RPG XRAY

004 Mysteries

November 15, 2023 The RPG XRAY Team Season 1 Episode 4
RPG XRAY
004 Mysteries
Show Notes Transcript

This episode’s topic is MYSTERIES. What does investigative gaming look like in table top RPGS? Are all RPGs mystery games at their heart? Are there games which appear to be detective and mystery oriented that aren’t mystery games at all? What is great play when it comes to mystery games?  Hopefully you come out of this episode with clues that you can use in your own mystery gaming.

Appendix X for this episode:

Ethan:

As a reminder, before we get rolling, please stay in touch with us and send in your own thoughts and questions. We are reachable via links on our website RPGXray or via our email contact at RPGXray.com. Joining the X-Ray team today are Jason Beaumont, Eric Saltwell, and myself, Ethan Schoonover. As always, before jumping into the main course, we like to start things off with an amuse-bouche we call Appendix X. So in Appendix X we do a little summary of the media we're consuming currently with a particular eye toward how it could be applied to gaming. Eric, do you want to start us off this time?

Erik:

yeah, sure. So I have a little bit of a weird or different maybe cheating. I have been watching a lot of YouTube tutorials on ChatGPT and I want to describe how it applies to me to gaming.

Ethan:

Okay.

Erik:

So I just started a new campaign and we did some world building using some mini games. We did our Pantheon and we did Garrett Ryder Hanrahan's 13th Age Age Building Supplement and used that to create our setting. And now I'm in the process of using ChatGPT to go through and build Wikipedia articles for all the stuff in our world. So I started by taking everything that happened in the game, feeding it to ChatGPT and then having it write Wikipedia articles that I'm putting in our online world database. No, I actually don't have any real expectation that anyone will ever look at this and I would not write it myself. That's part of why I wanted to use ChatGPT.

Jason:

Wow, that's really impressive that's You know You always do like kind of like a next level prep compared to like every DM I've ever played with so but that's that's really cool

Ethan:

Yeah. Okay.

Jason:

so that our players gonna use like phone to the table to like look at like the Wikipedia or You Hmm

Erik:

We actually implemented this time around a no screens at the table rule. So it is kind of a reminder for me or a brainstorming source for me. But I think that this is worth the level of investment of having ChatGPT write it partially because I don't think it's going to see a lot of real use. It's just scratching creative itches, right?

Jason:

You Mm-hmm. Gotcha. Gotcha

Erik:

Yep.

Ethan:

Yeah, I'll be curious to see how that works out.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

I mean, it's such a big question, both the appropriate use, the effective use of machine learning tools for gaming, for any creative hobby, I guess. And there's so many mixed feelings about this, especially when it comes to publishers using it.

Erik:

Yep.

Ethan:

I'm 100% okay with leveraging things to amplify your individual intellect at the table for a personal game. I think that's a totally legit use. Certainly, putting artists out of work with machine learning tools trained on their own art is a much harder sell for me personally. But...

Erik:

Yeah, I know you and I have talked a bunch about that we're on different places in that spectrum, but I certainly agree that it is full of moral traps.

Ethan:

Well, I think it's okay to use. I think that there's a lot of ethical considerations when it comes to publishers using it.

Erik:

Yeah, sure. And I think that that's fair and makes sense. I will say it's actually been surprisingly challenging that I have enough material that came out of these two mini games that we played that getting ChatGPT to remember everything that happened in those two games and then build articles that are based off of all of that material has been surprisingly hard.

Ethan:

I think that's my line in the sand right now. So... Okay.

Erik:

That's actually why I've been doing a lot of YouTube videos has been trying to figure out how to build up that that sense of memory for ChatGPT because of course, it's not trained on any of this content.

Jason:

Hmm

Ethan:

Yeah, I think a lot of the more cutting edge stuff right now is in just doing your own weights based on custom trained ML. So...

Erik:

Yep. Yep.

Ethan:

Alright. Jason, how about you? You've kind of that thousand yard stare today.

Jason:

Yeah, I'm pretty tired yeah, I'm pretty tired my my youngest daughter was up most of the night because she got scared of something

Ethan:

For the audience at home. Yeah. Yeah.

Jason:

She saw in a roblox game. So I'm a little low energy So I will say like the I've been playing this game Redfall

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

That everyone is kind of mad about it people like it's getting you know, really poor reviews and people are kind of you know Really down on its quality, etc But for me what's interesting is so the game is a Salem's lot kind of style game where?

Ethan:

Okay.

