Jan 15 2018
Some players find damage dealing in baseline GUMSHOE emotionally unsatisfying. This becomes an issue especially when they’ve spent a lot of points, or gotten a high die roll, only to roll low on the damage die, plinking the opponent for a miserable 1 or 2 points of Health.
Rolling high to hit and then minimum damage is the longstanding plight of RPG characters. But spending lots of a resource to do next to nothing heightens the sting. And in GUMSHOE an opponent with an Armor value knocks that off your damage, worsening the plink effect. If your group feels that pain, give them the following option.
After rolling for damage, a player may choose to substitute the margin from the successful attack for the damage die result. The margin is the difference between the test result (spend plus roll) and its Hit Threshold.
Professor Wingate swings her katana at the ghoul. Her player, Maia, spends 4 points of Wingate’s Weapons ability and rolls a 5. The final result, 9, beats the ghoul’s Hit Threshold of 3. Maia then rolls for damage but gets 1. Combined with the katana’s damage of 1, this would result in a miserable 2 points of damage. The ghoul’s rubbery flesh Armor of 1 would decrease that even further, to 1. Maia calculates the margin: the result of 9 minus the Hit Threshold of 3 equals 6. She swaps the margin of 6 for the die roll of 1. The katana damage bonus and the ghoul’s Armor cancel out, and its Health drops by 6 points, from 8 to 2. It meeps in furious dismay.
Possible drawbacks of implementing this variant rule:
- This introduces another decision point for the player on each successful hit, probably slowing combat slightly. It won’t happen every time though–just when great hit results are followed up by lousy damage rolls.
- It gives the players power to mow through opposition quicker by upping their attack spends. If you find that this weakens creature stats too severely, increase enemy Health ratings by 20% across the board.
For obvious reasons, this rule applies only to iterations of GUMSHOE that include damage rolls. It does not affect GUMSHOE One-2-One or the new quickshock combat system found in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game.
Jan 15 2018
After nearly a century of supernatural tyranny, the Castaigne regime has fallen. Your player characters fought in the underground Struggle, then emerged from the shadows with grenades and rocket launchers to bring about the Overthrow. The gates to Carcosa have been closed. But not all the horrors that kept the Empire in place have been banished. As your hardbitten band of ex-partisans adjusts to civilian life, they discover that their very special skills are still needed—both to rebuild the nation, and to protect nascent democracy from the monsters left behind.
Pelgrane Press and designer Robin D. Laws need you to jump aboard the playtest for the Aftermath sequence of the Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Drop a line to email@example.com to participate!
Jan 12 2018
by Mikhail Bonch-Osmolovskiy
For all their seeming simplicity, Icon relationships can be tricky to use in a game, as some GMs, myself included, occasionally struggle to offer a satisfying use for them. Icons are just too abstract, too detached, too far away from the daily life of a low-level adventurer. They need intermediaries, something to connect the dungeons to the floating towers, the blood to the idea, the PCs to Icons. They need factions.
At their most basic, factions are NPC organizations who serve one or more Icons. In this article you’ll find advice on preparing factions and their use, as well as optional mechanics for tracking the changing influence of factions.
Making and using factions
Like any organization, factions form in order to achieve a goal. It can be something specific, like “return the Lich King to his rightful place as the ruler of the Dragon Empire”, or abstract like “keep the citizens of Axis safe”. That’s where we start: for each faction you have in mind, figure out its agenda. You’re not writing the faction’s manifesto, a single sentence will do.
Not every faction declares its agenda outright – a decadent high society faction dedicated to opening a new Hellmouth probably doesn’t advertise the fact to outsiders. But it’s this true purpose you’re interested in. Leave lies to your NPCs.
Speaking of NPCs, a faction needs a face (or three), someone the party will interact with when they deal with the faction. It can be the faction leader, but it can just as easily be an approachable rank-and-file member.
Similarly to PCs, factions have relationships with Icons, though these relationships are never rolled, and are purely indicative of the faction’s allegiances. As a rule of thumb, a faction should have at least one positive and one negative relationship, and no more than three relationships overall. The faction’s agenda should make it clear which Icons a given faction supports and opposes. And just as with PCs and their relationships with Icons, thinking of the relationships your factions have may reveal unexpected facets of their “personality”.
