The more you discover, the more the Mythos infects your mind. Your friends cannot be trusted, your knowledge means nothing, and everything you hold dear turns to dust.
The Final Revelation collects for the first time the four sanity-destroying Purist adventures for Trail of Cthulhu written by award winning RPG writer Graham Walmsley. With a framing scenario by Scott Dorward, The Final Revelation gives your Investigators the opportunity to play through a Purist campaign set in the United Kingdom of the 1930s where there is no escape, no comfort and no salvation when faced with the Mythos. Your Investigators are powerless and insignificant; your only choices death, insanity or a quiet life with a shattered mind.
The Final Revelation features the following scenarios:
- The Final Revelation: A group of Investigators called The Friday Group tries to piece together the details of what they believe to be a threat to humanity. As they uncover the facts behind each scenario, they are faced with a final, inescapable truth none of them could have guessed.
- The Dying of St Margarets: On the remote Scottish island of St Margaret’s, Investigators take jobs at a private school, each searching for an acquaintance who has disappeared. What they discover drives them to the edge of insanity to a place where guns will not help them, reason will not protect them and even faith will not give them comfort.
- The Watchers in the Sky: The Watchers introduces a new and unknowable Mythos entity. Blending Lovecraft with Hitchcock, a madman feeds the birds, paranoid they are watching him. Later, the same strange birds stare from the rooftops, warping the laws of physics and chemistry. And, when the Investigators dissect one of the creatures, they find something monstrous inside.
- The Dance in the Blood: In a forgotten corner of Northern England nestles a village plagued by terrible secrets and subterranean horrors. Every hundred and nineteen years it is torn apart, its inhabitants massacred. It happened in 1697 and 1816. Now it’s 1935 and beneath the village are loathsome creatures, waiting to reclaim their land and kill anyone who stands in their way.
- The Rending Box: In an antiques shop in North London, there is a box. Inside is an ancient creature, seeping through into the world. It will show the Investigators everything as it really is: the patterns behind the universe, the monsters older than time, the secrets that break your mind. And all they need to do is open a box.
With little else to do but go mad or die trying, how will your Investigators react when faced with the final revelation?
|Stock #: PELGT33
||Author: Graham Walmsley, Scott Dorward
|Artist: Jérôme Huguenin
||Pages: 128pg Perfect Bound
The following is a post from the RPG.net forums by PTiKachu about his experiences running RMS Titanic: The Millionaire’s Special with a group of artists in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Warning: may contain game spoilers, so read at your own risk!
[GUMSHOE] Converting new players to Trail of Cthulhu…and it feels awesome!
So, there is such a thing as new roleplaying gamers in 2013. And now they’re getting hooked onto Trail of Cthulhu.
Left to right: Acap, Zulhilmi, Juan.
Just at the start of this year, I met Zulhilmi and Syafiq, both of whom are animators at Animasia Studio here in Malaysia. Zul and his circle of friends at work had been playing boardgames and cardgames after work for a while now, and after hearing about D&D, they wanted to start it. D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder seemed a bit too complicated, so they settled on 4th Edition. But it’s not always easy to run a game for the first time, even with the newer systems.
Zul contacted me online after hearing about my Malaysian gamer group, Gamers of KL, and expressed interest in D&D. We met up at a friendly local comics shop and I ran a short D&D 4e scenario for Zul and Syafiq. They had a great time, borrowed a couple of my books, and soon they were running 4e games at lunch break in the studio, four times a week.
Four sessions a week. Yeah, these were short sessions, but, oh man, that’s dazzling enthusiasm.
Jump forward to late April. I don’t get much chance to meet Zul in person, as we have different weekend gaming circles. He asks for advice on running a survival horror game for some new players from his studio on May 1 (Labour Day holiday), and asks if I want to try running something as an introduction to roleplaying.
After some discussion, I suggest introducing them to something vastly different from D&D. A type of game that’s been close to my heart of over a decade. Horror and investigation.
* * *
You are cordially invited to a Luncheon with Mr Jefferson Shaw at his Personal Suite on the ‘A’ Deck of the RMS Titanic on 12th April 1912. The Event will feature an Exclusive Unveiling of Rare Artefacts of the Most Stupendous Nature from Egypt, to be delivered to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Delicacies and Beverages to be provided by the Café Parisien.
