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Chuck Durfee
The neon tapir: software shaper, value maker. Casting his eerie glow upon agile software delivery, roleplaying, and life with seven teen and
The neon tapir: software shaper, value maker. Casting his eerie glow upon agile software delivery, roleplaying, and life with seven teen and
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It's another episode of play report with our favorite hunter, Flint. Last time we saw her, she was examining tracks on the road when a new danger arose....

“Oh, what’s zis, coming out of the woods?”

“It’s a girl.”

“A pretty girl,” a third one said.

Flint looked around. There were three young men, armed and leering. The first one, with a Eastman accent, had the confidence of the alpha of the pack. She quickly took a few steps back the way she came, drawing her bow at the leader.

“Oh, zis one, she has spunk, no?”

The other two boys had stopped their advance, waiting to see what the Eastman did.

Flint is trying to Secure an Advantage through aggression, with the goal to convince these raiders that she’s not to be trifled with. This is a roll +iron. Her Iron is 2. Ooh, only a 2 on the action die, for 4 total. And the Challenge dice? 6 and 10. That’s a miss. Her momentum is only +4, so it will be of no help. Time to Pay the Price. In this case, is the Eastman confident because they are well-armed or because there’s a 4th raider behind her? Let’s ask the Oracle — I roll a 73. So, it’s the second option.

Being surrounded, this is now a Dangerous situation. She is ambushed, so Flint is ambushed as she Enters the Fray. It’s a roll +wits, which is her weakest stat at 1. However, the Action die shows 6, so surely a 7 is enough? Right? The Challenge dice have other ideas, both come up a 7. Not only is this a miss, but with a Challenge dice match, there’s also “a heightened negative outcome, a complication, or new danger”. Hmm, I’m not sure what that means quite yet.

As for Paying the Price for the miss, the most obvious bad thing would be for her to get hurt by the ambusher. Thus, her miss will trigger the Endure Harm move. She hasn’t been able to recover from her fight with the wolf the previous day, so her Health is at +3. Dangerous foes inflict 2 harm, so she’s down to +1 Health. Her Iron at +2 is higher than her new Health, so it’s a roll +iron. The Action die is a 5, for a total of 7. The Challenge dice came up 3 and 10, for a weak hit. “You press on,” the move says.

We still have to resolve the matter of the match on the previous roll. Oh, Oracle, what wisdom do you have for me? 86. “It requires you to expend resources: Suffer -supply.” So, mechanically, that means Flint’s Supply drops from +4 down to +2. Let’s start writing the narrative, and see how I can weave this in.

The Eastman nods his head slightly, and as Flint turns to see what he is gesturing at, she feels the pommel of a sword slam into the base of her skull. She is a hunter, not a soldier, and she cries out and looses her arrow. It burrows into the ground harmlessly.

She stumbles away, dropping her bow and clutching her neck. A welt is already beginning to form. As she regains her composure, the ground sways beneath her feet. The men chuckle.

These are terrible odds. It’s a Battle, a dance of sinew and steel, and it’s over before Flint knows it. She has only her courage to defend her, so this is a roll +heart, which is 2. I palm the 6-sided die and roll. The Action die bounces on the table once or twice, then settles on a 5. Another result of 7. I blow on the Challenge dice for good luck, then roll… a 2 and 4! This is a strong hit, which spells unconditional success. She drives off the raiders and they leave her alone! She will never know how, though, it all happened so fast! She gets a momentum boost, too, from +4 to +6.

Flint is gasping on the road. She sees the last of the raiders fleeing east, loping as best he can. She has a white-knuckle grip on her knife, which is coated in human blood. His blood, looking at the trail he’s leaving behind.
She stands for a moment, listening intently, eyes darting back and forth, but the only sound is her sharp breath and the only sight is blood and mud. Her head is a red fog, thick with memories of their hands grabbing her, her hands scratching and clawing, her boot connecting with a leering face, the swish of her blade, and their angry and fearful cries.

She picks up her bow and salvages what arrows she can. Only two look serviceable. Broken shafts litter the road, trampled underfoot during the battle. She takes the pieces, hoping to salvage the heads and feathers. A few paces away lies a sword, its pommel wet with blood. Her blood. As she bends to pick it up, stars flash across her vision and she nearly vomits.

Carefully to stay upright, she kneels and takes the sword. It bears the make of the Eastman. She retreats back to her camp. It is just afternoon, but she follows an animal trail deeper into the bush. Surrounded by scrub, she sits down against the trunk of a tree, downs her water-skin, and tries to get some rest to clear her head.

