A Dreamlands Location

When traveling through the Dreamlands, especially when accompanied by Luis Buñuel or Salvador Dalí, one may come upon La Abadía de los Putrefactos, an imposing structure of suffocating order. It appears as a counterforce after you move the Dreamlands too quickly toward chaos and freedom. Should you attempt to move away from it, it shifts its position, placing itself always in your way. With great effort, you can sidestep it, but if you do, it will be all the harder to avoid the next time it places itself before you. The only way to dismiss it, and then only temporarily, is to enter it and interact with its mummified inhabitants. Like the dream-structures they are, their corridors defy attempts to remember where you’re going. As you wend your way through its cyclopean hallways, you hear shuffling feet but likely see no one. Then you find yourself outside an arch, from which low murmurs emanate. Inside you may find a chamber of empty chairs arranged around a dusty table, perhaps strewn with the bones of a child or minotaur.

Or you might stumble upon the putrefactos themselves. Gaunt, whispering, coughing up clouds of dust, these dried-up liches wear the uniforms of authority, dressing as businessmen, military officers, and most of all, bishops and cardinals. They direct querulous stares in your direction. A skeletal functionary, its forefinger an ink-filled pen nib, records each command they make of you, skritching down a transcript of proceedings on an infinite vellum scroll,.

The putrefactos know many esoteric secrets, and may share them with you, in exchange for your deference. Bold dreamers may succeed in intimidating them: they fear satire, sex, and fire. Should you want to tamp down the liberties of a fellow dreamer, they’ll eagerly provide the poisons and gems of control necessary for the task. Waking visitors to the Dreamlands can take these artifacts back with them to the real world. They aid you as you perform acts reinforcing what the putrefactos call the stasis quo. But beware: keep them too long and they harden the arteries, induce arthritis, and degrade your bones.

Louis Aragon says that church and state will crumble if only a surrealist dreamer can find a way to destroy the abbey once and for all. The hopping moonbeasts of Leng, it is said, despise the putrefactos, and have developed a weapon to trap their abbey for eternity in the tear of a swan. Dare you venture there, and ask them for this gift?

 


 

In the Trail of Cthulhu campaign sourcebook Dreamhounds of Paris, you play the major figures of the surrealist movement as you discover your ability to manipulate the fantastical realm of the sleeping mind.  Order it today, or the bulbheads will get you!

Dreamhounds of Paris sandbox structure requires players to know what they want to do as their surrealists explore and alter the Dreamlands. Knowing what you want from a sandbox roleplaying environment can be harder than it sounds. Luckily, the unconscious automatism so beloved by the historical surrealists can come to your rescue.

Just scour the net for your favorite, most horrific or darkly fantastic works of surrealist art. If you’re playing an artist, you can limit your scope to your PC’s work alone. Or you can widen the field, as the setting assumes that multiple surrealists are changing the dreamscape to more closely resemble their own paintings, and vice versa. There’s no reason you, as René Magritte, can’t stumble into a Picasso vista haunted by cubist maenads.

You might want to print them out. Or you could collect them on an image curation site like Pinterest or Dropmark.

In the first case, you can shuffle them like cards, pull a random one, and show the Keeper and rest of the group: “Hey, I want to go there.”

Or you can adopt the more narratively proactive, “Hey, look where we are.”

For the virtual version, you could number the entries and then use a random number generator to pick one of them.

Not that you have to randomize; you can scan the list and pick one that strikes you as matching the themes and images of the series so far.

If you’re lucky, some enterprising Dreamhounds readers will read this and build their own repository of suitable images, grouped by painter, for everyone’s use.

So if you’re playing Salvador Dalí, you can start the session by saying:

“We’re going to go see this guy hatch out. I’m certain that it will be delightful to discourse with him, as he will have many insights to inform my paranoiac-critical method!”

At this point a cautious other player might decide that whoever comes out of that egg will be much too dangerous. If it’s Max Ernst he might instead say:

“That can’t possibly end well. I promised Leonora we would meet her in a verdant jungle. Let us avoid danger and horror for at least one night.”

You might respond in turn that the weird idol face in the corner suggests more weirdness than your man hatching from the egg.

Whatever decision you come to, the Keeper has had time to think of what might happen in both Dreamlands locations, already vividly realized in your minds.

Don’t worry too much about the period in which the painting was made. A later painting could easily be based on an experience the artist had in the Dreamlands during the period of your game.

