Bubblegumshoe by ProfessorProf
IntroductionOriginal SA post
Is it just me or does it look like that desk is about to fall over?
The latest game to come out of Evil Hat, Bubblegumshoe (aka BGS) is a GUMSHOE game about teen sleuths solving teen mysteries. Chief inspirations are series like Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Pretty Little Liars and Veronica Mars, but there's a non-negligible amount of Scooby Doo at work, too.
Instead of hard-boiled detectives and Cthulus and car chases, the whole game revolves by default around a high school in a small modern American town. Where is the missing will? Is the vice principal embezzling from the school? How can I get Kendall's phone back without anyone seeing the pictures on it? That's the level of mystery we're looking for here. It's a great fit for GUMSHOE - traditional noir has trouble due to being too traditionally focused on the lone wolf detective, but a gang of teen sleuths is spot on for a tabletop party.
First impression is that I like the book's aesthetic. It's full of taped-in notes and half-formed clues scribbled in margins. Important passages look like they were marked with a highlighter.
Intended game flow is episodic, with each episode lasting about 2-3 sessions. As the game continues, the town it takes place in gets more fleshed out, both by the GM and by player input. As the town gets more established, the social web gets more complex, laying the foundation for future mysteries. If you're a fan of Twin Peaks, there may be an overarching super-mystery hidden within the setting that acts as a thread connecting multiple episodes together.
All GUMSHOE games work pretty similarly. The core of the game is Clues, which you get by using Abilities. If you have the Ability, you get the Clue, no roll needed (usually).
Each ability has a rating, but instead of just being a flat value, that rating is a pool of points. If you have Fashion 5, and you spend 2 Fashion to get an extra clue, then your Fashion is down to 3, but will refresh back up to 5 at the end of the episode. Ratings are effectively a measure of how much screen time each ability gets.
There are four kinds of abilities in BGS: Investigative, General, Interpersonal, Relationships. Investigative abilities always work, without a roll, because they're what you use to get clues. For extra information or benefits, you spend points out of them, but you're guaranteed to be able to get enough info to solve the mystery.
General abilities are things that aren't guaranteed to succeed, like Driving or Sneaking. When using one of these, you roll 1d6 and compare the result to a test difficulty. If you want to boost your chance of success, you can spend points out of a relevant ability pool 1-for-1 before rolling to increase the result.
Interpersonal abilities are a subset of investigative abilities, for the most part, but used on people instead of crime scenes - Intimidation, Flirting, Reassurance, et cetera. They work the same way, but thety can also be spent to get bonuses in Throwdowns, BGS's form of social combat.
Relationship abilities are ability pools tied to specific people. You can leverage those relationships to help you out, but doing so puts stress on your relationships, which will no doubt be fun for you in the future.
Character CreationOriginal SA post
Bubblegumshoe: Character Creation
PCs are referred to in BGS as Sleuths, and like in other GUMSHOE games, character strengths change based on the size of the party! Everyone gets separate pools of build points for each type of ability (General, Investigative, Interpersonal, Relationship) - General is always 40, but the other three go down as the number of players in the party goes up. With 5+ players, the spread is 40/5/8/12, but with 2 players, it's 40/8/12/18. You get 4 points in the ability Cool for free.
Before going into ability lists, we're introduced to a quartet of sample characters:
- Jessica Park, the book's plucky protagonist who we'll learn the most about. Second-generation Korean-American, daughter of the county forensic pathologist. Likes photography, wants to become a journalist to fight injustice.
- Tyler Lincoln, black son of an architect and a cop. Likes computers and music, stays on the straight and narrow.
- Amanda Barrett, soccer ace who works for a garage in town fixing cars. Gets into trouble with terrible bands and terrible boys.
- Elizabeth Soriano, bisexual latina cheerleader. Divorced parents, jock king brother, amazing fashion sense and artistic talent.
Aside from abilities, you gotta know how you connect - how well do the Sleuths know each other? Do they go way back? Where do they hang out? BGS assumes the party are already friends, but you're free to hash out the details yourselves.
What you use to root out clues. Remember, these don't require rolls to use.
- Fashion: Mainly used for identifying someone's socioeconomic class or hiding your own.
- Notice: See things other people didn't see.
- Outdoors: Tracking, broken twigs, et cetera.
- Photography: Both taking pictures discreetly and knowing things about photography in general.
- Pop Culture: What's hot, what's not.
- Research: Looking things up.
- Scholarship: Everything you learn in class at school.
