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Clue Aversion


Territan
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--Group superhero stories in the comics virtually never involve mysteries.

--Mysteries can be really hard for a group to play.

--Mysteries are hard for a GM to run without becoming a plot on rails.

--Some players just don't like solving mysteries.  It isn't fun at all for them.

--Some players may like solving mysteries, but that doesn't mean their character has any skill or interest in it.  The Incredible Hulk is not known as a great detective.

 

I usually have a hard time playing mysteries because in my experience, GMs want to hand out little details slowly and awkwardly.  In fact I tend to get mad when I ask a few questions, try to make a few skill rolls, and the GM says something like "you don't find any clues."  Then they want me to keep jumping through hoops until I randomly stumble across their plot.  It's infuriating.  After reading the recap, my thought is "why didn't the DNPC just tell him what the hell is going on?"

 

You have to realize that the player can't actually see anything that is happening.  He is 100% dependent on you giving him information.  There is no burned down catering building for him to investigate -- it exists purely in the GM's mind.  If he goes to investigate it and you say "you don't find anything", then he doesn't know what to do next.  The player doesn't know if he's supposed to continue investigating there ("I dig through the ashes, hunting for a secret basement or something"), or if he's just supposed to move on and wait for something else to happen.  Maybe the GM isn't ready to reveal the plan yet.

 

Again, I wonder why the DNPC didn't tell him more on the phone.  I'm sure the player does too.  I think the "I go and get drunk tonight" was a direct message to the GM that the player is not having fun with this story, and is ready for you to get to the point.  In my experience, behavior like that is supposed to tell the GM "I don't understand what you're going for, this isn't working".

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OK, I've had situations like this and this is how I handled it in a campaign.  YMMV.

 

PS: It's a lot harder in CON games or games where you have little say over what the players bring (like say a communally GM'd campaign).

 

1) If you are going to have mysteries in your group, make sure your players know that there will be mysteries to solve.  They will tend to buy up their INT and deduction skills and possibly buy things like forensics and criminology. 

2) Never have them roll to spot evidence or never tell them what they need to make it by.  Just have everyone roll perception and tell them to tell you how much they make or miss it by.  If they all fail, then simply say there was a bonus to their perception modifier (make up something like "Your experience in super power combat gives a bonus the police don't have in ordinary crime.") and the players who made it the closest are the ones who spotted the clue.

3) If they continue to ignore the plight of the DNPC, kill the DNPC.  Yes, that is correct.  Kill the DNPC (or effectively eliminate the NPC from the game).  Its an NPC, or effectively your character, not the players.  I can see the NPC getting into serious trouble and no longer wanting to be their DNPC.  In the situation you describe, you could give the player 1 last chance.  The DNPC is supposed to have a date with the hero but doesn't show up and doesn't tell him about breaking the date.  If he goes to her apartment, she's not there and the villain is burning her apartment down. Stopping the villain will lead to the question of where is she.  If he doesn't care, that's fine; she's gone.  If you don't want her dead, she is rescued by another superhero (one who will annoy the hero) whom she has fallen in love with.  Make the player get a different NPC or buy off the complication.  If its a second reporter, well people in the industry do like to gossip and the player though, handsome, rich, and smart, never seemed to pay much attention to his last girlfriend...

4) The two skills most heroes need, especially if the players are a bit clueless to your mechanizations is deduction and tactics.  Deduction is great for "Hey, this is the plot thread!" rolls and Tactics is good for "You ain't gonna win!" rolls.  Apply rule #2 to these rolls as well.

5) Recap adventures in the beginning of the session.  Most players don't take notes.  They don't remember what happened last adventure let alone the one, one or two adventures ago.  Emphasize the clues they have found. 

6) Even with all these things, players can be dense.  Auto pilot them. If you ended with their discovery of the burning car, the next adventure auto pilot them, by saying, "Last adventure, you found someone's body in your girlfriend's car.  In your concern for her safety, you go to her place and check up on her where she leads to this startling confession 'I think someone might be trying to kill me.'"  If they still aren't biting, go to #3.

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On 3/18/2019 at 3:51 AM, massey said:

--Group superhero stories in the comics virtually never involve mysteries. 

That is very true. Questions never go beyond "who is the villain?", "what is the villains plan?" and "where is the villain so I can punch him to stop him?"

And even those questions are usually designed so the Heroes can not fail to solve them.

