Tyler at Held Action does me the great service of unpacking an idea I floated back at the Dragonmeet “Ask Ken and Robin and Simon panel.” It’s a thought so brilliant I totally forgot making it: that the player choice to spend investigative points in GUMSHOE can be likened to the improv game of “Should’ve Said.” In the game, the performers create a scene, and audience members can yells out “Should’ve Said” when a line isn’t cool enough. The actor then rewinds and supplies what is hopefully a funnier line.
Tyler notes that this idea can be extended to any game with a hero or drama point mechanic:
When a player spends a point, they’re really saying, “Change up what you’re saying.”
With drama points, that change-up is probably to do with the player not being happy with what the GM’s saying: “Your character takes a blow to the head” or “You don’t find anything of interest in the warlock’s study.” If they’re spending points, they’re not happy about something. Outside of the immediate redress of “Oh, it was a glancing wound,” I think it’s a good mindset to take those spends as an opportunity to ramp up engagement by giving them exceptional carrots.
In expanding this idea, Tyler has hit on a helpful way of understanding ability points in GUMSHOE. In a sense, they really do represent a targeted drama point system, in which you get lots of points to spend in different situations that, through action, reveal your character’s key traits.