In the Community Content Spotlight, each month I write up a short review of a GUMSHOE community content title, all of which are available on DriveThruRPG. See this page if you’re interested in creating something for our Community Program!
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Stick around after the review to hear the results of the GUMSHOE Community Contest!

An original supplement for Ashen Stars, Solo Laser is a clever (and cleverly simple) attempt to add a solo, improvisatory ruleset onto GUMSHOE. At only 14 pages, the PDF was a breeze to read through, but it accomplishes a lot in those pages, including adding a simple die roll to answer questions about a setting, event, or NPC interaction, and a system of tonal descriptors that function both to kickstart a new play session and to answer more difficult questions (perhaps investigative ones) that arise during play. This solo ruleset even includes lightly modified character generation instructions, to ensure that your laser (or rogue) will be well-rounded enough to meet (many, though not all, never all) of the challenges that come their way. The author, Peter Rudin-Burgess, of Parts Per Million Limited, has adapted several non-GUMSHOE systems to solo rulesets already, which gives him a handy background for this conversion.

Coming into this reading, I’ll profess to a certain hesitation about playing a GUMSHOE game solo — and we do mean solo, GM-less. What about the investigation? What about the clues? How do you have a fulfilling mystery story without someone who already knows the answer? The answer to this dilemma, for Rudin-Burgess, effectively comes through a re-orientation of the player-GM relationship (I mean, obviously, since we’ve nixed the GM in this equation). Rudin-Burgess points out that “solo roleplaying tools… are in fact used as writing aids by authors,” and Solo Laser will give you the tools to assume that authorship even while playing your spacefaring “hero.”

But don’t worry, you don’t write yourself a trail of clues or a scenario spine before play, there’s plenty of room for discovery and spontaneity (in fact, it’s all discovery). All you do at the outset is develop your contract and get to exploring. And I say “exploring” because that’s what this PDF really wants you to do: set out on a logical path, add a bit of randomness through the simple mechanics I’ve mentioned above, and then improvise. From those improvisations you acquire facts that we would call clues — some of which you’ll determine are relevant, and some of which aren’t. Eventually, after you’ve accrued enough clues and met enough NPCs, a picture will fall into place and you can “solve” the mystery. (I’m reminded of Chinatown: Gittes has two suspects near the end of the film, and the solution only coheres at the last moment.) As Rudin-Burgess says, “solo adventures are so spontaneous that no one will know who the culprit is until the clues fall into place!”

The big takeaway for me is that the systems Rudin-Burgess introduces are potentially portable into other GUMSHOE games. You’d likely a new list of randomized tone descriptors — dark and brooding for Esoterrorists, fantastical and swashbuckling for Swords of the Serpentine — but even that would be a fun exercise, telling you exactly what kind of scenario you’re interested in playing (picking the apparently non-interesting descriptors, of course, would also be a fun experiment). And, good news, Rudin-Burgess let me know via email that he has plans for future adaptations of Esoterrorists and Fear Itself.

Solo Laser was a fun read that got me excited to try roleplaying a GUMSHOE system (Ashen Stars, sure, but like I said, the ideas are super portable to any other GUMSHOE worlds — solo terror in Fear Itself, anyone?) all on my lonesome. Have you ever played a GUMSHOE game solo? Excited to try Solo Laser? Let us know in the comments!

Title: Solo Laser
Author: Peter Rudin-Burgess
System: Ashen Stars
Price: $4.95 PDF

GUMSHOE Community Contest Results!

We had a good turnout for our first-ever GUMSHOE Community Contest, and we’re excited to announce that the winners are:

  • First Place: Dark Entanglements by John WS Marvin
  • Runner Up: Game Reserve by Michael Duxbury (Michael has already made his entry available! Check it out!)

Thanks to everyone who participated, and keep an eye on the Community page on DriveThru — we’ll hopefully see everyone’s entry published there soon, and I’ll post a round up of all the entries once they are.

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The Pelgrane Press Community Program brings you into the fold with other GUMSHOE game designers, affording creators (whatever that means to you!) the opportunity to post and sell their own products on DriveThruRPG. We currently accept material for Ashen Stars, The Esoterrorists 2nd Edition, Fear Itself 2nd Edition, and TimeWatch. Have a kooky idea you’d like to write up and get out there? A flushed out scenario you think others would enjoy? The Community Program is the place to showcase these ideas. If you’re interested in creating something for the Community Program, read more about it here.

Your lone spy in Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops has been burned. You’re out on your own. Oh, you’ve got a network of connections and contacts you can draw on specialist skills – you can find a forger in Budapest, or a computer hacker in Buenos Aires, or an arms dealer in Boston – but you don’t have the resources or backing of a major intelligence agency behind you.

At least, not at the start.

It’s possible through play to build connections with the CIA, or MI6, or the Vatican, or some other organisation. This works as a special variant of the Network general ability, one per agency. You start with zero dice, but can pick up one-use Edges (“A Favour from MI6”) or – if the Director approves – pick up more through experience.

When you call on a favour from an Agency, it’s a Challenge.

 

Friends in High Places

Agency

Bonuses: +2 if you’re on the Agency’s home turf.

