View Full Version : Trail of Cthulhu: The Hows of GUMSHOE

08-20-2010, 12:28 PM
Trail of Cthulhu is a horror RPG that uses the GUMSHOE system. GUMSHOE is designed to emphasize more investigative role-playing than dice-rolling. If an investigator has the correct ability they will get the clue and the story wonít grind to a halt because of failed dice rolls.

I detailed a bunch of the gameplay mechanics on my blog, and Iíll be copying and pasting the more relevant ones. I will be excising the character generation from this post because I thought it would be easier for me to get a grip on GMing the game using pregenerated characters. This will mark my very first attempt at running a game, so having characters more clearly defined for this adventure will hopefully help me adjust to the somewhat improvisational nature of tabletop RPGs.

As of right now, Iíve got 5 players: Kaisel, Lucas, Shivam, Poetfox, and Falselogic and the (beginner) adventure weíll be going through is titled The Murderer of Thomas Fell.

SPOILER: It was the butler.

EDIT: My blog with itís everchanging name is First Time Keeper, Long Time Nerd (http://www.notworthitsown.blogspot.com/)

08-20-2010, 12:33 PM
Could we get a reminder link to your blog? I neglected to bookmark it when you linked it a couple weeks ago.

I'm looking forward to this.

08-20-2010, 12:37 PM
Get a clue!

Every ToC adventure consists of multiple Scenes, and in every Scene are clues that the players must find to further the story and help to solve the mystery. The players must utilize the abilities available to their investigators to root out these clues.

Ex. Shivamís character, Doc Brown, uses his Forensics ability on the corpse and discovers that the person was not mauled by a rabid dog but by something much larger!

Donít have the correct ability for a scene? Thatís not a problem because the players can still have their characters do a ďsimple searchĒ. You donít need a skill in Biology to dig around in someoneís drawers. All you need to do is to declare that youíre searching in someoneís drawers.

Ex. Poetfox says ďWhile everyone is examining the body, PI Harry Dresden is going to search the dresser in the bedroom.Ē

Whether or not you find anything, wellÖ

Skills Ratings and Points Pools
To be trained in a skill, a player must have at least a rating of 1. The rating value also determines the amount of points the player has in that particular skill. A character with a rating of 4 in Intimidation has 4 points in their Intimidation pool. If they spend a point, their pool goes down but the rating does not.

Points and Benefits
Sometimes the Keeper will ask the player if theyíd like to spend a point from a skill to gain a benefit. These benefits can vary from extra info or extra firepower or a new contact.

GM: If you'd like, you can spend a point in Intimidation to get a little bit of extra info from the snitch.
Almonds: Sure, I'll spend that point and press the muzzle of my gun against his kneecap.
GM: Youíre able to convince Wally the Weasel to give you the name of his employer and purchase some extra firepower, if you so choose.

So the investigator still has a rating of 4 in Intimidation, but only 3 points left in his Intimidation pool.

Contests!There are just some times when the only way to solve a problem is with a good die roll and the only die youíll need is a D6. Yup, the plain ones. The only abilities that need dice rolls are the ones listed under General. The Keeper will tell the player that he needs to roll a skill check, and he then needs to roll higher or equal to the Difficulty Number, which the Keeper may or may not tell you.

Difficulty Numbers (DN) range from 2 to 8. Whoa, whoa, WHOA. Hold on now. How do you get an 8 on a six-sided die? By Point Spends. For every point you spend, thatís +1 to your die roll. The players just need to remember that they have to declare how many points theyíre spending BEFORE they roll the die.

Keeper: As Detective Almonds drives up the narrow mountain road, the skies darken and unleash torrents of rain down up him. The road becomes slick with mud and visibility is reduced to almost nil. Iíd like a skill check for Driving and letís say the DN is 4.
Stingray: Letís seeÖAlmonds has a Driving rating of 6, so I have 6 points to spend. Iím going to spend 2 points for this roll. I rolled a 3, so my total is 5. I passed!
Keeper: Despite the treacherous weather, youíre able to keep your car on the road and drive safely to the top of the mountain.

