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Posted on May 23, 2008 | Make a CommentAs a part of getting my head wrapped around the upcoming GUMSHOE game Mutant City Blues game from Pelgrane (think the Powers comic book as an RPG), I decided to sit down with The Esoterrorists and give it a read. I'd heard some mixed reviews (1, 2) about this game both online and off, and wanted to see what was up with it.
I actually enjoyed the read quite a bit. Yes, the system's pretty simple -- honestly, I'd have loved a bell curve in the die-rolling part -- but I do like the idea of bringing the idea of the character sheet as a resource management problem together with the investigative horror genre.
I haven't yet gotten a chance to read through my copy of Trail of Cthulhu, nor have I reread the advance text I have of Mutant City Blues, so I'm not sure if later versions based on the core GUMSHOE system from Esoterrorists make any substantial changes to how the system functions. That's next.
At any rate, ultimately the GUMSHOE system looks to be something that takes a specific stance on the "whiff factor" in RPGs. Most of you know what the whiff factor is: a whiff is what happens when you roll the dice, putting all kinds of focus and effort into it even, and you just flat out miss, your joy dies, and someone else gets their turn. It can really stink, and a lot of more recent designs are a response to the existence of the risk of the whiff. Fate's definitely included in this, with the invoking part of aspects intended as a mitigation of the whiff.
GUMSHOE is particularly concerned with the whiff factor when it comes to investigative, fact-finding challenges in games. Its answer is simply to eliminate them: if a clue is there to be found, it is found by those with an appropriate investigative ability (though not really in any sort of railroading way -- the idea is that you might get your clues, but the interpretation is still left up to the players). Dice don't come into play with investigative abilities 99% of the time, but you can still spend some points out of your various investigation abilities' pools in order to get some bonus extras. Sure, you might know right away that this guy's lying to you about the gun because you have an nonzero rating in your Bullshit Detector skill (you gotta love a game that has Bullshit Detector as a skill), but you might be able to spend a point or two from your BSD ability pool to notice that he's positioned himself so that you don't notice that box on the desk behind him -- containing the gun! Again, my Fate brain kicks in a little here and says, "hey, that's a lot like extra shifts on a skill roll", and there's definitely some resemblence, minus the rolling of dice.
This approach with investigative abilities is ultimately a pretty good thing for the game, I think, and it's dirt simple to house-rule in a little story-gaming sensibilities here if you want them -- let the players spend a point to assert the existence of a clue, much like a successful declaration roll works in Fate. I can definitely see using the SOTC brain to say -- in essence -- okay, the automatic clues from having an ability are essentially assessments and the point spends from those pools are declarations and calling it a day, there. Instant hippy GUMSHOE action!
But GUMSHOE segregates its investigative abilities from what it calls "general abilities". General abilities are the ones where the dice (okay -- die, since it's basically 1d6 plus however much you're willing to spend from the relevant ability) come into play, introducing risk and the possibility of failure. Moreover, to underscore the horror element (and, I suppose, avoid the real possibility of gaming the very simple dicing system a bit too much), in Esoterrorists at least there's an explicit recommendation that the GM not disclose the target numbers to the players before they roll. That's a risk heightener, to be sure, but it also does something that I wouldn't have expected out of GUMSHOE: it embraces and maybe even desires the Whiff Factor in general abilities. General abilities are there to give you something to spend to increase your chance to succeed, yes, but their existence and resolution method also suggests they are there to give you opportunities to fail.
Problem is -- from my perspective at least -- that there's nothing to be gained from the failure and complications that arise from it. And that's a place where players can get really perturbed, especially if you were sitting on the target number and not letting them know what it was.
Chad Underkoffler's PDQ system (among others) takes on this sort of thing by giving a reward back to the player when failure occurs: some sort of experience point benefit has been seen, as well as other temporary benefits (analagous to getting a fate point when you fail a roll -- Fate doesn't do that, but we figure the compel mechanic stimulates the Fate point economy just fine without it).
