'Mystery'/Noir genre game for GUMSHOE?

I recently a converted a nice Film Noir style investigation to GUMSHOE. It seems to me that GUMSHOE is a natural choice for any investigative game and indeed it does seem to have fallen into place very nicely. I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays.

Investigative fiction is of course extremely popular: police procedurals, Noir, Agatha Christie style whodunnits, medical procedurals, crime, thrillers etc. Yet published GUMSHOE games tend to focus on investigative genres with a fantastical or sci-fi element. I happen to enjoy those, but I think that a broader GUMSHOE game based on these genres might be of interest to people who enjoy role-playing and investigation, but who are turned off by 'monsters' and the like (my wife, for example).

A single book could contain several genre variations eg. 'Noir/Detective', 'Murder Mystery', 'Suspense' / 'Thriller' etc. It might also be fun to explore psychological stuff along the lines of Hitchcock or even David Lynch. Does anyone else think this has legs?

The following discussion, about creating a bridge between 'Murder Mystery' gaming and Role-Playing, is also relevant:
http://www.therpgsite.com/showthread.php?t=8366

Comments

  • Do you have any of your adventure notes for the game?
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: SimonDo you have any of your adventure notes for the game?
    I'm sure I do. From memory these are handwritten, but I can scan and email them to you.

    This was also discussed recently at YSDC:
    http://www.yog-sothoth.com/threads/22284-Film-Noir-build-for-Trail-of-Cthulhu

    (I thought the idea of emphasising Leveraged clues was very good)

    It strikes me that the product idea I described in the OP might help to position GUMSHOE as 'the go-to system for investigative gaming'.
  • Noir is on our list, but we haven't quite got a handle on it.
  • Hi Simon, Colour photo-copying was the easiest option - I put it in the post for you.
  • Posted By: JustinFHi Simon, Colour photo-copying was the easiest option - I put it in the post for you.
    That's really kind - thank you very much!
  • Noir is about intrigue and cynicism. Everyone has secrets, plots and ulterior motives.

    Further to my notes, other thoughts that come to mind are:
    - Almost every NPC (and many PCs) should have a Dark Secret (or more generally, a Weakness). Learning someone's Secret gives you leverage over them. Protecting your own Secret keeps you safe.
    - Seduction of the protagonist by the Femme Fatale is a Noir staple (Flirting ability). There would need to be player-facing mechanics for dealing with this - Stability tests (or a 'Moral Fibre' General Ability perhaps) used in tests vs the seducer's 'Flirting Modifier'. Failure means you may give some information away, have your Credit Rating damaged, be drugged and left in the 'trunk' of a car etc
  • I think the secret to noir is that information costs morality and personal degredation.
  • Maybe you could have 'Morality', 'Conscience', 'Virtue' or somesuch, as an investigative ability with pool points, where the rank can also erode a bit like Sanity?

    Instead of Drives, maybe 'Desires' (or again 'Weaknesses'), that can motivate like Drives or be exploited. It would be great to have a mechanic where people are coerced into things in order to avoid loss of Stability or 'Reputation' (Credit Rating) because someone knows of and knows how to exploit, a weakness/desire/secret.

    GBSteve on YSDC has a Noir campaign frame for 'Mortal Coil' that is worth looking at.
  • Thanks, Justin - I got your package. I'll consider the potential of noir investigation.
  • edited March 2012
    Hi Simon,

    I've just been reading Robin Laws' beat analysis of Casablanca in 'Hamlet's Hit Points'. The beats of this movie are primarily dramatic rather than procedural. The possible flaw fatale (haha gettit?) here is that Casablanca isn't a true Noir movie, but a drama with Noir elements (it's ambiguous). Nevertheless I think this observation has some validity. (I'd have to find or do a beat analysis of some classic Noirs to clarify this point, but I'm not likely to find the time for that.)

