Sunday, November 19, 2023

In A Mood

Hey all,

I just wanted to check in and let you know I'm OK. Well, physically.

Mentally I'm in one of my moods wherein my creativity is zig-zagging all over the place. I'm feeling burnt-out on some of my usual fare and completely unable to settle on a particular 'new' thing to hold my attention. This isn't new for me but rather something that cycles around every year about this time (see the November entries of past years - or lack there of).

That's not to say nothing has my attention. I simply can't sort out which ideas should get the full Barking Alien treatment. 


Anyway, no promises of another post this month. We'll see how it goes.

Hopefully something will come to me.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The Big Chill


As if I needed another reason to be obsessed with Ghostbusters gaming right now SONY Pictures and Ghost Corps deliver this chilling new adventure; a cool as ice sequel to 2021's Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

The official story synopsis for the film is as follows: (From IMDB) 


The Spengler family returns to where it all started – the iconic New York City firehouse – to team up with the original Ghostbusters, who’ve developed a top-secret research lab to take busting ghosts to the next level. But when the discovery of an ancient artifact unleashes an evil force, Ghostbusters new and old must join forces to protect their home and save the world from a second Ice Age.

Stay frosty Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire blows in to theatres March 29, 2024.

Who You Gonna Call? It looks like we're callin' in EVERYBODY!

Barking Alien

Monday, October 30, 2023

Dare Ni Denwa o Kakeru Nodesu Ka?

Whoa, that's strange.

What should we do?

Get the Ghostbusters!

Whoa, that's weird.

What should we do?

Get the Ghostbusters!*

Much like when I wondered how the Japanese Tabletop RPG community felt about playing in the Star Trek universe, it was inevitable that I would be curious about their interest in gaming Ghostbusters. When I become fascinated by a particular genre or setting, my deep interest in Japanese pop culture just makes me want to know how they treat the same subject. 

From past conversations with Japanese friends I know that the original film was very popular in Japan and the 2016 film did fairly well too. I don't have a clear idea how Ghostbusters II did. Around the time Ghostbusters: Afterlife was released in Japan I was speaking with a friend living in Chiba over DIscord (I think) and she indicated that had also been well-received.

Ghostbusters Japan
The Official Japanese Ghostbusters Fan Club

Thoughts drifted back to all this as Halloween 2023 approached. I knew I'd be talking about Ghostbusters RPGing and thought, 'Why not see if they play/played in the Ghostbusters world over there'. Honestly, I didn't expect to find much. If Star Trek only got a little coverage in their TRPG circles, what chance did I have of finding GB references?

I was pleasantly surprised...

Lucy, an original non-canon Ghostbusters character
Designed and illustrated by Shunya Yamashita
for Kotobukiya's Bishoujo Statues series.

As it turns out, while I came across only a handful of Ghostbusters RPG mentions, they were all very interesting. One Japanese gamer I spoke to on a TRPG forum said, "Horror games are the most popular type in Japan. Call of Cthulhu is our biggest game. We also include a lot of humor in our games, even that one (CoC). Ghostbusters is a good choice if you want both things."

To that end he directed me to an article on playing a Ghostbuster in Call of Cthulhu! Sort of. Really it was about using the Call of Cthulhu system to run a Ghostbusters game, much the way the Japanese seem to love using that system to run many other kinds of horror

Here's what I was able to translate...

Ghostbuster for Call of Cthulhu (TRPG Japan)

It is a profession that exorcises evil spirits as a business. In addition to those who own offices or are employees of those offices, there are also those who undertake individual/independent work. This person also has the job of a detective who investigates strange phenomena. They don't have any kind of psychic powers but if they are a famous Ghostbusters they may have powerful artifacts.

Driving (Car)
Electrical Repair or Electronics
Mechanical Repair
Shooting (Handgun or Rifle)
Any 1 Interpersonal Skill

Any 1 Skill of Your Choice

Credit: 9~50%

Vocational skill points: EDU x 2 + DEX x 2

Art by Sato Sio

Cool, huh? What I find particularly interesting is the idea that there might be individual Ghostbusters not directly tied to a franchise. So, a freelance Ghostbusters? How would that work? Would be a really intriguing premise for a Solo or One-on-One (one Player, one Ghostmaster) campaign. 

