In this week’s episode of their all-conquering podcast, Ken and Robin talk playing real people, juju-using drug cartels, collaboration tips, and Ogedei Khan.

In Bram Stoker’s original Notes for Dracula, we find the following cryptic line:

Lawyer – (Sortes Virgilianae) conveyance of body

Stoker originally thought perhaps the “lawyer” character Peter Hawkins, mostly written out of the book, would perform the sortes Virgilianae, literally the “Virgilian lots,” to find out how his new client would work out. Both pagan Romans (who thought poets divinely inspired) and medieval and early modern Christians (who found a prophecy of Jesus in Virgil’s fourth Eclogue) considered Virgil a prophet. The sortes Virgilianae thus refers to a form of bibliomancy in which the querent randomly opens a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid (or sometimes the complete works of Virgil) to receive prophetic guidance on some venture.

Sortes Virgilianae Virgilianae *INCEPTION sound*
Sortes Virgilianae Virgilianae *INCEPTION sound*

The “conveyance of body” seems like Stoker’s legalistic joke on the dual meaning of “conveyance”: both transportation and transfer of property rights. Anyhow, the phrase points us at Book VI; line 530 of the Aeneid (Dryden’s translation):

“My boat conveys no living bodies o’er”

Which pretty neatly prefigures the doomed Demeter’s voyage from Whitby, which is why I put it right back in Dracula Unredacted.

Later on in the Notes, Stoker suggests maybe Harker performs sortes Virgilianae in Dracula’s library, or discovers that Dracula has been using this medieval magic system, or perhaps Seward does it while feeling blue and neurotic. Eventually Stoker tossed the whole idea. But you don’t have to!

The Bibliomancy Option

Either in your Dracula Dossier game or in a Bookhounds of London campaign it can be creepy fun to introduce a bibliomantic element. The trick, of course, is to pre-load the prophecy. Go to one of the many searchable Aeneids on the Internet and search for the thing you want to show up in the next session.

Gutenberg has the whole poem on one page, and you can search for word fragments (searching on “blood” finds “bloody”); Bartleby has line numbers if you value such things or want to add a numbers-code feeling, but the poem pages are broken up by books so you can use only whole-word searches from the main page.

Or genuinely randomize it: Roll a d12 to select the Book and then a d2000 (d20, d100) to pick the Line (count a 20 result on the d20 as 0). In Dryden’s translation, no Book is longer than 1400 lines, so prepare to re-roll that first die a lot. If you’re more digitally minded, John Clayton’s Two random lines from Virgil does just that, but does not yet support a search.

Then, when the characters decide to sort out a sortilege, you can spring the right creepy line on them. Or, you can read the whole poem looking for naturally awesome couplets like this (Book II; lines 212-213):

“Reveal the secrets of the guilty state,
And justly punish whom I justly hate!”

And then come up with a neat scene that tag can retrospectively be seen to have predicted. Characters that bring about or otherwise invoke that prophecy can claim an Achievement-style 3-point refresh, if you’re feeling generous.

The following perhaps-magic item can appear in either sort of campaign, but it’s written up for the Dracula Dossier.

Hawkins’ Aeneid

Appearance: An copy of Virgil’s Aeneid, in Latin and Dryden’s English translation, on facing pages, with numbered lines. Octavo, bound in pale yellow buckram, published by “Faelix Press, London, 1864.” It gives every appearance of heavy use; many pages are marked with pinpricks or brownish ink checks. It is autographed on the frontispiece, “From C. to ‘Mr. P.H., the onlie begetter.’”

Supposed History: This was the copy of the Aeneid used by Peter Hawkins to cast the sortes Virgilianae during the 1894 operation. Art History suggests the inscription is a literary joke, after the dedication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to “Mr. W.H., the onlie begetter.” The inscription implies that “P.H.” created Edom, and hints that his real initials are W.H. “C.” might be “Cyprian” Bridge, Director of Naval Intelligence, or the not yet officially on the clandestine books Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming, or someone else entirely.

