Here’s how this method works in play:
The adventure begins in Incident A, a house where a friend (a professor) has been murdered. The primary challenge is searching the house for clues. The house is one incident, and is connected with the following:
- If they choose not to go in, or can’t find clues, they can visit the police to find out what happened. (The police station is another incident, Incident B.)
- The clues suggest another faculty member has been angry with their friend. They can decide to go to his house (Incident C).
- In a journal, the professor mentions some important papers that are in a safe in his office on campus. (Incident D.)
There are likely several more potential incidents than these, but the GM shouldn’t prep too many. (Too many choices paralyzes, rather than empowers. Another empirically-established guideline.) In that same vein, no individual incident should have too many (or too few) potential clues. The players will gladly follow red herrings or their own misconceptions, there’s no need to overburden them with dozens of the GM’s choices.
Eventually, as they explore the scenario, the players can discover enough information to identify the murderer or the murderer could get suspicious enough to try and take them out. Catching him, killing him, or turning the evidence over to the cops ends the adventure.
What then? Assuming the game was enjoyable and memorable, the players can think over what happened, constructing stories from the gameplay. Stories about player conflict or cooperation, stories about characters working together or betraying each other, stories about the mystery they just solved.
It doesn’t matter what the stories are about. It matters that they enjoyed the session, and will remember it fondly.
What if the players miss all 3 clues at an incident? Players are wily and creative. Likely, they will think of additional places to go. Be ready to improvise new incidents you may not have thought of and be ready to describe clues that could be found there.
What if they miss all the clues? This would otherwise be a roadblock. Fortunately, events backstop the adventure. An event is something that will happen at a particular point in time, unless the party intervenes. Someone shoots at the mayer during his noon speech, for example.
Right away, these events give players a new incident to engage with: the aftermath of the event. And while engaging that incident, they can discover clues to other incidents. You should include a few event incidents in every adventure. They’re an easy way to get lost players re-involved.
Of course, the players can wander off by accident or design. If they choose to do so, that’s what occurs. There’s no need to coerce them back into the adventure.
Last of all, if the players totally fail, they fail. It may not be as fun as a hard-won battle, but success isn’t guaranteed.
Their failure has consequences, and those consequences are fodder for future adventures. That’s how RPG’s work.