Apr 15, 2014

Seeking the Truth

Babbling at the Counter #37 – Pen and Paper

Seeking the Truth

This is an idea for Mystery Investigation that I have been toying with for a while now. It’s incomplete, and it may not work, but maybe getting it out there will help develop it.

I remember a blogger (I'm now pretty sure it was Robin Laws, author of the GUMSHOE system, thanks to Aaron on the comments section. If I eventually find the original post I’ll link to it.) saying that the problem with using skills and dice rolls to run a mystery was that a single failed roll would stop everything on it’s tracks. He made this comparison (I’m paraphrasing): Imagine this. You enter a room, there is a monster there. If you miss your attack, then you can never go into the next room. You are trapped.

That was meant as a parallel with missing a clue in a way that made it impossible to go to another scene. But it got me thinking about something else.

When you fight a monster, you make a few rolls to attack it, until it’s dead or defeated, thus solving the situation. Now, you could do exactly the same thing with any other obstacle, including a mystery.

Instead of making each and every clue a challenge by itself, you could treat the whole mystery as a single “entity”. Every roll, you are “damaging” it, only you don’t stack damage until it’s dead, you take away some of the mystery until it’s solved.

As I said, it’s a pretty unfinished idea. I still don’t know how you can run a whole session with a single “entity” to defeat. But I think this can be used in smaller doses for a lot of other things.

A single scene, like a dance contest, for example, could be treated as a fight. Each move damages your opponents “image”, until one of you is humiliated and defeated.

So weird idea today. Hope at least it gets you thinking about alternatives to single roll resolutions. See you soon.

- The Storeman


  1. Robin Laws makes this argument on the shortcomings of traditional RPG-style mystery games, and proposes an amazing solution: the GUMSHOE system.

    I think you should expand on your mechanic. It's a brilliant idea to chip away at a story - it feels almost nebulous, like a Lovecraftian meta-mystery.

    I'd very much like to see where you take it!

    1. Yes! That was it! The post was about the GUMSHOE system.

      I can't find the original post I read, but as soon as I do it will be added to this Babble.

      Thanks. I was thinking about continuing with this idea. I too like where it's going. It just depend on whether it goes towards something useful or not.