Itís a very easy system. The only hard part is having players remember that they have to declare the point spend BEFORE THEY ROLL.

Dance Off for Sanity
There are times when a PC goes up against a PC/NPC and the only way to solve things is a dance off, or as itís called in the book, a contest. Each character does a skill check, spending points and rolling dice, and the first one to fail their check loses the contest.

DANCE OFF w/ Detective Almonds (Athletics 10) vs Cultist (Athletics 8)

Keeper: Detective Almonds, youíve run onto the dance floor, hoping to get lost in the crowd. Unfortunately, a kicking song just started playing, and the dance crowd has formed a circle around you as the cultist bursts through. OH DANG, THE CROWD WANTS A DANCE BATTLE! Whatís your first move, Stingray?
Stingray: Iím going to spend 1 Athletics point and do the Worm.
Keeper: Ok, the Wormís DN is 3. Go for it.
Stingray: Rolled a 2! Success!
Keeper: You worm your way across the dance floor, but the crowd and the cultist arenít impressed. ďSo this is Chicago dancing?Ē the cultist says. Heís going to spend 2 Athletics to do a windmill, DN 5. The cultist rolled a 4 for a total of 6! The crowd is going wild over the speed of the windmill!
Stingray: I need to step up my game before I get served. The Superman.
Keeper: Ok, DN 6. Roll for it.
Stingray: DN 6?! Ok, Iím gonna spend 3 points first. And I rolled a Ö3. Thank god I spent those 3 points!
Keeper: Ok, ok, you did the Superman fairly well, but not enough to sway the crowd. The cultist, thinking he has it in the bag, is going to spend 1 point and do an Armchair Freeze, DN 3. He got a 1! He failed his roll and fell straight onto his face!
Stingray: Iím booking it.

Now I canít promise that there wonít ever be a dance-off in my games (yeah, I can), but thatís how it goes.

Fist vs Tentacle
There comes a time when book smarts arenít enough and you just got to plant a fist into somethingís squishy face. And that brings us to combat.

The Basics

The Hit Threshold is the number to beat to connect with your target. For Investigators, their HT is 3, but if their Athletics skill is 8 or higher, the HT increases to 4.
Just because a character doesnít have a particular skill doesnít mean they canít use it. No rating in Firearms? No problem. You can still shoot a gun. You just wonít do as much damage. In fact, you do -2 to all damage rolls and thatís on top of the bonus/penalty for whatever youíre using. This rule applies to Firearms, Scuffling, and Weapons.
Firearms goes to firearms.
Scuffling goes to fists, feet, and things like knuckle dusters.
Weapons are for things like swords, knives, maces, etc.


Whoever picks the fight, start the fight. Doesn't matter if you're shooting, stabbing, punching; the person that starts the fight gets to go first.

Ex. 1
Keeper: Tony "The Rat" Wilkins is standing directly in your path. There's no way he's going to let you through the door.
Stingray: I punch him in the face.
Keeper: Roll to see if you hit.

Ex. 2
Keeper: Tony "The Rat" Wilkins is standing directly in your path. There's no way he's going to let you through the door.
Stingray: I shoot him in the face.
Keeper: ...roll to see if you hit.

Ex. 3
Keeper: Tony "The Rat" Wilkins is standing directly in your path. There's no way he's going to let you through the door.
Stingray: I stab him in the face.
Keeper: ...roll to see if you hit.

Battle Royale

When you have 3 or more combatants, things change a bit. The fighters declare their actions and turn order for the entire fight is determined by the skill rating associated with the action.


