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DeadlyTreadly

Avoiding Infodumps

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DeadlyTreadly

The one besetting problem with Cthulhu investigative play is handing how information is presented to the players. Several written scenarios, for instance 'The Edge of Darkness', involve dumping great swathes of information in a monologue to the players who idly play with their dice, surreptitiously check their phones or yawn. I feel a specific thread on techniques to avoid these boring downloads would be a good idea so we can recount ways of keeping players interested without overloading them and keeping them involved in the gaming process.
Any thoughts?

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Nightbreed24

Incomplete newspaper clippings, burned or torn up diaries they have to piece together and read themselves. But this can get real old real fast as well. Or you could always ask someone to write it down in cursive (maybe someone with ugly handwriting) to spice things up.

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GBSteve

Information is the prize you get for confronting danger.

 

So make the stuff dangerous. Start in media res in a gnarly situation, give a little bit of background and give more as a reward. The danger can be confronting physical danger, stealing something, exploring a creepy place or reading a book. Library use doesn't just have to be dice rolls, in can be a mind-blowing experience of the time and space warping effects of coming into contact with the Mythos.

 

And then this information leads to more danger.

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klecser

I also think that there is a natural tendency to front-load information in the text of published scenarios to be efficient and save page-space.  Also, so the Keeper has it all in one place so that they can reference it.  That doesn't mean that is the way that Keepers should disseminate that information to players all at once.  Some technique that I use to keep the intrigue going: 1) create very simple handouts that might be a note slipped under a door. Players don't know if it comes from an ally or an enemy. They can always go and verify it's authenticity (or maybe not).  2) Information at the start of a scenario can also be prospective dialogue for specific NPCs.  This creates more of a gradual release of the information.

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mvincent

What I typically do:

1) Re-write/condense the monologue to make it as short as possible (cut/pasting from PDF's makes this easier). Often, everything the players need can be put into 2-3 sentences. If players want further details, they'll ask.

2) Print out the monologue so it can be read quickly during the game

3) Have an NPC picture visible while delivering the monologue (as a visual reference, to engage visually oriented players). I typically print the picture out upside-down above the monologue text, then fold it over (making it visible to the players while I read the text).

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DeadlyTreadly

To answer my own question I like to chop up infodumps with intervals of roleplay and occasionally action. Not too much or the players lose track but enough to make them think they're onto something

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PaulStJohnMackintosh

Peter Watts, the horror-tinged hard-SF writer, did a great rundown on how to avoid this problem in fiction: 

 

"Sometimes the underpinning background is so vital, or so obscure, that you pretty much have to spell it out. In such cases, I’ve learned that torture is your friend.

Want to know know the Grid Authority’s analysis of our protag’s motives? You can have a bunch of people sitting around a boardroom talking about it (which is what happened during the first draft of Maelstrom), or you can have one of your characters enduring a painful, cavity-scouring decontamination procedure to cleanse him of a doomsday infection, while being interrogated by his superiors on the other side of the sterile field (which is what happened in the second). Need to convey a bunch of dry boring crap about density-dependent reproductive responses in microbial ecosystems? You can have someone sitting in her lab, watching her cultures and thinking back to the courses she took in grad school – or you can make her the victim of a sexual psychopath who plays sadistic little games, asking questions just at the limits of her expertise and hurting her whenever she gets the answer wrong (which is how it went down in Behemoth). Need to deliver a three-page neurophilosophical infodump at the climax of your first-contact novel? You could always have Spock and McCoy trading debating points in the med lab. Or you can have your protagonist assaulted so violently that his very consciousness shatters into profound autism, that he perceives all external input as a deafening disembodied voice from the heavens. (That was Blindsight.) Pretty much any infodump becomes more – immediate – when you sheath it in pain and jeopardy."

 

I'll always love that maxim "torture is your friend." And it'll surely work in Call of Cthulhu 😈

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Felscor

I just give a skinny of the info dump of the most important points, and use of adjectives naturally.

With that said PaulStJohnMackintosh's post certainly sounds far more thrilling; if you get the chance try that, I am.

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Gaffer

For me, the key is to roleplay the infodump.

Make the NPC source a compelling character who reveals the facts in an emotional way that reveals the psychological/emotional toll it has taken on them. And try to make it impactful emotionally on the investigators as well.

My best recent moment has come when the investigators are at a mental hospital to interview a man who has brutally slain several little girls. He reveals that a monster in the guise of a little girl obliterated his best friend. He has been going around, he says, trying to keep the creature from claiming further victims, "but I can't find the right one." The players gasped, their faces showing the impact of the revelation.

I was so proud.

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