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Mystery Adventures / Running Mysteries

Stay Flexible

Source Starfinder #25: The Chimera Mystery pg. 43
Mystery adventures are usually more free form than other scenarios. The characters have a crime that needs investigating, a list of suspects that need questioning, and perhaps some locations to search for clues. Sometimes the suspects are confined to a small area, such as a starship traveling through the Drift or moon base cut off from the rest of the system by an ion storm, which makes it easier to keep track of the suspects at any given point. Other times, the PCs must seek out the suspects, perhaps in their residences in a bustling metropolis or while they perform their duties on a large space station. In any case, the players have the opportunity to pursue whatever leads they have in any way they see fit. A player might come up with a theory about the crime and fixate on it until it’s proven false, ignoring all other avenues of investigation until then.

All of this is to say that you need to be flexible as to where the players are going to take the adventure. In an exploration of a haunted space hulk, you might need to keep in mind what the PCs can find in the next few chambers. In a mystery investigation, you have to hold the entire picture of the crime in your brain. Remembering the details of the incident and the motivations of the NPCs, including the culprit, allows you to improvise when you must.

Your ability to be flexible is important when the PCs’ investigation begins to stall. If it looks like your players are growing frustrated with the way the evidence is piling up or running dry, you might want to spice things up with a little action that ultimately moves the plot forward. Starfinder is, after all, a game of laser pistols and mystical powers. Perhaps throw in a few ruffians the culprit hired try to warn the investigators off the case. When interrogated, these toughs disclose a vague description of who paid them off, narrowing the suspect list. Perhaps a piece of industrial equipment “accidentally” malfunctions, putting the PCs in grave danger. Examining the wreckage reveals a crumpled napkin from a bar the culprit frequents. Such a scene can jump-start an investigation, breathing new life into the adventure.

Similar scenes can be used to help your players get back on track when they start chasing dead-end leads. Red herrings are a staple of the mystery genre, but they introduce the possibility of leading players too far in the wrong direction. If it looks like your players are spending too much time on the wrong suspect, an action scene can bring in a piece of evidence that pulls the PCs off this false scent.

Ensuring that your PCs find enough clues can head off such problems before they begin.