Hillfolk15

DramaSystem Resources

 

Articles

Supporting Characters as Foils by Robin D. Laws

The No-Response Response by Robin D. Laws

Graybeard by Robin D. Laws

Alternate Procedural Resolutions for One-Shot DramaSystem

by Robin D. Laws

How Documentaries Show Us DramaSystem Scene Structure in Real Life

by Robin D. Laws

 Series Pitches

Alignment, by Michael Duxbury, illustrated by Melissa Trender – a fantasy setting of caste-based oppression, based on the Good-Evil/Lawful-Chaos alignment system from classic fantasy games.

 Forms

  • Download the Scene Breakdown Tracker
  • Download the Relationship Map
  • Download a Recurring Characters Tracker
  • Download the Main Cast Tracker
  • Download a list of Common Intentions
  • Download the Character Sheet
  • Download a French language one-sided DramaSystem character sheet by Jean-Christophe Cubertafon
  • Download an English language one-sided DramaSystem character sheet by Jean-Christophe Cubertafon
  • Download a 2-sided, landscape orientation, with player reference (procedural rules references are to the advanced system from Blood on the Snow) by Jon Cole
  • Download a GM reference sheet (procedural rules references are to the advanced system from Blood on the Snow) by Jon Cole
  • Download 9 quick-start character playbooks for Hillfolk (including GM instructions on how to use) as 2-sided, landscape orientation, folded into booklets by Jon Cole.
  • Download an Excel spreadsheet bennie calculator, which automatically calculates who should get bennies at the end of a session, by Jon Cole

 

 

 

Want to cross over from the Spanish Civil war setting of Adam Gauntlett’s Soldiers of Pen and Ink to the Dreamlands exploration of Dreamhounds of Paris? Connections abound.

The war takes a profound toll on Salvador Dalí, whose rightward political shift can be traced to the leftist capture of his hometown, Cadaqués. Revolutionaries destroy his home and that of his father, execute thirty of his neighbors, and, it seems, rape his sister. Given the power he amasses in the Dreamlands, might he be able to send surreal dreamforms to the real Spain to exact revenge? Your Pen and Ink characters might find themselves battling stilt-legged tigers or chest-of-drawer minotaurs.

Picasso, radicalized by the war, might to do something similar to fight for the Republican cause. His minotaurs are bigger and scarier, and you don’t want to mess with his harpies.

Surrealist painter André Masson is personally present for the siege of Barcelona and experiences a metaphysical epiphany on the mountain of Montserrat a year later. With a bit of date-squishing you could play him in a Pen and Ink campaign and then carry him over to Dreamhounds, or vice versa.

For a literal portal from one series to the next, maybe the PCs get thrown into the torture chambers described here. According to Franco-era prosecution reports discovered by a historian in 2003, an anarchist named Alphonse Laurencic constructed prison cells meant to subject prisoners to “psychotechnic” torture inspired by modernist artists. Their punishing angles and off-putting visuals supposedly broke down the wills of those held there. As did, it is alleged, screenings of Salvador Dalí and Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou.

Now, as something that actually happened, I have my doubts. Claims made by fascist prosecutors have to be taken skeptically. Maybe some form of psychotechnic prison existed. However, prints of the rarely screened Un Chien Andalou would have been extraordinarily hard to get ahold of anywhere at this time, let alone during the chaos of the civil war.

Still, let’s not allow likelihood to get in the way of a good horror story. Player characters placed in Laurencic’s cells, no doubt due to the constant inter-factional struggle on the Republican side, might not only resist their mind-bending properties. The strange geometric forms painted on the walls might shatter the resistance of their fellow prisoners. But characters already exposed to the much worse resonance of the Mythos could leverage them to their own psychic ends. They might find themselves conveyed to the Dreamlands to meet the dream forms of Dalí or Buñuel. From there a little narrative hocus-pocus might lead to one or more of the PCs joining a Dreamhounds campaign, escaping from Spain to Paris.

Dreamhounds of Paris brings sandbox play to Trail of Cthulhu, as the surrealists of the 20s and 30s discover their ability to consciously reshape the realm beyond waking.

I play with a group that works best either in the completely dramatic realm of Hillfolk and DramaSystem, or in a procedural game with a strongly laid-out goal, like GUMSHOE in its default format. Their struggles with Dreamhounds proved instructive and helped me to improve the book’s GM section.

