In GUMSHOE,when your character needs to do something tricky and where randomness adds tension, you roll a d6, add points you spend from an Ability pool, and if you make the Difficulty number, you succeed.

The number of points you spend on a test can represent the effort a character is making, but usually they reflect the player’s judgement on whether a success on a particular test is important. You might not care as much if your punch connects in a brawl, than if you have the master vampire in your sights. When these points run out, players look to other abilities which still have points in them.  This encourages players to use more than one method to deal with problems.  For GMs, ability pools are a method of managing spotlight time. Play naturally passes to the character with the points left in an ability which can be used for the particular problem the players face.

The archetypal example of this kind of character resource is hit points, – Health in GUMSHOE games. In many games, until you hit zero hit points, there is no effect on your character’s performance. So a character might take no measurable harm from the first gun shot, and yet the player knows that now they are on low hit points, the next bullet with most likely kill their character. It’s not that the first bullet didn’t have the same potential to kill as the second, it’s just not narratively satisfying or plausible for a protagonist to drop dead on the first hit.

So, I think of Health as a measure of the narrative plausibility of you not being damaged by a particular attack. As your Health gets lower, the chance of the next bullet not harming you decreases. That’s pretty abstract.. However, while almost all players accept that these abstract hit points can affect your chance of being wounded by an identical attack, there are a few who don’t like the idea that a Shooting resource affects your chance of wounding someone. GUMSHOE aficionados look at the characters’ success and failure across the entire game – picking and choosing which attempts to shoot are important – objectors look at the probability of individual rolls and see a sudden decrease when the points are gone. The resources management of hit points feels OK for them, but for shooting, not so much.It’s too “meta.” I entirely accept this is a matter of taste, and I’d like to offer an option to people who have an issue with this.

The argument goes like this. When my character uses Firearms, I can spend points to be sure to hit, or increase my chance of hitting. So, when I have run out of points being sure to hit, it feels like my character is bad at shooting. It feels strange to “decide” when a character is successful.

The first thing to say is that characters in most GUMSHOE are pretty good at what they do. If you have any Firearms at all, under normal combat circumstances you’ll hit half the time. So, spending all your points doesn’t make you “bad” at shooting just worse! However, that’s an aside. Here is the solution.

GUMSHOE doesn’t care about a lot of things – and here is another thing GUMSHOE doesn’t care about.

GUMSHOE doesn’t care when you spend your points. It’s entirely in your hands. If you don’t like the idea of sometimes being sure to hit, then don’t spend the points to do it!  Spend a fixed number of points every time.  Spend one each time if your pool is less than 8; two if it’s more. The chance of you running out of points is pretty low and your chance to hit will still be good. You can sit beside spendthrift, probability-manipulating meta-loving players, knowing that your character is obeying the laws of probability on a shot-by-shot basis. (The option to spend more is always open – and I hope you are tempted – but it’s not necessary).

Another option to consider which give a similar feel – but enforcing this restriction on all players –  is capping spends. This deals entirely with the auto-success issue by making it impossible for high levels of difficulty.

On an aside, it’s a joy to watch Annie Oakley blowing things away in this early movie shot at Edison’s studios.

 

In a previous post I laid out the basics of Shock and Injury cards in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game (now on Kickstarter.)

Let’s now dive in a bit more detail into the way certain of the cards evoke the sense of a multi-step recovery.

Like anything in GUMSHOE, they emulate the way things work in fictional stories, rather than simulating reality. Often in a genre narrative the hero will be in a hospital bed in one scene, limping in the next, and basically as capable as ever after another little while.

YKRPG handles this with cards that replace the full discard with a trade. You fulfill a condition and get a less onerous card, but aren’t out of the woods yet.

An example appears on the card you receive when your character gets shot.

This, you will note, is a card the player will want to deal with rather than leave in hand.

On the Mend belongs to a class of staple cards. It represents a step down from a number of worse Injury cards.

An equivalent Shock card is Unease; among the more serious Shocks that require you to trade for it is Dread.

With YKRPG cards the fun often lies in the way specialized cards break from established formulas.

After your players have grown used to getting Shot, winding up In the Blast Radius or suffering from Massive Injuries, and then trading down to On the Mend, they might see it as a bit of a curveball when one of them receives this:

And then trading down to this:

We’ve all seen TV episodes where the hero who leapt out of his hospital bed does well for a while, then collapses. The cards allow you to emulate that—but only in specific circumstances, unlike a wound track hard-coded into the core rules.

Sometimes wounds work one way, sometimes another—just as they do in serialized genre storytelling.

