Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Franchise Rights Alone Will Make Us Rich Beyond Our Wildest Dreams

The title of this post comes from a line in the original 1984 Ghostbusters film. It's one Peter Venkmen says to Ray Stantz when the latter is concerned about taking out a mortgage on his family home to finance the start up of the Ghostbusters operation. 

It is also the line that, for me at least, embodies all the potential of the Ghostbusters IP. A potential that the fans definitely understood, even if Columbia Pictures didn't.*

There are, right now as I type this, an estimated 500+ Ghostbusters fan clubs across the USA, Canada, and abroad including the UK, Australia, and South Korea. Each refers to themselves as a Ghostbusters 'franchise' in a nod to the very same line I mentioned above.

In a podcast interview I listened to years ago (I forget the name sadly) a member of one such franchise discussed his head canon for the existence of his club. Paraphrasing, he said that the fan clubs exist in a parallel continuity to the first two films wherein Crossing the Streams dispatched Gozer from our dimension but permanently weakened the barrier between this world and the next. Ghosts, Evil Spirits, and other spooky things sometimes get through and so the Ghostbusters franchises exist to beat back the darkness. This is my head canon as well and the basis of the setting of any Ghostbusters campaign I run.

It baffles me...OK, mini-rant absolutely baffles me that every time we get a Ghostbusters movie after the original, 'Ghosts haven't been seen in ages!' Each time we start from scratch, with the idea being that defeating Gozer got rid of all [or most] the supernatural activity in the world. WHY?!? Why shoot yourself in the foot like they? Why do companies say, "We did this awesome thing people liked but I guess we'll never do it again", while at the same time having a love affair with sequels and reboots? Why not leave yourself an out? Why not keep the door open? You don't have to commit to anything but its there if you want it. Ugh!

OK, back to business...pun intended. 

In this post I'm going to address putting a Franchise together but saving the mechanics of Franchise Dice for the next post. Here they are noted on the right hand side of the Character Sheet for future reference: 

Before we discuss the rules I think it's important that we talk about what goes into the Franchise as a part of developing a campaign. What is it and what does it mean to the Players, the Player Characters, and to the world/setting the GM is building. 

The Nature of the Franchise

The first concern is what state is the Franchise in. This will relate directly to the Franchise Dice later on so keep that in mind. Consider the answers to these questions in the development of your PCs Ghostbusters branch. 

Is this Franchise new or well established?
Did a wealthy investor establish this or did desperate friends pool their last few bucks?
Are we looking at a well-oiled machine or a sinking ship held together with spit and tape?

Get the character of the Franchise and it will inform many aspects of the campaign, especially the tone. Some of the humor in a Ghostbusters game can come from the make-up of the business.

The Headquarters
I am going to skip discussion of where the Franchise could be located as that could be virtually anywhere. I may go into some options at a later date but for now let me focus on the aspects that I've found most directly effect the PCs from session to session. 

One of the things I love about many of the games I run is that the PCs aren't hobos and they don't have to wait to establish a home. The Player Characters here start with a base of operations, not only a place to hang their hat but a location to call their own and more importantly make their own. 

Developing and customizing a building to serve as the home base is a lot of fun and makes the PCs consider what makes for a good Ghostbusters HQ since what they end up with is on them.

Again, questions arise: Do the Ghostbusters live there or is this just where they work? Where does the team keep its vehicle? Is there room for a lab? A library? A repair area/expanded garage? Is it in the heart of the city? On the outskirts? What kind of structure is it or did it used to be? 

As we all know, the original Ghostbusters were based in an abandoned and then refurbished Firehouse, the actual building being the New York City Fire Department station of Hook & Ladder 8 at 14 North Moore Street at the intersection of North Moore and Varick Street. Our old Ghostbusters: The Home Office campaign took place in that same building, slightly renovated right before they moved in. 

The Ghostbusters, NJ campaign headquarters was in part of a warehouse in Hoboken, NJ. A large empty space, the place was laid out like a loft with a few raised platforms and separated into 'rooms' by pre-fab walls. Although each of the employees had their own living arrangements offsite, there were cots and areas to relax in case they had to pull an all-nighter. 

I've been playing with the idea of a Lighthouse base in New England, a converted Bowling Alley based on one turned into a bookstore in Niagara Fall, and even a renovated Asylum that might itself be haunted!

The Vehicle:

I am not a car guy but I could totally do any entire post on the iconic Ghostbusters vehicle, Ecto-1. Built on a 1959 Cadillac Professional chassis by the Miller-Meteor Company, this ambulance/hearse combination was of the 'End Loader' model. With its distinctive lines and curves, unique siren sound, and the group's 'No Ghost' emblem emblazoned on the door there are few in the world who do not recognize the Ecto-1. 

The question is...what does your group drive?

Much like the Headquarters, the team's vehicle says something about them and vice versa. Practical concerns like enough room to transport the team, carry the equipment, and how it handles the local terrain or traffic conditions go hand-in-hand with a cool aesthetic. You want to feel pride in your ride but it also needs to get the job done.  