Also curious is the idea that veteran Ghostbusters might have mystic relics in their possession (and hopefully not the other way around!). I've often wondered about books of ancient spells and such might be something a Ghostbusters group could look into. 

Lastly, I am surprised there isn't any direct mention of the Ghostbusters' equipment. Things like the Proton Packs, Ghost Traps, PKE Meters, and the like would seem to appeal to the Mecha loving Japanese pop culture crowd.

Art by Gurumeda for the Japanese movie magazine Cinema Today

Encouraged by my previous discovery I pressed on and was very excited to find that a session of the original West End Games Ghostbusters RPG had been run at a Japanese gaming convention called Hammakon in 2022.

The Gamemaster of that session, Onagi Sunaga, gave a promotional write-up of the adventure they planned to run as one would expect to see in an RPG con game preview. I was fortunate to message Onagi-san and received a response pretty quickly.  She was kind enough to clarify the premise of the story and a little of how it went. What follows is a write-up of that session, paraphrased and edited by me for this post. 

Ghostbusters International

GM: Onagi Sunaga

Number of players: 2-4
TRPG beginners: Welcome
System beginners: Welcome

Game/System Description

A humorous horror TRPG based on the American movie franchise 'Ghostbusters'. PCs become franchise operators of a Ghostbusters office and fight against the ghost turmoil. The game is a 1989 piece designed by Call of Cthulhu's Sandy Petersen and others (Referring to the Second Edition of the game - as noted - Ghostbusters International). The judgment is a success if the total number rolled on your ability dice exceeds the target value. However, there is a 1/6 chance that something strange will happen, so don't let your guard down!

Scenario Overview

Ghost extermination set in the city of Tokyo! Will you be able to finish in the black without getting confused on your way to the site or having strange photos of you posted on social media?

It is expected to be a two-part series: a tutorial scenario + an original scenario (the setting will be Tokyo).

We will prepare a pre-generated character but if people wish we will have them create an original PC. Be prepared to play in Japanese.

It is a good idea for the players to have 2 or more six-sided dice...or even 8. In addition, some items are available for rental [at the convention].

Additional Information

The setting is modern day Japan and the PCs played through the following situation:

A giant kashiwa mochi-like ghost appeared at the site of Tokyo Tower a few months ago, along with a few other spirits, and was defeated in the Tone River by the Tokyo Ghostbusters. Although this entity and others were defeated, the Ghostbusters didn't get rid of all the ghosts. Some of the spooks were able to escape capture. Therefore, Ghostbusters International decided to expand the Japanese franchise and took on the task of exterminating the ghosts that had run away in Tokyo. Ghostbusters International Inc. used this as an opportunity to increase the number of franchises in Japan as well.

After completing the training to become a Ghostbuster and signing the contracts, the PCs played through the scenario 'House Pests' included in the RPG rulebook [adapted to take place in Tokyo, Japan].

The scenario is about getting rid of ghosts that chased away a family who had just moved to the suburbs. We will enter a dungeon-like private house with about 10 rooms and hunt down the ghosts there. However, it doesn't go exactly as it should...

Wow. I love the backstory! For a one or two-shot session at a convention, that is some great world-building background material for a Tokyo Ghostbusters campaign setting. I want to know more about that first team. Not only who were they but did they all survive? Is that why they needed to hire the PCs? Did they all survive and separate to open other franchise offices in different cities in Japan? So many ideas!

More Ghostbusters art by Gurumeda

My third and final score was a mention of using the Japanese TRPG 'Ghost Hunters' to run Ghostbusters. Supposedly there was a fan-made supplement at one point, a Ghostbusters Doujinshi Sourcebook for use with Ghost Hunters 2nd Edition. Sadly, that is the extent of what I could find on the subject; a single reference, long out of date. Still and all, I felt inspired by this as it indicated to me that the first two occurrences of Japanese Ghostbusters RPG fandom weren't just flukes. If there were three, there could be more. 