This passes for Making Camp, so I roll +supply (2). Drat, the Action die is only a 1, for 3 total. The challenge dice are 1 and 5, resulting in a weak hit. I’d rather save my momentum, so the one option I’ll choose is Recuperate, which brings Flint’s Health from +1 to +2.

When she comes to again, it’s late afternoon. She blinks a few times, and she can hear the stream over the throbbing in her head. She turns it a few times experimentally, and is pleased that she feels more or less like she woke up this morning. She lost a day of travel and most of her quiver of arrows, but finds herself happy to be alive and intact.

She searches the banks for berries, and the bushes for supple branches suitable to become shafts. The Resupply role is a roll +wits, so I add a roll of 2 to her Wits of 1. That 3 doesn’t best the Challenge dice’s 4 and 10, so it’s a miss. She still gets +2 to her Supply, bringing it back to +4, but it will cost her -2 momentum. She’s back to +4 Momentum — in this case, a worthwhile trade.

She spends the afternoon cutting branches for arrow shafts and filling her belly with berries. As the stars come out, she refills her quiver again. The attack weighs on her, though.

I am going to make a move that I should have made in response to the combat before, and that’s Test Your Spirit. That’s -2 to her Spirit, which drops to +3 now. Her Spirit is still better than her Heart, so we roll +spirit. Action die says 2, so that’s 5. Hurray, the Challenge dice are double 2’s. Not only is that a strong hit, but the Challenge dice match signals a new opportunity! To resolve the hit, I choose “Shake it off”, so her Momentum drops a point to +3, but her Spirit gains 1 to go back up to +4.

She thinks over the morning, her actions, and the way the battle on the road played out. She decides she’s proud of herself. Fates know, she’s heard enough horror stories about highwaymen to know what could have happened! And yet here she is, warm and safe.

She spends the night here, which is enough to invoke the Make a Camp move again. Her Supply is now +4, and I roll a 3. That 7 is more than enough to beat the 1 and 3 on the Challenge dice: a strong hit! I get to choose 3 options. Recuperate again, for sure. I’ll take Relax, and… Focus. The resulting +1 additions bring up Flint’s stats to +3 Health, +5 Spirit, and +4 Momentum. I can’t wait to see what awaits Flint when she continues her journey!

Installment 3 in Flint's story. I got a little RPG time in this afternoon. When we last left Flint, she was examining her campsite and realizing that the raiders had learned of her presence....

Flint will try to Secure an Advantage here. Her Wits is only +1, but she does get an additional +1 due to her Ranger path. Rolled a 4 on the Action die, so 6 total, and… whew, only a 3 and 4 on the Challenge dice. That’s a strong hit. Since I already have initiative, I will choose the +2 momentum, plus an additional +1 from the Ranger path. Flint is now up to +5.

These tracks are unlike anything she’s seen before, but the mud from last night preserved them well. Whatever made these tracks weighs a lot, as much as the blacksmith in the neighboring village. Tarsen is a huge man, all muscle. One thing that’s for sure, she cannot deal with this threat by herself.

“You know, Tarsen does owe me a favor. Maybe he can help me clear my name.”

Okay, new objective, the village of Ashen Grove. Undertake a Journey time! This would be merely a troublesome journey, if it were not for the threat of the owner of those footprints and these raider attacks on her home in Broken Glen. Let’s call it a dangerous journey. Ashen Grove is two days’ walk from here. She recalls a meadow by a stream that is a good picnic spot for lunch. She sets off. Because of her Wayfinder asset, she will get +1 to this roll. Action die shows 5, +1 for her Wits, that’s 7 all told. Unfortunately, the Challenge dice are 2 and 9, so it’s only a weak hit.

She starts out slowly, watching her tracks, but after a quarter hour, she picks up pace and gets to the meadow around midday. She eats some of the bread and cheese she brought, and refills her waterskin. She still has enough food to make it all the way to Ashen Grove, so she presses on.

The weak hit on the Undertake a Journey move cost her 1 Supply. She still has 4 Supply, so she’s going to keep going. Unfortunately, she only got a 2 on the Action die, so that’s a total of 4 on her Undertake a Journey roll. The Challenge dice say 8 and 9, which is a miss. Flint is as strong as she’s going to be. Let’s tempt fate and Pay the Price. The Oracle dice read… 56. “It takes extra time or puts you at a disadvantage: Suffer -momentum.” The default is -2, so Momentum is down to +3 now.

The bushes by the stream are thicker than she remembered, and it was already dusk by the time she reached the fire circle! It was about half a furlong from the road, and her firelight should be inconspicuous here. She hurried to assemble camp.

