I have, for many years, enjoyed running games that involve a degree of investigation and general uncovering of secrets. I think this penchant most likely began with, unsurprisingly, Call of Cthulhu. Over the years, investigation has been a keystone in the scenarios I create, largely regardless of the genre in which the current game may sit. So it is with Ars Magica, now fourteen sessions into its life and progressing very well, in my opinion at least. As usual, when plotting a campaign, I had a number of mysteries ready to plant and then bloom upon engagement by the players. As an aside, these days I don’t have one mystery that absolutely must be investigated, otherwise we don’t have a game. I prefer to place a number of such mysteries around the campaign area and let the players decide which ones to engage with and in what order. Historically I have run such investigations in a traditional fashion, wherein the players slowly piece together clues in order to build a picture, which is then revealed at the culmination of the scenario.
“Oh, so it was Dagon/Asmodeus/Saruman/The Joker/Dengar etc. all along!.”
This time however, I revealed most of the picture near the beginning of the scenario. The players now know the ‘What’ of the mystery and are busy constructing the ‘Why’, ‘Who’, ‘When’ and ‘Where’ elements. This is proving very effective for creating a sense of urgency and deep concern amongst the players. They have learned about the presence of a sleeping dragon, in a cavern underneath the nearby town. In actual fact they have seen the beast with their own eyes and so know it to be more than peasant fancy or folk tale. Their investigations thus far have led to them learning about the existence of a cult, which venerates the dragon and awaits its awakening, at which time they believe they will be rewarded. The players’ job is to discover the membership of this cult and, if possible, any prophesies that may indicate when the dragon might wake up. If I had run this scenario a few years ago, the players would have stumbled upon the existence of a shadowy organisation and, through several sessions of investigation, learned about the dragon. By front-loading the object of the mystery I have managed to impel the players to concentrate a fair bit of time and resource to their investigation, which may not have been engendered if they simply assumed that they were investigating yet another fringe group of lunatics that was venerating a long-dead god or some demon that didn’t give two tugs of a dead dog’s dick about these foolish mortals.
I’m not suggesting that all investigative scenarios should be run this way, but I highly recommend giving it a whirl at your table.