Inspired by How can I make investigation engaging for the whole party?, this is roughly the same question but from the opposite side of the fence. As a player, how can I make the investigations more interesting? Alternatively: How can I make investigations easier on the GM?

The campaign I am currently in is D&D 4e, with a setting that is similar to Dark Sun, but not quite the same. Some differences include the fact that it's not low-magic, and the Sorcerer-kings are replaced with dragons. (The GM has also generally been permitting or including a number of things which are thematically exclusive to other settings, such as Dragonmark feats, but those are on a case-by-case basis.)

The campaign currently has nearly half a dozen different threads going, some of which are connected to one another. Some of these threads were initiated by the PCs, such as my character attempting to unite the various noble houses to a single cause; others are actual quest-lines fed to us by the GM, such as the illicit substance we've been chasing around the city which may-or-may-not be derived from Tarrasque meat.

The PCs we have:

  • Satyr warlock, noble in direct service to the Dragon-king (social character, my character)
  • Kalashtar cleric, member of the clergy of the Dragon-king's church (social character)
  • Kenku druid, ingested some of the illicit substance (somewhat shy)
  • Minotaur barbarian (has missed many sessions due to graduation parties)
  • Mul shaman, drunkard (may be leaving game due to time conflicts)
  • Revenant ranger, pyromaniac (apparently determined to fail as many skill checks as possible)
  • Human battlemind (joining for first session this upcoming week, possibly social character)

We frequently split the party to investigate multiple leads at once, generally to the tune of "it seemed like a good idea at the time!" It's worked out okay so far (in fact, the only time anyone has come close to dying was on an occasion when we didn't split up). However, the two social characters in the party, both being representatives of the Dragon-king in a way, have by and large stuck together, meaning that the other group(s) during the split are without a "party face" character. It does not help that both characters are at this point trying to actively avoid the ranger due to the trouble he stirs up. (This may change once the battlemind joins; knowing the player, he may follow the ranger "for the lulz".)

To reiterate: As a player, how can I make the investigations more interesting to the group, particularly those which occur with a split party?

Failing "more interesting": How can I make investigations easier on the GM?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you asking what you can do to engage other players during your moment in the spotlight? If so is it everyone going off on their own (except the pair you mentioned)? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 19:24
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In my campaign, usually, the split ends up as two parties, so not every man to himself. But yes, how to make things engaging to the players who do not have their PC present is a good way to put it. Ideal answers would cover "every man for himself" splits, larger splits (eg, two parties), and whole parties where only some characters are actually participating. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian S
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 19:26

3 Answers 3


As the person who wrote the GM version of this question, I can tell you the things that I hope for from my players:

Be Patient

As a GM, the most stressful part of splitting the party is watching the players who aren't in the current scene drift off and lose interest. If your GM allows it, you should definitely stick around, pay close attention to the scenes you aren't in, and even interject with suggestions for the other players if the action grinds to a halt (Feel out the mood of the other players on whether that last one is appropriate. I know that in my gaming groups, suggestions are always appreciated. I play games like Fate, though.)

This will not only take a weight off the GM's mind by showing them you're still interested, it may help generate ideas for the scene and help the players and the GM get the investigation to where it's supposed to be. You'll also be able to offer out-of-character reminders of important clues when they are inevitably forgotten between sessions.

Find an excuse to split the party faces

If you've noticed that the other half of the party really suffers from the lack of a social character, find a reason to accompany them the next time you split up. Maybe your character doesn't want the others to mess up a delicate diplomatic situation, or there's a chance that both parties might encounter agents of the Dragon-King. Maybe one of you simply decides you need to rein in the troublemaking ranger with your presence. There are plenty of reasons to justify splitting the social characters, you just need to come up with one that makes sense for your character.

Don't let "what my character would do" get in the way of the story

In Fate, there are mechanics built in to allow players to guide the story with their characters' idiosyncrasies. But most games aren't like that. All too often, I've seen players ignore a juicy plot hook because "that's not what my character would do," and then sit on their butts, just waiting for the next story opportunity. Tabletop roleplaying is a lot like improv, and in improv the rule is that you never say "no," only "yes, and." So, don't use your character traits as an excuse not to cooperate. Use them to shape how you cooperate.

