Gumshoe hack, thoughts?

Take all the investigation skills and put them on a central team sheet for everyone to draw from.

Pros? Cons?

I’ve been thinking about shared player resources an awful lot recently. The idea of a ‘party’ has been knocking around since day one, but for non fantasy gaming, it gets a bit strained at times. Even in games with squads or teams that the setting supports, the individual character sheet seems inviolate. There are exceptions of course. I was really impressed with the ‘party’ card that WFRP3 used, which gave out abilities for everyone to draw from. I also like the Marvel Heroic mechanic where heroes become more or less effective if they’re in teams, buddied or solo.

So for Gumshoe, which is really two games welded together by the use of a d6, why not really separate them out? That way everyone gets buy in on the investigation parts, no one feels like they can’t contribute and the resources are shared. General abilities stay under the purview of the individual player.

Am I mad?



Filed under RPG

8 responses to “Gumshoe hack, thoughts?

  1. Richard

    There’s more than one way to skin a cat but I haven’t yet experienced a game of Gumshoe where an individual pc reaches a point where they can’t contribute, so you may be fixing a non-problem. In most cases where a character doesn’t have the ability listed in the scenario text to obtain a clue or lead it follows up by offering alternative approaches that may work with a different ability; this is especially true of Interpersonal skills. Even if no alternative is listed I’m pretty sure most GMs are going to allow alternate ability use suggested by a player in order to advance the plot.

    As a player the idea of a shared pool of abilities makes my character less defined and a bit vanilla and I’m not entirely sure I’d be happy with that. The concept of floating pool points to cover for absent players is already covered in the game and I have used this and it worked okay. It’s a very similar but more limted concept.

    Of course, I am the “don”t funk with the game” man at the moment.

    • Running the numbers for a sec. Theres about 23 general abilities, which map to most skill based games really. If anything thats a little on the long side for my tastes, but id have no trouble making a 3d character out of that and some Phrase stuff like my profession, department and that sort of thing.

      Whereas the Investigative skill list is over 40 (arent we all?) and the game is absolutely clear in its advice to cover as many bases among your team as you possibly cam with even a rating of 1 being better than nowt. In a four player set up, each agent could have half of the skills at 1. Perhaps an extreme example, but that character now looks like a mish mash of abilities rather than a fictional person. And dont forget, the Investigative points dont represent skill so much as a pool of spotlight time. Agents are already awesome at everything right?
      So where im coming from is this: Gumshoe does a great thing with its investigation rules, but having nowhere else to put them in a player facing game, tacks them onto the character sheet. Yet, these arent “character” rules, they’re story resources. So put them in the place where the story hits the table, in the middle.
      Physically, I’m picturing the Roll20 screen during the game. Theres that bit where you will often see a map and tokens. Thats usually underutilised in investigation games. Now i can see everyones Invest skills, all pooled together, or initialled if you like to give some ownership. And now i hear players speaking to each other, making suggestions, acting in concert, and everyone moving the investigation onwards. Thats going to work for me far better than breaking character and saying out loud, “whos got the best Notice pool right now?”

      Now, all of this comes from me testing my gaming envelope and wanting to see how I can flex and adapt both me and the game to meet in the Lagarange point of cool gaming.

      So keep the comments coming!


      • Richard

        FWIW the good news is that I can’t recall a time when a player in a Gumshoe game has said “who has got the highest x pool?” I think this is largely because we generated the characters as a team with all players aware of the ability choices others have made and then adjusted to ensure maximum coverage; the use of a visible ability matrix during creation helped no end. With this in mind all players know the strengths and weaknesses within the team and natural selection occurs at the table when it comes to task division. (This might be an issue I need to address at a Con where that process will not have taken place.) The way points are allocated based on the number of players and the fact that in various iterations of Gumshoe you get “free” abilities, ensures that all but the most obscure abilities are covered by at least a point.

        Which is another point. Ha! The way the system works it to ensure that any character with a point in a given ability is an expert and becomes even more so with additional points; if you have no points allocated to an ability you have no ability and are not able to use that Investigative Ability to gain clues. That’s where the assumption about characters being awesome at everything falls down a little. Spotlight time is gained by spending a point not using an ability for free, the good news here being that if you have the ability, and state you are using it, you get the clue or lead for free; if a spend is made you get to look awesome and special but that is it’s own reward with core clues not granted through spends.

