An Awesome D&D 5e Murder Mystery
Flames of Kythorn
Adventurer’s League modules are amazing. They can usually be played in a single 2-5 hours session. They are easy for the DM to pick up and run with little preparation. They are cheap to buy. And most all the ones I have played, run, or looked at are really good.
Check out this video about the Flames of Kythorn and then keep reading for more info.
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Running a Mystery
One of the biggest challenges that DMs face is that the party always wants to focus on the things that mean nothing and ignore the stuff that means everything.
In one of my recent sessions, the party was exploring an old house (from Curse of Strahd). I was using the fog of war in Roll20 to reveal each room as they explored it.
It quickly became obvious to the group that there was a section of the house that was not accessible—the block with the red arrow.
As curious adventurers, they spent a little time investigating this mysterious section of the map. No issues.
Later on, they realized that there was another level of this house to explore, but no obvious way to get there. They became obsessed with the square mystery block. All their actions revolved around figuring out how to access this area.
They completely ignored the larger block—with the yellow arrow. This area is actually a hidden staircase to the next level. It took nearly 30 minutes of assorted attempts to learn more about the square block before I finally gave enough hints to point them to the block they were completely ignoring.
And that is the issue with running a mystery.
The clues can be staring them in the face, yet the party will ignore them in favor of something completely mundane.
So what are you to do?
Years ago I read an article that gave this advice. Always have three paths to the goal.
Do not assume that simply saying, “you notice a small scrap of paper on the floor”, is enough to get the party to take the bait. The likely response will be, “I cast levitate and carefully avoid having anything to do with the clearly important scrap of paper.”
When the party overlooks, misinterprets, or outright ignores the critical clue, simply have another way they can get that information.
If the important detail is on the scrap of paper that they avoided with unparalleled precision, then instead have them come across a journal with an entry that provides the same clue. And when they then decide to incinerate the journal without reading it, have an NPC mention the information during a social encounter.
When all else fails, there is nothing wrong with just slapping them upside the head with the info. Maybe give everyone a level of exhaustion just for the trouble they caused you. :-)
The bottom line is that running mysteries is tough. Despite what they might think, most parties are not comprised of the likes of Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, and Jessica Fletcher. You are more likely to have a table of Maxwell Smarts and Mr. Beans.
As long as you are prepared for this and have multiple ways that the party can get the critical information, running a mystery can be a blast. In the end, they will think they were amazing detectives and never suspect the work you put in to make it happen.
Let me know your thoughts. Have you run mystery adventures? What tips do you have?