That’s not to say that they didn’t have any fun, or that nothing happened in their series. Its most memorable events include:

  1. A murder in Man Ray’s apartment building, with him the apparent target.
  2. Chasing the pulp anti-hero Fantômas through the marbled halls of Thran, while being accused of complicity in his murders and thefts.
  3. Dalí raising dreamscaping havoc in a Serranian tavern, striking terror into the hearts of its reticent citizens.
  4. The blossoming of a Dreamlands cult propitiating the dread god Buñuel.
  5. Giorgio de Chirico confronting his guilt for starting all of this in the first place.
  6. Going to the top of mount Hatheg-Kla to find the ancient gods of man, having hatched a plan with the poet Louis Aragon to extirpate them.
  7. Journeying to the shores of Lake Hali to open the coffin of the King in Yellow, only to find Magritte inside.
  8. Meeting Picasso in a Dreamlands grove, musky with corrupt fecundity. They found him and a minotaur engaged in leisurely congress with voluptuous plant women. The player characters declined Picasso’s offer to join in.
  9. A picnic with Nyarlathotep, who gave René Magritte a beautiful silver gun.
  10. A waking world raid on the chateau of a sinister Parisian occultist. There Nyarlathotep’s aforementioned beautiful silver gun took on a will of its own, massacring the servants in a spectacular fountain of gore.
  11. Salvador Dalí’s fateful meeting with Gala, wife of fellow surrealist Paul Éluard, at his family home in Cadaqués, Spain. His love for her cures him of his laughing fits.
  12. Shortly thereafter, Buñuel strangling Gala, the other pulling him off her before he kills her.

Items 11 and 12 are well-documented in the historical record. The others can be proven only by visiting the shores of dream, which still bear the scars of what the surrealists did to it ninety years ago.


Dreamhounds of Paris and its companion The Book of Ants are now available for preorder. Print copies will debut at Dragonmeet in London, on December 6th.

a column on roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Trail of Cthulhu maven Tony Williams asks, regarding Dreamhounds of Paris:

I would be interested in Robin’s opinions of surrealist art. Does he enjoy it? What does he think of the major surrealists movers and shakers as people, having researched them so thoroughly? Are they all insufferable poseurs or do some transcend that with what they produce?

I’m glad you so ably set up a column topic for me, Tony.

First of all, I feel a deep connection to the art, film, decorative art, and fiction of the surrealist movement. This fascination started in an eighth grade classroom, when our teacher, improbably and no doubt improvidently, screened a copy of Un Chien Andalou for us. Young teenage mind blown!

I first got the idea that eventually turned into Dreamhounds of Paris visiting an exhibition of surrealist decorative art at the Art Gallery of Ontario a bunch of years back. Looking at the paintings, so many of them struck me as entrancing nerd culture fodder sealed behind the wall of high culture awareness. The works’ horror and dark fantasy imagery in particular seemed like an obvious vein to mine as a gaming influence. Looking at the imaginary landscapes of Max Ernst or Yves Tanguy, they jumped out to me as a mutant evolution of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands.

As far as I’m concerned the word poser doesn’t apply to any of the surrealists. They all believed intensely in what they were doing. They didn’t earn anything resembling widespread praise for making work that freaked people out, confronted them with disturbing images, and challenged ideas of what art was for. There was certainly no money in it for them during this period of their greatest innovation. A few became popular later, but not at this point. Posers appear when creative efforts become fashionable, lucrative, or both. Somebody today who follows in Marcel Duchamp’s footsteps by making art installations might or might not be a poser. But these guys (and a select few gals) were the real thing, on which later posers would model themselves.

If poser simply means an intellectual interested in ideas and art, well, that describes me, too.

Many argue that Dalí wound up bastardizing his art by milking his celebrity. That starts at the end of the Dreamhounds period but becomes truly egregious decades afterwards. Even at that, by making his own persona more important than his art, and the media his canvas, Dalí was doing something that summed up contemporary life way more than any abstract expressionist ever did. When he did it, it wasn’t a cliché, it was a thing he invented. To work his magic the trickster must also be a charlatan.

That said, other surrealists, like the movement’s autocratic “pope” André Breton, would be the first to deny him that slack. Breton called Dalí by the anagram Avida Dollars, and decried the chattering Spaniard’s commercialization of his psychic revolution. Breton genuinely thought his movement would change the world, literally altering human psychology.

It’s the utmost seriousness with which Breton regarded himself that sets him up as an inviting target for satire. Other members of his circle certainly mocked him when they fell out of favor with him, Dalí most effectively of all. (See the book for his famous night of many sweaters.)

