Bubblegumshoe (2016)

Another entry in the growing RPG Kid Adventure genre is the wonderful Bubblegumshoe, a game about teen sleuths, by Emily Care Boss, Kenneth Hite and Lisa Steele.

As a sub-genre, the teen sleuthing one is surprisingly varied. The obvious inspirations are Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown, but when you start thinking about it, Scooby-Doo fits the bill, as do the supernatural mysteries of John Bellairs (which provide a sample setting in the book called Bellairs Falls), Veronica Mars, Brick, Stranger Things and dozens of more. By leaning on genre classics, the potential variety for Bubblegumshoe games is vast. Any place that has kids and mysteries can form the setting, even a space station, and the book has plenty of sample setting to tinker with.

Built with Robin D. Laws’ Gumshoe system, BGS is a storytelling game that mostly eschews dice. Most of the time, skills can be successfully used if you have them. The skill value is actually a pool of points that can be spent to enhance that use – for example, if you discover a painting that is a clue, you can spend a point of your art skill to determine the type of paint used. Dice are used to resolve a variety of types of opposed contests (both social – like a verbal throwdown at a prom – and physical – like a brawl), usually with multiple rolls, as such scuffles rarely have clear-cut winners and losers. This might sound a bit familiar to players of Chaosium’s HeroQuest, which isn’t surprising since Laws designed that game too. Physical altercations are secondary to the social ones (you’re good kids, after all), which use Cool as a kind of social hit points.

Like many other storytelling games, much of Bubblegumshoe is collaborative, with players creating the world and relationships as needed, as much as the GM. The system for creating and maintaining various NPC relationships in BGS is maybe the best I’ve seen and allows for a rich experience outside of the mysteries. Much like Tales from the Loop, the regular life of the PCs might grow to be more compelling than solving crimes.

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