This is Make Camp. Her Supply is +4, and her Action die is 3. However, the Challenge dice say 7 and 8, which is a miss. She must Pay the Price. The Oracle role of 41 says “the current situation worsens”. I think suffering a bad night’s sleep is punishment enough for Flint individually. However, there’s the village of Broken Glen to consider… More on that later.

There are strange noises in the forest tonight. She hears bushes rustling, and opens an eye each time the forest goes silent. Too soon the blackbirds start calling, and Flint reluctantly packs up camp. She is on the road before sun’s first light. She should be beyond the raider’s reach this far southwest, but she leaves the road where there is a hint of another traveler. She does not encounter anyone, but does not make great time. She looks for an out-of-the-way place to have lunch.

Another Undertake a Journey role. It must be the fatigue! She only gets a 2 on the Action die, which with the +1 Wits and her Ranger path, makes for a 4. The Challenge dice are callous, reading 9 and 10. Another miss! The Oracle says… 7. “A person or community you care about is in danger.” Tell me something I don’t know. However, let’s make it obvious to Flint.

When she came to the road, she immediately notices something is amiss. There are large, recent ruts in the road. Many wagons have come through here, and there are hundred of shoe prints, hoof prints, and footprints leading away from Ashen Grove. She stoops down to examine the tracks in earnest.

Let’s Gather Information. I debated allowing Flint to use her Ranger path bonus, but decided that this activity isn't the same as tracking. She's just trying to make sense of this scene. Her Wits is 1, and she rolls a 6! That 7 sits between the Challenge dice of 3 and 8, so it’s a weak hit. She does get +1 Momentum, bringing her up to +4. However, “the information complicates your quest or introduces a new danger.” There hasn’t been enough action on this quest lately, so let’s go with a new danger….

Second installment of Flint's story....

She grabs her bow and begins to track the dire wolf.

Flint uses the Gather Information move to follow the blood trail. Flint has the Ranger asset, so she gets to add +1 to the roll and take +1 momentum on a hit. She rolls a 5 on the action die, adds +1 for Wits, and the +1 from her asset. That 7 beats the two Challenge dice, 3 and 5, for a strong hit. She gets +3 momentum out of the deal, bringing her to +8! Better yet, she discovers something helpful and specific. I’m not sure what that is, so I’ll consult the Twists table for the Oracle — 37, “A more dangerous foe is revealed”. Since Flint got this information due to a strong hit and things are really going her way, I say this means she gets some forewarning.

As she traces the smears and drops of blood through the deer trails through the forest, she comes across some footprints. There are two sets, one is a pair of boots. The other is unlike anything she’s seen. They are long like a person’s foot, but shaped like a wolf’s. The air here smells wrong, a little sweet, and it sends a shiver up her spine.

What to do? One thing I should do here is invoke the Reach a Milestone move. These footprints are a clue to her current vow, “Discover the source of the attack against her village.” It’s only a Dangerous quest, so she gets to mark 2 Progress. 2 down, 8 to go. Let’s Gather more Information.

Wary, she continues to follow the trail of blood. The patches of blood are getting smaller now, and farther between. It is as though some mystical power has healed its wounds!

Flint rolls a 4. The +1 for her Wits and +1 for that Ranger asset gives a total 6. The challenge dice are a 4 and 6. Ties go to the Challenge dice, so it’s a weak hit. I am going to add a complication due to weather. Still, Flint gets to mark an extra momentum, and another due to her Ranger asset, so she’s at +10!

The track go together into a denser part of the forest, where the fog is quite thick. It is always misting in the forest, it seems, but it has actually begun to rain in earnest. She things back to her camp and realizes her bedroll is getting wet. At this point, it can’t be helped. She has to see this through.

Because of the rain, it’s going to be harder to track the wolf. Flint decides to Secure an Advantage. As with the Gather Information role before. She rolls a 6, +1 due to her Wits, and another +1 for her Ranger asset. Unfortunately, the Challenge dice are a 7 and 10, so that 8 she got yields just a weak hit. Note she gets would normally add a couple extra momentum here, but she’s already at her maximum of +10. I’m not sure how to weave this into the fiction, so let’s consult the Oracle again — 30, “Your actions benefit an enemy.” Hmm, I’m still not sure.

After a few minutes’ search, she finds a patch of fur stuck in the crook of a branch. It’s hard and wiry, not like a normal wolf pelt at all. In the fading light of the big moon, she sees a tinge of orange ahead, is that a fire?