We've never had our 'Ectos' become characters in the game the way a Starship is in Star Trek or Star Wars but I could definitely see it happening. As stated in a post about notable vehicles in past games from last year, our Home Office team used a slightly overhauled version of the original vehicle - referred to as the Ecto-1+ or simply the Ecto-Plus - as well as a motorcycle with a side car and a converted Ice Cream Truck. Our Hoboken, NJ group has a specific model of SUV, though I forget the exact one. 

OK, that's it for this one. Next up, the thing neither I nor Dr. Peter Venkman rather care for...More Rules! 

Barking Alien

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Listen...Do You Smell Something?

Following up my previous post, I'll continue explaining the general mechanics of my kitbashed Ghostbusters Tabletop Role Playing Game by breaking down the various components of the system's Player Character record sheet.

The last entry discussed the left side of the sheet. This post deals with the right side of the sheet beginning with...

Hired: This is used to record when you created the character. I like having this information.

Position: This is the Player Character's role in the franchise. I've used it to give specific characters oversight over each type of Franchise Dice. For example, if one PC is 'Treasurer' then they would have final say over Capital. The person designated as the 'Tech Department' would have the last word on Equipment. Alternatively, this can donate more of an RP role such as 'Field Leader' or 'Lead Researcher'. 

Specialty: Each Ghostbuster should have an area of expertise all their own. Examples include such things as Hauntings, Demonic Possession, Audio/Video, or Motor Pool (Vehicles). When dealing with their specific field of knowledge and/or experience the Ghostbuster receives an addition +1D Action Die to any related activity. If someone specializes in 'Classic Monsters' they would get one extra Action Die to recognize a Werewolf in Human form (Academics) or wrestle a Lagoon Creature underwater (Athletics). The Specialty stacks with all other Action Dice (Attributes, Skills, and Additional Skills). 

Stress: OK, here's the big change. When things get spooky, the PCs are assigned Stress by the Gamemaster. Stress is represented by the Ghost Dice (or some other dice that are clearly different from your Action Dice) and are largely the same as the Stress Dice from Free League's ALIEN RPG as noted in this post.

If a PC has Stress, roll a number of Stress Dice equal to the amount of Stress you have - the PC's Stress Level - in addition to any Action Dice you are rolling when performing a task. A Six on any die - Action or Stress - is a Success. A One (or in my case a 'No Ghost' symbol) on the Stress Dice indicates Panic. 

If any Stress Dice come up with a one you take a D6 - any will do - and roll it, adding your current Stress level and each die to come of with a one past the first to the result. You then reference the Panic Chart to see what goes horribly, horribly wrong...I mean to see the exciting outcome. 

For instance: Ray has a Stress of 2 while facing off against a Class V Full Roaming Vapor. He fires off a Particle Stream from his Neutrona Wand rolling his Technology Attribute of 3D and his Additional Skill of Neutrona Wand for +1D. Ray has no Signature Skills that apply so that's it, 4 Action Dice. 

Rolling 4 Action Dice and 2 Stress Dice he gets: 6, 5, 4, and 4 on his Action Dice and 1, 1 on his Stress Dice. This means he has one Success but also two Panic. He then rolls one 6-sided die getting a 2. To this he adds 1 for a second Panic roll after the first and his Stress level of 2. His total Panic Roll is 5. Referencing the Panic Chart it looks like Ray manages to keep it together. 

Now let's say everything had been the same except that Ray's player rolled a 6 on his Stress/Panic roll. That would be 6 plus 1, plus 2 more for a total of 9. According to the Chart above that results in, 'Are You Sure You're Using That Thing Correctly?'. Ray's player and the GM decide that while Ray did hit the target, he also hit the wall, the ceiling, and a very expensive antique chandelier that came crashing down onto a large dining table. 

It's OK, the table broke the fall. 

Cool: Each character begins the game with a Cool of 2. Cool is not automatically replenished once used but rather awarded during the game for great character moments, really quick thinking, making your GM and fellow players laugh out loud, and reinforcing the themes of Ghostbusters. In addition, each PC involved gets 1 Cool at the end of a successful 'Case' (my name for a Ghostbusters Adventure Scenario). Unspent Cool from one session does carry over to the next.

Cool can be spent in two different ways. First, it can be used similarly to a 'Push' [ in the ALIEN RPG]; by spending a point of Cool the player may take a roll they just made and re-roll any dice that did not come up a Success (a 6 on any die) or as Panic (a 1 on the Stress Dice). In addition, you may add one more - that's one additional - Action Die. This is often referred to by my players as a Do-Over so that'll be it's 'official' name. Note that this bit differs from the version in ALIEN but better reflects the PC being a world-saving hero and Ghostbusting being cool. 

The second way it can be used is to create an Edit. An Edit is a retro-active change in the situation at hand that can provide an advantage to the team. In order to initiate the Edit you spend a point of Cool and then identify the nature of the Edit, i.e. how it's being explained away in the game's continuity. Is it a Flashback, an Interview Scene (as seen in the Ghost Hunters cable series and its spin-offs as well as The Office), a post-it note you look up to see that clues you in, or whatever works best for the moment. 

A great example of this occurred in one of my Ghostbusters, NJ sessions where the PCs were investigating various fires being set by an unknown arsonist at a beach resort. When the players/PCs discovered the fires were set by what's known as a Fire Ghost they split up to try and locate him. One pair of Ghostbusters found him in a large suite and he erupted in flame which blasted towards them. One player immediately spent a Cool point and had his Ghostbuster in a side interview wherein he told the 'audience' that since they knew about the fires going in, each duo had been equipped with a hand-held fire extinguisher, "Which came in real handy just about then...". 

