A Lazy Sequence

Trail of Cthulhu with pushes

Pushes, introduced with the Yellow King RPG, simplify investigative ability by removing the point pools associated and replacing them with a single pool of points, called Pushes that can be applied to any ability. This simplifies two aspects of Gumshoe: assigning investigative abilities during character creation is streamlined, in during play the bookkeeping associated with spends is practically eliminated. Robin D. Laws introduces the idea to the wider Gumshoe audience in an article for Pelgrane‘s See Page XX, along with general guidelines about applying Pushes to existing Gumshoe games.

Looking specifically at Trail of Cthulhu, I see a handful of special cases that need to be addressed when introducing Pushes:

  • The half price occupational abilities.
  • Investigative abilities that can confer additional benefits for having a higher rating.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos ability.

Half price occupational abilities

This is maybe my least favorite piece of the Trail character creation rules. It seems like a clumsy way to add a niche protection mechanism to the game, or add an analogy to Call of Cthulhu occupations to Gumshoe. As a result, take my suggestion here with a grain of salt.

I’d recommend just ditching the idea complete, and just use the list of abilities as a shortlist for assembling kits as suggested by Laws’ article.

Investigative abilities with additional benefits

The following abilities all have special cases for characters with rating higher than 1:

  • Art
  • Craft
  • Credit Rating
  • Languages

Of these Art, Craft, and Languages allow for multiple areas of mastery within the broader ability such as being fluent in multiple languages.

Credit Rating is, in some senses, a set of eight mutually exclusive investigative abilities, determined by the rating, and bounded by the characters occupation.

If you retain this facet of these abilities and just use skills ÷ regular players metric suggested by Laws then you risk missing skills if anyone wants to sink more slots into specializing those abilities. At a minimum you’ll want to bolster the abilities with maybe 2–4 per player.

Alternately you could drop the specialization and allow players to be proficient in all the specialization (discarding some realism in the process), or allow the player to just define their characters area of expertise qualitatively. Similarly, just allow the player to pick an appropriate credit rating as desired. These all assume your group is all playing together in good faith, but honestly I hope you are anyway.

Cthulhu Mythos

Unlike the previous two details, this doesn’t impact character creation as Cthulhu Mythos always starts with a rating of zero. The problem here is that the rating in particular has an important relationship with Sanity: Because your Sanity is capped at 10 − Cthulhu Mythos, removing the rating removes this sinking lid that is a core part of the game.

As a secondary concern, spending points from Cthulhu Mythos is a very signal to the Keeper that you want to tap that knowledge. A push is abstracted, allowing room GM/Player miscommunication.

There are there possible solutions here, and I think either would be reasonable:

  • Keep Cthulhu Mythos as is. You never push it, but spend points as per the normal game. This has the benefit that even when out of Pushes, players can still always tap their Cthulhu Mythos to solve an immediate problem but accelerate their doom spiral.
  • Keep the rating, but use pushes instead as with the other abilities. Personally I would encourage the players to say I push my mythos knowledge or similar explicit statement.
  • Ditch the rating too. Characters can still only acquire Cthulhu Mythos during play, but instead of tracking the rating, just directly reduce sanity. Once a player has opened up mythos knowledge, they can push it at will as above.

My preference is for the first of the three.

21 September 2019