“I may not have found the wolf,” she says to herself, “but I’ve found something more valuable.” She slinks away and dashes back to her camp.

As she feared, her bedroll is wet. She wrings it out best she can and rolls it up. She lowers her backpack from where it hung and coils up the rope. In just a few minutes, she’s ready to leave. She looks for a place deeper in the woods, where the trees and bushes may still hide a dry spot. She will need to light a fire to dry out her roll, or it will mold.

Undertake a Journey is the most reasonable move to represent this. She rolls a 2. Her Wits of +1 only gives her a 3. The Challenge dice stare at her, a 9 and 10. She doesn’t want to Pay the Price for a miss, so she chooses to Burn Momentum instead. The two Challenge dice get canceled, which turns this would-be miss into a strong hit! It does mean her momentum is reset to +2, though.

She finds a group of bushes, almost like a cave. Under the thick branches, the dirt and leaves are dry. She cleans out a place to sleep, and uses the leaves as kindling to start her fire. She eats some dried meat and curls up in the leaves to sleep.

The bushes are a waypoint. She chooses to make good use of her supplies, so her Supplies track stays at +5. She’s able to salvage her bedroll.

In the light before dawn, she checks her bedroll and finds it dry enough, thank the Spirits! She decides to make her way back to her old camp in order to pick up the trail once more. To her dismay, there are large wolf tracks, and more of the half-wolf man-prints in the mud. They know she is here now....

I decided to give a solo outing a go. Inspired by Joseph, I decided to write up our heroine's encounter with the wolf...


Our story begins in the Deep Wilds. Flint was a member of the Broken Glen community on the outskirts, but did something unspeakable and was banished. Around the same time, strange inhuman raiders began to attack the village. Many secretly believe the two events are related, and even Flint wrestles with doubt. Flint needs to track down the source of raiders, in the hopes of restoring her reputation and regaining her true name.

She dreamt of the hamlet before they came. On her shoulders was a pole, where three rabbits hung. She dodged the boy and he ran past her, and stepped aside to let her pursuers by. There were seven children now, and Broken Glen seemed like a name from the past. A name from the past.

She awoke with a start. There is a wolf at the edge of her camp, eyeing her. She can make out the shape of it in the light of the big moon.

Here, we Enter the Fray. Challenge dice of 2 and 5, roll of 4 plus Heart of 2 yields a strong hit. Flint has initiative and +2 momentum. _

Slowly and quietly, she notches an arrow. Still in her bedroll, she points the arrow at the wolf and sends it flying.

Flint strikes. Challenge dice say 1 and 4. Her action die of 3, plus Edge of 3 — her 6 beats both for a strong hit. She maintains initiative. She gets to mark three progress too — two for being a Dangerous foe and and extra due to her strong hit.

She hears it yelp in the dark, sees its shape twist by the trunk of the tree. She rolls into a kneel and has another arrow notched. The wolf steps toward her and growls.

_Flint strikes again. Not so lucky this time. Got a 6 on the action die, so 9 with her Edge. However, the challenge dice are 4 and 10, so this is a weak hit. The two progress she gets finishes the first of 10 boxes and puts a mark in the second, but the wolf gets initiative.

Another arrow flies true and hits the wolf. It snarls and leaps at her. To Flint’s dismay, her shots do not sink into its hide, so the wolf is merely angered by her bow!

The wolf closed the gap, so Flint is using her knife now. The move is Clash, since she doesn’t have the initiative. The roll is 5, plus her Iron of 2. That 7 result lies between the Challenge dice roll of 5 and 8, so it’s a weak hit.

Flint steps aside as the wolf leaps, avoiding its charge. The wolf did not put all of its bulk into the charge, though. While she drops the bow and pulls her knife, it regains its feet and bites down hard on her forearm. She yelps and slashes at it, drawing blood.

A weak hit means that she gets to mark progress (1 1/2 boxes full), but still does not have the initiative. Worse, she has to Pay the Price, in this case, losing 2 Health. She had 5, so now has +3. It’s the wolf’s move.

The wolf twists its head and tries to wrestle Flint to the ground.

This is another Clash role. The Challenge dice say 5 and 5 — more on that in a moment. However, her role is a 6, so the result is a 8 after adding her Iron. A strong hit, and she regains the initiative. The Progress track gets two more marks, and now has two boxes full and one slash in the third. She’s also take a +1 to her momentum, thank you very much.

Flint steps around, so she can get to the wolf’s throat. She uses the fact that wolf has a tight grip on her forearm and takes a stab in the dark. The wolf instantly lets go and scurries back, whimpering.

