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Author Topic: Looking for feedback on my new game - Low Fantasy Detectives  (Read 3813 times)
SamSlayde
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« on: December 04, 2011, 03:31:37 AM »

Dungeon City Blues Low Fantasy Detective Procedural is the new game I've designed. It took a few months to get the ideas down and now I'd like some feedback on it.

It's not exactly a story or narrative game, so I'm sorry if I'm in the wrong place. It's fairly traditional take on the mystery genre, where I've focused the game design around the things I think are important to solving them. It's in a very rough stage right now, just text no formatting or images, if you get a chance to look and tell me where it feels lacking in content or focus, and what it could use more of, I'd be very appreciative.

Thanks,
S
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Dungeon City Blues
Low Fantasy Detective Procedural
SamSlayde
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« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2011, 03:34:23 AM »

Also, I realized a ways into this that there is another investigation focused game called Mutant City Blues out there. The names are rather similar so I'm thinking of changing mine to Dungeon Street Blues, what do you think?
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Dungeon City Blues
Low Fantasy Detective Procedural
Paul Czege
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« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2011, 09:26:18 AM »

Mutant City Blues is a very interesting game design. With Dungeon City Blues you've captured what you want from an investigation game, so there's no reason now to be cautious that your inspiration will be tainted by how another game does forensic mystery solving. You should really check out Mutant City Blues.

There's nothing really "Dungeony" about the game you've created. It's not set in a dungeon, just a sprawling D&D style fantasy city. You want "Dungeon" in the title just to suggest the assocation with D&D style fantasy?

I think Dungeon City Blues would be a lot of fun to play with you running it. I suspect it would be troubled by all of the problems of traditional mystery scenarios in roleplaying games when other people run it: missed clues (which never happens in the TV shows), bizarre theorizing and pursuit of bizarre theories, amoral and hardcore treatment of prisoners and suspects in the pursuit of answers (which taints the player characters, making them unlikable), killings of key NPCs (who were planned sources of information and assistance) resulting in no solvable path to the real perpetrators.

I really like your nonhuman races. I really like your focus on two detective partnerships. And I really like the concept of forensic alchemists.

One of the things Mutant City Blues does to make mysteries solvable is make sure each of the forensic skills is had (at a mastery level basically, where they don't fail if they use it) by at least one of the player characters. You could do something interesting with your focus on two detective partnerships and supporting NPCs like the forensic alchemists if you divide the forensic skills the player characters don't have across a cast of NPCs, and then create difficulties the players have to deal with in getting those other characters to produce information (strange personality, strange work hours, low motivation, distractability, bizarre theorizing :).

Paul
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"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
SamSlayde
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« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2011, 11:10:00 AM »

Mutant City Blues is a very interesting game design. With Dungeon City Blues you've captured what you want from an investigation game, so there's no reason now to be cautious that your inspiration will be tainted by how another game does forensic mystery solving. You should really check out Mutant City Blues.

Sorry, I didn't mean to give the impression I was unfamiliar with Mutant City Blues. I have read it, though not comprehensively, and it was just a brain fart on my part that I forgot about it. It's just the similarity in the names I'm concerned about.

There's nothing really "Dungeony" about the game you've created. It's not set in a dungeon, just a sprawling D&D style fantasy city. You want "Dungeon" in the title just to suggest the assocation with D&D style fantasy?

You're absolutely right, Dungeon is in there solely to re-enforce the Fantasy theme.

I think Dungeon City Blues would be a lot of fun to play with you running it. I suspect it would be troubled by all of the problems of traditional mystery scenarios in roleplaying games when other people run it: missed clues (which never happens in the TV shows), bizarre theorizing and pursuit of bizarre theories, amoral and hardcore treatment of prisoners and suspects in the pursuit of answers (which taints the player characters, making them unlikable), killings of key NPCs (who were planned sources of information and assistance) resulting in no solvable path to the real perpetrators.

I definitely agree that this can be a problem.  This system is in no way like Gumshoe where clues are assured, you're correct that clues can be missed. This is likely going to be a serious hurdle for me.  When I ran the Gumshoe system I was unsatisfied by the lack of interaction needed to find clues (maybe this was just me doing it wrong, totally possible). Because the "problem" that Gumshoe fixed, players missing vital clues, was never a problematic issue for me in investigation games. If that happened I just moved the clue, or created a new one that made sense to place where the players where going next. It was all about going with the flow.

Because of this it's a hard problem for me to try and tackle mechanically when all my experience is to tackle it through GM style/prep/flexibility. So instead I tried to put my ideas into the Running the Game advice section to help people handle this issue in the same way I have, if there is not enough there to go off of, please tell me your thoughts.