Bumps: Hit Points of a sort but you only take a Bump after one of your Attributes have been reduced to 0. I will discuss this in more detail in an upcoming post on how the Combat system works. Each PC can take a number of Bumps each to their Athletics Attribute. 

XP: Experience Points exist in this system to improve your Character as well as your Franchise. XP are received at the end of each Case. Usually the GM will award between 1-3 points. For particularly epic Cases or actions on the part of the PCs, as much as 5 points may be given. The XP are applied as follows:

To raise an Attribute requires 5 XP x The number of dice you are trying to achieve. 

If you want to go from an Athletics of 2 to an Athletics of 3 you would need to spend 15 XP. 

To raise a Signature Skill requires 1 XP x The number of dice you are trying to achieve. 

Imagine you have an Academics of 3 and the attached Signature Skills of The Occult 5 and Quantum Mechanics 6. You want to raise The Occult to 6. That would cost 6 XP - 1XP x the goal of 6 dice. 

As of now I can not decide if I want PCs to be able to increase Additional Skills or how much they should cost. I am also entertaining the idea of being able to add new Additional Skills after Character Creation. Please let me know what you think. 

I'm going to stop there for now and pick up next time with an explanation and breakdown of Franchise Dice, what they are and how to use them. Also, how XP can be used to upgrade your Franchise!

Sorry to those who might not be into this subject but I don't do things I enjoy only half way. It's Obsess or don't bother. 

Barking Alien

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Back Off Man, I'm A Scientist

The first Ghostbusters campaign I was part of - Ghostbusters: The Home Office - utilized the official Ghostbusters tabletop RPG published by West End Games in 1986. By the time the Ghostbusters International edition of the game came out in 1989, my group had already added house rules which expanded the game quite a bit. This resulted in a game very similar to Star Wars D6, a game which grew out of the Ghostbusters RPG in the first place. 

My second Ghostbusters RPG campaign - Ghostbusters, NJ (aka Ghostbusters Hoboken) - was run with a system I concocted by merging the original Ghostbusters RPG and Memento Mori's InSpectres. Since the two systems are very similar mechanically, the end result is a sort of Ghostbusters RPG Third Edition with a few nifty add-ons. A slightly more refined version of this game was used for two one-shots during the pandemic with the ol' Home Office group and it worked extremely well. 

For my next excursion into Ghostbusters gaming I am adding in some ideas from Free League's ALIEN RPG. Let me break it down for you...

I should begin by pointing out that there will be two types of dice in this game - Action Dice and Stress Dice. Action Dice are standard 6-sided dice and are in use for all rolls other than Stress rolls. 

When a Player Character has Stress, the controlling player of that PC rolls a number of Stress Dice; these should be a different color, size, or whathaveyou from the Action Dice to differentiate between the two. For my games I have custom made Ghost Dice that are black with white pips for the numbers. On the side that would normally have one pip, a 'No Ghost' emblem replaces it.

One of my personal objectives when designing or modifying a system is to be able to run the entire game - or at least as much of it as possible - from the Player Character's record sheets. That is obviously not always possible but it is my goal. I prefer it if the players and myself as Gamemaster rarely need to look anything up in a rulebook during play. To that end, most of the game mechanics for this Ghostbusters system come directly from information on the sheet displayed. 

I'll break it down...

Player: Duh. The Player's name.

Character: The Character's name. 

Background: The key element of the character's life prior to becoming a Ghostbuster that largely defines them. This may be a previous profession or it might be the fact that they were idly rich. Background has the effect of lowering the number of Successes needed to accomplish a task if the PC's Background would apply.

The number of Successes needed is normally reduced to no less than '1' but could be if the GM approves it. For example, if the PC has a Background as a New York City Firefighter, the Gamemaster can simply say the PC's Background allows them to automatically succeed at the task of determining if a building is up to Fire Safety Code. No roll is needed. 

Next of Kin: Ghostbusting is a dangerous job. It is a good idea to note the PC's next of kin or in light of not having one, a friend or other contact to be notified if the PC is hospitalized or worse. Good source for a Player created NPC or follow-up / alternate Character. 

Now we have the four Attributes based on the InSpectres game. Players have 13 starting dice with which to divide up among the Attribute stats. These will be the number of dice rolled when trying to perform any action related to that Attribute. 

Academics: Covers intelligence, knowledge, observation, and your ability to do research and benefit from information sources. Used to spot clues, decipher strange runes, recall historic facts, or figure out what a pattern of pictures might mean. 

Athletics: Physical prowess in the areas of agility, endurance, strength, and activities involving muscle memory. Used to leap from rooftop to rooftop, catch a falling object or person, lift debris off an injured comrade, or keep swimming icy water long enough to reach the dock. 

Technology: The use, construction, and maintenance of electronic and mechanical devices and other equipment. Used to drive the Ecto-mobile, fire the particle throwing Neutrona Wand, fix the boiler in an apartment building, or modify your cell phone for some ill-conceived reason. 

