A column about roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes a couple of design innovations that first appeared in Cthulhu Confidential and imports them back into multi-player GUMSHOE. Most notably, its QuickShock sub-system uses cards to represent the specific ongoing consequences of mental and physical harm. Importing them into previous GUMSHOE games isn’t a simple matter, and at any rate QuickShock’s speedy one-and-done fight resolution doesn’t fit the vibe of every setting.
Another change, on the other hand, could easily apply to any GUMSHOE game. In fact, we’re already building it into the recently announced new edition of Mutant City Blues.
This change drops the ratings and pools associated with investigative abilities. Instead of having a varying number of points to spend on non-informational benefits, each character starts play with 2 Pushes. You can spend a Push to gain a benefit from any of your investigative abilities. (Or in some edge cases, a benefit untethered from any of them.)
Here’s the relevant section from YKRPG:
Characters can spend Pushes to gain benefits tied to their Investigative abilities. They never have to spend Pushes to get information, especially not information vital to moving forward through the story to solve its main mystery.
For example, you could spend an Art History Push to:
- acquire a painting you covet at a bargain price
- establish a friendly prior relationship with a famous artist appearing in the current scenario
- deflate a bullying sculptor by exposing the technical flaws in his work
- impress a snob with your fine taste, winning her confidence
You never use Pushes on General abilities.
Some Shock and Injury cards can be discarded by spending a Push.
On occasion the GM may allow players to gain benefits not connected to any ability in the game, in exchange for a Push. For example, a player might ask if a flammable haystack happens to be situated conveniently close to a farmhouse she wants to burn down. That isn’t under the character’s control in any way, but for the cost of a Push can be put within the player’s.
Your character starts each scenario with 2 Pushes.
Unspent Pushes do not roll over from one scenario to the next.
A few specific effects may in rare cases give you an additional Push. Mostly though you don’t refresh them until the current case ends and a new one begins.
Pushes simplify and speed up the introduction of extra benefits into a session. They encourage you to go for a benefit only in key story moments. Also they skip a lot of head-scratching over what might or might not be a useful and appropriate expenditure of points for each separate ability.
We’ve also heard about a few GMs who assume, never mind what the rules say, that PCs can no longer gather information with an investigative ability after spending its pool to 0. Removing the numbers next to the investigative abilities on the character sheet should eliminate stop folks from reaching this mistaken conclusion.
Adding Pushes to an existing GUMSHOE game, or your own adaptation of the core rules to another setting, involves a few simple steps:
- Drop the current text regarding investigative points. This includes references to the costs of specific spends in ability descriptions, scenarios, and so forth. You may decide that less than spectacular 1-point benefits can be had for the asking, and do not cost a Push.
- Add the above text, changing examples as needed.
- Adjust the number of investigative build points. It now becomes the number of investigative abilities in the game, divided by the number of players in your group. You may want to tack on an extra 2-4 points for a large group with unpredictable attendance, or for groups who prefer to have the workhouse abilities like Bullshit Detector and Reassurance duplicated within the group.
Alternatively, you could drop investigative build points altogether, either:
- dividing the abilities into 6-8 kits inspired by the setting’s basic character archetypes
- distribute abilities between members of the group by going around the room at the first session, allowing each player to pick one ability at a time until all of them have been allocated to at least one PC
Choice 1 reinforces the genre of your game, and works even if all of your players fail to make it for the first session.
Choice 2 allows more freedom of character concept and may thus appeal more strongly to experienced GUMSHOE hands. But you’ve got to get everyone in the same room (or online channel) to make it happen.
In the first case, abilities from unchosen kits are distributed during play, so that the first player who needs a given ability gets it. The player supplies a snippet of background detail explaining how they picked this up. Characters aren’t suddenly flash-learning the discipline, but rather mentioning for the first thing something they’ve been able to do all along. Make sure that these abilities wind up being distributed roughly equally between players.
Sample kits for The Esoterrorists might look like this:
Federal Law Enforcement Agent
Debunker / Stage Magician
(Were I designing The Esoterrorists from the ground up to support kits, I might collapse some abilities into one another, and throw in some additional Interpersonal abilities so every kit can have at least one. But that covers the existing abilities.)
The upcoming new iteration of the GUMSHOE SRD, promised as part of the Yellow King Kickstarter, will include Pushes, along with all other elements designers will need to release their own QuickShock games.
GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Open Gaming License or the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.