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Running Investigations and Mysteries

by Mike on 11 March 2024

This article is one in a series where we look at particular adventure types – how to prepare them, how to run them, what pitfalls we might run into, and how we can overcome these pitfalls.

This series of articles includes:

These articles describe one approach for these adventure types and your own style may differ. That's totally fine. There are many right ways to enjoy this game.

Robin Laws's book Adventure Crucible – Building Stronger Scenarios for any RPG inspired my thoughts on this topic.

Understanding Investigations and Mysteries

In investigation and mysteries, one or more previous events have occurred which have led to the current situation. The characters spend their time in the adventure learning what happened and potentially changing the course of future events based on what they find. During investigations, the characters talk to people, explore locations, uncover clues, and face those foes who seek to thwart them.

Mysteries are difficult to run because, unlike narrative fiction, we don't know where the characters are going to go, what they're going to investigate, or what clues they might pick up. They could identify the key villain in the first scene or pursue tangents away from the clues you expect them to follow. Both of these situations need to be accounted for in your prep and play.

Preparing Investigations and Mysteries

These steps can help you prepare to run an investigation or mystery:

Running an Investigation or Mystery

The following list provides a structure around running investigations and mysteries:

Common Pitfalls for Investigations and Mysteries

Investigation and mysteries may sometimes include the following pitfalls. During prep and play, keep these pitfalls in mind so you can avoid them and run a fun evolving game.

Avoiding Pitfalls

Consider the following ways to avoid the pitfalls listed above.

Build Situations, Not Mystery Novels

A key to running a good investigation and mystery is not to assume you know how the players will discover the truth. Build and set up the situation during prep and let the characters follow their own path to their ultimate discovery.

More Sly Flourish Stuff

The Lazy DM's Companion is currently on sale for 50% off the PDF and 20% off the PDF and softcover version! If you don't have this book, now is a fantastic time to pick it up! The Lazy DM's Companion includes tools, tables, and tips for running awesome fantasy D20 games. Grab it today!

Last Week's Lazy RPG Newsletter

I had a cold last week and didn't record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast). Instead, I wrote a text-version of the talk show in the Lazy RPG Newsletter for 3 March 2024 with news, tips, and Patreon questions and answers.

I did post a YouTube video on Using Paper Character Sheets.

RPG Tips

Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

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