Ideally, your factions will cover every Icon with which the PCs have a relationship with both positive and negative relationships of their own. For the frequently referenced Icons, you may wish to have multiple factions that are interested in them. Ties to other Icons are nice, but less essential. In this way, the Icons your players pick will impact your worldbuilding, helping you to further focus on the aspects of the world your players find interesting.
If you use the “Icon relations story-guide results” table from the core book, you may wish to amend it with names of factions supporting or opposing the Icons.
Armed with this information, the next time your players want to use a relationship roll, you’ll have a faction or two with the same Icon relationship that fits the bill. Maybe one of its “face” NPCs shows up to offer assistance, or you suggest the PCs visit them to ask for help.
If the relationship die was a 5, you have a starting point for what the faction may ask for in return for its help – its agenda. Alternatively, a 5 on a positive relationship could indicate the involvement of a faction with a negative relationship to that Icon, and vice versa.
Note that this doesn’t rule out any other use of Icon relationship rolls the books suggest or you come up with. Indeed, factions merely offer a framework for some of these suggestions.
Faction influence level
In case you’re looking for some extra granularity in distinguishing between factions, you can assign levels to them. A faction’s level determines the average level of its significant assets and personnel. To put it another way, kicking down the door to the faction’s headquarters and taking them on would constitute an adventure of the faction’s level.
A level 1 faction is not much more than a group of local thugs, a level 5 faction can run a town, while a level 9 faction is a continent-spanning organization.
A faction’s level indicates the resources they have access to, helping determine what kind of assistance or opposition they offer to the PCs. An adventurer-tier faction can’t hand out champion-tier magic items, for instance. Additionally, faction levels provide some ideas for the likely outcome of a faction-vs-faction conflict.
Faction levels aren’t set in stone. At the end of every adventure, as well as whenever some significant change happens, ask yourself: did any faction get more powerful or otherwise achieve a major victory? Did any faction lose major holdings or important allies? Adjust their level by 1 in either direction. Where appropriate, campaign loss caused by PCs fleeing may also result in a faction losing a level.
As a rule of thumb, PCs can’t affect the level of a faction that is three or more levels above theirs without major plot upheaval to assist them. However, large and high-level factions are rarely monolithic. Consider introducing local chapters or sub-factions of a level closer to the level of PCs so they can more easily influence each other.
The changes to faction influence levels represent tangible consequences to the PCs’ efforts, making it easier to see how their adventures affect the world around them.
Example – factions of the Sea Wall
Let’s say your group has decided upon the Sea Wall as the starting location for the campaign. Sea breeze and giant monsters, what can be better. The player characters have positive relationships with the Archmage, the Dwarf King, and the Prince of Shadows; they have conflicted relationship with the High Druid and the Diabolist; and a negative relationship with the Three.
Looking at the map, we see a slight problem: there’s the Iron Sea on the one side, the Blood Wood on the other, and not much else. With the chosen Icons in mind, let’s start with the obvious options and expand to accommodate the more esoteric choices.
Sea Wall Maintenance Crew
Level 5 faction
Agenda: keep the wall standing. Currently occupied with repairing a massive breach that occurred last month. Nominally subordinate to the Sea Wall Guard (a faction with positive relationship to the Emperor, in which we’re not as interested).
Relationships: positive with the Archmage and the Dwarf King, ambiguous with the High Druid.
Faces: Prince Azbarn Stonebeard, fifteenth in line to the Dwarven Throne (dwarf, naturally), and magister Ariel Thornfist (high elf) are in joint command. Both are highly ambitious and competitive, with views of distinguishing themselves and leaving this backwater post behind.
Level 3 faction
Agenda: to safeguard the Blood Wood (and the Empire, as a secondary consideration) from the sea monsters.
Relationships: positive with the High Druid, ambiguous with the Orc Lord, negative with the Diabolist.
