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Author Topic: No investigations?  (Read 2884 times)
contracycle
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« on: March 10, 2011, 11:40:41 PM »

I find myself really puzzled by a statement Ron makes in the Air Patrol Ronnies thread:

Quote
Let's talk about investigations as game processes. More blunt facts: players don't investigate anything, or rather, not when "anything" means a fictional situation. They never do; it's not possible. Investigations may be venues for something else interesting, in which case the "something else" needs to be understood as the point of play. Or they may not, and if not, they're merely transitions and Color in terms of what really matters, which in many cases is what is discovered (and hence guaranteed to be discovered).

I... have to disagree.  I would claim that I have experience investigations both as a player and as a GM.  We've discussed trails and all that stuff before, so perhaps that doesn't need to be reprised, but I am thinking of a prticular moment of play that, it seems to me, does demonstrate real investigation in action.

It's the kind of thing where you have players riffing off each other, where player 1 raises factoid A, and player 2, raises factoid B, which they have learned through play, and they go back and forth a bit and come up with a hypothesis, which they can go out and test.  And that is what they then do, and the GM feeds the back results, and that serves to confirm or refute the hypothesis, and therefore they either have a new direction of travel, or go back to speculating about other possible solutions.

I've seen this and done this a lot.  Furthermore, I would claim that the players find it engaging; I know I certainly do when I am on of them.  More specifically, I mean that to my eyes as the GM I see players interested, engaged, animated, excited.  I say they like putting together the pieces.  I don't really know if this is or isn't what Ron referred to.

I played in along running Mage game that was heavily investigative.  It was a classic mysterious-murders-in-the-city plotline, and we did all sorts of investigative stuff.  We correlated the victims by income and job and gender and even eye colour.  We plotted their locations against a map, and against time, and against astrological symbols.  We interviewed their friends and families; we broke into evidence lockups to perform our own analyses.  We extended the search back beyond a human lifetime, this being WoD.  And all of this was player-initiated.

I'm well aware that investigative type scenarios have weaknesses, and that they can often collapse into the GM leading players by the nose.  I'm not disputing the dangers of the form.  But to say it never happens, that it's impossible?  That seems a bit strong.  I would come back to this weekly game with new ideas, having spent a lot of thought in the mean while as to how we might progress the case.  I thoroughly enjoyed this as a process, as an experience.  How is this not "really investigating"?
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David Berg
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« Reply #1 on: March 11, 2011, 12:48:15 AM »

Gareth,

The coolest part of your Mage game was the data synthesis and analysis, right?  The data collection process was just as Ron said: (a) a means to an end, and (b) opportunities for cool color.

It sounds to me like you and Ron are simply using the word "investigation" differently.  He's using it for data collection, and you're using it for the whole process of collection-synthesis-analysis.  (Just like when two roleplayers argue about "discovery", and one means "the GM tells me what I see next", while the other means "I analyzed the data and found a pattern!")

Or maybe not.  I can't make heads or tails of "it's not possible to investigate a fictional situation".  I've had Call of Cthulhu scenes that exactly reproduced the process and experience of actual data collection.  Which is boring as fuck.
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contracycle
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« Reply #2 on: March 11, 2011, 01:30:12 AM »

Maybe?  I don't know.  I mean, do you consider breaking into a cop shop to lift the physical evidence "data collection" or "the point of play"?  I'm not really seeing a hard line between the two.

The view that this sort of action is the point of play makes a certain sense, but it was to contrast with that position that I wanted to show that we enjoyed the other bit, the analysis, as well.  Even though we weren't rolling dice, it was not excluded from being engaging and interesting in it's own right.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
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David Berg
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« Reply #3 on: March 11, 2011, 02:59:10 AM »

Hmm.  How about this:
  • Breaking into the cop shot could be a viable point of play.
  • Seeing the physical evidence could be a viable point of play.
  • Poking around inside the cop shop to potentially find the physical evidence or not find it could not be a viable point of play.

