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No Clues Without Consequence, GUMSHOE, and Eternal Lies


I’ve been reading Will Hindmarch‘s excellent analysis of the GUMSHOE system, No Clues Without Consequence.

GUMSHOE is an interesting thing, because even though my players and I tend to favor d20 based games like B/X DND or Call of Cthulhu, we seem to return again and again to GUMSHOE.

Point of fact: we’re deep into Eternal Lies, the mega campaign for Trail of Cthulhu. We could have probably converted to Call of Cthulhu but who has time for that? I barely have time to prepare for a session each week.

It has been a learning experience, to be sure. We’d played probably 6-10 hours of GUMSHOE before, but to be frank, it became obvious almost immediately that we weren’t doing it right. Too much rolling – in GUMSHOE, you don’t have to make a check in order to get a clue, something which is nearly impossible to swallow if you’re a Call of Cthulhu player. Not because it is objectionable, but because it is so foreign.

Those will come out as a podcast someday. I wish I had read No Clues Without Consequence a lot earlier than now, though.

There is another reason this is of interest to me: GREAT DETECTIVE, the RPG system my friend Andrew and I are writing, is now moving to a GUMSHOE design. We went back and forth and the usefulness of creating our own system. Eventually, we decided “why?” GUMSHOE is OpenGL. They have a system specifically for investigations. Let’s use it.

So the moral? I have to get better at GUMSHOE.

BONUS: The One Shot podcast recorded a rules explanation with Kenneth Hite, creator of Trail of Cthulhu. A nice, brief, easy intro to GUMSHOE and Night’s Black Agents.

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Dreamhounds of Paris on Pinterest

Kiki De Monteparnasse Dreamhouds of Paris Trail of Cthulhu

I got to playtest Pelgrane Press’s forthcoming Trail of Cthulhu RPG setting Dreamhounds of Paris. It was pretty awesome, although it is a very challenging book to both play and run.

(Pelgrane are always making their stuff available to playtest, I’m sure they have more deets on their website.)

Anyways, I thought I’d share a cool tool I used to help me get inspired to run Dreamhounds last year. If you’re not familiar with the premise, the website describes it like so:

From the 1920s to the coming of the Occupation, a new breed of artist prowled the fabled streets of Paris. Combative, disrespectful, irresponsible, the surrealists broke aesthetic conventions, moral boundaries—and sometimes, arms. They sought nothing less than to change humanity by means of a worldwide psychic revolution. Their names resound through pop culture and the annals of art history.

You play as the Surrealists! It’s a lot of fun. And because you play as artists and the game is completely intertwined with the visual arts, I decided to use Pinterest in order to organize the player characters, so that everyone could see what they looked like, and also in order to capture the flavor of their art.


At the same time, I took the opportunity to collect Dreamlands monsters – neither myself nor my players were terribly familiar with the characteristics of the Dreamlands bestiary. I read Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath a few years back but I have terrible retention for things like creatures with improbable names.

Pinterest is actually a very interesting tool to use as a Dungeon Master/Keeper/whatever. I’ve always thought it a pretty poor substitue for something like as a research tool/organizer, but it is absolutely great as a piece of inspiration. I may use it to put together my next campaign; I haven’t had a chance to use it for something I’ve homebrewed, but I can definitely imagine how useful and fun it might be.

Follow Matt’s board Dreamhounds of Paris on Pinterest.

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Trail of Cthulhu Preparedness Explained

Trail of Cthulhu Preparedness

Do the investigators need a car to pick you up in a desolate spot in the woods? A player can make this happen by a) supplying a credible retroactive explanation of how she arranged it, and b) scoring a Preparedness success.

A point of some contention in the Trail of Cthulhu games I’ve run is the preparedness skill.

I have to admit, after reading this explanation by Robin D Laws, GUMSHOE system creator, I may have been being a bit to harsh. It does seem to be “Summon Retroactive Deus Ex Machina,” at least to some degree.

This is one of the issues that I personally have when running a game of Trail of Cthulhu. The system is closer to collaborative storytelling than I can really pull off given my personality and my preference for adversarial games. I don’t consider that reflecting badly on the system itself, more on my own inability to stop antagonizing my players with deathtraps and sanity blasting monsters.

Robin D Laws explains Trail of Cthulhu preparedness.

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Trail of Cthulhu – Soldiers of Pen and Ink

Trail of Cthulhu Soldiers of Pen and Ink cover art

Soldiers of Pen and Ink: What is it?

The cover art for Trail of Cthulhu Soldiers of Pen and Ink was tweeted by Pelgrane Press publisher Simon Rogers, attributed to Jerome. A google search revealed that this was a new, upcoming scenario conflating the Cthulhu Mythos and the Spanish Civil War.

Scenario author Adam Gauntlett shared a few more tidbits on his blog.

The thing’s huge – more than 43,000 words – and includes, among other things, four new character archetypes: the Extremist, Volunteer, Black Marketeer and Spy. For those of you who picked up Dulce et Decorum Est and liked the lists of tanks and aircraft, there’s new stats here for even more military equipment. There’s also a new Ability, Politics, and a new take on Hastur the Unspeakable and his terrifying Byakhee: The Hastur Mneme.

The official Pelgrane Press website gives the following description for the book material.

The protagonists, sponsored by the Paris-based political organisation BNVS, have come to Spain to shoot a documentary on the war, and find themselves marooned in Madrid. One of their team goes missing, and their literary colleagues say it’s pointless – even dangerous – to ask what happened to him. In a war of competing ideologies, unorthodoxy can merit the death penalty, but is this Communist oppression or something more sinister?

Looking forward to it?

Honestly, I’m both excited and apprehensive for this thing. Generally speaking, I get really excited about historically themed role playing supplements, but I am often unable to convey my enthusiasm for the material into research and get my players excited about it. I am going through a major King in Yellow phase right now, having just come late to the party for True Detective, and am working my way through “A Season in Carcosa” as we speak.

UPDATE: I wrote a review of the supplement, which is now available from Pelgrane Press at the Link below.

Trail of Cthulhu: Soldiers of Pen and Ink