RSVP. Formal Attire Only. Due to the Macabre Nature of this Unveiling, Small Children and Animals are Not Permitted.
Spoilers for the adventure follow.
Here’s a summary of the adventure: All the PCs are first-class passengers on the RMS Titanic on its first (and only) voyage. They are among a group of passengers invited to Jefferson Shaw’s luncheon where he reveals his latest prize, the mummy of an Egyptian priestess, Hettunaway. The mummy, who was a priestess of the Black Pharoah Nephren-Ka, awakens and starts haunting those who gaped at her. Eventually, the ship hits an iceberg and the mummy reanimates fully, walking around in a reanimated body to hunt and kill those she has cursed. All this, while the great ship slowly sinks as the band plays on…
Adam Gauntlett’s written a very straightforward scenario – just one basic mystery (what’s up with that mummy?) and a few NPCs. I did a read-through the night before, printed out some Titanic deck plans and did research on the events of the sinking as well as some key historical figures like Captain Smith, Margaret Brown, John Jacob Astor IV and J. Bruce Ismay.
Trail of Cthulhu is powered by GUMSHOE, which is a pretty simple system to teach new players. Use Investigative Abilities, get clues. Spend Investigative Ability points, get bonus clues. Spend General Abilities and roll a single die to perform other actions like combat and sneaking and swimming (swimming being VERY important!). And that’s it. The Millionaire’s Special adventure came with a bunch of pre-gens, which makes it very convenient for a one-shot with newcomers.
Zul chatted with his friends ahead of time about what kind of pre-gens they would like to play.
I brought all six of the Millionaire’s Special pre-gens and also added Professor Lucas Wright from another scenario, Watchers in the Sky, as one of the new guys, Juan, wanted to play a British gentleman.
* * *
So. It was awesome.
That’s Juan and Syafiq.
I’ve gamed with an awesome RPG artist before, so seeing the events of the session illustrated by a talented artist is not new to me.
Try four artists as players. Zul’s group all drew their portraits onto the character sheets within minutes of the start of the game.
The new players, Acap and Juan, had only played in a single D&D 4e session before. They were enthusiastic and excited and flung themselves into the spirit of their characters right away. Juan in particular was playing the Professor, and decided right away that his wife Gertrude (listed as a source of Stability) should be along for the ride.
That’s Juan’s sketch of Lucas and Gertrude at the top.
The first scene with the unveiling of the mummy set the high-society-dabbling-with-the-supernatural-on-a-doomed-ship tone perfectly. Soon Acap (playing the con man) and Syafiq (playing the adventurous heiress) were having a grand time in the smoking lounge, gambling for Credit Rating points (the 17-year-old heiress won hands down, stealing most of the con man’s money).
We had dinner with high society NPCs like John Jacob Astor and Molly Brown. We had an investigation into third-class decks to find the widow of a previous victim of the mummy. We had ghastly visions of the ship’s fate to come. We had foolhardy spiritualist schemes by Jefferson Shaw, whose electrical seance machine awakened the mummy and led to horrific bloodshed.
At the start of the final tragic two hours of the six-hour session, Zul’s French artist/war veteran and Acap’s con man were locked below decks after being found at the site of Shaw’s murder. Not a good place to be as the iceberg hit and the flares shot into the sky over the ship. They had to break down the door of their cabin and make a desperate deck-by-deck escape as the waters slowly claimed the ship.
The sedate and snail-slow evacuation to the lifeboats gradually turned into a race for survival. The mummy awakened and started appearing all over the ship, killing Shaw’s friends and guests from the luncheon. Syafiq’s heiress secured a place on the first lifeboat thanks to her new friend Molly Brown.
Juan had the most memorable scene of the finale when Professor Lucas Wright, hobbling along at near-zero Stability and Health scores, carried his wife to escape the mummy’s rampage.
Having lost their pursuer (so it seemed), they end up in line for one of the lifeboats. But the mate insists on women and children only. Gertrude is let aboard the boat, but Lucas is pushed back.
Lucas and Gertrude cry out to each other. “Please let him aboard!” “Gertrude!” “Lucas!” The mate interrupts by shouting at the crowd to “let the last woman through…the black haired woman.”