Forgetting to pledge to The Yellow King RPG Kickstarter leaves you with a sorrow that can’t be traded for a lesser card. Only 4 days left!

The elements of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game Game currently exciting folks who’ve read the preview version are its new, quick, player-facing combat system and the alluring status effects of its Shock and Injury cards.

What players who take part in your campaign will most remember about are the interconnections their different characters experience between the game’s four variously shattered realities.

How this works can be a little hard to spot in the preview version, because the key bits appear in the character generation rules for the three later segments: The Wars, Aftermath, and This is Normal Now. Their simple elements create an emergent dynamic in play. Once it happens, any GM capable of basic improv will see what’s going on, react accordingly, and before you know it, you’ll see all the possibilities for an epic, player-driven arc flower before your Yellow Sign-besotted eyes. Trust yourself, and the tools provided to you by the game, and when you need it to turn on, the light bulb will turn on.

I’ll be getting at this more directly in the finished books with additional detailed GM guidance, thanks to the room supplied by a recently-toppled stretch goal.

But for the moment, let’s look at a bit of actual play from my own in-house game.

A couple of weeks back we switched settings for the second time, moving on from The Wars to the Aftermath segment.

As previously described, the versions of the characters fighting The Wars were bedeviled by awful fox creatures. They were introduced into the arc by a player who made a creepy fox part of her Damned Peculiar Thing. Each player supplies this vignette of haunted backstory during character creation.

(The foxes do not appear in the books. Rather than supply you prefab foxes to creep out your players, the game gives you a mechanism encouraging players to make up their own equivalents.)

Now another player—admittedly one who has just joined us and has a more sanguine attitude about the foxes—brought them back in with this segment’s equivalent of the Damned Peculiar Thing. When he described his Worst Memory, as a flashback from the successful revolution the heroes of Aftermath recently fought in, there were the foxes, grinning at him and eating people.

Needless to say this provoked a degree of groaning from other players.

But what kind of continuity doesn’t from time to time bring back its big bad in a new guise and context?

That’s basically what you’re shooting for—the idea that elements from past segments show up as Easter eggs in the current one. They may remain as cool references, or return to occupy center stage once more.

The last session of The Wars began to heavily suggest the interleaving of the settings. While house-to-house fighting raged overhead, the squad met a villain from 1895 and some weirdly modern opponents in the sewers of Marseille.

Whether this reality leakage becomes a big element of Aftermath or fades into the scenery for a while depends on what feels right as we explore this new reality and the similar-but-different set of characters.

Seeing the fox move, another member of my crew decided to try it in reverse. He figured that he could introduce into dialogue the fact that they’d killed an antagonist from the first few segments. He said that they’d killed an enemy clearly meant to be the vampire who scared and frustrated both in Paris and The Wars.

Of course, this was a throwaway line of dialogue, not part of his character creation.

I guess that completely stymies me because there’s no possible way as GM I can think how to bring back a vampire the heroes think they’ve bumped off. He couldn’t think that the vampire is dead but turn out to be wrong about that. Nope, the beginning of every Hammer Dracula movie offers me no guidance whatsoever.

On the other hand, I could let this stand for this segment, as a change of pace and establish that she really is dead in this go-round.

As I said, the way it unfolds will become apparent by doing.

Just don’t tell the players who had to be absent that night about the foxes…

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is Kickstarting now.

A scenario seed for The King in Yellow Roleplaying Game

As heroes of the revolution that deposed the Castaigne regime you’ve been invited to take center stage at the first 4th of July celebration in 97 years. In 1920, backed by the King in Yellow, the Imperial Castaigne dynasty took over the US.

Six months ago, in the climactic moments of the great uprising, you helped take it back.

Today is no longer Empire Day; once more it is the good old Fourth of July.

Every fireworks display, every bandshell concert worthy of the name wants a squad boasting a rep like yours to stride up on stage under the red white and blue bunting. All you have to do is say a few words and accept the clamorous applause of the crowd.

Since the struggle ended, you’ve been trying to settle back into your civilian life.

Before the struggle started, who were you?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

When you arrived on site, you noticed that security wasn’t set up the way you would have done it. As a former insurgent, you can see four different ways regime holdovers might strike at the platform. If any of them are planning to do that. Which they’re probably not, you tell yourself.

Despite of, or maybe because of, that observation, your overall attitude to this event is:

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Suddenly you sense movement from the corner of your eye. A shadowy, inchoate shape skulks between two garbage bins.

Looks like the fight’s not over, and the party’s only getting started.

Aftermath is the third of the four interwoven settings that make up The Yellow King Roleplaying Game.