I mean if the heroes somehow manage to fail all 3 questions, the villain will reveal himself (and his plan) publically in short order. If nothing else, to brag and lament how dull the heroes are :)

 

On 3/18/2019 at 3:51 AM, massey said:

--Some players may like solving mysteries, but that doesn't mean their character has any skill or interest in it.  The Incredible Hulk is not known as a great detective.

His solution is usually to start a rampage and have other superheroes solve the Mystery so they can calm him down with the solution. "Playing to your strenghts" and all that ;)

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On 3/16/2019 at 6:34 PM, MrKinister said:

What do your players want? Give that to them. It will make them happy.

 

Okay, so combat, combat, combat, combat, and combat. We can put that topic to bed now.

 

On 3/16/2019 at 6:34 PM, MrKinister said:

Now, the question then remains, what do you, as a GM, want? Do you want to run combat scenarios all the time? Do you want to make things more clever or cerebral?

 

I'd been trying to run this thing "slice of life" style. There'd be combats, there'd be times when they need to talk to people to get things done, there'd be times when they need to talk people down from doing something foolish or destructive. And I tried to throw in times when they'd have to do a little searching to find who it is they'd need to fight, talk up, or talk down. The feel of the campaign as a living space may be one of the few reasons they know as many of the NPCs' names as they do (and it's still bitterly disappointing what a percentage that is). I would like to back away from all-fighto-all-the-time and get them to think, but I'm fairly certain now the players who were interested in thoughtful RP and investigation just don't show up any more, and I'm left with the murderheroes.

 

Most of all, at this moment, I'd like to back away from this campaign before it becomes something truly ugly, or start over with characters that are nowhere near as defensive in their design. In this, telling the Gatekeepers to lift the alien embargo might be enough to end the campaign right there, as they were right in keeping them away.

 

On 3/16/2019 at 6:34 PM, MrKinister said:

And that might just be the case: If the players are new to "investigations", they really may have no idea how to go about them. A few in-game examples of how to think through such a situation, and what to pay attention to, and the types of questions to ask, will give them an education on how to proceed in those types of scenarios. Again, unless your players are deliberately dragging their feet because all they really want to do is get into the next fight they will eventually pick up on these details.

 

They had an NPC once, a team-mate that did some of the investigating stuff for them. He had to leave town for reasons that I won't get into here. But they nicknamed him "Batman" because he was reacting to clues. Basically, his attempts to investigate and understand what was going on was just cause for mockery to the PCs.

 

I have a breathtakingly passive-aggressive group. "Deliberately dragging their feet" could well be an understatement.

 

On 3/16/2019 at 6:39 PM, MrKinister said:

Oh, yeah. And in order to not get stuck on rolls, any information that is critical to the plot should NOT be behind a roll-wall. If it is really that critical, they will have to get it, no matter how. That will have to be an investigation freebie. It should be easy to get, even if there are rolls present. Otherwise you may be shooting yourself in the plot-foot. ?

 

(Or you could just look at this thing I wrote in 2015 and give me advice out of that.)

 

18 hours ago, dsatow said:

3) If they continue to ignore the plight of the DNPC, kill the DNPC.  Yes, that is correct.  Kill the DNPC (or effectively eliminate the NPC from the game).

 

Death is the easy way out. Remember that knife-twist I mentioned earlier?

 

After all the above happened, DNPC emerges from hiding as if nothing happened, but clearly something did. The once struggling reporter suddenly has a job with a reputable news organization, a few quick high-profile bylines about events around town, and enough money for a new car, one far better than the beat up old station wagon she'd been tooling around in. She emerges from the incident with an apparent boost of confidence and bravado—which is especially troubling considering that she's a normie and the "incident" involved being chased by a walking flamethrower and watching someone die in her place. No, she doesn't want to talk about what happened, and why should she want to relive that awfulness? It's better that she focus on the future and do what she must to continue living well.

 

And then the PC gets the option to drop the DNPC Complication in favor of something else. No, he can't buy her as a Contact because reasons.

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13 minutes ago, Territan said:

Okay, so combat, combat, combat, combat, and combat. We can put that topic to bed now. 

Sometimes the only advice we can give someone is to get out of a Relationship that does not work. It does not mater if those are Economic, Romantic or Player/GM relationships.

 

Confirming that those are the only paths we see as well can be a big help here. And everything you said has just been confirming it.

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On 3/16/2019 at 5:39 PM, MrKinister said:

Oh, yeah. And in order to not get stuck on rolls, any information that is critical to the plot should NOT be behind a roll-wall. If it is really that critical, they will have to get it, no matter how. That will have to be an investigation freebie. It should be easy to get, even if there are rolls present. Otherwise you may be shooting yourself in the plot-foot. ?

