Games designed specifically for two players are probably the oldest style of game in the world. One on one, head to head competition, mano a mano. My mind to your mind, my thoughts are your thoughts… wait no, that’s something else. Sorry. Anyway, 2-player games can take many forms and seems to be enjoying an increasing popularity over the past few years. They make a great date night or just a casual coffee with a friend. Cards, boards, tiles, miniatures, whatever you happen to enjoy, but the one genre of tabletop games that is extremely underrepresented is roleplaying games. RPGs are usually either solo (you vs the scenario) or more commonly a group effort. There is a strong group bond as you work with your friends (both the other players and the person running the game) to create something special that can never be duplicated. Even playing the exact same scenario with a different group can result in a wildly different experience. If one character dies, the story goes on, and that player can create something new and be reintegrated into the game. How do you continue a coherent story when the only character is killed, how about after the replacement character is killed, and the one after that?
That is just one of the questions that Pelgrane Press had to answer when designing Chthulhu Confidential and GUMSHOE One-2-One System that drives it. First and foremost, the original GUMSHOE system works on the premise that failing to get the information you need is never interesting. If you have the right ability and you look in the right place for clues you need to solve the mystery, you will always find the information you seek. One-2-One carries the same premise, and because there’s only one player it becomes even more important. However just because the game wants you to succeed, it doesn’t mean it will be easy and it doesn’t mean that even a success won’t take a punishing toll on the character. Unlike most RPGs, physical and mental damage isn’t a set of fluctuating numbers. Instead, failure often results in players receive Problem Cards that may hinder them later in the game (or, potentially, even carrying through to future games), conversely, a strong success may gain an Edge Card that will give additional benefits later in the game. None of that means a character is “immortal” and if a player actively chooses to do something stupid they can certainly die; whether that means the story ends, or if a new character steps in is a decision that the GM and the Player can make together.
Character building in Cthulhu Confidential is also interesting. Because the game depends very little on dice rolling, and significantly on using appropriate abilities, it’s important that characters, (and their connected Game Moderator Character (GMC) “Sources”) are balanced. To make sure the game is fun, for both people, the game is built with three prebuilt character templates, that players can tweak and customize, and the adventures are written specifically for one of those three characters. More experienced GMs can, obviously, write their own adventures and more experienced players can create their own characters from scratch. But the Core Rulebook includes an adventure written for each of the prebuilt characters, and currently published adventures are also written specifically for those characters.
Dex Raymond is an archetypical, noir-style, private detective, in 1937 Los Angeles. Vivian Sinclair is a female reporter in 1937 New York City. Finally, Langston Write is a WWII African American veteran in 1941 Washinton, D.C.
In a long list of interesting things, one of the most interesting things about this game is that the dates I just mentioned actually matter. Each of the three protagonists is not only introduced as a singular character, but the city they live and operate in is introduced, as are many of the real-life influencers of the time. Players don’t only deal with the horror and lore of the Cthulhu Mythos, but it is blended seamlessly with historical accuracy, and heavily influenced by the pulp/noir mystery genre writings focused on that era. We even get a select bibliography for some of the writings that formed the basis of each character.
Obviously, not everyone is going to want to play a completely pre-written character. Over the course of meeting each character, we are treated to hints, suggestions, and potential impacts, for players who want to adjust characteristics such as the gender, race, or sexuality, of Dex, Viv, and Langston. It also discusses options to adjust how accurately these factors impact a game taking place in a time when these things were more “important” to a person’s place in society. The player and GM, together, get to determine how comfortable, or not, they are with portraying some of the less pleasant aspects of American culture in the 1930s and 40s.
As complex and detailed as a game format like this needs to be, the actual rules are incredibly simple. The full rulebook runs over 300 pages, but the rules a player needs to know to actually play the game runs under 30. The section for running a game as a GM is similarly short, and the appendices at the end still only take another 30, with most of that being lists and handouts for the information presented earlier. Add in some general H.P. Lovecraft information and it still totals under 100 pages of actual rules. It is not only brief, but it was written simply, almost like you are having a conversation with a friend. You don’t just get a dry technical manual, but also some insight into the process of creating and playtesting the game. It is unlike any rulebook I think I’ve ever read before, in a very good way.
Cthulhu Confidential is something truly special. Whether you are playing across a table, or around the world, prepare for an experience uniquely different than any RPG experience you’ve had before.