Wednesday, June 24, 2009

GUMSHOE Spyworld

Working on finishing some script pages and getting a geography overview done for upcoming Wushu campaign. I'd like to get both done by tomorrow so I can have Friday to devote to the Libri Vidicos prep-- plus I have some outstanding game emails to do. So, lots of things on my plate right now. I finally broke down and move my set up down to the basement with the laptop. The house has AC but it can get hot on the second floor during the day-- and eventually that wears me down. So, trying to get used to working on the laptop rather than the bigger screen. In any case, I don't think I shared my notes on my Espionage rethinking for the Gumshoe system. I know I presented my sketch notes for the session I ran, but not the mechanics changes.

Gumshoe's a great system-- except for the challenge task resolution system. The investigation system is, however quite good and makes a great deal of sense. My spy/espionage games have a combination of investigation, caper, and action-- so I tried to rework the system for that. If I were to go back to revisit this I would reduce the pool of skills in the various sections I list before and I would overhaul the challenge (i.e. physical actions, combat, etc) mechanics.

We've been looking at Gumshoe and one of our group is about to run a short-term Steampunk adaptation of it. I've been thinking about doing a more espionage and Bondian version. We've been particularly inspired by one of Robin law's posts on planning in rpgs. We used that in several games recently. I was thinking you could build a system for that into a secret agent version of Gumshoe.

I was thinking of slimming the skills down and having three types: General, Investigation, and Operational.

Martial Arts

I'm imagining Cool as a version of Sanity for this setting-- used for resisting torture, keeping a level head in threatening situations, etc. Technical covers all the mechanical and electronics stuff. Tradecraft would reflect knowledge of procedures, basic disguise, and serve as a catch-all skill.

Data Retrieval
Human Perception

I've put many of the skills together here. Connoisseur covers all the fine knowledges (Art History, Geneology, etc). Professional would cover things like accounting, law, etc. Human Perception is BS Detector plus profiling and psychology. Education covers things like history, politics, and so on. I think the rest are pretty clear.

Operational skills are used to explain something that you have set up beforehand while carrying out a plan. It is not used to do something in the present, that is what General and Investigative skills are for. Instead, you use these skills to justify an existing situation. For example-- Rob is crossing through a hallway when he detects a set of guards coming his way. He says that his advance preparations told him of an accessible vent nearby which he can hide in. This is the use of his Advance Team skill (indicating someone who has found the floor plans for him). He spends one point from his Advance Team skill. Once that is used up he cannot call on that. The GM may rule that certain requests are either impossible or cost more points. At that point the player may choose to not use the skill, pay the extra points or attempt to have something more reasonable occur.

These are very rough thumbnail descriptions.

Advance Team
Someone has gotten advance information (floor plans, guard schedules, names, etc) ahead of time that you can use.

Back Up Team
Second stringer support people who can pick people up, provide minor distractions, or give signals.

A significant person from within an organization (like the Mafia, another Intelligence Agency, etc) provides support.

From uniforms to latex masks, you have a quick and ready disguise.

Someone within or close to the target organization has been fooled into doing your bidding. It could be bribery, seduction or simple manipulation.

You have a fake identity and documentation to convince someone of who you are or to get past a checkpoint.

Strangely enough you just happen to have an obscure technical device just for this situation.

You have laid the necessary groundwork to break into a system, or perhaps you already have broken in and only now your Trojan Horse is going active.

Lucky Break
The fortunes smile upon you as something just happens to assist you at the right moment.

You've trained yourself for this-- perhaps swallowing a key, having a receiver inserted beneath your skin or being able to slip free of bindings by dislocating your shoulder.

You have the necessary item at hand-- from a vehicle in place to flares on hand to rope stowed away. This could also be money.

Pulling Strings
You have called in a high level favor from someone (arranged for a power grid to go out, called in a Keyhole satellite). This is the kind of favor that makes noise and gets noticed.

Your knowledge of the particular kind of security involved has allowed you to create a dummy image, set off sensors elsewhere, or find a hole in their field of view.

Sleight of Hand
You've planted something on someone or lifted it from them instead.

You've cut the brake lines, arranged for an explosion, or set up a remote delayed breaker.

Your training has given you an insight into the situation you can exploit.

I'm wondering how many points I ought to assign to each. I've trained to keep the three categories of skills even (at sixteen skills each) which has meant some lumping together and overlap. I might put a limit on the Lucky Break skill as well so people can't just sink points into that.

Couple of other thoughts that occurred to me. First, spending points from the Operational skills essentially allows you to redact or retcon something you've set up ahead of time into the present events. You might still have to make a check on a General skill to see how well the effect goes off. I'd still want some risk, but in general I'm imagining that if the player spends the point then it should at least have the minimal effect. On the other hand, there might be unintended consequences and/or the player may have to start making checks to keep up with changes to the present events.

Second, I was thinking about how this fits best with something like a Mission Impossible or Global Frequency campaign, rather than straight spies (mostly since the espionage genre is better suited to a single protagonist rather than an ensemble). I wouldn't want to get too crunchy or detailed, but I was thinking that a character might have 1-3 specialties with the General skills. For example, a master weaponsmith might have that as a specialty under Technical. Or a Martial Artist might have locks or throws as a specialty. When carrying out a task within their specialty, the character would gain +2 to the roll per point spent rather than +1. I don't want to extend this too far as one of the things I like about Gumshoe is the simplicity and wide brush-strokes of the system. But it could be a nice way to have a character define signature moments, abilities or moves which make them stand out from the other PCs.