Detective Almonds is going to shoot (Firearms 12)
Junior Detective Robinson is going to punch some biscuits (Scuffling 5)
Cultist Pete is going to stab the Junior Detective (Weapons 7)

So the turn order is

1. Detective Almonds
2. Cultist Pete
3. Junior Detective Robinson

After the first turn, the players are free to choose a different combat action but the turn order won't change. Even if Almonds decides to sword fight the cultist (Weapons 0) on the next turn, he would still go first. Turn order is determined on the first round and won't change for the rest of the fight.

And the rest is done like a standard contest. Spend points from skill to hit, roll, if hit roll for damage, add/subtract modifiers.

Getting Hurt Sucks (Don't Do It)
As long as your Health is in the positives, there are no special rules. Itís when you drop into the negatives that you have to start worrying. And once you hit -12, youíre dead. Foí realsies.

Starting at -1, the player has to start making Consciousness rolls to stay awake. The DN to stay conscious will always be the absolute value of your current health. So if youíre at -1, you have to beat DN 1. -4, DN is 4. Of course, you can spend points from your Health pool to stay conscious but the DN will be the number before you chose to spend points.


Keeper: Stingrayís just been shot! His health has dropped to -3. Make a consciousness roll.

Stingray: Ok, I donít want to chance it, so Iím going to spend 2 Health points. I rolled a 2 for a total of 4, so I stay conscious but my Health is now at -5.

You can NEVER spend Health points if it will drop you Health to below -11.

Other Health rules
Health is between 0 to -5: You canít spend Investigative points and the DN for all tests increases by 1.

Health is between -6 to -11: You lose 1 Health point every half hour until you receive aid. And even if you succeed on your Consciousness roll, you canít fight or take any actions.

Health is -12 and below: DEAD

Pull Yourself Together!
Stability is your mind's immune system. The higher the rating, the stronger it is and the less likely you are to snapping. Sanity is how much of your mind is left after having been exposed to the Cthulhu Mythos. Since Stability is the one dealt with more often, let's start with it.


There are just some times when you witness something that just messes with your brain. And that's when you make a Stability check!

The DN for a Stability check is 4, unless it's something you've seen before or something so horrifying it just blows your mind. Then it's a 3 or a 5, respectively. And like other skill checks, you can send Stability points to help pass the check. Just know that if you fail the check, you lose those points plus whatever the price of failing the check was.

Like Health, things happen if your Stability drops below 0.

Stability at 0 to -5 is SHAKEN: All DN's for checks increase by one and you can't spend investigative points.

Stability at -6 to -11 is BLASTED: You gain a mental illness! And it's permanent! You also lose 1 points from your Stability rating. You can always buy it back.

Stability at -12 and under is INSANE: You are officially cuckoo for cuckoo puffs. You got one chance to go out in a blaze of glory or you can consign yourself to a mental ward.

There are several ways to regain Stability. Stability points refresh after a adventure/session or the player can have the investigator follow their Drive.

And that's Stability.


There's only two ways to lose Sanity. And the best way to say it is straight from the book!

* A Mythos shock drops your Stability pool to 0 or below.
* You use the Cthulhu Mythos.

If you lose Sanity, you lose Sanity. You can't roll to avoid Sanity loss.

What's a Mythos Shock? It's when the investigator witnesses a Mythos-related event and it drops the Stability score.

If the character is SHAKEN by the mythos, the Sanity raiting drops by 1 point.

If the character is BLASTED, the Sanity raiting drops by 2.

If both happen, you'll only suffer one of those losses during any given adventure. Yes, the more severe loss.

Now there are some ways to keep your Sanity and they're pretty awesome for roleplaying.

Denial - If no evidence exists at the end of the adventure, then it must have been all in your mind. At the Keeper's discretion, the player may be required to take on a mental illness or make up a story about what you think happened to what really happened. If the player ever uses info that he shouldn't remember, the Keeper can take a Sanity point from the player.

Fainting - Yup! If something so terrifying occurs and the investigator stands to lose more than 1 Sanity point, the player can declare that the investigator faints dead away and will only lose 1 Sanity point. They keep their Sanity but they're not allowed to participate for the rest of that particular scene.