Note: Using a computer falls under Technology unless you are doing research. In that case you can apply Academics. 

Contact: Social ability to communicate, convince, and otherwise deal with people. People can include Ghosts and other non-Human entities. Used to charm a romantic interest, calm a agitated client, convince a security guard to let you in, or distract a supernatural being. 

Note: Each player can also designate one NPC for have their Contact stat as a 'Contact': a friend or associate whom they are on good terms with. This individual could be a person of some influence but try to avoid making their position too high at the start of the campaign. A PC could know a Cable News Reporter, a Police Officer, an Occult Bookstore Owner, etc. 

Next to each Attribute is a line for the Player Character's Signature Skills. Each Attribute has two: The first is at +3 Dice and the second is at +2. Let's say a PC has an Academics of 2 Dice. They could then have two Signature Skills, Best Eats at 6 Dice and Urban Legends at 5 Dice. This is the character to check with when you get a craving for Kati Rolls at 11 pm after capturing a Class III Limited Mobility Repeater. 

Additional Skills: Each PC also receives four skills at +1 Action Die; these skills need not be attached to any particular Attribute. In fact, they may used in conjunction with different skills depending on the circumstances. For example: If a Player Character has the Additional Skill of Helicopters, she could add the +1 to her Academics to recognize a particular model of helicopter or to her Technology to repair damage to a helicopter. 

Yikes. This is going to get long. I think I will break it into a few separate posts. Is that cool? 

OK, right side of the Character Sheet and more mechanics coming soon. 

Who You Gonna Call?

Barking Alien

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

For Different Folks

JB over at B/X BLACKRAZOR made a post entitled Different Strokes that actually talks about a number of things but the part that really caught my attention was when he noted that different RPG groups have different Priorities of Play; similar to the idea of 'Creative Agendas' coined by Ron Edwards of The Forge way back when. 

He then goes on to note the Priorities of Play that Dungeons and Dragons incorporates and which are an integral part of it's design and play philosophy. I would say he sums them up rather well (though I will paraphrase slightly):

Shared Joint Objective (Everyone wants treasure)

Players/PCs are Being Challenged - Deadly Challenges force engagement (Pay attention or die)

Asymmetry of Classes - PCs Must Cooperate to Succeed (Different classes bring different skills)

Simple Mechanics Increase Accessibility (Roll dice, look at chart, etc.)

Kitchen Sink Setting Provides Many Possibilities for Exploration

Personally I don't feel D&D actually succeeds at achieving all of these goals but I understand people do and that's great. 

The more interesting bit to me is that JB also points out a particular Priority that is very important to my own style of gaming, 'Exploration of a particular genre and/or setting'. Obviously this is a priority element for the games I run and like to play. He seems to say this specific agenda replaces Being Challenged. I don't quite understand that, seeing the two things as compatible and capable of co-existing in a single campaign. 

Reading his post and this section in particular got me to thinking about my own Priorities of Play, both in general and for the specific games I enjoy most such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Superheroes, and Ghostbusters just to name a few. While each of the these likely has it's own list of game specific Priorities, there are some ideas that I like to see regardless of the campaign in question. In fact, I likely gravitate towards the game settings mentioned above partly because they are well suited towards my preferences. 

What I am looking for is:

Shared Thematic Objective (The setting informs what everyone wants)

All Starfleet Officers want to seek out new life and new civilizations. All Rebels want to over through the Empire. All Superheroes want to protect the innocent from criminals and other evil-doers. All Ghostbusters want to bust ghosts and pay their bills. 

Individual Compatible Objectives (PCs each want something that doesn't conflict with theme)

The Starfleet Medical Officer wants to find a cure for a specific disease. The Chief Engineer is trying to design a new class of Shuttlecraft. The Chief Navigator wants to find a famous lost Starship from the Four Years War. The Chief Scientist is in love with the Chief of Security but doesn't know how to express their feelings. 

Personal goals that do not prevent them from collectively going 'Where No One Has Gone Before'. 

Players/PCs are Being Challenged - Interesting Challenges keep Players Interested

Death is not the only way to engage players in a game. Engage them with what interests them and then add in obstacles that make the players think in order to overcome them. Situations may be deadly and failure has consequences but PCs can also suffer personal loss, emotional pain, and other 'fates worse than death'. 

Everyone Can Do What Needs Doing - All are good. Some are better. 

If the game takes place in the Star Wars universe, every character in it unless there is a character or story driven reason should be competent at everyday things in that universe. Most everybody can fire a blaster. Most everyone can drive a Landspeeder. Most people can fly some kind of Starship. Some people are better at a specific thing than others. Some people likely have a skill in a less common area than their companions or lack a skill because they grew up on a backwater world with a lower technology civilization. That said, the majority of PCs can do what needs doing in the game. 

Droids are a good example. They are everywhere in the Star Wars universe and they do a wide variety of things. Everybody or nearly everybody should know how to operate a Droid. A lot of people should be able to program one and/or enact general repairs. Some people are really good at fixing them and can even modify one. A smaller group can build one from scratch. 

