This toy version of GUMSHOE introduces you to the basic concepts of the system which powers Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists and Night’s Black Agents. Note, I’m not a game designer (whatever wikipedia says), and this version of GUMSHOE really is just for demonstration purposes.
GUMSHOE was designed to power games which feature some investigative elements. The GUMSHOE system itself is very simple and each GUMSHOE game adds system elements to support the gameplay the designer of that iteration intends, which adds complexity to the base. This version strips GUMSHOE down so you can see how it works, a bit like a model suspension bridge made from string and card does for, well, suspension bridges.
The most current version of a GUMSHOE game, with the most up-to-date advice, is Esoterrorists 2nd Edition.
We’ll learn the game and you can create a character as we go along.
Every character has investigative abilities, rated from 1 to 4. Even one point in an ability means you are highly proficient in that ability.
Investigative abilities have three functions.
- First, they allow your character interact with a game scene and extract essential information in play, information which points you to other game scenes. This information (called a core clue) can be a location, a person, an item – anything that points you at a future game scene. You do not spend from your pool to get a core clue.
- Second, you can extract any information your character would reasonably know without effort, also at zero cost.
- Third, you can use the ability to gain special benefits related to those abilities. These benefits can offer information which allows you to overcome or avoid danger, a bonus on a General Ability test, they can make you look cool, or form a connection with and NPC. Special benefits cost points from the ability pool.
It’s possible to gain certain kinds of information from a scene, obvious to anyone, without having an ability. This is called a simple search. A simple search might get you a matchbook, whereas an investigative ability might get you the fingerprints and then the identity of the last person to touch it.
Using Investigative Abilities In Play
To use an ability in a scene, you either describe what a character with that ability would do in that scene, or describe what you’d do in the scene and the GM will suggest an ability. You can seek information actively, for example, “I use Art to determine the provenance of that painting.” Sometimes the GM will provide information a character with your abilities would know without asking, for example, “With Science you can see the particles’ motion defies known laws.” Likewise, in a scene, you can suggest special benefits or they can offered by the GM. In general, GMs do not need to mention in play that a piece of information is a core clue or distinguish it from a zero-point clue.
Any ability which could reasonably get information can be used to get that information. The ability can be predetermined or improvised by the GM or emerge from roleplaying in game scenes.
If you are used to playing games where you use abilities for which you roll dice to determine success, roleplay exactly as you would do in those games.
Assign Your Investigative Abilities
The investigative abilities in Toy GUMSHOE are Who You Are, Science, Art, Technical and Interpersonal. Who You Are is an adjective -noun combination describing your character. You get 2 points in Who You Are. Pick any of the following combination of numbers, and assign them to the other four abilities.
2,2,1,0 4,2,0,0 3,1,1,0
Game Design Aside: What Abilities do
Investigative abilities offer niche protection, so that each player has a chance to interact with scenes in a way specific to their character; and spotlight management, so players get an equal chance to shine through the special benefits they use. Special benefit spends deplete abilties, so they also encourage more interesting and varied choices, and add a frisson to the end game as those choices become constrained.
General Abilities cover any action you want to do which doesn’t acquire information, and for which an element of randomness is fun, and has an important consequence. In toy GUMSHOE, there are Body, Mind, Moves, Fighting and Senses.
- Body is your current level of resistance to a potentially damaging event doing you harm.
- Mind is your level current resilience to the the effects of mental stress.
- Moves are anything physical you attempt to do, except fighting.
- Fighting is used to restrain or harm an opponent.
- Senses make you aware of danger, of being watched or potentially ambushed.
Testing General Abilities
If you face an important challenge in play not related to gathering information, you make a test. The GM determines a Difficulty, a number ranging from 3 to 8, with 4 as a standard. Spend points from the appropriate general ability pool, then roll a d6. Add the number of points you’ve spent to the die roll. If the total matches or beats the Difficulty number, you succeed. If not you fail. In most GUMSHOE games the GM does not tell you the Difficulty number before you make the choice.
Assign Your General Abilities
You get 4 points free in each of Body and Mind, and an additional 24 points to split between the five abilities. No ability may be higher than 10. (You could add a “What you do” skill to General abilities as the General equivalent of “Who you are”)
Game Design Aside: Abilities and Setting
Most GUMSHOE games have ten or more abilities fine-tuned and flavoured to the setting, with just the right amount of granularity. GMs work to provide information and benefits which match the investigative abilities and challenges which match the general ones. So in Mutant City Blues there are a multitude of specialist abilities to investigate a crime scene; in Fear Itself, just one. Toy GUMSHOE is generic, but you can add any abilities you want to the list, or subdivide the abilities to match your match the setting.