GUMSHOE One-2-One, Playtest Feedback, and Acceptable Enjoyment Parameters

I’m currently incorporating playtest feedback from GUMSHOE One-2-One into the final manuscript. We’ve never had more respondents take part in a test for any GUMSHOE project, so having this much material to work with represents a huge luxury. The higher the number of reports, the easier it becomes to identify and address the most common needs players and GMs will face when taking one’s game for a spin.

The rules themselves require adjustment on only a couple of small points. I expected this, albeit with crossed fingers, given the smoothness of in-house testing before we sent the rules out into the wider world. It helps that the rules are either familiar (baseline GUMSHOE) or very simple (the new resolution mechanic for the one GM, one player dynamic.)

People responded very positively to the game overall, and that’s encouraging but not the main benefit of a thick sheaf of in-depth notes.

Especially in this case what I was really looking for was a sense of what additional guidance GMs and players would need to make One-2-One work for them. It’s only in the questions one gets back from respondents that the designer knows what play style advice has to go into the finished book.

Everyone reported a much more intense and focused experience than standard multiplayer. Without the byplay, off-topic kibitzing, discussion and decision-making between players, the solo player remains in focus the whole time, with the burden of investigation squarely on her shoulders. This can be simultaneously exhilarating and daunting, so I need to write more text both preparing gamers for that, and assuring them that this is the expected way of things.

Pretty much anyone experienced enough to take part in a playtest can work out what an RPG’s play style ought to be. Certainly testers, while questioning whether they did it right, invariably did do it right. Often play style advice is less about showing GMs how to do it as in assuring them that they were right to trust their instincts. These passages answer the question, “is the game meant to be this way?”, allowing players to relax into what they’re doing and get on with the fun.

Which is not to say that everyone who is doing it right and having fun is doing it the same way. A couple of testers wanted to know how much real-world time the scenario should take. Well, one duo played it for 9+ hours and loved it, while co-author Ruth Tillman, when I ran her through the same scenario, proudly blazed through it in less than 3. Who was doing it right? Both!

It seems simple when I say it like that, which is why the final text will have to do exactly that.

(By the way, if you just inherited a strange old house from an uncle you didn’t know about and need someone to find out what all the screaming from the furnace is all about, you might want to drop Ruth a line and see if she’s available to check it out.)

In One-2-One player characters rely on GMCs called Sources for the use of investigative abilities they don’t have themselves. Sources also provide low-intensity scenes of friendship and camaraderie to momentarily take the pressure off the player. One respondent wondered if it was all right that the player spent a lot of time with Sources. Again, the player wants to do it so it must serve a need for her. Here the text can provide specific tips for keeping these scenes fresh, but mostly the job of that passage will be to assure players that they’re operating within Acceptable Enjoyment Parameters whether they spend a lot of time with Sources, or just a little.

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