Gumshoe: What is competence?
Continuing my look at the Gumshoe system, today I want to talk about character competency.
When you look at a character sheet, how do you determine how competent that character is in their various skills? As with much of Gumshoe, we need to look Investigative abilities and General abilities slightly differently.
Investigative abilities are easy: 1 point is very competent. We can see that reflected in the mechanics where a character’s likelihood of success for 1 rating point is 100%. This is backed up by the text’s own commentary:
Here’s Fall of Delta Green on Investigative ratings:
Having even 1 point in an Investigative ability indicates that you’re expertly trained, practiced, and well-read in that field … A rating of 2 or 3 points implies that your Agent is one of the top people working on the subject, or can hold her own with them…
For General abilities the story is a different, and notably different to many other RPGs. Firstly, a characters level of skill is not really something that is measured directly in Gumshoe. General pool points are a measure of narrative leverage. The rating (e.g. the starting and refresh level for an ability) provides a guideline if you do need to rank two characters.
Fall of Delta Green again (emphasis mine):
- Rating 1-3
- A sideline. You trained in it after Basic or at the Farm, but you don’t really rely on it in a pinch.
- Rating 4-7
- Very good, enough to beat many professionals.
- Rating 8+
- Impressively expert. At this level, the game mechanics allow you to guarantee yourself two or three automatic successes per day against most opposition.
Note the emphasized passage in the last entry: We see again that assumption about 3 point spends as automatic successes. The observant will note that these brackets approximately correspond to the how many automatic successes that rating may confer. Comparing these descriptions to the section above about investigative abilities we can see that there is a rough correlation here.
For another reference point, we can look at the level at which general abilities get breakpoints. For less tactically complex games this is limited to Athletics. More tactically nuanced games such as Nights Black Agents extend this to cherries for all general abilities. In these cases the breakpoint for the cherry is 8, e.g. Athletics of 8+ confers an improved attack threshold.
I want to highlight again that a characters competency is measured by the ability rating. This may seem counter intuitive as the pool is what influences the outcome of a test. Remember that a test’s target number is based on story pacing, not a simulation of the difficulty of the activity, and that by spending points players are influencing that pacing.
To summarize: For investigative ability any rating above 0 is competent, 3 is among the best in the world. For general abilities 4+ is a basic competence, with 8+ being among the best.
Next time: thinking about how to make antagonist spends as a game moderator.