By "data collection" I meant the task of finding data, not observing or physically taking found data.  Perhaps I should have said "data mining".
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stefoid
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« Reply #4 on: March 11, 2011, 04:24:12 AM »

"It's the kind of thing where you have players riffing off each other, where player 1 raises factoid A, and player 2, raises factoid B, which they have learned through play, and they go back and forth a bit and come up with a hypothesis, which they can go out and test.  And that is what they then do, and the GM feeds the back results, and that serves to confirm or refute the hypothesis, and therefore they either have a new direction of travel, or go back to speculating about other possible solutions."

Personally, this is a style of play that I dont like.  Its basically the players guessing what the GM wants.  Its kind of like a more involved version of 'guess the number Im thinking'  Is it 4?  no.  Is it 17?  no, but Ill give you a hint, its less than 15 and more than 2.  Is it 9?  no.

Yes, it isnt as random and arbitrary as that, but its still a bunch of players (not characters) trying to guess/deduce what the GM thinks the clues should mean.

No, I dont know the solution to that if someone does , please tell me. Even in games that arent supposed to be investigation games, there are often periods of play where the characters are trying to work out what is going on or why something is happening, so I think the situation is broadly relevant.
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contracycle
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« Reply #5 on: March 11, 2011, 10:33:19 AM »

Well, so what, if we are enjoying it?

Now I'm not saying this can't break down.  I fully acknowledge that can happen.  But I could just as easily say that readers of an Agatha Christie novel are "guessing what the author wants".  It's true enough, but it's also popular enough to be its own genre.  In addition I don't think the criterion about players doing it is a negative; it's players who address premise, players who step up, players who explore, not characters.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: March 11, 2011, 05:58:42 PM »

Gareth, that's not really fair. You asked 'How is this not "really investigating"?'. It's still possible for you to enjoy something even if it turns out not to really be investigating.

Personally I think stefoid's number example is actual investigation, if at the less complex end of the investigation spectrum. What I think Ron is refering to isn't even that - it really is the GM deciding the pace and whether you have futtered around enough to move on to the next penciled event. In the number guessing game, unless the dudes just cheating, you have to get the number right to move on. What Ron's refering to, if I understand him, is a GM who lets you stew for how long he thinks he needs you to, then you find the gun in the alley. You only find the gun when he wants you to, while with the number guessing game you might just nail it on the first guess, whether he would want you to or not.
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contracycle
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« Reply #7 on: March 11, 2011, 07:39:59 PM »

Gareth, that's not really fair. You asked 'How is this not "really investigating"?'. It's still possible for you to enjoy something even if it turns out not to really be investigating.

Granted.  But as above, I said that to head off the argument that the investigation was just a means to project the characters into "action scenes" or whatever, and that bit is these scenes which were in fact the point of play.  That the investigation was purely a structure. Can be, I happily acknowlegde, and nothing wrong with it if it is.  But tI don't think it automatically has to be.

Quote
Personally I think stefoid's number example is actual investigation, if at the less complex end of the investigation spectrum. What I think Ron is refering to isn't even that - it really is the GM deciding the pace and whether you have futtered around enough to move on to the next penciled event. In the number guessing game, unless the dudes just cheating, you have to get the number right to move on. What Ron's refering to, if I understand him, is a GM who lets you stew for how long he thinks he needs you to, then you find the gun in the alley. You only find the gun when he wants you to, while with the number guessing game you might just nail it on the first guess, whether he would want you to or not.

I acknowledged that the form is prone to flaws.  I don't dispute at all that this happens. I DO dispute that this always happens.  This rests on the assumption that the investigation is merely a sort of disguised dungeon.  But that isn't necessarily the case.  It presumes that the players are not frex initiating an investigation into something on their own account.  That it always has to do with revealing the "plot", rather than revealing the setting.  That the solutions are merely waypoints that the PC's have to hit in order to meet a GM's prefigured outcome.

