Interesting question probably been asked before.

Interesting question probably been asked before.

Interesting question probably been asked before. How would you do a mystery in Dungeon World. I’m doing one shots but keeping the same characters and the best way I have come up with is cops in a big city investigating crimes. Now the problem with Dungeon World is that Fronts don’t really work for mysteries since the Impending doom has already happened, and there is no investigation skill(not that i like to have clues under that skill but it can be useful for saying whether they get information that would help them massivly). Also how do I keep the actual going on an adventure interviewing these people exciting?

Your help in this matter as ever is grateful.

34 thoughts on “Interesting question probably been asked before.”

  1. Catch the serial killer before he strikes again. Unmask the traitor before he blows up parliament. Find the cure for Ebola. All these are investigative scenarios with an impending doom.

    Sherlock Holmes was always obsessed with saving the next victim, so you are well within the genre.

  2. Having said that I hate purely investigative modules in Pathfinder since I find they are like the old dos text adventures. If you dont find a specific clue because you did not look under the bed the story gets stuck. So I havent done any in DW yet.

  3. Hmm yes the linear nature of adventures there is always a bad guy now find out who he is kind of goes against the anything kind of goes nature of dungeon world where you kind of change because the players like that avenue.

    Also I fear discern realities would say to much. Can you think of any other custom moves I could make for an investigation.

    I take your point for fronts I guess I should think about why the person is being killed and what is the logical point after that.

  4. I think for this to work, you really need to let go of some notions you might have about how mystery stories go down. Don’t have specific clues they have to find to catch the killer (or whatever, but killer is a juicy example). That’s antithetical to “play to find out what happens.”

    Instead, let the players make the clues for you. The questions they ask will tell you what kind of clues they want to find and how they want to find them.

    Maybe the canny thief uses discern realities because they want to find physical evidence. That’s cool (and a good default starting place for investigations). But equally validly, the fighter might say “this room is smaller than it should be…” and use Bend Bars, Lift Gates to bust down a wall because they want to find a hidden room. Or the wizard Spouts Lore about the ritualistic nature of the murders and what it might say about the killer, because they like psych profiling. Or the bard goes carousing to ask people for information, because they like the social side of investigating. You get the idea.

    The main thing is to keep your front really loose in the beginning, because you really want to say yes to all these approaches, and defining things to narrowly in the beginning is a bad habit that will make you want to say no because it doesn’t fit the stuff that’s happening offscreen that the party frankly doesn’t care about because they haven’t interacted with it or had any say in it yet.

    Also, make sure the mystery has really big consequences if it’s not solved, like any good Front should. The killer striking again is good; making that a portent to them killing the king is better (though it doesn’t have to be that grand, it just has to be interesting enough to engage the players). And advancing the front will make things easier to investigate if the players are floundering or rolling poorly, because they’ll have more crime scenes to work with.

  5. Oh: and as for Discern Realities revealing too much, I wouldn’t worry. The questions give you enough wiggle room that I don’t think you can blow the whole mystery in a single scene. What it will do is let you give them just enough information to point then in a direction they’re interested in. Which is A Good Thing.

    As for custom moves, I think Dungeon World has enough tools, but if you’re going to be investigating things in a big city take a look at Urban Shadows. It has a lot of basic moves that work great for character focused investigation and favor trading. It’d take some adapting, but if you can weld them together I think you’d be pretty spot on for running Ankh Morpork.

  6. I think Discern Realities works fine for an investigative game. None of the questions they players can ask are magic bullets that instantly solve the mystery.

    Even if they characters do get all the clues, they still have to put them together and then do something with them.

  7. Actually you say that but my game last night the city did seem to be more based on Discworld then I thought it would be so might look at all the sam vines mysteries for inspiration, already thinking that guards guards(the one with the dragon) would be cool and one of my players will love it.

    All good points James Etheridge the thing is my players are quite new and last night I kind of had to drag them into scenes a little bit with my GM force I know your kind of not supposed to do that but otherwise they would have done nothing, I’m sure they will get better with time but I don’t know if my players at the moment are at the stage where they would do those kind of things you say. How would you say I encourage this level of thinking?

  8. Can you give an example of “dragging them into scenes”? Dungeon World doesn’t have pre-arranged scenes or encounters the way older games do. Scenes happen when you make a hard move.