I think something along those lines could do a lot to improve the perturbing situation described here, in GUMSHOE; just let players get back one point in any one of their pools (or just in the one that is being used on the roll) whenever they fail a roll. Now, you have folks willing to spend a point on nearly every general ability test: they get a +1 to their roll, increasing the feeling that their general ability rating is palpable and relevant, and that either boosts them to their success, or is a break even if they fail. It's a tiny change, and it does mean that characters might end up feeling more heroic or resilient than they normally would, but I think it's a change that could seriously improve the perception of how the system works in play. (I talked this over with Rob, who's been a bit lukewarm on the game, and confirmed that this is a change that would address a solid chunk of his lukewarm-ity.)
So, yeah. I suppose it's all proof that I'm still heavily inclined to look right away for what house rules when I encounter a new game. So how about you? Do you have any house rules you'd be inclined to apply to GUMSHOE?
Posted on April 11, 2008 | Make a CommentAnswered Questions from Last Time
- What has become of the Face?
- Who abducted him?
- Will Brynna, Anders, and Thea be able to find him? (Will they even try?)
- Will Anders be able to impersonate the Face successfully?
- Will there be another attempt on the Face's life?
- Will the Face recover from his injuries?
- How will the Council's vote on prayer taxation resolve?
- What documents was the Glacindoan Ambassador burning in the fireplace when Anders last visited the Embassy?
- Were Thea and Brynna recognized by the Serpent Ring?
- The Serpent Ring (the most dangerous thugs from the Pit hired to kidnap the Face during the vote)
- Breck (the Serpent newbie who Thea "converted" with her faith)
- Raff Schneider (Office admid for the building where the Council of 7 meets. Raff tends to hear more than he "should".)
- The Millers' Daughter (Recently widowed, Raff's age, she had a recital at which she was introduced to Raff thanks to Anders' maneuvering; they hit it off and may be something of an item now)
- Mekhee Fillip (Graffito artist; friend of the group, he helped arrange for a distraction when they needed it)
- The Order of Gannet (Thea's monastic order -- and Patriarch Wendell's, too)
- Doctor Horatio Alban (The Face's physician, he has finally been brought back together with the Face, who is recovering from major head trauma. Dr. Alban is the one to put Anders on his mission.)
- The Council of 7: In addition to The Face, we now have The Crown and The Blood; The Chalice and The Coin; The Left Hand and The Right.
Old Questions, Still Lingering
- Will Brynna & co be able to pull off their caper to subvert the publication of new, anti-Brynna guidelines for graduation at the Black College?
- The plan seems to involve replacing one of the plates in the printing... How will they pull that off?
- Why have couriers been disappearing?
- Why was Patriarch Wendell (seemingly) taking a bribe from the Glacindo delegation?
- What was the purpose of the gunpowder smuggling operation out of the back of the Glacindoan Embassy?
- What transpired in the harbor to cause that explosion?
- Who came out on top—the smugglers or the Gondoliers?
- Who gained access to the Gondolier watch tables and shared them with the smugglers?
- What did the head smuggler mean when asking what he should do about "the others", during Anders’ ruse?
- Who had the Face kidnapped?
- Why was he abducted?
- Who wrote to the Face to warn him of an attempt on his life?
- What has become of the Face?
Posted on April 11, 2008 | Make a CommentFaith, Faces, and Fingerprints again this weekend (finally; it's been a month and a half -- and a bit hard to maintain mental and creative momentum in the face of that, but that's a topic for another time).
In this episode, rob_donoghue's PC, Anders, is put to the task of impersonating The Face for a crucial vote. But there might be one or more assassins out for the person he's impersonating -- so his friends may need to watch his back.
We know the Council of Seven (the Face tends to abstain or cast deciding votes) has two seats of the Clergy, two of the Nobles, and two of the Merchants, and we know that the strong astrological theme of the setting means that each seat corresponds to a constellation. Middle of last month I asked the players if they wanted to decide what those constellations were and I suspect everyone was too busy to respond to that. With the game tomorrow, it's time to invent a few details of my own.
That gives us The Crown and the Blood (Noble seats); The Chalice and The Coin (Merchant seats); and The Left and Right Hands (of Nod -- that goes unsaid; the Clergy seats).
