How to make Mysteries more mysterious.

  • 2 Replies
How to make Mysteries more mysterious.
« on: June 13, 2013, 11:56:09 PM »
I finally got to run a game of Monster of the Week last night. I'd been wanting to do so for a while, and the stars finally aligned, granting my wish. Unfortunately it was a bit last minute, and real life responsibilities only allowed me very minimal prep time. So instead of being able to create a new Mystery for my Hunters, I just used the examples from the book. My plan was to start them off in media res fighting the last Mongolian Death Worm, and then and then move on to the "real" case of the ghost and haunted house. I figured a quick fight would give my players a feel for how the game worked. We're all familiar with the Apocalypse World Engine (though I wouldn't call us experts), but as the Moves in MotW are different from say Monsterhearts and Dungeon World, a little fight would show them how MotW worked.

Things went well, though the Death Worm fight went longer than I expected. The Hunters turned it into a mini-Mystery, as they wanted to gather some clues first before just kicking down the door and fighting. Although this was intended as a one-shot to give our usual Monsterhearts MC a break, we're probably going to turn this into a campaign with me as Keeper. Which is fine, as I had a blast running the game and everyone enjoyed playing. I did have a few questions though, especially about legwork and investigation.

After the game, one of my players said that he didn't think the investigation part of the game was very strong. We then discussed how, as the premise of the game is monster hunting, there will always be some sort of supernatural creature behind the events the Hunters look into. Obviously this is not a problem (it's the premise), but the player then pointed out that the questions players get to ask from the Investigate a Mystery Move are very straight forward. Getting to ask "What kind of monster is it?" pretty much solves the Mystery with a single die roll.

I said that while that is true (and it is something I'm struggling with a bit), the problem the Hunters will be dealing with isn't really what, but how. OK. You're pretty sure that you're dealing with a ghost here based on the information you've gathered. The big question is how are you going to deal with it? So far, both with the Mongolian Death Worm and the haunted house (the Hunters are currently sitting in their car at the foot of the house's driveway), the Hunters immediately knew exactly where the monster was. They didn't have to worry about how they'd track it down or locate it. I intend to make that an issue in future Mysteries.

But that being said, do more experienced Keepers have some advice about how to make the legwork/investigation part of the Mystery be a bit more, well... mysterious? I understand that the Mystery is (almost) always leading up to a fight with the monster. That's just what the game is. I also understand that if the players come up with reasonable ways to obtain answers to the Investigate a Mystery Move questions, that I should provide them. I'm not trying to play "gotcha" with the players and stonewall them. I need to provide them with usable information so they can make informed decisions. However, it does seem a bit anti-climatic when a player can just make a single die roll and ask "What kind of creature is it?". Maybe I'm not sure how much and what kind of information to give when someone asks this question. My players actually avoided asking it because they thought it would end things too quickly.

I'm also curious how to increase the mystery part of the Mystery in general terms. When Director Murdock slapped the ghost case file in front of the team and told them to check it out, one of the players immediately said "Ghost." I had described how the families who had lived in the house were always reporting "break ins" and "things being moved" but police never found any evidence. Yeah, that's pretty obviously a ghost, but I was still a little miffed my players hit on the answer so easily. As I said before though, the real issue isn't discovering that they have to get rid of a ghost, but figuring out how they'll do it. Still, I'd like there to be a bit more "what are we dealing with" at the beginning of future Mysteries.

Any advice on how to do that?
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Re: How to make Mysteries more mysterious.
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2013, 07:16:59 PM »
My two cents:
I think it's important that the idea presented in the examples that that there must be a reasonable way for the question to be answered must be present. For example, if you find footprints, that is not really going to allow you to figure out "What can hurt it?" The move says that the keeper may ask "how do you find that out?"

Also, I've been taking "What sort of creature is it?" to mean more generally, not an exact description. Using the above example, if they find clawed footprints, I might answer "Well, it's a bipedal, clawed, creature weighing about 350 pounds." I wouldn't just say "its a werewolf."

Later on, if they find blood samples and test them. They might be able to test some silver against the blood and answer the question "What can hurt it?"

This is just my take.

Re: How to make Mysteries more mysterious.
« Reply #2 on: July 18, 2013, 05:05:44 AM »
Locnar's advice is good!

Also, I'll add that your mystery is there to be revealed, not to outfox the hunters. You should be telling them more at every opportunity! Of course, not all the answers are going to be what they want to hear. E.g. "There is a simple banishing ritual that requires two candles, a few minutes, and a human sacrifice" is a perfectly good answer to "what weaknesses does it have?".