Arm patriots with the stretch goals needed to fully banish the Castaignes and their influence by supporting our Kickstarter today.

See Page XX

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Since Cthulhu Confidential’s arrival in foyers and post office boxes worldwide, a couple of folks have asked me how one might go about combining GUMSHOE One-2-One with Trail of Cthulhu’s standard multiplayer format.

The short answer is, uh, I didn’t design them to fit together like that.

The rest of this column will consist of a longer answer that boils down to, uh, here’s a few things you can try but they’re not playtested so get ready to kludge on the fly.

When designing One-2-One my goal was not to seamlessly port the player from solo to group play, but to make the solo play as fun and functional as possible in its own right. Making the two games interoperable would have introduced a layer of complexity that taxed One-2-One GMs and players to no immediate payoff. A big chunk of the audience for One-2-One turns out to be people introducing previously unfamiliar friends and loved ones to roleplaying, so that would have been a serious mistake.

Tuning the game for solo play meant reexamining basic elements we take for granted in multiplayer, like hit points that slowly tick away and can lead to a character’s death at any moment in the story. To serve the one-player format, I came up with Problem card mechanism, which is not only different from Health pools in standard GUMSHOE, but in a completely other ballpark.

So that leaves us with two games that share an overall feeling but on the granular level don’t plug together.

The easiest way to merge them is to move from one to the other without ever looking back.

If you’ve been running a Trail series for one player, you can work with them to adapt that PC to One-2-One. Conversely, once you recruit a new crop of players to start a Trail series, you could then turn that One-2-One PC into a ToC investigator.

The key word here is adapt, not convert.

Mathematical conversions from one system to another almost invariably wind up with weird imbalances and often a less playable character than you’d get by starting from square one.

Tell the player to keep in mind what she knows about her character from having played her, and especially what the investigator has actually done in the course of scenarios to date. Forget the numbers; remember the core concept.

For Trail, go through the standard steps of character creation, recreating the idea of the One-2-One PC in that system.

To adapt into Cthulhu Confidential, sit down with the player to follow the recommendations for new character creation on p. 294 of that book: around 14 investigative abilities and 18 dice in general abilities, with no more than 2 dice per ability.

Since the ability lists differ, you’re not trying to get everything to line up absolutely. Think of this as resembling the process by which a character from a comic or series of novels becomes the protagonist in a TV show: it’s the broad strokes that matter.

A One-2-One character will need Sources to fill her in when she runs into a clue her abilities don’t illuminate. If you’re moving the investigator from an actual multiplayer Trail game, that’s simple—just use the other players’ characters, who you’ll now be portraying as GMCs.

If you were playing Trail solo, work with your player to invent outside experts she can consult as needed.

When devising scenarios, remember to limit the number of times the investigator will need to call on Sources.

Having a character who moves between Trail and Confidential poses the biggest design conundrum.

If the character suffers the shattering of a Pillar of Sanity in Trail, you may wish to acknowledge that in Confidential with a Continuity Problem card. Whether it imposes a story or a mechanical effect or both depends on the situation. Other ongoing consequences of past Trail events might also become One-2-One Problem cards. Conversely, you could reward exceptional problem-solving in a Trail session with an Edge card that can be spent to good effect in the following Confidential episode.

Going the other way around, you might decide that Continuity Problems picked up in Confidential might come into play in Trail.

Narrative-based card effects, as with “Charlie Chaplin Owes You” (CC p. 139), are the easiest to pull off. Your player’s detective, self-taught physics genius Ethel Peaslee, gains the movie star’s confidence when the two of you play your version of “The Fathomless Sleep.” Then, in a Trail session, her player makes use of that card, getting the entire group into an exclusive garden party to brace an otherwise unapproachable witness.

Continuity Edges that exert a mechanical effect in One-2-One might grant a +1 bonus to some or all general tests. Continuity Problem cards could likewise impose a -1 penalty.

Like the design of the Problems and Edges themselves, this is all situational. You’re not doing much more creative work than you would normally do when constructing a One-2-One scenario.

Crossing the streams might see you building individual side quests into an epic Trail series. An investigator might come back from the Dreamlands, the Plateau of Leng, or the twisting boulevards of Los Angeles to share the results of an individual mission undertaken between this Trail scenario and the last one. After the group decides to steer clear of a disturbing mystery in Trail, a player can follow it up solo in Confidential.