Lucas smells the incense of the mummy Hettunaway. Realisation dawns for all the players simultaneously. A great “oh shit” moment.
Juan wins his “best player of the day” award by urging Gertrude to leave without him. The professor tosses his wedding locket to his wife and falls back into the crowd, never looking away from Gertrude even as the mummy’s arms reach out and pull him away into the shadows…and the lifeboat departs.
Shortly after, we all drew upon our memories of the Titanic film for the imagery of the sinking of the ship. The lights going out…the funnels toppling as the ship snaps in half…and Zul and Acap’s characters make it to the boat deck and start casting the spell to banish Hettunaway just as her lifeboat is about to catch up to the heiress. The mummy returns to dust, and our two heroes are swept into the icy ocean. Despite brave swimming attempts, only Acap’s con man manages to climb onto a wrecked lifeboat and survive.
We had an epilogue scene in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York city, where the professor’s widow, the heiress and the con man decide what to do with the spellbook they found, and our players decide (without my prompting) that their survivors could form the basis of a future Cthulhu campaign…
* * *
A week later, Zul showed me a picture of a work in progress by Juan:
Left to right: Gertrude (NPC), Professor Lucas Wright (Juan), Norton the con man (Acap), Winnifred (Syafiq), Arnaud (Zulhilmi).
And Zul’s going to start running Trail for his group now. Most successful demo session ever!
That, people, is why I love roleplaying games.
by Christopher Smith Adair
I’ve been converting scenarios to Trail of Cthulhu since I started playing the game. I get to dig in to the scenario or rules, see how it works, and reinterpret it. There’s at least as much art as science to conversions. Although I constantly refer to the ToC rulebook’s helpful guidelines, I use them as advice rather than proscriptions. Recently, Modiphius Entertainment gave me another opportunity to play around, with their WWII setting, Achtung! Cthulhu.
When converting stat blocks, I consider the character’s function and place in the plot. I often lower or raise Health or fighting ability ratings from what a “by-the-book” conversion would and take care to assign adequate Magic or Stability ratings to sorcerers. For Three Kings, I wanted the pre-generated Investigators to be the mathematical equal of ones created normally. Starting with a baseline conversion, I discovered I needed to spend a number of extra points on each Investigator. This let me cover more abilities between them, as well as increase existing ones, establishing the sorts of roundly capable Investigators that typify ToC.
When converting the investigation itself, I look at the climax and analyze how it’s arrived at, working backwards to identify the crucial moments. Call of Cthulhu scenarios are often structured very differently from ToC ones, so genuine core clues might be few. The important thing is to account for anything necessary for the Investigators to find their way. I then look at all the clues and decide which abilities can be used to find them. If a clue isn’t a core one, I determine if there is a cost to find it. I try to provide numerous zero-spend clues and attempt to make sure that no ability is overly represented. Library Use and Interpersonal abilities can be especially tricky, so I often consolidate clues that originally required multiple rolls.
The Zero Point scenarios included random tables and determination of number of foes. I removed or modified most of these elements, allowing Keepers to set the pace and to stay truer to ToC’s design principles.
The scenarios’ writer, Sarah Newton, presented two design challenges: rules for vehicle combat and unit-scale skirmishes (including abilities to direct squads). Adam Gauntlett’s WWI scenarios for ToC provide some examples of vehicles at war, but I needed rules that were more expansive and self contained. My original draft hewed closely to the rules for disabling vehicles in the ToC rulebook, adding scaling Hit Thresholds and protective armor for the vehicles and personnel. Though these draft rules worked during playtesting, they weren’t entirely satisfying. Following revisions and a battery of playtests covering various situations, the final rules have a little more complexity, such as degrees of damage (which make vehicles harder to control) and crashes, while still feeling like GUMSHOE. The mass-combat rules from Heroes of the Sea were simpler to convert, mostly requiring figuring out how to model all the modifiers provided by troop quality and commander ability tests.
Modiphius Entertainment gives Mythos roleplayers a variety of options when it comes to choosing a system to play Achtung! Cthulhu. I’m honored to have been part of bringing the ToC version about. It gives players a thrilling setting for both Pulp and Purist games, with rules that can be used to run warfare in other times and places.
