Regular readers of this irregular outlet for my musings will know that I’m a big fan of the Gumshoe system by Pelgrane Press. I’ve got a year-old Night’s Black Agents campaign that shows no signs of slowing down just yet, and a Trail of Cthulhu campaign that is letting me indulge my fantasy of being remotely as good at drawing together Lovecraftian strands into a single narrative as Alan Moore has been in “Providence.” I’m not, but it’s fun trying, and the Gumshoe system has supported it brilliantly.
CthulhuConfidential. Gumshoe One2One aims to bring the Gumshoe experience to the specific situation of one GM and one player. In doing so it’s had to address the usefulness of the pool point system for General Skills and also the often fudged issue of character demise or debilitation in a single player setting. My Trail campaign has always been just me and a single player, so I was interested to see how this would work out.
I haven’t been disappointed – at all.
The system streamlines the use of Investigative skills (I won’t go too much into how the original Gumshoe system works, that stuff is easily found) by abandoning having a rating in the skill and simply either having the skill or not in order to determine whether core clues can be found by exercising the skill. To replace the original method of having points in those skills that can be spent for extra benefits, each character now starts with a number of Pushes that can be spent on any investigative skill. Pushes can be earned back during play by particular successes (I’ve also found myself handing them out in response to particularly inspiring moments of roleplaying by the player – not Rules as Written, but hey, I’m a maverick free spirit living on the edge etc).
General skills now have a rating of one or more dice to determine aptitude. I was initially unsure about this but in play it really works – and it has the advantage of not requiring book-keeping. One thing that was a tiny irritation about original Gumshoe was the need to keep tallies of point spends for each General skill as they were used. Since my NBA campaign takes place over Roll20 this wasn’t much of an issue as the NBA character sheet I use on Roll20 does it all electronically, but the Trail Campaign is mostly face-to-face and required pencil and eraser work which was sometimes unwieldy. Gumshoe One2One does away with the need even for this, nor is there a need to track dwindling Health or Stability scores as these like other conditions are now handled by gaining Problems and Edge cards.
Problems and Edges are picked up during play for passing or failing particular challenges that arise. Some are one use bonuses or penalties, others linger around giving longer term advantages or hindrances. Some, like particular injuries or sanity blasting shocks, may spell the end of your character IF they are left undealt with at the end of the adventure, so there are still some very real risks but unlike in a traditional rule set they won’t bring the game to a disappointing and premature end. Any Lovecraftian hero has to survive long enough to record, in real time, a diary entry of his demise after all.
So far I’ve run a few sessions of Cthulhu Confidential, each with someone different, each time over Roll20. I’ve had to do a little more prep work than normal in creating the Problem & Edge cards but this diminishes each time as with some careful rewording many of the cards can serve double duty in later adventures. I’ve also created a Paint.Net template for creating my own cards that allows single click visibility of the various “tags” that may appear (including a nice Elder Sign graphic for Mythos shocks, Blood Splatters for injuries etc) which helps streamline creating my own adventures.
Two of the games I’ve run are straight from the rulebook – featuring pre-made characters and beautifully detailed settings, and they went down really well – with feedback from the players that they would love to continue playing those characters and the game in general. I don’t often run pre-written adventures but these have really captured the feel of the hardboiled Mythos genre perfectly. I’m always more comfortable running my own stuff though and in a leap of devil-may-care courage I’ve switched my one-player Trail campaign to using the new rules. Two sessions in and it already feels comfortable. It’s also given me some work in rewriting adventures I’d already planned to take into account the new system, but that has been less trouble than you’d think and it’s been fun working out how to switch certain encounters to the new way of doing things. Combat especially becomes less gamey and strategic and more about character choices and narrative resolution – something that I think suits single character play better anyway, and I’ve never been a fan of characters getting into protracted shoot-outs with unnatural entities anyway. Surviving rather than sharpshooting seems much more appropriate.
In summary then – Cthulhu Confidential presents wonderfully rich and detailed settings for play, some great and detailed characters (Viv’s player enjoys shipping her with various of her sources… Sources being allied NPCs that the PC can draw on for assistance with certain investigative skills) and three great adventures to get you started. The rules really suit the more intense style of play that the one on one situation generates, and the lack of required book-keeping makes it great for online play. It may prove slightly harder than normal to wing situations and challenges than other games but I think this may be just a learning curve thing – and having a number of generic Problems and Edges to hand out will probably overcome this – if your PC decides they really want to shin up the rickety drainpipe you could make it a quick pass/fail test after all, but having a generic “You fall and injure yourself” Problem and so on gives you the chance to add more depth on a moment’s notice.
Would I recommend it? Oh hell yes. If you like intense play, Lovecraftian horror, or just the chance to tinker with one on one play in general go get it now.
How long before someone releases a Gumshoe One2One hack for “The Haunting”? (mine is about halfway done…)