Think twice before running One-2-One interludes only for certain members of your group. If one or two players are having a richer experience because they’re getting to also play Confidential with you, the remaining members of the Trail game may come to feel like second bananas. You might be able to remedy this by building in hooks that require the frequent soloists to cede spotlight time to the others in multiplayer mode. That gem Ethel found in D’yath-Leen might provide the key to finding J0e Morgan’s long-lost sister, say. Be doubly wary of an imbalance of perceived attention when you’re personally closer to the One-2-One player(s) than the ones who only take part in the Trail game.

This is all speculation, as I have yet to try to interweave the two games and don’t see that as a likely possibility for my own GUMSHOE play. If you do give it a whirl, let us know how it goes!

In 1895 Paris, young Erik Satie has already written his most haunting pieces and plays piano for seekers of mystical awareness.

The world’s most famous can-can dancer, Louise Weber, has decided to strike out on her own.

Painter Odilon Redon paints spiders with weeping human faces—like the one you saw in your studio.

Auguste Rodin rages at you if you ask him about statues and corpses.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec supplies info if you buy him his favorite cocktail, a devastating mix of cognac and absinthe called the Earthquake.

Gossip columnist on the make Marcel Proust wants to know what juicy secrets your investigations have uncovered.

And Émile Zola is about to throw himself headlong into the Dreyfus Affair.

Add all of them and more to The Yellow King Roleplaying Game by knocking down the rest of the Artists and Models stretch goal.

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.

The sky has turned white; the stars pulse with inky blackness. This unexpected Carcosan weather pattern has trapped company principals Cat and Simon in the wilds of Ohio. Yet the commands of the pallid mask may not be delayed!

The Kickstarter for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, by Robin D. Laws, launches this Wednesday, June 21st, at 8 pm Eastern.

A column on Roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

A recent test session of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game (Kickstarting later this year, plug plug) shone a spotlight on a conundrum that can crop up in any GUMSHOE horror game:

How much should the GM intervene when the players have fallen all too desperately into a terror spiral?

As a game of investigation, GUMSHOE assumes that the PCs can investigate their way out of whatever trouble they find themselves in. In a horror game, that includes situations that in a scary movie could easily end up with everyone, or nearly everyone, dead.

In a baseline terror tale, a haunted house might exist only to destroy the protagonists.

A GUMSHOE haunted house, by contrast, presents a puzzle. Find the clues that unravel its mystery, and you learn how to reverse onrushing doom and defeat that haunted house.

But what happens when the haunted house works too well on the players, and they forget to look for those clues?

This session took place within the second of the four Yellow King Roleplaying Game sequences, The Wars. In this setting the players portray soldiers in an alternate reality battle zone. In this scenario the role of haunted house was played by an old hunting lodge the squad had been ordered to clear and hold.

Before play began, my conception of the improvised scenario was that the players would encounter ghostly manifestations of the people they had killed and seen killed over the course of the war. These would be caused by a being from the Yellow King’s world of Carcosa, which anchored itself to our reality through an object associated with myths of fear and terror. In this case, borrowing an image from a lesser Robert W. Chambers horror story, it would be the skull of a medieval sorcerer.

For starters, the squad showed up at the lodge to find it occupied by an enemy force, which they killed in a firefight. I then had each player describe a flashback about a key death their characters witnessed before the conflict had hardened them. Sue, playing a soldier conscripted from the peasantry, described an assault on her farm while she was fox hunting.

Flashbacks dealt with, we returned to the main action. On the bodies of the slain enemies the group naturally found the first indications that something supernatural was afoot. However, this did not immediately set them on a clue-finding path.

(This was only the second scenario featuring these PCs, so most players were still having big fun portraying their characters as unwilling to believe in the supernatural. Never mind that wolf monster they established a psychic link with last time. That had to have been a one-off.)

When it came time for Sue’s character, Jeanne, to meet her personal ghostly manifestation, why naturally that had to come in the form of a creepy fox.

Other manifestations occurred, but the foxes grew into the evening’s most terrifying element. For this we had YouTube to thank, because a search for “fox sounds” reveals that the noises they make are extraordinarily freaking creepy.

As escalating manifestations continued to eat away at the character’s Stability reserves, and the foxes kept coming in ever greater numbers and screaming screaming screaming, the session evolved into a particularly effective haunted house story. Not only that, the protagonists had a novel, unusually solid reason to stay in the house: they were soldiers, ordered to hold it.

But was it too effective? The session became all about the hunkering, as opposed to the information gathering that could have led to a means of ending the haunting.

Unlike some hunkering situations, I had a way for the outside world to communicate with the characters: the text-based black box that substitutes for radio in this alternate reality. The team had decided they were under attack by an enemy psy-ops unit and used the black box to inform HQ of that.