Since you're asking this question, this probably isn't something you have a problem with, but it's worth saying anyway.

Beyond that, I don't think it's your responsibility

As I've learned from the answers to my question, a large part of how fun an investigation is rests on how well the GM handles it. If your GM just throws you into a busy city and expects you to stumble upon the right clues by magic, that's probably not going to be engaging no matter how hard you try.


Making things interesting during an investigation should be much like most other situations. First off, stay in character and play your character. Too often I've run or played games where people will drop their character and just play the stats. At that point they're either looking for rules to help them out or rolls to take over. If you're in a good sync with your GM and depending on your game type, you can do the role playing parts without dice rolls. Now if you're character isn't the face and is trying to be I could see a GM requiring a roll, but imo they should be sparse in these types of situations.

Beyond that there's also the question of how much should you play along with your GM. Even some of the more ill-prepared GM's have a basic idea of how a situation should turn out. More than likely you'll be lead down that path no matter what choices you make. At best the GM can play it like you've completely thrown him off track and gotten to some place unexpected. Personally I try to at least keep to the idea of what my GM wants, but at the same time not bending my character.

So look for big clues. If a line of questioning doesn't seem to be leading anywhere because the GM is scrambling to come up with details for some no name bar tender that he had no intention of being your contact point, look for clues elsewhere. The other thing to do, is ask the GM questions out of character. Not specific things, but questions like, where are there the most people in this city, or is there a common market, or where would I go for help. It's all reliant on the game you're playing, but just engaging the GM with this kind of question is more than likely going to get you a detailed response about the one place they planned for you to go in this investigation.

Hopefully some of these ideas help.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, welcome to the site! Not sure I agree that most DMs are going to give you the same result no matter what, but it's certainly a valid way to play, and this is a well-written answer, so +1 from me. When you get a chance, you should take a look at the Tour, and when you get 20 rep (you're halfway there!), feel free to join the Role-playing Games Chat! \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 20:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Thanks much! It's true, some GM's are able to go with the flow, but most have at least some plot designed out in there head and want you to live out a story. That's my intention in case that meaning didn't come across. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MumblesCrzy I suspect it's the "most" that KRyan has trouble with; In my experience, while some GMs do play the way you describe, they're a minority. That being said, I suspect everyone's only got anecdotal evidence to rely on, so I agree with his assessment that this answer is good. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 3:46

Im going to take a different approach to answering this question.

The following information helps both the Players and the GM. My answer draws alot of influence from the murder mystery genre but will help to other kind of investigation plots.

Suggest good sources of influence for the GM. There are a number of TV series, Films, and Novels that can help. In effect, being more genre savvy helps.

The number of players. The more you have, the harder it comes for the GM. The difficulty of running an investigation increases dramatically with the number of players.

The PC's Moment to shine. Look at each of the specific classes and their class features. A better understanding of the spell lists helps. Engineer situations where specific class features could help.

Use of Reasoning. The signature method of deduction by Sherlock Holmes was abductive reasoning. A better understanding of logic (deductive, inductive, and abductive) will help both the GM and Players when it comes to building and discovering plots. This is often explored in murder mysteries. Sherlock holmes would painstakingly examine crime scenes.

Psychology. An decent understanding of the topic would help one build psychologically compelling characters as well as create mysteries where understanding the NPC's personalities is key to discovering the conspiracy. This is often explored by Agatha Christie.

Mastery of Suspence. Being genre savvy will help the GM build up suspence, as well as maintain it right till the end. Alfred Hitchcock is nicknamed the master of suspence. "He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres." - wikipedia.

Getting people to talk. Both of these can be a point of fun for the players. This is exemplified by Hercule Poirot.

In later works, Christie made a point of having Poirot supply false or misleading information about himself or his background to assist him in obtaining information.

Poirot establishes his psychological bona fides. Rather than painstakingly examining crime scenes, he inquires into the nature of the victim or the psychology of the murderer. - wikipedia

Look into the various detectives in the genre. Look at the specific methods that they used. This would help the players build more compelling characters. An example would be Miss Marple, who was a little old lady who would casually listen to conversations between other people. The villains would not suspect her as the investigator to be wary off until it is too late.


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