See P. XX
A column on roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
SRD or SDD?
With editorial for Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow completed, it’s time to take a break from DramaSystem to work on another of the obligations arising from our November Kickstarter. That would be the System Reference Document for Open GUMSHOE.
On one level, this seems like an exercise in cutting and pasting, taking the basic iteration of the rules as found in the upcoming Esoterrorists Enhanced Edition (the text of which you can grab now as a preorder benefit), cutting out the setting-specific bits and then adding in elements from the other GUMSHOE games. It does however require some thought on what an SRD ought to be doing.
When you decide to throw a game system open to all comers, you naturally give up control over what happens to it as others present it for their own creative purposes. This is a concern because GUMSHOE departs from some standard assumptions and becomes a better play experience when GMs and players understand where, how and why it does this.
For example, rating points in abilities mostly don’t represent a simulated resource in the fictional world. Instead they function as a sort of narrative conceit, measuring the characters’ spotlight time and how they grab it. (A few abilities, like Health and Stability, can be regarded as measurable resources in the game reality—although of course they’re still an abstraction. When you break your leg, you can’t consult a numbered meter to see how many points you’ve lost.) GUMSHOE seems confusing to some players until they grasp this. This explanation, though not a rule, strictly speaking, serves as a key tool to enhance play. So while you might categorize it as GM advice or a player note, it’s really a pivotal component of the game. As such, the explanatory text should be available to anyone publishing their own GUMSHOE adaptation. We can’t require adopters of the license to use it—as indeed, we can’t force them to make any particular choice. We call this Open GUMSHOE, not Passive Aggressively Controlling GUMSHOE. Still, we can encourage people to include it by making it part of the standard boilerplate text in the document.
This reflects a broader priority. We’ve chosen to make GUMSHOE available to other designers. Yet we remain its foremost custodians. If we’re going to let it out of the nest like this, we’d better provide excellent care and feeding instructions. We want others not only to produce GUMSHOE games, but to design great GUMSHOE games. It should therefore contain at least some guidance on how to do this.
The GUMSHOE SRD differs from the most famous versions of its breed, the D20 and its descendant, the Pathfinder document, in that it won’t also comprise a playable game unto itself. It’s not The Esoterrorists with the IP elements scrubbed out, but rather the set of components you need to build your new game on the GUMSHOE chassis.
If you’re designing a GUMSHOE game, we want you to be able to do it well. So it has to contain at least some signposting showing you how to adapt it to your needs.
For example, the build point totals for purchasing investigative ratings vary with each iteration of the game, depending on how many of those abilities the game includes. So the SRD can’t just give you the flat numbers as they appear in The Esoterrorists or Ashen Stars or whatever, because you might include a different number of investigative abilities in your GUMSHOE game. The document has to break from the text as third-party publishers might incorporate it into their rulebooks to provide the formula to calculate what the build point totals should be.
At least in these passages, the System Reference Document becomes something else—a System Design Document. We’ve gone from SRD to SDD.
Extensive passages on how to design GUMSHOE games go beyond the scope of the project. That sort of thing is better saved for occasional columns like this one. But the SRD does have to provide designers with the basic tools to construct GUMSHOE games without having to reverse engineer from the existing books. A balance must be struck here. If the document contains too much advice, it might create preconceptions that might lead other designers away from what would otherwise be brilliant leaps away from the game’s current assumptions. Too little, and it doesn’t give them enough to simply reproduce what we’ve already established in another setting.
GUMSHOE is not a generic system, but a chassis on which you can construct an emulation of any investigative genre. For a classic example, see the grenade. Grenades in the real world work the same regardless of the context in which they’re exploded. In fiction, they can work quite differently, depending on the reality level of the genre at hand. So in the Tom Clancy-meets-postmodernism-meets-visceral horror mix of The Esoterrorists, grenades are pretty deadly. Mutant City Blues treats them as less effective than the super powers at the heart of that setting. If you for some inexplicable reason decided to fuse high energy action movies with investigation, you might make yet a third choice, depicting them as wildly damaging to property and inanimate objects, while allowing people to escape harm from them simply by jumping and being carried away by the massive fiery explosions they generate.
