Adapting to GUMSHOE

GUMSHOE is an emulative system. Every published GUMSHOE system game is designed to present a particular genre or style of investigative story. For Trail of Cthulhu, that means expanding the Stability rules into Sanity to emulate the cosmic horror of Lovecraft. Night's Black Agents broadens the combat and chase mechanics to pump up the action quotient for the vampire spy thriller.

The first step in making GUMSHOE fit your favorite style of investigative fiction is to consider the list of abilities available to investigators. When designing Ladies' Mystery Society, I knew that I wanted a short list of standard abilities. Most cases in the source material involve only a few basic investigative tactics (typically what would fall under Interpersonal abilities), and none involve much in the way of broad physical talent.

But the characters in these stories often display interesting background knowledge and unique skills picked up through a lifetime experience. I knew I wanted a mechanic to model this. So I combined the usual GUMSHOE idea of keeping unspent points from character creation with the rules for defining the bookshop stock from Bookhounds of London to come up with the Background ability that lets players create new abilities during the adventure.

Beyond the ability list, you must decide what other rules systems reflect the genre. In Ladies' Mystery Society, I knew that fighting and injury do not play a large role in the sources. At first, though, I thought I should still have some short rules for physical conflicts. As I developed the game further, I realized that the little physical danger there is in the genre could be represented in other ways, and I cut the combat section entirely.

I would suggest looking at the published GUMSHOE games and examining the changes each makes to present the genre. One particularly telling example is the way grenades work in Night's Black Agents, Ashen Stars, and Mutant City Blues. The system is flexible, but you have to know what kind of stories you're trying to tell.


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