While perhaps a bit off topic for this thread, I think discussing running improvised Call of Cthulhu sandboxes would be an interesting topic of discussion (probably for another thread (I guess this is a content request). Particular for homebrewed scenarios/campaigns. Call of Cthulhu is fortunate to have a huge catalogue of great premade content that people don't have to make their own. But it certainly can be very rewarding to do so.
I agree with the idea that people often decide good enough is fine, when it could be better. When I was first trying out running Call of Cthulhu (actually the first game I ever ran), listening to actual plays like HowWeRoll, IntoTheDarkness, and EncounterRoleplay really helped with getting a feel for how the game plays & runs.
The first benefit being you can study the scenario based on how the keeper ran it and the group tackled it. This can provide useful ideas for adapting the material or even making plot changes. One example of this is IntoTheDarkness' play of Crimson Letters gave the NPC Anthony a lot of other student friends. I used that idea to give him a handful of other friends when I ran it and it worked wonderfully. It made his faction a more menacing threat.
A second is you can see how other keepers run things in general. Because most GM's mostly run, and rarely play it is easy to develop a style and never see alternative approaches to running games. As the saying goes practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. It is easy to develop sub-optimal routines in isolation, whose weaknesses would be demonstrated by seeing other examples of GMing.
The above having been said, it is worth remembering that actual plays are performances, whether that is first or second to playing doesn't change that. And as performances certain styles are better for that than others. The most notable example of this is voices & accents work incredibly well for the performance side of the game (and it works great for the game side of it too.) But, that shouldn't scare new keepers off. The important part is clarity of the NPC's voice, which doesn't necessarily have to mean using an accent or throwing ones voice. It is entirely possible to create unique voices with diction and syntax to differentiate speakers, and this is probably easier to achieve to start with than accents. And keepers can try to add some accents in as they are more comfortable (so an NPC here or there) IMO.
I only got into this a few years ago, so I can't speak to the games early history. In my experience most groups I have had tend to:
1. Get the initial hook.
2.Go to the most direct scene/witness and either look around or interview them.
3. Follow up from there until they witness scarier clues
4. Maybe do some intellectual investigation
5. Return to the scarier clues and have the confrontation
I actually really like the above. It feels more "realistic" to me. The players look into history, records, etc after finding something that seems dreadful. Where they rarely start with assuming, maybe the "haunted" house is actually haunted until they have seen strange things there.
How does this compare with your experience with more modern groups?
I think necessary clues are ok in small numbers. Too many and the tools to "fix" the issue start to remove some player agency. So the ways I am familiar with fixing necessary clues are:
1. Obvious clues, they really can't miss them.
2. Have several clues leading to the same conclusion
3. Fail forward for failed rolls, imposing a cost for the failure rather than gating progress.
4. Moving clues around a bit as necessary.
The reason I say having to use these too much reduces player agency is that I feel player agency allows for players to fail as well as succeed. It is reacting to their decisions and approaches to playing the game and providing the appropriate consequences. Sometimes nudging things in a direction here or there isn't a big deal. But the more it is done, the more it infringes on the natural consequences of decisions. Sometimes this can make it a more fun game, but in excess it can hurt player investment (and thus enjoyement). But I am definitely somewhat of a player agency extremist. A lot of people will disagree with me on this, especially to the extent I view this.
Have I missed any big ways to "fix" necessary clues? And your thoughts regarding safeguarding the players the scenario in conjuction with it's impact on player agency?