack.  So skilled players may need to do less "footwork" following up leads, but it's less of an all-or-nothing game of "Guess what I'm thinking".

Clue where PCs can follow-up on the names/locations mentioned

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, those seem to be the two different schools of mystery. Never thought of it like that.