Leaving a Sense of Mystery…

One of the aspects of adventure gaming that I really enjoy is the sense of exploration and sometimes revelation you get when you discover something neat about the background setting.  It’s probably one of the reasons I have been so deeply immersed in Tekumel, a world so complex and detailed that it is “…a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key.”  (Okay, so this might also explain my fascination with Russia, but I maintain that’s separate.)
I’ve been having fun with this as I’ve been working through a guide to Empire of the Petal Throne, over on the ODD74 Discussion Board.  But in the midst of all of this, I’ve been struck at how much some gamers want definitive answers to How Things Work.  I know I’ve shied away from this kind of thinking, as it often seems like a precursor to certain kinds of min-maxing and meta-gaming.  Yet I also understand how much it matters – that sense of discovery.  So there’s a tension there.  From a refereeing perspective, how much do you reveal, and when? weighed against how many plot coupons do your players have to turn in to get to the end of the quest, right?
One aspect of Prof. Barker’s genius in his creation of Tekumel is just how multi-layered the “truth” actually is, how much an answer to one mystery immediately begets another puzzle.  I know it drives some players nuts, but it’s something I actually look for in a game – a world so intriguing that there is always something more, something unknown.  I don’t pretend to have an answer (that would subvert the entire point of this post, right?), but I do think that the search for the “truth” is chimerical at best – I mean, what would you do if you discovered it all?

One thought on “Leaving a Sense of Mystery…

  1. I whole-heartedly agree with this and I really have never understood the Internet fan culture that wants to pick clean all the question marks in a setting.

    I for one love the sections of Barker's where he just lists long sections of locales with the sweetest of teases. They never fail to evoke something in me, something I think it would lack if it was spelled out in explicit detail.

    I've always aim to try and keep up a sense that the players are unlocking layers of mystery as they explore my home campaign.

    One of the challenges though in this is trying to keep it from becoming like Lost did in its last seasons, cheaper and cheaper tricks masquerading as real mystery.

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