Category Archives: Gumshoe System

Thoughts On Night's Black Agents Solo-Ops

I’ve played countless tabletop roleplaying games over the years, but only a few experiences come close to what Night’s Black Agents Solo-Ops by Pelgrane Press offers. What sets NBA Solo-Ops apart is, that it’s not your regular multiplayer roleplaying game, but it’s meant to be played by one GM and a single player. As I’ve already pointed out in my article about Cthulhu Confidential, another game powered by Gumshoe One-2-One, this is a very intense experience. Please note that this article contains spoilers.

In Night’s Black Agents Solo-Ops you – as a player – take on the role of Leyla Khan, a former MI6 agent who recently managed to escape from the influence of a Romanian vampire – at least if you are playing the official adventures included in the core rulebook. Players and GMs are of course free to create their own characters and come up with their stories.

Last year my friend Ralf ran the first adventure called “Never Say Dead” for me, which started with Leyla waking up in hospital bed with no memory of where or even who she was. During the course of the adventure I traveled to Budapest, uncovered some information about my character’s past, and avoided forces sent both by the vampire who once “owned” her and one of his rivals.

We completed the adventure in a single session and I not only managed to kill my former master, but I also escaped Budapest with a special artifact which supposedly helps against vampiric influence. Yay! Usually I am no huge fan of pregenerated characters but in this case it wasn’t so bad. Aside from some background Leyla is pretty much a blank slate (amnesia helps) and you can mold her into the character you want to play.

During the first adventure I was pretty much on the run all the time. Paranoia was high and most of the time I felt quite helpless, although Leyla is quite a skilled agent. Especially when dealing with mortal foes and regular opposition you feel quite competent, but – oh boy – things change as soon as you have to deal with the supernatural.

The second adventure, which we started playing last Saturday, is called “No Grave For Traitors”. This time Leyla is in Spain following a lead which may eventually lead to uncovering more about the vampire conspiracy. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this time I attended a drug boss’ party, fought members of a Moroccan drug cartel while wearing high heels and a little black dress, continued my research in London where I eventually tried to track down a former Hungarian scholar who was obviously under the influence of another Vampire.

As last time I had a lot of fun. If I hadn’t had a train to catch, I would have loved to continue playing. Playing Leyla Khan slowly becomes second nature and I am curious to see where my investigation leads me. I am a sucker for a good mystery, and the one spun by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is definitely an intriguing one. The game also makes you feel like a competent spy. You can truly be badass in this game, even though obstacles and opponents still feel like a threat. Having such a balanced experience is rare and I applaud the people at Pelgrane Press for pulling this off.

I also love the Gumshoe One-2-One mechanics, which I described in some detail in my Cthulhu Confidential post. The push mechanic is definitely more interesting than the spending mechanic from regular Gumshoe. I am glad Pelgrane Press decided to introduce it into their newer multiplayer games as well. Overall I am extremely happy with my Gumshoe One-2-One experiences. Cthulhu Confidential was great, but IMHO NBA Solo Ops is even better. One reason is that I get slightly tired of the Cthulhu Mythos, but I also just love the technothriller-meets-Vampires setting of Night’s Black Agents. My recommendation: if you have the chance to play Night’s Black Agents Solo Ops, don’t hesitate, but grasp the opportunity. It’s well worth it!

Pocket Gumshoe -Everything is Connected!

If you are familiar with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency you will know the phrase “Everything is connected”. It generally highlights that everything in the universe is connected to everything else in the universe. Park that thought for a minute, I will come back to it later…

Pocket Gumshoe

Pocket Gumshoe was released in January this year by Nothing Ventured Games. I have never read, or played, a Gumshoe game but I was aware of the basic mechanic of not rolling to find the clue, that is given, but you roll to see how much additional information you glean.

Thinking you know how something works and reading the actual rules are not the same so I was interested in reading the rules for myself.

Considering that Pocket Gumshoe is a ‘light’ version of the game and the rules are just 32 pages my impression is that from a writing point of view this is the best game I have ever read! I am not saying that I will drop everything and convince my group to play pocket gumshoe. The game itself is not really to my taste. It is when you look at the component parts rather than the whole that the brilliance of the contents are revealed.

So enough teasing, the part that I loved the most was the support for new GMs. All the way through the rules are rich in great advice, not just for Gumshoe, for running a game and managing a group of players. It focuses on the improvisational nature of role playing and how to encourage the improv. to advance the story.

There is a wonderful example, this time for players, above. I am pretty sure all us when GMing have had the players stall due to excessive speculating or failing to agree on a plan of action due to a lack of information.

Pocket Gumshoe uses about a dozen general skills for meeting challenges. It doesn’t have a climbing skill, a running skill, an acrobatics skill, rather it has a single Athletics skill to cover all eventualities including dodging in combat. All the skills are broadly defined. This means that just a dozen skills cover all the situations that you will meet in this genre of gaming.

There is one standout skill in this collection and that is ‘Preparedness’. The idea behind this skill is that if a character needs a particular piece of equipment then you roll your skill and on a success you do indeed have that item.

I love this skill. There is always going to be a disconnect between what a character would know and what a player would know. The preparedness skill allows the character to have that sort of dynamic knowledge. It almost emulates the knowledge that the player doesn’t know they don’t know.

So as an aside there is a skill in the new Rolemaster rules called Vocation, bear with me. The idea of Vocation is that you take a specialisation in Vocation to match your characters job or background (not necessarily their profession/class). So when you want to complete a task that is not covered by one of the primary skills but your character would know how to do such as a Ranger being able to set a snare or light a fire in a rain forest or predict the weather from cloud formations then you roll your Vocaton:Ranger. One skill covers a myriad of situations. This Vocation skill is not popular with some in the playtest (those that loved the skill bloat of previous versions, I suspect). I can see house ruling the Vocation skill to incorporate Gumshoe’s Preparedness skill with the only caveat being that the only items that can be produced need to be related to the characters vocational background. I would happily eliminate about 90% of characters inventory management with this skill.

If you can remember back a bit I was exploring a game concept called Devil’s Staircase a while ago. That game is still in development. I am still working on the first proper draft of the rules but I am going to adopt a version of the preparedness skill and the relaxed attitude to inventory management with that game.

This is what I meant at the top about how ‘everything is connected’. This one skill definition in a minimalist game has had a direct impact on both a card based wild west game and on Rolemaster, one of the traditionally heavy weight games*. Is this plagiarism? I don’t think so. I think we should be taking the best of what we can find in any game and apply it anywhere where it makes sense and improves the experience and fun for all the players and GM.

So to sum up, if you want to take a look at Gumshoe then I seriously recommend reading this rulebook. It will not take long, it is just 32 pages, and it is free. As an introduction to the Gumshoe system I think it is damn near perfect!

 *Despite its reputation for being rules heavy, Rolemaster is actually pretty rules light compared to the monsters that are 5e and Pathfinder.

Alternatives to Lovecraft?

We all love Lovecraftian horror. Call of Cthulhu has always been a pretty popular roleplaying game. For most people it’s THE horror roleplaying game. But this popularity comes at a price. Over the years, you have seen it all. You quickly know so much about the Cthulhu Mythos, that there are fewer and fewer surprises. Sure, the story presented by the GM may have unexpected twists, but the mystery at the core of it all becomes a bit stale after a while.

cthulhu-art-lovecraft-cthulhu

Luckily there are games that try to press the same buttons as CoC without actually being based on Lovecraft’s stories. Unfortunately these games don’t get the attention they deserve, so that’s why I want to talk about two games dear to my heart.

Continue reading Alternatives to Lovecraft?