Pseudo Roles for clues

This is a half-baked idea that I’ve been playing around with. For a year, I played one of the largest Swedish campaigns in print, and I got so frustrated by how they handled clues (information that the players get from the adventures). They introduced a character that pointed to another character that had a clue, and they had a lot of characters (with names and personality traits) that had few or none clues. And some characters had really specific and relevant clues, that the players needed to trigger in specific ways.

I had to tear out all the clues, and then replant them by having them live in a limbo, and whenever the players did something, I rewarded them with clues. I also had a name list, character traits, and a bunch of professions, so whenever the players went outside the planned adventure - like visiting a friend or making up goals of their own - I could always respond with a “prepped” character. By doing that, I managed to slim down 120 characters from three adventures into 23.

This made me come up with the concept of “pseudo roles”, like “a character that is close to the characters will turn out to be someone else”, instead of gluing that particular event to a specific character on beforehand. They don’t need to go to the witch in order to figure out clues about the disease that is haunting the surroundings, but if they do visit a witch, they will get information relevant to the scenario. Because it’s not really important how they obtain information, what interesting is how they will interpret and what they will do with the information.

Currently, I’m playtesting a campaign consisting of pseudo roles, just to see how I can convey that clues in an easy way to others. Where the game master gets a list of different clues to give to the players, and some major characters with agendas together with a vague event line and pseudo roles, in order to let the game master weave their own stories with the unique player characters and their relations.


Thats a great way to help players not hit roadblocks, and it is more intuitive. Instead of trying to figure out which specific witch holds the key information we need to continue, we know we need to talk to any witch who will likely give us exactly what we need.

Check out Gumshoe (if you haven’t already) I think your idea would fit in perfectly with its main goal of always giving the players the clues they need to move the story along at every point.

120 characters for a mystery seems overwhelming, if the players like that sense of scale, maybe narratively you could montage through the 20 witches that the players question, like in a police procedural tv show. And only slow down for the good parts.


I’ve been using the “Secrets and Clues” from Sly Flourish. Basically I have a list of info they’ll need to progress with their objective, info to setup future events, and info to flesh out the setting. Whenever they speak with a new NPC or rummage through a bookshelf or listen to gossip at the tavern, I quickly scan my list for something relevant. If the players have been spinning their wheels they get a clue pointing them where they’re trying to go, and if the players are already heading in the right direction I’ll give them a bit of lore or a seed for a future adventure. So far it’s been working better than having specific NPC with specific information in specific locations. I’m prepared no matter where my players go or what they get up to.

…or the blacksmith, or whoever.

To further drive my point: imagine the investigator abilities were contacts instead, and it didn’t really matter what contact they used, as long as they could come up with a valid excuse to seek out that contact. In Gumshoe, the game master should create adventures around the investigator abilities that the players picked, or give the players a list of investigator abilities to pick from (that are used in the adventure) - but I’m thinking of going the other way around: to have the adventure form around the players and their characters.

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Yeah, that article hits the nail on its head. And to mix it up, it doesn’t have to be information about the adventure. To make it harder for the players, I sometimes play two (intrigue or mystery) adventures at the same time, and I can even reveal irrelevant setting information. The hard part shouldn’t be to get the clues, but to unravel the yarn of clues to pick the relevant parts. To drop things without relevance can also help me later on, so I can reuse previous planted information and make it relevant if I need to come up with a solution for their actions. One (experienced) player in a new group I’m game mastering told me “It was fun that information that made no sense to me at first, but later on - everything clicked”.

Sometimes, the players get it wrong, but I change my plans to fit their ideas. As long as they are showing interest and engagement, I reward them with progress. Of course, sometimes they can fail and I will make reveals as a twist (which they need to adopt to). It’s depends on my mood, but I have this option because the planning is more loose.

Exactly! Our gaming style is, however, in a way the quantum ogre, but I think the discussion about that theory is being made from the wrong perspective. For me, it doesn’t matter that the ogre will always show up, no matter what the players do. For me, it’s more important how they get to the ogre and how they handle the ogre. Again, it’s not important how they get the clues, what’s important is how they interpret and handle them. There is where the agency lies for the players.

I realized that this thread now is more about information giving than pseudo roles, but these roles are a part of that. :smiley: There is an ogre that I will use, I just don’t know the form it will take.


So to get back to my original idea about pseudo roles.

One thing I picked up from the intro adventure to Feng Shui 1ED was to have a “spider in the web” that held all the threads, but had major henchmen that was the “outward face”. So if the players cut the head of the henchman, another one will show up. This creates a feeling of beings/factions that are so much larger than the characters. Fronts in Apocalypse World are pseudo roles - major forces that will affect the characters. It doesn’t have to be a physical thing (one person), but a sensation.

Thinking of factions like this makes me feel like they don’t have to be fleshed out in every single detail, but instead selling a notion of what they are about, which will decrease the amount I need to write when it comes to writing scenarios for others to read. I also hope that it will be easier for others to pick up, instead of drowning in all kinds of details and have to decode what is useful to me (like I had to do with the 120+ characters).

There are more to pseudo roles that I haven’t talked about, but I can’t put my finger on it. I think I need to experiment more with this design concept (and analyze games from this perspective), in order to learn more about how they can be used.

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I realized that I was too vague when I wrote “…to have the adventure form around the players and their characters”. I mean, what adventure doesn’t change depending on what the players come up with?

