Tips for clues for intrigue plot.


If you are here Thomir or Kavas players then please stop reading now.

Plot so far:
The PCs have been working a bit for the city officials, one of their NPC friends is a teifling who is an orphan who still (secretly) supports the orphanage she grew up in.

They recently returned to the city after another quest and their NPC friend was spotted arguing with a man outside the orphanage.

They also came across another man, a strange buttler type who made them suspicious.

The man at the orphanage is actually a Oni who's there with a night hag trying to locate one of her items. They are slowly slaying children at the orphanage and in the city in their search.

The buttler is an old thug who has taken it upon himself to try to solve the disappearance of his employers children (taken by the Oni).

In his search he comes across several people who have hurt / exploited children in some ways, and kills them.

Now the PCs will be hired by the city officials to investigate these murders.

Victims are;
1. A drunkard who has been beating his children. (Butler killed him in his home)
2. A rich merchant who has a taste for young partners. (Butler killed him brutally in his home)
3. A brothel matron who has been recruiting girls from the orphanage. (Butler lured her out and killed her somewhere quiet)
4. A teenager killed by his lover in a rage. (This one is a red herring, and to add a bit of realism in that not all murders are connected)

Now what I need help with is coming up with some clues that will point the PCs to both the Oni, orphanage, the butler and his motives. If your clue requires some other murder victim as well that would be fine too. However the PCs should ideally think it's the butler first, then start to understand and maybe sympathise with them before starting to see some underlying wrongness what's going on and start to look towards the orphanage and the Oni in disguise.

Ok, so it worries me that you have not one but two red herrings.

Justin Alexander says it better than me, tbqh:

The Alexandrian wrote:

First, getting the players to make the deductions they’re supposed to make is hard enough. Throwing in a red herring just makes it all the harder. More importantly, however, once the players have reached a conclusion they’ll tend to latch onto it. It can be extremely difficult to convince them to let it go and re-assess the evidence. (One of the ways to make a red herring work is to make sure that there will be an absolutely incontrovertible refutation of it: For example, the murders continue even after the PCs arrest a suspect. Unfortunately, your concept of an “incontrovertible refutation” may hold just as much water as your concept of a “really obvious clue that cannot be missed.)

Second, there’s really no need for you to make up a red herring: The players are almost certainly going to take care of it for you. If you fill your adventure with nothing but clues pointing conclusively and decisively at the real killer, I can virtually guarantee you that the players will become suspicious of at least three other people before they figure out who’s really behind it all. They will become very attached to these suspicions and begin weaving complicated theories explaining how the evidence they have fits the suspect they want.

In other words, the big trick in designing a mystery scenario is to try to avoid a car wreck. Throwing red herrings into the mix is like boozing the players before putting them behind the wheel of the car.

To be clear, he doesn't say don't use them, but use them with caution. So, I'd say with a butler who is a false lead, you really don't need to have an extra red herring murder. It may sound like a great idea, but it WILL confuse things. You can keep the butler, though, that should be ok as long as you don't add evidence *actually* incriminating him.

I do suggest reading this article. It's a good read, and it made designing urban adventures *so* much easier for me. Hopefully that helps.

Dot in this thread. For later. :)

Shadow Lodge

Are we spoilering the entire thread?

I don't think you have two red herrings.


The butler, after all, isn't a false lead - he actually performed 3/4 murders. It's just that there's an bigger mystery going on, and you hope that the players won't stop at the butler.

The easiest way to do that, I think, is to first set up the clues incriminating the butler, and then once he's caught have the butler tell the party about his investigation of the disappearing children and ask them to help him solve it - or solve it in his place if he's going to be locked up for the other murders.

With respect to item 4, I think the question is - are the players supposed to think at first that all four murders were committed by the same person? If so, why? Was there some sort of pattern in the first 3 that killer 4 tried to copy to obscure his guilt? If not, why are the PCs investigating all four of them together? A proper city should have enough manpower to assign different investigators to different killings.

