When one thinks of role playing games, the first thing you probably think of is Dungeons and Dragons if you’re a non-geek. These days there’s still a few role playing games around, but not like it was back in the day. Back in the 80s and into the 90s there was a wide variety of RPGs out there thanks to people still having imaginations.
I’ve had the Ghostbusters RPG for some time thanks to Robot’s PJs friend Wallace Maximus snagging it for me at Half Price Books. It was complete save for the cool “Ghost Die” which the game is semi-famous for and since it’s a rather rare game, I’ve considered myself lucky to have it. Instead of being played like it was born to do, it’s been sitting collecting dust on my shelf until I decided to run a test game recently.
The test group consisted of my girlfriend Aria, my friend Reid of Light Within Light (@LightWL), and another friend Alberto who is an Italian… from Italy no less! I was the game master, called “Ghostmaster” in this game. Silly, but fun.
Ghostbusters RPG is the precursor to the Star Wars RPG from West End Games that used a D6 system. That will most likely not mean anything to anyone, but the important take away is Ghostbusters is a much lighter and easier to use version of the system used by WEG for Star Wars. Basically the game mechanics of the Ghostbusters RPG are used in such a way as to let you have fun doing stuff and not get you bogged down in the rules. For example, the players get equipment from an assortment of equipment cards. They may only carry three cards at a time. Where are the encumbrance tables?! The long lists of supplies and how much they cost?! For fun I left the players figure out 3 more items that they could put in the car, but that was it. We didn’t have to worry about that again.
The Ghostbusters skills are broken down into four traits: Moves, Cool, Brains, and Muscles. The “Cool” trait is one of the most interesting, since it’s so totally Ghostbusters. A character can roll cool to get dates, lie, bluff, and even play Poker. Alberto managed to use his cool roll extremely effectively in the second adventure. He not only got all the information out of one of the victims of a ghost, but he did so while making out with her while she was was taking a bath. I told you he was Italian.
For each of the four traits, the Ghostbuster players pick one specialty called a talent. Each talent is pretty powerful, as they add three dice to your roll. The talents range from really useful like “Fire Weapon” to bizarre like “Strut”. I guess it would be a matter of the Ghostmaster finding ways to cram the more bizarre specialties into an adventure.
An important difference between this game and a RPG like Star Wars is that you can easily play as the Ghostbusters from the movies, in fact the first adventure is written for them. However, I felt like it would be more fun for the players to make themselves as Ghostbusters now, but set it in 1985. Even better is that since it’s a Ghostbusters franchise, you can set it in your local area (if you don’t live in the sticks), and even pick a local firehouse as the base of operations (or some other place if you’re more creative). The game even comes with some paperwork to make it appear more legit, including a form from the E.P.A., a franchise contract, and a letter from Louis Tully congratulating the Ghostbusters on opening their franchise.
The emphasis of the two missions we attempted was on A. Investigation and B. Silliness. It wouldn’t be fun for the Ghostbusters to just show up at a haunting, shoot a ghost and trap it and be on their way. The first adventure, 30th and Lex, has the Ghostbusters doing a bit of investigation before they can stop a minor demon in possession of a taxi cab. Sure they can shoot the taxi cab until it blows up (my Ghostbuster team decided to stop shooting after damaging it once and accidentally destroying the light on a street lamp thanks to a miss), but while it would stop the haunted taxi, it would also cost them more they would have made in a lawsuit from the taxi company.
The game features a “Ghost Die” which is one die in your rolls that can really mess you up. My set was missing the Ghost Die, so I just substituted a regular D6 and told the players that 1 was the ghost. If you roll a ghost when attempting to do something, something bad usually results. This is like in the West End Games Star Wars game where you can auto fail by rolling a 1, but in the case of Ghostbusters it is possible to still succeed with something bad happening. In the second story we attempted, while trying to bargain with the super of an apartment building, Reid rolled a 1 on the Ghost Die. So I had him fail by farting. Hah, fart gags. Always funny.
Ghostbusters have certain ultimate goals which consist of a quest for money, fame, sex, science, or doing good. They can get “Brownie Points” depending on their goals. For instance, getting on the front page of a national magazine would be a big reward for someone with the fame goal. And literally getting a date and scoring will reward someone with the Sex goal.
Players will want Brownie Points because they can help with dice rolls or maybe more importantly, to help save their bacon when they’re about to get hurt. Ghostbusters is a “frightfully cheery” role playing game, so death is less likely to happen in this game. Still, they can get really hurt or embarrassed when they fail. For instance, thanks to Alberto’s erratic and crazy Italian style driving, Aria failed her roll and ended up vomiting all over herself. Later on a giant ghost dog frightened her so badly that she just up and ran in the other direction for about 3 rounds before regaining her senses and returning. If she had used some Brownie Points before those rolls, she might have succeed instead of showing up in front of everyone looking like a real mess or being the only Ghostbuster who is afraid of Ghosts.
The nice thing about Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game is that it’s episodic in nature. It doesn’t feel like the characters have to be involved every week in order to have a good time. I’m assuming that if I play this game in the future that there will be a revolving cast of Ghostbusters busting ghosts and feeling good about it.
The first adventure was rather short, so we decided to try the second one. It didn’t go as smoothly. I blame this on the fact that the ghost was roaming and I didn’t prepare as much as I should have. Also, by the time we were getting along I was tired and I figured I’d just let them zap him when he appeared. Surprise, surprise, the Ghostbusters decided to talk to the ghost instead of shooting him. Shesh. Well, if we get around to finishing the adventure it should be a bit more entertaining now that I’ve had a bit more time to prepare.
Since most of the materials for the game were published in the 80s, it makes for a fun retro game adventure if you choose to set it in that time period. It is interesting to note that there’s a bit of unwitting racism in the game. The “Arab” that gets stuck on a light pole in the first adventure is uncomfortably stereotypical, plus when the Ghostmaster is me, things will get a little worse…
Overall, the Ghostbusters RPG is a fun time. I hope to play it a few more times at least, and in particular I hope I can bring in new Ghostbusters to vary up the adventures.
Score: 4.5 out of 5 Slimers