But keep in mind that if the investigator faints and the team ends up running away, someone may be left behind...

Your Drive is the reason you do things. It's the "why" you decide to venture down an dark alleyway (Curiostiy) or the "why" you won't stop hunting the man in black (Revenge). For Detective Almonds, I decided his Drive was Duty. Not to justice. His duty is to please that booty.

When you follow your Drive, you can regain Stability points. If you don't follow it, you can lose stability points.

08-20-2010, 01:06 PM
so what classes and stuff are available?

08-20-2010, 01:12 PM
Is this open for more players? And if so, how would playing it work? Would it all be done through forum posts, or would there be some designated time to hop in a chat room?

08-20-2010, 01:21 PM
Woot woot! I am excited for this! dibs on being the hobo!

08-20-2010, 01:33 PM
so what classes and stuff are available?
Of the five pregens, there is a police detective, artist, doctor, professor, and dilettante.

Other jobs include alienist, antiquarian, archeologist, author, clergy, criminal, hobo, journalist, military, nurse, parapsychologist, pilot, private investigator, and scientist.

Is this open for more players? And if so, how would playing it work? Would it all be done through forum posts, or would there be some designated time to hop in a chat room?

This particular adventure is limited to the 5 pregenerated characters but I donít see why any of the other ones couldnít have more. Iím going to try to run it via forum posts. Weíll see how that goes.

08-20-2010, 01:35 PM
Sounds so awesome!

08-20-2010, 01:37 PM
Woot woot! I am excited for this! dibs on being the hobo!

Of the five pregens, there is a police detective, artist, doctor, professor, and dilettante.

If I can't be a hobo. I guess I'll be the artist. The artist known as "Ashcan" Pete.

08-20-2010, 01:40 PM
If I can't be a hobo. I guess I'll be the artist. The artist known as "Ashcan" Pete.

Youíre in luck because the artist is down on his.

Of course I wonít be starting the adventure until all the gameplay mechanics are out and then the characters will somehow be chosen/given out.

08-20-2010, 01:41 PM
detective Kyle Salander reporting for duty.

08-20-2010, 03:04 PM
Sweet, I've been looking forward for this to start. I'll be a little busy the next few days (married tomorrow!) but this'll be awesome. I'll take any class, doctor or professor would be my preference though.

08-20-2010, 03:18 PM
I can run the dillettante. Unless someone wants him/her! I assume these pregens are mostly just stats, and not characters, or you'd be telling us some about them? I'll put some thought into who I is. Heh. Going to be good times!

08-20-2010, 03:26 PM
Oh no, these characters have backstories and everything. Once the dust settles and the characters are chosen, I'll send out character sheets and bios.

Kaisel, I expect you to be checking the website during your wedding, just in case the party needs help.

08-20-2010, 03:56 PM
I may be interested, and skip out on mafia one time.

08-20-2010, 03:57 PM
Hey, sraymonds - is it possible to play this without looking at the stuff on your blog? Not that I don't want to, but USGOVERNMENT IN AFGHANISTAN refuses to allow access to blogs of any type.

Would I be missing out on major rules that would ultimately embarras me/cause the entire team to lose/the forums to be scuttled?

08-20-2010, 04:53 PM
Hey, sraymonds - is it possible to play this without looking at the stuff on your blog? Not that I don't want to, but USGOVERNMENT IN AFGHANISTAN refuses to allow access to blogs of any type.

Would I be missing out on major rules that would ultimately embarras me/cause the entire team to lose/the forums to be scuttled?

I'm trying to cram all the important rules into the first/second post in this thread. If you go by my rules, then yes, you will embarrass your.

08-20-2010, 05:24 PM
Well, as long as the rules are DESIGNED to have me embarass myself, I'm for it!

I'll give it a shot.

08-20-2010, 05:29 PM
Well, just in case our character claims now will mean anything, I'll take the prof.