- Town Lore: The town and its strange secrets.
Like Investigative Abilities, but targeted at people and also used in social combat.
- BS Detector: I like that they abbreviate it in this book. Spot liars in action.
- Flattery: Feminine whiles, or their male equivalent. Brooding in a tight T-shirt?
- Gossip: Rumor gathering.
- Grownup Face: Getting adults to take you seriously.
- Impersonate: Like disguise, but usually on the phone or online. If you have at least 2 points, you can have a fake ID.
- Intimidation: The usual.
- Negotiation: Find out what they want and make them believe you can give it to them.
- Performance: Dance, song, music, cheerleading, theater.
- Reassurance: Fast talk, sympathy, being nice to people.
- Taunt: Angry people don't think about what they're saying.
Jessica has 9 points here. 3 points in Grownup Face, 2 points in BS Detector and Impersonate, 1 in Performance (saxophone, for her) and Reassurance.
With these, you roll 1d6 to succeed, with target numbers from 2 to 8. You can spend points to raise your roll before rolling - spend 2 Athletics to roll 1d6+2 instead of 1d6. If your rating is 0, you can't even try if there's pressure or opposition.
- Athletics: Jock stuff.
- Computers: Hacking, putting up phony websites, stuff like that. You can usually do the thing, the roll is to see if you get caught while doing it.
- Cool: Keeping a cool head under pressure. This functions like a combination of Health and Stability from other GUMSHOE games - its your social HP, in a game where nearly all combat is social. You get 4 points for free.
- Driving: Tailing people, racing, driving fast and good. Just driving normally requires no roll.
- Fighting: Physical combat is against school policy and also the law. Be extra careful.
- Filch: Steal things or plant things on people. Also probably frowned upon.
- First Aid: Deal with injuries. More on this when we get to that chapter.
- Intuition: Sense trouble before it becomes trouble.
- Preparedness: Already have retroactively thought of something in advance.
- Repair: Fix stuff. Also covers lockpicking and (depending on your game's tone) elaborate booby traps.
- Sneaking: How not to be seen.
- Throwdown: Social combat. Not required to take part in throwdowns, but it really helps.
Stuff that isn't on the list - Escape Artist, Surveillance, Cop Talk, Stunt Driving - can be bought as a Cap. Caps cost 5 build points for their first point, max at 2 (Non-General) or 6 (General), you can only have one, and no two party members can have the same Cap.
If someone has a violent cap ability, they can get a couple extra boosts from it (like being able to kill someone without a weapon), but remember that most real combat in BGS is social. Killing people is a losing proposition.
Your connections to NPCs. They come in three types:
- Loves: Best friends, family, romantic partners.
- Likes: Friends, contacts, people who would do things for you willingly.
- Hates: Enemies, exes, people who cause trouble for you.
For each relationship, give a name, a nature (love/like/hate), a tag (brief explanation of connection), a rating, an ability (the NPC can provide this expertise to the party if leaned on), and a location (where they can usually be found).
Jessica's list: Mom (Love 6), Ginny (Like 4, I stood up for her in gym), Greg (Like 3, even though they broke up) Priscilla (Like 1, old friends), Principal Sanchez (Like 2, saw the Ginny incident), Kaitlyn (Hate 3, didn't approve of me dating Greg). Remaining points are left unspent.
For our sample cast, Tyler goes for Electronic Surveillance 2 (6 build points), and Elizabeth spends 5 build points for a point in the Cap of Art 1.
Pick Up and Play Relationships
Rounding out this section is a set of relationship builds for different types of characters, as a jump start for people who can't decide how they should distribute their build points. Just pick one, then fill out names. A couple examples:
Best Friend (Love 4)
Ex (Like 2)
Club Crush (Like 1)
Older Classmate (Like 2)
Best Friend's Sibling (Like 1)
Angry Ex (Hate 3)
Best Friend (Love 7)
Mentor (Love 5)
Enemy (Hate 3)
The art inside the book is a very different style. I'm not sure if I like it.
Who You Are
The (mostly) non-mechanical bits to round things up. You have three backgrounds to establish! Class is where you are on the socioeconomic ladder - upper crust, wrong side of the tracks, middle class. Clique is your school social base - Jocks, Cheerleaders, Stoners, Gearheads. Club is the thing you do in your extra time, school related or not - Drama Club, Field Hockey, Starbucks, Church Group.
Jessica has a single-parent family, Lower Middle Class. Her Clique is the Grinds, hard-working kids who pay attention in class and get top grades. Club is Marching Band, but could also be Library or Photography Club.