I really like your nonhuman races. I really like your focus on two detective partnerships. And I really like the concept of forensic alchemists.

Thank you :)

One of the things Mutant City Blues does to make mysteries solvable is make sure each of the forensic skills is had (at a mastery level basically, where they don't fail if they use it) by at least one of the player characters. You could do something interesting with your focus on two detective partnerships and supporting NPCs like the forensic alchemists if you divide the forensic skills the player characters don't have across a cast of NPCs, and then create difficulties the players have to deal with in getting those other characters to produce information (strange personality, strange work hours, low motivation, distractability, bizarre theorizing :).

This is very interesting, I missed this tasty little nugget in Mutant City Blues. I didn't realize covering all bases was mandatory in the rules, very clever, I also really like the suggestion about having NPCs in the Precinct that are hard to work with/find when you need them. Very cool stuff, thanks for your thoughts!
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Dungeon City Blues
Low Fantasy Detective Procedural
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2011, 11:39:25 AM »

Have you read Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur?

Paul
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"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
SamSlayde
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« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2011, 12:54:02 PM »

Have you read Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur?

Paul

No I have not. Is that a novel?
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Dungeon City Blues
Low Fantasy Detective Procedural
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2011, 01:04:51 PM »

Yes. It's a fantasy. A main storyline is a detective in Villjamur trying to solve a series of murders. Not much forensic science. Mostly apparent clues and meeting and interviewing people. But it's good.

Paul
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"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
SamSlayde
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Posts: 14


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« Reply #7 on: December 04, 2011, 01:07:49 PM »

Yes. It's a fantasy. A main storyline is a detective in Villjamur trying to solve a series of murders. Not much forensic science. Mostly apparent clues and meeting and interviewing people. But it's good.

Paul

Cool, I shall check it out, sounds like great inspiration.
Thanks!
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Dungeon City Blues
Low Fantasy Detective Procedural
David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2011, 03:01:42 AM »

Hi Sam,

A few random thoughts:

1) Re: Paul's thought about sticking assets behind difficult NPCs, you might find my recent take on that interesting.

2)
the "problem" that Gumshoe fixed, players missing vital clues, was never a problematic issue for me in investigation games. If that happened I just moved the clue, or created a new one that made sense to place where the players where going next. It was all about going with the flow.

If you could figure out the logic you used to effectively do that, and turn that logic into rules (or at least really memorable "if, then" instructions), I bet that would be really valuable to GMs!

(I personally find GMing advice to be much less helpful.  I often forget it, or don't see how to apply it in the moment.)

3) Hey, I'm curious: if I was gonna play this game, is this a game where I (a) have to be clever to make progress, or (b) will make progress regardless, but being clever will make things go way better for my character, or (c) don't worry about being clever at all, it doesn't make a big difference?  I might be down for any one of those, but I'd definitely want to know which it was!  From your intro page, I can't tell.

4) Your link didn't work when I clicked on it, so here's a fixed link.
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SamSlayde
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« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2011, 11:23:22 AM »

Oh snap! you're right the link is screwey, my bad. That'll teach me to assume I know what I'm doing in html.
Am I just a blind fool who can't find the edit button or is that not an option. If so, sorry for the lame link :(

1) Re: Paul's thought about sticking assets behind difficult NPCs, you might find my recent take on that interesting.

Wow that looks really neat, I love the concepts at work there!
That's given me an idea for a modified version as an interrogation/questioning mechanic, thanks!

2)
the "problem" that Gumshoe fixed, players missing vital clues, was never a problematic issue for me in investigation games. If that happened I just moved the clue, or created a new one that made sense to place where the players where going next. It was all about going with the flow.

If you could figure out the logic you used to effectively do that, and turn that logic into rules (or at least really memorable "if, then" instructions), I bet that would be really valuable to GMs!

(I personally find GMing advice to be much less helpful.  I often forget it, or don't see how to apply it in the moment.)

That's good Idea, and to be honest I too find written advice to be hard to apply to in game scenarios, but I'm not sure where I would begin something like this, I'll have to think on it.

3) Hey, I'm curious: if I was gonna play this game, is this a game where I (a) have to be clever to make progress, or (b) will make progress regardless, but being clever will make things go way better for my character, or (c) don't worry about being clever at all, it doesn't make a big difference?  I might be down for any one of those, but I'd definitely want to know which it was!  From your intro page, I can't tell.

