I did a few posts a few years back about system, and how it matters. This weekend, I found myself facing that directly.
You see, I'm running a Cthulhutech game for some friends of mine. And I'm really not using the system right. The game, for those of you who don't know, provides players with a small pool of points that they can spend to add dice to their rolls. That's not at all unusual in modern RPGs. What is unusual is how many points players get - they get ten points per session.
Not per adventure, not per campaign - per session.
This means that I should, if I'm running the system as it's designed to be run, be forcing die rolls pretty regularly. And a few of them should be high-stakes and important to encourage players to spend more points.
As it is, in the game I'm running, players are averaging only one to two rolls per session. In theory, they could blow five points per roll and not sweat it. In practice, however, they've been hesitant to spend their points, because they are afraid of what I have coming.
Now I'm not going to say, "Clearly I'm running the game wrong." Because I'm having fun, and the players seem to be having fun. But it makes me wonder if, perhaps, there is a system which might better fit how I'm running the game.
Some of my friends and I had a brief discussion on Google Plus, because I was already struggling a bit - I have one player who wants a psychological game of personal horror, and one friend who wants action and adventure.
Someone suggested that Gumshoe might be a good system for me. All I'd have to do is mash up Trail of Cthulhu and Ashen Stars. Which, honestly, is easier than it sounds. And my initial reaction was to recoil. I don't know that I could run Gumshoe, I thought, That's a tough game! You need to map out all kinds of clues and ... and ...
At game that evening, one of the players mentioned that the mashup did sound good, and I stammers, "But I can't run Gumshoe!"
"But Eric," he scolded me, "You've never run Gumshoe!"
And it's true. I haven't. I've only played Gumshoe. Only a couple of times, too, with ... mixed results.
So I'm re-reading my Gumshoe books. And a few pages into Esoterrorists, I realized: This is pretty much how I've been running the game already. "Do you have Skill X? Okay, you see ... "
I have one parapsychic player and one sorcerer character, so I'd need to figure out how to adapt that ... but I could run this as a Gumshoe game without even changing the character sheets. I think that may be the biggest secret to Gumshoe: Every game is Gumshoe once you stop rolling the dice.
I think I'm going to keep the game as-is for now. As a proto-Gumshoe game with occasional combat. But I may take a good look at Mutant City Blues to see if maybe a tweak to the skills list might be appropriate.