by Kevin Kulp

(From the introduction to TimeWatch, his investigative time-travel game)

 

 

General Abilities are how you get stuff done.

Sneaking, fighting, running… all these are done with General Abilities. If you have a General Ability rating of 8 or higher, you’re incredibly talented at that activity (and may get access to cool bonus stuff when using it, depending on which GUMSHOE game you’re playing). If you don’t have any rating at all in a General Ability, you stink at it and won’t generally succeed at non-trivial tasks. A 0 in Driving, for instance, lets you drive to the store and back but you’d fail at any driving maneuvers difficult enough to require a die roll. In comparison, an 8 in Driving makes you an expert wheelman. Similarly, a 0 in Shooting means you’re no good whatsoever at using firearms, while an 8 or higher in Shooting makes you an expert marksman. You get the idea.

It’s traumatic for your dicebag, but in GUMSHOE you’ll only need one die: a d6. Roll it. Your Target Number is usually 4; remember that. If you roll a 4 or higher with a General Ability like Athletics, you probably succeed.

Obviously, that would mean you only succeed half the time. You raise these odds by spending points from your General Ability pools and adding them to your d6 roll. Want to shoot someone? Spend 2 points from your shooting pool, add it to your d6, and you usually only fail if you roll a 1. Spend 3 points and you’re guaranteed to hit even on a d6 roll of 1 (as 1 + 3 = the target number of 4). When your pool drops to 0, you’re stuck just rolling a d6 until you get a rest and the GM says your pool refreshes.

Don’t be shy about spending these points. Dropping enemies quickly is a great idea, and you’ll have chances for your pools to refresh.

Investigative Abilities are how you learn stuff.

They’re what makes GUMSHOE games unique. Ignore your General Abilities for a second and look over at your Investigative Abilities. These are broken into three sections to make things easier to find – academic, interpersonal and technical knowledge – but they all work pretty much the same way. If you have 1 or more points in any of these, you’re an expert at it. This matters because during the game, all you need to do is tell the GM that you’re using an appropriate ability and you’ll automatically get the clue if there is one. Yes, automatically, no roll required. The fun here is in what you do with that information, not how you get it.

So let’s say you’re searching a private library for vital information. The GM may ask, “Do you have any points in Research?” Say yes and she’ll tell you everything you can find out. No roll is ever required. Same thing with Interpersonal Abilities; if you have Flattery, tell the GM you’re flattering someone (or better yet, roleplay it) and it will pay off.

Spend these points to get cool in-game advantages. Take the interpersonal ability Flirting, for example. You meet the evil mastermind’s stunningly attractive protégé. Tell the GM you’re Flirting with the NPC, and he or she will let slip important clues during the banter. Tell the GM you’re spending 1 or more Flirting points to get cool stuff, though, and you’ll get a special benefit; in this case, the protégé may become infatuated with you and double-cross his or her boss at the best possible time.

Just remember, spending a point from an Investigative Ability doesn’t stop you from knowing that topic. It just limits how many times in a game you can ask for special cool stuff.

And really? That’s it. Your GM can tell you anything else you need to know.

This post originally appeared on DyingEarth.com between 2004 and 2007.

A column on roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

We join a session of The Esoterrorists already in progress. The characters are FBI agent Juan Marino (played by Rich), science writer Martina Kruta (played by Lynne), and shady club owner Oscar Yorba (played by Tim.) In a storyline you, the GM, have ripped from the headlines, they are investigating a plot to mail human body parts to unsuspecting ordinary people throughout the nation. They have already determined that the first documented instances were the result of a horrible mistake on the part of a medical shipping company, and that presently unknown Esoterrorist operatives piggy-backed on the gruesome and surreal news story to foment public panic. Now the body parts are no longer misdirected medical samples intended for various tissue banks, but those of unidentified murder victims.

The previous scene’s core clue brought the group to a deserted former Christmas tree farm in the middle of nowhere. Entering the scene at night, their flashlights play across a battered old mail truck.

(Dialogue spoken in character appears in quotation marks.)

RICH: “Okay, are we ready to open the door?”
TIM: “Before we check it for booby traps? Are you kidding?” I use Surveillance to look for nasty surprises in or around the door.