Major Item: The book allows the accurate casting of sortes Virgilianae, with a proper knife (the Jeweled Dagger (p. XX) or something from the Knife Set (p. XX) perhaps). Riffling through the book and striking a page at random reveals a line or two of Virgil that provide prophetic insight or warning into (usually) the next session’s events. (This lets the Director think a little about how best to work the prophecy in.) During that session, each forewarned agent gains 1 pool point that can be assigned retroactively to either Sense Trouble or Preparedness.

Minor Item: This is indeed Hawkins’ desk copy of Virgil, but it only provides possible leads to Hawkins’ identity or that of his mysterious supervisors in the murky prehistory of British intelligence. Whether either clue points to the current “D” or anywhere else in Edom is up to the Director.

Fraudulent: It’s an authentic 1864 edition of Virgil, but has no connection to Hawkins or to Edom.

Connections: Could turn up in the library at Ring (p. XX) or the Korea Club (p. XX), in the Exeter house (p. XX), or if meant as a clue to the real “Hawkins,” on a dead GMC, with his finger pointing to lines 870-871 of Book II:

“Make haste to save the poor remaining crew,
And give this useless corpse a long adieu.”

Just as DramaSystem characters are torn between two dramatic poles, we as roleplayers may find ourselves torn between two roles: character and co-author.

Certain games and play styles encourage us to think only of what our PCs would do. Some players who prefer this approach take a semantic leap overboard and declare any game where you do anything other than that as definitionally not an RPG.

(Really they mean it’s not the kind of RPG they like, but hey. Without hyperbole, we would all be thrown into the sun and instantly incinerated by the screams of a million super-demons.)

Focus only on the character as decision-maker can become a challenge if the player is also intensely self-protective. The extreme version of this player requires the GM to petition him for permission to insert the group into a genre situation. “Why would I go down the basement into the old house? My character would just stay home and call the police!”

GUMSHOE players will recognize that as the problem Drives address. They put the onus of engaging with the premise on the players. GUMSHOE assumes engagement and asks you to specify the flavor of it that suits your investigator’s personality.

Most of us move fluidly between character and co-author states without having to think about it. Your character might talk over everyone else if given the chance. As a player you know enough to establish her as relentlessly verbal, then step back and allow your fellow participants equal time to speak. Your character might want to murder that hobo, but as player you rely on the other players, talking in character, to convince you otherwise. That way you get to show a key point about your character, but the plot doesn’t go in a direction you don’t actually want.

An equivalent disjuncture occurs in our experience as audience members for fiction. We may identify with a character and hope that everything works out for them. At the same time, we might see that the goal they’re pursuing will actually lead them to ruin. So we are rooting for them in general but against them on the specific, tactical level. That’s a type of dramatic irony. You can find it everywhere from Washington Square to “Better Call Saul.”

In a recent DramaSystem session, one of the players bumped into this. His character wanted to solve the problem at hand. (Something about a vat of unicorn blood.) However, as co-author he saw that there was still plenty of tension and story development to be had out of this plot device. If the problem got solved too quickly it would disappoint everyone at the table. As he groped for the right scene to call, I suggested that he come up with one that explained why his character would be unable to do what he wanted. He invented an obstacle in his own character’s way, called a scene around it, and the unicorn blood vat was preserved for another day.

That shows how far DramaSystem takes you onto the co-author side of the continuum. Where procedural games are all about problem-solving, Hillfolk may well encourage you to protect, nurture and cosset your characters’ problems.

Hillfolk is a game of high-stakes interpersonal conflict by acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws. Using its DramaSystem rules, you and your friends can weave enthralling sagas of Iron Age tribes, Regency socialites, border town drug kingpins, a troubled crime family, posthuman cyberpunks and more. Purchase Hillfolk and its companion Blood in the Snow in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In the latest episode of their multi-tentacled podcast, Ken and Robin talk Dracula vs. Gala, Muhammad Ali vs. Nyarlathotep, Nollywood, the Sino-Soviet split, DaVinci’s Glaaki revelation, our season of True Detective, and more, live from Cthulhucon.