My Ectogoggles are on and my PKE Meter is out. The search continues...

Until next time...

Barking Alien

*Japanese translation of the Ghostbusters theme song, 1984

The post's title says, 'Who are you going to call?' in Japanese

We're Ready To Believe You

In my last post I talked about The Call: the shorter, less earth-shattering type of mission your Ghostbusters RPG PCs can expect to go on to get the feel of the game, see some action, role-play under pressure, and maybe, just maybe, find a small narrative piece to a larger plot puzzle.

Calls are more common than Cases, which are bigger, higher stakes adventures that may take one or more sessions to complete. Calls are usually a part of a session, though I suppose they could take up the entirety of one get together if your group only meets up for 3-4 hour get-togethers. 

Now let's take a look at the kind of entities that you'll likely get hired to handle.

Ghostbusters 'No Ghost' Logo Variant 
Art by Rafa Toro

Once the PCs are at the location [of The Call] they're likely to use their PKE Meters and Paragoggles [aka Ectogoggles] to pinpoint the spook and gage how powerful it is. It's Class and possibly Intensity may be detectable once Ghostbusters are close enough, certainly if they can get a clear look at it. As a related aside; remember that in my version of the Ghostbusters RPG two separate Class V Vapors can be very different in their capabilities and therefore in the threat they pose. See Tobin's Spirit Guide and Spates Catalog. Approach with caution.

I generally recommend the spooks be Class III to VI. You can certainly have the gang debunk a false haunting or bag a Class II Shade but don't do it too many times. It gets kind of boring and I usually find it more effective to have those Calls occur offscreen. What could be interesting is having a Class III show up along with two or more Class Is or IIs. The much weaker ghosts can cause distractions or confuse the PCs making it tough to trap even a lower Intensity Class III. 

The funky phantoms the PCs run into should on their Calls should be distinct, with each having its own specific look, abilities, and motivation or at least M.O.. Just because they aren't a threat to 'Life as we know it!' doesn't mean they shouldn't be memorable. You remember Slimer and Muncher don't'cha? Well there you go. 

Let me give you an example of a Call from a Ghostbusters short series I did set in Seattle, Washington. The three Ghostbuster PCs had the morning off. It was a Sunday and business had been a little slow. They'd all decided they would come in anyway, at some point later in the day, in order to get a few things done that they'd found themselves behind on (paperwork, reorganizing their locker, etc.).

They each started the day doing their own thing, which for one of them was to swing by Ghost Alley Espresso*. The place was hopping even early in the morning but it seemed the crowd was tinged with an air of concern and agitation. The Ghostbuster PC knew one of the Baristas and asked what was up.

Yep, it's a real place. So named to homage the considerable number of supposed hauntings in the vicinity.

She told them another coffee shop not far away had called them about some crazy person who rushed in and stole someone's order right off the counter. Just then the phone rang and it turned out another place had been hit but what they described was no common thief. It was a ghost!

Jitters, The Coffee Shop Ghost

As if on cue, a frothing brown Class V Full-Roaming Vapor barreled towards them, hellbent on grabbing an entire pot from behind the counter. The Ghostbuster reached for his Neutrona Wand but forgot...he wasn't wearing his gear! As the Focused Phantasm raced by him, chugging down the piping hot liquid, the PC told the Barista to call the GB Office and let them know what was going on and that he was on the scene.

For his part, he got on his personal cell phone and called his two buddies (the other PCs - both Ghostbusters on their day off). One of them had taken an early morning jog and was close enough to the office to grab some Proton Packs, Traps, and other devices, get them on a Gear Cart (as seen in the video game Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed - see image below) and rush over there. The last member threw on his uniform and headed out as well. 

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Gear Cart
Design by Illfonic.

