A Low-Prep GUMSHOE Game

For a minimal prep game, I use a potted version of the suggestions in the Trail book, that is, work backwards from the Horrible Truth to the Hook. I’ll do this now on the fly.

Horrible Truth

Professor Legato is a puppet controlled by Mi-Go. He is performing sinister experiments on paid subjects. The Mi-Go are using the data. We’ll set it in Cambridge 1931, and I’ll make him a Professor of physics.

James ChadwickI turn to the trusty internet archive and root out the Baedeker guide to Great Britain and old OS maps site to get a plan of the town. I google “Cambridge 1930s physics” and get “The discovery of the neutron in 1932 by James Chadwick, a physicist at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, allowed physicists to theorize that the nucleus was composed of protons and neutrons.” So, Legato is a colleague of Chadwick. Check out Chadwick.

Legato has installed a device which allows people to conceive the true nature of the atom, a revelation of crushing power which shows them their utter insignificance.

Trail of Clues

The volunteers go on to perform horrible crimes, commit suicide or just behave strangely. They were all in debt and without many friends; some were mental patients. What evidence would this leave?

When I think of clues, I don’t worry too much about the abilities. These links are straightforward to improvise, and players usually suggest them.

  • Newspaper reports
  • Peter Higley in police custody, and crime reports
  • Recent patients at the local hospital mental health ward.
  • PCs find out their connections to the lab, through perhaps a newspaper clipping (an advert) found in their digs.
  • The newspaper has details of who placed the ad, and all those people who responded.

These clues will tend to be free floating – so I can place them in scenes where it is appropriate.

Antagonist Reactions

At least one of the volunteer, say Horrace Limnal, a street lighter, is dangerous. He has locked himself in his house. He has painted all the windows black and constructed a model of what he saw out of everything he found in his room. He hides in the cupboard and attacks them when they come in, screaming about the terrible light.

If it’s needed, have a Mi-Go puppet watching Limnal’s apartment notice them and trail them, eventually attempting to confront them in a very non-human fashion (think that android in Alien trying to kill Ripley with the magazine.)


I always use the personal element. Look at the PCs and their Drives. Make them all friends/colleagues at one of the colleges and have one of their friends/offsping of a friend be one of the affected. How about a student goes on a mad rampage during a party – one of the volunteers?

I’d look at all the character sheets  and incoporate their abilities into the clues. For example – Astronomy – A weird meteor shower five weeks ago (signalling the arrival of the Mi-Go). Be ready to dole out interesting special benefits, too. In Cambridge there will be tons of academics who will offer help, for example.

Finally I grab a list of names, and I’m ready to go. That’s about enough for a session – and later sessions are much easier.

4 Responses to “A Low-Prep GUMSHOE Game”

  1. Eva says:

    I’d love to hear more about how you use this starting point while running the game. (The prep description sounds intriguing, but I think I’m missing some parts of the step of how you translate that into the mystery trail the players follow during the game.)

  2. GB Steve says:

    The Hook is the reason why the PCs are moved to investigate. One of the volunteers might be a relative or close friend of one of the PCs, all residents of Cambridge, who starts to act strangely at a social gathering.

    For example he could be the vicar at the PCs church whom they have to restrain during a sermon when he starts chanting very strange songs. PCs all have drives which you can make reference to, to give them reason to intevene. The vicar might have a very strange hymnal, or could be a Mi-Go construct, etc.

    You need to make sure that the vicar has something on his person for the PCs to investigate, perferably more than one thing. In any case, the players will usually think of things to follow up. Just make sure several of them lead to interesting stories.

  3. […] Simon Rogers from Pelgrane Press writes article for a minimal prep gumshoe game, I use a potted version of the suggestions in the Trail book, that is, work backwards from the Horrible Truth to the Hook. I’ll do this now on the fly. http://pelgranepress.wpengine.com/?p=17564 […]

  4. rhesusMonkeyBoy says:

    Thanks so much for this and “Toy GUMSHOE” … my wife, sister-in-law and co-brother-in-law are all up to playing Gumshoe ( Fear Itself ) but I have performance anxiety having never run a game. I need something longer than 30 minutes and shorter than 4 hours, so think it’d have to be a custom job to entice them, and *then* I hit them with a 4-hour hammer!

    Fantastic! Please keep up the baby Gumshoe “tutorials” ! ????????????

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