Jason:

You're like a band of I kind of like young people that are kind of liberating a town That has been taken over by vampires and you're solving the mystery of why the town

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

You know why all these vampires started forming in the town what caused the town to kind of you know descend into chaos and your base of operations is like this firehouse and you kind of work out of it and you liberate different kind of parts of the city and We remind me a lot of the meta game in blades Blades of the dark where you know, yeah, there's there's the game that you're playing. There's the heist that you're doing But what I've enjoyed is kind of that clearing of the city and you know that kind of methodical Cleansing of it The AI is super broken and to me that's almost like a feature at my age Like the game is so easy to play You think the vampires have the time like, you know, don't even move when you sneak up on them And so that's you know kind of takes away like a bunch of the challenge which I'm fine with I don't care But yeah, it's been inspiring for me because I really enjoy in RPGs when you get a sense of place and you are Exerting kind of change over the the place where your story is being told I think it's why I like like hex crawls or even like Keep on the borderland style things where you know, you're kind of bringing like order to chaos and That I think is a fun part of RPG play that you know

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

Kind of the more narrative games don't give you as much of a sense of sometimes Whereas I think when you do X crawls and kind of maybe more old-school play You really kind of get a sense of great like this dungeon has been cleared of monsters. It's gone. I've you know, I've accomplished that

Ethan:

I so feel that itch. I really get it.

Jason:

And that this video game is kind of scratching that itch for me No, no, no, no, please please talk yeah, yeah

Ethan:

Did you want to add anything else to your ped execs before I comment on that? Because I have been playing, in terms of video games, I've been playing Far Cry 5, which is not the most recent Far Cry game.

Jason:

Ah Yeah, it's a great one, yeah, right

Ethan:

Far Cry game. Love it.

Jason:

Yeah

Ethan:

I mean, honestly, I am a sucker for the Far Cry series. And their quality varies up and down, but Far Cry 5 is really doing it for me.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

The premise is basically you're in Montana, it's been taken over by this fascist cult. And no relation to modern America whatsoever, obviously. But yeah, that sense of accomplishment, like clearing out towns, clearing out encampments, whatever, it's so satisfying. And actually it's funny that you say you like the easy thing, because I do too. I don't have time for anything too challenging.

Jason:

Right

Ethan:

And I just got to the first boss fight and I'm like, nah, I may not make it past this.

Jason:

Right

Ethan:

In terms of the whole game, I might just throw in the towel.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

Anyhow, those were not my appendix X picks.

Jason:

Hmm

Ethan:

I'm actually reading a couple of books right now, which are kind of, they're both kind of like hex crawls in a way. So I just wrapped up Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.

Jason:

Oh, yeah, yeah

Ethan:

Which I don't think is the first time I've read that book. Probably not.

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

You Mm-hmm

Ethan:

But that book is so weirdly transformative for me personally. It's this kind of very philosophical journey. It's a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. And they're talking about all the cities that Marco Polo may or may not have been through. Which all have women's names, you know? So I don't know if it's not clear, are they people, are they cities, are they just imaginings?

Jason:

Hmm You

Ethan:

It's an amazing book. Every time I read that, I just...

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

The sheer volume and the mathematical quality of it, where it's this very structured procession, is so neat. But it's also kind of like an adventure.

Jason:

Hmm

Ethan:

Each city that he goes through has this really tight description, has a really tight theme. They're often very philosophical themes, but they're also really beautifully envisioned. He'll often talk about the architecture, which has cities that float in the air and have ropes everywhere.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

The people never touch the ground. And you're like, actually this would be a really cool RPG setting as well.

Jason:

Right

Ethan:

So there's that. And then I've been rereading...

Jason:

Hmm

Ethan:

Actually not rereading, but I've been reading notes on Blood Meridian. Just because of the passing of Cormac McCarthy.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

I love Blood Meridian as a book. I know that some people either love it or you hate it, I guess.

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

Hmm

Ethan:

Or you just couldn't finish it. But I really enjoy Blood Meridian. And there's a whole book about sort of filling in the gaps. It's the footnotes. All the footnotes that were not in the book.

Jason:

Hmm

Ethan:

Not by McCarthy, but by John Sepic.

Jason:

You

Erik:

How do you think that that's how do you think about that book in relationship to gaming?

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

I mean, it's a hex crawl, isn't it? One of the great things is...

Jason:

You

Ethan:

I'm trying to remember if in the published version of Blood Meridian, if there's a map in the beginning of the book or not. But there are so many maps that you can find that actually do plot out the progress of the book. It's very much based in physical reality.

Jason:

You Right

Ethan:

And he spent a lot of time when he was writing it in that area.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

And you have these mythic quality characterizations in the band of adventurers. And they're terrible people. But they're really spot on for a D&D party. They are literal murderhobos.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

In the most horrific sense.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

And there is something about that book which is...

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

There's a lack of resolution a lot of times as they sort of traipse across the landscape. But they literally just traipse across. And it's almost a shaggy dog story too. You wait for resolution, you wait for characters to change.

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

And it's not clear that any of them ever do. They're all very mythic in that sense.

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

So, yeah, I don't know. I have a lot of thoughts.

Jason:

Yeah, yeah

Ethan:

That would be a separate 12 hour podcast that I'll be releasing.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

Anyhow. So, yeah, Far Cry and Blood Meridian. Slightly different stuff. But I actually have to say, my son's been playing Redfall. Loves it. I mean, Cyberpunk 2077 got bad reviews when it came out.