Here we have a Call with no actual call. This isn't a client trying to hire the Ghostbusters but a Ghostbuster running into a random supernatural disturbance. What made it extra awesome was that the PC figured out a way to get the company paid anyway, convincing the various coffee shops along the ghost's route to all chip in. Since he (the PCs) had a thing for the NPC Barista he in turn convinced GB Inc. to give them a discount. Everyone was happy, more or less. 

Anyway, the PCs all convene in the alley; one at one end, one at the other end, and our initial guy in the middle. By dodging and dashing in a run-and-gun style, the Ghostbusters were able to strike at the coffee guzzling ghost - dubbed, 'Jitters' - while avoiding getting blasted by steaming sprays of hot java. Eventually they realized that a good cup of joe was both Jitters weapon and reason for being. He drank coffee all the time but if he hosed you with the stuff he'd want to drink that much more to replace what he'd lost. Getting him pissed enough to fire and miss a few times, the team then tempted him with a fresh pot and were able to zap, lasso, and eventually capture him! Woohoo! It was a great sequence. 

Jitters is pretty typical of the kind of paranormal punk that works well for a Call. He's kinda tough but not overly so, has an obvious Focus and objective (Drink coffee! All the coffee!), a distinct look, and even a memorable quirk (Constantly shaking from all the caffeine). Let's look at his sheet...

As you can see, Jitters does have a few impressive and tricky abilities that make him no slouch (how could he be? He's wired as all get out!). Aside from his pretty effective attack of spraying hot coffee at people, he can replenish his Ectoplasm by consuming coffee. The flipside of course is that his Coffee Spray attack is expensive PKE-wise, draining two extra points if he spends any PKE to boost it up. That means 1 extra die would cost him 3, 2 would cost him 4, etc. He will attempt to remedy this by drinking coffee immediately after attacking but it won't do any good. He can only regain Ectoplasm through coffee consumption. He regains his PKE at the same rate as any other spectral spud. 

That reminds me, I'd like to direct your attention to an article in Gateways Magazine #5 by Richard Tucholka, author of another Horror meets Humor setting in the universe of the RPG Bureau 13 (aka Stalking The Night Fantastic). The article, 'Ghostbusters Approved', is a interesting collection of ideas for the old West End Games Ghostbusters RPG, much of it similar to some of what I've covered on this blog in the past. 

In the article, Mr. Tucholka makes a reference to a Random Haunts Generator from a Bureau 13 Adventure. I think it is also in Haunts, one of the Bureau 13 Sourcebooks. I was able to download a copy of the Random Haunts Generator and while it had some cool concepts it suffers from the same issue as many old school random tables. The rolls are largely geared to create uninteresting results. 

For example: On the Ghosts table, a roll of 1-50 gets you 'No Visible Manifestation'. So with a range from 1 to 100, fully half the possible rolls are Nothing. Why bother? If there is nothing to find why have that decided randomly? This happens a lot. 1-50 on the Odor table is No Odor. 1-75 on the Temperature table is No Spot. One to Seventy-Five! Good grief. 

Anyway, the ideas in the Random Haunts Generators actually have some potential and if you can I recommend checking it out. Roll a few times, ignore dud rolls, and adjust for things that would make more sense in the Ghostbusters setting. Just thought I'd pass the resource on. I'd like to try using this system to generate a few mid-range poltergeists and see how it goes. Keep an eye out for this in the near future. 

Before I forget, I found the Gateways article and information about the Random Haunts Generator at an amazing GB RPG Resources page on the blog Rended Press. Sadly, it appears the blog is no longer being updated as of this past August. 

Anyway, I hope all you Ghostheads enjoyed this and all the rest of the Ghostbusters RPG related content this month. My apologies if you came looking for something else but I'm a little obsessed at present. Heh.

If you see a ghost, pick up the phone and call the professionals...

Barking Alien

*Ghost Alley Espresso is a real place! One of my players from the above game was just there! Wild! Check it out here. Turns out Seattle is a hotbed of hauntings and other paranormal activity. Lots of great ideas for a Washington State based Ghostbusters campaign can be found pretty easily. . 