Backgrounds do provide occasional mechanical support! The GM can let you use them to define free one-off 1-point Relationships with people related to your backgrounds. They can occasionally be used like investigative abilities if the situation calls for it ("Your time in Drama Club tells you this is a fake knife"). They also affect Thresholds, barriers of entry to certain locations that require most people to burn points of Cool to get in.
Why aren't you ignoring the problems around you? What makes you a protagonist? That's your Drive. Hates Not Knowing, Friendship, Lovesick, Fairness, Family Code, Risk Taker, Subconscious Curiosity, pick something and explain it in a sentence or two. When you obey your drive to do something reckless or stupid, you get Cool refreshes.
Write down something you want your character to accomplish on a personal level, one sentence. I want to become head cheerleader, I want to get my dad remarried, whatever's important to your character. When you accomplish it, you get a Relationship build point to spend on characters related to the arc. Once you've completed a story arc, pick another.
RulesOriginal SA post
If you've played GUMSHOE before, don't expect any surprises here.
The core of the system! A clue is exactly what it sounds like, and to get it, you need to:
- Be in a scene where a clue is available.
- Have the right ability.
- Use the ability.
Inconspicuous Clues are clues that the character would definitely notice, but the party might not go out of their way to mention using the relevant ability every time - Notice and BS Detector are the usual suspects here. When a clue like this comes up, the GM will check who has the biggest pool for that ability, and tell them the clue without being prompted.
Spends and Benefits
Sometimes, when you get a clue, you can get extra mileage out of it by spending points from an ability pool. The GM should let you know when the option is available, and the benefit can take various forms:
- Extra info beyond the basic clue
- An advantage you can tap into in a later scene
- Spending less time to get the clue
- A solution to an immediate problem
- A moment in the spotlight
Sometimes, it really does look like a clue will be hard to get - locked doors, encrypted files, something that obviously calls for a general test. In this case, you do a Failsafe Test. Set the difficulty mentally, but if the character making the test spends any points at all, they automatically succeed. If they don't spend any points, and then they fail, they still get the clue, but something else bad happens, usually in the form of increased danger after getting the clue.
Speaking of tests! See difficulty, roll 1d6. If roll is at least difficulty, you succeed. You can spend X points from any relevant ability pool to add +X to the result. Spend before rolling.
Your roll, whatever the result, represents your character's best effort - you can't just try again and do better. If your first attempt fails, you're SOL unless you take some other action to make your effort easier. If you do manage to change up the situation so that you can try again, if you want to spend points, you have to spend more points than you did last time.
If multiple people are doing something together, any of them can spend 1 point from a relevant pool to Piggyback on the person making the roll, not increasing the roll value. If someone wants to Piggyback but doesn't have enough points, they can, but the difficulty goes up by 2. If someone wants to cooperate to help the roller succeed, they can spend X points from a relevant pool to boost the roll by X-1.
When something is going to take longer than a single test, run it as a Continuing Challenge. The challenge gets a total difficulty (15+ usually), and as time passes the sleuths can make rolls of Difficulty 4 to make progress on it. The challence is completed when the total combined value of all successful rolls against the challenge reaches the total difficulty.
If something bad happens to you, you might be called to make a Cool test. If you fail, you lose a bunch of Cool, so it might be worth spending a point or two to ensure you don't lose even more. Difficulty is always 4.
If you want something to take effort, but not have a chance of failure, don't call for a roll. Instead, just call for a Spend.
Head to head tests! These come in two varieties.
The simpler variety is Player-Facing Contests. These work just like other tests, for the most part - roll Sneaking to get past the guard. If you fail, though, there's no chance to regroup and retry, because you're facing the immediate consequence of the other person having beaten you. Difficulty is usually 4, but may vary based on enemy Alertness/Stealth/Status Modifiers.
If a player-facing contest is social, things get a bit more complicated. Obstacle NPCs can spend points from their interpersonal abilities to raise the difficulty by +1 per point. You can spend on your own interpersonal abilities (usually Throwdown) for +2 per point. Remember, though, a contest is never required to get a capital-C Clue out of someone.
Full Contests are for longer, more involved contests, or player-against-player contests. Involved characters act in turn, but can call on Relationships or Cooperation for help. On your turn, you roll against a set difficulty for the contest. Then, the other side rolls against the same difficulty. The first side to fail loses. I'm actually not wild about this system, since it rewards whoever goes last with a higher chance of success.