 

 

This is a good point though I sometimes use the power of the GM screen to make a badly missed roll an "opposed" roll and exclaim that I have rolled even worse and then give the players just enough of a hint to continue.

 

Alternately, I will move a clue to another location and use passive scores such as:  Witcher-guy, you notice with your (PER 15-) enhanced senses that there is the smell of copper and jasmine very faintly emanating from behind the vanity...

 

Just insert whichever high skill rank a relevant character has and give them a freebie while making their investment in the aforementioned skill part of what makes them critical to the team's success.

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23 hours ago, Territan said:

 

Okay, so combat, combat, combat, combat, and combat. We can put that topic to bed now.

 

 

I'd been trying to run this thing "slice of life" style. There'd be combats, there'd be times when they need to talk to people to get things done, there'd be times when they need to talk people down from doing something foolish or destructive. And I tried to throw in times when they'd have to do a little searching to find who it is they'd need to fight, talk up, or talk down. The feel of the campaign as a living space may be one of the few reasons they know as many of the NPCs' names as they do (and it's still bitterly disappointing what a percentage that is). I would like to back away from all-fighto-all-the-time and get them to think, but I'm fairly certain now the players who were interested in thoughtful RP and investigation just don't show up any more, and I'm left with the murderheroes.

 

Most of all, at this moment, I'd like to back away from this campaign before it becomes something truly ugly, or start over with characters that are nowhere near as defensive in their design. In this, telling the Gatekeepers to lift the alien embargo might be enough to end the campaign right there, as they were right in keeping them away.

 

 

They had an NPC once, a team-mate that did some of the investigating stuff for them. He had to leave town for reasons that I won't get into here. But they nicknamed him "Batman" because he was reacting to clues. Basically, his attempts to investigate and understand what was going on was just cause for mockery to the PCs.

 

I have a breathtakingly passive-aggressive group. "Deliberately dragging their feet" could well be an understatement.

 

 

(Or you could just look at this thing I wrote in 2015 and give me advice out of that.)

 

 

Death is the easy way out. Remember that knife-twist I mentioned earlier?

 

After all the above happened, DNPC emerges from hiding as if nothing happened, but clearly something did. The once struggling reporter suddenly has a job with a reputable news organization, a few quick high-profile bylines about events around town, and enough money for a new car, one far better than the beat up old station wagon she'd been tooling around in. She emerges from the incident with an apparent boost of confidence and bravado—which is especially troubling considering that she's a normie and the "incident" involved being chased by a walking flamethrower and watching someone die in her place. No, she doesn't want to talk about what happened, and why should she want to relive that awfulness? It's better that she focus on the future and do what she must to continue living well.

 

And then the PC gets the option to drop the DNPC Complication in favor of something else. No, he can't buy her as a Contact because reasons.

 

Reading that, my first thought is that the DNPC reporter is clearly in on it.  She finds the clues no one else finds, she walks away with someone else dead in her place, now she's getting the cool car and the big paychecks?  Yeah, she's the murderer.

 

I have no idea if that's your story or not.  But I put it out there because even if it's not your story, I think it's still a reasonable conclusion that a player could draw from the clues you have given.  I've had the luxury of seeing it written down and reading it several times.  I've been able to read it when I'm up and awake and my brain is working right (as opposed to sometimes in the game, when we've stayed up late and it's past my bedtime).  I don't think that's what you intended with your mystery.  Point is, it can be really hard to solve when you're just going from the description somebody else gives.

 

It would be like assembling a jigsaw puzzle if you were blind, and somebody is describing what each piece looks like.  

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6 hours ago, massey said:

I have no idea if that's your story or not.  But I put it out there because even if it's not your story, I think it's still a reasonable conclusion that a player could draw from the clues you have given.

Then they would be trying to find her asuming that was the mystery.

 

They are not trying to find her for any reason, period. They really just do not like mysteries.

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One of the challenging parts with stories that lean away from combat is that you need to develop two things:

1-  Motivation - Why do the characters care?  What's their stake in what's happening?  If they seem to not care about NPCs (not knowing names is a big clue) then they haven't been hooked.

    a.  The NPCs have to feel like real people in the story.  Real people that they care about.

    b.  This works for villains as well.  They'll stop most any villain because it's the right thing to do, but a villain they have personal reasons to loathe will add an intensity to the combat that is otherwise absent.