Face: Uzg (orc) left his clan and his clan name behind to serve High Druid. An unlikely but enthusiastic guardian of Blood Wood, he’s assembled a warband of other renegade orcs, wood elves and beasts of the forest. Currently weakened from their continued skirmishes with the sea monsters that got through last month, Leviathan Hunters would love to live up to their name and take the fight to the enemy – if their level reaches 5, Uzg will lead an expedition beyond the Sea Wall.
Red Right Pincer
Level 4 faction
Agenda: to bring down the Sea Wall by summoning a mighty leviathan from the depths.
Relationships: positive with the Diabolist, negative with the High Druid, the Emperor, and the Archmage.
Face: Deep priest Kashtarak (sahuagin). The designated bad guy for the first few levels of the campaign. Red Right Pincer currently hunts for mystic beasts to slaughter in the Blood Wood, in order to use their hearts for an unholy ritual that would weaken the magic protection of the Sea Wall. Should the Pincer’s level exceed that of the Sea Wall Maintenance Crew, a new massive breach is all but guaranteed.
Level 2 faction
Agenda: recover the treasure that has cursed them to undeath.
Relationships: positive with Prince of Shadows, negative with the Three.
Face: Captain Sam Kellock (human) was a daring pirate, his ship Storm’s Bane feared by all. That is, until he robbed one too many ships that belonged to the Three, fled from their pursuit into the Iron Sea, and met his end in the jaws of a leviathan. That would have been bad enough, but unbeknownst to him the treasure he carried was cursed. Now ghostly remains of his crew plague the shore, looking for fools to help them recover the gold and break the curse. After a century of torment, Kellock is desperate and sees the PCs as his last best hope. Should their relationship go awry, he would even help sahuagin bring the leviathan that swallowed his treasure to the shore, in hopes of someone killing it for him.
Mikhail Bonch-Osmolovskiy is a game designer and a writer. He’s currently looking for a publisher for his board game, Passages & Plunder; writing a blog, PonderingsOnGames.com; and planning on resuming his YA horror serial at newvalenar.wordpress.com. He lives in Sydney, Australia and has given up on teaching the locals how to pronounce his name.
Jan 12 2018
In the latest episode of their steady-handed podcast, Ken and Robin talk scenario process, Hellenistic 13th Age, classic Hollywood character actors and Grover Cleveland’s secret nautical surgery.
Jan 5 2018
In the first 2018 episode of their immaculately planned podcast, Ken and Robin talk emotionally engaging RPGs, military operation names, the American anti-hero, and eclipse child conception.
Jan 5 2018
Sean the Heavy Metal GM teaches Cat and Simon the Way of Metal at Gen Con 2016.
We’re looking for GMs to run our games at Origins and Gen Con 2018!
If you’re interested in joining the GM crew at Gen Con, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following info:
- Your name and, if you have one, a nickname, alias, or online handle that gamers might know you by (e.g. cthulhuchick, Heavy Metal GM)
- Your convention-registered email address (if different from the email you’re using to contact us)
- Your t-shirt size
- Number of 4-hour games you can run
- Preferred days and times for your games to run, using this format:
- 13th Age Thursday 17th August 16:00-18:00 EST
- Small Things (Seven Wonders) Friday 18th August 09:00-13:00 EST
- Secret of Warlock Mountain (DramaSystem) Saturday 19th August 14:00-18:00 EST
- Whether you would like to run a Pelgrane-provided adventure, or one of your own
GMs will get our new 2018 t-shirts, meet up with our game creators, and receive special Pelgrane swag! Here are the adventures available for each system:
- 13th Age
- Ashen Stars and Mutant City Blues
- The Esoterrorists and Fear Itself
- Night’s Black Agents
- Trail of Cthulhu
Jan 4 2018
The latest edition of See Page XX is out now! Featuring everything you need to know about running your first GUMSHOE game from Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite, and Simon Rogers, along with a number of bonus items for Hillfolk and Dracula Dossier Kickstarter backers, and Cthulhu Confidential purchasers. Plus, pick up the 13th Age Demonologist class among other hellish goodies in the Book of Demons, and get the latest Langston Wright adventure for Cthulhu Confidential, The Shadow Over Washington.
It’s all in this month’s See Page XX!