Although Tim is arguably gathering information, a trap constitutes a plot obstacle, not a clue, and is therefore discovered with a general ability, Surveillance. Indeed, there’s a pipe bomb on the other side of the door, set to explode with a crude motion activator. The Difficulty of the test is 4. You are using the stringent, designer-approved option of requiring spends of general points before die rolls are made.

TIM: I spent 2 Surveillance on the attempt.

Tim rolls a 6; he succeeds.

YOU: There’s definitely something on the other side of the door. A pipe bomb, looks like. It would have gone off if you’d opened the door without checking.
TIM: “Pipe bomb, folks. Stand back.” Do I use Explosive Devices to defuse it?
YOU: No, that’s an investigative ability. You can use that to gather information about the bomb afterwards. But to actually defuse it, you need a general ability-Infiltration.
TIM: Right. I spend 2 Infiltration on it.

The Difficulty of the test to defuse the bomb is also 4. Tim rolls a 5, succeeding.

YOU: By sticking a screwdriver through the gap in the door, you manage to unhook the top of the bomb from the activator device. The door to the truck is safely open.
TIM: Okay, so now that I have a deactivated bomb in my hand, is there anything my Explosive Devices ability tells me about it?

Merely by mentioning that he has an applicable ability, Tim gets all the basic information gleanable from the bomb.

YOU: It’s a garden variety pipe bomb, the kind any maladjusted kid could put together with time and access to a copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook. However, the neatness of the execution suggests that it was put together by an experienced, meticulous maker.
TIM: My street smarts haven’t really come into play so far. I really want to impress the others with some serious bomb knowledge. Can I learn more with a spend?

You hadn’t considered this, but quickly make up an additional cool-though only marginally germane-fact about the bomb.

YOU: Not of Explosive Devices, but are you able to make a 1-point Streetwise spend?
TIM: Sure.
YOU: From the blue tape on the handle, the style of the bomb seems at first glance to match that of the notorious Blue Tape Bomber, who struck a number of mob-run businesses along the eastern seaboard between 1987 and 1990. But, being the streetwise guy you are, you know for a fact that those were made by Sal “Four Fingers” Maldonado, who died after coronary surgery nearly ten years ago. So whoever made this bomb is trying to throw you off track.
LYNNE: “Very good, then, let’s check out the van.”
YOU: The air inside is rank-filled with the smell of rancid blood and wet cardboard.
LYNNE: [miming a handkerchief placed over her nose] “Auggh!”
RICH: We step inside. What do we find?
YOU: Blood spatters on the floor and walls. Several empty, half-assembled cardboard boxes, in the packaging style of well-known courier companies, sit stacked by the driving compartment. A big blood smear is visible on the wall right beside the compartment.
RICH: After taking a sample of the blood with Evidence Collection, I use Fingerprinting to check the smear.

You now provide Rich with the Fingerprinting information in your case notes.

YOU: There are four smeared but distinct prints running through the blood spatter. However, on a careful inspection, from the unevenness of the pressure, you figure that they were placed there by someone holding another person’s limp or unresponsive hand.
RICH: Unresponsive how, exactly?
YOU: Want to make a 1-point Fingerprinting spend?
RICH: Of course.
YOU: From the angle of the prints, they were made by someone manipulating a severed hand during the stages of rigor.
LYNNE: [Looking at her character sheet] Okay, what can I contribute? Architecture does me no good… Art History, no, Forensic Accounting, no. Oh wait, Forensic Entomology. Any insect evidence in here?

Your case notes say there is: the core clue, in fact.