2-  The characters have to be actual characters.  This means the players have to feel they have a character in a story and not a pile of combat stats.

    a.  Some (most) of this is on the players.  If they are just moving the Knight on their chessboard they're not as deeply invested.

    b.  Some of this is on the GM to hook the players and their characters into the story.  It's hard to do well.  Keep practicing.

 

If you're using pre-canned adventures then be picky.  I grabbed War for the Crown from Pathfinder a few months ago and started my group down that path even though I had concerns it would be too social schmoozing and intrigue related and too light on combat.  The players love it!  It is such a nice break from the other campaign we were doing - Dungeon of the Mad Mage - which is a 1000 room dungeon slog.

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21 hours ago, massey said:

 

Reading that, my first thought is that the DNPC reporter is clearly in on it.  She finds the clues no one else finds, she walks away with someone else dead in her place, now she's getting the cool car and the big paychecks?  Yeah, she's the murderer.

 

I have no idea if that's your story or not.  But I put it out there because even if it's not your story, I think it's still a reasonable conclusion that a player could draw from the clues you have given.  I've had the luxury of seeing it written down and reading it several times.  I've been able to read it when I'm up and awake and my brain is working right (as opposed to sometimes in the game, when we've stayed up late and it's past my bedtime).  I don't think that's what you intended with your mystery.  Point is, it can be really hard to solve when you're just going from the description somebody else gives.

 

It would be like assembling a jigsaw puzzle if you were blind, and somebody is describing what each piece looks like.  

 

It feels to me like this is missing the OP's point.  He's not saying "Stupid players.  Why can they not see exactly what is going on from the clues I have dropped."  He is, as I read the thread, saying "why are the players not tugging on any of the loose threads?"

 

I would say that "she is the murderer" could be a reasonable hypothesis to draw in the above scenario.  Now, what further action could my character take to prove or refute that hypothesis?

 

But any player who is going to extrapolate from Massey's scenario that the reporter was in on it probably would have followed up on the clues dropped by the DNPC earlier in the scenario, wouldn't they?

 

It definitely seems like the players are not interested in playing an investigative game, not that the GM is providing no leads they could investigate, or being unreasonable in expecting them to intuit some possible step they could reasonably take next.

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I only just learned about this, but apparently players "vote" what kind of Adventures they want to have with their Character Sheet.

However it is also true that the Sheet design indicates a clear Combat Focus.

So it is still equally likely that they wanted combat focussed sessions. And/or missread that there would be a high combat focus based on the sheet design.

 

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On 3/12/2019 at 7:38 AM, Spence said:

But to topic.  I'd suggest the GM pick up a GUMSHOE game (under $20 for some) and read their guidelines for mysteries and building investigative scenarios. 

 

There is a GUMSHOE SRD that is a free download. It has (at least most of) the guidelines to which you are referring. Google GUMSHOE SRD. It was the first result for me.

 

Lee

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Okay, it's been a few more sessions, and between the advice here and their declarations, I have a course forward. If there's a game after that fall-out, it may well be post-apocalypse. But first...

 

On 3/20/2019 at 12:28 PM, Christopher said:

Sometimes the only advice we can give someone is to get out of a Relationship that does not work. It does not mater if those are Economic, Romantic or Player/GM relationships.

 

Confirming that those are the only paths we see as well can be a big help here. And everything you said has just been confirming it.

 

"Just end the relationship" sounds so simple. I have proposed ending the game quietly and gently in the past. They weren't having any of it—they absolutely wanted it to continue. If I end it, I'm essentially going to have to not just knife the baby, but feed it through the in-sink disposal. Given that they're still playing murderheroes, every day I'm feeling better and better about that future action.

 

 

On 3/21/2019 at 12:17 PM, massey said:

Reading that, my first thought is that the DNPC reporter is clearly in on it.  She finds the clues no one else finds, she walks away with someone else dead in her place, now she's getting the cool car and the big paychecks?  Yeah, she's the murderer.

 

...

 

Seriously?

 

Okay, perhaps it's an interesting take, making the PC's potential girlfriend a murderer, but in a heroic campaign, that would make her unsustainable as a DNPC. Then again, since I've observed that the heroism in this campaign is skid-marked, paper-thin, and not even two-ply soft, it's a cruel twist I could use elsewhere. It's not that she found the clues nobody else could, she found the clues nobody else even bothered to look for.

