This article offers a way you can use the 13th Age Escalation Die in your GUMSHOE games.
GUMSHOE games and 13th Age manage the narrative flow of combat – the emotional upbeats and downbeats – very differently.
In all GUMSHOE games, players usually start a battle with more combat resources than when the battle is done. Each combat ability has a pool of points. Those points represent flexibility, preparedness, competence and freshness. The PCs start on a high, burn through these resources, and must get their opponents down and out of the fight quickly, or resort to another resource – their ability to flee. This is just right for games such as Night’s Black Agents, where competent Agents need to seize the initiative, give it their all, finish their foes and get the hell out of there.
In 13th Age, typically, the narrative is reversed. Players start at a relative disadvantage against their foes. In round 2, the Escalation Die makes a welcome appearance, set at 1, and all the players can add this value onto their attack rolls. Some values of the Die also trigger other benefits. Each round the die increases by 1. So the combat starts on a low with player characters fighting superior foes, reaches a point at which it could go either way, then usually turns in the favour of the player characters, just the dramatic arc you want for heroic adventurers.
Using the Escalation Die in GUMSHOE
So, if you want that 13th Age feeling in GUMSHOE, for a more pulpy, heroic arc, how can you do it? Well, that d6 can’t act as a bonus, because the steps are too big for a d6-based system. Resources in GUMSHOE are pools of points and bonuses, where they happen, are usually no more than 1. So, here is method which is resource-based but offers the same ebb and flow as 13th Age.
The Escalation Die appears in round 2, set at 1. It increases each round by 1. If all players agree, they can tap the Escalation Die at the beginning of any character’s turn and all characters refresh a combat pool, Athletics or Health by the value on the die, and the die disappears from the table. The players should describe what changes the mood of scene – a narrow-eyed glance of shared determination, inspired words, or just a well-practised, coordinated attack.
If the value on the die is 6, no agreement is required. You can’t refresh Health if it is below zero. Any excess points are removed at the end of the combat. Just as in 13th Age, you can’t increase the die if you are backing off from combat – you must take the initiative. To balance this, Game Masters will need to up the total combat ratings of baddies by 3 multiplied by the number of players. So, if you have four players, you’d distribute 12 points between the foes in a typical combat.
Do let me know if you try this and if it works for you.