My (Least and) Favorite Things About the GUMSHOE System

Q: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the GUMSHOE system?

A: When I first got this question, I thought it was asking about my favorite and least favorite aspects of writing for the GUMSHOE system. That’s not really the question, though, is it?What I dig about the system is its simplicity and focus on player choices. Every action brings with it a choice of approach (which Investigative ability do I use?) or of cost (how many General ability points do I spend?) and I think those are strong hooks. My instinct, while working on RAZED, has been to add some complexity to the system, a little more heft or a new dimension, but in playtesting I find that’s maybe not such a good idea. I continue to experiment with adding little wrinkles to the game, but its simplicity is elegant and I don’t want to fuck with that too much.

Another thing I dig about writing for GUMSHOE games? Writing for them is like writing straight-up prose—or a letter to the GM. It doesn’t require strict styling or technical-style writing. I can be frank or florid, depending on the needs of a particular passage, and still get the important game elements across clearly. On the one hand, this means there’s no crutch to lean on—I can’t rely on mechanics to do much descriptive work for me—but this also means I can move around without lugging crutches with me.

My least favorite aspect of the system is easy to answer, though. I don’t like seeing General ability points get wasted. I’ve seen players spend three points to auto-hit a Difficulty 4 action, then roll a five or six, and get frustrated that those points were “blown.” I don’t like seeing a player spend two points and then whiff with the dice and regret it. Now their character is weaker and they have nothing to show for it. It’s bad enough to miss a roll and have a turn wasted, without losing points from your future chances, I sometimes think. This isn’t a game-breaking problem, by any means, but it can be a source of frustration.

(In RAZED, that frustration is a feature, not a bug, because it helps create desperation as the PCs battle super-tough alien robots and such—every failed roll reinforces the sense of dwindling resources and is an opportunity for the GM to emphasize the toughness of the enemy.)

Without knowing who you are, anonymous reader, what’s your favorite or least favorite aspect of the GUMSHOE system?

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comments ( 1 )

  • ReplyEric 3 Dec 2010

    I recently got most of the gumshoe settings (Esoterrorists, Fear Itself and Mutant City Blues), and can give you my likes / dislikes.

    btw – your setting greatly interests me

    I LOVE the investigation system (obviously – why else use GUMSHOE), and I actually like the dwindling resources aspect of the General Ability pool. What I would like more of (and I am in the process of working on for my own use) is some more crunch in the combat portion of the game (yes I have Esoterror Fact Book – and that is a good start) More tactical options and some more granularity with the wepon types would be good (its a balancing act with keeping the system fast and elegant)