Jason:

You Yeah, yeah, no, no, I think there's definitely a

Ethan:

And I finished that game. I loved that game.

Erik:

Yeah, I love that game too. I played it twice.

Ethan:

So, yeah, I think that's a separate 12 hour podcast.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

I'll be releasing that.

Jason:

Different in how people approach video games when

Ethan:

But I'll be releasing that. And I'll be releasing that. So, yeah, I think that's a separate 12 hour podcast.

Jason:

They like consume maybe a lot of them and they you know, they are kind of source of it and they want to you know

Ethan:

I'll be releasing that. So, yeah, I think that's a separate 12 hour podcast. And I'll be releasing that. I'll be releasing that.

Jason:

You know, they're able to kind of critique it in a different way then I think you know

Ethan:

So, yeah, I think that's a separate 12 hour podcast.

Jason:

I think as you get older you just have less time and

Ethan:

I'll be releasing that. Yep.

Jason:

And you're like, yeah, this is fine. I don't need you know more than this, right? So yeah

Ethan:

Alright.

Erik:

Yeah, great.

Ethan:

Well, should we jump into the main topic?

Jason:

Yeah

Ethan:

Alright. Eric, why don't you lead us off.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

This was, you know, like a lot of our topics, I think that, you know, we sort of brainstormed a huge list of possible topics. And you've done a good job sort of corralling them into some sort of semblance of order and structure. So, why don't you lead us off and talk to us about what you think about that topic. And then we'll go ahead and get started. So, we'll go ahead and get started.

Erik:

Yeah, that's great. Today we're talking about mystery gaming or investigative gaming. And I think one of the interesting things is that of course, mystery and investigation are really one of the core types of activities in RPGs. Although I don't think we often call it that, right? We often talk about exploration rather than mystery. We haven't talked about exploration, role playing and combat. That's certainly the triangle on which 5e builds itself.

Ethan:

So, we'll go ahead and get started.

Erik:

But I think this is actually huge and hugely important and you find role playing games that are dedicated to it and some that have mechanics that support it and some that kind of brush it aside. Actually, Ethan, maybe you could give us your definition of what you think the definition of mystery gaming is.

Ethan:

So, I have kind of specific thoughts on this. I think this kind of bifurcates into two different types of mystery gaming. There are mystery games where players solve the mystery.

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

The meat brains at the table solve the mystery. And there are mystery games that simulate mystery,

Erik:

Can you provide some examples of each of those? I think that's a super interesting concept, but it's pretty deep.

Ethan:

where the player characters are solving the mystery. And within, so, I've sort of created a Venn diagram with two separate circles there. Those may overlap, and they often overlap. Sure. Yeah, yeah. So, I think that in, for me, let's talk about,

Jason:

You

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

I'm going to give you maybe two examples here, two or three examples. So, one example is in classic, kind of Dungeons and Dragons, 1980s D&D, you know, born like Athena from the head of Wargaming. You have a game that is mechanically structured around Wargaming, but very quickly, over a course of a decade or so, it starts to adopt a lot of tropes of mystery solving. And you end up with adventures that have an actual mystery in them.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

Like, where are these monsters coming from? Why are they invading this town?

Jason:

Hmm

Ethan:

Who's creating these unnatural beasts?

Jason:

You

Ethan:

And so, there's usually a payoff at the end of those adventures, even though mechanically, D&D is absolutely purely Wargaming applied, but starting to adopt these other genres.

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

And then you have, so that's, for me, that's one type. And that continues, I think, in many ways throughout the history of D&D,

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

even through today, where we still have that mechanical kind of Wargaming framework, but we have the narrative frameworks of mysteries and other genres. And the other genres could be political intrigue. So another example would be The Gumshoe System, developed by Robin D. Laws, and many games published by Pelgrin Press.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

So, in The Gumshoe System, Robin D. Laws took a look at D&D and other games, Call of Cthulhu, that are mystery solving games. And he said, and actually Call of Cthulhu is a good example between the two, these are really fun, except for the fact that quite often you have to roll some dice to find out whether or not you get the clue. And people fail that roll all the time. And then it's really on the Game Master, you know, it's the classic, like, oh man, the players didn't discover the secret door. I have to figure out a way to make them discover the secret door.

Jason:

Right

Ethan:

I'm going to have them roll again, and then I'll have the thief roll,

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

and then I'll have the wizard roll. You know, like, you're just doing backflips to make a fun aspect of the mystery reveal itself. And in Gumshoe, Robin D. Laws said, hey, you know, information is free,

Jason:

You Right, right

Ethan:

you always get the clue, especially the core clues, and the mystery always progresses because of that. Yeah, and I didn't answer that, because I think in both D&D and Gumshoe,

Erik:

I think what I'm hearing from you, and I want to get back to this, who's investigating? Is it the player or the character? But before that, I'd...

Ethan:

it can be both, depending on who wrote the scenario.

