Press "Enter" to skip to content

Parallel Evolution

Years apart, actual quotes. It’s interesting how two of my favorite designers approached the same problem.

Unlike a lot of games out there, InSpectres didn’t start as an idea for a cool setting or anything like that. What I wanted to do was try designing a game that “fixed” some problems I saw in similar games that dealt with investigation (no names, please). That problem is what I call the “murder mystery” plot. Basically, it goes like this: the players stumble across a mystery of some sort. The GM then provides clues (in the form of helpful or not-so-helpful NPCs, scraps of forensic information or first-hand knowledge of the event). If the players are smart, they’ll figure it out. If not, then the GM has to guide them along until they do figure it out. In effect, it becomes an exercise for the GM in which the players are guided down a pre-built track and react to stuff that pops up along the way (not unlike a funhouse ride). In the end, the game succeeds or fails on the merits of the GM running that game.

What this game does is to allow the GM to set up the events, but then have the players (through their characters) decide what is really going on. The GM then reacts to the players and what they see as intriguing or exciting elements of the story.

The other thing I wanted to do was to set up a play structure (the series of events that occurs in each game session). Using this play structure as a guide, the GM and players know what is expected of them at various stages of the game. The fun, of course, comes from doing stuff in each stage.


Investigative scenarios have been done wrong since the early days of roleplaying games. As a consequence, they’re hard to run and prone to grind to a halt. GUMSHOE is here to fix all that.

What’s wrong about the traditional way of doing investigative games? They’re based on a faulty premise. Story-based roleplaying, of which investigative games were an early if not the earliest example, evolved from dungeon-bashing campaigns. They treat clues the same way that dungeon games treat treasure. You have to search for the clue that takes you on to the next scene. If you roll well, you get the clue. If not, you don’t — and the story grinds to a halt.


In a fictional procedural, whether it’s a mystery novel or an episode of a cop show, the emphasis isn’t on finding the clues in the first place. When it really matters, you may get a paragraph telling you how difficult the search was, or a montage of a CSI team tossing an apartment. But the action really starts after the clues are gathered.

GUMSHOE, therefore, makes the finding of clues all but automatic, as long as you get to the right place in the story and have the right ability. That’s when the fun part begins, when the players try to put the components of the puzzle together.


Every investigative scenario begins with a crime or conspiracy committed by a group of antagonists. The bad guys do something bad. The player characters must figure out who did it and put a stop to their activities.

If you use the GUMSHOE rules for straight-up crime drama, the team investigates a crime, finds out who did it, and puts the culprits under arrest.

In the Esoterrorist setting, the team investigates an occult conspiracy, finds out who did it and why, and takes action to end the occult manifestations. They may detain or kill the Esoterrorists behind it. They may destroy any supernatural creatures or effects generated by the conspiracy. Or they might turn over the information gained in their investigation to a specialized Ordo Veritatis clean-up team, who ruthlessly and efficiently dispose of the guilty parties and their workings.

Your GM designs each scenario by creating an investigation trigger, a sinister conspiracy, and a trail of clues.

I’ve enjoyed both GUMSHOE and InSpectres. Both Jared and Robin identify the clumsiness of a GM leading players to clues by the nose. Jared doesn’t like the part that comes afterwards; Robin does.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *