One of the more common adventure types that I encountered during my brief time with the RPGA was the investigative adventure – the mystery.
Recently, I’ve been playing the Star Wars RPG "Dawn of Defiance" series of adventures, and guess what we’re finding? Mysteries. Not every adventure, but enough of them.
And I really, really hate them. Especially in Star Wars. But also in D&D.
I don’t mind secrets. No, what I mind is the players not knowing what they’re supposed to be doing. I really hate it when every lead you follow turns out to be a dead end or a red herring. Or when the NPC you’re talking to has the information you need, but will only tell you if you ask exactly the right questions.
If you look at "A New Hope", there’s no investigation going on at all. At every point, the goal of the main characters is really clear. There are revelations aplenty, though. There are secrets that the main characters learn, but they’re not something they need to tease out. Hey, they’re thrown in their faces. At a slow spot, when Luke and Han are on the Death Star and all they’re doing is just waiting around for Obi-Wan to disable the tractor beam, all of a sudden the droids realise the Princess is aboard and the boys have a goal again. Actually getting the princess (and out again) is trickier than they expect, but the action is always driving on.
In most mystery adventures I’ve played in, we’ve spent most of our time just sitting around wondering what to do next. Someone’s disappeared on the planet? OK, we go there. We ask about her. No-one’s seen her. Where does that leave us? Frustrated, that’s where.
Now, there may be people out there that are great at playing in investigative adventures, but the players I play with aren’t them. Although I’m not quite sure if the adventures aren’t causing the problems in the first place – what is a well written investigative adventure?