Erik:

So let's come back to that in a second, because I think that's a really interesting topic. But what I'm hearing you say is one of the things that makes investigative mystery gaming different is that unlike, let's say, something where you're trying to convince someone to pass a bill in Congress,

Jason:

You

Ethan:

Sure. Okay. Well, it's a little bit of a mess.

Erik:

or you're trying to get the town to prepare for an oncoming attack, that in investigative mystery gaming, failure is not fun. That it blocks the game, it stops it, and it is not... it doesn't create higher tension scenarios down the line. Is that a fair assessment?

Ethan:

Well, if we define failure as failure to get the clue, failure to get the information.

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

And honestly, I think it's not fun in D&D, even though failure to get the clue is built

Jason:

Now Ethan

Ethan:

into the system because it's a war gaming mechanic.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

That's my thesis. I submit it to the committee for review.

Jason:

Ethan you're a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes consulting detective board game

Ethan:

So much yes.

Jason:

How is that? Yeah, like I'm gonna kind of keep kind of playing with this a little bit because that one's purely

Ethan:

Yes. Yes.

Jason:

The meat the meat brain like the actual human beings are solving the mystery, right

Ethan:

Yeah, I think about this all the time.

Jason:

How do you fold like that in like how does that kind of play into your theory of kind of like mystery RPGs?

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

You Mm-hmm

Ethan:

So for those folks who don't know it, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a series of tabletop board games, I guess we would call them. And they come with pre-written mysteries. You can play them alone. You can play them with a group of people. And you just basically take turns reading a pre-written text. And each pre-written text is a scene that gives you some information.

Jason:

You

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

And then you can choose on a map of London where you're going to go to next and who you're going to talk to or what scene you're going to investigate. And each visit to a scene or a person is pre-written text.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

And through that process, you collect through copious notes and writing down times and writing down names of people and motives. You collect information in your player human brain. There is no, there really, you nominally play the Baker Street Irregulars, but you're not inhabiting that character. There's no opportunity for role play. There's no dice rolling. You're just getting information into your human brain and solving it. And I, it's pure for me, that's like pure mystery solving.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

Those games must be very hard to create by the way, because you really are writing a mystery and you're writing an asynchronous mystery because people can collect the information in any order. Eric, you were going to ask me a question.

Erik:

Yeah, so can you give an example? So I think that that's a great example, and I understand it, about how players can solve mysteries. But the player is the person playing the game. What does it mean to say that in some cases you do the opposite, which is that the character solves a mystery?

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

Yeah. And I think there's, I don't think there's any, I don't have a good example of a game

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

where a, of a non-computer game, I should say, where a player character solves a mystery, but let's use a computer game, a computer role playing, like point and click mystery

Jason:

You

Ethan:

game as an example. All right. So if you have a typical kind of point and click mystery game on a, playing a video game, you are able to collect clues by clicking on them. And there are mystery games that attempt to allow the player to exercise some deduction

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

on their own and combine clues and do things like that. But oftentimes it's just a matter of clicking on the right, you know, the right area on the screen. You collect the clue, you've got the clue. When you've got the right number of clues, the mystery is solved. And then you can go to the library or you can go confront the culprit and you're done. There's no, there's no actual deduction happening. And I think that that happens in RPGs. So for instance, in Gumshoe, there are real mechanics built around allowing this to happen

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

where you can say, you know, if so and so has a, you know, a skill related to library

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

science, then your, you know, your characters in the library and they are able to research and find two books that bear on this case and cross-referencing them, you realize that, you know, the person that hired you is actually the inheritor to this vast fortune. Okay. So, you know, instead of presenting you with information like here's a name, here's a,

Jason:

You Right, right

Ethan:

you know, printed list of, you know, adoption papers that, you know, you have, here's some other information where the, I sort of like spread it out on the table in front of you, which could happen in the RPG. And maybe that's fun and maybe it's not. I don't know. I want you to answer that question. But you really are presenting it as a fait accompli. Your character has solved this connection. Your character has put together this information.

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

So that, I don't know if that answers it sufficiently, but that to me is the player character solving a part of the puzzle.

Erik:

So is it fair, I think, about some systems where there are skill checks, right? And you... let's say the GM has left a clue that there's a muddy footprint under the bed.

Ethan:

Yeah. Oh yeah.

Erik:

And in a world where... and this is... tell me if I'm getting this right. If the player is intended to do the investigation, then the GM is waiting for the player to say, I search under... I look under the bed.

Ethan:

Yeah, I mean I think one, there's a slight difference there, which is you're talking

Erik:

Versus if the player character is doing the investigation, then the player might just say, I do a search, and the GM says, make a search roll, or in Gumshoe you would just tell them. But at that point, if they make the search check, then that character has correctly investigated, versus the player being the one who's doing that deduction. Is that fair?

Jason:

Mm-hmm You

Erik:

Uh huh.

