On Clues – Missed, but not Lost

Keepers planning their MoN campaign will frequently hear this valuable pearl: “Let them miss clues.” From the launch, you and your players will be afloat in a sea of intertwined leads, locations, and characters. With everyone immersed in the sprawling campaign world, players often find distractions from the campaign’s prescribed investigative threads. If your players overlook an important clue in the designated location, you should adhere to the aforementioned advice—do not force-feed them clues. While MoN may be a well-structured campaign, it should not function as an exercise in long-form railroading. Redirecting investigators back to missed clues compromises player agency and disrupts the game flow. With all that said, we would like to add a caveat to this conventional wisdom: Clues can be missed, but they need not be lost.

Bring your decoder ring for this Clue Diagram!

The clues in MoN, as in most scenarios and campaigns, appear in an organized format, arranged in paragraphs under headings and subheadings. Keepers will be provided with directions as to how and when to present the clues to their investigators often via scenes involving interactions and/or skill checks. The clue diagrams at the front of each chapter help direct the expected investigative flow. In this edition of the campaign, the writers have provided useful Links within the text so that the Keeper may track connections. As a result, we have an exquisitely organized tool with a great layout and entertaining prose. 

Key clues are effectively highlighted in links.

In reality, many game designers acknowledge that this type of end-product does not reflect how they organize material when playtesting and refining their scenarios and campaigns. Many creators arrange plot points and clues loosely in bullet points, and they freely shift these components around as they move toward their final design. If you are thinking of employing this technique for your creations, Ron Gilbert has a great discussion about Puzzle Dependency Charts on his blog that is well worth reading.

The Secret of Monkey Island, a Ron Gilbert masterpiece.

For campaign preparation, we encourage the Keeper to identify the clues throughout the campaign and extract them. Instead of rigidly anchoring them to locations, characters, and items, you can identify them as facts, which players can discover through their actions and investigations. These clue-facts have a primary source of discovery, as outlined in the campaign book (or per your preference), but can also be deposited in other sites, conversations, or research. Regardless of where it appears, the clue yields the key information, helpfully defined by the Links. This can include repurposed or distilled handouts. 

NYU Library at the University Heights campus.

As an example from our campaign, our investigators eagerly traveled to NYU to listen to a Professor Cowles’ lecture after finding a flyer in the Chelsea hotel room. They were disappointed to learn they missed the lecture and discussed traveling to Miskatonic University to meet Cowles. More pressing matters intervened, so they chose to go to the NYU library hoping to secure the professor’s publications. Intending to lightly redirect them toward the NPC, I informed them the single copy of the text had been checked out by an eager student. Rather than going directly to the professor, as suggested in the campaign book, Irina formed a collegial relationship with the NYU librarian, now a named character, and requested notification as soon as the text returned. 

Instead of restricting the clue trail to the missed interaction, the librarian called back two sessions later to let Irina know she had not yet received the book, but one of her student assistants attended the lecture and took notes. Though the investigation did not follow the path outlined in the campaign book, the clues reached Irina through her efforts, rewarding her with a meaningful encounter and useful information. 

As a result, the line of inquiry continued to remain fresh and fascinating in the player’s mind. When she arrived in London much later, she continued seeking the professor’s book for more information. What could have been a missed clue became a player-driven project, allowing me to deploy extracted facts rather than denying or recycling information. In the London Library, she found a copy of the book with an interesting tattoo and further clues from the MoN Australia chapter.

In London, your players might miss signs of Gavigan’s secret lair. His workroom contains several clues and tomes that could be scattered throughout alternative locations in the England chapter, including Gavigan’s rather unexciting flat, Empire Spices, or Misr House. Shafik might have sent an operative to steal from Gavigan, leading to a retaliatory murder, or she might recruit the investigators to commit the crime.  These opportunities don’t need to be forced, just integrated into the group’s chosen pursuits.

Similarly, in the New York chapter, Africa’s Dark Sects could be found in alternative locations such as N’Kwane’s quarters, M’Dari’s apartment, or passed along by Poole after a raid. They may even stumble upon it in Kenya in a mailed parcel to M’Weru. None of your players has to know the campaign book stashed this tome behind a wall of zombies in the Ju-Ju House basement. If players keep hunting for a clue, they deserve to find it.

If you find this method unpalatable, you can always employ alternatives such as Idea Rolls. Or simply reminding your players of linking clues or redirecting them to their notes. MoN has a vast amount of material, and you may not explore every part of it. Consider writing missed material into your campaign notes or on note cards to use as breadcrumbs or Easter eggs along the investigative trail. Your players will appreciate being rewarded for their hard work, no matter how circuitous their path.