  9. Well it being a mystery I had the guys house that had clues in it and the places where the suspects would be with a few drama bits in between so it was exciting. I realise I have to change my style for dw(ive been gming a lot of 5e lately) but to get them through it I kind of did have to get them in the scene a bit harder then normal roleplayers since they were nee

  10. Tim Jensen says: “Dungeon World doesn’t have pre-arranged scenes or encounters the way older games do.”

    I think this will make mystery plots difficult within DW. Cause most mystery plots create atmosphere from the unknown and uncontrollable things that are lying ahead. In a purist DW definition this unknown stuff would be created from the player – so they are shifting between two roles character and narrator. I think this weakens the player immersion a bit… but maybe I am wrong here

    Do what is best for the story… Fronts, protagonists with strong motives are for the future plot of the story, scenes with clues are to describe what has happened. Maybe you leave a bit less blanks as you do normally in a DW game – but if it is for the story?

    (I am not talking about strictly railroading – there is some room between no pre-arranged scenes and railroading 🙂

  11. Are they new to role-playing in general, or just new to Dungeon World?

    And, is this a situation where the players don’t know what to do, or don’t seem interested in what’s being presented? Hopefully it’s the former, but you’re the only one who can really evaluate your table situation. It might just be that your players aren’t keen on mysteries.

    Either way, it probably doesn’t help that you’re starting off new players with a scenario that DW wasn’t designed for. I think it can still work, but the system is designed around fighting monsters and exploring dangerous locales, and most of the moves are built for that kind of play. It might be a good idea to throw some combat at them, SWAT team style, so they can learn the ins and outs of the system and its flexibility in friendly waters. Tie it into your mystery fiction, ideally? A nice straightforward out of character discussion about all the different possibilities their moves present can help a lot too.

    Leading questions work wonders for getting the game moving. “Fighter, how did you know the victim?” Creates an instant investment in the scene both in and out of character, and it leads to follow up questions that get the table talking.

    “She was your informant in the smugglers guild? We have a smugglers guild? That’s bad, they’re not going to be happy.”

    “Good point, Thief. How does the guild react when one of its members is killed, who do they send to deal with it?”

    And so on. Fill in the blank is easier than an essay question, if that makes sense. And it tends to lead to someone besides you saying “We should X with this information,” which is great.

  12. And to add onto what Heiko said, I agree that, say, Raymond Chandler or Sherlock style mysteries are going to give you troubles. DW characters are basically fantasy superheroes, they’re the best of the best and can do things that other people just can’t do. The Fighter is better at fighting than anyone else in the world. The Wizard knows more about the arcane than the rest of the world ever will. These people are not ever going to feel lost or helpless.

    So… think more like Justice League Unlimited; they had mystery plots all the time, but they didn’t solve mysteries instead of being superheroes, they solved mysteries by being superheroes. Constantly remind them of how awesome they are, and how desperately they are needed, because nobody else can do what they can do.

    In short, remember they’re not just cops. They’re the best, most important and capable cops on the force. On any force. They’re the Night Watch.

  13. Heiko Stapf​ Dungeon World is full of unknown and uncontrollable things, but these are not all created by the player. The GM asks questions and uses the answers in collaboration with the players. I haven’t seen players shifting roles as often as you imply, and besides that, character immersion has little to do with the topic.

    “Do what is best for the story”? Who’s story? It better not be the GM’s story that they’ve already made up. That is definitely not part of the GM’s job in Dungeon World. When you play to find out what happens, the story gets made up in the moment. Ask leading questions, build on the answers, make moves that follow from the fiction. The GM can prep all the fronts, threats and steadings they want, but must be ready to abandon 100% of it if the fiction moves in another direction.

  14. Ok then investigation are not good in DW so how would you go about making one shots but with the same characters? I can’t really have campaigns so thats why I chose the cops since they can be done in one very easily.

    And they are new to roleplaying so its hard for them to get into it. Though one scene they definitely did and that was a glimmer of hope. So yeah its hard for them to know what to do when I ask the question what do you do ive kind of lead them by the nose a little bit saying do you want to do this

  15. If your players don’t know what to do when you ask them”What do you do?” james day, then you’re not setting things up clearly.

    Also, there is nothing wrong with running single session games with the same characters but no overarching plot. That feels very pulp adventure to me. Same characters. Different story. Very little continuity.

  16. The scene they seem to love and keep on talking about was when they were in the deans room trying to interrogate them and then another detective went in and they threw them out the window also accidentally throwing the dean out the window as well

  17. Hey, thanks for the tag, Tim Franzke !

    I have an “Investigate a Scene” move that is still a wip, but blends gumshoe and dw principals pretty well. The core concept is that, on any roll, the pcs get the clue. On a 6-, the gm also makes a move. On a 7-9, they might get too many clues and not know which is relevant. On a 10+ they get a clue they know is relevant to solving the mystery.