That’s however not what I meant. As an example, in my first published game, the rules formed around the players’ decisions. Normally, the players are bound to what the rules tell them to do. I took a different design philosophy and had the mechanics instead form around the players’ ideas by leaving what they diegetically vague, but the mechanics clear. So if they wanted to decrease a combatant’s defense, the mechanics was clear but how it was narrated was up to the player. Perhaps they grappled the opponent, perhaps they slammed the shield upon the opponent, tricked them or … whatever.

And you can do the same with a prewritten adventure - even one with a hard linear story.

  1. All characters are on the same party.
  2. Develop the bounds around the characters.
  3. One person that one character cares about dies.
  4. Resolve this, but if they try to overcome the problem, then the god Ragnarök will start devouring the world.

Depending on the characters, all sorts of things can happen. A fully linear story, but how they enter and leave the scene(s) are up to them. Perhaps the person that dies is one of the players’ characters?

Given that mechanics can be diegetically vague, so can the inhabitants in the world. Instead, focus on their “mechanics” within the story or the purpose of your adventure by creating what I call “pseudo roles”.

Could you give now examples of these pseudo roles? I live the idea, but feel like I’m missing some nuance, and examples would help.

I’m curious: what game is this?

A Swedish game I published in 2009. I’m actually in the works of releasing an English version, but let see when I got time for it, in regards for my other projects. :smiley:

Guess I can do a summary of the examples in this thread, and expand from there.

  • a theme or premise that you materialize as a character, like a character that is close to the characters will turn out to be someone else. [edit] or character templates with agendas or personality quirks, or just a mayor that can be added to any city.
  • a list of relevant information that you can give any character or place in any situation.
  • fronts in Apocalypse World, where you create a theme, and then materialize that theme through characters.
  • factions that have clear agendas, that are then materialized through characters. Like a big boss and its henchmen.
  • in one game, Mutant Chronicles, there are five apostles that give their own theme in how they influence human kind, and I use that to think about how the influence materialize itself in the world.
  • you could even have a murder case (or something else that happened), but no definitive murderer. It’s whoever the players think it is, and persecute. Perhaps it’s the elves, perhaps a wife … or someone the players seek contact with … and perhaps the game master decides along the way, depending on what happens during the session.
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Late to the thread … Are you aware of Jason Cordova’s very similar approach, described as “Dismantling the Railroad” in this podcast: Horror's Heart - THE GAUNTLET (beginning at 27:32; the first half is the module review)?

In short, he goes through a (Cthulhu) scenario, assembling lists of just characters, places and clues. In play, he uses these notes only, reconstructing the adventure in the process and relying on theme as a guiding thread. This seems very much akin to what you describe.

Also, a murder case without a canonical solution is exactly what Jason’s Carved From Brindlewood games propose.

Aside from that, I’m still trying to wrap my head around what exactly you mean by pseudo roles… As far as I can tell, flexibility as well as a certain ambiguity is central to the concept. Am I right?

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Yeah, I dunno about “pseudo roles” per se. It’s a new thought for me in order to crystalize my gaming style, but also an attempt to slim down information to the game master.

But a pseudo role can be character behaviors that aren’t bound to a person, but can be used whenever. Like, do I have to read through 30 characters with their own quirks or do I need 7 “character templates” that I can apply to whomever? Do we really need a mayor in all cities, or is it enough with a mayor to give flavor to whatever city you’re playing in? The same can be said with taverns, cathedrals, or city halls.

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I don’t like listening to pods, but I ended up listening to it all. :smiley: Cordova and me are on the same line, especially how we look at linear scenarios, in that that you will end up at a spot I predicted, but how you get there is totally up to you.

I’ve been playing fish tanks for the last fifteen years, which are adventures made up by relations. Each scene should reveal at least one relation so the players have something new to think about. I tend to give out 2-3 bits of information for each scene, often non-related to each other or an outer layer of something I will give more details about later. I’ve written, in both articles about the fish tank, that the game master should reveal a relation that is connected to the faction that the players are interacting with, but I realized now that I can give out any kind of relation, not just the parts connected to where the players are on the mindmap.

Sure, the mindmap in the fish tank (see link) is a way of inject creativity into adventure creating, and it’s a way of visualize the adventure, but I start to wonder if you can’t just get away with a short summary of what has happened, what is going to happen if the players doesn’t intervene, and then present the adventure through a list of names, character concepts, relations/information/clues, one starting scene, and finally possible end scenes. Just chuck it over to the game master, and let that person build an adventure of their own from the pieces. Because whenever I read a written adventure, I still need to do a lot of work. Summarize, change, add, and other kinds of preparations.

I rarely write my own adventures for others, because I base them loosely on the players’ characters - their goals, backgrounds, and relations … but if I write an adventure with the style above, it doesn’t really matter what kind of characters there are, because the game master can easily work those into the adventure. I noticed this when I played that huge campaign I talked about in the OP, and how easily I could work the characters into the story after I ripped out all the clues (information), and presented them whenever the players did something, even if it had something to do with the world that they players themselves came up with, and therefor couldn’t have been in the campaign to begin with.

That said, it’s also up to the players to get away from the notion that they can “sabotage” the adventure by not following “the track” or thinking that they are side railing the whole adventure by coming up with agendas of their own. Because the adventure structure I propose adapts to what the players do, instead of the other way around. I had some players laugh and tell me “I figured everything out”, when I instead mainly followed the player’s ideas instead of trying to force my own solution upon them.


I very much agree. A couple of characters, five locations and a dozen clues is enough for an evening of „investigation“, I find. Oh, and a compelling start scene.

And I must say I enjoy ripping old school modules up that way, highlighting the good bits, taking notes. I maybe even enjoy it as much as actually playing.

Unlike you, of course, I didn‘t arrive there on my own, I learnt it from that podcast.

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