In lieu of my most recent RPG experience and to help readers get a sense of my preferences (system-wise), I'll be reviewing the 1st edition Ghostbusters RPG today. Unbeknownst to me (until I just looked it up on Wikipedia), it won the 1986 H.G. Wells Award for Best Roleplaying Rules. In 1999 Pyramid magazine named Ghostbusters as one of The Millennium's Most Underrated Games. Editor Scott Haring noted that Ghostbusters was "the first-ever RPG to use the dice pool mechanic". Wow!
For some strange reason, I had never owned, played, run, or even seen the inside of the Ghostbusters roleplaying game boxed-set published by West End Games (and, come to find out, actually written by the men behind Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu).
That seems bizarre to me. I was neck deep into roleplaying in the 80's and early 90's. I also really enjoyed WEG's Paranoia and Star Wars RPGs. Plus, I'm a HUGE fan of the Ghostbusters movie and try to watch it at least once every couple years. Considering that I'm 40 now and watched it at least 100 times back when I was a kid - that's a lot of fricking Ghostbusters!
So, what was my deal? If I had to pinpoint a single thing that kept me from purchasing the game, it would be the word, "Cheerful". The Ghostbusters RPG's tagline was, "A Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game."
Cheerful, in and of itself, is not a bad word. However, as a teenager, I was into the dark, mature, adult, gritty, "realistic", sexual, violent, misanthropic, nihilistic, exploitation kind of stuff. "Cheerful," coupled with the recognizable yet kiddie-looking Ghostbusters logo, just made me think this was Ghostbusters for 8-year olds. If WEG had used a still from the movie, like the one I used to adorn this review, I would have had no choice in the matter - MUST BUY THIS!!!
I might have read the back or some advertisement or a friend told me about the game... when it came to opening up a business franchise for Ghostbusters International Inc., it just didn't have the same appeal as battling orcs, summoning demons, biting the necks of hot girls in black leather, or even blasting an ectoplasmic entity with my proton accelerator.
Let's get to the good stuff!
My friend Nix had the 1st and 2nd editions of the game and was enthusiastic to run it. He told me that he'd never (Never! How weird is that?) found a group that wanted to try it out. So, when I mentioned that I'd be up for it, he jumped at the chance.
I, another player, and Nix sat down yesterday to play Ghostbusters the roleplaying game. A total of 9 people were scheduled for the meetup, but whatever. It was a gorgeous day and some sports team was playing some other sports team. Or maybe there's something spooky going on with this RPG... something no one knows about that keeps people from giving it a try?
The rules were light as a feather: accessable, unobtrusive, utilitarian, and interpretive. Pretty much everything I could want in a game engine. Which is why I design a lot of games based on d6 dice pools. Paranoia used a d20, but Star Wars was a big favorite at my gaming table growing up.
For character creation, you have 4 abilities and 12 points. Simply place your points into those abilities. It reminded me of Toon: the Cartoon RPG.
Whatever the number of your ability (such as "cool"), that's how many d6 you roll when such a thing comes up. Want to accomplish something in the game? Merely hit the target number for that difficulty. For each ability, you also get a specialty. For three-quarters of the session, I was merely adding 1d6 when my character's specialties came up - when I should have been adding 3d6. My eyes probably saw the 3d6 and the RPG design part of my brain self-edited it down to 1d6.
Yeah, 3d6 just seems like a lot. Besides a name, goal, and tiny character sketch, you're all done. You can fit 8 character "sheets" or ID cards on an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper - that's how small it is.
One of the few improvements (if I may be so bold) I've made on that kind of system is removing the need to add up all the numbers. It may not be hard to add up 5 or 6 six-sided dice over and over again, but by the session's end, it becomes a little tedious. Crimson Dragon Slayer and The Outer Presence aren't like that - just look at the top number, no addition!
The Ghostmaster Nix wrote the adventure. It was good. He began the session with getting us up to speed, duped into believing the Ghostbusters franchise would be a lucrative business arrangement, we found ourselves in the bad parts of Detroit (is there a good part?) only to be facing the brink of bankruptcy. Yes, just like the movie. Maybe too much like the movie. More on that later.
So, we proceeded to acquire a client who had a little job for us at a local college campus. My character and his partner had a lot of fun with it. Possibly too much, as our shenanigans dipped into 80's screwball comedy quite a few times. It was Ghostbusters meets Revenge of the Nerds meets Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield.
In fact, towards the session's end, me and the other guy playing told Nix that we only had until 4pm. Nix replied that we should be finished with the scenario by then and the other player, Len, said, "Oh, I don't even care about that, I'm having too much fun just playing." Which, to me, is what the roleplaying experience is all about.
We did, in fact, conclude the adventure satisfactorily. There was perhaps a half-hour's worth of running around, chasing our tails that we could have done without, but ultimately it was a solid session and good time.
My impression? It's a bit like Diet Call of Cthulhu. Ghostbusters RPG is meant to be humorous, yet it mostly wants to amuse tweens (before that term was invented). Like I said before, the "Cheerful" thing kind of cut out some of their audience. Actually, the game reminds me of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon - yeah, it's for kids, but there are paranormal and Lovecraftian tidbits thrown in for the adults.
The rules and supplementary campaign material are bare-bones (as I flipped through the manuals, there was a lot of white space). That's a double-edged sword if you're looking to adapt it. It'll help in making the game into what you want, but the GM will have to do more work to get what he wants out of it.
Remember what I was saying about it being too much like the Ghostbusters movie? Well, the game is set up with all these helpful guides and advice on making your Ghostbusters RPG experience almost exactly like the movie. That means PCs will be living a weird parallel-dimensional life of Ray, Egon, Peter, and Winston. As if they were those characters... but also not those characters. In that way, it's kind of like a roleplaying game within a roleplaying game.
Personally, I'd love to do my own thing in that universe. I'd also prefer more eldritch horror and less cartoon-sidekick Slimer. The game is way out-of-print and fetches a hefty sum on places like ebay. Also, the ghost die is hard to find (and a weird game mechanic that was sort of emulated in the 2nd edition Star Wars RPG). However, PDFs of the rulebooks and knockoff ghost dice can easily be found on the internet.
Authored by Venger Satanis