    I had been thinking of Noir primarily in terms of procedural investigation, but I think this is only part of the story. The cool, unemotional demeanor of the protagonist doesn't mean its procedural (in fact it's how he asserts his power over others, it's often dramatic) and my thinking now is that in Noir the investigation is no more important than the drama - good Noir is not about two-dimensional wise-crackers or coldly logical Holmes characters or forensics experts. It's about character and morality, temptation, inner conflict, redemption, sociopathy, cynicism etc, and in terms of the investigation itself, the emphasis is on relationships, trust, morality (nice summary of the genre here: http://www.filmsite.org/filmnoir.html). The theme you mentioned of 'information costs morality' is one aspect, but its much more complex than that.

    I wonder if Robin's DramaSystem (obviously I can only guess at the mechanics of this) might work here (or a lightweight version of it), perhaps hybridised with GUMSHOE. I'm sure Robin would have some great insights here.
  • New to the board here and not meaning to step on any toes :)

    But to tell the truth I would much prefer to see a Gumshoe book that used the books of the period as a source rather than movies. I have read a lot of the old two fisted crime mysteries as well as many of the books that gave rise to movies we are calling "Noir" and game mechanics-wise they are not really that much different. IMO, and it is only an opinion, much of the difference is flavor. The hardened PI of 1934 and the hardened detective of 1946 are not that different on the character sheet. The difference is the way the he is played and the feel of the world that is told by the game master.

    I would love to see a Gumshoe release that covered the great span of crime thriller/pulp mystery/near pulp mystery found in the stories from Doc Savage to the Maltese Falcon, from The Thin Man to Inspector Poirot.

    The hardest part in trying to run a roleplaying session in that type of world is the deductive reasoning and finding/discovering clues. Gumshoe just blew me away with they way it solved it. But for a system called Gumshoe, it doesn't support games about Gumshoes. Just really dark Mythos like settings. I have both Ashen Stars and Trail of Cthulhu, great games but I am darked out and am way overdue for something more upbeat.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Spence
  • I don't think Noir/Mystery can work in GUMSHOE, because every GUMSHOE game is mystery + powerful threat, and Noir/Mystery lacks the powerful threat. Mystery is just . . .solving the mystery. Noir adds disillusionment and the dashing of hope to mystery, but without some solid storygamey mechanics (like Grey Ranks) to model disillusionment, you're stuck with "Innocence Points" which are not satisfactory.

    I think you are better off releasing a kickass sourcebook about the construction of RPG mysteries in a "core-can't-fail" system like GUMSHOE-- you already have some essays floating around, but make it more, I don't know how to say it without making it sound less inspired, but more systematic. "Here are examples of good types of core clues, and why" "Here's how many you'll need" "Here are the types of pitfalls or player misunderstandings -- good and bad -- that can come from this kind of clue" along with tips about pacing. The Armitage Files is a great book and you could include guidance for players on doing that kind of thing themselves (on a smaller scale).

    Basically, I think it should be fun and possible to run GUMSHOE games for people who are bigger mystery addicts than the GM and not have preparation suck. MCB has the Quade diagram as a source for deductive reasoning, but unless you read a lot of period stuff for the other games, a GM like me is less well-equipped to run the game. People who really want Mystery/Noir would be able to just make mysteries from that book plus whatever homebrew of GUMSHOE they're using (like ToC but without Mythos).
  • Hmmm… I would have to disagree.

    Looking at your answer, I think you are either joking around or thinking of film and TV. Not what I was talking, about Pulp/Noir Mystery adventure. If I am wrong I apologize for putting words in your mouth.

    I'm in a hurry, dentist appointment, so here is a quick ramble of where I am coming from.

    Take a look at Doc Savage in the 180 books written in the 30’s & 40’s ( The ones Dent wrote are my favorite ones) Doc and the Fabulous Five were always stopping world class threats. Doc Savage was the ultimate detective that was a one man CSI lab and genius before the phrases CSI and Forensic Science were coined. Fu Manchu was a mastermind villain and any misstep by the heroes as they solved the mystery and tracked him down would have resulted in certain death, not only for them but untold innocents that would be unprotected.

