Monday, June 10, 2013

The Weird Town: Investigative Sandbox


Watching the 2012 Dark Shadows move this weekend got me thinking about the original show and just how many unusual things happened in that sleepy little Maine town. (True, some of them required time travel and even visits to parallel timelines, but still the same town.) It occurs to me that it would interesting to do a campaign set in a town with weird secrets like Collinsport, Twin Peaks, Crystal Cove from Scooby-Doo, Mystery Inc., or the titular Happy Town (in a show that died too young). A sufficiently large single edifice would do, too--like maybe Gormenghast.

The difference between these settings and larger settings is that investigation not exploration is the order of the day. They differ from traditional investigative settings in that the locale itself is mysterious, unlike New York City in any police procedural or Arkham in Lovecraftiana. This kind of campaign may be better suited to a game that has more of an investigative focus like GUMSHOE or even good ol' Call of Cthulhu. The PCs are probably new in town to heighten the mystery, but some may well have past connections to it: A connection that should give them a reason to investigate.

If you want to do more action-adventure stuff, you probably need something like more of a mysterious island like in Lost or--well--Mysterious Island. There, exploration and investigation can go hand in hand. Just make sure to play up the uncovering as much as the discovering.

10 comments:

Tim Shorts said...

I think these kind of 'sandboxes' are my favorite to play in. Doing a GUMSHOE mini campaign like this would be a lot of fun.

Trey said...

Yeah, that's what I was thinking of. You wouldn't run it as long as with the exploration fo a larger area.

Gus L said...

This seems a perfect fit for you Trey, you think up great investigation games. I'd love to see your take on a vanilla fantasy one especially - something one could drop into a standard D&D game for a change of pace.

Trey said...

Thanks, Gus--though the last game of mine you were in wound up being more investigative as I planned, as it took longer to get to the fisticuffs than expected. I should think about a standard fantasy mystery.

Gus L said...

I really still think that "pulp investigation" is you Crom given gift as a GM and that you should run with it. Of course fisticuffs must happen, but only after the readily available clues are spotted.

It's a tricky genre because of the time pressure with table top games one must apply both sufficient clues to get found (which means multiple avenues of clues) and enough difficulty so that figuring them out is exciting. What I've seen of your games (mostly play reports) shows an enviable knack for this - I just draw convoluted maps and throw in some creepy beasties, cynical factions and sauce with ladle after ladle of ambiance.

Pulp (I use rather than Simple) mystery is something that tabletop games can do well interactively I think and that other interactive media have a huge amount of trouble with. It's the future of table top RPGs - but a ton of work for most GMs?

Trey said...

Thanks, Gus--though I wouldn't downplay the other GMing arts. I've never had a facility (or patience) for intricate dungeon design. Overland exploration I some times do, but players in my games spend a lot of time interacting with NPCs and figuring out how to approach them.

You raise a good point (and maybe one for a different post). Things having be strewn about for the PCs to find how they may. In the Star Trek game the other day, you hit upon the approach I had sort of "expected" but then the other guys did something total different--that wound up working out for them anyway. Also, I think it works best with a reasonable amount of "in character" interaction between PCs and NPCs. I suppose this last bit isn't required, but it really gets the player skill part in their that gives a feeling of accomplishment and makes the NPCs more memorable.

Lum said...

Gormenghast. How do you game the place without ruining the mystery, the feel of the place by understanding it? That's a hard nut to crack. But a small town full of secrets: super game-able! Would you make a relationship map or list strings of clues or...

Trey said...

I think depending on the mystery in question, either approach would work--or both. With a mysterious town like Crystal Cove in Scooby Doo, the relationships are simpler, so "What's going on?" would porbably be the focus of your notes. For the more complicated (and soap-operay) settings a list or map of relationships would be more important.

Styron said...

that's really a great idea I must say. I like it

Trey said...

Thanks.