Saturday, October 28, 2023

All Your Supernatural Elimination Needs

Not every ectoplasmic entity is Gozer or Samhain. The majority of the aggravating apparitions a Ghostbusters franchise will face in a given work week are likely to consist of barely there wisps and indistinct noises. 

The real money comes from removing troublesome spirits of course but even this often entails capturing poltergeists more mischievous than malign. Epic battles against world-ending Class VII Meta-Spectres are thankfully few and far between. 

Image based on a t-shirt design by Secret Base

The Ghostbusters RPG campaigns I've run and played have all featured encounters with minor ghosts and annoying but easily dispelled hauntings. A Ghostbusters ongoing campaign definitely benefits from these 'lesser' though still potentially problematic situations and I thought I would explain how and why in order to give anyone interested an insight into constructing such events themselves. We start with...

The Call

"We Got One!"

The Call is the term I use for the majority of paranormal encounters the Player Character Ghostbusters will come across during the campaign. There are a lot of reasons to use these Calls as opposed to/in addition to going straight into a larger, more involved scenario. I often refer to the latter as Cases.

The main use of Calls is pretty simple; journeymen ghosts give the players and their characters exciting moments separate from the larger narrative of the adventure. Like random encounters in old school Fantasy or fights with common thugs in Superhero games, the ghasts and ghouls you face on Calls are fun fights that keep the momentum and excitement of a session going.

The Calls also give the players a chance to see their Ghostbusters being Ghostbusters. I can't emphasize how important this is in any and all games, especially at the beginning of a campaign. If the players are playing Ghostbusters they should get the chance to bust ghosts. Otherwise you've sold them a false bill of goods. 

How The Call works:

Consider opening a session with the GM or better yet an NPC employee (Executive Assistant, Intern) telling the PCs that they received a call from someone about a paranormal presence at a particular place doing a certain thing. The caller has hired the Ghostbusters to get rid of the ghost ASAP! 

Example: "Hey guys, we just got a call from that little French bakery down on 13th and 5th. They say something is eating all the bread and pastries right out of the oven - literally! How fast can you get down there?"

The team might receive The Call when they are:

  •  At their Headquarters doing individual tasks.
  • Driving back to HQ following a previous Call (real, false alarm, or a hoax).
  • At the location of a Call they've just completed. 
  • While eating dinner, relaxing, on their day off.

There are lots of possibilities.

A Call can also come in while in the middle of a adventure or story arc if the PCs are unsure what to do next or overthinking their current predicament. Shake things up with a Class IV Mass on the loose and snap the team into action. It might clear there heads or give you the GM an opportunity to throw in some clues to the bigger picture. 

One thing to note is that where the Ghostbusters are and what they're doing can color the scene and/or point to a larger plot. Say they get a call immediately after a finishing up a previous outing (likely having occurred offscreen) and it isn't too far away from the prior bust. Someone mentions they went on a call one town over just yesterday. Hmm...something might be up in this neck of the woods. 

Now imagine the PCs are all hanging around the Headquarters and you ask each what they're up to: One of them is washing the Ecto-vehicle. Another is re-organizing the team's reference library. Still a third is making everyone lunch. That's all nice but it seems like business is pretty slow. Mention this and ask when was the last time they had a Call? If your players are anything like mine this will give them an opportunity to role-play as they discuss how long it's been, which also gets them more invested in their characters and the campaign.

Maybe they're having a magnificent feast with the last of the petty cash. 

Picture this:

"Our last call? It was pretty recently, right gang? It had to be last Thursday. The 11th."
"Last Thursday was the 18th. *Checks the records* "Yes. It's been two weeks."
"Two weeks? Dang. No wonder I'm so bored."
"Geez. We're just too good at our job."

I've done sessions 'en media res' as well, having the Ghostbusters already on site. Play it as if they responded to the Call sometime before the start of the session. One of them might be clever enough to get on the walkie-talkie or phone and say, "I don't see anything so far. What are we looking for exactly?", so that HQ (the GM) can fill them in on the specifics of their present outing. If you and your players are really in sync they might just roll with it and start building the mission through in-character banter (my Home Office guys have done this). 