Ethan:

about a mechanical event, which is finding something under a bed or choosing to look under a bed. And I guess I'm less concerned about that.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

I think that there's a role for allowing volition and mapping that discovery against both the

Jason:

Right

Ethan:

player at the table, the player choice to look under the bed, as well as perhaps the skill set of the player character. But I think that, so let me differentiate there between the mechanical choices, sort of the general skill choices and putting together big parts of the puzzle.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

Insight, I guess I'm talking about insight. So like finding, discovering the shoe print is not insight.

Jason:

You Right

Ethan:

In your meat brain when you're playing consulting detective, you're creating insight. Your brain is turning into an insight generating machine. In a investigative game where the player, where the mystery solving is purely simulated, and I don't think this pure simulation of mystery solving exists entirely, but in that

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

You Right

Ethan:

scenario the insight that is achieved is handed to you. And let me explain why. We play D&D, we've all done this, where the classic example is the bard wants to seduce somebody. It's an er example. And so I say, well okay, tell me what is the bard saying to the princess to seduce her?

Jason:

You

Ethan:

Or what is your wizard saying to negotiate peace? And I'm asking you on the spot to come up with some riff. But I could also just say like, well okay, good enough, 30 seconds of you kind of hemming and hawing, and D&D nerds having famously excellent social skills, coming up with the worst pickup lines imaginable. Go ahead and roll for seduction.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

Go ahead and roll for negotiation. And then that's the real answer. The rest is just flavor.

Erik:

You know, the thing that I think out of all of that, the thing that really gets my goat, and that I have a hard time with, is when people are expected to say, here's what I say, and then they do a roll, and the thing they choose to say doesn't impact the difficulty of the roll.

Ethan:

the bard.

Jason:

Right, that's right. Yeah

Erik:

Yep.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

But do you see what I'm trying to correlate? So we often will do these types of weird hybrid player engagement, along with player character automated success rolling.

Erik:

Yep. So, what I'm hearing, you know, I'd love a framework. There's never been a framework I didn't love. And I think what you're proposing is that there's a framework. Tell me if I'm taking us off base, by the way. But I think what you're saying is that there's a framework where there's a mystery has kind of three pieces.

Ethan:

Silence. Silence.

Erik:

One is going and collecting the clues, and some clues are clues about what the mystery, and some clues are just clues that lead you to other clues. But then there is this insight piece that you're talking about. So first, you do clue hunting, then you do insight and integration to try to solve the mystery using the clues you've got, and then you go and do something about it. And that those are the three pieces of an investigative skeleton.

Ethan:

Thank you for being with us. Thank you.

Erik:

And at least for both of the first two, Ethan, I think you're saying there is a choice about, is it the player who's doing each of those first two pieces, or is it the character?

Jason:

Mm-hmm You

Ethan:

Yeah, yeah.

Jason:

Right

Ethan:

So there's investigate, synthesize, and then act basically, right?

Erik:

And there's even some games like Brindlewood Bay and some other, like there's some Forged in the Dark games that are, I'm sure the name escapes me, but based off of Men in Black, roughly, where as you collect clues, you get points.

Ethan:

Right. Yeah.

Erik:

And that if you get enough points, you solve the problem, and in fact, synthesis is replaced with generation. So rather than you making, you say like, oh, okay, you figured it out, the GM's going to tell you what's going on, the player then wins the right to say, here's what's going on.

Jason:

You

Erik:

Right? Or in the Forged in the Dark version, I'm not sure how it is in Brindlewood Bay, as you collect clues, you get more and more dice, and whenever the players are ready, they say, I'm going to solve it. Here's what I think the solution is. And then you roll the body of dice to figure out if you're right or not.

Ethan:

Interesting. So it's like getting a stock option. Interesting.

Erik:

Yep, that's exactly right.

Ethan:

Huh.

Jason:

Would you ever

Erik:

next.

Jason:

Have a situation where a player at your table says my character

Erik:

.

Jason:

says this you know Solves some part of the mystery and if you say, you know No, I don't think your your character would have that knowledge or I don't think your character would have that kind of insight I've never I've never done that and and I wonder if any of you ever have or would

Ethan:

Wow. That's a big question. Um.

Jason:

I think it's at the core of your player versus character kind of mystery thing

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

Is that kind of that that negative case and and and would you ever just say no?

Ethan:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, no. I think it's a great, that's a great point.

Jason:

No, that's something you as a player figured out but your character has an intelligence of three or whatever, right? Yeah

Ethan:

I think that there are, I don't, I've never done it. Which is really interesting. Like why haven't I done it?

Jason:

You

Ethan:

I guess I feel like I've never been presented with a situation where,

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

and maybe it's because I haven't played enough Gumshoe, but I've never been presented with a situation where I felt like somebody overstepped that. I also feel like I have never played, I, you know, when I play Gumshoe, there's usually some sort of like meat brain inference and synthesis component. And which for me has always been the assumed fun part. I actually really

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

question whether or not it is, but because of that, I feel like, you know, people have been

Jason:

You Right, right, right

Ethan:

kind of like offloading. They've never jumped to that. My player solves the mystery, right? Or my character solves the mystery, right? So.

