Investigation and mysteries: how do you use foreshadowing, red herrings, and keep the tension rising?
I’ve never played or run a game that was investigative in focus. Most of the mysteries that I’ve run have been small ones, that usually get figured out in the course of a different goal. Where’s the key to the lock, or what demon killed the village priest, or how do we get into the tomb to retrieve the mcguffin?
I just listened to a podcast, Unabashed Gaming’s first episode, and the hosts talked a lot about running Call of Cthulhu, and how it combines the investigative game with horror. They had some good tips for running an investigation, and I’d recommend checking it out.
Structure and time: how do you use flashbacks, cut scenes, and parallel narratives in your games?
Generally I don’t. I found it really weird in the d6 Star Wars adventures when they included cut scene scripts, and I could never bring myself to ever use something like that in game. That goes back to my issue with taking my games too seriously. It's something I still struggle with...
The problem I worry about with cut scenes is that it takes the focus away from the players, and that's generally not the best strategy for keeping their attention. No one wants to watch the DM talk to himself.
Flashbacks can work, but they take a lot of effort. The few I've seen usually have a predetermined ending. I think it would be more interesting if the players played through the flashback, and depending on how it goes, it changes the adventure in the PCs timeline, and depending on how you run it, it could turn into a parallel narrative.
I've run a parallel narrative once, but not on purpose. I had a large group of players (12-16) when 3e came out (no one else wanted to DM at that point) and because a group that size really is pretty unmanageable, it split along pretty natural personality lines into two groups that ran in parallel for a while. There had been a bit of infighting prior to the split, which only seemed to grow into a significant and active dislike between the two groups. For a while they were both scheming to take the other group out, keeping tabs on each other, but one group opted to hop into a dimensional portal, ending up in Diablo, while the other went to Ravenloft for a while, and the characters lost track of each other, even when the groups continued to snipe at/about each other.
This post is numbers 16 & 17 in the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge.