I have been reading The Yellow King RPG preview that is currently being kickstarted here. It uses the GUMSHOE1 system as its task resolution engine, and because of that I decided to back it. I have long been interested in getting a game that uses the GUMSHOE system because I wanted to see how it handled investigations seeing as how that was what the system was designed from the ground up to do. So far I have read two of the four previewed books and started the third, and I want to get some thoughts down on the game as I see it now as well as on the system as I understand it based on what I have read.
The game itself is based on Robert W. Chambers2 The King in Yellow stories, and so the game like the stories has multiple settings that are all interlinked. The books being kickstarted start with the base setting of 1895 Paris. We then get an alternate 1947 setting called The Wars. We also get two alternate 2017 settings one called Aftermath which is after a successful revolution against a dictator that ruled the United States for close to a century and the other This is Normal Now that is a more subtle current time horror setting.
The basic rules are all in the first book called Paris with any setting specific rules included in the specific setting book. The game itself seems to be intended as either a one shot or campaign for any of the settings, or to be run as a multi-arch campaign starting with the Paris setting, moving to The Wars, then to Aftermath, and concluding with This is Normal Now.
This is my first exposure to the GUMSHOE rules other than some basic concepts that I have read on various forums and reviews. The basic idea of the game is that the clues are not the interesting part of an investigation, it is the putting together of the clues that is interesting. So you should never withhold a clue because of a bad dice roll. The system supports this by giving each character two types of abilities.
These are the abilities to identify and interpret clues. These are setting specific in some cases and should for the most part each character should have some that none of the others have to protect each character’s role in the story3. None of these abilities are ones that you roll a test against, you just know or find the information you need as long as you are in the scene.
These are the skills that you use when not investigating and need to perform some sort of task ranging from fighting to treating a wounded companion. The basic resolution is that you roll a d6 potentially adding some points from the ability pool and beat the target number. When you use the points from the ability pool, they are gone until something happens to refresh them like an extended period of down time.
The previews are from very early in the process, so they are not the best introduction to the system. That said, the kickstarter has scheduled delivery for December of 2018, so there is plenty of time to pull the pieces together, and the kickstarter keeps funding new sections to these books to fill in more areas of each of the four settings. Based on what I have read so far, I am interested in these books for ideas that I can re-purpose to other systems (Savage Worlds), but I am not sure that I would want to use this system myself. The impression I got from my first read through of the rules is that there is more upfront work on preparing scenes than I would want to do4. I am looking forward to seeing this come out, and I am currently torn about getting a physical copy or just the PDF copy that I have backed at, but I have time to make the final decision on that. Anyway if you have any interest in investigative horror gaming or are curious about the GUMSHOE system. this kickstarter is something to check out.
- The GUMSHOE system was developed by Robin D. Laws to facilitate investigative games. The basic premise is that the players should always get the clues they need to move the story forward. You can find more about the system here. The System Reference Documents are available under the Open Gaming License and the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License. You can find more about that here. ↩
- Is another late 19th early 20th century writer. His earlier works for which he is better known include the source material for this game The King in Yellow. You can find more about him here. ↩
- There are rules for what to do if none of the characters have the specific Investigative Ability needed for a clue and if there is only one player with the correct ability who is not in the scene (or out for the session). ↩
- This is very much the impression that I got on reading through this the first time. I intend to read through portions of the Paris book again to make sure that I have a better grasp of the scenario setup and clues sections. This also might have to do with the text being in draft status and will become clearer when it is published and there are examples of how this is all supposed to fit together. ↩