Even if you’re not using the 13th Age rules, these ten icons demarcate and imply the Otherworld setting. (And you can plug Icons into, say, GUMSHOE or the game system of your choice with ease – Ken did it for Night’s Black Agents here). Player characters in Otherworld are assumed to start off in ignorance of the setting, and explore it in play, so they don’t usually begin with any Icon relationships. Let the players pick up Icon relationships as they go along until they have their usual complement of three.

Heroic Icons: Shell-Dwarf Chieftain, Lady Between, Benedash Society

Ambiguous Icons: Burning Prince, Great Huntress, Smiling Merchant, Project SHADE

Villainous Icons: Alchemist, Keeper of the -Shade, Face in the Creepers, Syndicate


The Shell-Dwarf Chieftain

“You travel on my waters with my leave!” roared the little man. “Let us see if you are still as insolent when we put you under them!”

– A Journey to the Otherworld

The turtle-like Shell Dwarfs were the first folk encountered by Professor Bravo on his journey into the Otherworld, and they are still the most widespread people across the perilous jungles. The Shell Dwarfs know how to navigate the treacherous serpentine rivers that slither through the jungle. Their sturdy rafts and house-boats can cross the rapids and rushing streams, and their tough hide protects them from the schools of hagfish and the swarms of bloat-flies that make it difficult for others to travel by water.

The Shell-Dwarf Chieftain rules his people from his floating palace, carved from the shell of a gigantic nautilus. He is distrustful of most of the other folk who live in clearings in the jungle, fearing that they plot to enslave his followers and use them to conquer other lands in the Night Jungle. However, he has a soft spot for travellers from Earth thanks to his friendship with Professor Bravo.


The Alchemist

“I have drunk a tincture of the Purple Lotus, and now through my veins flows a poison more potent than you can imagine.” The Alchemist holstered his gun. He no longer needed it to threaten us. “Wound me, and you shall all perish in agony from the vapours.”

– Vat-Slaves of the Alchemist 

The fast-growing creepers of the Night Jungle bloom with a thousand strange flowers. Only the Alchemist knows all their virtues – and their dangers.

Alchemy was the highest art in vanished Hellan and tree-drowned Cynberis, where it is said that its practitioners could turn glass as hard as steel, or grow food in vats, or prolong their own lives indefinitely. Most of that knowledge was lost to the jungle, and warrior-alchemists like Kelemane have retained only fragments.

The Alchemist alone has gone beyond the knowledge of the ancients. He combines their lore with the wealth of new ingredients and strange juices that can be harvested from the Night Jungle. From his fortress issue forth hosts of vat-bred monsters and noxious fumes; his assassins creep out in secret, poisoning his enemies and blackmailing them with the promise of an antidote.

He comes, it is said, from the same world as Professor Bravo, and plans to return there one day once he has completed his mysterious work.


The Keeper of the Dead

A presence moved through the tombs – a deeper shadow, a presentiment of death, a cold wind that rattled the bones. One skull, more intact than the rest, quivered. A lambent light bloomed in its empty sockets.”

– Kelemane in the Dead City

In ages past, all graves were under the protection of the Keeper. Now that the Night Jungle has swallowed a hundred cities and turned them into nameless tombs, the Keeper’s reach has grown very far indeed. The Keeper is a spirit bound to protect the houses of the dead from thieves and tomb robbers. Those who make the proper offerings and perform the correct rites may be able to bargain with the Keeper or its ghostly servants, perhaps to gain permission to travel through the realms of the dead. Those who trespass in the tomb cities without this blessing are more likely to remain there… forever.


The Lady Between

“The shewing-stone is a relic of a distant land,” hissed the Crone, and she pushed a tiny square mirror into Kelemane’s hands. He gazed into the glass, and saw within a pale figure.”

– Beyond The Moons of Azkar

To the folk of the Night Jungle, the Lady Between is a myth. It is said that mystics and madmen see her in their dreams and that she whispers prophecies to them. Others believe that she is nothing more than a hallucination brought on by over-indulgence in certain lotus-flowers.

