Why are mystery adventures not about solving the mysteries?


I love a good murder. I love brutal films and books, both fiction and non-fiction. I love playing and running tabletop RPGs.

I decided to create a series of blog posts about writing criminal mystery scenarios for tabletop role-playing games. This topic is a complex one, and it requires breaking down into stages. That’s why I intend to make this a series of articles.
Initially, we need to define our genre:

Mystery (pronounced mis-tuh-ree, ) is a genre of literature whose stories focus on a puzzling crime, situation, or circumstance that needs to be solved. The term comes from the Latin mysterium, meaning “a secret thing.” stories can be either fictional or nonfictional, and can focus on both supernatural and non-supernatural topics. Many mystery stories involve what is called a “whodunit” scenario, meaning the mystery revolves around the uncovering a culprit or criminal. [1]

However, mystery adventures aren’t about solving a mystery. They’re all about solving a situation! We need to catch the killer! The thief is moving away with every moment. Without ransom, the kidnapping victim will surely die.
While writing the mystery scenario, you have to think backward: initially, you should invent an interesting topic for adventure, then what may have led to this situation.

Let’s assume, that our situation is a murder. The brutal murder of an innocent victim.
While thinking about it we need to establish several facts. How did it happen? Why? What are the consequences? Were there any witnesses? Who committed the murder?

You need to ask yourself the right amount of questions: Who? How? Where? When? Why? What then?

You’ll need those answers to create clues for players. And here comes the most important warning! Role-playing games are not about finding the clues. They are about interpreting them and… about everything else you want. When you create clues, evidence, and testimonies, they will serve as a vehicle for your adventure to connect scenes and plot points.

Use clues as you would use a door in the old-school dungeon. Most of the doors are perfectly visible and easily accessible. Some are open and you can get through them without any issue. Some are locked and require some effort. And then, there are a few secret doors, which lead to optional rooms. There is a chance that any of the above doors can be a trap.

You probably don’t want an adventure entirely consisting of looking for secret doors. You don’t want a game session in which the biggest challenge would be overcoming another annoyingly locked door.

Similarly, you don’t want all clues in your scenario, to be hidden. Not every evidence needs to be another challenge for players. Your clues are doors to the scenes and plot points. Most of the clues should be easily accessible and explicitly lead to the next scene.

That’s why you should start with a problem to solve. Then, you need to think backward. Ask yourself questions about the situation. And then… you will have a foundation for your adventure.

In the next part, I will describe which questions you should ask yourself to create an outstanding background for your scenario.

Have a good one!

[1] Mystery: Definition and Examples | LiteraryTerms.net