Sunday, June 14, 2009

How to search for clues and conduct an investigation

Hello at least one reader,

Today I'M going to discuss the nature of searching a scene for information. Perhaps the smoldering remains of an evil cult's shrine as an example.

Often I see this done as the GM remembering (or searching) through a character sheet for important skills or abilities, telling them to make a roll to gain information (a spot check of some kind) and hoping they make the check. I see this as a flawed system. It involves the GM remembering character sheets and the frequent missing of obvious clues.

In piecemeal I handle investigations differently. When it comes to investigate an area, the Players announce the skill they are using to investigate the area or scene. The amount of time this takes is based upon the size of the area they are investigating. An individual corpse might be a few minutes, the smoldering remains of the evil cult's shrine might be an hour or two, and the entire nearby village might be a few days. There is no limit to how many times one can investigate an area or with how many skills, beyond limits of time.

Players ALWAYS receive all the information on that subject that is available. They also should (but do not need to) roll an intelligence check to see if there are any attempts at forgery or misdirection (aka, planted clues). 99% of the time this is a worthless roll and they should know that going in.

An example:

When investigating the burned shrine: Fi-tor investigates the area using wood lore, Maggie Kewzer investigates the area with stone working, while Claire Ricks investigates with Religion.

They are given the following information. Fi-tor is told the wood used in the ceremonial pyre is a rare type of Oak from a series of groves south of the local town. Maggie learns the sacrificial altar was carved of local stones (found throughout the area) while Claire is told that with a shrine this size there would be between 10-20 people.

Then they make intelligence checks (pointless) to check for attempts at misdirection (there are none).

Now the players can ask any related questions, either now or later as they think on them (the did a thorough investigation and it will stick in their memory to "draw conclusions from" later as it dawns on them).

So Maggie can later ask if iron chisels she finds in a house near the southern woods could have been used to carve the altar.


Why do I run investigations this way in piecemeal?

1.) The GM does not need to know what skills a character has. If the character picks a skill the GM can't see any relevance too, then the GM can rely on the character to ask related questions to make it relevant.

2.) The players have control over how thorough their investigation is, and do not need to rely on hidden "spot checks" or the like. If they choose to spend 2 days in the woods playing CSI, that is their choice.

3.) The players are NEVER forced to operate on zero information unless they choose to be.

4.) Every skill is as useful as the players choose to make it, there are no skills that are "required for a useful character" and none that are "useless and a waste of character points".


This is a fairly easy system to plug and play into your game, consider giving it a try.

1 comment:

  1. My preferred method, if dice need to be involved: Ask all players what their characters are doing and what relevant skill they are using. Roll dice, interpret, done.

    If something needs to be discovered there will be no dice rolled.

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