Category Archives: News & Reviews

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.

Corporation from Brutal Games

Quite by accident I ended up spending all my free time last week reading the Corporation Core Rules. This is a free PDF so you can grab what a copy if you are curious. This is not a new game having been released in 2009 but it is still actively in development. It is a popular game, Gold best seller on Drivethru and Silver on RPGnow, and that is just from the hard copy sales, the free pdf downloads do not count toward metal ratings.

So What is Corporation About?

This is a sci-fi RPG that to me just screams Blade Runner and The Matrix. It has that cool Japanese brooding and brutal violence but with tech, cybernetics (including that matrixesque back of the skull up-link), telepathy, Terminator style AI and so much more.

The publisher, Brutal Games, have a rich vein of supplements and adventures that expand on the setting and the dark powers running the world and the all powerful corporations in the games title. The PCs are agents of those corporations and the game is very much mission based. Think of the possibilities of playing Agent Smith rather than Neo!

This is an extremely cool game. Anything that comes with a playlist of suggested music to set the scene, a watchlist of movies and TV to inspire and games that capture the vision behind the game is doing the right thing. These external references show you the potential of the system and I imagine they will make you want to play out some of the classic scenes with your players. The core rules are so feature rich that you leave out the bits that do not fit your imagined world but you are probably better off leaving them in and using the published setting adventures.

Mechanically the game has a lot going for it. I will say up front that it has one deal breaking mechanic that I don’t like and that is hit points. I simply do not like them as a only real method of managing wounds and damage. If you don’t mind hit points then all the better.

So characters are built by assigning points to their stats, which I like as no one gets penalised by a disparity between great stats vs poor stats. Following that you assign points to skills and there are A LOT of skills. You pick the corporation you work for and so on. Everything is choices. Some can be guided by the GM. If he or she needs you to be or not be part of a specific corporation for plot reasons, the so be it. How much tech, cybernetics and telepathics you get your hands on are all choices you make at character creation time.

What I like is that the game is ‘classless’, anyone can really do anything. It is also levelless, experience works by improving the skills you have and advancement is more about gaining promotion within your corporation, and avoiding demotions for failure, rather than levelled advancement.

Another sweet mechanic is the way that critical successes and failures are handled. The basic skill resolution is roll 2d10 to give a 2-20 result. You add your stat+skill to get your target number to roll under. Just as we all get excited about rolling a natural 20 or in my world an ‘open ended’ roll; in corporation rolling doubles is a good or bad thing. 1/1 is a critical success, 10/10 is a critical failure. Poor quality kit may have a critical failure range of 9/9 and 10/10 or even more ‘doubles’. Superior kit may critical on double 1s, double 2s and so on. I think these magic numbers add a bit of excitement for the players, you don’t want to just hit, you really want to hit AND roll a good double.

Damage is handled by using polyhedral dice, the standard issue pistol does a d8 so you get to play with your polyhedral dice. I think games that use d4s are simply dangerous and in corporation a katana does 2d4 plus the characters strength. Stepping on the d4s is probably similar in pain to being hit by the real weapon in my opinion, but I digress! You can see from the example katana that your characters stats are playing a part in not only skill successes but the actual resulting action. All the skills work this way where the stat can have a direct bearing. In other skills if there are graduation of success then the more you roll under your target number the greater the level of success.

The really big guns and heavy weapons can do damage in the realms of 6d6, 6d8 or 6d10. this gives the same sort of buzz as when you got to cast your first fireball in D&D (5d6?). All this says to me that Corporation was built to be played by the players. Increases in ability can be frequent yet incremental so you always feel like you are improving, you get to play the character you imagined not one proscribed by good or bad dice rolls. Those dice rolls have a hit of excitement added to them via the doubles rules and that potential to sometimes, just sometimes get to roll a whole bucket of dice for your damage.

Corporation is a game to be run by the GM. By that I mean there is infinite scope for machinations behind the scenes, plots that exist to manipulate the player characters or to pit them against forces that are just as ‘right’ as the heroes all exist a plenty. Corporation is a game where 99% of the time the only person who knows what is actually going on is the GM and the game is none the worse for it.

When I downloaded Corporation I had no idea what to expect and I was very pleasantly surprised! Good Game!

Rise of the Eurogame

I read an article this week about the rising popularity of European and particularly German board games, the so-called Eurogame.

The core difference apparently between American and German games in the past 50 years has been that American games have been centred on conflict, think RiskAxis & Allies, Star Fleet Battles, and Victory in the Pacific. Germany for obvious reasons was not so big on these conflict-centric games but favoured games based around construction and building things up like communities (Settlers of Catan), farms (Agricola) or businesses (Power Grid).

So this article, linked below, was interesting but it also struck a bell with other things I have been reading. Fria Ligan are Swedish but there is much  emphasis in Mutant:Year Zero on the collaborative building of the Ark.

Another Euro/American difference is that American games tend to eliminate players as the game progresses but Eurogames keep people involved right to the end. Tales from the Loop is build from the ground up with the presumption that the kids will not stand and fight, and die, but run away and find a different route or solution.

It may be just my perception but start up times seem to be faster in the European games. The original Iron Crown Enterprises (Rolemaster/MERP) was an American publisher and Rolemaster must have one of the most complex character creation processes known to man. In contrast the Fria Ligan way is very fast and light but at the same time construct characters using a detailed skill system created by player choice.

Maybe it is just my perception but is there a move towards role playing games being more accessible and less confrontational? Mind you, the high lights of my gaming life at totally hack and slash so who am I to tell?

Here is the original article, which is very interesting.