by Steven Hammond

Back in 2011, Pelgrane ran its first crowdfunding campaign and the Black Book, a GUMSHOE character creation tool, was born. Since its release the original code has been maintained on a voluntary basis by the very busy Pelgrane webmaster John Clayton. The Black Book has done its job, but it’s now time for a new implementation, which incorporates innovations such as Shock and Injury cards, which are begging for a digital implementation to really shine.

I am excited to announce that Northland Creative Wonders has reached an agreement with Pelgrane Press to take over the Black Book character tool, modernize it and turn it into a product that can sustain its own ongoing maintenance and development. All of the current Black Book features will continue to be freely available to all, with a new look and better support for phones and other small screens. More advanced features, like GM character matrices and Shock and Injury cards, will be available with a nominally priced subscription.

I will talk about some of those advanced features in a future post; right now, I want to talk about our design process and how you can help.

Understanding Users

In order to make good software to solve a problem, you need to understand how users solve that same problem without your software. Asking users how they solve that problem often doesn’t provide the information you need; sometimes users aren’t aware of all of the steps in some activity, they might accidentally exaggerate or deprecate the extent of an issue, and they tend to ask for specific solutions rather than identify problems. And those solutions are frequently limited by the user’s current process or their understanding of what is possible.

So what does a designer do? Certainly not ignore users and assume you know better. Instead, you look for evidence of what they actually do and scour that evidence for ways you can make things better.

If you have the resources you can do focus groups and user testing. With fewer resources, you can do user interviews. But even then, you are hoping to see demonstrations or artifacts, anything to give you more insight than the user can verbalize.

How You Can Help

Fortunately in gaming we have a ready artifact to study — character sheets. We want to see your GUMSHOE character sheets. What we want most to see is pictures or scans of used paper sheets; with all of your marks, erasures, and doodles. We think we can learn the most from those. We also want to see your digital sheets, and your custom sheet designs.

To share these with us you will want to go to https://shammond42.typeform.com/to/gQ3L7s. That form will ask for your e-mail address, any comments you have on the sheet you are submitting and a button to upload the sheet. E-mail address is optional, we will only use it if we have questions about your sheet, send you a prize (see below) or to send you an invite to the new app when it is ready.

Once we have reviewed the sheet submissions, we will contact people with the most interesting sheets to discuss them further.

What’s in it for You

We have a pair of $15 gift vouchers to the Pelgrane Press online store. Every sheet uploaded with an email address will be an entry in the draw. You have to provide your email address to enter – otherwise, we can’t contact you if you win.

The upload site will stay open until October 15, 2017.

What Happens Next?

We will go through all of those sheets and user discussions to see what we can learn. That learning will lead into the design of the new character sheet in the Black Book. We will also share the sheets and our findings with Pelgrane as they think about redesigning their print character sheets.

From there, we will begin the process of building the rest of the app. It is too early to talk specific schedules now, but I hope to be sharing more progress and insight with you as this project moves forward.

The Black Book – The GUMSHOE Character Builder

Thank you so much to all the funders for the Trail of Cthulhu character builder. If your name is not listed here, it is because we think you want to remain anonymous. If we are wrong, please tell us. If you praise them enough, we will open the character generator to everyone. Please give priase in the comments.

First, thanks to Rob Harper, who named the generator The Black Book, a reference to the Black Book of Azathoth into which names are entered.

Next we have Scott Douglas, Andrew Raphael, Daniel Byrne and Ken Finlayson, who sacrificed the whole world; Ben Parks, Sune Nødskou, Nikodemus Siivola, John F Rauchert, Sam Friedman and M. Sean Molley who sacrificed their town.

Then Eric Priehs, Jim McCarthy and James Pacheco who caused the monster to rise; then David Shope, Dave Desgagnes and Steven Marsh authors of forbidden tomes.

Please offer them all your undying and blind devotion.

Next, Niclas Matikainen, John Post, Paul Snow, Fernando Barrera, John Evans, Patrick Barrett and Jeremy Redman, whose characters lived; then Rick Neal, Sasha Bilton, Reto M. KIefer, Dave Sokolowski, John Anderson, Terry Regan and Cameron Paine, whose characters died.

Please offer them your undying and effusive devotion.

David Lai, Reza Peigahi, Steve Moss, Kristoffer From, Damon Dorsey, John Stephens, Petri Wessman, Jonathon Dyer, Neal Dalton, Louis Banna, Matthew C H Winder, John Taber, Shane Mclean and Reverend Dak.

Let their names live on.