Jan 3 2018
Happy new year! If your 2018 resolutions involve learning how to run games – or improving your existing GM skills – we’ve joined up with our good friends at Monte Cook Games and Atlas Games for New Gamemaster Month. Starting Tuesday, January 9th, we’ll run a month-long seminar in the form of twice-weekly posts, teaching you everything you need to know to run your first game of Trail of Cthulhu. (And if it is your first time running Trail, check out the resources page specifically for new Trail of Cthulhu players and GMs).
- Cthulhu Confidential standard print edition and Limited Edition purchasers now have the downloadable PDF of the Problem and Edge Card deck on their bookshelves
- Hillfolk Kickstarter backers now have the PDF of the Hillfolk card deck on their bookshelves
- Dracula Dossier Kickstarter backers now have the PDF of the Dracula Dossier card deck on their bookshelves
- All Dracula Unredacted purchasers now have the EPUB and MOBI version of the Unredacted on their bookshelves
- #Feminism purchasers have a bonus PDF with six additional feminist nanogames
If you didn’t back these Kickstarters, you can pick up the PDFs of these card decks in our webstore, or print your own copy on demand through DriveThruRPG. Other things you can pick up on our webstore now include the PDF of Cthulhu City, the Demonologist class for 13th Age in the form of the Book of Demons pre-order – buy it now and get the plain-text PDF straight away – and the latest GUMSHOE One-2-One adventure for Langston Wright, The Shadow Over Washington.
- Cthulhu City PDF – Get the ghastly metropolis of Great Arkham, usable for a Trail of Cthulhu campaign in its own right, or as a nightmarish intrusion into an existing game
- Book of Demons pre-order – Get the new Demonologist class for 13th Age
- Cthulhu Confidential Limited Edition – The stunningly beautiful faux leather-bound limited edition of the first GUMSHOE One-2-One book, with a bookplate signed by all three authors
- The Shadow Over Washington – A Langston Wright PDF adventure for GUMSHOE One-2-One
- View from the Pelgrane’s Nest – Simon Rogers on what’s new in the Nest
- See Page XX: Improv and GUMSHOE Scenario Structure – Robin D. Laws on alternative GUMSHOE adventure design models
- Call of Chicago: Building the Mystery Block by Byock – Kenneth Hite expands a Hideous Creatures: Byakhee scenario seed for a fully-rounded adventure outline
- A Rigged Deck – Robin D. Laws provides a Trail of Cthulhu-themed answer to the 1920 murder of Joseph Bowne Elwell
- The Great Omar – A real-world tale of high ambition, elaborate bindings and the international book trade by Mike Drew, for Bookhounds of London
- New Gamemaster Month – We’ve joined up with Monte Cook Games and Atlas Games to give prospective GMs everything you need to run their first game of Trail of Cthulhu
- Read this Before Running GUMSHOE Part One – Running Adventures – Simon Rogers with more advice for first-time GMs
- The Plain People of Gaming: Christmas in Cthulhu City – Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan looks at Yuletide celebrations in Cthulhu City
- January playtesting – Playtest the additional settings of The Yellow King RPG – The Wars, Aftermath or This is Normal Now
- 13th Sage: Abyssal Mage – Rob Heinsoo introduces a new monster useful for playing Fire and Faith and the Book of Demons
- 13th Age Character Builds. In this series by ASH LAW, we feature two different builds for every 13th Age character class, at all levels. ASH suggests how the builds might be used, and offers tips on playing each character. Stats are based on the point-buy method, and the characters have no non-standard elements.
See Page XX PollNote: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
Jan 3 2018
It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten.
– The Festival
Of course, they celebrate Christmas in Great Arkham. It’s a normal city, a god-fearing city, and they have more reason to chase away the midwinter gloom than most. Every year, the city council raises a great tree in Independence Square, and decorate the streets with electric lights. Bands play down in the Wooded Island, and there are fabulous balls and parties in Kingsport and the Hotel Miskatonic. For a little while, maybe, it seems as if the oppressive darkness of the city retreats.
