How do you handle excessive investigation?

One thing I'm always very willing to admit is that I have very little grasp on how to structure a mystery. One particular problem goes like this: say I'm writing a village and I decide it has a werewolf. So, naturally, along the road to the village I drop a torn-up body for the party to find. If this were Dragon Age, he'd be sparkling faintly, and when clicked on, a sentence like "This man was mauled by something with large claws; some kind of huge predator. But what kind of predator abandons the meat?" appears and then the corpse stops sparkling and the game has very clearly signalled that there's nothing more to do here. 

But in a tabletop game, I don't have that kind of visual cue. Players, being the clever indivduals I brought them up to be, will try to extract as much information as possible. "I check for some kind of wallet. Signet ring. Are his feet bloody? Let's get fingerprints. Let's...." You know, the full Fantastic CSI deal. And I'm not sure how to deal with this. 

Option 1 is to find a phrasing that doesn't sound too bad that says "You can't learn anything else useful here and I am telling you as a DM that CSI is not the option right now." Invoking DM narrative power like this seems inelegant, and contrary to the sandbox spirit. 

Option 1B is to basically do that, except instead of TELLING them that they can't learn anything else, just answer all their questions with "no" or generic responses. "He doesn't have a wallet. He doesn't have a ring. You obtain his fingerprints and file them for later. His feet...." This option seems terrible. The players are no more free than in Option 1, but now they waste a lot of time. 

Option 2 is to just accept that throw-aways aren't viable when exposed to player scrutiny. Instead, every corpse should be a treasure trove of information. Give him a signet ring. Give him a wallet. Having accepted that your players will choose to play CSI whenever possible, just run the best game of CSI you can. 

Option 3 is something clever that I haven't thought of yet. 

another option is give all the info of the corpse up front: the corpse apears to be mangled, has a ring with a scription in elven and good but old clothes, thats wath you can see with the skills and equipment you got. 

By giving thing up front the players can focus on intepreting the clues and look for more source for clues.

This is basically what I do. In situations where there is no time pressure and the PCs have indicated that they want to learn everything they can, I’ll just tell them everything they could learn.

“Ok, you search the body for any information you can glean from it, here’s what you learn, there is nothing else meaningful to learn here.”

That's how I do it as well, perhaps punctuated with some proficiency throws to find secret doors or find traps if there's something that even an attentive investigator might miss. (As far as fingerprints specifically, I would just tell my players that certain techniques simply do not exist in a game world, and that fingerprinting wasn't invented for another thousand years.)

To add some further color - I think the key to a good mystery is that *whether* the PCs find information is typically less interesting than what the PCs make of the information they do find. You need to give them lots of information, not all of it relevant, and much of it susceptible to multiple interpretations.


[quote="Alex"] To add some further color - I think the key to a good mystery is that *whether* the PCs find information is typically less interesting than what the PCs make of the information they do find. You need to give them lots of information, not all of it relevant, and much of it susceptible to multiple interpretations. [/quote]

I was going to make a whole speech questioning the concept of 'excessive' investigation, but Alex beat me to the punch by making a much more relevant observation with which I agree entirely.

Taking the idea of "give them lots of information, not all of it relevant, and much of it susceptible to multiple interpretations" to extremes: Every now and then in the campaigns I run, I like to give my players access to what I can 'an oracle,' a font of information they can freely question about practically anything in the setting, but which limits its answers according to principles they can only learn by experiment. On the most recent occasion, my players discovered a magical reflecting pool bearing the inscription "Show me, tell me, to me, from me." (If you're in my campaign and recognise this, please stop reading now to avoid spoilers.)

The strength of this pool is that it can be commanded to show a real-time image of anything that presently exists in the setting. For example, one of my players commanded it to "show me the nearest device that could neutralise the theolocus," and it displayed the image of a nearby chisel. (Context: A theolocus is a big stone thing they're trying to destroy.) The disadvantages of this particular oracle are that A) it doesn't change what it displays if you ask it to show something that doesn't exist, and B) it displays exactly what you ask for, so precise wording is very important.