YOU: Trapped in the blood is a dead insect-a mature American Grasshopper. This is worth noting, because this species isn’t found this far north. You’d normally expect it in the southeast: Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, the Carolinas…
LYNNE: “Hold on-Kentucky!” [Consulting her notes.] “The first hand mailed to Emily Schroeder in Pittsburgh-that belonged to Kenneth Cross, who lived in Cleveland. But his hometown was Independence, Kentucky. His neighbors said they thought nothing of his absence because they believed he was away on a trip. What if he really was away-if he went home to visit family? I bet our actual crime scene is down there. And who goes to a small place like that to commit a murder, if you don’t already know it? Our Esoterror cell has a connection to Independence, Kentucky.”
TIM: “I’ll put in a travel requisition right away-meanwhile, the two of you keep tossing the truck for any other clues …”

The above example shows you the players responding to specific details of the scene to choose which investigative abilities to use, and also trolling their character sheet for abilities that might yield something. It also shows two ways of handling investigative spends. In the first instance, the GM invents another layer of detail to give a player a desired sense of reward. In the second, the spend is in the case notes already, and the GM frames the description of the basic clue in such a way as to inspire the player to call for it.

By Jason Morgan

In GUMSHOE One-2-One, the player is alone against the Elder Gods in Cthulhu Confidential or the Vampire Conspiracy in Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops. Previously, we provided advice for how GMs can convert any scenario to the GUMSHOE One-2-One system. Here, long-time One-2-One player, Nick Keller, (a.k.a. Langston Montgomery Wright from a year-and-a-half Cthulhu Confidential campaign that included a scenario from Pelgrane’s Mythos Expeditions and Chaosium’s legendary Mask of Nyarlathotep, and currently playing Jans Whorlman, an ex MI-6 vampire hunter in a Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops campaign), provides a player’s perspective of the One-2-One table.

The pacing of GUMSHOE One-2-One is much different than playing with a larger group. In my experience, groups spend an awful lot of time deciding and debating the next course of action, but events can happen much quicker in One-2-One. I follow my gut and act. I might follow three, four, five threads in a session. Paradoxically, with One-2-One, I also feel freer to take my time, explore, and dig into the setting.

For example, I remember stirring up some trouble on a side quest when I decided, out of the blue, that my character really, really needed a tranquilizer gun. My GM was willing to roll with that, so off I went to meet an arms dealer living on a ranch a half-day’s drive from all actual objectives. This wound up being a fun encounter that I most definitely would not have pushed on a larger group.

What I enjoy most about tabletop RPGs is collaboratively building a story. From a player’s perspective, I only ask that the GM maintains the illusion that the world exists and has some order to it. I know we are making up much of it together as we go, and I want that. I don’t need to see the sausage factory. It doesn’t matter to me whether charming Suspect A or mugging Suspect B will yield the same intel because narratively, they are very different experiences and are likely to have different repercussions for my character going forward.

I find that a good game will strike a fun balance between 1) your character is seeking something, and 2) something is seeking your character. For example, you heard that a cult leader works at the docks, and at the same time a shadowy organization wants you dead. As a player, you feel like you probably won’t get stuck in an investigation because, at some point, you’re going to fight a goon, and then you’ll be tied to a chair or looting clues off a corpse.

Speaking of dice-rolling encounters–use your Edge cards and Pushes. Remember that they exist to spend, and there will be more. If you are prone to resource hoarding, spending Edges and Pushes can take some getting used to, but over time, you start to develop a sense of the Push/Edge/Problem economy, and it becomes more natural.

Lastly, I think the biggest advantage of a single player campaign is that we are able to sustain a long-running campaign. Regularly gathering a group of four or five is tricky business for some folks, often impossible for others. I’ve watched fun games fall apart after a session or two when it becomes clear that players’ schedules are never going to line up. The option to hop online with one other person for a couple hours on a random Tuesday night is largely how I am able to continue tabletop gaming.

 


Jason Morgan is a writer and default gamemaster for his groups. You can follow him on Twitter @jmarshallmorgan where he shares his game prep and hopes his players aren’t reading.

by Simon Rogers

In most cases, GUMSHOE puts the dice in the hands of the players. Instead of the GM making a Stealth test for a creature to sneak up on a character, players make a Sense Trouble test to avoid being surprised. When the roles are reversed, it’s the players who make a Stealth test to get the drop on their opponent. We call this approach “player-facing.” The only time GMs make die rolls is in combat and in other, longer contests.  This article suggests how we can tear the dice from the GM’s warm and clammy hands during combat and put them in the warm clammy hands of the players.

How It Works

In standard GUMSHOE, when a GMC opponent makes an attack, the GM makes a test against the PC’s Hit Threshold, adds some points from the creature’s combat pool, then rolls damage if the test is successful.

