No investigations?

Started by contracycle, March 11, 2011, 07:40:41 AM

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I dont want to speak for Ron here but I think you are missing at least a part of what he was saying.

He was holding the fictional situation as what was important in the game and that resolving the situation would move the game forward.  From the sounds of your mage game I dont think that is what you were going for.  It sounds like your group was revelling in the "WODness" of the investigation, you were interested in the process rather than the results.   If you take it in the context of the game in development you can see how the process of investigating wasnt really what the designer was going for.


Well, I have acknowledged that it may well be the case for a given game that the investigative structure is really just a device for getting to the good bits.  But the statement seems to a great deal further than that, which is what I find surprising.

I'm not convinvinced that the WODness was very important.  I'm a techie by trade, and have been lucky enough to work on very severe, complicated and important faults.  Which I loved, it suited me down to the ground.  So I would likely have engaged strongly with the investigative process whatever the setting or issue at hand might have been; it's just the kind of thing I enjoy.  So I certainly agree that the resolution was not more important than the process; the process was the point of play, not a device for getting somewhere else.  But if that isn't really investigating a fictional situation, what is it?

"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


My understanding of the original quote from Ron was that when the players are 'investigating' a fictional situation, in fact that activity only has the appearance of an investigation because the result is pre-determined and inevitable.

At first look that appears to be an incoherent argument because it's judging what an activity is based solely on what the outcome of that activity will be. However the activity itself and it's outcome are two different things. Also the outcome is not necessarily guaranteed. In a given game there may be several mysteries, and it's quite possible that the players may resolve some of them through their investigation and not resolve others.

Let's consider an Agatha Christie mystery. Typically there's a main mystery (the murder - who dunnit) but also numerous other issues that come up. There are secret relationships between characters, apparently incriminating behaviour that has other explanations, etc. In an RPG the players may uncover the murderer, but fail to discover other valuable facts that might prove useful later in the campaign.  That's another thing that differentiates RPGs from mystery novels. At the end of a novel it's all over, but in an RPG campaign the characters in the mystery may have roles with respect to the characters that extend far beyond this particular incident. Uncovering information incidental to the murder might be highly valuable later in the campaign - or not depending on how things go. In fact they may never figure out the murderer. May be the murder is just one event in an unfolding drama, and whether they find out the perpetrator isn't vital to the unfolding of the campaign but merely means events will trend in one direction rather than another.

Ron makes another observation that investigations are merely transitions and colour. Ok, I'm not sure what that's about, but even if so I don't see why that stops them being investigations.

It's true that readers of a mystery novel never investigate anything because they have a passive relationship to the material. They can 'actively' consider the evidence the author provides, but they can't question the characters or look for specific clues at locations in the story. They can't make their own enquiries. Players in an RPG can do these things, mediated by the Narrator.

So I have to agree with Contracycle. I think players in an RPG can investigate, but it's possible Ron had some special or specific meaning of the term in mind but I have a hard time imagining what that might be. Without input from Ron I'd say the investigation into this issue is coming to a close.

Simon Hibbs
Simon Hibbs

Ron Edwards

Hi everyone,

My thinking is that it is much more important and useful for a bunch of people to discuss in-play investigations as they see them, in the excellent spirit of inquiry that Gareth set the foundation for in the first post, then for me to tediously try to explain what I meant in a very specific context to Pat about his game.

I mean, if Gareth really wants me to, I'll try, but I do think that "Ron said something kooky," "what does he mean," "let's challenge it and see what he says" is kind of a boring or even personality-centric kind of topic and can't possibly be the real thread topic. If someone else had said it, would it be as interesting?

But the more general question stated here, and the range of experiences and ideas that have come through in the thread so far, are way better than that. My take is that the thread topic really wasn't about me and that specific set of statements, so much as, what are investigations. So I'm happy that what I said prompted this much thought and dialogue.

Best, Ron

David Berg

Hey Gareth,

I hear ya on the investigative problem-solving.  I'm fuzzy on how that fits into roleplay, though. 