To those able to travel between the two worlds, however, the Lady Between is undeniably real and present. She exists in the borderland between the two, in the interstices of reality. Broken and forgotten places are her only foothold in either reality. She sometimes blesses travellers with flashes of insight or sage counsel as they move from one world to another – unable to interfere directly in the affairs of either world, she must rely on proxies and agents.

Some travellers suggest the Lady Between bears a strong resemblance to photographs of late author Miriam Benedash.



The Burning Prince

“A line of fire on the horizon, like the ember light of the setting sun, marked the edge of his domain…”

– The Children of the River

The Night Jungle grows with surpassing speed. What was a clear path yesterday is weed-choked today, and will be completely swallowed by the willows and creepers tomorrow. Other than a few scattered clearings protected by magic or some quirk of environment, the Night Jungle consumes all the land within its ever-growing borders.

The Burning Prince aims to change all that. He has gathered an army of followers, all fired with his determination to drive back the jungle and reclaim the lands of old. With axe and saw, with alchemical defoliant and fire, they fight an unending war against nature. They are a tide of fire sweeping across the land. When they free some ruined city from the jungle, they loot it for treasure and magic and move on. When they come across an inhabited village or clearing, they offer those who dwell there the chance to join the Prince’s armies, then do exactly the same.


The Great Huntress

“The beast roared again, smashing the trees to kindling as it charged. She stood perfectly still, more like an ebon statue than a woman, until the moment came. Then the spear was suddenly in her hand, and just as suddenly, it was plunged into the beast’s eye.”

The Valley of Spiders

Gigantic monsters – some bred by the Alchemist, others mutated or spawned by the wild magic of the jungle – stalk through the endless forests of the Otherworld. Heroes like Kelemane battle these creatures when they have no other choice.

Only the Huntress willingly seeks out the monsters.

Driven by some secret hatred, she wanders the Night Jungle, searching for new foes to kill. She leaves behind her a trail of devastation and bloodshed; titanic carcasses lie where they fell as testament to her fighting skills. As a warrior, she has no peers.

Some have sought her out, desiring to become her followers, or to learn from her, or to win her aid in some other quest. Their bodies, too, are milestones along her bloody road.


The Smiling Merchant

“He spread a handful of coins across the table. Gold pieces from Jezar, the little wooden tokens of the Shell-Dwarfs, square silvers from the tombs of Cynberis, even a handful of Canadian coins bearing the head of King George.”

A Journey on the Azkar 

The Smiling Merchant’s smile never fades, because it’s carved from wood. The Merchant wears a brightly painted yellow mask when dealing with customers. Sometimes, it is a man who wears the mask; sometimes a woman, or a child, or a strange creature, but it is always the Smiling Merchant who speaks.

The Merchant travels in a huge caravan crammed with relics and curios, guarded by a retinue of Shell-Dwarfs and Thorn Trolls. How this caravan can pass through the thickest jungle is a mystery, but the Merchant always arrives where there is profit to be made.


The Face in the Creepers

“Your death will feed me,” said the jungle, “and so nothing is diminished in your passing.”

The Temple of the Emerald Eye

This malicious nature-spirit claims to be the Night Jungle. Few believe such claims – it is far more likely that the Face is just an elemental trickster that takes the form of a tangle of creeper vines. It is undeniably powerful though, able to animate huge swathes of jungle when it needs to take physical form. It sometimes becomes interested in individual people, tormenting or aiding them as the mood takes it.


These last three Icons have more of a presence in our world than in the Otherworld.


The Syndicate

The Syndicate is a mysterious private company that collects both the works of J. Pierton, and individuals or items who have travelled to the Otherworld. Most of the Syndicate’s agents or pawns are unaware that their work has a supernatural component – they believe they’re working for a secretive corporation, or for the government, or for organized crime. Even the few who’ve made the connection between the Pierton stories and the weirder cases don’t know what the Syndicate really wants. All that’s certain is that they have money, influence, guns, and the willingness to use all three to get what they want.