In this new player-facing combat, the player makes a test to resist the attack and takes consequences if they fail. Conceptually, with this approach, it’s easier if the players think of their Health pool as Defense or Endurance rather than a measure of how much actual damage their character is taking. If this better for your group, simply rename Health as Defense.

Calculate the Difficulty of the Health Test

The base Difficulty for the player’s Health test is 3. This is increased by any points the GM spends from the creature’s Attack pool. We call this number the Attack Difficulty.

Instead of adding points from the Attack pool, another, quicker approach, is that the GM just adds a fixed amount to the Attack Difficulty equal to the creature’s Attack pool divide by three and rounded down.

Attack Pool Modifier
0-2 +0
3-5 +1
6-8 +2
9-11 +3

In most GUMSHOE settings, the GM will state the Attack Difficulty, unless the PC has no combat training, or the PCs are entirely unfamiliar with the creature.

Make the Health Test

The player makes the Health test against the creature’s Attack Difficulty. The player adds their Hit Threshold minus three to the roll plus any Health points they want to spend. Usually Hit Threshold is 3, meaning you add nothing, or 4, so you add +1.

Take the Consequences of Failure

If the player fails the test, they take damage equal to the creature’s Damage Modifier, with a minimum of one, and will take a Condition. The Conditions are Staggered, Hurt, Seriously Wounded, and Dead. Staggered is new to GUMSHOE, the others, you know already.

The first time a PC is hit in a combat (whether they take damage or not), they are Staggered. Being Staggered increases the Difficulty of Health tests by 1, and means the next time you are hit you are Hurt, regardless of your Health pool, the time after that Seriously Wounded, and then, you guessed it, Dead. After combat, any Staggered PCs can lose this status simply by resting for a few minutes. If you are Hurt by an attack, your Heath falls to zero. If you are Seriously Wounded by an attack your Health falls to -6.

If the PC is not yet Hurt and hits zero Health through spends on Health tests and damage, then the standard wound rules apply, but if a PC is already Hurt, they become Seriously Wounded (and their Health falls to -5),  and if Seriously Wounded, Dead.

Regardless of how they end up Hurt or Seriously Wounded, the PC must make the usual Consciousness test to stay on their feet.

Armour

You can use armour to avoid taking a Condition, but only once per battle, for each +1 the armour provides. So, for example, light armour (+1) will give you one chance to avoid being Staggered, Hurt, or even Dead on a failed Health test. Heavy Armour (+2) gives you two chances.

An Example of Player-Facing Combat

Bertha Wiseman is facing off against a thug armed with a knife. She is wielding an épée. Her Health is 10, and her Hit Threshold is 4 (she has 8 in Athletics). Her Attack pool is 5.

The thug has 7 Health, a Hit Threshold of 3, and an Attack pool of 8. Using the quick approach, the thug’s Attack bonus is +2 (his Attack pool divided by 3, rounded down). A knife has a-1 Damage Modifier. The minimum damage is 1, so that -1 becomes 1.

  • Bertha goes first as she has the highest Attack rating, spends two points from her Attack pool to ensure her blade strikes and rolls 3 points of damage.
  • Now it’s the thug’s turn. The GM announces the Difficulty of Bertha’s Health test. It’s 3 plus the thug’s Attack bonus of 2, so 5.
  • Bertha makes a Difficulty 5 Health test against the thug’s attack, choosing to spend zero points of Health. She has a Hit Threshold of 4, so she adds one to her roll and luckily rolls a 4, so she takes no damage.
  • She makes her attack, again spending 2 points, and rolling 4 damage. The thug’s Health is now 3.
  • The thug attacks. Once again Bertha makes her test against her foe, spending 4 points of Health to ensure she isn’t hit. Her Health is now 6.
  • She attacks again, but she has no Attack points to spend, and rolls a 2—a miss.
  • Bertha makes her Health test against the attacking thug, spending no points, and fails to make the test. She takes 1 point of damage and her Health is 5. She is now Staggered. If she gets hit again, she will be Hurt.
  • Bertha lashes out at the thug with her poker. She needs to roll a 4 or higher rather than a 3, because she is Staggered. She rolls a 4, and does 2 points of damage to the thug. He is at 1 Health.
  • Bertha spends 4 points of Health to avoid being hit, leaving her with just 2 points left, but ensuring that she doesn’t get Hurt.

