By Jason Morgan
So you’ve played GUMSHOE One-2-One’s Cthulhu Confidential or Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, and now every time you look at your gaming shelf those campaigns and scenarios you’ve always wanted to run but couldn’t pull a group together regularly enough to do it catch your eye. One-2-One makes gaming easy. It’s just you and a friend–one GM and one player. But how do you convert a scenario from Stunning Eldritch Tales or tackle the globe-spanning Eternal Lies?
GM Jason here, along with my player Nick (a.k.a. Langston Montgomery Wright from our year-and-a-half Cthulhu Confidential campaign that included a scenario from Pelgrane’s Mythos Expeditions and Chaosium’s legendary Masks of Nyarlathotep, and currently playing Jans Whorlman, an ex-MI-6 vampire hunter in our Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops campaign) with tips for how to convert adventures to the GUMSHOE One-2-One system. (If you want to hear how Nick found it, his perspective is here).
Luckily, GUMSHOE investigation ports over nicely to One-2-One. The biggest difference is substituting a Push for a point spend. Note that it’s not a one-to-one conversion (pun intended). GMs should use their judgement asking for Pushes when the standard GUMSHOE scenario asks for a point spend. Remember the core tenet of GUMSHOE: The player always gets the Core Clues. As a One-2-One GM, it’s your job to help get your Player to the next clue.
Which brings us to our first tip:
Both Cthulhu Confidential Sources and Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops Contacts provide friendly NPCs for the Player to lean on. And lean on them they will. While there are nuances between Cthulhu’s Sources and Night’s Contacts, it’s imperative that you make them helpful. Use them to talk like another player without giving more away than necessary.
In a GUMSHOE One-2-One game, the player will internalize most of the information. To expand on the core books’ advice: Sources allow the player to open up, discuss possibilities, and collaborate on next steps. It also provides you, as the GM, a window into your player’s headspace. Is she frustrated? Confused? Unsure of the next step? Sources can help alleviate the stress of being the only player.
Make the Sources relevant to the Scenario’s setting. For example, in a globe trotting campaign like Eternal Lies, have local Sources available to the player when she reaches a new city. My player started in New York with four Sources. He traveled with two of them to Africa where he met a local tour guide and newspaper editor Sources who could give him the lay of the land and provide setting context.
Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops Contacts are shiftier than Sources, but remember: how contacts respond can either ratchet up the tension or provide a much needed pressure release valve. The same judgment you used in how the Contacts responded to the player in the core book scenarios will be how you handle them in your converted campaign as well.
Prepping and improvising challenges
You’ll want to try to stay one session ahead of your player when prepping challenges. At the end of a session, ask you player what direction she’ll take the investigation in the next session. This will give you some direction.
Of course, players love to spoil even the best laid plans. You don’t want to railroad your player into your prepped Challenges, so be flexible.
For me, prepping Challenges for upcoming scenes helped me understand how the scene related to the current investigation, the motives of the NPCs, and the opportunities or challenges that would arise if the die fell one way or another. Sometimes I’d get lucky and be able to use the Challenges I prepped as I prepped them, but more often than not, I’d modify them to fit my player’s actions, repurposing Edge and Problem cards as needed.
One thing that didn’t usually change, regardless of the General Skill called for, were the Setback, Hold and Advanced numbers. It’s important to continue to be transparent with these numbers even when you’re making them up on the fly. The Tables in Cthulhu Confidential (p. 291) Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops (p. 96) do a great job of giving you an idea of where to set these numbers. If you’ve ran through the adventures within the core books, you should also have a good idea of Challenge difficulties.
The Golden Rule when improvising Challenges: Your player will not know what was prepped and what wasn’t. Take comfort in that, and by all means never tell your player what was prepped and what was improvised. The game always according to plan even when you’re making up that plan as you go.
In addition to the designing Edges and Problem advice in Cthulhu Confidential (p. 46) and NBA: Solo Ops (p. 99), here’s a great resource for coming up with Edge and Problem cards on fly:
Most importantly–be creative! Have fun coming up with unique cards. You can even get your player involved. Ask her to come up with the Edge or Problem if you’re stumped.
Which leads me to…
Work with your player.
GUMSHOE One-2-One requires more openness with the PC than other systems because it’s just the two of you. It’s important to maintain the narrative mystery but be open to working together to create the story. To echo both core books: It’s okay to have meta-game discussions. If you sense your player feels lost or frustrated, you should be asking your player meta questions like:
- “What’s holding you back?”
- “What are you confused about?”
- “What’s frustrating?”
As a GM that might be a good time to get a Source or Contact involved to help the player along. Or maybe the player needs to stop the session to take some time to mull over the information.
Here’s what my player, Nick, had to say about investigation obstacles:
“It’s implicit in the genre that there will be times when you don’t have much to go on, particularly in the beginning of new investigation or setting. I think this is okay and fun because it means that you aren’t just riding the rails. As a player, you trust that the GM isn’t going to leave you swinging in the wind forever, that you will find something if you keep looking. If you have a clue or two… follow them.”
GMs, take Nick’s advice–don’t leave your player floundering for long. Give them the time to work through the information, but provide resources like helpful Sources/Contacts to get them to the next scene and clue.
Working together is imperative to running a successful session and a telling a collaborative story.
Jason Morgan is a writer and default gamemaster for his groups. You can follow him on Twitter @jmarshallmorgan where he shares his game prep and hopes his players aren’t reading.