Hmm, that's a great question. I definitely think it covers more than one portion of that spectrum, but I guess it also depends on what you mean by "being clever". I'll try to think of a way to put what I think about this into words and include it.

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Dungeon City Blues
Low Fantasy Detective Procedural
David Berg
Member

Posts: 997


« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2011, 01:33:47 PM »

Nope, no edit buttons on the Forge.  Writing links here is actually different than doing straight HTML.  Use the "insert hyperlink" button, then in the first URL tag insert "=http://whateveritis.com", but without any quote marks.

"Being clever":

You're right, "being clever" was vague.  I'm mainly trying to get at "what player skills are challenged and rewarded?", and I was guessing that Logical Problem Solving could be a big one here.

Covering a spectrum of demanding cleverness certainly sounds doable, though some way to set expectations on that at any given moment might be nice.

Most of my investigative games that went awry suffered from either:

a) Game/GM requires players to be clever in order for characters to succeed, and the players either don't know or aren't on board with this.  The characters fail and it just seems random and disappointing to the players.  Or, the characters succeed but the players feel like the process of getting there was work, rather than fun.

Or,

b) Game/GM makes the fiction seem like a challenging puzzle to be cleverly solved, but the rules/procedures don't support that.  Players expect their clever actions to spur character progress and their errors to stunt it, but discover that that isn't the case, and that the real way to make progress is by some other means, like getting lucky, or just putting in the time, or convincing the GM to like you.  Players feel like the game was rigged and their decisions didn't matter.

So that's where I'm coming from with the "cleverness" questions.  These issues seem to crop up a lot around anything labeled "detective" or "investigative" in my RPG experience.
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #11 on: December 05, 2011, 05:25:27 PM »

Sam, I think you've got some interesting stuff here, but like Paul and David I suspect that there are a lot of things you're doing as GM that you haven't built into the game, so people may or may not have the experience you want them to have if they try to play it without you.

I was particularly interested in seeing what you were going to tell the GM to prep and what you were going to tell the GM to figure out on-the-fly during play, since that has a huge impact on what a game feels like in play. I was a little disappointed when I got to the semi-handwavey "figure it out for yourself" approach in the game (It's especially weird to me because you seem to express a preference against the totally improv approach: why tell me about this inferior way to play if you know a better way?).

In the section where you tell the GM how to improvise the mystery, you mention the "By doing this you can make the players feel smart" feature. I think this is getting near the topic that David is asking about. Do you want the players to actually be smart, or just feel smart even if they didn't actually do something smart? To me, there's a big difference between actually solving a puzzle and simply having my first guess confirmed -- if I think I've genuinely figured something out and I later find that I was tricked into feeling that way then I'm going to have very negative feelings about the person that tricked me. Deciding whether there's an actual correct answer seems like a pretty big deal to me in terms of how a game feels to play, so I'd probably prefer a game where that decision was thoughtfully designed rather than left as a run-time afterthought.

So that I have a better idea of how you'd like the game to work in play, can you tell me what would happen in this hypothetical scenario?: A player is at a crime scene in an office where a janitor was killed. They roll Analyze on the scene but don't get any clues. The player then asks: "Can I roll Find Hidden to see if there are any hidden compartments in the desk?" What happens next? Does the GM say "there aren't any", (because there logically wouldn't be based on the case he prepped)? Does he call for the roll, and if they get a success says "yes" and invents something for them to find in there? Does he call for the roll, telling them "there aren't any" on a success and "not that you can find..." on a failure? Something else?
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SamSlayde
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« Reply #12 on: December 05, 2011, 09:39:15 PM »

Thanks for the comments guys, I'll try to respond to both with one post.

As far as whether I want the players to FEEL clever/smart or actually BE clever/smart, well I guess in terms of the game; both. Not at the same time though.  I understand that people out there like both styles of investigative play and both are in use regularly. I don't want either group to feel precluded from playing the game because it was designed against it, I've run games in both methods and while I prefer the planned method, I know that improvising can work very well.

But myself? I want the players to actually BE clever/smart, and that's as both GM and player, I love solving mysteries and seeing peoples eyes light up when the light-bulb goes off. When I run this game, that's how I do it now. But I don't expect everyone to do it that way, and I really don't want anyone walking away from this book thinking it's "THE" way to run a mystery game, or even thinking that "THE" way to run a game exists, there are a number of successful styles and I want this game to support them.

I was worried that some of the GM advice stuff would feel a little vague and generic, "handwavey" is about right.  Could you talk some more on this by any chance and help me understand the parts I can expand upon? What were you hoping to find? Also the improvisation method is not my preferred method, so it doesn't get as much love in the book, but was the second section any better, did it answer any questions for you?

