First thing’s first, I love the GUMSHOE system and this game is no exception. If you’ve played Fear Itself or listened to a few of the actual play games out there, you’ll get the gist of Esoterrorists. However, instead of being hapless civilians terrorized by horrible beings from beyond, you are a member of an elite organization, the Ordo Veritas, terrorized by horrible beings from beyond. You are better trained, generally in the know about things that go bump in the night, and much more willing to run headlong into danger to stop evil doers from unleashing demons, Great Old Ones, and other despicable creatures on the world at large. You and your teammates must stop them at all costs.
The book is pretty standard for a core rulebook (no need to purchase anything else to play, although I’d suggest the Book of Unremitting Horrors to give you more options and some really disturbing artwork). You learn more about what it means to be in the Ordo Veritas, what your motivation is, and how to make your character. Buy abilities with points depending on your group size (including investigative abilities). Unlike other games, GUMSHOE games are about SOLVING mysteries, not rolling well enough to find them. If you have a point in a skill, you get the clue in a given area. If you spend a few points here and there, you may get some more useful information. General abilities are the ones you use to do things like run away, shoot, fight, drive, etc. There are many more skills in specialty areas in Esoterrorists compared to Fear Itself. You’ve had a lot more training than that kid who watched too many zombie movies and works at the local video store.
The GUMSHOE rules are presented and are extremely easy to learn. You can seriously teach this game in 15 minutes and get your players up to speed by the end of a session. You only need one d6 for the whole game really, making checks and damage calculation simple. It’s all about the story and the mystery. There will be plenty of chances to engage your fight or flight response though. Don’t you worry.
The following chapters explain how to construct investigations for your players, what the typical structure is, how to create core clues, and tips for running the game. More details follow on the Ordo Veritas (the good guys) and the Esoterrorists (the bad guys who summon terrible beasties to wreak havoc on the world). Finally, there is an introductory adventure for you to get your feet wet.
I love the system (if you can play one GUMSHOE game, you can literally play them all). I love the premise. I love the way it’s put together (it’s written concisely, clearly, and has great production values). The only thing I wish is that Pelgrane Press would publish more adventures. That’s ok, you can pretty much adapt any of the Trail of Cthulhu scenarios to this game or even Fear Itself. Or just write your own horror game, turn down the lights, and give your friends nightmares.