Now it’s Bertha’s turn…

We will leave the Staggered Bertha facing the thug, and wish her the best.

An alternative approach which was an inspiration for this article can be found in Diceless GMing in GUMSHOE by MP Duxbury.

For a more abstracted, quicker, and entirely placing-facing alternative to this suggestion, take a look at The Yellow King RPG.

 

 

 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Having appeared on GM advice panels for lots of years, I’m always on the alert for changes in the types of questions audience members put forward.

These can vary quite a bit depending on the convention. An expensive destination show like Gen Con, or one directed to an ultra-dedicated community like The Kraken will feature challenging, graduate-level questions. At shows where local folks can walk on in to plunk down their admission fee the questions, questions tend to reflect the concerns of newer players—and thus the direction we might be headed in as tastes and experiences change.

This might be anecdotal or a blip in the radarsphere, but lately I’ve noticed a shift from the previous classic question to a new one.

The old question is “How do I deal with the overbearing player in my group?”

Now I’m hearing a lot more, “How do I draw out the shy player in my group?”

I’ve heard the second one over the years too, but the balance has shifted.

Whether this presages a new wonderful generation with heightened sensitivity or not is a sociological question that could spawn a hot take full of groundless generalizations. Instead let’s instead look at that evergreen RPG question.

My basic answer, going all the way back to Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering, has been to recognize that many players who seem to under-participate actually like it that way. They prefer to sit back and quasi-spectate and aren’t waiting for you to coax them into the open. Maybe they don’t contribute as many ideas, strategies or brilliant character moments as the more outgoing group members, but they contribute all the same. Maybe they drive other players to game, supply the snacks, or just add to the social atmosphere in an indefinable but necessary way. They provide the social glue that makes quorum possible week in and week out.

In a D&D game, you can give the casual player a straightforward PC to play and tell him when to roll when he needs to. Cough, cough, human fighter, cough.

Investigative play, which dominates all GUMSHOE games, requires more participation. Even so, there are ways to decrease the burden on players who take a backseat by choice.

For a shy player, the most pressuring element of a GUMSHOE game is not the demons of The Esoterrorists, cultists of Trail of Cthulhu, or vampires of Night’s Black Agents. It’s the need to converse at length with possibly hostile people and wrest information from them.

When ensuring that all players get to take point in an interview scene of their own, you might wait for the shy player to step forward and volunteer for a particular encounter. If they don’t, don’t force it on them. Allow them to lob supplementary questions into interviews conducted by other players, even when their PCs aren’t literally present. And if they remain content to sit back and watch interviews without doing that either, this is also fine.

A semi-retiring player may be happy to interview less intimidating witnesses. You might make sure your scenario includes someone the player can talk to without fearing that they’re going to make a mistake or get the group in trouble. When introducing low-stress witnesses into the story, make a point of describing them in a way that puts the player at ease. If the player does choose to pick a tough or tricky suspect to talk to, dial back your portrayal, injecting less stress into the exchange than you would for a player who gives as good as she gets.

A GUMSHOE scenario usually assumes that the PCs are, taken together, experts in any field they need to understand to piece together the mystery. Still, building in a friendly expert for the less aggressive player to interact with may help the flow of your session.

A cooperative witness needn’t oversimplify the mystery. The group still has to interpret the information witnesses supply, even when given without resistance. (A shy player could be just as flustered by an overly forthcoming GMC as a withholding one, so take care not to bowl them over with a gusher of info and details.)

Casual players may prefer spotlight moments allowing them to interact with impersonal obstacles.

Technical investigative abilities suit shy players well. They can go off to the lab to run tests while the extroverted players interview suspects.

Academic investigative abilities, the things that their characters already know, remember, or can research, allow you to portray shy players’ characters as gaining clues for the group without fraught interaction.

