One of Conspiracy X's greatest innovations was influence and pulling strings to represent the important and influential “day jobs” players come from. These day jobs range from the FBI, to the DEA, to the U.S. Armed Forces, and many more. The character’s position in her day job is measured by her Influence attribute. This attribute usually governs the individual’s ability to “pull strings” and otherwise get things done.

How can I do this in GUMSHOE? I'm thinking The Esoterrorists could really benefit from this. I could also see it working in a Delta Green-esque take on Trail of Cthulhu.


5 Answers 5


Create an additional investigative ability per influenceable entity?

The size of a spend then equals the power of the influence (e.g. air force):

  1. pull service data of a BLUE BOOK operative that is unavailable through conventional channels
  2. black helicopter extraction, no questions asked
  3. commandeer a predator drone with a couple of hellfire missiles to take out a roaming dark young
  4. ... and so on ...

But do remember that actions can have consequences.

That is, unless the players overspend an extra influence point, the friendly contact who slipped the data may end up a casualty on account of a freak training exercise mishap, or the characters have to justify the expenses of the emergency loan of the Sea Stallion.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, this sounds right to me. Have an "FBI" ability, an "Armed Forces" ability and so forth. It'd work well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Graham
    Oct 26, 2010 at 8:56

This is a stab in the gloom because I'm only slightly familiar with both games, but I'm familiar with other games that give this kind of "people you know" abstraction.

Gumshoe gives a character's skill a number of points that can be spent for effect during scenes, if I recall correctly. Make another skill to represent this (perhaps "contacts" would be a decent name). Let the players spend these as usual to create someone whole-cloth that they could have reasonably met in their past, and who they could call on or find. On a successful roll, they're available—although perhaps you, as GM, will impose some conditions such as only being able to contact them by phone, or having to go to The Oyster Club and get into the private area where they usually hang out…

If they fail, then it's up to you. Maybe they reach/find them anyway, but there is a catch: they're in trouble and need the PC's help; the PC and the NPC parted on bad terms and it'll take some convincing to get their help; and so on. Or they're just not available—out of the office, on vacation, too far away, not where they usually hang out, or they're just not taking the PC's calls.

Either way, the side effect is that the player has just handed you a ready-made NPC that they have some investment in—a big win for you as GM. The players win too, because they get to see their ideas incorporated into the game in a significant but non-disruptive way—though perhaps not exactly how they hoped—if they're willing to spend the points, and take the chance, to make it happen.

(This idea liberally stolen from the Circles mechanic in The Burning Wheel.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Stab at the dark removes the "expert" aspect of the site. Please re-edit or remove. \$\endgroup\$
    – anon186
    Oct 26, 2010 at 13:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree. However, there are useful things here. The suggested Contacts skill, which lets you invent NPC contacts on the fly, would work pretty well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Graham
    Oct 26, 2010 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you edit your answer, here's something to bear in mind. In GUMSHOE, you spend points to get clues, rather than making rolls. So, if you're getting a clue using your Contacts skill, you won't make a roll, you'll spend a point. Hence, you cannot fail. \$\endgroup\$
    – Graham
    Oct 26, 2010 at 14:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Jeremiah: For the community to judge, thank you. That is the point of the whole system, so please don't preempt it. The expertise can lie at different angles to the question than might be expected. The core of the answer is sound, and in time (as I get more familiar with Gumshoe, which I will go do shortly), I can refine this answer to better address the mechanical integration. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 26, 2010 at 15:12

I like the influence system in Conspiracy X and have adapted it in GUMSHOE by simply allowing investigative spends to call in favors when and where they seem appropriate.

Player: Can I get a buddy to work on this encryption while we investigate the warehouse?

GM: You have good Data Retrieval so it seems likely you'd know a guy...

Player: Ok, I spend two points to call in a favor from my old roommate Razor.

GM: Sounds good.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Night's Black Agents has a Network ability for creating such contacts on the fly. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 16, 2013 at 14:16

I'd use the credit rating skill as measure of pull. The cost would depend on the character's positions in the organisation. In a recent game of Trail of Cthulhu, the PCs had rather made a mess of infiltrating the German embassy and so a large amount of CR was spent to get the Secret Service to cover it up by killing a couple of patsies in a nearby park.


In his most recent iterations of GUMSHOE games, the author of Trail switches Bureaucracy to a General Ability and allows tests for the sorts of things that ConX's pulling strings provide. In particular, The EDOM Field Manual (part of Night's Black Agents' The Dracula Dossier setting) has a pretty good list of the sorts of things that ConX PCs might look for from their patron agencies.


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