At some level, I suspect that all my games ultimately end up as one form of Police Procedural or another. Not that this is a bad thing, of course, but the parallels between TV procedurals and my campaigns are pretty close.
Maybe it’s the fact that I feel comfortable when I run mysteries. While I might not have the sheer mechanical talent to churn out super-characters to serve as scary and dangerous villains, I do have a sense of crafting realistic settings with characters that behave realistically to things that happen around them. Just to go over a few characteristics:
- NPCs won’t necessarily tell the truth, or the whole truth
- NPCs are emotional beings that may respond better or worse when put under specific emotional states
- NPCs have other people they know, hate, or care about
- NPCs have day jobs, appointments, or may otherwise be unavailable when the PCs might need them
- NPCs have resources, skills or access to places or facilities that may be useful
- NPCs have their own ideas as to what is best for them, and what is morally acceptable
- NPCs may or may not have plans
- NPCs never have perfect information
All of these of course, when put together for all the NPCs forms a realistic spectrum of various personalities that the Player Characters have to work with or against. Any conversation with NPCs therefore is a complex and rich with potential for getting actual information and even establishing lasting partnerships.
Combat exists in my games, though I don’t usually put a lot of emphasis on them. Certainly some of the bad guys are pretty competent, and even henchmen can come up with some very dangerous situations at times, but if it’s time to give up, many NPCs are perfectly willing to surrender to the PCs than die.
Part of the fun in mysteries is the unraveling. And I think that’s one thing that a lot of GMs that run mysteries like I do need to remember. A mystery is only fun when you’re getting somewhere. As soon as the PCs are genuinely stumped, the fun stops and the frustration sets in. A little bit of this is fine… after all, dead ends and red herrings are natural parts of a good mystery, but too much and you’ll make the game a chore.