Sentinel Hill: The Church of the Conciliator, Great Arkham’s dominant religious sect, celebrates Christmas. It’s the birth of our Lord, a time of joy and hope! On this day, long long ago, God filtered down from the stars and took on human (well, material) form, to bring the good news of the Old Ones to the world.
- Theology: The nativity readings in the Arkham City Cathedral are oddly sympathetic to Herod, of all people. There’s the unsettling implication that the birth of the saviour somehow required the sacrifice of many, many other children.
- Streetwise: Attendance at mass over Christmas is obligatory, even if one doesn’t regularity visit church. The priests take note of those who refuse to celebrate this holiest of days. Why, ungrateful people who can’t even go to mass at Christmas don’t deserve to see the New Year…
Old Arkham: The wealthy families of Old Arkham host elabourate banquets and feasts, bringing the whole family back together for one night at least. Christmas is a time for renewing old vows and bonds of loyalty, and for bringing wayward scions back home.
- Bargain: There’s a little shop on Go-by Street that sells the most marvellous Christmas decorations, handmade twists of glass and silver in the shape of stars and branches. Hang them from your tree, and your home will be protected for the season at least. They’re expensive, though, and there’s a waiting list as certain wealthy families buy a new one of these… charms every year. Maybe if you’re lucky, you can still get one – or borrow one with Filch…
- Medicine: No-one dies in St. Mary’s Hospital at Christmas. It’s not some seasonal miracle, though – it’s something older and darker. Those who succumb to illness or injury on the 25th of December linger on in defiance of all medical science, and mutter in strange tongues as if some other force speaks through them.
University District: The university closes for the holidays, of course, so the storied halls and lecture theatres of Miskatonic are deserted. Most staff and students go home, leaving only a few lonely souls or bachelor professors to haunt the campus.
- Library Use: There’s a book related to Ithaqua the Wind-Walker in the Orne Collection. Well, there’s sometimes a book on Ithaqua there. The tome only manifests on the coldest of nights around Midwinter. Read it if you dare, but each page you turn drops your internal body temperature by a degree or so.
- Oral History: All the students go skating on the frozen Crane Pond during the water. There’s a campus tradition that if you’re on track to fail your exams, the ice will crack and break beneath you when you step on it, as if the Pond weeds out unworthy students.
Westheath: It’s hard for Christmas cheer to penetrate the grey skies and tomblike tenements of this district, but it’s here that the most honest celebrations of the season may be found. The people here light candles and place them in the windows of their apartments as a sign of defiance against the Mythos. Each morning, the elders of the community rise before dawn and walk the dark streets, checking every window. If a candle’s missing, does that mean that a family has succumbed to despair? Have they been taken by the Transport Police or some other dark force?
- Biology: Christmas is obviously a busy time for Gardner Industrial Farms, where they churn out truckloads of obscenely large turkeys. They don’t have time to fatten the birds through conventional means, so they give the birds triple doses of the vitalising light from the patent Whipple lamps. Workers then enter the building and weed out the mutant birds, the ones whose cells… reacted to the Whipple lamps in an unwholesome fashion.
- Streetwise: Christmas is hard for many families in this poor district; loan sharks working for the Malatesta family are always eager to help out. Nothing’s more useful to the criminal gang than an honest man without a prior record who’s unknown to the authorities. Want to give your kids a Christmas they’ll remember? The Malatestas can help…
Dunwich: Snow blankets the backroads and thickets of Dunwich, making travel difficult. Most people bunker down for the season, staying close to home. They have stories here – brought from the old world, they say – about Father Christmas and his elves. Things creeping through the woods, lithe and pale and leaving no tracks. A huge figure, white-bearded, his coat splashed with red, astride (or one with) his horned mount, following after his hunting beasts. No, it’s best to stay close to home at Yule in Dunwich, and leave offerings on your doorstep so nothing slithers down your chimney.
- Oral History: Snowed in at the White Stone roadhouse, the investigators spend Christmas stuck with a bunch of strangers. Tongues loosened with port and mulled wine, each stranger relates a tale of horror and mystery… (aka, a one-shot flashback using pregenerated player characters).