When my D&D group of real-life engineers got to a super-complex dwarven puzzle door, they spent hours trying to solve it.  Which was fun, and totally "the point" (i.e. rewarding on its own merits) for that duration.  But we stopped roleplaying.  It was as if we'd been having this adventure in this dangerous cave, and then an NPC handed us a sudoku, so we players stopped the adventure to do sudoku.  So that'd be a weird reason to play D&D -- we should probably do sudoku instead.  Personally, I like roleplaying cave danger way better than sudoku, so I was kind of pissed about the dwarven door.

I bet you've done more of this than I have, so I'd like to ask: in your experience, is real investigation (of the type you've described, which I agree is real) more often (a) its own game, or (b) an integrated part of an RPG (which presumably does stuff other than investigation too)?
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


There was recently a bit of an investigation sub-plot in the D&D game I run.  The usual: oh no, someone is stealing orphans.

The PCs ran around and investigated a bit.  Used skills, interrogated people; you know, the usual.

They picked up a lead and, being the violent thugs they are, killed the suspect and all the suspect's friends.  It's what passes for justice.

There was a very real possibility that they would have settled on a different suspect.  Or they might have reached the conclusion that they didn't know who was stealing all these orphans.  Both of those outcomes would have been perfectly fine and functional.

It seems reasonable to characterize that as the PCs doing the investigating, the interrogating, the killing.  The players were not doing those things.  They're pretending to, though.  Maybe pretending to investigate is enough.

So that's a specific anecdote.  In the most general sense, my understanding of this topic is that it is about a pretty fundamental question:  Is the fiction available to the players as a subject of the scientific method?  In my opinion the answer is "It depends; it might be." and perhaps I'd even go so far as to say "It depends; it usually is."  Perhaps unfairly, I guess I'd characterize our topic's original statement as the answer of "No, it's literally impossible."




I agree that in in some sense it could be argued that being genuinely engaged in an investigation is a form of "stepping out of the game", in the way you describe with the dwarven door.  But I would suggest that this is equivalent to players actually, personally stepping up, or actually, personally addressing premise. I would agree that with the murder thing I mentioned above, I suppose it could be said that I was "not roleplaying", in that I was engaged with it directly rather than through the vehicle of my character.  I don't think that is inherently a problem though.

But I would also agree that, aesthetically as it were, it is a problem when this content is divorced from the rest of the setting and colour. I dislike the sort of puzzle you've described, and indeed puzzles of that nature in general for that reason.  But contrast that with a classic form like the locked room murder mystery; you can do that completely within the context of the imaginative setting and all its colourful details.  I played in a game that was builkt exactly like this, a sort of intro to Call of Cthulhu done for two of us who'd never played any of it.  And we did that all in character, from the dinner table conversaiton before the grim deed, to roleplaying through the interviews with the residents of the house, to poking around in the coal cellar.  In this case, my character was also being sort of framed for it, so the frustration of the mystery I felt as a player mapped directly onto the frustration I felt on behalf of the character.  All in all it worked wonderfully, and was one of the most powerful experiences I've had in RPG.

So, when it coincides with the topical content of the game as a whole, I don't think the personal engagement produces a problem.  What it shouldn't do is contradict the content (one of the Fighting Fantasy game books required the player to deduce binary arithmetic, frex), and it shouldn't stop the progress of play until the investigation is complete (like your door).  But as long as it avoids those, it can be integrated and healthy and conducive to deeper engagment with the game as a whole.

"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

David Berg

Well put, and I agree completely. 

As for not stopping play and not breaking aesthetics, the solution I keep coming back to is to design scenarios in which the acquisition and analysis of puzzle pieces entails appropriate fiction.  That is, investigation in a Cthulhu game should involve grabbing evidence from a claustrophobic crawlspace and then scrutinizing that evidence via a demonic spell that has some chance to kill you.  Not exactly revolutionary, but pretty reliable, I think. 

Of course, such play tends to leave "the point" a very open question -- are we investigating as a vehicle to experience claustrophobia and demons, or are we tacking on that color to spice up the investigation that's the real meat of play?  This could be an academic distinction ("who cares?") or a point of pretty serious clash within a group (if I'm all about reveling in demons and you're hand-waving that to focus on problem-solving).  I still don't have a good way to forge agreement on this via design; I tend to resort to pre-game chat.  Great when the players are self-aware and adept at communicating this stuff; useless otherwise.

I know that was a semi-tangent, but I think arguments about whether RPGs contain "real" investigation stem largely from this type of murkiness.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development