She strikes. Ooh, the Challenge dice are double 1’s. Her action die of 3 is enough to best those by itself — a strong hit. Since she gets three marks, she is done with her third box on the progress meter!

She sees rage in the wolf’s eye. It bounds forward and tries to bite her again, but it slips off her bloody forearm.

I decided that the Challenge dice match of 5’s earlier gave the wolf some pause and gave her some protection against being bit. Let’s consult the Combat Action Oracle table for the 1’s. A roll of 77 says ‘Create an opportunity’ — for Flint, since it was a strong hit on her part. I’m going to hold this in reserve, when a fictional opportunity presents itself.

Flint presses her advantage.

Flint rolls a 6 on the action die, for 8 total. The Challenge dice are 1 and 6, so yet another strong hit! That puts 3 of 4 marks into the fourth progress box. Let’s try to get at least that 4th box full before trying to end the fight.

She pins the wolf to the ground with her knee and she stabs it again. A look a fear begins to cross the wolf’s eyes.

She strikes again. Challenge dice say 3 and 4, and she rolls a 5 on the action die. That strong hit will finish off the 4th progress box and get another two marks into the 5th. She tries to finish the fight. Oh, sad day! She rolls an 8 and 9 on the Challenge dice, which is a miss! She needs to Pay the Price and loses initiative.

She slips on the bloody wolf’s coat and her knee slides off its chest. It claws at her and pushes her away. As she feels the scratch on her cheek, the wolf rolls to its feet. It starts to bound away.

Wolf pelts are valuable, and it’s leaving a trail of blood — a result of the opportunity created by the 1’s match earlier.

She grabs her bow and begins to track it....

I'm new to GUMSHOE and I have a couple of abilities questions.

I'd like to use Ashen Stars for a scenario set solely in the Star Trek universe, where all the players are members of Starfleet. In such a case, each character has some competency in their job, as well as base training with standard equipment, standard operating procedures and the like. I thought about using a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) ability like Night's Black Agents seems to, but wanted to hear some opinions from more experienced folks.

My second question is how GUMSHOE tackles specialty skills. Let's say our players end up at the Dabo table for some high-stakes action. Would I use the Dabo game as window dressing, and the actual roles would be around what information the players gathered during the game, and if so, does their skill at Dabo come into play at all? Does a player need a skill to say that they are a galaxy-class Dabo player?

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I posted a game experience report of my session this weekend that was motivated by the Feng Shui 2 series on One Shot, and I thought it might be of interest to some of you.

I really appreciated the Critical Success episode about character voices. I'm really looking forward to applying your advice when I next play!

I was also looking over the primary emotions material in Making Comics by Scott McCloud (the Grimace Project puts this in an interactive web app), and I was wondering whether you had any advice about how to portray character emotions -- especially in more complicated situations where characters aren't always being forthright with their feelings.

My attempts at doing this as a gamemaster and player don't come off correctly -- I get feedback that my characters feel flat, that it's not clear how my characters feel and I think it hurts the immersive feel of my game. Any advice?

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I move back the vines to reveal a stone door. I wipe the sweat from my brow and annoy the tsetse flies. I feel along the seams of the door -- nothing. I look for some kind of mechanism, maybe a lever or a pull rope -- no luck.

I looked back at the path, but the rest of the group hadn't made it up the hill yet. I wonder to myself, Drega, why did you agree to go on this quest? I mean, sure, they would never have made it here without my bow, my game, or my tools for finding fresh water. But once we went into the catacombs, made our way into the forgotten city, what then?

It was late afternoon. I wanted to travel here in the darkness, when it was cooler and there were fewer eyes on us. But my orcish jaw made people think I wasn't worth listening to.

My human friends said it was because of my Orcish accent, but the pointing, the shut doors and the distrusting eyes told me it was my orcish build. I got my smarts from my mother, that and her wavy hair. But my orc playmates were quick to point out that I smelt like a human and my sentences were all Nord. 

Neither group turned their nose up at the pelts and steaks I brought when I came down to town, though. In Nature, I was just a skilled hunter.

"Ah, Darkeyes, there you are," he heard one of them say, emerging from the jungle.

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I really liked the way this article presents the role. I wish I'd had it available when I pitched it to the organization.
Enjoyed this article on defining what exactly an agile coach is, with inspiration drawn from the Agile2013 conference in Nashville earlier this year.

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I enjoy a cappella and have been watching the Sing-Off. These guys Home Free have a fantastic bass, and what's more, he has enviable upper range too. It's worth listening to all the way through.
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