What if those aren't the case?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: March 11, 2011, 09:54:53 PM »

I would measure unless the GM makes up game like the number guesser, or clue sweeper or the rules already have something like those (or a player makes it up on the spot and it's used), it doesn't matter if the players initiated the 'investigation' - it's still that thing Ron mentioned.

If players press on in a fictional direction the GM didn't decide stuff in advance about, it doesn't mean no ones predeciding things and it that it then becomes like a real life investigation. It just means the person who is in control isn't aware they are, nor is anyone else aware they are.
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contracycle
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« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2011, 10:39:04 PM »

Well it does matter, because (what you deduce from) Ron's argument suggests that it's always GM-driven outcome manipulation.  But if it's not prepared material the GM is insisting upon, but something the players chose to explore of their own volition, then I don't see how that argument holds.

I'm not sure what you mean about the number thing.  There is a big difference between "I'm thinking of a number", in which I can always change the number, or not think of one at all, and a situation like "I have written a number down on a piece of paper, which I have placed in this sealed envelope".  The latter can be checked, and the problem with the former lies in the fact that it can't.

So it not just a guessing game in which the players are being strung along at the GM's whim.  There is a solution; the "clues", as such, do have a particular, grounded, meaning.  It's not an arbitrary process.

I don't follow your last paragraph. I didn't refer to anything being undecided, I referred to things not being plotted.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
Callan S.
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« Reply #10 on: March 12, 2011, 04:16:54 PM »

Gareth, in terms of my first paragraph where the GM or the rules have a number guesser, or a clue sweeper, or a guess who built into them, and in terms of your question "But to say it never happens, that it's impossible?" I agree an investigative process does occur. It's not impossible. But with air patrol, I'm not sure it has components like those in the text.

Then there's something else you want to say is investigation.
Quote
But if it's not prepared material the GM is insisting upon, but something the players chose to explore of their own volition, then I don't see how that argument holds.
You seem to be saying the players choosing to explore of their own volition makes some sort of difference? To me it doesn't. Say I wrote a story where some people in the story are roleplaying and instead of players being led by the nose in direction X, they head by their own volition in direction Y...and someone is still leading the others by the nose, they just don't know they are doing it. Does that sound like an impossible event in the story? I remember reading a book in school once where the author actually screwed up on continuity and had a (at that point dead) character walk in and all other characters are cool with it. So what I'm describing as a story, does it have a similar glaring error or as a story the events fall into place okay? I'm not trying to argue this was the case, I'm just trying to present a plausible scenario/story to finish up on.
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contracycle
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« Reply #11 on: March 12, 2011, 07:12:58 PM »

All I'm saying there is that if the players are going off piste, then it can't be argued that it is a "panama canal" style event in which the GM decides to shepherd them to the next prepared stage, because clearly there is no next prepared stage.  I have no idea what you might mean by someone still allegedly leading them without knowing it.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
dreamborn
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« Reply #12 on: March 18, 2011, 10:10:34 AM »

I'm of the opinion that the GM presents data/clues to the players.  They through their characters analyze the data and make individual /group decisions what to do next.  I have run numerous adventures where they made incorrect conclusions and paid the ultimate price.  One of these was an actual murder investigation.

Www.dreamborn.com. (Omnificent Roleplaying System)
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David Berg
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« Reply #13 on: March 18, 2011, 12:44:48 PM »

Hey Kent, I've seen that work great, and I've also seen it suck.  What do you do to make it work?
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dreamborn
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« Reply #14 on: March 18, 2011, 01:04:56 PM »

As a GM I have to be able to quickly adjust based on what the players do.  I never present a no win situation but sometimes they get over their heads.  My group and I have an understanding that THEY must play their characters, NOT me.  If they do something really stupid I let them and they know this.  They know sometimes the best action is to runaway.  I have found that after adjusting to this type of play that the players prefer it.  They have become very good at analyzing the situation and knowing their limitations.

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