A vital use of these incidental hauntings is to give the GM a way to introduce the various elements of the game without the threat of an imminent apocalypse. A Call is a great way to start a campaign (or really any given session) by slowing doling out information on the setting, the job of the Ghostbusters, what the equipment does, and how the rule mechanics work. In addition, any such encounter can certainly lay the groundwork for greater machinations going on in the background. The Call can also be expended into an adventure itself. Let's take two examples: Slimer of The Sedgewick Hotel and Gulper/Big Gulp.

The haunting of the Sedgewick Hotel's 12th Floor is the template for The Call. The original Ghostbusters haven't had any work since opening their business and are having dinner at the firehouse. The Sedgewick's Hotel Manager calls to hire them for their first job. Janine Melnitz receives the call, rings the alarm bell, and the boys leap into action.

When the team arrives they briefly speak with the Manager and get a little history and info on what's going on, then head up to the 12th Floor to take care of the situation. After a series of mishaps and fumbles (blasting at a maid, Venkman getting slimed), the guys in gray manage to weaken, lasso, and eventually trap the iconic green Focused, Non-Terminal Repeating Phantasm. They came, they saw, they kicked its ass!

At the time they had no idea the appearance of Slimer - or any of the others ghosts they would capture - were symptoms of a much greater supernatural disturbance linked to the coming of a particularly destructive Sumerian god. But ya'know how it is. These things happen. 

For another take, there was Gulper, later re-named Big Gulp, an original creation of ours who appeared in our Ghostbusters: The Home Office game. This was a good dozen or more sessions or so into the campaign and the Home Office gang received a call to clean out some ghosts haunting an abandoned hospital in Staten Island, NY. There were several spooks at the location, mostly Class II and III. There was one Class V however and it proved hard to catch. At some point it panicked and swallowed up a small Class II ghost. The Class V basically ate the littler one! This charged up the Class V, now dubbed 'Gulper' by one of the guys. With the extra PKE it gained in doing so it increased its speed and escaped through a wall. The team cleared out the rest of the place but could not find Gulper. We told the client that if he showed up again, we'd capture him at no additional charge. 

Later in the session, which focused on an ongoing investigation from a prior session, we got a couple of Calls that were pretty weird even by GB standards. An office in downtown Manhattan had a spirit causing a ruckus so they called the Ghostbusters but when we arrived the situation had subsided. There was no ghost to be found. Nothing on the Ectogoggles or PKE Meters either. Similarly, later in the day two members of the group went to check out a sighting a few blocks from the firehouse only to come up similarly empty. No spectral activity at all. 

Eventually the gang finds out that Gulper followed the Ghostbusters back to New York City where it kept on 'consuming' other boos. In doing so it got bigger, stronger, faster, and was nearing Class VII Meta-Spectre status. While on a Call to bust three ghost crooks, Gulper shows up to eat them and he's huge!

Renamed 'Big Gulp', the entity set about trying to eat everything around it but could only actually subsume PKE and Ectoplasm. Anything else that went into its mouth would be crushed up and destroyed but basically pass through the entity and be ejected out the rear wrecked and covered in slime. Did you go 'eww'? Ha. Funny, so did we. 

I'll leave you on a cliffhanger there as I want to cover Gulper/Big Gulp further in an upcoming post. Suffice to say, these are two very different directions to take otherwise basic ghosts; one lead to a big bad and the other became a big bad. 

Other reasons to use a 'random' haunting include:

  • Disrupt some mundane trouble the gang has gotten into. Lucky break, huh?
  • New equipment needs a field test when a call comes in. What great timing!
  • On patrol, days before Halloween. Stop that ghost! Cheese it - It's the Ghostbusters!

Case Dismissed!

That's enough for now. I've actually been writing this post for over three days. I've split my original thoughts into a few different posts, so keep an eye out for those hopefully coming out tomorrow. 

Now that we have an idea of what The Call is and how it can work, next up I'll talk about the entities your Ghostbusters are likely to meet, blast, and hopefully trap. 

See you soon,

Barking Alien