by Ambar Hammond

The time has finally come for the release of the Game Master Tools for The Black Book Gumshoe Gaming Software! The Beta test for the Game Master tools re-released on July 1, 2020, and the official launch of the new tools will take place on August 1 at 6:00pm. 

Join The Black Book in celebration of the launch of the Game Master’s Tools with a launch party as part of GenCon Online 2020. The launch party will include a special exclusive presentation about H.P. Lovecraft, his works, and especially his connection with Providence Rhode Island and landmarks that feature in his works. The presentation will be put together and presented by a member of the Rhode Island Historical Society who normally runs the H.P. Lovecraft tours in Providence Rhode Island and will be followed by a Q&A with our tour guide. Registration for the event is through Gen Con Online 2020. The registration period has already begun, so visit GenCon Online for registration.

Following the Lovecraft presentation will be the launch of the official Game Master Tools and two prize giveaways! The second prize will be a 10” Ebony Dungeons Box for tabletop gaming sessions, as well as a free 1 year subscription to the Game Master Tools on The Black Book. Hold your dice, a miniature, and prop up your tablet to make running The Black Book even easier! The first prize giveaway is also a 10” Ebony Dungeons Box, a free 1 year subscription, and an 8” Samsung Galaxy Tab A Tablet to play your games on!

The Game Master Tools will be launched along with Version 2 of The Black Book, the long awaited tool that allows Game Masters to better run games, see and make edits to player character sheets, see live character matrixes, and highlight recent spends so you can be sure the spotlight is evenly distributed. Customized ability lists and QuickShock combat will follow soon after launch. Version 2 also comes with some brand new features for free and player subscriptions that have been requested for some time now! Including our most requested feature, integration with other gaming software. Discord Integration will be available with the launch of Version 2 along with persistent settings that will keep all of your selected settings when you refresh or exit your page. A variety of general bug fixes have also been included in the update. 

The Black Book will be giving away several Game Master Tools Subscriptions during the countdown to the release, and a grand prize that will be given out to people that are attending the launch party. Please join us on Facebook, Twitter, Discord, Reddit, and GenCon Online2020 for the countdown, launch party, and giveaways! 

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Discord @TheBlackBook42 for updates and information in the coming weeks!

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)

Recently retrieved from The Royal Opera House, London. Edom Operatives believe “O.” to be Olivia Liu, informant working with anti-vampire operatives in Europe.

A full report of the events at the opera house are contained here.

(Hastily handwritten text reads: “I heard you were here. We need to talk. O.”

A group of unknown antagonists recently rescued a reporter from a kill squad in Marrakesh; they were then spotted in London at the site of an assassination. What follows is an intercepted internal memo from a mysterious organization calling itself EDOM. Interested agents who want a more detailed account of the events as they transpired should click here.

 

In the latest episode of their easily spotted podcast, Ken and Robin talk Invisible Men, coarse vs granular ability lists, and Ken’s last book raid for the duration.

In part 2 of Gar and Robin’s Play-By-Clip game, Gar walks us through his process for allocating GUMSHOE general ability points. And his character examines an alarming message he was not meant to read.


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, and Mutant City Blues. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

In response to Gar’s senseless assault on a beloved GUMSHOE ability, Robin reluctantly reveals a terrible secret.


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, and Mutant City Blues. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

by Noah Lloyd

Just because you’re physically distancing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be social, and what better way to stay social than by finding ways to play some of your favorite games? Pelgrane Press is on all the major virtual tabletops – and then some! I’ve collated some of our products, specially designed for your internet-based play, below:

Roll20

Roll20 is the virtual tabletop with the largest userbase out there at the moment, with both free and premium account options. Roll20 has official character sheets for both GUMSHOE (optimized for Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents) and 13th Age. Additionally, we’ve got three modules for 13th Age all available for download on Roll20 right now, one of which is absolutely free, and the other two of which have 20% off until September:

In the coming days we’ll also be releasing a free Trail of Cthulhu scenario, “Midnight Sub Rosa,” which was originally collected in Out of the Woods. Watch our twitter (and this space!) for when it goes live.

And, if you didn’t know, you can also grab the Hillfolk Card Deck as an add on in Roll20, which will add some inspiration to your Hillfolk and DramaSystem games.

Fantasy Grounds

Fantasy Grounds is a premium-only service that offers expanded virtual tabletop services. We’ve got two officially licensed 13th Age products available for all you Fantasy Grounders:

We’re working on building more modules on this VTT, so if you’re a Fantasy Grounds developer, let us know!

Astral Tabletop

Astral Tabletop is a newcomer in VTT-land, but that doesn’t mean that their services aren’t top-notch and unique – and, they’ve made all their paid services free through the end of May. They have a particularly robust dice rolling syntax that they’re consistently expanding, and I was impressed by their animated maps (though this can be tough on folks with poor internet connections).

I have been hard at work making official character sheets for use with your Pelgrane games; while these, unfortunately, aren’t quite ready as of this See Page XX, they should be ready very soon. We’ll be providing templates for 13th Age, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, TimeWatch, and (drumroll) the Yellow King RPG. What other Pelgrane games would you like to see support for? Help me prioritize!

That said, don’t think that just because our official sheets aren’t quite ready yet, that you can’t get a lot out of Astral. I encourage you to play through their tutorial, see what it has to offer, and get a group together!

And don’t be dissuaded by my failure to finish the character sheets! There are plenty of other ways to play online.

Discord, Slack, and Zoom

If you aren’t interested in specially designed virtual tabletops for your roleplaying games, don’t overlook the ease and usefulness of simplified chat and networking applications like Discord, Slack, and Zoom. Games like Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents (indeed, all our GUMSHOE games) don’t usually need maps for their scenarios, and they’re well-suited to playing in the “theater of the mind.” However, Slack’s free version only supports two-person video calls (perfect for a One-2-One game!), and Zoom’s free version restricts calls to 40 minutes. For those reasons, my personal favorite app to roleplay on is Discord, which supports multi-person video calls, simple voice channels folks can jump in and out of, and the creation of dedicated servers for each of your games, if that’s how you want to roll.

(When you sign up for Discord, they provide you with your own private server, and there are bots you can add which will even serve as simple dice rollers! I really like Sidekick, who I’ve happily nicknamed “Roll Buddy.”)

Speaking of which, did you know that we have a Discord server? If you’ve got a Discord account set up, you can find us here: https://discord.gg/xKfgxVm

On our Discord you’ll find two channels that are particularly relevant to this discussion. If you’re a GM and you want to find some folks to fill those slots in a Nights Black Agents roster, go ahead and post in “looking for players.” Similarly, if you want to find a game to join, you can either post in “looking for games” or keep an eye out in “looking for players” the next time a GM puts out a suitable invite.

If you’re not gaming but still want to talk about all things Pelgrane, we’ve got dedicated channels in the Discord for each of our game systems, and we’d love it if you came to say hello.

If Discord, Slack, or Zoom are more your speed than an official VTT, remember that you can find hundreds of digital products—adventures, core rulebooks, supplements, even music—over on the Pelgrane webstore.

Controversy rocks the Pelgrane Video Dispatches as Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan uses our newly revitalized YouTube channel to call out his least favorite GUMSHOE ability.


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

Pelgrane Press writer and production apprentice Noah Lloyd readies himself for intrigue on twisting fantasy streets with his pick for favorite GUMSHOE ability.


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

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