[Mini-rant/Opinion Piece: This is something that really annoys me about most Fantasy games. D&D for example is about killing monsters and stealing their stuff. That's what its about. So every character, All PCs, should have killing monsters and stealing things skills. Everyone should start out as a combo Fighter/Thief (or Rogue if you prefer) with some being more Fighter-y and others more Thief-y if they wish. Baseline though, everybody is a mix of these two Classes. We'll call it 'Adventurer', Every PCs starts as an Adventurer.

Then you add Wizard or Cleric or More Fighter or whathaveyou. In Ars Magica everyone plays a Mage as well one or more companions who may be of any number of non-Magical professions. Why? 'Cause it's a game about Magic in Medieval Times dammit! Being a Magical Person and a normal Medieval Person. Whoah! Mind blown.]

This is very clearly seen in the Star Trek RPGs. Everyone can technically fill any given position on the bridge but some excel in their area of expertise. None of the Ghostbusters are unable to fire a Neutrona Wand or use a PKE Meter. 

Simple Mechanics That Fit On A Character Sheet

If at all possible, you should be able to roll the dice, look at the result, and immediately know if you are looking at a Success, Failure, Partial, or whether it has special meaning. If you need to reference a chart, the game has one strike against it immediately IMHO. Roll a thing to check a thing to find a thing is two things too many. 

The except is if the chart being referenced results in something interesting; it must be more engaging then 'You hit and do +1 Damage'. You wasted my valuable time on that? Chart, you're fired. At the very least, the bare minimum, give me some color to explain it and make it worth my while. Charts like the Stress/Panic Chart or Serious Wound Chart from Free League's ALIEN RPG are great. Colorful, interesting effects, and they can change the conditions of the PCs and/or their environment. 

Specific Settings with Internal Consistency - It all makes sense within its own context. 

I always say, "It doesn't have to make Real World sense but it must make sense in the game you're playing". This is probably the greatest element of my older games that is lost in my games over the last ten to fifteen years, all the way up to the present. Players are so proud of being 'clever' and 'realistic' that they suck all the excitement and atmosphere out of a game. Instead of forcing the genre to adhere to real life, immerse yourself in the genre. Tropes are not just cliches of a storytelling approach, they are the laws of physics in the setting you are playing in. 

I don't care how it works in reality. If we are doing a game based on a TV show, things work the way they work on the show. Four Color Superheroes have Secret Identities and no one figures it out easily because that's how Four Color Superhero Comic Books work. All the Aliens and all the Starfleet Officers understand each other because that's how it is on Star Trek - unless the plot requires the Universal Translators to have difficulty with a given language. Embrace this. Run with it.

As I've said before, I don't really like Kitchen Sink settings where anything and everything can and does happen unless there is some unifying theme or reason behind why it's like that. I have always found that if you mix every flavor you can find together in one pot, the end result has no taste at all or it's really bad.

Well, that should be enough for now. Let me know what your Priorities of Play are in the comments! 

Happy Holiday!

Barking Alien


Afterlife of The Party

Let's assume this Twinkie represents my normal level of desire to run a Ghostbusters RPG campaign. 

As of now we'd be looking at a Twinkie 35 feet long and weighing 600 lbs. 

That's a big Twinkie. Let me tell you about the Twinkie...

Inspired by the new Ghostbusters: Afterlife film, a good deal of new resources and merchandise connected to it, and my nearly 40 year love affair with the IP, I am totally jazzed to run an ongoing campaign in this setting. 

Here's what I am thinking so far...

Premise: A varied group of Player Characters join up with the world's preeminent Paranormal Investigation and Elimination corporation, setting up a franchise office in their own city.

The campaign would then explore Urban Legends, Ghost Stories, and the Cultural Folklore of the area and local inhabitants. Adventures would focus on both Supernatural Action-Adventure and the personal lives and relationships of the PCs.

I tend to run Ghostbusters with a little less humor than you'd expect and a little more creepiness and pathos.

Map: I am envisioning a Ghostbusters franchise in either Seattle or San Francisco with a narrative centered around the clash between the old and the new and the merger of the classic and the modern at the same time. 

Alternatively, I might go with a location preferable to the group I am playing with, incorporating the character and identity of the region into the narrative. 

The key here is that the Map is the actual, real world map of whatever geographic location we decide to use. This is something I love about Modern Era gaming. There are so many resources for real world maps - from Road Atlas' and travel books to Google Maps and so much more. The added sense of immersion and realism can't be beat. 

Conceit: There are three primary Conceits for the kind of Ghostbusters game I want to run. 

The first is the Conceit of The Ghostbusters Universe Setting: Ghosts exist, they are often dangerous, and there are individuals with the mental fortitude, scientific aptitude, and earnest determination to deal with them. At the same time, these individual may be completely out of their depth in other aspects of daily life in our present day civilization. More on this in a later post. 

Conceit number two is the Conceit of Narrative Resource Management. This won't be a game about making money but making money is definitely part of the game. The Ghostbusters are heroes but it's also a job. Part of the magic of the original Ghostbusters concept is that initial main characters - Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler - are trying to pursue their research in the paranormal while simultaneously trying to monetize it. Zeddemore comes in later because he's looking for work and the Ghostbusters are so inundated they hire him on the spot.