 

Here's another odd detail about this group: For all their apparent love of roleplay, between four active characters at the moment (among three players), there are only two DNPC Complications, and as has been observed one of them was apparently a mistake and misunderstanding about how a Dependent NPC would be, y'know, Dependent and might need rescuing from time to time. The other DNPC is on the groundhog.

 

 

On 3/22/2019 at 9:37 AM, Hugh Neilson said:

It feels to me like this is missing the OP's point.  He's not saying "Stupid players.  Why can they not see exactly what is going on from the clues I have dropped."  He is, as I read the thread, saying "why are the players not tugging on any of the loose threads?"

 

My problem is pretty close to ⬆︎this⬆︎. It may be a little more like "The players are turning up their noses at these loose threads like they're all gummy worms that have been licked by that one kid that has cooties. Is there some way forward beside ending the campaign or treating them like the combat monsters they seem to want to become?" And what I'm hearing from the conversation here is mostly "no" with two undercurrents, one of "they just don't want to do mysteries" and the other of "well you're doing mysteries wrong" despite, well, let's just say that I'm going to blithely ignore any further mentions of GUMSHOE from here on out in a fit of tit-for-tat.

 

 

A More Complete Run-Down of the Situation As Everything Comes Crashing Down Around Them

The inciting event with the whole DNPC thing is that there had been a string of robberies at the houses of people who had been at events hosted by that catering company. That rumor was essentially handed to PC by that DNPC the night of that event. Also on that particular night, someone's house got broken into and info taken which the previous owners really didn't want getting out, so the people (or folks above them in the conspyramid) caught onto the rumor about the catering company being involved and essentially murdered the business, burning most of its assets (and its owner and a few other people) to the ground in an effort to find the thieves. Months later (after PC essentially told DNPC to look into it herself) the DNPC had tracked down another of the employees and was having a meeting with her when the guy that burned down the business before interrupted. DNPC really was trying to give that girl a better chance to get away, but that didn't work out and that's how her car got crashed and burned. There was even sign that someone powered was involved, as each of his firing positions had footprints burned into the ground or concrete (a Side-Effect of his power). DNPC had managed to track down someone important in the debacle, though, and asked PC about those people and whether their house was reported broken in (it was broken in, but not reported). A basic answer was given, after which the PC decided to get hammered and ended up two states away (in the process aiding and abetting a fugitive, and all she had to do was flash a little skin; did I forget to mention this group's reputation as "funtime heroes"?).

 

Rather than kill her, though, the group behind all of this decided to prop her up, and look for ways to use her against him—they gave her a good job, a new car, a fair salary, and put her under near constant surveillance. She is essentially a free-to-move-about-town hostage at this point, and if she does anything to help the team, they'll see no use in keeping her alive. She's either got to play along or make some wonderfully dramatic information dump that changes all the facts of the case, and she's lost all faith in PC and will expect him to drop her at his earliest convenience (see also: swapping out the DNPC Complication). When she revealed all of these windfalls (which would have sounded alarms in a heroic type), he shrugged and said "okay." Even when he saw a woman watching them from another level of Pike Place, he briefly acknowledged her and went on his merry way. No F's given.

 

(It may be clear now why I found the hypothesis that she was in on the murder so particularly ridiculous; she's as much victim as the other girl. It's just that her death has been deferred.)

 

The conspiracy behind that has done other things, too; there was a team in the base they're using that was routed a decade before by a large force of armed men. One of said armed men was conducting surveillance on the home of the administrator at the base who isn't working for that conspiracy. And they discovered that another base, in Atlanta, had been run through with a similar force many months before, and mind-affecting projectors placed on the building to make people forget. References in media were scrubbed by other agents to make that team unhistory.

 

And that conspiracy is behind the other administrator of the team. Pretty soon she, with the help of agents within the police department, would start planting evidence and concocting crimes with which to frame individuals that the conspiracy wanted taken down. I mean, who wouldn't like a fighting force that can be aimed and fired at a target you want eliminated? And given that the group is dependent on the police for their investigations (Between the three constant characters, there are three points of Criminology. The groundhog has three points of Forensic Medicine), there's a good chance that they can be so aimed.

 

Of course, none of that might matter...

 

There's been a feature of the campaign from the very beginning: From the outset, I told them that their characters could not have alien or inter-dimensional backgrounds. The reason for this, they would discover, is that there is a group of five beings who is literally billions of years old, have pretty much every power they could imagine (think 2000-point VPP with no change time or restrictions), and is keeping Earth interdicted until humanity proves itself ready. Of course, they didn't like this, believing that they were treating Earth like an ant farm rather than a nursery. Finally, one of the PCs (supposedly the most rational, stable one of the bunch) decided to break the interdiction and demand that access to aliens be granted.

