The Plain People of Gaming: Fear Yourself

Roleplaying games are fascinatingly mediated. In almost every other storytelling medium, the audience perceives the action directly. They see the actors on the stage or screen, the characters in the computer game, the voices in the radio play. In prose, true, the author can play tricks with an unreliable narrator or writing in a very subjective fashion, giving an internal monologue – but that runs the risk of alienating the reader. If the audience can’t follow the plot, the story’s lost.

In a roleplaying game, everything goes through the GM. The player gets second-hand impressions of what’s happening (“you see the figure crawling out of the grave”) and then interrogates the GM to get the details the player is interested in (compare the questions “do I recognise the figure” versus “are there any exits? Anything I can use as a weapon”). This gives the GM immense influence over the player’s perceptions of what’s going on (I talked about this before in Spooky Significance).

In a one-on-one game like Cthulhu Confidential, you can go even further. Traditionally, it’s a terrible idea to take control of a character away from a player for long – if Bob’s mind-controlled by Dracula, then Bob ends up sitting there bored while Alice and Eve play on without him.  In a one-on-one game, though, you can skip ahead or around in time easily, and use your influence over the player’s perceptions to shape how they experience the transitions.

For example, you can have an abrupt transition…

Suddenly, someone jolts against you. Your hand burns – they’ve spilled coffee on you. You’re sitting in a coffee shop. Sunlight’s blazing through the window. You’ve no idea how you got there. The last twelve hours are a blank. What did you do in that time?

…a smooth transition…

You find yourself sitting in a coffee shop. It’s daylight. You have only hazy memories of the last few hours, full of gaps. It’s all a bit vague. Anyway, what are you doing?

Or even an unnoticed transition.

You go home to sleep. The next day, you what, grab coffee? Ok, you’re in a coffee shop, when…

The Horror Within

For a mechanical patina – assume the player character has some dark power within them. They’re a secret werewolf, intermittently possessed, channeling psychic forces, unstuck in time… When the player hits a Setback, give the player the option to reroll the dice – but the player suffers a period of missing time, during which they’re under the control of the dark forces. What did they do while their dark half had control?

In Cthulhu Confidential, there’s a host of ghastly horrors that might seize control of Dex. He might be possessed by a Shan or mind-swapped with a member of the Great Race of Yith. Or, like ill-fated Walter Gilman, he might find himself slipping in and out of dreams, waking in unfamiliar places with only hazy memories of his actions…


GUMSHOE One-2-One retunes, rebuilds and re-envisions the acclaimed GUMSHOE investigative rules set for one player, and one GM. Together, the two of you create a story that evokes the classic solo protagonist mystery format of classic detective fiction. Can’t find a group who can play when you can? Want an intense head-to-head gaming experience? Play face to face with GUMSHOE One-2-One—or take advantage of its superb fit with virtual tabletops and play online. Purchase Cthulhu Confidential and future GUMSHOE One-2-One products in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Leave a Reply