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

though.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

Okay, so let me give you an example, though.

Jason:

That's right, that's right Mm-hmm

Ethan:

If I give you a dungeon and you do a dungeon crawl through that, that can be fun, right? Because you're going back to your video game example, right, Jason?

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

It's fun to clear the dungeon, right?

Jason:

Right

Ethan:

It's fun. Man, keep on the Borderlands, played that so many times, going through the Caves of

Jason:

You Mm-hmm, yeah

Ethan:

Chaos because it was fun to clear out the Caves of Chaos for us. Would it be fun today? I don't know. I think maybe it would be, actually. So it's fun to achieve that, just the satisfaction of a completionism.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

And I can see that being fun in a mystery game without solving anything. It's like going on a boat ride at a fun park, right? You go through the scary tunnel and you see all the animatronics and you're not really making any choices, but you're sort of engaged and you're having an emotional response and it's fun and it's titillating and that's cool. And you come out the other end and that was a good ride. That's a great question, is it?

Jason:

Right, right exactly, right

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

And I think it's not. So in the intro we say, you know, are there mystery games that are not actually mystery games? And I think that's it. Then you're playing a dungeon crawl. And for me, the key question about Gumshoe as a system and about other types of similarly

Jason:

You

Ethan:

structured games is, are they really mysteries? And what is that relationship, which I don't think is always made explicit, between the player character automatically synthesizing and then the right mix of the player meat brain synthesizing information. Thank you. Thank you.

Jason:

Hmm You Hmm Yeah, yeah

Ethan:

The counter example though for me is like the last time that we played Yellow King together as a big group, they're easily, like especially once we were about halfway through the scenario and that was a pretty long scenario by the way. I mean I think we had like I don't know 10 sessions. It was a long, big number of sessions.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

But once we got about halfway through and all the players had achieved sort of a critical

Jason:

Yep

Ethan:

mass of like, we're in Paris, it's the Belle Époque and like sort of like just general knowledge and then it had also accumulated enough information about what was going on

Jason:

You That's right

Ethan:

and had enough clues, there would be like 15 to 20 minutes of discussion at the beginning of every session debating, like very active debate about like what was happening. You know, like who's behind this? Yeah.

Jason:

That my mind my mind too I and I reflect a little bit on some of the masks of nyla thoatemps sessions we've had

Ethan:

Yeah same. Right. Okay.

Jason:

Where you're like, it's it's very similar run where you get into this situation where you're like, okay

Ethan:

Right.

Jason:

The players are just talking. They're just like and that's fun. Like, you know, you're the actions not moving forward You're not like engaging and like actual roleplay of any kind at that moment. No dice are being thrown

Ethan:

Okay.

Jason:

But the table talk is is is is you collectively getting into the story together, right? And that that's fun. That's a lot of fun. So You Right

Ethan:

Okay.

Jason:

You

Ethan:

Okay. Yeah, I have, okay I'm going to jump in here because I, you know, I have a strong feeling

Jason:

I'm not sure. I'm the right person to call on yet. I'm still kind of slow today Yeah, please do Mm-hmm

Ethan:

for me personally that games, so for the audience like when we're talking about inspectors, we are talking about a game where the players are sort of like on the fly creating a lot of the answers in world building and mystery. And there's a lot of games like this where players have a lot of agency, players mind

Jason:

You

Ethan:

you not player characters, but players have a lot of agency in crafting the world and

Jason:

a

Ethan:

the experience and what's going on. And you sort of are, you know, you've scattered breadcrumbs in front of them, but they're kind of, it's like a random distribution and then it's up to the players to sort of sort them into piles. And that's, that process to me is a little less, it's fun, but it's a little less satisfying than the feeling that there's a human intent. There was a human mind behind creating a mystery that it's up to me to solve.

Jason:

Yeah

Ethan:

There's world building that I'm going to look into.

Jason:

Mm-hmm. Yeah

Ethan:

Like okay, I absolutely have enjoyed playing like procedurally generated video games and roguelikes where you're in this like infinite dungeon and you just keep going through. I now as an adult, I find those less satisfying than when I was a kid. But.

Jason:

You Mm-hmm

Ethan:

Okay.

Jason:

It is actually why I like gumshoe, you know because the stories we I think we've talked about this sometimes that we always enjoy reading gumshoe stories more than we like maybe enjoy it at the table, right and And I think that would to me Like the gumshoe adventures I've played have had some of the best mystery authorship, you know of any Tabletop RPGs I played and so while I don't feel like I'm really enjoying this system as we're doing it

Ethan:

Yeah, it's, you know, Bubble Gumshoe, I'm eternally crafting a Bubble Gumshoe world.

