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I picked up Esoterrorists for a quick off-the-cuff one shot and it was a nice change for everyone from the usual boot-door-kill-monster-grab-treasure thing we usually play.

What confused me, however, was how to present opportunities to use the investigation skills during narration. The key to the Gumshoe game seems to be presenting evidence and clues and then the players use their investigation skills to find out information from that (without contests) but the method of delivering this is hazy to me.

This is probably because I was very unfamiliar with the Gumshoe system (having bought it half an hour earlier) but I found myself prompting the players (who were also all new to it) that "here you could use investigation skill X".

Should I be:

  1. Delivering all the clues on a plate immediately that players arrive on a scene and saying "you can use X skill for Y clue".
  2. Delivering all the clues on a plate immediately that players arrive on a scene and then letting the players try uses of their investigation skills unprompted.
  3. Presenting clues to the players as they search an area and then saying "you can use X skill for Y clue".
  4. Presenting clues to the players as they search an area and then and then letting the players try uses of their investigation skills unprompted.
  5. Something else?
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The answer depends mainly on the experience level of the group and their comfort level working with mysteries in the genre, format, style, and intricacy of the system and GM.

New Players

In the beginning, as you get used to the system, it is a good idea to help players connect the dots between the investigative skills that they have, and the clues which those skills will uncover.

Any investigation will begin with a long piece of semi-interactive exposition, wherein the bare minimum of information to allow the characters to move on to the next scene will be presented, ideally with enticement for the players to spend their points on trying to up the amount of available information uncovered.

This description of initial findings is owed to them as a result of their possession of those skills. This set of findings must be enough to get them to the next scene. If they wish to flesh things out further in this first scene they may by spending their points to see if they can turn up additional clues, depending on the nature of the scene they are investigating. In the beginning, it will be of benefit to all if you notify players when they can spend their points for a chance at a better result, so everyone learns the ebb and flow of the game, and grows more comfortable with what their skills do as envisioned by the GM.

To directly answer your question, with new players as a new GM it works well to start with your option 1: present all the base clues to them, with hints about how they can obtain more clues.

Experienced Players

As the group gets comfortable, the shift is made to something akin to your option 4: letting them search and revealing the base clues as they do so (providing they still leave the scene with the clues they are owed as a part of the underlying conceit of the system), without involving yourself in the decision to spend on further clues.

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This works for me; I can see how more experience with the game will lead to a more natural flow, cheers! –  Rob Apr 19 '13 at 7:39
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It never hurts to ask the group if someone has a relevant ability. But at some point you want to players offering their own skills for use. One way to do this is to provide temporary points in another rating when they come up with an idea you want reinforced. And be generous when they choose one that you haven't envisioned.

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Thanks for the suggestion; the temporary points idea may prove useful. –  Rob Apr 19 '13 at 7:39
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