Intro to GUMSHOE for Hatters

intro to gumshoeAs you might have heard, we’ve recently released Bubblegumshoe, a teen detective noir RPG. Step into the shoes of a high school sleuth a la Veronica Mars, Nancy Drew, or Pretty Little Liars. Find out who strangled the homecoming queen, why your friend suddenly left school and deleted her Facebook page, and whether or not the vice principal is secretly embezzling school funds. You can learn more about the game here if you’re so inclined.

One thing we’re particularly excited about is the fact that Bubblegumshoe uses the GUMSHOE system. We still love Fate, and we’ve got plenty of Fately awesomeness coming up, but we’ve said from the beginning that Evil Hat makes great games—not just Fate games. We want to continue doing different things and exploring different systems, so Bubblegumshoe was a way for us to explore how to do that. We’re pretty darned happy with the result, too.

We also realize that some of the Fate Corps might not know GUMSHOE. If you don’t, you should! We’ll tell you all about it! Right now! How exciting is that?!?!

Ahem. Anyway. About the GUMSHOE system. GUMSHOE was designed by Robin Laws, and the system has been used in a variety of detective RPGs like The Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu, and Night’s Black Agents.

One of my least favorite game experiences was in a mystery RPG where we kept failing all of our investigation rolls, and so we just wandered around in circles, knowing that we were right next to clues that we couldn’t find. GUMSHOE doesn’t allow that. If you have the ability, you get the clue. This keeps the game moving, and puts the emphasis on what you do with the clue rather than the dice rolls necessary to find it.

Although your Investigative abilities always work when it comes to clues, you still have the opportunity to spend Investigative ability points to get special benefits. You can think of Investigative ability points as somewhat similar to Fate points—both serve as story currency to allow the characters to do neat stuff under specific circumstances. You’ll also get Interpersonal points to spend in Bubblegumshoe, charting how much pull you’ve got with the people you know.

Dice rolls come into play with general and interpersonal abilities, keeping the stress on what you do with the clues. If the clues surrounding the homecoming queen’s death lead you to her tutor, do you try to follow him (which would be a Sneaking roll)? Confront him in public (a Throwdown)? Pressure his best friend for information (could be a BS Detector, Intimidate, or Taunt roll, depending on how you do it)?

As a result, GUMSHOE—like Fate—keeps the stress on the storytelling and relationships between the characters rather than the dice rolls necessary to spot the fingerprint on the mantel. Unlike Fate, it’s tailored to tell investigation stories—no hacking needed. The rules are designed specifically for the dramatic reveals, emotional confrontations, and dangerous situations involved in solving a mystery.

In Bubblegumshoe, we took these rules and streamlined them a bit, resulting in a shorter and–we think–tighter list of abilities. We took that space on the character sheet to codify the rules on interpersonal relationships. Your average teenage sleuth relies on social currency to get things done, but those favors only go so far. Relationships change. The first time you ask your buddy for a ride, he might say, “Sure! I wanted to run to the comic store anyway.” After you ask him the fourth time in a week (and ding his bumper), you’re more likely to hear, “You never text me unless you want a ride, and I’m in big trouble with my parents over that bumper. Some kind of sucky friend you are.” The rules adjustments help you make sense of those changing relationships and how they’ll affect what you can do in game. We’re interested to hear what you think about them!

For more information on the GUMSHOE system and other GUMSHOE games, click here.

For more information on the thinking behind Evil Hat’s flavor of GUMSHOE, click here.

For more information on Bubblegumshoe, click here.