So again the SRD can’t just pick one grenade rule and make that the default for all genres. It has to provide a quick design note about genre emulation and point you toward the solution that works for your design goals.
Likewise we won’t be providing a complete list of mutant powers from MCB or virology implants from Ashen Stars. But we will give you examples of each special rule structure so you can then kitbash it for your own purposes.
In the process I might even learn something new about my own game, as I figure out what is and isn’t essential to it.
I gotta say, it’s a good thing I already wrote GUMSHOE rules for expeditions. Because now I’m not surprised when everything takes longer and seems harder than it did when we planned this thing. Mythos Expeditions has, like its namesake, run into its share of excitement along the way. Promising paths had to be neglected, heroic comrades fell along the trail, and I can’t get the sound of those drums out of my head! The drums! The drums! Oh, hold on, I’ve got Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” on repeat on iTunes. My bad. I blame FX’ The Americans, which is giving me a Cold War nostalgia that is very dangerous in a man with an espionage RPG line. Very dangerous. Hmm. Oh, right. Where were we? Or, rather, when were we?
That’s the question I’ve been asking myself as the adventures for Mythos Expeditions have come in. One or two are still out gathering firewood or looking for fresh water, but I’m fairly confident that we’ve got our table of contents right here, right after “GUMSHOE Rules for Expeditions”:
“The Gobi Sleepers,” by Steven S. Long
Maverick paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews is making one last trip to the wilds of Mongolia, to uncover primordial fossils revealing the true heritage of mankind. At the edge of the world, on the brink of an invasion, the expedition must sift the dust of the Gobi and survive the truth. Andrews’ last expedition was in 1930, but time tends to get weird out in Inner Mongolia.
“Ravenous Silences,” by Anthony Warren
Plague and rebellion grip Liberia in West Africa, but the brave scholars of the Miskatonic Medical Relief Expedition are undaunted. And, so far, undevoured! The Kru Rebellion ran from 1931 to 1936, and this adventure can run likewise.
“Lost on a Sea of Dreams,” by Adam Gauntlett
Oceanographer William Beebe has invented an amazing device, the bathysphere, that promises to revolutionize deep exploration forever. A team of Miskatonic scholars is bringing him an improved model … sailing on a course leading through the Bermuda Triangle. Beebe’s Bermuda expeditions ran from 1930 to 1934, opening up a vast horizon of chronological possibilities.
“An Incident at the Border,” by Kenneth Hite
Set in a Paraguay battling for its life against Bolivian invasion, this expedition takes Miskatonic geologists — and a helpful oil company engineer — deep into the desolate heart of the Gran Chaco. Artillery strikes, vampire bats, dust storms: Paraguay’s got it all during the Chaco War (1932-1935).
“The Jaguars of El-Thar,” by Tristan J. Tarwater
An unstable anthropologist in the wilds of Mayan Yucatan. The prestige (and expedition budget) of Miskatonic’s Mayan studies program is on the line, in a remote province thrown into turmoil by Depression, rebellion, and the return of unwelcome outsiders. Riffs off the Mayan “Caste War” ending in April 1933, as well as another event that year that might spoil the adventure if I revealed it here.
“Tongued With Fire,” by Bill White
The historical roots of the Prester John legend — perhaps of the beginnings of Christianity in India — draw Miskatonic scholars to the hills above the Punjab to uncover the true significance of an ancient artifact that may have been touched by John the Baptist! Flashing back to Kipling’s Raj and forward to Gandhi’s revolution, this expedition likely launches between 1936 and 1939.
“Whistle and I’ll Come to You,” by Emma Marlow
A mysterious stone whistle carved by an unknown tribe in the interior of a New Guinea island! Cannibals! Limestone caverns no human eye has ever seen! Errol Freaking Flynn! And I haven’t even teased the best thing about this scenario yet. If you have a single pulp-gamer bone in your body, you will run this adventure set in May, 1937. Trust me.
“A Load of Blarney,” by Lauren Roy
A curious shape in a cargo of iron leads Miskatonic’s finest on a tangled trail through Irish history, past rath and grange and standing stone, through the Moon-Bog of the Barrys, and into a mythic terror. It begins with the historical sinking of the steamship Annagher in December 1937, and ends … well, that would be telling, would it not?
