I say, comrades!
Sherlock Holmes once said that it is a capital error to theorise without sufficient data. All but one of the roleplayers I have GMed for have demonstrated that it is also an irresistible temptation.
I run — or used to run when I GMed — a great deal of material that is or was essentially investigative. Mysteries and investigations, obviously, but also scams and capers and covert ops adventures in which the PCs had to scout the opposition and gather intelligence before planning their operation, intervention, or coup de main. In running this stuff I have run again and again into the same problem: that the players fall into interminable speculation and planning before they have collected enough information for theorising to be a useful activity. For example, police detectives will take the initial report and examine the scene of the crime, and then collapse into out-of-character speculation without either (1) canvassing for witnesses, interviewing family and contacts of the victim etc. or (2) testing any of the speculations by an empirical test. It’s sometimes called “analysis paralysis”.
I have explained again and again that a role-playing adventure is not a puzzle¹, that for an adventure to occur the players have to get into character, and that the characters have to (a) go somewhere and (b) do something. It has been to no avail.
Have you fellows encountered this in your exploits? Do you have any suggestions of how to deal with it other than by luckily having a forceful player who wasn’t susceptible to it and casting him as the boss?
¹ One of the players² in one of my longest-running and most successful investigative campaigns³, having reflected on the party’s long career of triumphant successes summed up thus: “We never solve any of these mysteries. What happens is that the villains over-estimate how smart we are and severely under-estimate how deadly we are.” That’s because a good RPG mystery scenario is not a puzzle: it is an adventure of which solving a mystery acts as the objective.
² It was Phred Smith.
³ It was the first Flat Black campaign, in 1987–88. The PCs were a team of criminal investigators in what was then called the “Justice Department”.