Friday, April 25, 2014

Campaigns A-To-Z: Ghostbusters: The Home Office

I almost posted a letter out of order. Seriously. This month is kicking my keister.

OK, back on track.

G is for Ghostbusters!

Ghostbusters: The Home Office


Gamemaster's Commentary: This post is about the first Ghostbusters campaign I/we ran, waaay back in 1986. It was definitely more humorous and less scary/creepy than the later games of Ghostbusters that I ran myself but still pretty scary and creepy.

To check out my notes on one of those games take a look at...Accidentally Awesome.

Some of the elements of this earlier game would be seen in the Ghostbusters animated series (The Real Ghostbusters) and other follow-up features in the franchise (such as Ghostbusters II and Ghostbusters International), all long before they actually appeared.

System: Ghostbusters, A Frightfully Cheerful Role Playing Game

Circa: 1986-89. Sessions generally averaged 4-5 hours in length (shorter than our 8+ hour standard for that era). The campaign lasted over three dozens sessions (roughly), though these were scattered across a three year period. The final session was run sometime in 1989.

Player Base: There were only four players including whomever was GMing as we rotated. Everyone took a turn but Joe ran the most. All four players were male and 17-18 years of age.

Characters: Just like in the film, there were initially four Ghostbusters, each a PC, and each with his own style and specialty. In addition, each carried a customized Neutrino Wand/Proton Pack unit.

The four were roughly analogous to the original four characters from the movie, though far from identical.

At some point in the campaign, our friend AJ joined in with a character of his own. While this technically made for five Ghostbusters, the rotating GM style we used meant one of the main four was essentially an NPC each session. So there were five Ghostbusters employed at the GB-HQ but usually only four of them would be on a mission together while the fifth did something else (modified their gear, did additional research, handled the EPA, etc.).

Dr. Alexander Dominic Thorton the 3rd (played by Joe V.):

The most original of the characters and not as easy to identify with one of the original four Ghostbusters, Alexander D. Thorton the 3rd is one part Ray, one part Peter, and two parts John Cleese as a paranormal investigator.

A wealthy British aristocrat originally hailing from England, Thorton lead a life of fancy lunches with good tea and tiny, triangular sandwiches, long Cricket matches, and other endeavors of leisure and little consequence. This was until he inherited a lovely, seaside summer cottage which turned out to be very, very haunted.

Hearing about the American supernatural investigation and elimination company Ghostbusters, Thorton sold off some assets, flew to the United States. and donated quite a bit of capital to the corporation in exchange for having them train equip him to open a franchise in London. After five successful years as the head of 'Ghostbusters UK' (technically Ghostbusters London), Thorton was asked back to the USA by Ray Stantz for the home office (See Synopsis).

Thorton's specialty was good old fashioned ghosts, spectres and phantoms. He was especially well versed in the dynamics of hauntings. 

His custom Neutrona Wand was capable of drawing ghosts directly into the device like a vacuum. The ectoplasmic entity was then sent through a tube into a ghost trap mounted on the side of the pack. This was referred to as the 'Quantum Incarcerator'. 

David Nelson (played by David C.):

A combination of Ray and Winston. The character was our tank and big gun, which was a very different role from that normally played by this player. He was great at it.

David Nelson was a former US Marine from Queens, New York who had encountered supernatural phenomena both at home and abroad during his tours of duty. After being discharged from the military, Nelson met with the Ghostbusters to find out why he kept having these encounters. Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler determined that Nelson's personal bio-electric aura and psychic resonance were such that weirdness was attracted to him like a magnet.

David became a freelance paranormal investigator for a few years before Winston Zeddemore asked if he wanted to join the Ghostbusters at the home office.

David Nelson's specialty involved Zombies, Mummies, and similar corporeal 'Risen Dead'.

He carried a Proton 'Cannon' (nicknamed 'The Neutrona Rod'), a much larger barreled particle stream caster with a much heavier Proton Pack. It was not able to 'lasso' the ghosts and was less accurate in general.

Robert 'Robbie' Stadler (played by William C.):

Our Peter Venkman, all the way.

Hailing from sunny Southern California, Robert Stadler was once a championship surfer, professional beach bum, and all around officially cool dude. During one surfing competition, a storm rolled in and Stadler was pulled out further to sea than he expected. Before long he was attacked by what he thought was a shark, only to discover it was a Were-Shark!

