In The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Kickstarting soon at a Kickstarter near you, players portray characters linked across various eras and timelines corrupted by alien supernatural influence.
In the third of these linked settings, Aftermath, the investigators are all ex-partisans who fought in a successful rebellion against a tyrannical regime backed by Carcosa. Now they want to rebuild their nation and put their violent past, and memories of weird incidents connected to that, behind them. But He Whose Mask Is Not A Mask isn’t finished with America yet, and they find themselves drawn into a succession of weird mysteries requiring them to draw on the skills they’d sooner put behind them.
To emulate this I’m introducing* a new general ability, which goes like this:
Before attacking targets in a location you have the opportunity to case in advance, you can devise the most efficient plan of attack, dealing maximum harm at minimum risk.
Make an Insurgency test with a Difficulty keyed to the location: 4 for most civilian targets, 5 for a secure military target, 6 for an ultra-secure installation.
On success with a margin of 2 or less, all combatants on your side get a +1 Fighting bonus. A higher margin nets a +2 bonus for all.
This also allows you to defend against attackers using guerrilla tactics against a position you have had time to hunker down in. Here the Difficulties flip: 6 for a civilian location, 5 for military, 4 for ultra-secure. When defending you can make a Counterinsurgency Push for a +4 bonus on your roll.
Insurgency tests take the place of extended planning sessions in which players manage the tactical details of an assault, just as Preparedness skips the part where you laboriously write out every item on your equipment lists.
After a successful Insurgency test, ask the player, abetted by anyone else in the group who likes to describe skirmishes in loving Tom Clancyesque detail, to describe the clever plans they’ve laid for their soon-to-be-attacked targets. In the ensuing Fighting test, they can describe them working to superb effect (if the group wins), or the GM can describe them being countered by a victorious foe.
* * *
This ability only suits games where you find it desirable to collapse the tactical planning process into a single ability test. The previous setting in the cycle, The Wars, does not do this. It has the player characters fighting in a great European conflict in an alternate timeline. Planning how to grub up crucial bonuses for an upcoming scrap should take center stage there, with players weighing options, discarding some and choosing others, perhaps with the aid of intelligence they’ve gathered with investigative abilities.
In Aftermath those scenes fade back to a tertiary status, to make room for subplots about rebuilding the nation.
You could add this ability to other GUMSHOE games, probably renaming it Tactics or some other more generally apt term, in cases where quick and dirty combat planning suits the genre. It would fit a standard Esoterrorists game, for example, while feeling out of place in a Special Suppression Forces campaign frame. It would also work in Mutant City Blues or Ashen Stars, but likely not in the more combat-forward environment of Night’s Black Agents.
You might also consider your group’s tastes when deciding whether to use it. Your players might dig its abstraction even in NBA, or prefer to do the tactics in detail even when the setting takes little interest in that side of things.
*In the current draft, anyhow. A designer can never count on any new element surviving the playtest process.