Finding Their Own Clues

Most of the time, you hear about players in mysteries being paralyzed with indecision, not sure what sorts of clues to hunt, or missing the stuff they’re supposed to find. But some people have the other problem—not content with the clues they’re “supposed” to find, they start coming up with other aspects of things they can investigate, and those aspects might even make sense. So one minute the group is hurrying to try to catch up to the guy who slipped off down the ladder, the next that silly little researcher is stopped at the base measuring footprint depth and stride length and trying to figure out what their quarry looks like from that.

Yes, it’s distracting. Yes, it requires us to either make things up or to walk the razor’s edge between spoilers and useful information. Yes, there’s a chance that they’re blending IC and OOC knowledge. On the other hand, it’s also a demonstration of initiative and cleverness, and that’s worth rewarding.

What do we do, then?

The first thing is to ask a question: Is this conclusion or process feasible, and could the character create it with the knowledge he has? Most of the time, unless the answer is very clearly no, it should probably be yes; basically, if the player’s explanation doesn’t break suspension of disbelief, go with it.

Next, ask them what sort of answer they’re looking for. Our researcher above, for instance, is probably going mostly for height, weight and/or leg length; that’s pretty obvious. But would you necessarily know what someone who asks when a bard came to her country and then starts barraging him with song requests is trying to accomplish? Making sure you know what the player wants is important, and might even keep you from giving away more than she was really asking for.

Last, come up with an answer, or at least a direction in which to point them. Unless the process just doesn’t work that way, it should probably be pretty close to the kind of answer the character was looking for. How helpful it is likely depends on the dice, how much you like the idea, and how well the player justified it. This sort of investigation is also good for helping you insert clues that the group has already missed—there’s no reason why armchair investigators aren’t going to show a player’s talent for missing what you think is obvious at the same time, after all. But don’t discount the potential for red herrings; encouraging cleverness is all very well, but even clever people aren’t always right.

In sum, don’t be afraid to let your players take their own investigation paths. What they come up with might not be quite what you were looking for, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to result in something better. Go with the flow, and have fun!

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