Benedash Society

Even within Pierton fandom (which is, for example, to Robert Howard’s Conan fandom as a terminally ill geriatric is to the Cimmerian), devotees of author Miriam Benedash are a small minority. She only wrote a handful of Night Jungle books before suffering a nervous breakdown, and her brief career is remembered only by a few fans and critics. The Benedash Society is tiny and closely knit. They share everything on their private, invitation-only message boards – and in recent months, they’ve uncovered evidence of weird events that are somehow connected to their literary heroine and her works.


Project SHADE

Project SHADE was an offshoot of the MKULTRA experiments of the 1970s, based out of Fort Holdstock. The aim of the experiments was to determine if certain chemically altered states of consciousness could enhance tactical awareness and decision-making ability. The project was officially shut down in 1974, as was Fort Holdstock.

If you spend too much time on conspiracy theory websites, you’ll learn that several subjects vanished into thin air, or that Fort Holdstock is haunted or overrun by mutant plants, or that SHADE was recently reactivated and transferred to the control of the Department of Homeland Security.

All nonsense, of course – just like the idea that reading too much about topics related to obscure fantasy writers could somehow draw inexorably you into their reality, until finally you cross some invisible threshold into their Otherworld.

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk secret languages, research tricks, recent Hong Kong movies, and saving Andalucia.

This month, in Page XX, pre-order The Strangling Sea, grab the PDF of The Eyes of the Stone Thief for 13th Age, get the latest news about the TimeWatch and Dracula Dossier Kickstarters, and playtest some one-shot story games.

  • Our new releases include The Strangling Sea, Eyes of the Stone Thief in PDF, Hideous Creatures: Tcho-Tcho, the Spear of Destiny for KWAS subscribers, and Children of the Icons for 13th Age Monthly.
  • In our articles find out who won the RPG Geek Series Pitch competition (and read all the entries!), Kenneth Hite stats up the original Dracula adventurers, Robin D Laws works out who gets the drama tokens in Game of Thrones, and Rob Heinsoo and ASH LAW stat up a shadow mongoose.
  • Our poll: which Pelgrane HBO show would you watch?

Check out Page XX now!



You are receiving this memo as an Ordo Veritatis field agent certified to perform the forensic duties of a medical examiner.

At your earliest convenience, please access, through the amended usual protocols, the research paper entitled “The Neurological Implications and Structural Alterations Associated with Outer Dark Entity Involvement” (Catalogue #90UODS9) by Dr. Sheldon Saperstein, [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]. In brief, the paper establishes that the mental traumas induced by contact with ODEs are frequently of neurological origin. Alarmingly, Saperstein et al posit that mere remote visual observation of these creatures on our plane of existence may induce structural alterations in the brain. These induce a variety of debilitating symptoms ranging from the commonplace (PTSD, temporal lobe epilepsy) to the exotic (Capgras syndrome, circumstantiality).

When autopsying victims in the field, please aid our research by examining their brains for structural anomalies. Follow this protocol regardless of apparent cause of death. Numerous instances occur where fresh brain traumas accompany fatal ODE attacks that do not directly target the brain. Instead the direct cause of death might be, to name but a few examples, asphyxiation, hypothermia or exsanguination.

It is the hope of the Forensic Anthropology Research Department to assemble over time a database correlating particular brain structure alterations to specific Outer Dark creatures. Whether such correspondences can be clearly established remains a question which can only be answered by thorough evidence gathering.

To this end you will find in your updated protocols package an organ donation form. We strongly request that all field agents explicitly consign their brains to the organization for thorough examination upon their demises, including natural ones. You may already exhibit neurological features of keen interest to the department .

On a related personal note, those of you in the greater New York area might wish to attend memorial services for Dr. Saperstein at the [REDACTED] Synagogue on [REDACTED] on [REDACTED]. His colleagues carry on, his work and sacrifice an inspiration to us all.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Dreamhounds char sheet page 1By Tony Williams

This exercise was far more difficult than previous character sheet designs I’ve done. My first problem was getting past the intimidating presence of the great art in itself and then the second was doing something I felt lived up to the design work put into the book.

I was flummoxed trying to think how I was going to incorporate the art into the character sheet; part of the problem is that the design work is meant to fade into the background behind the character stats so how could I use “artwork” and then hide it anyway ? Besides which art should I use ? Who actually represents *all* surrealists ?