If interaction in particular and not the spotlight in general hangs them up, you might build in moments for shy players to shine while using general abilities. These players often enjoy playing stealthy types, so this may be as simple as creating a place for them to sneak into and out of.

Players who don’t like tension can be guided toward supportive general abilities:

  • First Aid lets them patch up other group members after they go out and take the risks.
  • With Preparedness, they can open up their packs to pull out the piece of equipment that saves the day.
  • With Piloting they can swoop in to rescue the rest of the party as the shoggoths charge down the ice field.
  • Systems Repair has them turbocharging the spaceship’s engine for a surprise escape from the magnetic field while the rest of the group antagonizes enemies on the planet below.

Ultimately every shy player is cautious in a distinct, individual way. If your shy person does perk up and show a special interest in a facet of play, build more of that into future games.

But if they want to remain in their shells, respect that. For some, it’s the place where clams are happiest.

One of the great things about in-house playtesting is that an off-the-cuff improvisation can suddenly prove so apt that it goes immediately into the rules draft.

Or rather, the players can suddenly all at once cry, “That’s so cool! You’ve got to make that a rule!”

[Cue flashback music as image goes swirly]

Why, I remember it like it happened just last night, during the ongoing in-house test for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Kickstarting now

The players have now entered the third segment of the game, Aftermath, in which they play ex-partisans who took part in the toppling of the Castaigne regime. Investigating the murder of a colleague, they entered his home, from which delicious cooking aromas wafted.

Now, the number of rodeos my players have been to greatly exceeds zero, so this detail elicited a terrible groan. The conclusion was obvious: they were about to find the rest of the victim, charred to an appallingly tantalizing-smelling crisp.

So terrible did they find this prospect that only two of the players were willing to send their characters in to brave the awful sight—and face the Shock cards they might wind up holding if they failed the Composure tests that would surely result.

Except that’s not what happened at all.

In that classic horrible-thing-turns-out-to-be-innocuous moment from horror films and literature, it transpired that the victim had a pork shoulder in the slow cooker.

Not thinking much of it, I rewarded the two courageous players with 2-point refreshes of their Composure pools. This reflected the positive benefit this moment of extreme relief would grant them.

That’s so cool, the room collectively cried. Is that in the rules?

Uh, I thought, surprised by their delight, it is now.

Rules that exert a palpable emotional impact on players are rare and golden. They get to go to the big show.

So this morning I added it to the YKRPG rules draft, where it goes something like this:

Whew

One type of partial refresh is the whew. It emulates the moment of relief in a narrative when the trepidation surrounding a daunting circumstance turns out to be nothing. Whew!

A whew provides a 2-point refresh.

The whew most often applies to Composure. Award one when players clearly dread an upcoming story turn which instead proves completely innocuous:

  • A tantalizing cooking aroma wafts from the apartment where the investigators expect to find the rest of a murder victim, horribly charred. Nope—he just had a pork shoulder slow cooking in the oven. Whew!
  • A thumping emanates from the attic above. The group steels itself to confront the scythe-wielding cannibal they’ve been hunting. But no, it’s just the cat. Whew!
  • Cassilda left the group a flask of absinthe she claimed will heal any wound. The students won’t get Ida out of the cavern with her leg broken like that. She’s halfway sure the potion will kill her on the spot, or eradicate what’s left of her free will. But when she swigs it down it her leg heals, as promised, to no further ill effect. Whew!

To maintain the emotional power of the whew, use it sparingly and only when it fits. Often the players will set up a whew for you, by showing genuine terror of an upcoming moment you never intended to play as anything other than innocuous.

Look particularly for situations where the group sends in only some of its members to confront the imagined awfulness. That way the brave get the reward and the cautious lose out.

Whews that refresh other general abilities don’t come easily to mind but if one that makes sense presents itself during play, rule it in.

Even if my players hadn’t explicitly demanded it, I like to think that I would have spotted their enthusiasm for this little fillip and written it into the rules.

So much of alpha playtesting consists of discovering that the ideas that worked on paper flop at the table. It’s always refreshing when you make something up on the spot and it immediately declares its place in your manuscript.

This rule works perfectly well with any existing GUMSHOE game that uses Stability. Just swap out the word Composure and replace it with Stability and you’re good to go.

