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, I made a special point of figuring out what had gone wrong with the first and trying to avoid repeating those mistakes.

The first mistake I made was having little to no continuity with the rest of the plot. Granted, part of that was because the group had just been uprooted to a new area, but that didn’t keep it from feeling like filler. Hardly any of the characters involved had shown up in the storyline before, it didn’t seem to do anything for the group’s goals—it seemed like a speedbump even to me. I avoided that mistake in the second one by paying special attention to continuity; it had an in-plot purpose, had been set up about a month in real-time before it actually took place, and made it almost entirely based on characters that had already appeared—in fact, the only characters involved in the mystery who hadn’t already appeared in the story were my experts, who were pretty much created by the group choosing a new angle of attack for the case.

The second was having a far too vague suspect list. One of my players later explained to me that the list had been narrowed to “Anyone at the party who didn’t like us”–which, given that this was more a Major Event than a small party, made for a pretty wide and varied list. The fact that the few named characters I introduced weren’t the type to have done it didn’t help any, and left the group struggling for ideas. In the later mystery, I made a point of keeping the suspect list compact, and the witness list even more so; the total of both categories combined was less than ten.

Similarly, I hadn’t put too much thought into means of investigation, and did that ever come back to haunt me. I figured the players would figure something out; they figured I’d figure something out. So there was a lot of figuring, but not much action; I had better luck getting them into arguments with a carnivorous plant than getting that mystery solved. On my second try, I made sure I had a path planned; a strong hook, witnesses that would clearly direct them to other witnesses, and even clues by cover-up.

In the end, that one was a failure. But because of that failure, I was able to make the second mystery attempt a success.

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