His bullying makes Breton the hardest of the bunch to like. The book treats him as an antagonist figure, and tweaks him by describing him as lacking the imagination to enter the Dreamlands. I certainly can’t admire Breton’s habit of launching physical attacks against his aesthetic adversaries. On the redeeming side, however, Breton earns props for being the first major French leftist intellectual to see through on Stalinism, at the time of the 1936 show trials. With the benefit of historical hindsight that might not seem like a perceptive breakthrough but in the context of the era and milieu it’s a big deal. By contrast, many top names in the French art scene remained hardcore Stalinists well into the 40s and 50s.

As far as the rest of the Dreamhounds cast goes, I view them as richly complicated people. They led messy, interwoven lives, over which a year or so of research makes me no kind of judge. They’re certainly realer, as you would expect, than the fictional characters we’re used to playing in RPGs, most of whom bend toward wish fulfillment. I’d even stick up for the figures art historians vilify.

Many accounts treat Gala Dalí, previously Gala Éluard, as a lascivious, money-hungry monster. Yes, she absolutely was hunting for a meal ticket, which she found in Dalí. But then her brother died of starvation during the Russian revolution, so it doesn’t take deep Jungian analysis to see what was going on there. And Dalí, a brilliant man-child barely capable of crossing the Paris street on his own, benefited from her hardheadedness. Slut-shaming pervades so much of the writing about her, but she treated men the way figures like Picasso and Ernst treated women. Granted, she didn’t paint Guernica, but neither do most of us.

Likewise Jean Cocteau gets a lot of stick in the various biographies as a preening climber. For a climber he left behind a crazy large legacy of creative work in forms from theater to illustration to film to the novel. When he made a fool of himself seeking acceptance he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. We need a new biography for him that doesn’t feel the need to treat his sexuality as a matter for nudging and winking. He was the original out gay icon, a heroic role to adopt at the time.

The Dreamhounds PC most like me would be René Magritte: quiet, composed, happily married, uninterested in the drama Breton constantly generated. Players may gravitate to him for that reason, as he makes for a solid contrast with the others. But if the surrealist circle was made up only of unassuming, reasonable people, there would be no point writing a sourcebook about them. Or playing them when they go off to surreally transform Celephaïs and later deal with the repercussions.

New creature for The Esoterrorists

The membrane between this world and the Outer Dark is everywhere. Even inside your computer. That’s where seepers break through. They sense the particular stink of paranoia and latent aggression stoked on the Internet’s blackest shoals. When you drink in conspiracy theory or wallow in mythologies of victimhood, they wriggle from the swirling chaos into your CPU, out through your motherboard, and into your keyboard cable. Using a wireless keyboard? A seeper is fine with that; it can transmit itself along your wi-fi connection. As you spiral down the rabbit hole of electronic disinformation, as you type your screeds against the government and You Know Which Ethnic Group, the seeper works its way under your fingernails and into your bloodstream. 9/11 was an inside job!

Once it infests you, the seeper doesn’t turn you into a rampaging maniac. Instead you become a vector for madness. You take that extra step from posting and commenting on conspiracy theories and start to network in person with fellow believers. When you meet an especially unstable hanger-on in the world of fringe politics, the seeper floods your brain with endorphins. Unconsciously seeking that biochemical reward, you befriend damaged, repellent people you’d normally shun. The seeper uses you as a broadcast beacon, intensifying the fragility of its secondary target. It might even require you to do things behind your new friend’s back to worsen his life and drive him further to the edge. Maybe you “accidentally” let his boss find out about his white supremacist views. Or you tell a story on him that gets him kicked out of his responsible gun club, or pushes him away from the one family member who still keeps tabs on him.

That way, when the secondary target embarks on his kill spree and shoots himself in the heart when cornered, or takes a sniper shot to the head, the seeper remains alive and in this world. You go on television to decry the way the media is exploiting this tragedy to score cheap political points. You mourn your friend and cultivate your sense of martyrdom.

Eventually the seeper impels you to move to another city, where it draws you to its next secondary victim. It teaches you to be careful, so no one ever puts it together, IDing you as the common factor connecting two, three or even four spree killers. Meanwhile, the seeper grows psychically fat on the grief and carnage it causes, sending its energy back through the membrane to grow offspring, which wait for their own chance to stoke the spree-kill epidemic.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.’

Do not expect your quest for vengeance against the interstellar arch-criminal Quandos Vorn to be met with universal equanimity. Especially uninterested in the havoc you may wreak while doing so are the Gaean Reach various officials and gatekeepers. Here appear reasons they might give you for dragging their feet or refusing cooperation entirely. Be prepared in advance to refute them.

