Nov 282011

I’ve talked briefly before that we’ve got two Gumshoe system projects in the works at Evil Hat.

The first is Revengers, a Gumshoe game of ghostly investigators to be penned by Will Hindmarch. Take a look at that link to learn more, and also his recent Page XX article.

The second (previously unnamed) one is under the working (and possibly final) title of Bubblegumshoe, with the project team helmed by Kenneth Hite, who will join forces with Lisa Steele (of GURPS Mysteries and others) and Emily Care Boss (of Breaking the Ice and others) to bring you a game of teen girl detectives in the vein of Veronica Mars.

As mentioned in that earlier post, I’m damned excited about the opportunity to rough Gumshoe up a bit and take it in some new directions inspired by the best of the story-game set, but it’s hard not to get positively geeked by the talents working on both of these projects.

But today I want to talk, briefly, about the long term themes I see (potentially) at work in these two games. In olden times, this might be where I talk about the games’ metaplots, but really, so much of the story of each of these games will grow straight from the characters themselves. So, instead, I’m focusing on the themes that tell us how the long-term stories of the games will grow out of these characters. These long-term themes are likely to color the campaign, while the PCs will “day to day” be dealing with mysteries both episodic and sequential; but even in one shot scenarios they should see some relevance.

In Revengers,  the long-term theme I see at work is “You are the mystery.” PCs are ghosts, and the reasons they remain as ghosts instead of Moving On are opaque even to them (most of the time, at least). Moreover, they don’t (necessarily) want to solve it. Moving On holds as much mystery for them as death does for us. Regardless, those hidden reasons will color who they are, and how their long term story plays out. Naturally, that’s going to see some support in the mechanics as well, though Will and I are still sorting out the details.

In Bubblegumshoe, the long-term theme I see at work is “The town is the mystery.” Everything points inward; the fabric of relationships in the town makes the town; and long-term, the big mysteries that play out will occur wholly within that contained environment. Outside factors may come into play, but what’s going to matter long term is what the town does with it, and the town is the home base, the whole world for our teen girl detectives. We’ll almost certainly see some kind of relationship map mechanic brought to bear here (the story-game version of the Quade Diagram, perhaps). Important game mechanics will focus on defining, revealing, and occasionally reshaping the town by way of its relationship map (and not all connections of that map will be immediately “visible” either).

Hacker’s note: In Bubblegumshoe, the “town” ends up being a fairly portable concept, for folks who want to drift the game. Maybe it’s a college campus. Maybe it’s the backwoods of Eastern Kentucky — a recent epiphany: BGS will probably drift nicely for a Justified game. For that matter it might work great for something with a Twin Peaks vibe too, and so on. We’re already planning on a chapter that explores and discusses drifting the game through a variety of genres and applications.

Designer’s note: Folks familiar with my blather about how — in Fate — “everything is a character” might notice a similar principle at work in both of these long term themes. Each takes the notion that Gumshoe is a mystery game and decides to locate some of that mystery in the characters themselves, directly or indirectly. In Revengers, it’s the characters and their history — their murders — that got them to where they are in the afterlife. In Bubblegumshoe, it’s the relationships the characters have with the authority figures and movers and shakers of the town they’re “stuck” in, growing up, that will hide layers of mystery and backstory that the adults haven’t told — or are straight up hiding from — the kids. Sometimes design is about looking at what you already have established in a system and simply applying it to a different context. That’s a lot of what we’re looking to do with Evil Hat’s takes.


  16 Responses to “Long-Term Themes in Evil Hat’s Gumshoe Projects”

  1. At this point I’m such a fan of Evil Hat, that I’ll buy anything from you guys that comes up in a digital format as soon as I have the money, just to fuel you churning out more high-quality enterntainment. I have to say I’m pretty excited to see both those ideas, since I love a good detective story and most adventures I run have at least a detective element to them! Just a quick question though; is this planned to launch before or after FATE core? 

    • This doesn’t tie into Fate at all, and Lenny Balsera isn’t on these projects, so their timelines don’t really interact. No release date is set on anything yet, so I can’t say with accuracy when they’d launch relative to Core.

  2. I like the core ideas, but I am wary of the Gumshoe system. I don’t have a problem with the Investigation end of it. That does pretty much what it says it does. But, we’ve been having trouble with the rest of the system, the resource management of General skills and the book keeping involved in fight scenes. Optimal play with General skills seems to be either to make things automatic successes or not to spend, which produces a fairly unsatisfying result. Without a GM who has a much stronger understanding of the pacing of the game, we have found that the PCs start with the ability to guarantee success, but quickly run out of points.

    Also, at least in the Gumshoe games I’ve played, mostly Trail of Cthulhu, the NPC adversaries are built like PCs, but don’t have to balance their resources for long term play. They’re generally only going to be in one fight, after all.

    • I think we’re going to address some of your concerns, Lisa. Did you see my earlier post?

    • Just looked it over now. Yes, that’s basically our issue. Also, as one of my players who was trying to build a pulpishly dashing Gentleman Thief did, “I have 12 points in Stealth, which isn’t a lot, and when they’re depleted, I have no better chance of being stealthy than someone with no points in Stealth.”

  3. Curious why the players need to be teenage girls on Bubblegumshoe? I don’t have a problem with the concept as I own games like Panty Explosion and Hellgirls & Hockeysticks but am not sure how playing a teenage girl enforces the theme “the town is a mystery” were just playing teenagers seems like it work as well if not better.

    • They don’t have to be, but we think it’d be nice to make that the default assumption for once. Guys get plenty of airtime as the default assumption elsewhere.

    • There’s a different feel if it’s girls, but it’ll work either way. I spent a few moments trying to come up with an example of a town-as-mystery show with a male protagonist that felt roughly the way I’d expect one with a female protagonist to feel (and this is very much a YMMV thing), and I did actually come up with one: Eerie, Indiana.

    • The movie Brick, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is very similar. It could almost be a gender-swapped Veronica Mars.

    • Brick is awesome.

  4. […] some more deeply “story-game” directions, in a pair of projects. The first of these is Bubblegumshoe, the teen detective roleplaying game. In essence, we’re looking for something that runs the […]

  5. […] the same episode, I had a similar reaction to the mention of Bubblegumshoe, a GUMSHOE iteration for teen mysteries. Totally not my thing, until Hite included John […]

  6. Just wondering how Bubblegumshoe is going, any updates?

    • Ken’s running at least a couple months behind due to his expectedly full plate (complicated by things like allergy attacks, etc); we’re still only at the “create a design document” phase, which has been delayed.

  7. I’ll admit that, as a dad of a girl, Bubblegumshoe sounds intriguing. I’ll have to keep my eyes on that one.

  8. […] first was one from Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions found here, in which he talks about Gumshoe (which I almost nothing about). The part that struck was actually […]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.