“Cerulean Halo,” by Matthew Sanderson
President Roosevelt wants to return to Clipperton Island, an isolated speck in the Pacific hundreds of miles south of Mexico, an island legendary for its deep-sea fishing and haunted by its murderous past. Miskatonic University wants FDR to take along a Miskatonic naturalist who knows the island. There isn’t one, so the Investigators will have to do instead. The President did indeed visit Clipperton in July 1938, so you must have found nothing amiss before then, right?
You’ll note I’ve put those adventures in rough chronological order. Why is that? I will explain, in the manner common to such things, by means of a rambling exposition. Mythos Expeditions is a collection of scenarios, not a campaign. The basic expedition structure is fairly inescapable: Investigators travel through danger, meet horror, escape/overcome it or die/go mad/both. When the only core clue you really need is marked with a big red “X” on the map, the advantage, the killer app (heh), the key to a good expedition scenario is the scenery: the setting, the horror, the sense of, yes, travel to a strange far place. Running all these adventures in a row strains those advantages. Fodor’s Disease sets in: “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgian Congo.”
Ideally, you’ll parcel them out over years of play, tossing an expedition into the middle of an ongoing series of urban Arkham adventures, rural Massachusetts bonfires, and campus intrigues. Putting these scenarios in chronological order, then, helps you plant seeds ahead of time. It lets you know when “sweeps week” might be coming for your campaign, and gives you big events to build up to. Sure, you can change things up — only a churl would cavil if you extended the Yucatan Caste War, or moved FDR’s second Clipperton fishing trip up to his first term. You’re not tied to the real history (which is oddly bereft of Yithians and blasphemous frog-people, anyhow) — but you can always play in it, if you want. I think that’s more fun. Maybe that’s just me.
And if you further differ with me, and want to run them all in a row, who am I to say you can’t? I say no such thing. However you want to play, spaced out or time-shifted, this book will also contain guidelines for using these adventures as the spine of an Armitage Inquiry campaign. Rules for bringing knowledge back to the Orne Library, so that everyone in the Inquiry can build up those dedicated pool points. If I have time, maybe a sub-system for playing through an academic career (student or faculty) at Miskatonic University, where “publish or perish” takes on a whole new meaning. Or maybe that will have to go in a later issue of Ken Writes About Stuff. It’s hard to say. I just have to keep striding forward, toward that big red “X” on the map. And somehow stop these maddening drums.
Pop quiz, hotshot: a mysterious figure tosses a grenade at you. How much damage do you take? In GUMSHOE, it depends on who’s throwing the grenade.
A cultist of Hastur? Point-blank grenade damage in Trail of Cthulhu is +3. Right there, one table, look it up, bang. Or rather, boom.
A vampiric henchman, or a mutant criminal? Point-blank grenade damage in Night’s Black Agents (within 2m in Mutant City Blues) is +0, plus 6 more points (three times the grenade’s explosive class of 2) for a net of +6. A little more figgering, but still, boom. (The table should probably have the rule in it, so you don’t have to flip any pages. Notes for future second editions.)
An Esoterrorist? A grenade near enough to do damage in the Esoterror Fact Book does +2 damage, rolled three times. You can spend 4 points of Athletics to dive away from one roll, and 6 points of athletics to dodge two rolls. It’s your choice, but someone has to remember the rule.
A giggling slasher, or a sentient locust? In Fear Itself and Ashen Stars, the GM is just gonna roll something and decide how hosed you should be.
Pete’s Dad? You’ve gotta ask the other guy, but it don’t look good.
You probably want to get grenaded by an Esoterrorist, if you’re the spry type.
Why so many different versions? Isn’t a grenade just a grenade? (Yes, GURPS fans, I know. Put your hands down.) Part of the reason is that Robin and I keep coming up with new (and, one hopes, often better) ideas for game mechanics. One of the really great joys of GUMSHOE development is the ability to tag-team design this way. (Or at least it is for those of us tag-teamed with Robin; he may see it differently. On an unrelated note, the 18th-century strongman Belzoni did a stunt in which he carried a ton of dwarves on his back.)