  1. I recently supplied some information of a like nature and am now being sued. Can you idemnify me against all legal exposure? Do not reply; the question is rhetorical.
  2. By expressing yourself so violently, you have engaged in active ill-feeling. Please be advised that emotional assault contravenes local law.
  3. Though apparently sound on a practical basis we need to know more about the philosophy underpinning your proposal. Please refer to the attached style sheet for information regarding the format of the required essay.
  4. I’m afraid that your application to hunt Quandos Vorn has been queued for future attention, as many others claim the right to bring about the same result. We must not show favoritism.
  5. Due to mental disability I am unable to remember requests. Though I do not discourage you from making them I am obliged to warn you that all effort shall prove bootless.
  6. I shall attend to your requests with maximum dispatch. To which planet shall I mail the results of my inquiries? What? No, I’m sorry, responses may not be mailed to the planet of request. Labor relations demand strict adherence to this policy.
  7. Religious scruples prevent me from taking action before the Ides of Yench.
  8. I have already accepted bribes to stop you from proceeding. The suggestion that I would go back on prior promises traduces my honesty.
  9. Lest I be accused of entertaining the receipt of bribes, your request must be heard in the presence of a bureaucratic chaperone. I shall put in a requisition for such services. Typical wait time is four to six weeks.
  10. Quandos Vorn? Incised on the form here it clearly says Quandos Chorn. A common input-output error of the form inciser, but needless to say we must start over.
  11. I will be frank and say that the thought of satisfying your entreaty terrifies me.

The Gaean Reach, the Roleplaying Game of Interstellar Vengeance, brings to your tabletop the legendary cycle of science fiction classics by the great Jack Vance. An ingenious hybrid, it fuses the investigative clarity of the GUMSHOE system with the lethal wit of the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game. Purchase The Gaean Reach in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In fiction, supporting characters often function as reflections of the protagonists. As we know from DramaSystem, main characters in a dramatic story can be defined as torn between two competing impulses. In the game we call these Dramatic Poles.

In Hamlet, our title character is torn between Action and Contemplation. And wouldn’t you know it, two minor characters exist in relationship to him, each of them expressing one of those poles alone.

Horatio reflects Hamlet’s contemplative side—he is all thought and caution, and thus (spoiler) the one who survives to tell the tale.

Fortinbras marches through seemingly only to prick Hamlet’s guilt about his inaction. Later he also helps provide closure at the end. Tellingly, the last interaction is between the two foils, Horatio and Fortinbras, indicating that Hamlet’s story is done, his story having been fatally resolved in favor of action.

In Casablanca, Rick’s dramatic poles are the ever-popular Selfishness vs. Altruism.

Laszlo (Paul Henried) serves as the foil who is purely altruistic—almost annoyingly so, since we want Ilsa to be available to resume her relationship with Rick.

Claude Rains as Captain Renault reflects the opposite pole, supplying cinema’s most delightful portrayal of pure selfishness. Notably, he too flips to altruism at the end. (Whoops. Another spoiler. Hey, it’s been out for six decades.)

Villains and mentors sometimes also serve as foils. To cite a more nerdly example, you could argue that if Luke’s poles are Light Side vs. Dark Side, Obi-Wan and Darth Vader each represent one of them. (Really Star Wars is a procedural with a few nods to drama, so the analogy breaks down when squinted at too hard.)

As a DramaSystem player, you can give your GM something to work with by inventing and interacting with supporting characters who each embody a single one of your poles.

As a GM, you can conceive of supporting characters as foils, pushing a character toward whatever pole she’s currently neglecting.

So if your Hillfolk game includes a chieftain torn between expediency and mercy, his supporting character foils might be:

  • Hard-Talker, a grim-faced, veteran adviser who always argues for the cruel but effective course
  • Petal, the fresh-faced priestess who speaks up for forgiveness

Often you can retrofit a supporting character created on the spur of the moment to fulfill a need in one scene, adjusting her so that she becomes a long-term foil.


Hillfolk is a game of high-stakes interpersonal conflict by acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws. Using its DramaSystem rules, you and your friends can weave enthralling sagas of Iron Age tribes, Regency socialites, border town drug kingpins, a troubled crime family, posthuman cyberpunks and more. Purchase Hillfolk and its companion Blood in the Snow in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Illustration: Jonathan Wyke

logogumshoeSee P. XX

A column on roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

As a general rule, writers learn to avoid repetition. In the immortal words of David Byrne, say something once, why say it again?

