We’re building an extended investigation scene! In Part 1, I talked about how to break down the investigation items into things the heroes must learn, and things the heroes might learn. In Part 2, I talked about the work to support the GM: ensuring your investigation meets your XP and treasure budget, and the best order to present things to make it easier on the GM. Now, we’re getting to how to present things for the players.

This is the step that takes the longest, because it involves the actual writing.

Remember you’ve got several encounters and arrows showing how they connect. The next thing to think about is just how, mechanically, they connect. Generally, there are a few ways that characters in a scene can get the next clue, and I’m about to break these down. You should mix-and-match these in your investigation; using each one at least once makes for a lot of variety. But not all are equally good; I’m putting a green-yellow-red label on each.

It’s Just There (Yellow)
Here, the heroes enter an encounter and don’t have to do anything at all to know how to get to the next encounter. For example, they enter the common room of the inn where someone was killed and the door to the stable is mysteriously left open, or they enter the palace kitchen and the head cook starts talking about the king’s creepy advisor. Those all tell the heroes what they can do next. This is yellow because, when overused, it makes the investigation seem too easy.

Environment Interaction (Green)
The characters must do something in an encounter to learn how to get to another encounter. For example, they must search a murder victim’s pockets, look through a keyhole, pay off a watchful beggar, or ask someone present about a topic. No skill check is required to learn the way to the next clue, although a successful skill check (or spell or ability use, like speak with animals or speak with dead) might give extra information to make the heroes better prepared.

The environment can respond to the character interaction, such as by triggering a trap someone left behind, or even a fight with a lurking enemy—for these, look to the A Fight! option.

This is green because it forces the players to interact with the encounter in a way that feels like they’re actually investigating, but doesn’t get blocked by a lack of skills or abilities.

Character Skills (Yellow)
The characters have to interact with the encounter in some way and succeed at a skill check (or expend some ability) to learn the way to the next encounter. If no one succeeds at the skill check, this is a dead end. Maybe they find some tracks, and a successful Survival check tells them the track has horse dung from the stable. Perhaps they find a dropped sigil and need to make a Society check to learn it comes from the town messenger’s guild.

This is yellow because too many of these locks advancement behind a “skill wall,” and not all parties can get over this wall! They might lack the right skill, have already expended the best resource to succeed at it, or just have bad luck rolling. None of these are their fault, and none of these should bring the investigation grinding to a halt. Remember how you drew a web of connections between your encounters? If every connection to a particular encounter has a “skill wall” like this, some players might never reach it! That’s bad. You should have no more than one skill wall leading to a particular encounter. Work to turn the rest into the prior option, where the characters must interact with the environment, but don’t need to make any kind of check. They might still use the skill to gain some additional information, as described there.

A Fight! (Green)
Characters getting into this situation end up in a fight, and once they win the next clue prevents itself. The person they just fought might have a note or map or other half of something the heroes found earlier, or someone might surrender and give up the information if defeated. (It’s good practice to have both, actually, in case a well-timed critical hit kills the foe before they can surrender.) Winning the fight could expose the clue in some other way, like convincing an NPC to open up to the heroes because they’ve proven their mettle or taken care of someone the NPC feared or hated.

Although fights are a classic element, this might also include a trap or something else the rules assume the heroes will eventually win, like a verbal duel, a starship combat, or something else specific to the game.

These are helpful in adventure design because you can “double up” on experience the party gains: they get the usual amount for defeating the foe, and whatever amount you’ve decided is appropriate for finding the clue. For this reason, fights during investigation encounters can err on the easy side, and need not be life-or-death struggles. They might even be so easy that they wouldn’t normally grant XP at all, but simply allow the heroes to show off how tough they are to gain the clue leading to the next encounter.

This option is green because winning fights are something parties can reliably do over and over. I suppose this is technically a “fight wall” like a “skill wall” that bad luck might prevent the heroes from overcoming but, frankly, if they all lose a fight they have much bigger things to worry about than whether the investigation can proceed.

Capture Someone (Red)
This encounter requires that the heroes capture someone (or something that’s animate) to learn the way to the next encounter. This is red because it’s often hard to guarantee this: some heroes are likely to be slow or clumsy, and the ones that are faster might roll badly or the person they need to capture might roll really well. Players might decide to make an attack, and the number of critical hits that come from “I was just trying to knock him out, not kill him” are legendary. Capture encounters double up the risks of the “skill wall” and therefore should probably be avoided unless it’s the path to a clue the heroes really don’t need—and, in that case, maybe it doesn’t belong in your investigation at all.

Within each of these options is a lot of variety, so mix and match them as you’d like!

Next up, a detailed example of an investigation that spans an entire adventure.