Articles from August 2009



Uses of Rituals

Magical rituals have been around as long as magic has been a plot device, for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re plot-vital, keeping magic from taking a form that would be inconvenient for plot, world, or creator’s sanity; sometimes they’re more indirect-expository, created more to say something about the people who perform them than [...]

The Generic Villain on Villainy in Today’s Worlds

Times have changed.
Back in the day, villainy was an easy business to make a big splash in. They didn’t mind the insanity defense, mustache-twirling was considered a useful job skill, and most heroes had a prohibition against killing; you could settle in, fight the same couple of people over and over, slowly advance your plans, [...]

Impractical Applications (Damage Control)

The mystery I’ve spent the last few weeks writing about wasn’t my first attempt at a mystery; instead, my first had been a while before, as an attempt to see if my group was the type before I hit them with a big one. It crashed and burned. So when I started the second one, [...]

On Embedding Mysteries

An embedded mystery, or a mystery inserted into a larger plot, poses a unique challenge to its creator, particularly when the narrative is clearly moving in a certain direction and the mystery slows it down. How do I make this sufficiently complex and interesting without it seeming like a way to stall? Do I use [...]

Mystery and the Burden of Memory

Who’s on the suspect list? Who have we eliminated? What clues haven’t we come up with explanations for? Who was there on that New Year’s Eve when Minna “Munchkin” Maxwell was found with a bag full of dice shoved down her throat? Did we ever establish a motive for the Looney? Does anyone remember? Why [...]

Mystery: Logic Mismatch

One of the biggest challenges in GMing a mystery is making sure that the clues actually point to what you want them to mean. You’d think that wouldn’t be hard, wouldn’t you? That as long as you know what you’re trying to say, that the players should be able to pick it up and follow [...]

Dilemmas and Deliberation

For Mystery Month. Can you guess why?
Nighttime in the big city. The D-4 Detective Agency is on the case, and we’re pretty sure it’s close to the end. There’s The Dame, on the other side of the table with her piles of folders and that screen she always carries. And Clubs, plastic rattling between [...]

Mystery Mistakes: The Undefined Suspect List

Many people run mysteries in their games, but not all of them are successful—and in many cases, the failure can be pinned on the GM. This week, I’m going to discuss ways the GM can inadvertently sabotage her own mystery.
One of the biggest ways to scuttle a mystery is an undefined suspect list. And I [...]

The Generic Villain on Preemptive Strikes

Despite the inherently risky nature of our jobs, we Hands of Darkness tend to crave stability. Calm. The ability to carry out our evil plans in peace without some idiot with a Grand Destiny or a four-loaf cleaver getting between us and our goals. And perhaps we’re even good at finding the kinds of people [...]

Impractical Applications (Points of Influence)

When my group went through the mystery I ran for them, it was pretty straightforward, and it might almost have seemed as if I’d only planned for what ended up happening. That wasn’t quite true, though; I’d had several contingencies in play based on a number of factors, and there were a few completely unexpected [...]