When writing roleplaying material I have to keep reminding myself to strategically violate that general rule.

If there’s one thing playtesting has taught me, it’s that you can write a rule or piece of guidance once, twice, or even three times and still have readers miss it. And roleplayers belong to a pretty elevated class of readers.

But roleplaying texts are dense, and are often read in a non-linear order.

Also, some best practices, even ones we all think we know deep down in our gaming bones, remain elusive in the heat of the moment. Basic common sense they may be, but playtest comments remind us that they need constant hammering home.

One of them is that, although scenarios link clues to a specific ability or abilities, the players can always get the clue if they present you with a credible alternate method. This means credible for the genre, not for our prosaic reality.

Another point you might consider basic to the hobby but nonetheless frequently requires reinforcement is that the GM may have to improvise new material, from minor details to whole scenes and branches, in response to unexpected player choices.

Along with these, here are two more things I often find myself writing into GUMSHOE scenarios, wondering if I should prune them back in favor of a general word in the introduction. In the end I wind up putting each reference back in. Because they can’t, it turns out, be repeated quite enough.

In Response to Specific Questions

A block of scenario text will often provide a set of bullet points a particular witness, suspect or other target of Interpersonal abilities might provide. For example:

After enough Streetwise to convince him you won’t rat him to the cops, Lou says:

  • He was down at the docks to collect a debt from a guy. You know, the kind of debt you collect at 2 am on a lonely pier.
  • He found the mope he was looking for and was in the middle of applying persuasive means to his sensitive parts when a strange glowing figure flew overhead.
  • It had arms and legs and a head, like a person, but was real long and stretched out, with a set of what looked like freaking moth wings.
  • The glow reminded him of a firefly, except it was all over and not just coming from one place.
  • He was so distracted he let the guy go to chase after it.
  • It looked like it landed between the warehouse and the propane depot over there, but by the time Lou got to the spot it was gone already.

I always wind up inserting a phrase into that intro line, so it goes like this:

After enough Streetwise to convince him you won’t rat him to the cops, Lou answers specific questions as follows:

This serves several purposes.

One, it encourages you as GM to break up the information into bite-sized pieces. The scene becomes a back-and-forth between you and the players and not a pause to paraphrase or read text from the scenario.

Two, it requires the players to do more than name the Interpersonal ability they’re using and sit back for a flood of exposition. They still have to ask the right questions to get the info they need.

I’d like to treat this as a given but the lure of text on paper makes it all to easy to forget to keep it interactive.

No Need to Squeeze the Rind

The basic area-clearing adventure many of us cut our teeth on instilled certain expectations about the amount of scenario text that actually comes into play at the gaming table.

In a dungeon crawl, the PCs might miss out on entering particular rooms. But once in a chamber, you expect most of the stuff listed in its entry to happen: the heroes fight the monsters, encounter the traps, and strip the room for loot. Later innovations, like “taking 20” in D&D 3E and its heirs, go further to ensure that everything that can happen in a room, does.

In an investigative scenario, the writer needs to cover more material than any one group will ever uncover. GUMSHOE gives players lots of information, requiring them to sort out the incidental and flavor facts from the core clues required to move to the next layer of the mystery. It must anticipate the most common questions a group will ask.

But that doesn’t mean that any one group will ask all the questions the scenario answers. Some may efficiently ask only the one or two germane questions and move on. Others will pose every query they can think of. No two groups will come up with same list of queries. In a well-designed scenario the logic of the situation leads the players to ask the question that prompts the witness to mention the core clue.

By its very nature, any adventure genre scenario that allows for plot branching has to include text for more scenes than any one run of that scenario will touch on. If it gives you the option to form a bond with the vicar over your mutual interest in pagan sculptures, but no one in the group chooses to pursue that, that’s the price of true choice. Even if the scenario writer included some really cool stuff featuring the vicar.

The players haven’t failed to engage in all possible interactions. They’ve made the choice to interact with other things—the family who live near the graveyard, or the folklorist staying with them at the inn, or whatever.

Nor has the scenario failed to force them to do everything. If an adventure eventually requires you to exhaust every alternative, they’re not really alternatives.

A scenario that provides freedom and choices must include more material than any single group could possibly activate. If that means you as GM see the potential for cool scenes that your players never touch, that’s not just acceptable. That’s a non-linear scenario working as designed.

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