I would suggest cutting down the number of killings involved. You could potentially have just one, as a way of connecting the players to the butler and his investigation of the oni. If you must have multiple murders, I would suggest linking them together more clearly to justify investigating them together. Perhaps all the victims were patrons of the brothel - if you include the teenager, his lover could have killed him in retaliation for patronizing such a place, a motive which should hopefully make it clearer that they aren't involved in (don't have a motive for) the other killings.

Shadow Lodge

Oh, and what level are the PCs and what kind of magic do they have access to? That would change the kind of clues you should present.

Thanks for the feedback so far.
1. No we don't need to spoiler the whole thread.
2. They are level 5 with access to 3rd level wizard and cleric magic. They might think to ask for speak with dead. (The cleric is an NPC)
3. They will be asked to investigate these murders because there seems to be something strange going on. The fourth should immediately stand out as different because it is a murder of passion so it will be very sloppy with no attempt to hide evidence.
4. I have foreshadowed all of these people to some extent;
* The PCs been to the brothel (the celebrate Monk followed the matron while she ushered some men in from the street).
* They have run into the Butler in the street and noticed that he looked somewhat different from most other servants in that he carried himself more like a brawler than a manservant.
* They noticed that their tiefling friend argued with the Oni in disguise outside the orphanage. And they have discovered that things are different there now after he took over.
* They spotted the drunken father backhand one of his kids and confronted him about it.
* They saw the rich merchant in the market, and it looked like he was getting pickpocketed by some street urchins.

They are already suspicious of the Oni (not yet knowing he is one but thinking he's up to no good) and the Butler because he seems out of place.

The murders have not happened yet, the PCs are about to leave town to deal with a Wyvern and they will be summoned the next morning after they return to be a special investigative team. Or at least that's my though process so far.

The wonderful article that PK the Dragon quotes from has another important principle:

The Alexandrian wrote:
For any conclusion you want the PCs to make, include at least three clues.

Based on the title for the thread, I assume you understand that, and want help coming up with clues.

Hmm, the orphanage might buy odd toys in bulk, which would be found at the scenes of the various murders (except the 4th). This doesn't work, though, for the first murder you cite, which I see as a problem. Can you find a way to link it to the orphanage? Maybe instead of beating his children, the drunkard has been hiring very young teens from the orphanage as servants, and beating them viciously? Plus, of course, starving them. (They wouldn't expect much more than pennies in pay, but they would expect manageable food & lodging.) As for the toys, I don't necessarily mean that they're labeled for the orphanage, but the Tiefling would certainly recognize them. Secondly, they would be labeled with a "maker's mark" that would help the PCs find the maker and then the customer. Third... (you know, figuring out three clues for the clue is tough!) Aha! Thirdly, they might see children out in public holding these toys.

Unfortunately, this clue leads back to the orphanage. I'm not clear on who the butler works for. Is it the orphanage? How recently did they hire him?

Helping you out is fun! If I come up with anything else, I'll be back.

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My advice is to have contingencies in place for those times the PCs are struggling to find or correctly interpret any clues. The classic one is to have a witness come forward who was previously too scared to make themselves known to the authorities.

In addition to all that has been said already (with which I agree) personally, I really like the idea of an NPC being around to gently nudge the PCs in the direction of the main plot.

Even if it's just to say: "Hey guys, check this out!"

Like in Skyrim, your follower will say something like "A cave, maybe we should check it out!"

bitter lily wrote:

The wonderful article that PK the Dragon quotes from has another important principle:

The Alexandrian wrote:
For any conclusion you want the PCs to make, include at least three clues.

Based on the title for the thread, I assume you understand that, and want help coming up with clues.

** spoiler omitted **

Helping you out is fun! If I come up with anything else, I'll be back.

Exactly, I am trying to find specific clues that I can place at each scene and that will do one of three things:

1. Point to the actual murderer. (The Butler in 1, 2 and 3)
2. Point to the motive for the murders. (The reason the Butler murdered 1, 2 and 3 and it should ideally at least make a chaotic good / neutral character think that the city is better off without these people)
3. Subtly point towards something bigger going on and link back to the orphanage as the real place they need to investigate.

