Tribal Knowledge: Dramatic Reveals

I love the Dramatic Reveal that a mystery story provides, but I can never seem to get them to play out at the table (d20 system). I present a standard series of gated challenges to gather clues. Then either players postulate something correct very early or they’re stumped. How do you best present and pace a mystery? Are there constraints the d20 system is imposing that I don’t realize?

This is a great question, and one I’ve wrestled with for months. Let me start by breaking it down a bit more, because (with all respect) I think the question describes two problems, not one. On one side, there are mysteries that the players answer too easily, and on the other there are mysteries in which the reveal falls flat because even with all of the pieces, they cannot put the answer together. The third part of the question is the strictly systemic implementation, and I’ll try to say something useful about that, too.