Robert managed to escape the creature but no one would believe him when he described his encounter. Amid a number of shark attacks over the next few days, Stadler contacted the Ghostbusters and asked them what to do about the situation. The very next day, Ray Stantz and Peter Venkman flew out to Cali and teamed with Stadler to root out and defeat the menace.

Stadler stayed in touch with the team and was later recruited for the home office.

Robbie's specialty was were-creatures, sea monsters and cryptids.

His custom Neutrona Wand was about half the size and two thirds the weight of the standard version. This 'Proton Pistol' was attached to a slightly lighter and smaller Proton Pack and had a hip holster charger. The weapon was less powerful but more accurate and controlled than the standard type.

Prof. Gabriel Zimmerman (played by Me):

Very much Egon Spengler and incidentally, my character.

Gabriel Zimmerman was a rather eccentric, socially awkward, scientific genius who worked as an astrophysicist at a university observatory in Illinois. Though fascinated by Egon Spengler's work with particle accelerators and other Ghostbusters technology, Zimmerman didn't believe in the existence of ghosts. Zimmerman assumed the phenomena being encountered by the Ghostbusters was something else (I forget what it was now but I had this whole speech where Zimmerman explains the events of the first Ghostbusters film in much the way the air force debunks UFO sightings).

At some point, Zimmerman was contacted by the Ghostbusters when a spectral astronaut started causing trouble at NASA's Space Center in Houston, TX. While aiding them (thanks to his extensive knowledge of the space mission this particular astronaut was part of), Zimmerman came face to face with the phantom spaceman and changed his opinion (followed by his underwear).

For a time after that, Zimmerman continued to worked as an astrophysicist but for NASA. In his off hours he took courses on metaphysics and parapsychology. After getting a degree in those fields he quit his job and applied to the Ghostbusters. He was quickly hired for the home office.

Zimmerman is the team's resident mad scientist and tech guy. His specialty remains astronomy and astrophysics but also astrology, UFO lore, and extraterrestrials.

Gabriel's personally modified Neutrona Wand generates a spherical 'bubble' of super-charged protons that can trap an ectoplasmic entity or protect him as a force field. The latter is difficult and requires a moment to mess with the devices settings to make it happen.

UPDATE: In recent years my good friend Michael Moss has taken over the role of Gabriel Zimmerman in games I have GMed and the character could not be in better hands. Mike's portrayal of Zimmerman is less 'nerdy' and a bit more 'off beat' then mine but I love it!

Pedro Preguntas (played by AJ):

I had forgotten that later in the campaign's run, the group was joined by another New York native, the Bronx born Pedro Prequntas. 

Pedro, a man of proud Puerto Rican descent, grew up on the mean streets of the Bronx doing...well...his exact profession prior to joining the Ghostbusters was never clear. In fact, while he was often alluded to that he may have been involved in various criminal activities, it was also implied that he wasn't completely keeping secrets about his past. He may actually have forgotten parts of it. The exact cause and nature of his memory lapses is unknown. 

We do know that he had seen some strange things in the dark places and back alleys of New York City and he basically showed up on the 'doorstep' of the Ghostbusters' Firehouse one day informing the group that it was in everyone's best interest if they hired him. Apparently, he'd handled some local spooks and spectral manifestation all on his own, using just the chip on his shoulder and a strong right hook.

Prequntas has cojones the size of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man's.

Unlike the rest of the team, Pedro used the standard Proton Pack and Wand you see in the original film. 

Synopsis: A few years after the events of the first Ghostbusters film, supernatural activity is low and business is terrible. The various original members find themselves doing side jobs, speaking at lectures, in TV interviews, and doing personal research projects.

Following Halloween 1987, supernatural activity picks up again and various parties contact the 'main office' hoping to open franchise businesses. The most successful of these are Ghostbusters Houston (Zimmerman's location for a short while), Ghostbusters Kentucky, Ghostbusters New Mexico, and Ghostbusters UK in London (Thorton's location).

(Throughout the course of the campaign at least a half dozen others are mentioned. Though never seen or encountered, the Ghostbusters Louisiana franchise, located in the city of New Orleans, is supposed to be especially badass).