Falselogic: Artist
Shivam: Detective
Poetfox: Dilettante
Kaisel: Doctor
Lucas: Professor


08-20-2010, 06:34 PM
Well, just in case our character claims now will mean anything, I'll take the prof.

Falselogic: Artist
Shivam: Detective
Poetfox: Dilettante
Kaisel: Doctor
Lucas: Professor


Ok, then it's decided. I'm going to finish up the rules and then I'll start the game proper sometime this weekend.

08-21-2010, 06:23 PM
Alright, the characters have been assigned. Sorta. Each occupation has a special ability but unfortunately, only one of these is going to be available for this adventure. Each character also has a Drive, which is what keeps them going and doing the things they do. One way to regain Stability is to follow your drive, so this may be something to help out the players.

Poetfox - Dilettante Jan Joyce-Cleveland

Drive - In the Blood - Quite frankly, youíre not sure why you keep coming back to the moldering graveyard, or poring over those antique texts. But queer behavior runs in the family, apparently. Outsiders wouldnít understand.

Shivam - Detective Norman Wright

Drive - Duty - You know itís dangerous and ill-advised, but somebodyís got to go down those steps or bust up that cult. And youíre elected, because if you donít take care of things now, theyíre just going to get worse. If you donít, who is? Some time-serving goldbrick just counting down the days until their pension? Donít be ridiculous.

Lucas - Professor Knox Makepeace

Drive - Antiquarianism - The dead past is the only place you feel truly alive. Discovering some truth about it, or simply experiencing old and beautiful houses or items, is the purpose for living at all. Neglecting the past merely because it seems unsavory is for brutish, mayfly moderns.

Kaisel - Doctor Roger Fell

Special - When you use First Aid, each point spent heals 3 Health points,
rather than 2. (You gain 2 Health points rather than 1 for each First Aid point you spend to heal yourself.) You can stabilize the condition of a seriously wounded victim by spending only 1 First Aid point, rather than 2. (See p. 63)
Drive - Duty - Haven't you heard of the Hippocratic Oath?

Falselogic - Artist Kenneth Fell

Drive - Perhaps you had one experience that youíll never get again, or
perhaps youíve just read about such things in decadent yellow-backed novels. Youíve tried everything else, and nothing else matters. So what if it might kill you? At least that would be different.

Not following your drive can lead to the Keeper forcing a Stability loss against you. If he's a jerk that is.

Ok, I gots a question. We need to do a bit of inventory, but should I give y'all the synopsis first? Also if y'all want to sketch a picture of you're character, you're welcome to.

08-21-2010, 11:35 PM
so about dice pools. lets say i have a skill of 4 in something. that means i have 4 points to add to a dice roll for that skill, right? do the points run out, and if so, when do they refresh? ie, why wouldnt i use +4 to every roll i make?

08-21-2010, 11:40 PM
I was wondering that as well.

And I'd vote for a synopsis first. I'd like to have some context before going over more tangible things.

08-22-2010, 07:37 AM
The Hook - Thomas Fell has gone missing. For days no one has seen him. He hasn't answered his phone. He hasn't picked up his mail. His house is dark. Where is he?

The adventure is set in the 1920s and has the investigators search his home to discover Thomas Fell's fate.

RE: skill pools

That's a great question. Investigative skill pools generally refresh at the end of adventure.

Investigators can refresh up to three General abilities, excluding Health, Sanity, and Stability, when they can find safe haven that allows them to rest for up to an hour or more. They can do this once per session.

Additionally, pools for the physical abilities of Athletics, Driving, Firearms, Fleeing, Firearms, Piloting, Riding, Scuffling, and Weapons fully refresh whenever 24 hours of game-world time elapses since the last expenditure. The remaining General abilities refresh at the end of each case, like investigative abilities.

This is not a very long adventure, so I'm not sure if any pool refreshing will be going on.

