Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Spending Easter with GUMSHOE

It requires a major effort of will these days to learn a new games system. I don't know why, but I guess when I was at school, studying a dozen different subjects, adding an RPG system to the mental mixing bowl was a piece of cake. These days, my RPG activity boils down mainly to Pathfinder, with a bit of Basic RolePlaying / Call of Cthulhu and some Savage Worlds as side servings. Add a spot of Cold City and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay as a garnish. It seems easier to run games with an established rule system you're already familiar with, than try something completely new. Indeed, a game or game line has to offer something especially spicy for me to even contemplate such an effort (Cold City being a case in point).

Last year I was a backer of the new GUMSHOE RPG, Night's Dark Agents, which combined the horror and espionage genres into one delightful package. I'm very keen to give this a go as a referee, but yes, this would involve getting my head around an entirely new game system. To this end, I've spent the Easter break re-reading Trail of Cthulhu, the forerunner to NDA, which also harnesses the GUMSHOE engine. I'd previously made a couple of attempts to read ToC and fully understand how GUMSHOE works, as well as dipping back into the original edition of Esoterrorists, but to no avail.

This time, however, an interesting and very sensible essay in the Pelgrane online fanzine, which you can read here, prompted me to tackle the topic again. A re-reading of ToC makes me think that, yes, I could run this. But I'd need to get a little more familiar with GUMSHOE  before seeking to umpire NDA, just because NDA feels like a much more sophisticated beast for a GM than ToC - sort of like driving a Ferrari rather than a BMW.

Hence, I'm mulling over whether to run some ToC for my regular group. My plan as it stands is to potentially go through three gradations of scenario:

  1. Run a commercially published ToC scenario, probably something from the Shadows Over Filmland scenario anthology;
  2. Convert a BRP CoC scenario to ToC, to provide a better understanding of the mechanics;
  3. Finally, write a ToC scenario from scratch - here I'm thinking of something from the excellent new CoC supplement, Folklore, from Cubicle 7 which, while not an adventure anthology, does have some very intriguing British plot seeds.
If I can do all this then yes, I may be familiar enough with GUMSHOE to attempt NDA. At the moment I am still reading the core rules in the ToC book, which admittedly represent a better explanation of GUMSHOE than, say, Esoterrorists (first edition), which was still a bit vague and confusing to be honest. We'll see if I can get to a point where I'll actually feel ready to run something!


  1. I find GUMSHOE -- I still don't know why it's capitalised -- quite an elegant system, although the sanity mechanics in Trail of Cthulhu are needlessly complicated.

    From what I know of Night's Dark Agents, it's a bit more crunchy and combat-heavy than other versions of the system.

  2. I'm just getting to the Sanity chapter now. The combat rules are simpler than BRP...