 

Out of play, that player was talking about how "cosmic-level" campaigning would involves attacks around 20d6 like it was a good thing. They want the challenge. They're actually looking forward to new opponents. They're almost literally dead wrong on this, and that group of five which I'd been calling the "Gatekeepers" were right to keep Earth closed off. 20d6? Try 30d6. 40d6. 50d6. They're going to find themselves outmatched quickly and brutally, and the land around them devastated. Like I said, this could become a post-apocalypse campaign. Or they could do something to make everything even worse.

#30#

 

The problem could be self-correcting, except that they might actually like the idea of playing post-apocalypse murder-powered-warlords.

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24 minutes ago, Territan said:

 

Seriously?

 

Okay, perhaps it's an interesting take, making the PC's potential girlfriend a murderer, but in a heroic campaign, that would make her unsustainable as a DNPC. Then again, since I've observed that the heroism in this campaign is skid-marked, paper-thin, and not even two-ply soft, it's a cruel twist I could use elsewhere. It's not that she found the clues nobody else could, she found the clues nobody else even bothered to look for.

 

Here's another odd detail about this group: For all their apparent love of roleplay, between four active characters at the moment (among three players), there are only two DNPC Complications, and as has been observed one of them was apparently a mistake and misunderstanding about how a Dependent NPC would be, y'know, Dependent and might need rescuing from time to time. The other DNPC is on the groundhog.

 

 

Yup.  To be honest, I kinda thought I'd solved the mystery.  I was like "oh yeah, I think I see where he's going with this.  It was her!"

 

Which goes to show how tough it can be to solve mysteries in games.  Who knows what the player is going to focus in on, or if they'll focus on anything at all.  I once played in a game where these two illusionist villains had seized a museum.  One of them had created this big dome of swirling colors over the building (it was a huge Darkness vs sight group).  The other was blasting sound inside.  They were immune, but nobody else could see or hear anything.  So I fly up, and up, and up.  Until I'm outside the dome.  I can't see or hear anything inside anyway.  Eventually I see some hostages being released, walking out of the color dome with their hands up.  A man and a woman.  I ask the GM "how old are they?"  He says "early twenties".  I think "hey... the villains are a man and a woman in their early twenties..."

 

I decided this was a hint that the GM was giving us.  It had to be.  Did you see the look on his face when he said the word "hostages"?  These have got to be the villains trying to sneak away, now that they've done whatever it is that they were doing.  I'd better shoot them.

 

Yeah, you guessed where this is going.  They were just normal hostages.  The GM's horrified expression told me that, when I said I was spreading my 15D6 EB to hit both of them.  Oops. 

 

Part of the problem is that you end up trying to read the GM's poker face.  You're looking for clues where there may not be any.  You end up second guessing yourself.  Did the GM say that word funny?  Is that supposed to be a hint?  Or maybe the GM doesn't remember that he didn't leave that clue he thought he left.  Some people are visual learners, and have a hard time seeing a scene based only on the GM's description of it.  Some people use the wrong word to describe a scene, or misunderstand a word and think it's something else.  Think of that damn gazebo.

 

--

 

As a result of this, I hate mystery games.  Occasionally I'll be in the mood to play one, but not usually.  I have a demanding job where I have to think a lot during the week.  The last thing I want to do on the weekend is solve somebody's puzzle that they may or may not be ready for me to solve yet.

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Territan, you mentioned that they're an extremely passive-aggressive group.  What if you acted passive-aggressively to change their behavior?

 

For instance, introduce another hero group.  (Maybe something akin to the Flashmen from the 4E Allies book.)  Have another pseudo-mystery - some minimal clues left around, maybe spoon-feed the players some info.  When the PCs (not surprisingly) don't follow up on those clues (with you giving them enough opportunity)... the other hero team does.  They finish off the bad guy and get all the media attention.  Maybe the other hero team begins bad-mouthing the PC hero team all over town.  As this continues, the public takes up the question:  "Who needs the MurderHobos when we've got NPCTeamX?"

 

Heck, you can even turn that into a simple mystery for the PCs to solve:  the other hero team is a tool of VIPER, and none of the criminals they stop is related to VIPER.  Even a minimal effort by the PCs can catch one of the NPC heroes meeting with a known VIPER associate.  Now they need to prove it. 

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