As I write this, The Yellow King Roleplaying Game Kickstarter perches a mere £636 away from hitting the stretch goal that adds its new rules content to the GUMSHOE Open Source reference document.

Make the humble whew, born full-fledged from its own scrappy determination and propelled by a bootstrap attitude we can all admire, part of Open Source GUMSHOE, by helping us smash that stretch goal threshold today.

I’m currently incorporating playtest feedback from GUMSHOE One-2-One into the final manuscript. We’ve never had more respondents take part in a test for any GUMSHOE project, so having this much material to work with represents a huge luxury. The higher the number of reports, the easier it becomes to identify and address the most common needs players and GMs will face when taking one’s game for a spin.

The rules themselves require adjustment on only a couple of small points. I expected this, albeit with crossed fingers, given the smoothness of in-house testing before we sent the rules out into the wider world. It helps that the rules are either familiar (baseline GUMSHOE) or very simple (the new resolution mechanic for the one GM, one player dynamic.)

People responded very positively to the game overall, and that’s encouraging but not the main benefit of a thick sheaf of in-depth notes.

Especially in this case what I was really looking for was a sense of what additional guidance GMs and players would need to make One-2-One work for them. It’s only in the questions one gets back from respondents that the designer knows what play style advice has to go into the finished book.

Everyone reported a much more intense and focused experience than standard multiplayer. Without the byplay, off-topic kibitzing, discussion and decision-making between players, the solo player remains in focus the whole time, with the burden of investigation squarely on her shoulders. This can be simultaneously exhilarating and daunting, so I need to write more text both preparing gamers for that, and assuring them that this is the expected way of things.

Pretty much anyone experienced enough to take part in a playtest can work out what an RPG’s play style ought to be. Certainly testers, while questioning whether they did it right, invariably did do it right. Often play style advice is less about showing GMs how to do it as in assuring them that they were right to trust their instincts. These passages answer the question, “is the game meant to be this way?”, allowing players to relax into what they’re doing and get on with the fun.

Which is not to say that everyone who is doing it right and having fun is doing it the same way. A couple of testers wanted to know how much real-world time the scenario should take. Well, one duo played it for 9+ hours and loved it, while co-author Ruth Tillman, when I ran her through the same scenario, proudly blazed through it in less than 3. Who was doing it right? Both!

It seems simple when I say it like that, which is why the final text will have to do exactly that.

(By the way, if you just inherited a strange old house from an uncle you didn’t know about and need someone to find out what all the screaming from the furnace is all about, you might want to drop Ruth a line and see if she’s available to check it out.)

In One-2-One player characters rely on GMCs called Sources for the use of investigative abilities they don’t have themselves. Sources also provide low-intensity scenes of friendship and camaraderie to momentarily take the pressure off the player. One respondent wondered if it was all right that the player spent a lot of time with Sources. Again, the player wants to do it so it must serve a need for her. Here the text can provide specific tips for keeping these scenes fresh, but mostly the job of that passage will be to assure players that they’re operating within Acceptable Enjoyment Parameters whether they spend a lot of time with Sources, or just a little.

Bubblegumshoe, developed by Kenneth Hite, Emily Care Boss, and Lisa Steele is the Evil Hat’s first delve into the GUMSHOE system. The design doc has been drafted and now they’re looking for Alpha playtesters to give it a spin!

Interested? Great! Here is what they’re looking for:

– Familiarity with GUMSHOE (have run it, played it) to the extent you can fill in the missing details when given a design doc to test
– Availability to playtest multiple times in the next two months
– Veronica Mars familiarity a plus

Still interested? Head over to the playtest Bubblegumshoe application form here and let the Evil Hat people know who you are!

And Pelgrane Press are looking for additional playtesters for Mythos Expeditions, Cthulhu Apocalypse and Soldiers of Pen and Ink – all the details are here.

Pelgrane Press Ltd, the roleplaying game publisher, and Smite Works, the virtual tabletop developer, announced today that the Trail of Cthulhu roleplaying game ruleset will be released for use the Fantasy Grounds virtual online gaming table.

