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The Gaean Reach

I picked up The Gaean Reach, the latest GUMSHOE game from Pelgrane Press at Gen Con, and it is amazing. Clocking in at a little over 100 pages in digest format, it is by far the smallest GUMSHOE game to hit shelves, a spectacular slimming down of the system by +Robin Laws.

Gaean Reach is billed as "the roleplaying game of interstellar vengeance." Your characters all have reasons to hunt down the criminal mastermind Quandos Vorn. To do so, you must first see through the masks he uses to hide his identity and overcome the obstacles he has set before you. The investigative rules are familiar to old GUMSHOE hands, but there are a few new elements that make the game sing.

First, you start off with random character creation. Each player receives cards detailing realms of knowledge, personality, and life experience that determine what abilities their characters have. Each then comes up with who their character is, what they look like, and their history, both before and after the Terrible Deed done to them by Quandos Vorn. Then they describe what stands in the way of their taking vengeance on Vorn (hint: they write the campaign for you right here). Finally, each player gets three taglines of dialog that when worked into play earn them tokens (essentially XP and action points in one).

In play, there are a few new mechanics that I really hope make it into the GUMSHOE SRD soon. Obstacle Costs are an additional cost in tokens that you must pay after a successful test to accomplish some dramatically significant action. For example, you encounter a major villain early in an adventure. If you try to shoot her, the GM should levy an Obstacle Cost (and probably a large one) to keep you from short-circuiting the entire adventure. If you can't or won't pay the Obstacle Cost, you get whatever general ability points you spent back. Obstacle costs may go down as the adventure progresses, making dramatic moments more likely as the scenario reaches a climax.

The opposite of the Obstacle Cost is the Fortunate Avoidance. You can spend 2 tokens to keep your character from meeting an untimely end. Tokens also fuel in-game refreshing of both investigative and general abilities.

The Gaean Reach is intended for short campaigns with a clearly defined ending: namely, the ending of Quandos Vorn. It is a fantastic condensed look at GUMSHOE, and worth looking at for anyone who likes the system.

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