The second, more planned method, is how I generally tend to run this game, though I mix in a lot of improvisational stuff as well. This is the section I want to be the most comprehensive, please inundate me with questions you have after reading this section thoroughly, it is in here where I mostly want to convey how it is I've been successful in my mystery games.

I don't really want to re-invent the wheel or break new ground, this is my first game to ever get this far, usually I give up halfway through after playing it for the first time and blowing my load about it, then moving on. I just want to provide a simple game that is very focused on being investigative, of any style, and is free.

Though all this talk about style-reinforcing mechanics makes me want to think on them some and maybe do a "remix" that is rebuilt to focus on the one style as well as the one genre.

And Dan, your scenario?  That would be for the GM to decide, not the system. Rules wise, when a Detective wants to investigate, they roll, if they roll a success and the GM says there's nothing there, they KNOW for a FACT that there is nothing there, if there was they would have found it.

In this case? Personally, I can't even say for sure, usually if I don't have "secret compartment in the desk" written in my notes, then it ain't there. But sometimes, if that's super cool, and fits the character who's desk it is, and there's a clue I really need to get into the players hands that would make sense in this context; then yeah, turns out there's a hidden compartment. Or the GM has decided before hand that it is an improv game, so when it is mentioned, "hey secret compartments are cool" goes through their head and the answer becomes yes (or no, whatever).

This is exactly the kind of thing I want to cover, problem situations in the investigative context and how to handle them with logic, reason and a little flexibility.  Maybe I can come up with a list of generic examples and discuss them all in this manner so as to give the reader more concrete ideas to work with.

In any case, I think it is very important to make sure the players know what kind of game they're playing in up front. This should be no mystery. Either they know it's a proper mystery, or they know it's a mystery-like experience, they shouldn't have to figure this out.
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Dungeon City Blues
Low Fantasy Detective Procedural
David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #13 on: December 05, 2011, 10:58:51 PM »

this is my first game to ever get this far, usually I give up halfway through after playing it for the first time and blowing my load about it, then moving on. I just want to provide a simple game that is very focused on being investigative, of any style, and is free.

Gotcha.  Makes sense to me!  I wouldn't want to derail your momentum by saying, "worry about this, and this, and this!"

I will suggest, though, that you provide as much support and emphasis for this:
I think it is very important to make sure the players know what kind of game they're playing in up front. This should be no mystery. Either they know it's a proper mystery, or they know it's a mystery-like experience, they shouldn't have to figure this out.
as you possibly can.  Make sure it's called out in some place where readers can't possibly miss it. 

As for how to support it, here's a brainstorm:

Your idea is that the GM decides the requisite cleverness level, and then communicates that to the players, right?  If this were my game, I'd write a questionnaire for the GM to fill out beforehand and then read out loud to their players before anyone makes a character.  By designing the right questions into the questionnaire, I'd make sure the bases I thought were important were covered.
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #14 on: December 06, 2011, 01:27:25 AM »

On the "what was I hoping to find" question: Since this is a low magic mystery game, I wanted the game to tell me what to do so that me and my friends would have a reliably fun low magic mystery game experience if we played. I'm not asking you to commit to saying that there's one best way to run all mystery games, but I suspect you know the best way (or at least one good way) to run your mystery game and I'd like you to tell me that. A lot of your GMing section is about options or possibilities or leaving it up to my judgment. As a result I come away from it feeling like it didn't tell me how to actually play the game. For example, on page 30: "It's important to include enough clues and information that some can be missed". If you already know what "enough" looks like (as you probably do, if you've built up a good intuition for how to do this) then this works fine, but if I don't know what "enough" looks like, how can I make use of this advice? "Break the major thread of information up and distribute it in many places". Great! How? What does that look like? How big should the thread be before I start breaking it up, and how many pieces should I break it into in order to have a fun game? Does that matter? "It is possible for players to get turned around, fixated on something tangential to the case or simply barking up the wrong tree ... When this happens let them know that they are off course and let them revisit the evidence they have." Hey, that sounds like important stuff there -- I'd like to know how to do it. Should I be saying that out-of-character as the GM speaking directly to the players? Should I be giving them fictional results that lets them realize on their own that they're off track? Maybe I should have their captain chew them out for wasting time? I can guess at the answers to questions like this (in which case the group would experience a weird mishmash of my own idiosyncrasies and dubious principles acquired through internet osmosis) but I'd rather not have to.

(I like the distinction you're making between "a proper mystery" and "a mystery-like experience" and the importance of people knowing which one they're doing).
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