- Electrical Repair: The mighty turbines of the Olmstead Dam provide electricity for all the lights and amusements in the city. From the top of the dam, one can see the city blazing with seasonal illuminations… and when the turbines skip, the whole city flickers for an instant. It’s as though the dam’s transmitting messages to the streets, subliminal signals articulated in patterns of darkness and light.
Northside: Northside’s thronged with shoppers and revellers at this time of year. Plunge into those anonymous crowds, cast off your individuality, and join the dance of consumption!
- Forensics: These bones recovered from Christchurch graveyard have toothmarks, suggesting that someone ate the corpse. What’s really disturbing, beyond the mere fact of the cannibalism, is that there are several different sets of toothmarks, implying that a whole family feasted on the deceased…
- Physics: A misfiring Yithian machine buried deep under Northside triggers around midwinter, projecting its victims into the past, present and future for brief jaunts before returning them to their point of origin. The investigators are hired by an old and miserly businessman who’s experienced two such time-jumps already, and wants them to find a way to stop the machine before he’s forced to confront the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Salamander Fields: Here in the oldest, darkest heart of Arkham, they do not speak of Christmas. It is the Yuletide, and it is celebrated by descending into wet, dark tunnels that glisten with green flame. There are lights in the deserted houses, and strange spiked growths that might resemble Christmas trees at a distance, but do not mistake them for anything safe or festive…
- Occult: A curious custom practised by an ancient Lodge in Old Arkham – each year, the wealthy members of the Lodge find some poor beggar or hobo and crown him King. They bring him back to their hall, dress him in fine clothes, feed him a meal fit for a king, and then… well, the king returns to the gutter, but is never quite the same afterwards.
- Bureaucracy: The city’s determined to finish the infamous and long-delayed Dig as soon as possible, and work on the massive engineering project is due to continue through the festive season. Enterprising investigators could infiltrate the Dig site by taking temporary employment over the holidays.
Innsmouth Docks: Swim down, and you’ll soon find there are no seasons in the deep. Winter and summer are things of the surface; the deeps are timeless. So, the Yuletide is of less importance in Innsmouth than in other parts of the city. There are no brightly lit streets down here, and what hangs from windows is limp and damp and weedy instead of glittering tinsel.
- Credit Rating: The Gilman House committee does host an expensive Christmas charity dinner every year. Since the raid on the House itself, the dinner’s moved to the more upscale function rooms at the Devil’s Reef restaurant. Those cultivating political connections in this part of town are advised to give generously. Especially promising donors may be introduced to certain… elderly individuals who are of great influence in Innsmouth.
- Craft: Some unlucky children find strange pale dolls under the Christmas tree. The parents mutter to one another in wonder, trying to work out where the gift came from, and how it was placed under the tree in secret. They would be better off keeping a closer eye on their children; the dolls are lures dispatched by the Moon-Beasts of the Black Ships, and if the children are not watched, the dolls lead them off down to the docks to board the waiting ships…
Kingsport: Kingsport is Arkham’s pleasure-garden. It’s more associated with lazy summers and yachting than the dim midwinter, but there are still amusements to be found here. Walk along the promenade, fortified by hot cocoa and roasted chestnuts, and look out at the snowy harbour before visiting a gallery or a Christmas movie. It’s festival time, and strange pleasures might be found down some unexpected alleyway or winding stairs that only appears in moonlight.
- Oral History: Everyone agrees that the best department store Santa Claus in the city is in Hartman’s Department Store in Kingsport. The jolly old fellow is positively magical in how he enchants the children, and always has the right gift to hand. Who knows what he whispers in their ears, though – and strange to say, in some lights, his face looks as artificial as his fake beard…
- Art History: A script for a Christmas movie has floated around the various movie studies in Kingsport’s film district for the last few months. It’s called The Snowglobe, and it’s a seasonal tale of weird horror about a man who discovers that his quaint little village is actually a model trapped inside a globe, and he must fight to escape from this picturesque prison. The identity of the screenwriter is a mystery, and it’s rumoured he was visited by the transport police shortly after submitting a draft to AKLO pictures.
Chinatown: This district is a merciful refuge from the Yuletide spirit. Be of good cheer – there’s a place to escape Christmas, even in Cthulhu City…
Jan 3 2018[I’d like to thank the GUMSHOE community for their suggestions on this topic.]