In another post I'll review the lingering questions from the session BEFORE last, and what got answered in the last, and what new questions there are.
Posted on April 10, 2008 | Make a CommentIf Evil Hat was able to arrange for some sort of "Fate-a-Palooza" style event, almost certainly on a weekend, focusing on folks playing and running SOTC, Fate, and other Evil Hat games, at a game store in the Washington, DC area, would you come?
Please share your thoughts below if you would be honestly able and willing to attend such an event. I need as many valid responses as I can get as a part of making a case to a nearby gamestore, but I'd love to hear a "testimonial" style response from folks rather than running an LJ poll!
Posted on April 1, 2008 | Make a CommentSpirit of the Season is now up on the OneBookShelf sites:
Posted on February 27, 2008 | Make a CommentSo this past weekend I got the chance to run more of my Faith, Faces, & Fingerprints game (I also got to hang out and shoot the breeze with ratmmjess, chadu, and rdonoghue, but that's beside the current point).
We had a fun sort of caper thing going on, with a kidnapped guy and a judicious application of the Wilderness of Mirrors method -- my players contributed five obstacles (I gave each player a fate point per obstacle), and took three "fuck with 'em" points for myself at the end to complicate their path. It worked out really well once we got past the play-habits obstacle of "wait! what? i'm coming up with my own obstacles? okay, i'm going to make them really easy!" thing. Admittedly, that particular hump was surmounted by a bit of me playing "willfully misinterpretive djinn" with the ideas they came up with (e.g., "green, inexperienced recruit" became "green, inexperienced, VERY EAGER TO PROVE HIMSELF recruit", etc).
But what I really liked seeing was the fights. This is not a fighty set of characters, but they found themselves in a few circumstances where things had to come to blows. I'm running with the -2/-4/-6 consequences thing, and really short stress tracks -- the base is 2 instead of 5 -- so the characters were in big jeopardy of getting hurt pretty bad. As a result, the fights that took place were (deliberately on the players' part) unbalanced whenever possible: two of the opponents dropped were knocked down while drunkenly half-asleep; another was incapacitated by a stink bomb. The one time the group's fighter was outnumbered by two guys who were *almost* as good as her, she used a flash-pot to blind them both (go go gadget!) as a two-target maneuver and then put her all into making sure she dropped them both the first time she hit them, tearing through Fate Points and the like to do it.
I dug this a lot. I wanted a fantasy setting where folks got *scared* when the knives came out, and this build for Fate -- similar in several ways to the Dresden Files -- really delivered on that promise.
Next session -- deep into March -- will involve the impersonation (by a PC!) of a politician amidst an atmosphere of intrigue and assassination. Can't wait.
Posted on December 7, 2007 | Make a CommentQuoth gmskarka:
I just wanted to let you know that as of our current THRILLING TALES release, "The Golden Idol of Sikral", all of our adventures from this point forward through 2008 will be dual-statted for both d20 and FATE.
You can check out the adventure here: http://adamant.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=51393
Thanks to Evil Hat for the license!
Posted on November 24, 2007 | Make a CommentDoctor Scrooge does NOT think you should download Spirit of the Season when we make it available -- free for a limited time -- in December!
Scrooge hates acts of giving and charity.
Good thing we have you around, friendly neighborhood Reindeer Men (and Women)!
Posted on November 16, 2007 | Make a CommentIt’s the Most Wonderful
Time Of The Year... For EVIL!
The miserly villain Doctor Scrooge hides behind legal technicalities as he steals from the pockets of the impoverished... explorer-gone-mad Jacques Frost preys upon the peoples of the north with his resurrected prehistoric murder monsters... the immortal Baroness Blackheart quests for the Elixir of Life, threatening to destroy all foundations of happiness for mankind...
... and it’s up to Nick Saint—Codename: Secret Santa!—his Reindeer Men, and you to save the holidays from their vile clutches!
Spirit of the Season is a holiday treat from the minds of Evil Hat Productions and Atomic Sock Monkey Press. Featuring characters and new rules compatible with both Spirit of the Century and Truth & Justice, Spirit of the Season is your ticket to two-fisted holiday pulp adventure!