I’ve been playing The Witcher 3 a lot.
Part of the style of gameplay I’ll have in mind for Against a Backdrop of War is similar to The Witcher 3’s gameplay. Travelling over land, with tiny settlements everywhere. Beasts and monsters around every corner, with lairs in the caves. It’s a great world to run around in.
Most importantly, though, I want to capture the feeling of discovery when searching for someone or something. The PCs might not have a witcher’s sharp senses, but they can still use the same methods to follow a trail of clues.
Justin Alexander of The Alexandrian talks about a Matryoshka Search Technique, wherein PCs pass the DC of a Search check and are given a rough clue. In his main example, a DC 25 Search Check might reveal a trap door in the floor of a room. But a different way of doing it means that instead of just finding the trap door, they find scuff marks where the bed has been dragged back and forth.
This reminded me of The Witcher 3, where you’ll often find those glowing red marks showing something has been dragged by. It doesn’t tell you what the secret is. It tells you how to find the secret.
As Justin points out later in that article, the PCs don’t know what they’re looking at. They might think it’s a trap door, or they might think it’s a trap designed to hurt them.
This is something I want to include from the very beginning of this project. It takes no extra effort on the part of the game master to work with this system. If the adventure guide tells you there’s a DC 25 Search to find a trap door, or if it tells you there’s a DC 25 Search to find the signs of a trap door under a bed? There’s no extra effort there, but it gives an extra bit of flavour to make the PCs think. That’s well worth a little bit of extra thought on the part of the adventure designer.