    I’ll grab a link when I’m back at the computer. This is a great thread, though, and I’ll consider tweaking the move after reading it.

  18. Here’s a DW-ified version of an investigate move I’ve used in a couple hacks. 

    When you investigate, do research, or probe your memories, ask the GM a specific question that could be answered this way and roll to get answers.  If you do it by…

    *…intimidating a reluctant source or witness, roll +STR

    *…sneaking around unseen and unnoticed, roll +DEX

    *…waiting patiently and watching, roll +CON

    *…performing careful analysis, pouring through records, or summoning up memories, roll +INT

    *…searching an area for clues or evidence, roll +WIS

    *…interviewing witnesses, chatting up bystanders, or otherwise being social, roll +CHA

    On a 10+, the GM will give you a clear and helpful answer from your character’s point of view, including some clarifications and follow-up questions. On a 7-9, the GM gives you a cryptic or incomplete answer and tells you how you could learn more.

    On a miss, you get at least a cryptic or partial answer in addition to whatever the GM decides.

  19. I really like that move especially with the nus on the player asking the question which means you don’t have to be that specific in the giving out clues.

  20. I see it as being flexible, depending on the question being asked, the amount of prep the GM has done, and the amount of collaboration happening at the table. 

    The move forces the player has to ask a specific question (e.g. “was thee any forced entry?”) and the outcome guarantees an answer. But how that answer is generated from the fiction is flexible.

    So on a 10+, the GM could totally be like “Yeah, you find that the glazing on the window was just redone, but only on one panel. Like someone cut that panel out, reached in and opened the door, and then put the glass panel back on on their way out.”

    Or, on a 10+, the GM could be like “Yeah, someone really sneaky and clever came in though the door without leaving almost any sign. Only your amazing deductive skills let you realize this. How did_you figure that out, anyway?”  “Oh, I looked inside the lock mechanism with my magnifying glass and a _light spell. There were all these tell-tale scrapes; you only see that when someone is attempting to pick a lock.”

    In the former case, the GM has an idea of what happened at the crime scene (even if they just made it up on the spot).  In the later, they don’t but trust the player to make up some Sherlockian insight and they’re willing to run with it. 

    (By the way, I think I might have gotten the idea of doing a Defy Danger analog from Stephanie Bryant in the first place.)

  21. Oh, yeah. As james day points out, the fact that the player is asking the question in the first place means that the clue will answer something that they want to know and therefore think is relevant to the situation. 

    Maybe the answer is “nope, and that’s not relevant.” If so, cool.  That’s useful information, too!  (Though as the GM, with a negative answer I’d still try to nudge them toward asking something that would be relevant.)

  22. Christopher Stone-Bush Probably.

    We played an investigative module once where the whole thing grinded to a halt because we did not find a clue. It would not have happened in DW.

  23. Thank you everyone I think there is some great answers here. I always feel I can’t go totally in the Dungeon World rule setting as much as you do because I feel lost at sea without some stuff written down…if it is not wiritten down I struggle to explain stuff to the players which makes the players not really engage because they get confused. It happened last night as I only half written down that investigation so I had to make a lot on the fly which did confuse people(also not helping I realised straight away the D&D ruleset was not helping so I quickly changed to DW).

  24. I would recommend taking a look at how Monster of the Week, another PbtA game, structures fronts.  Monster of the Week (gamesteratlarge) uses TV shows like Supernatural or Buffy as its inspiration, so sessions are about discovering and overcoming mysteries.  What you’re calling “the impending doom that already happened” is called “the hook that got the hunter’s attention”.  It’s a different way of thinking about how you structure your fronts, but it really sounds like what you’re looking for.  

    I suspect that probably the big thing you’ll need to consider is whether you’ll want to bring over the “start-of-mystery” moves some playbooks have, and the “investigate a mystery” basic move.  I don’t think you’d need them, but the players may find that kind of structure handy.

  25. I ran a “murder mystery” scenario for Dungeon World at a con about a month ago. It went well, but it was more like a setup of “there is a serial killer, find him/her/it.” I had some default preconceived notions with the caveat that I would cross them out if the players end up doing something more interesting. I still have to process my notes and do a write up of the session.

  26. I’d test the waters with a ‘mystery’ that involved the killer being a citizen of a good, just society.  It’s easy for most parties to discern who did what, but proving it so Justice can be served instead of just murdering the guilty party is a challenge – they’d have to collect evidence, visit various locations, etc.

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