Statting GMCs in GUMSHOE

A question from the mailbag – how do you assign values to the general ability scores of Gamesmaster Characters in GUMSHOE games? How much Scuffling should a cultist have? How do you rate a gorilla’s Health?

GUMSHOE’s area of focus isn’t finely balanced tactical combat (F20’s just down the hall, guys), so the honest answer is “eh… just eyeball it”. In play, I’ll usually make up the stats of most minor GMCs on the spot, or rely on generic templates. There are some factors to be taken into account, though.

Simple vs. Thriller

In most GUMSHOE games, the maths are simple. Spending 3 points guarantees success on a Difficulty 4 test. So, very roughly – 3 points = 1 successful test, 6 points = 2 successful tests and so forth. If you want the mobsters to keep up with the investigators in that Driving chase for at least two rounds, give the mobster wheelman a 6 in Driving. Any score over 10 or so is unlikely to be relevant; combat is usually decided in a few rounds, so it doesn’t matter hugely if your big bruiser GMC has a Scuffling of 10 or 18.

The one wrinkle is in games like Night’s Black Agents with thriller combat rules, where there are more uses for points. In games like that, tough bad guys do need extra points. (Fortunately, NBA has a nice roster of sample GMS to guide you, on p. 69-70).

Down vs Hurt

As a rule of thumb – cannon fodder background characters have a Health of 3-4 (2 if they’re really fragile; 5-6 if they’re noticeable tough). Named bad guys get Health scores of 8 or so (6 if they’re really fragile; anything goes for supernaturally tough foes).

In pulpier incarnations of GUMSHOE, minor bad guys are eliminated once they hit 0 Health, whereas player characters and other important individuals become Hurt, then Seriously Wounded before being Killed at -12 Health.

Common vs. Rare Abilities

Players usually invest the bulk of their points into the abilities that get used a lot (Athletics, Health, Stealth, some sort of combat skill), and might also invest in one or two abilities that match their character concept (lots of First Aid for a nurse, lots of Piloting and Mechanical Repair for a pilot). Other abilities might be neglected, or have just enough points for one good try. Two points in, say, Driving is enough to have a good chance of passing one Driving test – and most scenarios won’t have more Driving than that.

When building GMCs, look at the player characters. If you’re going to include a chase scene, and none of your PCs have invested many points in Driving, then you may not want to drop in an expert cultist wheelman with Driving 15. Tailor the challenges to the players. (At the same time, if a player’s deliberately invested lots of points in an obscure ability, then they want to be tested in that area. Taking, say, Riding 10 means the player really wants a cool horseback chase.)

Other Modifiers

In GUMSHOE, GMCs have Alertness and Stealth modifiers instead of Sense Trouble and Stealth pools (the players are the ones making the tests, so we apply modifiers from the bad guys). These range from +2 to -2 in most cases; average people are +0, training gives +1, and extremely specialised skills give a +2. Reserve modifiers of +3 or more to supernatural threats.

Stats like Hit Threshold, Armour and Weapons use the same rules as for player characters.

Spending Patterns

A related question to GMC design is “how many points should the bad guys spend on each roll?” Do you go for efficiency (“spend enough to guarantee a hit”), verisimilitude (“the alarm hasn’t been raised yet, so the guards probably think they’re taking pot-shots at squirrels, not shooting investigators – I’ll spend one point”) or other concerns (“Bob’s PC is at low Health already – I won’t spend to give him a chance of making it out alive”).

Some games (like Ashen Stars) suggest spending patterns, so a lumbering alien beast might spend points slowly at first, then build up (0/1/2/4), whereas an ambush predator front-loads its attacks (4/3/0/0). Personally, I tend to have cannon fodder spend 2 points per attack, and play the named bad guys according to their personality.

Numbers (Generally) Don’t Matter Much

GUMSHOE’s primarily a player-facing game. Some variants, like QuickShock or One2One, don’t even use pools of points for bad guys, just flat modifiers. The important question is always “what’s the Difficulty for the player characters?”, not realism or careful game balance. Human and human-adjacent characters operate in a relatively narrow range, so you can’t go far wrong by sticking to 3-6 points in an ability for minor foes, 6-12 for major threats. (Monsters are a different matter – and beyond the scope of this article!)

Quick Templates

(For Fear Itself, Esoterrorists, or Trail of Cthulhu)

Mook

General Abilities: Athletics 2, Fighting 3, Health 2

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: +0

Weapon: Knife (-1)

Armour: None

Sentry or Criminal

General Abilities: Athletics 4, Fighting 4, Driving 4, Shooting 4, Health 4

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: -1

Weapon: Knife (-1) or Pistol (+0)

Armour: None

Big Bruiser

General Abilities: Athletics 6, Fighting 8, Health 8

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: -1

Weapon: Big Club (+0)

Armour: None

Cult Assassin

General Abilities: Athletics 8, Fighting 10, Shooting 6,

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +1

Weapon: Sacrificial Knife (-1) or Big Handgun (+1)

Armour: Cult Robes (2 points)

One Response to “Statting GMCs in GUMSHOE”

  1. […] Pelgrane Press’ Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan offers advice on Statting GMCs in Gumshoe. […]

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