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Rewarding Good RPing or Maintaining Plot Points


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For some time now as a GM, I've been conflicted when it comes to the matter of how to handle players who go above and beyond in an effort to RP when the focus of their attention is a red herring or a dead end in the story. Should I recognize their effort by extemporaneously introducing some clue or hint that didn't exist or doesn't belong (particularly when running written scenarios), or should I maintain the integrity of the original story. For example, if a player goes into great detail explaining how he examines the painting, which is actually a red herring, in the room that his character finds interesting, and even goes so far as to take the painting and have it carefully examined by an expert after making numerous rolls to find such an expert and spending 10 to 20 minutes of game time on the matter, etc.

I have two concerns on the matter. The first is that if players do this too often and come up short, they will begin to feel it's a waste of time or energy to examine clues with great detail. On the other hand, I don't want my players to think that just investing a lot of time and rolls on a mundane object will automatically get them a story clue.

I'm curious what some other GM's think of this dilemma.

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Thing is (since this is apparently a mystery story) your players don't know the scripted ending to the scenario -- whether it is a canned adventure or your own concoction. That means you are free to throw in extra clues or create tie-ins that weren't in the original, or even change the identity of the guilty party. Now, the old-school rules lawyer approach would be to allow them to waste their time on a red herring and fail to solve the case. But since your goal in playing in the first place is to have a good time, what would really be the most fun for you and your players? Sometimes, players' guesses and solutions are more interesting than what you or the module author had in mind. So go with the flow and don't penalize them for good role playing. You can always save the "right" answer, villain, or set piece for the next story arc. Your players will never know the difference, and they'll feel like champs for having closed the case successfully. If they get the right answer with the wrong clues? That's OK. Mysteries often don't make sense anyway until the detective (whether Sherlock Holmes or Sam Spade) spins the yarn at the end of the short story or novel. The solution doesn't have to be true. It just has to be convincing enough to persuade a jury. Conversely, you could have them "solve" the case with the wrong answer or culprit, enjoy their rewards and adulation in the press, then have the real villain dog their steps next adventure (since they're apparently smart enough to be a threat).

If your players are invested enough in your campaign to make that kind of effort, I'd encourage them any way possible. Personally, I've had too many players that would step over a dead body I've practically thrown at their feet because "I don't want to get involved." In a secret agent and/or pulp adventure game! How far would we get if James Bond, Indiana Jones, or Lamont Cranston took that attitude?

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I have two concerns on the matter. The first is that if players do this too often and come up short, they will begin to feel it's a waste of time or energy to examine clues with great detail. On the other hand, I don't want my players to think that just investing a lot of time and rolls on a mundane object will automatically get them a story clue.

Old School, this is what the random monster rolls were for, yes?—to keep things moving along and to keep players from mundanely and exhaustively searching every room for secret doors, etc.

Seems to me you can reward good RPing, as when one curious PC carefully searches the painting and finds a hidden map or some other plot seed for a future adventure. And you can punish time-wasting and fiddling by having the cultists burst in, etc. If players understand each potential is possible, they'll keep things moving along.

I GM'd one set of dimbulbs (very nice people really! :)) and had to have a cultist hold them at gunpoint and patiently explain the entire plot to them, Q&A style, to get them to abandon their completely wrong, thickheaded hypothesis.

EDIT: Loved, also, what seneschal had to say.

Edited by Lemnoc
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If they spend a lot of time investigating something then they may well find out a fact or too that might be relevant to the current scenario or to a different scenario. You can make these up on the fly.

For example, someone in the painting might be wearing a brooch that contains a symbol that is seen elsewhere in the building, perhaps a cultic symbol, or an identifier to a secret doorway or something else. It may be that someone in the painting has the same face as someone in the scenario - what you do with that is up to you.

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There is a collaborative approach to gaming that encourages players to contribute plot points: if having the painting contain a clue seems like a fun idea, go for it.

Trail Of Cthulhu pretty much mandates that the GM create a clue if the PCs come up with an unanticipated line of investigation. After all, you didn't spend all the time creating a sinister plot if the PCs get stumped in the first scene and never uncover it!

Usually the narrative demands that the PCs get from Point A. to Point B., and the means by which they do is really not that vital: what is important is that they progress.

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In one of my time travel based campaign settings, I decided to include the (pre and post) cognition powers as available to time travellers, based on the same skill (Temporal Awareness). How I did it without undermining player choice was that they were seeing the unaltered future on a success.

So whenever the players were stumped I did a passive roll for it, and I could tell them what the unaltered future would be in that setting as relevant to the plot- Call it an advanced form of second sight, or just memory from seeing the nature of time.

As for actual roleplaying rewards, If someone impresses me with roleplay I give them a checkmark in the relevant skill or stat (I have subsystems for increasing ALL stats). Since i normally only do this on results of 99-100 and 01-02 for the relevant skill, it serves the purpose of roleplaying XP in an ad-hoc campaign of D20 games.

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