Sorry if I missed information about the Butler, he has worked for a lesser Noble for a long time. The nobles children have been actually targeted by the Oni and the Butler is looking for the people that has taken them. In his search he comes across these deplorable people that are harming children (though not his employers) and chooses to take the law into his own hands since he has no faith that they will be punished.

Thanks for the idea about the toys and the teens working for the drunk that could work.

Has the butler confessed his extra-curricular activities to his employer? After all, killing brutes is not, in fact, part of what he got hired for...

No, his employer has said that he wishes someone would do something, but she is not in the know about what is going on.

A conversation takes place that may be overheard. Someone who formerly associated with him is trying to extort the Butler in return for keeping quiet about his past.

Bonus points if it involves woman he had illicit relations with when she was under age.

Wait... wrong thread.

As you start reading the Alexandrian you might as well read the clever articles on node based design. This keeps the "plot" going even if characters do not intersect it and also gives different points of intersection.

Maybe the butler has a bit of a chronic cold... A habit of wiping his nose with his employer's embroidered hankies. And one gets found at the drunkard's home, but not necessarily in an incriminating way. The butler did investigate before springing to action, I assume. So the victim would have found one of these fine linen hankies, and naturally, kept it. You'd think that a handkerchief embroidered with a noble coat of arms would leap out at a detective, even if neatly laundered and stored in a bureau.

Now, the merchant would likely have known the employer. Hmmmm, what kind of merchant? Some stuff, the butler would buy... Maybe the merchant is a silversmith, and gave away his disgusting habits on an occasion when the butler showed up to purchase cleaning materials for the noble's silverware. Soooo the noble's name is in the merchant's ledger for the week before and again the fatal day (a transaction was completed to lull suspicions), with the butler's initials next to it.

Plus, the noble must have livery, right? Specifically colored outfits for the servants to wear? Perhaps someone at the third scene saw someone wearing those colors exit the murderous alley at the incriminating time. Mind you, a butler will be wearing dignified clothing, so it may not be apparent at first that it's "livery." Still, Knowledge (nobility) or (local) should pick up on the colors, especially after some of the other clues come to light.

Of course, when the party comes to call on the employer, the livery-wearing butler will naturally happen to wipe his nose with an embroidered linen hankerchief... And his "butler's pantry" will be stocked with two silver-cleaning cloths bearing the merchant's mark.

What do you think?

Okay, here's my list of clues so far:

Bordello Matron (Valorie)

  • Has adopted a girl (Lisa) from the Orphanage, she's been working as a floor cleaner.
  • The Rich Merchant (Alejandro) took an interest in the girl (Lisa) while delivering some jewelry and has been a regular patron of hers since.
  • Lisa hides wheneven Alejandro shows up, and sometimes when other's do as well.
  • Lisa will hide when the PC's show up.
  • Valorie will have some jewelry with Alejandro's makers mark on it.
  • Valorie's neck has been broken by someone very strong.
  • Carefully written records about everything's that been going on can be found under Valorie's bed.
  • Alejandro's name and Lisa's can be found in the record with a check.
  • Talking to the employees at the Bordello will reveal that a well dressed man was the last person to be seen with the Matron. (They'll be able to describe his clothes well enough that someone with knowledge about nobles might figure out the employer of the well dressed man).
  • The employees will, with a successful check, money will lower the DC, reveal that Lisa has been visited by Alejandro. (They don't have a description)
  • Successful check will allow talking to Lisa, she will describe Alejandro.
  • Lisa might also mention nightmares about a bad lady and a large blue skinned man.

Drunken Father (Jack Smith)

  • He's got thin red line around his throat. A check will reveal that he's been garroted by someone strong.
  • A check will reveal that he's got marks on his hands from hitting his children.
  • A check will allow speaking with the older boy who reveals that he and his sister was hit by their father.
  • A search will turn up a doll that has a mark from the orphanage.
  • Confronting the boy about the doll will make him talk about how they're from the orphanage and that their 'father' took them in to have them keep his house clean and neat while he worked / drank.
  • A high check will make the little sister talk about how she's recently had dreams of a bad lady and a blue man.

