Tuesday, 28 October 2014

GUMSHOE Esoterrorists - first impressions

So I'm in the middle of play testing Esoterrorists, the original edition from Pelgrane, published back in 2006. As this was one of the earlier iterations for GUMSHOE, I wanted to use it to test drive the mechanics before stumbling into anything more complex, like Night's Black Agents. Esoterrorists 1e is a very much stripped down, basic version of the game, so good to get to grips with initially.

We were playing the starting scenario in the game with three players. Rather than muddle about with the default setting of the Ordo Veritatis, we used the Delta Green background setting, bringing it forwards to 2007 so that we can make use of the starter scenario in Esoterrorists. In future, I would probably prefer to continue to use Delta Green rather than the Ordo Veritatis, as it is simply a better developed background. Esoterrorists reads like it was written with DG in mind, and could readily be employed for DG scenarios, if you get sick of BRP as a system.

So, first impressions. We all remarked on the lack of dice rolling, especially as we spent most of our first session in an almost purely investigative mode. It took no time at all to generate characters, and we built a scratch DG 'W' cell for a mission in Washington DC in less than 30 minutes. We have a retired CIA assassin now working as an antiques dealer, a history professor, and a Boston police detective. I set up the first scene as a meeting with Agent Verity in the car park of Ronald Reagan airport in Washington.

Gumshoe in its purest form is VERY investigation focused, more than BRP, which is the system I have tended to use historically for running Call of Cthulhu. The scenario is not an easy one, especially if you are dealing with experienced players who can circumvent many of the obstacles a less veteran troop would encounter. Plus, as a DG cell, with DG's contacts and resources, they are ideally suited to a high level investigation of the sort we were dealing with.

There is much less dice rolling in a Gumshoe game - the investigative skills allow for players to pick up most of the core clues they need fairly easily. Where points are being spent from skill pools, they are adding to the core findings - e.g. whether the blood in a bath is more than the quantity one would expect from a single person (Forensic Anthropology). The interpersonal skills, like Bureaucracy, Cop Talk, Bullsh!t Detector, and Flirting all got plenty of use, and as a CoC GM is was pretty easy to call for them rather than ask for Fast Talk or Persuade rolls. Data Retrieval is also a great skill for investigators in this kind of environment, and abstracts what would otherwise be time-consuming rolls on Computer Use.

The discipline for the GM is to be ready to wave things through, rather than instinctively put up obstacles. Gumshoe does not have that philosophy at all. It is like playing Dungeons and Dragons, but letting the party force the door automatically. Assume they don't need to roll - the only question is how much noise they make doing it.

I think we're starting to get our heads around the basics now. We have not finished the adventure yet, and it would be good to try out some more of the general skills in the second half, just from a road test perspective, but as we get more familiar with the skill list and with what skills can do, we will be better prepared for something like Night's Black Agents, with its additional crunch. More on Gumshoe once we have finished the adventure...


  1. Really enjoyed it. Simple and relatively intuitive system once you understand the skill terminology! Will be interesting to see how thus handles sanity and combat!

  2. The ruleset seems to fade into the background during play, and that's always a good sign. I too will be interested to see how the more action-oriented skills work.