Penalties: -1 per Heat card in your hand.

-2 if you’re really outside the Agency’s sphere of influence.

Advance 7+: The Agency’s willing to help you out. They’ll supply you with a local Contact, a suitably deniable Edge like “Suitcase Full Of Cash”, or a special Push representing the Agency’s imprimatur.

Hold 4-6: The Agency’s willing to assist, but there’s a catch.

Pick one:
either it’ll Take Time before the Agency can respond to you

or the Agency demand a favour in return

or You’re at -1 die to further tests using this Agency ability for the rest of the operation.

Setback 3 or less: They’re not going to help unless you spend a Push – and even then, you’re at -1 die to further tests using this Agency ability for the rest of the operation, and you’ve got to choice between Taking Time to get assistance or doing a favour in exchange.

Extra Problem: Gain a Heat Problem (or, if the Director’s feeling cruel, a “They’re Going To Double-cross You” Blowback Problem.

Stunt? No.

Once you’ve got two dice in an Agency, you can use them for stunts on other Agency tests – so, if you’ve got 2 Dice in CIA, you could spend these to get a bonus die in an MI6 test, representing you drawing on the influence of your patron to lean on the other Agency.

In the default Solo Ops campaign, our sample Agent Leyla Khan has the opportunity to rebuild her contacts with MI6 in the third operation, The Deniable Woman. She could convert the one-shot A Favour from Vauxhall Cross Edge into one die in Agency: MI6 (or Agency: Secret Intelligence Service if you’re being picky and accurate). She might also build connections with whatever vampire-hunting agency helped her in Never Say Dead, although doing that requires tracking down the mysterious Rostami and convincing her to bring Khan in from the cold…

 

The upcoming SOLO rules introduce a new concept – the lone player has a Shadow score that measures how aware and aggressive the supernatural threats are right now. You gain Shadow problems when you attract the attention of vampires and other horrors, and you can suppress your Shadow by taking precautions like staying on holy ground or keeping running water between you and the vampire’s lair. Your Shadow score limits the type of attacks and antagonist reactions the bad guys can deploy against you. If your Shadow score is 2+, then the vampire might sneak into your dreams by night and torment you. If it’s 4+, then the vampire sneaks into your room by night to murder you, or something equally charming.

Think of it as supernatural Heat. As an experienced vampire hunter, the Agent can judge her current Shadow score, just like she has a rough idea of her current Heat. She can sense when there’s a sinister intention behind the chilly wind, or notices bats circling overhead like surveillance drones.

It’s an indicator to the player, letting her know how much danger she’s in without specifying the nature of the threat. It signals when it’s time to lie low or take a subtle approach, or when it’s time to risk everything. In a One2One game, where the player needs all the information she can get, Shadows’s a vital addition to the rules.

It’s less important in a regular multiplayer Night’s Black Agents game, where you’ve got ablative player characters and it’s less important to give the players a warning signal that they’re poking the wrong vampire lair. Still, if your group enjoys playing with Heat, you might get a kick out of Shadow.

Gaining Shadow

You gain Shadow by coming into contact with vampires or their minions, attracting the attention of the Undead, exposing yourself to supernatural influences, trespassing in dark places, and the like. Some sample Shadow gains:

+1 Shadow: Killing a minor minion, Walking alone at night, Spilling blood, Carrying the vampire’s Bane, Failing a Cover test

+2 Shadow: Killing a named minion of the vampire, speaking the vampire’s name aloud, trespassing in the vampire’s territory

+3 Shadow: Killing a supernatural minion of the vampire, psychic contact with the vampire, destroying any of the vampire’s coffins

Effects of Shadow

Once per game session, one player rolls against the Agents’ current Shadow level. If the roll’s under the current Shadow score, then the vampire strikes at the Agents. This may take the form of a suitable Vampyramid reaction (NBA, p. 189) or just using the vampire’s powers or minions to inconvenience them. Assume the vampire’s willing to spend Aberrance equal to the Shadow score x 3 on this attack.

Shadow also affects the occult underworld just like Heat affects the black market. Suddenly, seers and mystics are less willing to deal with the Agents, occultists might decide they’re better off cutting a deal with the devil rather than siding with the hunters, Renfield-esque patients in psychiatric institutions become agitated, sensitive souls dream of fangs and blood.

Losing Shadow

Shadow’s hard to lose – the players lose it over time, or by moving away from the vampire, or by killing the monster. However, they can suppress their Shadow score in various ways, temporarily reducing it by taking various precautions.

-1 Shadow: Always carrying the vampire’s Dread

-2 Shadow: Staying in a location that’s Blocked against vampiric intrusion

For example, the players are hunting Dracula. If their Shadow score hits 4, then Dracula will be able to enter their dreams and learn their secrets, ala Mina Harker. By always taking care to sleep behind a protective shroud of garlic blooms, the Agents give themselves a vital buffer – the garlic suppresses their Shadow score, keeping it under 4. Then, unfortunately, one of the Agents gets separated from the rest in a firefight with some of Dracula’s minions, and can’t make it back to their garlic-girded safehouse. His Shadow score isn’t suppressed – so if the die roll indicates that there’s a potential Shadow response, Dracula finds him… 

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