Whodunit/whydunit

Claudio is working on Inquest, his notion of actually playing an invesigation and maybe, even investigating. A lot of people reading this have sweated over the fundamental contradiction: that the fictional “mystery” is no mystery at all to its author, and therefore how may role-players experience a mystery. So I’m hoping for some real discussion of his concept, especially the notion of time and its relation, not to whether the murder will out, but when in relation to what the investigators know.

You will, however, have to tolerate one or two flights into literary discussion, including something absolutely terrible which I say about Sherlock Holmes. I mean, really bad, cancel-worthy, at least from any decent detective/mystery community.

The first session was a bit tentative as he hadn’t played yet, but the second session followed some dedicated play with different groups and has plenty of material to work through. Those of you interested in resources and dice will find it worth watching. Also, one of my big concerns, especially for this topic, is whether play includes “off-script” activity, i.e., neither mandated nor prompted. Another is asymmetrical information and its consequences. You can see us work through some of those here, but I think we have some distance to go.

Finally: please appreciate the pleasure and enthusiasm which the “playful play” process brings. Nothing about designing a role-playing game needs to be so grim, wrenching, and portentous as so often displayed, or, I suspect, as so often performed.

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9 responses to “Whodunit/whydunit”

  1. This was really great to listen to!

    I really love the phrase “Earn Your Cozy” and it’s going to be rattling around in my head. Especially, because I’ve had pretty bad interactions with Brindlewood Bay.

    Two games came to mind when I heard about the use of time in the game.

    The Quick – This game bills itself as Nordic Noir with Ghosts. I have played it. It uses Threat Clocks similar to Apocalypse World but they act as kind of an ordered, escalating list of Bangs. The GM simply throws one at the players at appropriate times.

    Grey Cells – I have not played this one. This one uses a Villainous Agenda track that simply advances at the end of every single scene. It’s weird because it assumes the players are a group that are always together. In fact, if they want to split up they actually have to make a roll. Depending on the outcome of the roll the “B Team” might be operating at a penalty in their split off scene but it doesn’t advance the Villainous Agenda track.

    Anyway, more food for thought.

    • Thanks for the ecommendation. I think I’ll abstain for now from reading similar games, and focus on building on my own play for development of the system — I genuinely think I have the core of something really good and I don’t want to be influenced.

  2. A great consult to listen to! Very informative.

    I have a question on the dice mechanic part of the discussion, the part about rerolls.

    So, if a player wins a roll, then they should “get something” – which means, I’m guessing, at a minimum a change in the fiction that can’t be ignored, and will need to be reincorporated by the other players and GM. I get that if a subsequent roll simply cancels this, that’s quite bad for a number of reasons, and can lead to resentment or burnout. This does not happen with “rerolls” in Trollbabe because nothing is simply cancelled- every roll has some significant effect in the shared fiction, and can affect resources. Is that correct so far?

    So in the specific case that Claudio mentioned, I’m a little confused – did the player who initially won the roll get something – he “won the argument”, or not?

    What exactly was the conflict? Was the conflict being rolled for: (1) to convince everyone who the killer was, or (2) whether or not to make public the identity of the killer, or (3) to cover up the crime and help the killer get away with it – or something else?

    If it was (1), then it sounds like the first winner’s roll did make a significant difference – everyone now believes them about who the killer is. If that’s right, then the subsequent reroll doesn’t cancel that, but it does sound like the nature of the conflict changed from “agreement on who the killer is” to “whether to help them get away with it”. In that case, is it really proper to call it a reroll? It sounds like a new conflict.

    If the conflict was (2) or (3), then I get it – the reroll really does cancel out the first success, which sounds like an undesirable mechanic to have.

    Appreciate any clarification on this!

    • The conflict was about (3). So, in a sense, you’re right.

      We had a little bit of narration before rerolling, but not nearly enough to be consequential.

      I think what prevented it from feeling cheap is that the winning player had a good roll, decided not to reroll, and still got 2nd place, and we established the outcome like this:

      1st place: The military officer woman -> to intimidate
      by force anyone that doesn’t want to cover up the conflict

      2nd place: The arrogant detective -> to convince the crowd that the victim ought to be punished

      So, the conclusion was that he did, indeed, convince the crowd that the victim ought to be punished, but he was seized by the military officer and her guards. I don’t think it’s a minor detail!

      All of this said, I have now tested the mechanic with significant narration between rerolls (and no risking resources on the first roll) and I can confirm that it works much, much better.”

      I think the above case was fortuitous, because the player who won in the end had a significantly different approach than the one who won on the first roll, so it wasn’t a direct upset and invalidation of what had just happened.

    • Hi Claudio, thanks for the reply!

      Regarding:

      “1st place: The military officer woman -> to intimidate
      by force anyone that doesn’t want to cover up the conflict”

      I assume you mean “cover up the crime”?

      Then:

      “2nd place: The arrogant detective -> to convince the crowd that the victim ought to be punished”

      Ok, aren’t these two different goals? (A) to intimidate everyone opposing them through violence, (B) to verbally persuade the group the killer deserves punishment. Am I understanding that correctly?

      “So, the conclusion was that he did, indeed, convince the crowd that the victim ought to be punished, but he was seized by the military officer and her guards. I don’t think it’s a minor detail!”

      It’s certainly significant. My only question is, if there were two different goals at play, did you want just one roll to adjudicate both outcomes? As opposed to having separate rolls for each goal?

      Please note I’m not criticizing or making any suggestions, just curious about how you want your system to work. It sounds awesome so far!

    • So, yeah, I meant “cover up the crime”

      The conflict roll had the scope of “does the crime get covered up?”. But it’s very vague, on purpose, to allow for zoomed-out rolls with different approaches per character.

      Every player is free to determine the approach of their characters as part of this roll. So you might have one character who’s using physical violence, and another who’s using persuasion.

      Each character specifies their approach and objective. Then we roll. In order, we rank each character’s roll, objectives that are higher in ranking take precedence over objectives that are lower in ranking.

      I guess technically you could have different “conflicts” happening at the same time with different stakes as part of a single “conflict roll context”, especially if different characters have non-competing objectives. I see this mostly as a technicality, however, I call the entire roll mechanic “conflict” nonetheless.

  3. I watched the Inquest consultation videos. The discussion about GM’s having very solid notions about what NPCs do and don’t know while leaving a (possibly broad) “squishy” area between the two was VERY useful to me. That tends to be my practice, so the discussion was mostly affirming, but it also confirmed my sense that it’s easy to slip into “writing” mode absent the solid grounding at either end of the know/don’t know spectrum.

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