Bill White's roleplaying game design blog, with emphasis on narrativist or story-heavy games.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Gumshoe: Watching the Detectives

Step One. The Case.
  • Get four to six people who want to play around a table.
  • Take a piece of paper that's been ruled into three columns and as many rows as there are players. The first column is "Name"; the second, "Case"; the third, "Votes."
  • Pass the piece of paper around the table. If there's a question about what order to go in, go in the order of whoever's birthday comes next.
  • Next to your name, write a potential problem, mystery, or other isuse that you want to drive the case. It can be whatever you want.
  • Once everyone has written something next to their name, everyone secretly votes by ranking everyone else's proposed cases. Use an index card and reveal your preferences simultaneously. Tally the votes. If there are ties or other ambiguities, the person with the fewest votes gets to resolve them.
For example, imagine there are four players named Alex, Bob, Chip, and Dana. They pass around the paper and write their cases. Then they vote, secretly assigning points to the cases in their order of preference: three points to one they like best, two to the next, and one to the least preferred (in every case excluding their own). In this hypothetical example, here are the results:

Name Case Votes
Alex Wife is missing 0 + 3 + 3 + 2 = 8
Bob Murdered prostitute 3 + 0 + 2 + 1 = 6
Chip Who's following me? 2 + 2 + 0 + 3 = 7
Dana Crooked politician is intimidating rivals 1 + 1 + 1 + 0 = 3

Since "Wife is missing" received the most votes, it's now the case.

Step Two. Deal Out the Cards.

The player whose case won deals out a hand of cards to each player.
  • Four players: Each player gets 13 cards.
  • Five players: Each player gets 10 cards, discard the bottom two cards on the deck.
  • Six players: Each player gets 8 cards, discard the bottom four cards on the deck.
Each player sorts his or her hand into four piles by suit. You have to reveal which pile is which suit; other players are allowed to know how many cards in a suit you have, but they can't look at your cards, of course.
  • Spades are muscle; play a spade to resolve a situation by force, violence, coercion, physical threats, or intimidation.
  • Hearts are looks; play a heart to resolve a situation by charm, intimacy, emotional appeal or sexual attraction, or other passionate drive or impulse.
  • Diamonds are money; play a diamond to resolve a situation by the use of wealth or its perquisites.
  • Clubs are brains; play a club to resolve a situation by the use of knowledge, wits, street smarts, and so forth.
Step Three. The Gumshoe and the Client.
  • Everyone gets a number of chips equal to how many votes their case got.
  • Starting with the person with the most chips, bid some number of chips to take on the role of the Gumshoe or the Client, or pass.
    • The Gumshoe plays the character whose responsibility it is to solve the case, whatever it might be and whatever form it might finally take. The Gumshoe wins if he or she can solve the case without giving up too much.
    • The Client plays the character who sets things in motion; the Client player has a lot of power to establish what it takes for the case to finally be solved. The Client [player] wins if the Gumshoe fails.
  • You can try to outbid another player to take on a particular role.
  • Bidding continues until at least one chip has been bid on each role and everyone passes in order.
For example:
  • Bidding starts with Alex, who says, "One for the Gumshoe" (she's got 7 left).
  • Bob says, "Two for the Gumshoe" (5 left).
  • Chip says, "One for the Client" (6 left).
  • Dana says, "Three for the Gumshoe" (0 left).
  • Alex says, "Two for the Client" (5 left).
  • Bob says, "Pass."
  • Chip says, "Pass."
  • Dana says, "Pass."
  • Alex says, "Pass," and bidding is over.
So Alex is the Client and Dana is the Gumshoe. Bob and Chip decided to hold on to their remaining chips because they can be used during play.

Step Four. Enter the Gumshoe.

The Gumshoe player establishes his or her character's name and so forth, framing an introductory scene that generates that character's secret.

Step Five. Enter the Client.

The Client player frames a scene where the client meets the gumshoe. Other characters are identified.

Step Six. Regular Play.

The Gumshoe, through interaction with the other players, tries to solve the case without giving away too much.

About Me

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A communication Ph.D., I teach public speaking and media-related courses in the middle of PA. I do research on scholarly/scientific communication, and I write & play roleplaying games.