The point of the matter is that I'm not looking to have the players do a lot of bookkeeping and be more worried about their finances than they are solving the case their on. However, there is a Resource Management rule mechanic from InSpectres I use called Franchise Dice. Franchise Dice are rolled to determine if the PCs have a given Resource when its needed. These dice can go up and down based on how the Franchise is doing. I connected it to in-game dialogue wherein the Ghostbusters charge their clients for services rendered but lose money (and potentially Franchise Dice) when paying for excessive damage they may have caused. Remember, "No job is too big, no fee is too big."

Lastly, the third and final Conceit is the More Horror Less Humor Conceit. This campaign is definitely going to have comedy in it but making it a Humorous RPG campaign isn't my end goal. The Joke dial will be turned down a few levels, the Creepy-Spooky dial turned up a notch or two, and the Action-Adventure dial left pretty much where it is. 

Now, would it be a Sandbox or 'Storybox' approach?

Well...the short, technical answer is 'Yes' but perhaps not at first. The series will likely begin with the team getting calls to action from NPCs, receiving jobs from GM generated clients. As the game goes on, I hope to encourage players to explore and investigate elements of the setting on their own in addition to solving mysteries and fighting spectres. Expanding the group's Headquarters, inventing or modifying Ghostbusting technology, doing research on older, unsolved cases, or looking into the backstory of your character will be endeavors PCs can and should spend time doing in addition to investigating a call from the Sedgewick Hotel.

I have a lot of other things to say on the subject, some of which are related to a 'bigger picture' view of what I want out of a game. A recent post by JB of B/X BLACKRAZOR gave me a clearer perspective on the how I would handle my next Ghostbusters campaign. 

Looking for to sharing this with you in my next post. In the meantime, a want to wish those who celebrate it a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Barking Alien

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Afterlife and Times

Today I sat in a movie theater for the first time in roughly two years and saw the movie I've been waiting 30+ years to see...

I saw the first film in a movie theater in Brooklyn with my younger sister when it came out in 1984. It might be the only film we ever went to together, just the two of us. I was 15, she was 10, and I think we saw it free in one of the theater's my grandfather managed (we were really lucky in that way). 

Ghostbusters quickly became one of those touchstones in my life - like the original Star Trek television series and the first Star Wars film - that greatly influenced my art, writing, and of course my hobby of Tabletop Roleplaying Games, the ultimate gestalt of all creative endeavors.

I have a deep love for the original, think the second film was OK, and feel the Real Ghostbusters animated series was brilliant. Ghostbusters: The Video Game was also excellent. Everything else has been varying levels of good and disappointing. There was also a film vaguely related to the franchise in 2016 that is best never being mentioned again. Ever. For any reason.   

So how does Ghostbusters: Afterlife measure up? Well...


I thought it was terrific. I also think it was a very different movie from the original and therein lies the brilliance of it. It is less the screwball Comedy/Action-Adventures of the first two films but it is not so removed from the them as to feel unrelated. Ghostbusters, the original especially, is clearly there in Afterlife's DNA. Much like the characters in the movie and the director, the familial resemblance is evident and yet it is definitely its own person...I mean motion picture.

The Good

The Character and Actors

All the parts were played well but a special shout out to McKenna Grace as Phoebe Spengler (See below) and Logan Kim as Podcast. These two not only brought their characters to life in a way that made them both likeable and memorable but they had wonderful onscreen chemistry together. Grace is especially good as Phoebe, from her initial difficulty connecting with other people to her biting wit and onward to true heroism, she is the perfect character to connect the old and usher in the new for the Ghostbusters franchise. 

The rest of the cast rounded out well with Paul Rudd being especially great (as he always is). While Callie Coon and Finn Wolfhard were very good, their characters didn't get a lot of development in comparison to Grace's Phoebe or even Rudd's Gary Grooberson. 

As far as the original cast and characters go I think they were handled quite well. I liked their participation in the events and the way the narrative played out, particularly at the end. I do have some minor quibbles but they are less problems I have then they are things that I question in my own head canon.

At the same time, good for Winston! I was so happy to see him become a successful and wealthy man who still held the Ghostbusters near and dear to his heart. Loved that. 

The Plot

The story was solid if not particularly original but the way it was told and how all the pieces linked together was distinctive enough to have this be an evolution of the Ghostbusters setting, the next chapter if you will, and not just a rehash of the 1984 film. In fact, I would go so far as to commend Director Jason Reitman on his ability to take the first movie's story elements and introduce them in a fresh way. We get the best of both worlds here; this is a film seeped in Fan Service and Nostalgia but packaged in a way that says, 'and there is more where that came from'.

Imagine where it could go next. 

I have ideas. Oh boy, do I have ideas...

The Special Effects

I have to begin by praising the sound design, which was freakin' spectacular. I didn't realize I had purchased a ticket to an IMAX showing until I got to the theatre and was almost a little disappointed. I don't like IMAX. It is usually too loud for me as my hearing has gotten sensitive to extreme volumes as I've gotten older. I don't hear subtle differences in sound but instead it's just loud for loud's sake. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case here. 

Every sound was awesome - sometimes powerful and sometimes nuanced. From the beautiful, vaguely threatening rumble hum of the Proton Pack's activation to the unique, sizzling blast of the Particle Streams, ever tone landed perfectly. 

