Bubblegumshoe is the work of Emily Care Boss, Kenneth Hite, and Lisa Steele. The game was published by Evil Hat Productions in 2016 and is a variation of Robin Laws’ Gumshoe system. Where Gumshoe has been used to tell mysteries based around Lovecraftian horror (Trail of Cthulhu), space opera (Ashen Stars), vampire spies (Night’s Black Agents), among others, Bubblegumshoe explores the genre of mysteries like The Hardy Boys, Veronica Mars, and Nancy Drew. The text describes the default setting as: “High schoolers solving mysteries in a modern American small-town setting.”
The expectations of the game are that your characters will all be teenagers who are Sleuths. Players spend from a pool determined by the number of total players in a game to develop a list of Investigative, Interpersonal, and General Abilities that will aid them in finding clues and solving mysteries. The type of mysteries could be anything from investigating a murder to figuring out who cheated in the homecoming queen voting. As long as it makes sense in the setting and would be something your teenage sleuth would reasonably investigate then it works.
I have read a few of the Gumshoe books and, while I have always felt there was a strong personal appeal there, I’ve never actually sat down to play or run them for my group. When I heard about the development of Bubblegumshoe, it sparked my interest because of the type of stories it encouraged. I have typically clung close to the Powered by the Apocalypse system as my choice to run and play in, but I frequently think about dipping my toes in some other gaming waters. I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of Bubblegumshoe at Origins 2016 and decided to make it the focus of my first character creation article.
Having the framework in mind, I decided I needed to have a setting for a game to determine what sort of character to create. The book comes with eight pre-made settings to work as examples so, using my trust d8 I rolled and ended up with Strangehill Scout Troop 211. The concept behind this setting is a scout troop of both girls and boys who are doing ordinary scouting things but also solving mysteries in their community. The tone is light-hearted and all about being good people and helping.
Scouts in this setting start with two stats: Cool 5 and Throwdown 4 representing extremely high abilities to handle tense situations and navigate socially combative situations. Unlike standard Gumshoe builds, these characters have Badges which operate as Skill packages. To start, every scout has the First Aid and Community History badges. First Aid is composed of First Aid 4, Cool 3, Reassurance 3. Community History is Computers 2, Negotiation 3, Town Lore 3. From here, I have two more Badges to choose from and 15 build points to spend to buy more abilities or bump up what I already have.
Before I started purchasing more abilities or stating myself up, I needed to take a moment and figure out who this scout would be. I used an incredibly comprehensive random name generator, and I clicked through names looking for something that jumped out to me as interesting, ending up with “Alyse Leung.” Alyse,13, has been adopted by her aunt, Rachel (maternal side), who works in a local automotive factory. Rachel is a single parent who enrolled Alyse in the scout troop mostly out of a need for some form of after school care. As a new kid, Alyse hasn’t made many friends, and the scout troop is her only real positive social experience. Alyse is a latchkey kid most days and has to fend for herself until Aunt Rachel gets home, and even then her caretaker is so tired the young girl is expected to continue caring for herself.
Now that I knew a bit about who Alyse is, I could determine what Badges she has learned in her time with the troop so far. Cuisine is a given because she makes most meals for herself and she would like to make them tasty. She’s even started getting compliments from Aunt Rachel about how good the food is. This gives Alyse BS Detector 2, Cooking 2, Pop Culture 2. Cooking is “capped” meaning no more points can be spent on it. I like to think BS Detector signifies Alyse’s ability to tell when someone genuinely likes what she has prepared. For her second Badge I chose Sports, the idea being that before the tragic death of her parents, Alyse played soccer for many years. Her father was super competitive about it and got Alyse to take it pretty seriously. She still plays at school and the park “for fun” but in her head, it is always a big competition. The Sports badge gives Alyse Athletics 5, Intimidation 3, Notice 2.
Now with 15 build points, I need to decide what abilities to purchase and which to bump up. Because she is a pretty studious kid, I figured Research 2 would make sense. These points are also used to create pools for relationships so I do want to hang on to some, or I won’t have much luck interacting directly with people who are important to me. With 13 points left I will set aside 5 for her Aunt Rachel. That leaves 8, so I want to beef up my BS Detector a bit to 4. I think Alyse has dealt with a lot of adults trying to shield her from the tragedy of her parents’ death. As a result, she listens carefully to what people say to determine if they talk to her like an adult or pander. In turn, this leads me to decide that Notice should be bumped to 4 as well. Alyse is a quiet, observant kid who picks up on little details the other kids quickly rush by. That leaves 4 Build points that I would choose to save for any relationships that might come up.
Before I can see Alyse as a playable character, I’d like to use a couple of metrics to understand where her mind is at and what she wants in life. The three I’d like to use are Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Carl Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers’ personality type theory test, and Stephen Covey’s Maturity Continuum.
From what I have written about Alyse and my thinking about her she hovers somewhere between the second and third levels of the Hierarchy of Needs, Safety Needs & Love and Belonging. Her parents’ death has left her with trauma, but I don’t think it has manifested itself fully yet. She’s pushed past some of it out her tough nature, thanks to dad and the soccer career. As the new kid in town, she is deeply in need of friendship and isn’t getting the emotional support she needs from her aunt.
After taking an online version of the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment, Alyse came out as INTJ meaning Introvert Intuitive Thinking Judging. This makes Alyse a very analytic person who likes to work alone rather than big groups, which should make the scout troop fascinating. Alyse enjoys working on earning badges at home and then presenting her accomplishments, but anything that forces her into a team setting will cause friction. Alyse knows her abilities and is a hell of a good researcher. Having this fact cause me spend two more of those Build Points on Research.
Now we take a look at Covey’s Maturity Continuum. Of the Seven Habits, I think is solidly nearing the stage of Independence, meaning she’s mastering the first three Habits: Be Proactive, Begin With the End in Mind and Put First Things First. I still think there are some hurdles to overcome with the self-doubt she has and the lingering trauma from her parents’ death. She is going to be very far from approaching Interdependence because of some of the pesky aspects of being an INTJ. For Alyse, learning to work with the fellow scouts of the Strangehill Troop will be her greatest lesson.
So to finish out the character creation I need to choose Alyse’s socio-economic class, clique, drive, and story arc. For class, I think she is very working class now because of Aunt Rachel’s situation but came from middle class. Her clique would be nerds or nerdy-jocks, not “meatheads” but more studious soccer player types. Her Drive is definitely “Justice for the Weak” based on the loss of her parents. Finally, she has a Story Arc of “Find Closure about Parents.” Alyse’s ability to come to a healthy place talking about her parents and expressing her emotions, particularly with Aunt Rachel who has also been pretty closed off, will lead her to a healthier and happier life.
Next up: John Wick’s 7th Sea 2nd Edition