17 November 2021

Review: Lorefinder

tl:dr; a great guide to modding D&D with GUMSHOE investigation systems to beef up non-combat. Written for Pathfinder, easy to mod for other editions.

I have heard good things about GUMSHOE and its focus on investigative games - especially on fixing the risk in standard D&D scenarios of 'everyone fails their rolls, you all miss the clue' which runs the scenario aground and requires the big railroading stick to be produced by the DM to get things moving again. Lorefinder in particular crossed my path as 'what you can use to play through the deep archive of Pathfinder adventure paths without having to go so deep into Pathfinder deep combat crunch. Combined that with the strong investigative tilt that some recent home campaigns took and I thought perhaps time to check out these new tools for fit.

Lorefinder cover by Christ Huth

I experienced this as getting the pdf and then printing a black and white copy so my view on the art, presentation is skewed. Overall its a slim line book packed full of useful content. So what are those contents?
2 page Introduction
8 pages on character creation
6 pages on investigative skills
6 pages on using magic with GUMSHOE
6 pages on running GUMSHOE as a GM
9 pages of an intro adventure "Slaughter Field"

In the Intro we get a bit on 'why GUMSHOE' and how it differs as a system and and as a way to run games. Helpful - and I see how it is a fairly straight forward retrofit to Pathfinder (in this case) or any other D&D type game. The central point here is chopping your skills into general skills that are unaltered - things that rely on physical prowess like Stealth, Disable Devices, Acrobatics - and investigative skills which allow you to find things out.

In the next section on Character Creation we dive in detail into how what this means in practical terms. Here we get the meat of GUMSHOE - a block of skills are treated as Investigative skills, with ratings assigned from a build point budget that depends on the number of players in the party. The Investigative skills are grouped by Cunning (things like Search) Interpersonal (e.g. Diplomacy) and Lore (e.g. Arcana or other Knowledge skills). In addition different races get a Boost for different Investigative skills - effectively and immediate recharge on successful use. The different classes also get a list of Investigative skills to boost and a reduced skill point budget to spend on the remaining General skills compared to vanilla Pathfinder.

Taking a look at the character sheet to give a sense of how great a change this is - section 1 are the combat skills that remain the same, section 2 are the GUMSHOE converted investigative skills and section 3 are the general skills that stay the same - maybe half the skills in all.

What these Investigative skills reveal when they work is detailed skill by skill in the next section along with description of how this should work at the table. The core concept for GUMSHOE is posession of a rating above zero in any Investigative skill makes you expert. Whenever you declare you are using that skill you automatically succeed to a level equivalent to a good roll in standard D&D - you find the trail, deduce what weapon made that wound etc. The next difference is that your additional levels in any skill create a pool that you can spend to get more information - broadly like rolling a critical success. You find the trail and know how many made it , how fast they were moving and how long ago.

The next section talks through how GUMSHOE magic works - effectively guidance on adapting the classic D&D spells to make an investigative game more fun, dialling back on how some divinations can brute force a game and pushing how other spells can provide pools of points to support investigation along other avenues. Practically, using things like Commune to yes/no through the mystery is dialled back by making it deliver more 'prophetic visions' and things like Polymorph can provide huge pools for Disguise skills. We also get a few new spells attuned to this take on the universe.

Next we get guidance on how to Gamemaster GUMSHOE in Pathfinder, with a good explanation of how to and some useful sidebars to deal with reasonable 'yes, but' reactions. The section closes with adventure and campaign ideas to generate investigation focussed sessions - city watch being a classic example but also a thieves guild as the interesting inverse where investigations are carried out ahead of heists. I think there would also be interesting scope to go with something like an archmages staff of servants hunting up ancient spells through librarys, archaeological digs and chasing down that one wandering mystic who knows it.

Finally we have 'At Slaughter Field' a short adventure that showcases the system. Probably good for a nights play it is very useful here as a walk through of the system.

For me, I started with the Intro then bounched down to read through Slaughter Field to see how all this was supposed to work in practice, then back to character creation, investigative skills and gamemastering once I got what we were trying to do. It is not immediately intuitive how this all works compared to D&D - I felt there was a baked in assumption of familiarity with GUMSHOE that I did not have - but once I had my ah-ha moment reading Slaughter Field, it all made a lot more sense. I liked the concept a lot - it gives a different set of tools to use in running a different style of games. I am a big fan of light retro-fits as they are a much easier sell to players and I reckon you could easily swap in GUMSHOE to any D&D table. I may well use it as an update to my 3.5e campaign. I think it strikes a nice balance on keeping a strength of D&D (combat systems) while buttressing a weakness - the broader horizon investigation skills that work at a wider scope than 'we search the room'.

All in all, a good tool for the toolbox, I read through it in an afternoon and I definitely want to try this out at table. I like the idea of writing scenarios that work for this too. I reckon a lot of point-crawl and 3-clue-rule concepts and wisdom will play well into this. I reckon there is probably scope to retrofit existing characters by assigning dots to Investigative skills according to what the current bonuses are (+3 skill points ~ a point of GUMSHOE skill?)

I am also now looking forward to my Swords of the Serpentine copy arriving to see a fully native fantasy GUMSHOE system. This also gives more guidance on using clues in a magical fantasy setting that could easily be harnessed here.

Other reviews can be found on RPG.net or RPG Geek. Noting that these are mostly dating from 2012 when Lorefinder came out we also have a more recent discussion of updating the concept to 5e on Forgot My Dice and a good go at doing the conversion at Dead Edition.

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