Said Doug Davison, president of SmiteWorks “We are very fortunate for the opportunity to work with Pelgrane Press.  It is fantastic to see their GUMSHOE system getting converted over for play in Fantasy Grounds.  It opens up a whole new set of role-play options with Trail of Cthulhu leading the way and their other GUMSHOE systems to follow.”

Simon Rogers, managing director of Pelgrane Press, said “I’m very impressed with Fantasy Grounds and the rulesets and advetnures which SmiteWorks has created for their partners. I am pleased that our customers will be able to enjoy playing our GUMSHOE games remotely, in an enviroment which fully supports the rules and aesthetics of our products.”

About Pelgrane Press Ltd
Pelgrane Press is an award-winning publisher of rolepalying games, including innovative Dying Earth RPG based on the works of Jack Vance, and the GUMSHOE investigative ruleset which is the basis of Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists and Mutant City Blues. Find out more at our website.

About SmiteWorks
SmiteWorks USA, LLC is best known for producing the Fantasy Grounds II virtual tabletop application. There are currently more than 17,000 active licenses sold for Fantasy Grounds and there is a vibrant and active community at www.fantasygrounds.com . The Fantasy Grounds program provides a basic online role-playing framework, with both commercial and fan-made rulesets specific to a number of different role-playing games.

Check out the Fantasy Grounds website for more information.

One of the most horrible aspects of this whole pandemic – at least, from where I’m sitting – is that roleplaying conventions will be one of the last events to return safely. Your typical convention is also ideal for spreading coronavirus: a bunch of people talking loudly at short range? In rooms that are famously poorly ventilated? Alas – no conventions this year, and conventions next year will depend on suppression and vaccines.

So, as a substitute, we’ve got virtual cons, run over discord or zoom or other platforms. Some tips I’ve picked up running GUMSHOE games at virtual cons:

  • Don’t waste time
  • Set expectations immediately
  • Break the character sheet down by region
  • Do a sample test early
  • Have your assets ready to go
  • Use multiple channels

Don’t waste time

You definitely don’t need to fill the whole convention timeslot – if it’s a four-hour slot, that’s basically a three hour game plus setup, bathroom breaks, and an early finish if the game goes on track. It helps to keep the initial rules explanation to a minimum – the quicker you get from introducing the game to actually playing, the better. No-one wants to sit through a lengthy breakdown of rules.

Set expectations immediately

Give the players a variation of the elevator pitch so everyone knows what sort of game they’re playing. “You’re all burned spies hunting vampires,”, “you’re all paranormal investigators working for a mysterious Ordo, battling the evils of the Esoterrorists and their extradimensional allies”, “you’re all city watch in fantasy Venice”. Having media references works (“Jason Bourne vs Dracula!”), but make sure you do it as “X meets Y” or “It’s a bit like X or Y” – if you only give a player one touchstone, they’ll assume the game is just like that show.

Break the character sheet down by region

GUMSHOE’s a pretty simple system, and most of the abilities are nicely self-explanatory. Drive home that there are two sorts of abilities – Investigative (NO ROLLING! JUST INFO! SPEND FOR BENEFITS!) and General (SPEND POINTS AND ROLL A D6! BEAT A DIFFICULTY THAT’S USUALLY AROUND 4!) and you’re 90% of the way there.

Do a sample test early

It’s good advice for any convention game, virtual or otherwise, to run a simple demonstration of the resolution system early on, so the players have a handle on how many points they should spend on a typical test, how forgiving the damage system is and so forth. Refreshes are especially important in GUMSHOE, too, so show how they work.

Have your assets ready to go

If you’re using maps, images or other handouts, make sure they’re to hand, electronically speaking. I stick everything I’ll need (or might need) in one Dropbox folder so I can grab them quickly. You don’t need to fill every moment with action, but few things are duller than the GM googling for the right image. (If you do need to grab something, do it while the players are discussing strategy or roleplaying amongst themselves.)


Use multiple channels

Obviously, you can send notes to players as private messages, but the general chat channel’s also very useful for sending material to the players. If there’s a set of facts they need to reference through the scenario – a list of locations, a set of suspects, a timeline –  drop that in the chat channel so the players can easily look it up.

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