    What you are describing sounds to me like the made for TV shows like mystery woman and so on. It is kinda like if I said horror is for the kiddies because I saw nickelodeon’s ‘are you afraid of the dark’. Obviously horror is cheesy and meant for very young kids ; )

    In many ways a good gritty Pulp/Noir Mystery is better than a Mythos one or horror based one. Because in the gritty Pulp/Noir Mystery the threat is something loosely based on reality that is evil and dangerous, not a something based on totally removed fantasy. A mad man threating to wipe out New York with a with a bioweapon is just a tense as stopping a toothy guy that glitters (sorry couldn’t help the bad vampire humor) and much easier to relate to in your imagination.

    All I’m saying is that gritty Pulp/Noir Mystery books were not the Saturday morning serials and early black and white movies you might be referring to or the more modern So Called Mysteries that we saw on TV like Murder She Wrote or Mystery Woman. Pulp/Noir Mystery books leaned heavily on the ability of the main characters to solve/decipher the mystery of what was really happening before they could confront and stop the villain. Most Pulp RPG’s basically ignore 70% of the novels they are trying to emulate in order to portray the climax battles.

    I have been running Pulp based games with a fair sprinkling of Noir for years and the biggest issue/problem was that the lions share of each adventure was the sleuthing by the Heroes needed for them to figure out who/what the dangerous threat was.

    The only difference between Trails of Cthulhu and a Pulp Adventure starring Doc Savage is that Doc would discover that the Villain was not really a vampire, but instead was a mad scientist whose super science allowed him to convince the gullible he was a vampire. He was still taking control of people’s minds and gruesomely killing them, just by science not supernatural powers.

    Not all TV was bad. X-Files was a great supernatural/super-science mystery show. Most of the episodes centered on solving the mystery with actually confronting the threat being anti-climactic most of the time.

    Robin Laws statements in Why This Game Exists in the Esoterrorists hit the nail on the head and spelled out exactly why I was so dissatisfied with existing Pulp RPG’s. While Savage Worlds and Ubiquity have fantastic fast play systems to bring the two fisted combat and action packed skill based tests, there is pretty much nothing to support the more important detective work/mystery solving part of it.

    I have ordered the pathfinder/gumshoe book to read through and plan on trying to whip up a gumshoe module that can be attached to Ubiquity. It looks fairly simple, which is why I wish they would do an official one. Things that look simple rarely turn out to be simple in reality so this looking simple does not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling ; )
  • edited September 2012
    Posted By: SpenceHmmm… I would have to disagree.

    Looking at your answer, I think you are either joking around or thinking of film and TV. Not what I was talking, about Pulp/Noir Mystery adventure. If I am wrong I apologize for putting words in your mouth.
    Indeed, I was addressing JustinF's original request for Mystery/Noir (with his specific mention of film noir), rather than your inclusion of Pulp and rejection of film. I think Trail of Cthulu is a fully-functioning Pulp game, and needs only some tweaks to run your Doc Savage through his paces. I stand by my claim that GUMSHOE is not well-suited as it exists now to Noir/Mystery adventures without major (basically, supernatural or otherwise unrealistic) threats. Mad Scientists would certainly qualify as threats.

    Not to, uhh, let the big secret out, but the idea that players cannot fail to find "core" clues and that those clues go to the player with that skill is pretty transferable to another game, so if you aren't as pleased with GUMSHOE's skill pools as a plot- and resource-pacing mechanic you can adapt the clue bits to some others.
  • I know Chinatown only requires massaging John Huston's character into some malignant non-earthly entity to transform it to a Fear Itself scenario.

    Just don't have the scenario-creating chops to do it.
  • Posted By: homullusPosted By: SpenceHmmm… I would have to disagree.

    Looking at your answer, I think you are either joking around or thinking of film and TV. Not what I was talking, about Pulp/Noir Mystery adventure. If I am wrong I apologize for putting words in your mouth.