As the business side of things takes up more and more of their time and they get a chance to go into the field less and less, the original Ghostbusters decide to recruit a new team to operate out of the home office in New York City. They choose the best people from their various franchise operations and a couple of people the members have had personal dealings with. After an exhaustive process of going through dozens and dozens of candidates they decide on Dr. Alexander D. Thorton (Leader, Head Researcher and Accounting), David Nelson (Field Commander, Tactical Specialist, and Cook), Stadler (Front Man, PR Guy, and Customer Relations) and Zimmerman (Science, IT, Fringe Technician). Eventually the group is so busy they add Prequntas (who is their primary driver and mechanic). 

Adventures were mostly episodic, with very few multi-part stories or story arcs. The sessions (often called Episodes actually) were relatively short compared to other game sessions I was running at the time (as noted early - 4 or 5 hours as opposed to our usual 8-12). That said, some of the most memorable Episodes were longer than usual and/or multi-parters. Interesting, no?

The game was action packed, full of cool and creepy ideas, but at heart it remained a comedy. The focus was on seriously spooky situations but often came alive through its oddball characters and clever humor in the vein of the first film.

Bonus Features:

My friend Joe (who played Thorton) was/is an absolute Ghostbusters fanatic. Without him the campaign would not have worked half as well as it did. He had the 'making of the movie' book, built a prop Proton Pack out of found objects that looked fantastic, and was especially good at creating adventures with supernatural beings inspired by unexpected sources but which fit perfectly into the campaign (Such as an attractive though evil witch based on Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty who was awesome to battle!).

We made a couple of parody songs for the campaign including 'Only The Ghosts Die Young' (Sung to Billy Joel's 'Only The Good Die Young') and 'California Screaming' (Sung to 'California Dreaming' By The Mamas and The Papas).

Our uniforms were originally the same as the ones in the movies, then differen't colors like the Real Ghostbusters cartoon, and then finally we settled on a new, updated uniform that was the same for everyone (though we all wore it differently. Sleeves rolled up, front open, front zipped to the top, etc.).

We had three vehicles. The first was the original Ecto-1. The second was a motorcycle used primarily by Robbie Stadler. Later we added a truck/van type design based on an Ice Cream Truck I believe. It had a Ghost Storage/Containment Unit inside where the freezer would be.

Barking Alien


  1. I've always wanted to play Ghostbusters but something about it -- probably the comedy element -- is intimidating.

  2. What's really interesting is how much the rules would look totally up-to-date in this era of rules-lite, narrative games. I played it a few times, mostly as a one-off game at the gaming convention my college held.

  3. How did you trade Gamemaster duties each session and keep game consistency? Wouldn't each session be stylistically very different from the last?

    1. Yes!

      Like the original Star Trek television series (simply by way of example), different episodes can have different writers and directors but it was all Star Trek. Roddenberry and his producers oversaw the series and were the unifying voices as it developed.

      My friends and I ran Ghostbusters: The Home Office much the same way. My friend Joe was essentially our Roddenberry and I was the producer who moved things along and often got them back on track.

      The major stylistic differences came from our inspirations.

      Joe was very much inspired by the origin film and Walt Disney productions.

      Will and David were very TV sitcom in style. Dave additionally added a bit of the Marx Brother and Monty Python into the mix.

      I was heavily influenced by other SNL and Second City productions like Caddyshack, Stripes, and The Blues Brothers, with a bit of Mel Brooks thrown in for good measure.

  4. 1st edition Ghostbusters is maybe my favorite game to read, and just as fun to play. Do you have Ghost Toasties with the nifty GM screen?

    But I would have thought David Nelson was too busy managing the news at WNYX to be busting ghosts on the side.

    1. Haha! I see what you did there. :)

      As to Ghost Toasties, the GM Screen and any of the other books...long gone. The only book I still have for the original game is the original rulebook, although I do own some PDFs of the other stuff.

  5. Are you happy the A/Z game is almost over?

    1. Frankly no...I really wanted to complete it this year.

      After a personally really tough first quarter of the year (and a pretty crappy end to last year), I was hoping my situation would clear up, affording me time to work on this. As you can see by the fact that I only did 8 entries, well, such was not the case.

      Frowny face aside, I had funny do this theme. I've run a lot of great games with great people, and I have a lot of great memories and stories to tell.

      Maybe I'll finish it throughtout the year or next year. We'll see,