But a bigger reason is this: GUMSHOE games are first and foremost about building a game experience that models a specific narrative style, a specific genre. In Trail of Cthulhu, maintaining a mood of horror is key, so we don’t want to get down in the rules weeds. Damage should be fast, simple, and (with Purist mode Health levels anyway) unpleasant. In both Night’s Black Agents and Mutant City Blues, those genres (spy thriller and police procedural) feed off the bling of surface details. The rules should be crunchier to reflect that, and they should cover more types of explosives and scale higher than the relatively simple Trail of Cthulhu chart. Also, the damage can be higher, because the heroes are badass spies or genuine superheroes. The Esoterror Fact Book thing isn’t really a grenade rule, although it’s presented as one. It’s actually a Thriller Combat Maneuver because it models cinematic badassery. I could easily have lifted it as an option for Night’s Black Agents, probably calling it “Thrown Clear of the Blast.” (It’s going in Double Tap, never you fear.) In lo-fi horror and space adventure serial, you almost never see grenades, so they’re not even present in the Fear Itself or Ashen Stars rules text. If grenades are so important to the specific story that the GM needs to add them, she’ll have a much better idea of how much damage they should do to her heroes or their foes. (Hint: It may not even be the same amount of damage.)
This little grenade workshop exemplifies the kind of thing that makes developing the eventual Open GUMSHOE (a stretch goal secured by your generous support for Hillfolk) a mite tricky. But it’s also what makes GUMSHOE so powerful: you can swap out grenade rules as easily as you can port byakhee into the Bleed, or send Toronto super-cops after dhampirs.
And it’s not all grenades. You can change up really fundamental rules for the game, like how the dice work, with almost as little effort. During the Dragonmeet GUMSHOE panel in 2011, I teased a questioner who said his players were made nervous by the finality of GUMSHOE spends, calling a “take-backs” version (you can spend after the roll, maybe at double the cost) WhineSHOE. I meant it, of course, with love tempered only very little by the frustration of the chef who sees a diner enthusiastically pouring balsamic vinegar on the Dover sole. Staunch and valued friend of GUMSHOE Lowell Francis took it in good spirit, proposing a couple of changes he’d like to see in his own “WhineSHOE” post. In his LiveJournal, gameratus Joshua Kronengold proposed another very interesting variant:
Instead of “1 spend = +1 [to the die],” replace this with “1 spend = +1 or roll +1 die, keeping the highest”. The nice thing about this is that +1 die is actually strictly worse than a straight +1 (adding a die and dropping the lowest increases the likely result by +35/36). But Gumshoe isn’t about your maximum total; it’s about your chance of failure, and there the first +1 die (but not so much the rest; extra dice have a steep diminishing return) drastically drops your worst cases — changing the chance of a 1 from 1/6 to 1/36 (although there you’d rather go from 1/6 to 0/6), a 2 or worse from 2/3 to 1/9, and a 3 or worse from 1/2 to 1/4.
I thought this was such a good, neat, elegant hack that I shot it off to Simon and Robin, and found out that Simon has been doing much the same thing as a house rule for “Mastery” skills in his homebrewed GUMSHOE Fantasy game. It definitely could fit in the default cinematic “competence porn” world of Night’s Black Agents, and probably as a Pulp rule for Trail of Cthulhu. I wouldn’t use it in Purist mode for Trail, or Dust mode NBA. If your Bleed is more Star Trek than Blake’s 7, maybe it goes in Ashen Stars, too. I’d also probably limit it to “only one extra die,” for simplicity’s sake.
Anyhow, my point is this. Because of the nature of the GUMSHOE lines, and the nature of GUMSHOE itself, there are a lot of GUMSHOE variants floating around out there. Some of them might not be best practices, and even some best practices might not be for everyone. Lowell wants to integrate FATE more closely with GUMSHOE, while R.B. Bergstrom summed up the real secret core of GUMSHOE better than I think almost anyone has in a recent post in his blog Transitive Property of Gaming. (If it helps, mentally swap Bennies, the Savage Worlds term he uses below, for Fate points from FATE when you read this)
The GUMSHOE system, in a nutshell, is a game where your entire character sheet is nothing but Bennies. It’s like starting every session with about 80 Bennies per player, and I find that to be awesome.
So obviously, there’s no one right answer, but there are way too many great answers than we can easily track. Some of them apparently being quietly implemented by the publisher without telling his designers. (On an unrelated note, Belzoni eventually left the strongman business to blow holes in priceless antiquities.)