    Indeed, I was addressing JustinF's original request for Mystery/Noir (with his specific mention of film noir), rather than your inclusion of Pulp and rejection of film. I think Trail of Cthulu is a fully-functioning Pulp game, and needs only some tweaks to run your Doc Savage through his paces. I stand by my claim that GUMSHOE is not well-suited as it exists now to Noir/Mystery adventures without major (basically, supernatural or otherwise unrealistic) threats. Mad Scientists would certainly qualify as threats.

    Not to, uhh, let the big secret out, but the idea that players cannot fail to find "core" clues and that those clues go to the player with that skill is pretty transferable to another game, so if you aren't as pleased with GUMSHOE's skill pools as a plot- and resource-pacing mechanic you can adapt the clue bits to some others.

    I think we are talking past each other and drawing incorrect conclusions. I never "excluded" anything, including film. In fact my position is that GUMSHOE in not limited to the 'big bad' world threatening/mythos terrors, that seemed to be the position of people on the board. Yes, you can have a mundane threat and still be fun. So I have basically abandoned the railroad track of this boards opinions and struck off on my own. Yes, you can have thrills and excitement with mundane threats, and yes 100 years plus of literature and vintage film is a gold mine of investigative adventure.

    I am currently running a espionage/thriller game that takes place in 1965. The threats are not end of the world and one of the major threats is actually a misdirection. My players are so used to the big supernatural push that has become mainstream gaming in the last few years that they are shading everything happening to them with that light.

    The game though, is proving to be a lot of fun and going a long way to prove that you don't need the great old ones appearing to have a great suspense/horror game. Smaller in stature, mundane threats can be just as fun.

    I am disappointed that line hasn't considered none supernatural settings for a source book. Everything from the several versions of Holmes the consulting detective (including modern versions) to police procedurals to CSI/Criminal Minds type shows. If not a setting, then a supplement for use with settings. I really liked Double Tap, though it focused on super-spies (not a bad thing, since that was its purpose). I would just have liked a condensed primer on forensics and such. I am currently using a couple Hero products, a few from Hogshead Publishing Ltd. and Greywood Publishing and my collection of Writers Guides. This week I need to finish and print off the ME's report on the blood sample the PC had sent in, not to mention the police breakdown of Yakusa activity in the Little Tokyo area of my cities Chinatown. Big happenings are a coming.....

    Anyway thanks for your thoughts and I hope I have not misunderstood you intent too badly. And may your games always be fantastic fun ;)
  • Not entirely sure why a Pulp scenario wouldn't work using Gumshoe (especially ToC), if any of you have seen L.A. Confidential - its a great example. There doesn't need to be a cosmic evil or a alien menace to generate horror. The horror when dealing with people is that they do terrible things for very petty gain. It may seem anti-climatic to some, but what you can do is highlight the horror leading up to the revelation. 

    (SPOILER ALERT for LA Confidential if you haven't seen it)

    For example, in the movie L.A. Confidential, the motivation is simple, a network of dirty cops are taking over the underworld heroin crime racket so they can get rich. They've taken it over from a mobster who was recently jailed and have been killing off all his goons. In of itself, the motivation seems petty and anti-climatic. But through storytelling and the horror of everything the villains have done at that point of the movie and the relationships of the characters -its very compelling. 

    Noir usually has a bit of a twist on even that detective motif (L.A. Confidential might be a bit more pulp than Noir for example) - the characters in old school Detective Noir usually have to cope with a few things: 1. The people they thought they knew and trusted, lead secret lives they never knew about (whether their wife was a secret drug addict, their nephew was trying to join a gang, etc.). 2. The moral choice of what you do when you solve the mystery, do you send your Brother to prison for the rest of his life after you discover he was the Bank Robber the news was talking about? Or do you take your cut of the score and protect your brother and cover up the clues that lead you to him?

    I think a lot of Noir is about the moral choice of dealing with ordinary people who are doing terrible things for very human reasons. 
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