I loved most of the music as well, though some of it wasn't particularly 'Ghostbusters'-y. What I found incredible was that the End Credits song, 'Haunted House' (actually song by Mckenna Grace), was such a GREAT piece of music that should have been in the movie, not just the credits after the film.  

The visual effects were amazing as well. I loved the updated look of some of the classic effects as well as the clever detail on some of the newer ones (like Muncher eating through metal and leaving Ectoplasm residue behind). 

The Bad

I can't really say there was anything bad about the film but there were elements that were weaker then they could have been.

There were definitely issues with the pacing in the first twenty minutes. The opening sequence, including the credits for some reason, felt really off to me. That continued for a bit up until the family moves to the old abandoned house and farm left to them by the kid's grandfather, one Egon Spengler. I probably would've started with the family on the road, talking about why they left life in the city for this place instead of having the whole set up they used in the film. 

I found it odd that many components, key details to some degree, were left out of the story completely. We don't know the family's last name prior to them being identified as Spenglers. I guess with Callie's husband and the kids' dad out of the picture it didn't make sense to name him but we don't know they are Spenglers until they get to the farmhouse so...who are they?

If Janine didn't end up with Egon...who did? Who got him to feel emotion to the degree where he had a daughter with her. I really, really want to meet Grandma Spengler. I feel a little cheated not getting to know her or her story. 

I wish we'd gotten a bit more about the other Ghostbusters and Janine, though it wasn't absolutely necessary to do so. I feel what we got worked just fine. 

Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) was definitely underused but his potential love interest Lucky (Celeste O'Connor) was there because he needed a potential girlfriend and there needs to be four Ghostbusters. Beyond that she isn't really a fully realized character. That's a real shame, especially with a name like Lucky Domingo. Come on! You can't make something cool out of that? Missed opportunity. 

Now here's something that bugs me and yet I totally get it. Ray and Egon have a falling out when Egon appears to go off the deep end by uprooting himself to the middle of nowhere and taking a good deal of their tech with him while Ray refuses to believe/accept Egon's reasons for doing so. OK. I understand the idea, I really do, but...It doesn't sound like something Egon would do. It seems like the roles should be reversed and Ray would go off on some seemingly mad quest while the more rational Egon demanded proof or something similar. 

That said, I do get it and in fact it does work for me on some level. Egon is the rational, less emotional one and yet if you watch the first two movies closely he can get riled up and go after those who threaten his friends. Egon could foreseeably be driven to extremes by a discovery such as the one we see in the new film, the return of Gozer. 

Lastly, I kind of wish the big bad wasn't Gozer. I am not against it the way I was with the return of the Emperor in Star Wars' The Rise of Skywalker but I don't know that it had to be everyone's favorite Sumerian God of Destruction. In fact, it would have made a lot more sense to me that Ray thought Egon was losing it if the latter was going on and on about a new otherworldly entity Ray had never heard of. 

The Gozerian

Gozer looked AWESOME! That was Olivia Wilde? Wow. Very well done. The look, the voice, the approach to it was all excellent. 

When Venkman says he's from The Home Office I nearly flipped out (in a good way). After all...

The End Credits scene was perfect. It was almost exactly what I'd hoped to see at the end of such a film. Kudos to Sony/Reitman for having the guy who holds it all together and builds it back up be Winston Zeddemore  Can't wait to see what he and Ghost Corps have in store for us next.

To close, it is fitting that I saw this film not on its opening day but today, November 21st, as it happens to be Harold Ramis' birthday. The movie celebrates the man as much as the character he made famous. 

Thank you Mr. Ramis for all your contributions to the field of motion picture arts and entertainment, You are missed and your legacy endures. 

So those are my thoughts and feelings on Ghostbusters: Afterlife. It might not be the perfect movie that the 1984 film was but I thoroughly enjoyed it. More excited than ever to run another Ghostbusters RPG campaign. 

Barking Alien

Sunday, November 7, 2021

November At Its Best

“November at its best – with a sort of delightful menace in the air.”
Anne Bosworth Greene

Remember, Remember the Weak Month of November. 

Traditionally November has been my poorest month in terms of posts, comments, and views. People just don't come 'round as often and I certainly don't help the matter, producing little to keep them engaged and entertained. 

Why is this? Not sure. 

The Holidays - it seems like ALL of them - are just around the corner and that disrupts everyone's gaming with...ugh...real life. Filthy little thing. I am to have it surgically removed! 

I do have plans to post this month and even bigger plans for next year, my big 45th TRPG Anniversary. December will be...well who knows. Hard to say at this point. 

As for what I have coming up, well, expect to see references to the many IP installments making their way to the big and little screens: The Book of Boba Fett, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Star Trek: Prodigy, Dune, and more. 

As it stands this post was just to get the ball rolling. Sometimes the hardest part of getting out of a funk or rut is taking that first action. Well here it is. 

We'll talk soon,

Barking Alien

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Galaxy of Adventure

The goal of this post is to show my Storybox approach to Adventure Design 'in action' by recounting an old campaign in which I used this method. 

Before I get into it though, I want to say I'm a little surprised by the response to this or lack there of. I was really expecting more views and comments.

Sure, most would be of the 'have you lost your mind' sort of thing, followed by the 'what you describe would never work' variety. Instead...nothing so far.