08-27-2010, 12:00 PM
Last night I had a very intense dream about a malevolent, eons-old, massive octopus lording it over a sunken city, preparing to invade dry land with an army of giant octopuses.

I think I'm ready for this game.

08-27-2010, 12:14 PM
Ha ha, awesome. Just FYI, Iím waiting for kaisel to get back before I get us all started. I also need to check if any of the characters have the skill Preparedness. Thatís a skill that bears some explaining.

08-27-2010, 12:47 PM
Oh crap, sorry guys, I'm ready, I spaced out replying to this thread, but yeah, let's rock. I even checked my local gaming shop to see if they had Trail of Cthulu (sadly, they didn't) to prepare for this.

08-27-2010, 07:38 PM
I'm going to issue some items to the characters. The cop's going to get a police-issued Colt Police Positive .32 Revolver and doc's going to get a medical bag. Y'know, for medical stuff. If anyone else wants anything, let me know and we'll talk about it.

RE: the Preparedness skill

You thought you might need this, so you brought it along, just in case. One of your team's fallen into a hole? Good thing you thought ahead and brought a rope.

Generally speaking, the player would need to make a simple test to determine if your character actually brought the item along.

08-29-2010, 09:35 PM
Aside from a medical bag, I can't think of too much that a doctor would have. Do we have any starting cash, or is that something that won't be an issue in this adventure?

08-30-2010, 04:52 AM
Money won't be an issue. Since you'll all be dead! bwahahahahaha

08-31-2010, 08:16 PM
Ok, I'm probably going to start another thread(?), I dunno, but real life's gotten out of hand, so progress is slower than I want. But to keep y'all interested, here's the intro I wrote for the adventure.

It has been seventeen days since anyone has heard from Thomas Fell. Numerous calls have gone unanswered and his mail continues to pile up. No lights are seen inside after dark.

Another unanswered phone call. Jan Joyce-Cleveland begins to fear the worst. Has he been hurt? Has he run off? What happened to the men hired for the expedition? Worried for Thomas Fell, she places a call to Professor Knox Makepeace.

Thomas wanted Makepeace on the expedition. As they met for lunch to discuss Thomasís plans, Makepeace was disturbed by Thomasís behavior. He was overly paranoid. Any slight against him was magnified by ten. He cared for nothing but the expedition. In the end, Thomas stormed off, leaving Makepeace wondering what could have changed him. When Joyce-Cleveland called asking if he had heard from Thomas, he became concerned and contacted a friend of Thomas, Detective Norman Wright.

Years ago, Thomas Fell had helped Detective Wright solve a case involving antique theft. Ever since then, the two have kept in touch, sharing a lunch together now and then and swapping stories. When Professor Makepeace called him and said that Thomas Fell was missing, Detective Wright would use all his resources to make sure his friend was all right. During his inquiries, he somehow drew the attention of Thomas Fellís sons, Roger and Kenneth Fell.

Roger Fell. The successful doctor. Kenneth Fell. The struggling artist. When they heard that their father was missing, they both volunteered to help search for him. They did not volunteer out of some familial duty; no, they agreed out of guilt. Itís been months since either had spoken to their father. Embarrassment sets in when they are not the first to notice that Thomas Fell is missing.

Calls are placed and plans are made. Now, the five stand outside the house. The five want answers. They want to know what happened to Thomas Fell.

08-31-2010, 08:34 PM
can i request you start it after PAX?

08-31-2010, 09:17 PM
can i request you start it after PAX?



when is PAX

08-31-2010, 09:18 PM
this weekend. ie, if you wait till say, next weds, we should be totally cool.

09-08-2010, 02:23 PM
So I've started the thing. (http://www.gamespite.net/talkingtime/showthread.php?p=849399#post849399)

Also, when we're in character, let's put it in quotes, so it's easier to differentiate between the two. And I'll try not to do it often, but sometimes I forget things and may edit in a descriptor or two. You'll be able to tell when it's edited in.

And when in doubt, ask me for a description.