I had put the problem on the backburner but later the decorating was looming and I needed an escape project ( I am a master procrastinator ).

So I turned my attention back to the problem and considered how I had approached my Bookhounds character sheet. The idea for that had been “What would one find on the desk of a Bookhound in the rear of his shop ?” Thus: “What would be found lying around the table of a Dreamhound in their dingy garret ?” Suddenly things seemed to fall into place.

Finding decent representational iconography required a lot more strenuous Google-Fu than previous sheet designs but finally I managed to find the stuff I needed to collage the sheet together. There was a lot more “hacking” the pictures in GIMP this time around as well, but I got there in the end.

Here’s a bit of design explanation:

The general tone is greens ( absinthe ) and murky browns ( down at heel ). I learned how to turn an electric blue pencil into a green pencil in GIMP this time around.

Surrealism – the starving Dreamhound was in his bathroom practising drawing his own eye in the cracked wall mirror when he needed to sharpen his pencil. The nearest thing to hand was, of course, his razor. He put the razor down casually across his drawing when he noticed a trail of ants on the floor and had to follow them out into his bedsit to foil the little beggars. He found them supping on a sugar cube he had left next to his absinthe spoon – curses! To calm his nerves he needed a little pipe tobacco whilst he perused the catalogue for the upcoming “Exposition Internationale du Surrealism” at the Galerie Beaux-Arts. If I have to spell it out for people – the pipe is a nod to Magritte, the razor on the eye is Buñuel’s “Un Chien Andalou” and the catalogue is self-explanatory ( durr… ).

Paris – well, ( Mon Dieu! ) the Galerie Beaux-Arts is *in* Paris, for Pete’s sake ! Absinthe seems an appropriate Dreamhound Parisian drink and any good absinthe drinker needs a supply of sugar cubes and an absinthe spoon. A photo of a typical Parisian street in the Pigalle area would be an easy representation of the city too.Dreamhounds char sheet page 2

Lovecraft – hmmm… that photo looks suspiciously like two investigators approaching Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol with great trepidation to me.

I chose an empty square to represent running out of Instability to reflect the ‘void’ of creativity it brings, it is also meant to be a blank canvas ( since you can no longer create meaningful art ) and a vague reference to the fact you are now a ‘square’ ( in the beat poet sense ) rather than a ‘happening’ radical artist.

And how come that absinthe spoon looks somewhat like a silver key – coincidence ? I think not !

Finally, a technical point – the General Abilities that can have Dreamscaping pool points added to their test rolls when in the Dreamlands are in a brown font rather than the standard black. As represented by the brown “think bubble” next to the Dreamscaping ability. ( Even finding the “right” think bubble was a saga in itself. )

Sadly I’m not happy with the sugar cube. Finding a top-down picture of a sugar cube results in few decent hits – “Damn you interweb !” ( shakes fist ). Maybe I’ll actually resort to photography for a fix down the line…but don’t hold your breath as I have some bloody decorating to do now. I don’t mean “bloody” as in I’m going to murder someone, or *do* I ? Ha, ha, ha, ha…

You can download Tony’s character sheets here:

  • Download Dreamhounds of Paris character sheet (A4)
  • Download Dreamhounds of Paris character sheet (US letter)

bookmanThis toy version of GUMSHOE introduces you to the basic concepts of the system which powers Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists and Night’s Black Agents. Note, I’m not a game designer (whatever wikipedia says), and this version of GUMSHOE really is just for demonstration purposes.

GUMSHOE was designed to power games which feature some investigative elements. The GUMSHOE system itself is very simple and each GUMSHOE game adds system elements to support the gameplay the designer of that iteration intends, which adds complexity to the base. This version strips GUMSHOE down so you can see how it works, a bit like a model suspension bridge made from string and card does for, well, suspension bridges.

The most current version of a GUMSHOE game, with the most up-to-date advice, is Esoterrorists 2nd Edition.

Investigative Abilities

We’ll learn the game and you can create a character as we go along.