This gave me the chance to hint them into active mode: HQ ordered them to go out and hunt down the psy-ops squad. Of course, they’d find something else once they explored the surrounding area—I was thinking an old graveyard with an inscription that would trigger a telltale use of the History ability.

Although I repeated this hint a couple of times, the team stayed hunkered and running ever lower on Stability*.

At that point, I could have doubled down on the hinting, breaking the fictional wall to remind them that GUMSHOE is about investigating and maybe they should do some of that. I am not at all averse to wall-breaking when necessary. But was it?

I decided not, as the group was clearly gripped by the way the session had spontaneously developed, even though:

  • it wasn’t a representative GUMSHOE game
  • it didn’t match my initial plan

The so-called wrong thing was actually the right thing, because it was working.

Ultimately the lieutenant irrevocably lost her mind, Jeanne fragged her with a grenade, and the rest of the group escaped being eaten by a newly swapped-in cause for the manifestations: a predatory toad-like creature surrounded by the white sky and black stars of Carcosa.

In the post-session review, the players seemed happy with the way it all went south, observing that this episode felt more King in Yellow than the one previous.

I didn’t want them to feel that they’d played wrong, and so didn’t mention that some investigation might have turned things around. Good thing none of them have access to the Internet and thus will never read this column.

Joking aside, they of course didn’t play wrong. They leaned into what the session became, and that was playing right.

If I’d tried even harder to yank them toward my preconceptions, that would have been GMing wrong.


*Well, to quibble with myself, the YKRPG equivalent of Stability. The system works differently than past GUMSHOE horror iterations.

In The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Kickstarting soon at a Kickstarter near you, players portray characters linked across various eras and timelines corrupted by alien supernatural influence.

In the third of these linked settings, Aftermath, the investigators are all ex-partisans who fought in a successful rebellion against a tyrannical regime backed by Carcosa. Now they want to rebuild their nation and put their violent past, and memories of weird incidents connected to that, behind them. But He Whose Mask Is Not A Mask isn’t finished with America yet, and they find themselves drawn into a succession of weird mysteries requiring them to draw on the skills they’d sooner put behind them.

To emulate this I’m introducing* a new general ability, which goes like this:

Insurgency

Before attacking targets in a location you have the opportunity to case in advance, you can devise the most efficient plan of attack, dealing maximum harm at minimum risk.

Make an Insurgency test with a Difficulty keyed to the location: 4 for most civilian targets, 5 for a secure military target, 6 for an ultra-secure installation.

On success with a margin of 2 or less, all combatants on your side get a +1 Fighting bonus. A higher margin nets a +2 bonus for all.

This also allows you to defend against attackers using guerrilla tactics against a position you have had time to hunker down in. Here the Difficulties flip: 6 for a civilian location, 5 for military, 4 for ultra-secure. When defending you can make a Counterinsurgency Push for a +4 bonus on your roll.

Insurgency tests take the place of extended planning sessions in which players manage the tactical details of an assault, just as Preparedness skips the part where you laboriously write out every item on your equipment lists.

After a successful Insurgency test, ask the player, abetted by anyone else in the group who likes to describe skirmishes in loving Tom Clancyesque detail, to describe the clever plans they’ve laid for their soon-to-be-attacked targets. In the ensuing Fighting test, they can describe them working to superb effect (if the group wins), or the GM can describe them being countered by a victorious foe.

*       *      *

This ability only suits games where you find it desirable to collapse the tactical planning process into a single ability test. The previous setting in the cycle, The Wars, does not do this. It has the player characters fighting in a great European conflict in an alternate timeline. Planning how to grub up crucial bonuses for an upcoming scrap should take center stage there, with players weighing options, discarding some and choosing others, perhaps with the aid of intelligence they’ve gathered with investigative abilities.

In Aftermath those scenes fade back to a tertiary status, to make room for subplots about rebuilding the nation.

You could add this ability to other GUMSHOE games, probably renaming it Tactics or some other more generally apt term, in cases where quick and dirty combat planning suits the genre. It would fit a standard Esoterrorists game, for example, while feeling out of place in a Special Suppression Forces campaign frame. It would also work in Mutant City Blues or Ashen Stars, but likely not in the more combat-forward environment of Night’s Black Agents.

You might also consider your group’s tastes when deciding whether to use it. Your players might dig its abstraction even in NBA, or prefer to do the tactics in detail even when the setting takes little interest in that side of things.


*In the current draft, anyhow. A designer can never count on any new element surviving the playtest process.

Previous Entries