There was no limit to the number of questions the players could ask - and as a consequence, they were able to persue multiple lines of inquiry, building theories as they went. For example, one of my players commanded the pool to display "the nearest spellbook containing a spell that could neutralise the theolocus in under ten minutes" and "the nearest person who could cast that spell to neutralise the theolocus in under ten minutes" and wasn't able to work out why the pool displayed his own spellbook, but not him who can cast every spell in that book. (The spoileriffic answer is that he can't cast the spell enough times in ten minutes to do it)

What makes an encounter with an oracle like this interesting is how the players try to interpret the information they get, the theories they form, and the choices they make as a consequence. The actual gathering of that information is secondary.

Yes! The Commune spell has served a similar function in my own games, more-or-less.

In the game we just rapped up the players abused Prophecy to the point where I felt the God of Knowlege took offence of them asking him about everything. Once I felt they were trying for the easy way out of something I started to basicly have him answer "You're annoying me with the constant questions."

Are you kidding?  Prophecy is fantastic!  In order to get any reliable info, you've got to risk 3-4 months of insanity, every time you use it!

I use a few techniques depending on the current situation; it pretty much boils down to a question of time... (real or in-game) for me.

Sometimes I give all the information findable upfront as Lucasdelsur mentioned. I do my best to make it obvious through my narrative so as not to wast real time. I do it this way when I think role-playing out the search would not be interesting or if investigating a particular event isn't a key part of an adventure.

When players say they want to search, I'll ask: "How much time are you going to spend searching?" and the players will say something like 1 turn, half-an-hour, a few hours, all night, etc. This lets me gauge just how much information I give out based on their interest in finding something as well as if/how many proficiency rolls I should make. Lately, I am succeeding at making in-game time a real issue for the party (they don't want wandering monster encounters). I've discovered that my players are actually quite judicious with how long they are willing to search.

When it's a real time issue, I might flat-out tell the player something like: "this course of action will go nowhere". The reality is that at best, we play twice a month, but more often it's like once a month. If I think the players' course of action isn't going to be interesting to role-play and it isn't going to accomplish anything, I just nix it somehow. I always try to let the game play out, but if the outcome is fruitless, the other players are getting bored, and we're threating on wasting 10 or more minutes of our lives on it, I just gotta pull the plug and move the game along.

I've sort of done your option 2 occasionally. If a player asks something specific I think might be interesting and fun, I'll say something like "let us see..." and then roll a % chance to determine if there is a clue or something interesting above and beyond what I originally planned. I don't do it too often though. This also goes hand-in-hand with your option 1B for me. My players don't often ask specific courses of actions when searching. As an example: a player rarely says "I seach the chest of drawers thoroughly, looking for false bottoms, traps, moving it out of the way to see if it conceals a trap door..." They usually just say "I seach the chest (boring... but fast at least and this is where I might say, "how long"). So when players are specific about their search, I don't mind answering their questions. It doesn't take up a lot of real time at our table.

You are thinking of Soothsaying. Prophecy has no downsides besides being vague, which is harder with yes or no questions that are very specific, and limited to once a week. 

Right, right, right.  My mistake.  Soothsaying is the fun one.  :-)

Riffing on what Alex said, any actual forensics should be pretty much thrown out, even though some forensic techniques have existed since the mid point of the middle ages, and sporatic discoveries in forensics are peppered throughout the historical record, modern forensics are INCREDIBLY modern, like we didn't even have a standard bimectric system until somewhere around the 30's when they stopped taking prints of random body parts after fingerprints were discovered to be fairly unique. 

Also if your game is set in the middle ages or earlier most people did not carry much in the way of ID, wealthy people (and their servants) would wear livery with crests/etc, so checking the pockets would just turn out coinage. Some specific types might, like free members of mostly slave groups often had to wear some ID, and Jews in christian communities sometimes had to, also people holding certain status may have a writ from the local lord. But basically checking the body should reveal that its a dead guy and not much else until they drag him/her back into town.