Jason:

I definitely am having a lot of fun being at the unique characters that gumshoe lets you into and then the storylines are Interesting, you know as well. I think I think Ethan you might have had some experience with bubblegum shoe. Is that correct or did you? Mm-hmm

Ethan:

So Bubble Gumshoe is a gumshoe system game and it's kind of height and I don't have it

Jason:

You Mm-hmm

Ethan:

around here somewhere and I apologize, I'll find out, we can put in the show notes a link to it, but it was three different authors and I know Kenneth Hight was involved, but I don't know if he was the primary. So it's basically like if Veronica Mars was a gumshoe game.

Jason:

Right

Ethan:

And it's a, for me actually the vibe is a little bit, it's somewhere between like the

Jason:

Mm-hmm

Ethan:

Scooby Doo and Veronica Mars. Although it doesn't have any sort of overt like supernatural themes or anything like

Jason:

You Hmm Oh interesting, huh?

Ethan:

that. I think it would be fun to toss those in. But if you've, you know, the idea is it's a small town, you are students, high school students and your skill set maps nicely. So like there's no cop talk, but there's like, I think there's like adult talk or something or like grown up talk or something where, yeah, where you can like talk to adults well.

Jason:

It's kind of cool I like that skill that's a good one. Yeah

Ethan:

And yeah, there's like, you know, photography and computer skills and things like that.

Jason:

You Mm-hmm. Yeah

Ethan:

So you know, you're simulating solving little mysteries in your town. And I just really am excited to craft something in that world. I think that seems like a fun, anyhow, sorry, why were you asking me about that?

Jason:

Yeah, no no I was I was thinking about just kind of this stories

Ethan:

Besides the fact that it seems super cool and you're going to play it with me. Yeah. I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

so one of the things I think that's interesting about mysteries is just mystery games as a genre is I do think there are these subgenres within mysteries that help us understand The type of mystery resolving a murder mystery you kind of know

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

You know a bit like that what's going into that and bubblegum shoe to me it felt like a really interesting system that focuses on kind of the encyclopedia brown, you know style of play and and and I was I was asking about it kind of like in in the interest of I

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

Do think that the definition of mystery can be incredibly sprawling? Like we've like we've said like it could be a dungeon crawl It could be all of these things and I really think that these systems that kind of focus in on a sub-genre of mysteries Both thematically and with their mechanics I think it helps kind of get the players into the space of the kind of mystery they're solving

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

And so yeah, yeah, that's just kind of brought it up from there. Well, actually I have a question for you Eric, which is Is a Knights black agents a mystery? You Mm-hmm You

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

All right.

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

All right.

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

All right. And it does have a mechanic. I think I think I have this game, right? It's about like a larger global conspiracy. Conspiracy is another type of mystery genre that, you know, I think masks now attempt that we talked about earlier falls into that as well, which is, you know, kind of like what the what the players are trying to figure out is not a localized mystery who murdered somebody. It is a multi session play of what is a global mystery. And there's lots of like kind of like sub mysteries within it. And I think that nice black agents has a specific kind of conspiracy mechanic. Is that correct? tape. Mm-hmm. Uh-huh. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Right. Right. Mm-hmm. Right. Okay.

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

Mm hmm.

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

I also feel like I'm really glad that you snapped it back to conspiracies being just a useful campaign construct. It started to kind of make me think about past campaigns I've run and whether they really were a conspiracy at their heart, a conspiracy mystery at their heart. And I'll use Eric and I both ran a D&D, a horde of the dragon queen campaign that we turned that thing into like a three year long ridiculous like thing. But that really starts with here's this crazy dragon army. What are they? What are they doing? Why are they gathering all this gold? Why are they raiding all these towns? And to me that the conspiramid mechanic would have been such a useful thing for me to have in my tool case during that kind of DMing because kind of what you want is you want as the players are exploring the world, you want the interplay between the players have affected the world somehow. And the person behind the mystery is reacting to what the players are doing. And the conspiramid just seems like a great way to kind of structure that, like to help you with your prep and how to think about that. And I think that kind of dynamic mystery is a more exciting tabletop mystery play than eventually you'll figure out who murdered the person and why there's blood underneath

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

the bed or whatever, right? Like that one just has like an answer, right? Whereas I think the conspiracy play has lots of reveals as you go on. And to me that feels like a more satisfying RPG construction than maybe a murder mystery. So

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

you'd like it, Eric.

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

Mm hmm.

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you. I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

Right. Yeah. It's, it's, it's, I would say it's, it's like, it's like X-Files, right? X-Files, you know, as a, as a TV show would alternate between that monster of the week and then what's the conspiracy kind of episode that kind of advances the plot. Right. And I think in RPG play, this whole conversation is kind of remaking me think about, um, I think that the mysteries as a construct for campaigns, you need to have kind of the, the monster of the week version. You need to have the thing in the session that makes the session satisfying. And then you need to have the overarching construct that makes the campaign play satisfying. Right. And, um, and I hate to keep coming back to the conspiracy, but it feels like that's such a nice formal way to kind of plot that out as a, uh, as a DM and how to really kind of get your campaign structured in the, in a really satisfying way. So it feels like it's a tool that could be applied to all sorts of different kinds of campaigns. Yeah. Uh, yeah. I'm used to the blues and then Ash and stars and, uh, yeah. Yeah. That's right. Yeah. It's interesting that we keep coming back to the three of us come back to gumshoe a lot. Four of us with Brendan. Right. And it's so foundational. And I think how we think about RPGs and yet if any of us were like, do you want to play in a gumshoe one? We'd be like, ah, now let's go to this other thing. Right.