So I’d like to propose that we set up shop somewhere on the Pelgrane site to keep a bunch of best practices, hacks, tweaks, and horrible ideas. Until we get the GUMSHOE Lab clean and sparkly, we can use the comments section on this post. Or post more hacks to the Pelgrane forums under the “GUMSHOE General Discussion” category. But I swear we’re going to get the GUMSHOE Lab up and running, and stock it with all the hacks we can scrounge up, probably once Robin gets the Open GUMSHOE draft to a stage he likes.
Having said all that, I should note that we are trying out a unified system of Expeditions rules for GUMSHOE in Mythos Expeditions. Once we’ve seen how seven or eight good designers who aren’t me hit those rules, I’ll know if they should only be the Trail of Cthulhu Expeditions rules by the time the project is through. I tried a first cut at “the journey is the danger” rules in the “Lord of the Jungle” adventure in Shadows Over Filmland, but those were way too finicky to backdrop everything from the Mountains of Madness to a gulag prison break. So I went back to basics, came up with a single metric for testing Survival (an Expedition’s Health rating, basically) and hung some mechanics off that. It’s certainly simpler to write, and I suspect it’s geometrically simpler to run.
Right now, though, we’re at the exciting stage where I’ve sent out the Expeditions rules, an outline, and a sample expedition (to romantic Paraguay! O magical land of brush warfare and vampire bats!) to a whole caravan of super-neat authors, and I’m getting their pitches back. We’ll release a table of contents once we have it, mostly as a brag. I’d like to say Mythos Expeditions will be a spring playtest (or rather eight or so spring playtests) and a summer release, but we haven’t made all our Survival tests on this one yet. I should probably pack some grenades, come to think of it.
Two wider geek-media huzzahs for Pelgrane core games hit this week, and by some kind of odd coincidence, they both feature interviews with me.
Andrew Girdwood of Geek Native shares the news of how you can get Trail of Cthulhu for 55% off at DriveThruRPG if you haven’t bought it yet, and asks me all manner of questions including “What music goes well with Trail of Cthulhu?” You know I plugged James Semple’s amazing soundtracks, but click through to see what else I suggested.
Ed Grabianowski, meanwhile, gives Night’s Black Agents a very flattering review at io9.com (“Filled with innovative features that help create a unique gaming experience”) and asks me, among other things, about playtest highlights I didn’t mention in the “DVD Commentary” sections in the book. Find out where the giant stone vampire head was, here.
The man who gave Night’s Black Agents its sleek carnivorous look, Chris Hüth, has designed (and posted on his blog, The Elder Sküll) a modified Night’s Black Agents/Trail of Cthulhu Burn/Dust mode character sheet with slots for Magic, Mediumship, and Clairvoyance, should you want to play a paranormal spies vs. the Mythos game a la the sadly unproduced British TV series Rough Magik. You know, maybe I’d better let him explain it.
A tip of the Pelgrane hat goes out to Michael Rees’ new blog, The Game Is Afoot, dedicated to all things GUMSHOE and DramaSystem. Entries so far include a Bookhounds of London adventure, Burmese Trail of Cthulhu doings, and Bone Wars, a DramaSystem series pitch in which you play rootin’-tootin’ paleontologists.
The GUMSHOE system by Robin D. Laws revolutionized the investigative roleplaying game, and is the basis for RPGs that will appeal to fans of many genres: space opera, spy thriller, Lovecraftian horror and two-fisted pulp adventure — with more to come.
Its central premise, though, can be challenging for newcomers to wrap their heads around. What do you mean investigative skills automatically work? If we don’t roll dice to find clues, what do we do?
One of the best ways to introduce new players to GUMSHOE is to run one of our 20-minute GUMSHOE demo adventures for them. These scenarios have been tested through convention play, and provide a solid intro to the rules as well as to individual games based on the system. If you are running something else with your game group, 20 minutes isn’t a hard sell to run at the beginning of a session.
Currently you can download three short GUMSHOE demos:
20-minute demos for Esoterrorists, Fear Itself and Mutant City Blues will be up next. Give these scenarios a try, and let us know how your session went in the forum.