Every character has investigative abilities, rated from 1 to 4. Even one point in an ability means you are highly proficient in that ability.

Investigative abilities have three functions.

  • First, they allow your character interact with a game scene and extract essential information in play, information which points you to other game scenes. This information (called a core clue) can be a location, a person, an item – anything that points you at a future game scene. You do not spend from your pool to get a core clue.
  • Second, you can extract any information your character would reasonably know without effort, also at zero cost.
  • Third, you can use the ability to gain special benefits related to those abilities. These benefits can offer information which allows you to overcome or avoid danger, a bonus on a General Ability test, they can make you look cool, or form a connection with and NPC. Special benefits cost points from the ability pool.

It’s possible to gain certain kinds of information from a scene, obvious to anyone, without having an ability. This is called a simple search. A simple search might get you a matchbook, whereas an investigative ability might get you the fingerprints and then the identity of the last person to touch it.

Using Investigative Abilities In Play

To use an ability in a scene, you either describe what a character with that ability would do in that scene, or describe what you’d do in the scene and the GM will suggest an ability.  You can seek information actively, for example, “I use Art to determine the provenance of that painting.” Sometimes the GM will provide information a character with your abilities would know without asking, for example, “With Science you can see the particles’ motion defies known laws.” Likewise, in a scene, you can suggest special benefits or they can offered by the GM. In general, GMs do not need to mention in play that a piece of information is a core clue or distinguish it from a zero-point clue.

Any ability which could reasonably get information can be used to get that information. The ability can be predetermined or improvised by the GM or emerge from roleplaying in game scenes.

If you are used to playing games where you use abilities for which you roll dice to determine success, roleplay exactly as you would do in those games.

Assign Your Investigative Abilities

The investigative abilities in Toy GUMSHOE are Who You Are, Science, Art, Technical and Interpersonal. Who You Are is an adjective -noun combination describing your character. You get 2 points in Who You Are. Pick any of the following combination of numbers, and assign them to the other four abilities.


Game Design Aside: What Abilities do

Investigative abilities offer niche protection, so that each player has a chance to interact with scenes in a way specific to their character; and spotlight management, so players get an equal chance to shine through the special benefits they use. Special benefit spends deplete abilties, so they also encourage more interesting And varied choices, and add a frisson to the end game as those choices become constrained.

General Abilities

General Abilities cover any action you want to do which doesn’t acquire information, and for which an element of randomness is fun, and has an important consequence. In toy GUMSHOE, there are Body, Mind, Moves, Fighting and Senses.

  • Body is your current level of resistance to a potentially damaging event doing you harm.
  • Mind is your level current resilience to the the effects of mental stress.
  • Moves are anything physical you attempt to do, except fighting.
  • Fighting is used to restrain or harm an opponent.
  • Senses make you aware of danger, of being watched or potentially ambushed.

Testing General Abilities

MissBartitsuIf you face an important challenge in play not related to gathering information, you make a test. The GM determines a Difficulty, a number ranging from 3 to 8, with 4 as a standard. Spend points from the appropriate general ability pool, then roll a d6. Add the number of points you’ve spent to the die roll. If the total matches or beats the Difficulty number, you succeed. If not you fail. In most GUMSHOE games the GM does not tell you the Difficulty number before you make the choice.

Assign Your General Abilities

You get 4 points free in each of Body and Mind, and an additional 24 points to split between the five abilities. No ability may be higher than 10. (You could add a “What you do” skill to General abilities as the General equivalent of “Who you are”)

Game Design Aside: Abilities and Setting

Most GUMSHOE games have ten or more abilities fine-tuned and flavoured to the setting, with just the right amount of granularity. GMs work to provide information and benefits which match the investigative abilities and challenges which match the general ones. So in Mutant City Blues there are a multitude of specialist abilities to investigate a crime scene; in Fear Itself, just one.  Toy GUMSHOE is generic, but you can add any abilities you want to the list, or subdivide the abilities to match your match the setting.

Next Up: Interpersonal Interaction, Fighting and Chasing


Previous Entries