Brindlewood Bay and cause of death

Whenever I run a game of Brindlewood Bay, my Murder Mavens always begin by wanting to know the cause of death of the murder victim. Reasonable, but many of the published mysteries don’t provide clues related to the cause and the Presenting the Mystery section may only say “the Sheriff suspects foul play”.

How do you reveal, or choose to reasonably NOT reveal, cause of death in such Mysteries when you’re the Keeper?

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Great question Derek! A question along these lines came up on the Gauntlet Slack. Let me re-post what I said there:

This gets at an interesting aspect of Brindlewood Bay’s genre: it’s essentially non-forensic in its approach to mystery-solving. It’s aiming, I think, to evoke mystery stories where the key things that need unraveling are the suspects’ secrets and motives. It somewhat handwaves away CSI-style question about murder weapons and cause of death. The Mavens solve Mysteries by meddling, largely in the personal lives of the suspects, not by amassing physical evidence.

Other folks in the thread had their own takes. Folks discussed the presence or lack of an actual medical examiner in Brindlewood Bay’s setting. (“Wait, Medical Examiner ? I’m sorry, did you think this was Boston ? The sherif took a look, confirmed it was suicide, and now it’s at the funeral home waiting for the burial.”) And a number of Keepers talked about offering a provisional answer for cause of death, but reminding the players that this could be revised during Theorizing if the clues could support a different cause of death. Then it becomes up to the dice to decide!

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This sort of thing happens whenever I run a Brindlewood Bay game for new players; it’s just part of getting used to the system, I think. I tell them two things: one, if they’re trying to find a clue, they can roll the Meddling Move. If they get a hit, I’ll look for a clue that could be a cause of death in the right context: for example, in Dad Overboard, I might take the clue ‘a small handgun, like you might find in a purse’ and say that he was shot with just such a small handgun, or that fragments of the shattered antique vase are found where he’s been bludgeoned, etc.

But before resolving the move, I’ll also tell the players that because of the way the system works, they’re less likely to find specific pieces of evidence or information (like a cause of death) and that the game will flow better if they tell me how they look for clues - I examine the body, I ask the Sheriff, etc - rather than what exactly they want to find out. I add that they may also find it more helpful to leave these details undefined until they’re ready to Theorise, and then have the flexibility to tell us what the cause of death was. If they’re receptive to that, they can still roll to Meddle, but the clue they find on a hit will take them in some other direction (like, “You’re not sure of the cause of death, but you do notice a bundle of stock certificates have been stuffed into his sock.”)

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