What To Do When Players Miss The Clues?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1193

Table of Contents:

    Brief Word From Johnn

    A false spring sprang here in Beaumont last week. It got warm (only -4), sunny, and melty.

    I’m trying to warn folks new to town that it’s just Room III: Trick and Setback.

    Because the groundhog doesn’t lie and more winter’s coming.

    But methinks inevitable frozen tears of disappointment shall still roll forth down red cheeks soon.

    Meantime, I wanted to call out a fantastic project that Stephan Hornick is running at Campaign Community.

    He’s porting over past Roleplaying Tips newsletters, adding fun polls, and stirring up some great discussions.

    This project is free and open to you.

    Feel free to swing by, read some great tips, vote, and join the discussion with your fellow RPT GMs.

    Have a great week. And try to get some gaming done while winter wends onward!



    (Join the conversion about these tips in this thread at Campaign Community.)

    Hello Sojourner!

    This is Jonathan with www.sojournersawake.com.

    Besides the common adventure in leaving town, delving into the dungeon, and slaying the monster to collect the reward, game masters can homebrew adventures involving mystery and discovery.

    I enjoy stories of brave explorers who search out lost lands, grapple with dangerous relics, and solve murder mysteries.

    But what do you do if the players roll low in their search?

    Or what if the players fail to catch on to your crafty description and miss the clues?

    Here are 3 methods you can start using to keep the game moving.

    High Number Winner

    Players normally describe their character actions, and then the game master asks for a dice check to determine success.

    However, when solving mysteries, the action can be thinking about the right solution.

    To simulate this thinking action, I will call for a knowledge check from each player when they enter a specific location where the clue can be discovered.

    The player with the highest dice roll “wins” the knowledge and can then take action or share with the team.


    The sojourners arrive at the base of the mountain and set up camp.

    The clue on how to enter lies before them as a riddle to answer.

    This concept is foreign to the characters since they have been using physical keys to enter places.

    So the players use all the usual techniques and find that this entrance is a mystery. The players indicate their characters “think” up the solution.

    I call for a knowledge check and grant the highest roll the clue.

    Surprisingly, the brute PC, IronTooth, scores the highest number.

    I describe to IronTooth words on the wall that look like markings he’s seen in the wizard PC’s journal.

    Since the party previously missed this clue, I am still leaving the fate in the hands of IronTooth. How they proceed is up to them.

    “Look” grunts IronTooth, “Quill has been writing on this wall.” He motions toward the writing.

    Now the party has gained a clue.

    High Number Winner can be used to simulate knowledge recall and discovering clues.

    Reward System

    Rather than placing your discoveries in fixed locations within your world, treat them as mobile rewards for the players when they trigger an encounter.


    The sojourners scour the new planet.

    After saving a young alien, the game master rewards with a discovery of a new language.

    Each player gains experience with this skill.

    After surviving the waterfall, the game master rewards with finding a new source of power at the bottom of the river and each player gains a magical resource.

    After successfully negotiating with a hungry predator, the game master rewards with finding a ruined lore stone that tells each the history of this forgotten world.

    Keep the discoveries mobile so you can reward your players at the opportune time, all while keeping the story dynamic.

    Connect the Dots

    You can use mysteries like the way you use monsters in your game: there can be many ways to solve the mystery.

    Players search the manor for clues on who killed the lady of the house.

    As game master, you have an idea as to who did it and how they did it.

    But you keep the answer malleable for this reason: the players might generate a better idea.


    The sojourners hear of the murder and decide to search the house up and down for clues.

    They think the butler, chef, and coachman seem suspicious.

    The players discuss amongst themselves and conclude each has a motive, but the coachman is most likely and could have hid the body in the garage.

    The general vibe of the table is excited with this idea, so you decide to go along and connect the dots of the players’ actions to the plot of the story.

    This method is collaborative, so keep your story free-form with room to improvise.

    If your gameplay depends upon finding a clue or making a discovery, then the game risks screeching to a halt if players fail to notice them, due to poor dice rolls, or from low participation.

    Use these three tips to keep the gameplay moving:

    • High Number Winner
    • Reward System
    • Connect the Dots

    May your story continue!

    Discuss these game master tips in this thread at the official Roleplaying Tips community forum.