Virtual Interpersonal Abilities in GUMSHOE

GUMSHOE — system
Art by: Public Domain

GUMSHOE typically divides investigative abilities into several categories. One category— interpersonal abilities—is devoted to how you interact with other people. As written, these abilities work perfectly to emulate the kinds of interactions you see in typical investigative fiction, from flirting in a speakeasy to grilling a suspect in an interrogation room.

But in games that include virtual spaces like the global networks or Matrices of cyberpunk, some interpersonal abilities require special attention to make them work when the investigator isn’t “in the flesh.”

  • Assess Honesty/Bullshit Detector: In many virtual interactions, especially text-based ones, you can’t spot the normal verbal and nonverbal cues that trigger this ability. However, investigators that are comfortable interacting virtually learn to identify patterns in word usage, register shifts, and other indicators of deception.

  • Bureaucracy: This ability includes knowledge of how to navigate government databases, file requests for information, and gain official authorization for various systems and services.

  • Flirting: The anonymity and mutability of personal presentation in virtual space opens up unique opportunities for flirtation. Sufficiently advanced virtual reality technology can allow you to pay off your promises, too.

  • High Society: The elite are an insular and conservative lot, and in the virtual future, they will surely inhabit their own private spaces. This ability includes a knowledge of these enclaves, their security protocols, and even unique pass-phrases.

  • Impersonate: Online, this ability typically requires access to the target’s accounts. Software may be able to recreate the target’s appearance, voice, etc., but the investigator still needs to impersonate their mannerisms, word choices, and so on.

  • Intimidation: In virtual space, this ability cannot rely on physical menace. Instead, threats focus on social consequences or promis eventual retaliation in the real world. The effects are ultimately the same, of course.

  • Respect: Online communities develop unique systems of social currency—likes, recommendations, votes, favors, and so on.

  • Streetwise: You know how to access the unlisted networks where illicit business is conducted and how to blend in with those who frequent them. This ability may also allow you to draw on contacts among the virtual underworld with an appropriate spend.

  • Tradecraft: You not only understand how to adapt the techniques of the spy to online spaces, but you can recognize opposition methods in public communications, and develop contacts among government, corporate, and private intelligence operatives.

The key to adapting these and other abilities to different contexts is description. Both the GM and players should mold their descriptions of actions and effects to the scene. If you are interacting with an NPC in virtual space, you should describe how your using your interpersonal abilities appropriately.

This shouldn’t be a barrier to using the abilities in these contexts, though. GMs should be willing to accept good faith descriptions of how these abilities could work online. Unless a description would short-circuit the mystery, it should be just as effective as using the ability in person.

Hacker in Virtual Space