This article assumes you are running a pre-written adventure, for any GUMSHOE game, though much of the advice applies to adventures you’ve outlined yourself, or even if you are improvising. It also assumes you’ve read the rules of the game you are running, but it doesn’t require in-depth knowledge.
We’ll start with an aside – earlier GUMSHOE adventures sometimes offer point spends in scenes for information. I recommend that you give any such information out without a point spend, and reserve point spends for the benefits discussed in Part Two.
The Adventures Structure Meets the Gamers
First. read the adventure and get the structure of it – the way scenes link together These are usually a collection of connected scenes. Like a battle plan, this structure does not always survive contact with the enemy – thought that’s perhaps not the best way to think of the players! The adventure is there to hold your hand and guide you – it’s not as straightjacket.
Here are some tips on giving players that sense of freedom and openness.
- All adventures are linear in retrospect. If the players are having fun, they won’t notice the structure. The only time they’ll notice a structure is if you rigidly stick to it. Only say “you can’t do that,” if it’s based on what the characters are capable of, not what the adventure demands.
- Expect to improvise scenes, and clues within scenes, just as it is in any game with a pre-planned adventure.
- You can bring characters back into the adventure structure by improvising clues which draw them back into it – either NPC or physical evidence,. You can also move clues from planned scenes to your improvised ones.
- The list of abilities we suggest in each scene to acquire clues is just a suggestion. If a player suggests an ability or method which might plausibly get the clue, let them use it.
- The clue is the way in which the information is delivered, and matches the ability. You can change the clue (and hence the ability) to provide the same information. For example, a Research clue can be converted to an Interpersonal one if you speak to the librarian.
- If no character in a scene has the right ability, they can use their floating pool of points to assign to an ability or remember what an absent character can do.
Running the Game – Investigation
The first and most important thing to note is that actual game play in GUMSHOE is pretty much the same as in, say, Call of Cthulhu or other investigative games. Players describe what their characters are doing, just as they would in any other game, and use abilities in the same way. The difference only comes when they gain information – if they have the ability, have roleplayed their use of it, they get the clue.
In all investigative games, players forget clues, get side-tracked and talk, talk, rather than walk, walk. Here are tips to keep things going:
- It’s fine, in your GM voice, to periodically restate and summarize known clues. The characters are competent and know what’s going on. Your players are easily distracted and can’t be expected to encompass that knowledge.
- Let the players plan as long as they are having fun with it –probably for longer than you will! If they get bogged down, remind them that they have the Preparedness and that you won’t punish them for a lack of prep.
- GMs know the mystery, the players really don’t. Be free with explanations, and give more information in the form a new clues if they get bogged down.
- If the players won’t leave a scene, let them know that they have gathered all the information available, and that if they search, they’ll find stuff.
- Read the list of benefits available for point spends for the system you are running – offer spends, but encourage your players to suggest them, too, Ensure every one of their spends is worthwhile.
Running the Game – Antagonist Reactions
Almost every investigation features a fight or a chase. It ramps up the tension and imperils the characters. Here is some advice on running fights.
Almost all of GUMSHOE is player-facing, that is, the players roll the dice. Fights are an exception – both you and the players roll a die and add points to attack their foes. However, you are running your creatures to give the players the best experience, not to use the most effective approach when imperilling the characters.
Standard GUMSHOE gives you antagonists a pool of points which works just like the players’ pools. In general, don’t spend enough points for an auto-success. The only exception might be the first attack from an expert sniper, a super-powerful Mythos foe, or the big bad vampire in Night’s Black Agents. Some versions of GUMSHOE even offer an Attack Pattern, which suggests point spends on each round of combat.
There is a full example of Trail of Cthulhu combat to get you started.
- Running TimeWatch for the first time
- GUMSHOE 101, Kevin Kulp’s helpful overview of GUMSHOE
- Toy GUMSHOE – an overview of GUMSHOE using a cut-down setting
- Improvising With GUMSHOE – Steve Dempsey uses tricks from improv to improve your improvisation