Rich Merchant (Alejandro Brightwood), Silver Smith

  • Possesses a handkerchief that has the mark of a noble lady of the city. (The Lady was there with the Butler at one point to order some new Silverware, she misplaced it)
  • Nobles name is in his records, though a few weeks old, a check might be required.
  • He's been castrated and them murdered, more brutally than the others. (Showing the Bulter's anger and disgust)
  • A quickly scribed note can be found with his name on it, and Lisa's name as well. (Butler lost it)
  • The Butler's employer has his maker's mark on her silverware.

Teenage Boy (Morgan Porter)

  • Stabbed in the heart in his bed, the dagger still in his chest.
  • A bloody shirt is left on top of him. (The lover attempted to stop the bleeding, not intending to kill him.)
  • As soon as someone starts to seriously investigate his lover shows up and confesses.

Thanks again for all the tips, happy to hear what people think and if anyone has more suggestions that I can slide in here I'd love to hear them.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

If I remember right, Ultimate Intrigue has some good tips for running a mystery/investigation like this. This section might be of interest to you, whether or not you're actually using the influence system.

The section about spells might also help you prepare for potential issues involving spells and magical sorts of investigation.

Shadow Lodge

Thanael wrote:
As you start reading the Alexandrian you might as well read the clever articles on node based design. This keeps the "plot" going even if characters do not intersect it and also gives different points of intersection.

Thanks, that was a great read!

Looking at the three clue rule:

  • 8(ish) clues pointing at the merchant's abuse of Lisa.
  • 1 clue suggesting the murderer knew about it (note with names)
  • 3 clues connecting the merchant with the butler's employer.
  • 2 clues pointing at the matron's murderer (neck broken by "someone strong", witness seeing butler visit).
  • 1 clue pointing at the drunken father's murderer (garrote)
  • 2 clues about the drunken father's abuse
  • 2 clues pointing at the oni (two kids with nightmares)
  • 3 clues pointing at the orphanage (Lisa's origin, doll, talking to drunk's kids)

You're short on clues about the drunken father's abuse. I'd add a mark or two on the sister as a third clue.

While it makes sense for the merchant's death to be a little more brutal I'd make sure it's clearly the same killer - for starters, he should still ultimately be strangled. this justifies investigating them together, and sharing clues about the killer between the investigations. In particular, there isn't a lot connecting the butler to the matron or the father. One of the father's kids could add a report of the "well dressed man" snooping around.

In fact, there isn't a lot implicating the butler in particular, just circumstantial evidence suggesting someone working for his employer is suspicious. You'll want something stronger so that the PCs can prove his guilt. A handwriting comparison between the note and a sample of the butler's writing (Linguistics check) would be very good evidence if they find the note. The party could alternatively find footprints or a scrap of fabric matching the butler at the scene of either the matron's or the father's murders (since unlike the merchant's house there's not a good innocent reason for him to be in these places). Or, they could find notes in the butler's quarters detailing his investigations - which contain enough details regarding the murder victims to be incriminating, and also give the party more information on the further investigation of the orphanage/oni.

I'm also not clear on why the lover's death would be included in the same investigation. If you want to include it, I would make it also a strangulation. However, while the other three have had their tongues cut out (preventing speak with dead), this one has not. Using Speak with Dead would implicate the lover. Throw in a witness who knows that the lover was present the night of the murder and one additional clue - like something indicating why the lover was enraged in the first place - and you're set for clues.

A check will reveal that he's got marks on his hands from hitting his children.

I'd be careful about how you present this one. It's unlikely that you could tell from the marks alone that he was hitting his children. However, you probably could tell that they didn't come from hitting his killer (he was strangled from behind, the marks don't look fresh) and that he doesn't have any injuries aside from the strangling (so probably what/whoever he hit didn't hit back).

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