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

It's so strange that like, we've talked about how it has fascinating mechanics, how it's introduced interesting ideas for how to structure and think about campaigns, how it's probably the most thoughtful, besides maybe Brindlewood bay, maybe unique approach, right. To, um, to our mysteries. Right. And yet we don't, it doesn't see the table. I wonder why that is.

Ethan:

Yeah, I know why though. I can give you an answer. I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

Hmm.

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

Hmm.

Ethan:

I'm going to play it with you. I'm going to play it with you.

Jason:

Hmm. Right. Yeah. Right. That's right. Okay. Oh, interesting. Huh. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Ethan:

Yeah, which has to do with a really core aspect, which is clue discovery. And whether or not it's challenging to find clues or not challenging to find clues.

Jason:

Okay. Okay. All right.

Ethan:

I won't go into all of that. I will look up the episode number, but I think it's something about, like, It's a Good Gun or something like that was the title of the episode. So, that's for me, part of it is just like, what type of game is it?

Jason:

Mm-hmm.

Ethan:

Doesn't have a clear answer for me.

Erik:

.

Ethan:

It's not necessarily a mystery game, or maybe it can be, but not in the way that we think. But D&D, I mean, we play D&D all the time, and we are really stretching the wargaming

Jason:

Yeah. Oh, totally. Right? Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Erik:

.

Ethan:

DNA of that game to the breaking point on a regular basis. To the point where I think people, I mean, we all agree on this, I think, but people ignore, you know, it's like, you know, if you ask people about the Old Testament, they're like, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. I mean, you know, D&D is the Old Testament of gaming, right?

Jason:

Right. Right.

Ethan:

It's like, there's like witchstoning and village burning, and we just don't play those rules, right?

Jason:

Right.

Ethan:

I'm sure we can come up with an answer here.

Jason:

Right. Right. Right.

Ethan:

Okay. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Right.

Jason:

Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Ethan:

Oh, interesting.

Jason:

Hmm.

Ethan:

Oh, we've got the Old Testament and the New Testament, now we have our first heresy.

Jason:

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Ethan:

This is great. Okay.

Jason:

Ha, ha, ha, ha. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Right.

Ethan:

Okay. Okay.

Jason:

Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Ethan:

Okay.

Jason:

So I would say a lot of times, like, I think the reason why everyone at the table had such a good time with Inspectors was, I would say it's a very satisfying game as a player because you are, you're able to be very expressive in it. You're kind of co-creating, you're doing a lot of, you're doing a lot of the DM work, right? And I think sometimes as a DM, you're like, well, all right, whatever. Like, this isn't like as fun as I have this cool thing and I can't wait to see the player's reaction when this happens because that doesn't happen because the players are the ones who are kind of mainly inventing that, right? I think that'd be very hard to do for a mystery game. You know, I think that, you know, you essentially like kind of maybe a player generated. I haven't played Brindlewood Bay yet, but I'm curious to see how it plays at the table, right? But like, I am kind of curious about like the genre of mysteries feels like it's the one that needs the most authorship from the GM at the table and would suffer the most from kind of player co-creation. I don't know if that's the correct way to view it or not, but it certainly came to me as you were talking about just kind of how our table experienced some of the games. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Right. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Right. Right. Mm hmm. Yeah. That's right. That's right. Yeah. Yeah.

Ethan:

Yeah. Whereas in D&D, ironically, I think you do have a good answer, which is like you just have to make it happen on your own because the rules don't account for it at all and they never will and they're terrible at doing it.

Jason:

Right. That's right.

Ethan:

And they also suck at clue finding, so everything you're doing is like off-brand, off-book.

Jason:

That's. It's interesting. It's a weird thing where the lack of system support for an aspect of play is what makes that part of play possible.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

Whereas the mckay that's right. That's right. No, you're exactly right. So that's fascinating.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

Yeah. Yeah, I think for me, what I really took away was what I was talking about earlier, which was I think I'm going to use the conspiracy. I'm going to go build it out for masks of Nail or Thoth up. And I need to I'm in the middle of unpacking after a move, I have to go find my Knights block H's book somewhere. But I think that applying the conspiracy to masks will really benefit my ability to construct the second kind of half of the campaign, which we're about to begin soon. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Ethan:

you

Erik:

Thank you very much.

Jason:

Thank you for watching!

Ethan:

Thank you.

Jason:

You