        Here’s where I see a problem with the team pool idea.

        Four investigators enter the office of a CEO that believe to be involved in Esoterror and that search the room. Hanging on the wall is a painting by an old master which is immediately recoginsed as such by the character with Art History – this costs him nothing as he is an expert and the discovery of the CEO’s ownership of the painting is a core clue that leads to another scene. Having gained the core clue the Player inspects the painting more carefully and either asks whether more could be gained by a spend or the GM offers the spend. The character receives a brief history of the painting and looks exactly like the expert he is in the eyes of the other players; this also reinforces his ownership of the ability and signposts it for future consideration by the team as a whole. The player gets to revel in his skills and develop a more balanced personality for the character by being identified as the Art History expert. How did he get those skills? Professorship? Forgery? Artistic skill? Dilletante? Wealth? The other players might not know, but they might want to find out more about their team member.

        Let’s do the same scene with the Investigative Points in a common pool. The team enter the room and there’s a core clue to be discovered. First, the Art History points are in a common pool so the GM will have to decide which character to nudge in that direction to use the pool if no player thinks to ask. Then, having gained the core clue, the point could be spent by the player from the common pool to get the extra cool stuff; suddenly he’s an Art History expert, which is okay as they get spotlight. But it’s not something that the same character will necessarily be next time as another player might grab the pool point and use it instead, becoming this week’s temporary expert. This creates a situation stretching credibility and making all characters very flexible but inherantly unfocussed and possibly lacking clear team definition. The team becomes a whole rather than the sum of its individual components and the opportunity for expansion of character is lost as the baton is passed to another for the next use. The very staying in character that is questioned in investigative games on occasion is more easily provoked using this option.

        From a player’s perspective I would find this very unsatisfying. From a GM’s view I don’t really want to have those numbers on the table in view when I could just rely upon the ability of the players to be team aware and willing to share the spotlight and pick out when it’s their time to shine with the choices they made about their character. The game sits far better in the background and not front and centre where the characters should live.

        This is, of course, a question of taste and also suitability for the group of players you have at the table.

        I hope I’m not being negative and bashing your idea, Baz. That’s not the intention.

      • Not at all Rich! It’s good to hear from someone with actual play experience. I’ve got a bit, but mostly I’m armchair theorising.
        Some of my thoughts are coming from the playing RPGs over Hangouts. Much as I love that medium, one thing I do miss is the opportunity to look across the table and glance at someone else’s character sheet. Yeah, I know you can upload it, but sometimes I just want to have that little aside with another player you know?
        I find it difficult to pick up on other player characters skills and schticks, especially in one shot or short run games.

  2. neilnjae

    There are various games with “Teamwork” mechanics that allow PCs to support each other. That’s not quite what you have in mind, but it’s similar.

  3. I like it. I think it would need to be a big, clear sheet. I like having the character’s (or more likely player’s) initials against the skills they possess to keep from the vanilla-isation. I think you have something here. I’m mulling it over…

  4. Abstract Machine

    If hypothesising about a game you’ve never played is armchair theorising, what’s offering advice about one you’ve never read?

    Curled-up conjecture? Hammockry? BS? Well…

    I like the skill-pool idea but I think it could bear a bit of what a certain sort of story gamer (moi? non!) would call ‘fictizing’ – i.e. what’s the in-game reason it’s organised that way?

    A school for tradecraft, perhaps? A plug-in to the Matrix? A collective unconscious? … No, wait, I see what you mean about armchair theorising.

  5. Hi, just a couple of observations based on my very limited experience of running Gumshoe (Trail of Cthulhu, Ashen Stars and Esoterrorists) as one-shots.
    My players struggled initially with the point spend idea, which was possibly my fault for not explaining things too well, but once it ‘clicked’ the system as it stands works really well.
    However, I do think character generation demands some discipline as otherwise you end up with ‘generalists’ not ‘specialists’.
    I like the idea from Nights Black Agents, where the characters are defined by their MOS and gain extra cool abilities as a result,and feel this really helps to make them stand out as individuals.
    I like the idea of a group investigation pool, but would be tempted to run it as a totally separate pool of points that potentially grew depending upon party experience, to reflect how teams develop as they learn each others strengths and weaknesses.

    Cheers Ted

    sorry if that waffles slightly but I’ve just seen the time, I need sleep !

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