Hmm. Perhaps people are just nodding their heads in agreement and understanding. Maybe what I am proposing isn't all that strange these days. Have I waited too long and now my off beat way of doing things is just the norm or worse yet...mundane? Good grief. I don't know that I could live that down. 

Please, someone out there read from a boxed text or remind me how 'adventure paths' work. 

To illustrate exactly how the Storybox method works, I will recount one of the first campaigns I can remember where I consciously used this approach. It was a homebrew Star Wars campaign from back in 1985-86. The campaign never received a title but was jokingly referred to for years as the 'Forcepunk' campaign.

The game featured a view of the Star Wars universe from the average citizen of the Galaxy instead of the big heroes and villains of the war between the remnants of the Imperial Empire and the New Republic. It also had a bit of dark humor. 

Now let's break it down Storybox style:

The Premise: A Star Wars campaign focused on a group of misfits trying to survive in the aftermath of the Emperor's death and the fall of the Galactic Empire. The New Republic has been established but things aren't going all that smoothly on the frontier (what we now call The Outer Rim Territories)

The Map*: The map is mostly concerned with Hutt Space and independent worlds beyond the reach of the New Republic and the Imperial Remnants; the latter being small groups of Empire holdovers serving as regional warlords or trying to pretend the Imperials are still in charge.  

Star systems noted with a blue star are ones from Star Wars canon. Those with yellow stars are original locations created by me. The PCs were free to travel anywhere they wanted with the limitations of having the Hyperspace Coordinates, time, fuel*, and the like. 

Most of the campaign ended up with the PCs traveling to many worlds but often bouncing back and forth between Gardine**, Tatooine, and ZellZell. They would do jaunts to worlds as far away as Corellia, Mandalore, and Ord Mantell but then head back 'home' to their base of sorts on Gardine. 

Of special note is Kolindoor, identified on the map with a blue ring around the yellow star. This planet was not originally on the map. Its coordinates were obtained by the PCs after a new PC joined and the others helped him obtain it from hidden ruins on Mandalore. 

Conceits: The prevailing themes of the campaign were as follows...

The PCs were bad people ashamed or tired of being bad. They sought redemption. 
They were good at being bad but sort of bad at being good. 
The campaign's take on The Force was that it was much like Karma. 

The Opening:

The campaign opened with the PCs, a group of Gangsters, and a group of Imperials in a firefight on the planet Ord Itani. I made references to a deal, a botched job, a double cross, and a desperate squad of Imperials swooping in to claim the prize. 

Improvised dialogue between the Players/PCs filled in the details. The Gangsters hired the PCs to get Spice from Kessel. Imperials showed up so the PCs dumped their cargo and the Imperials found nothing. The PCs never dumped anything; it was a trick. They reached Ord Itani and gave the Spice to the Gangsters but the Imperials followed the PCs there and demanded the shipment. The Gangster refused to pay the PCs since they brought the Imperials to them. 

Blaster fire and chaos ensued. 

PC party splits up. Three hold off the enemies with blasters, smoke bombs, and some neat tricks using the environment of the jungle spaceport. Two sneak off to the docking bay where their ship is to get it ready to leave. One steals a Speeder Bike and attempts to nab some of the Spice. 

A bit later, the ship flies right over head and picks up the rest of the party. The guy on the Speeder Bike gets one case of Spice and drive the cycle into the PC freighter's cargo hold. One PC manages to get the Imperials and Gangsters shooting each other more than they shoot the PCs. Still and all, two of the PCs are badly wounded. 

Escaping into space, the freighter is soon pursued by Gangster ships and TIE Fighters. The player ask me where they should jump to next. 

This is key. I said, "I don't know. It's your ship. Where do you want to go?"

Absorbing this, the PCs check their Nav Computer to see what's near by and what are these places like. They decide to go to Gardine, an original planet not far from Tatooine. It is independent of the Hutts and a good place to lay low because its largely unpleasant and few want to go there (heheh). The PCs eventually find Gardine so cool they make it their unofficial base of operations. 


While they start off as low lives and ne'er do wells (except for the Jedi Wannabe who joins later), the PCs play out the idea that this isn't what they want. In fact, many of them are trying to leave that lifestyle behind and do some good. Others don't know any other way to be. As the campaign progressed, the PCs went from smuggling Spice and taking on underworld bounties to trying to protect alien refugees and turning the Gangsters of Ord Itani in to the New Republic. 

As is the nature of my Storybox philosophy, the PCs would ask around once arriving on a planet and find out the local goings on. One world might be the domain of a interstellar kingpin but also noted for a rare fruit and offering a bounty on illegal poachers. There were always multiple things happening on a given planet. Add to these hooks and leads whatever it was the players were looking to do. 


I never quite knew what the next game session would bring though and neither did they. Although I had laid out all the current politics and happening, made notes on each of the planets and their inhabitants, I had no idea which of these would see the light of day until the PCs decided to go there. 

In one session I'll never forget, the PCs find out that their 'change of heart' activities have them wanted by several figures of the Galactic Underworld. One of the bounty hunters after them is rumored to be Boba Fett, even though the PCs had heard Fett died three years ago on Tatooine. 

Anyway, this event was supposed to be part of the living background, a little crumb to be explored at some later point. One of the PCs, the one with the highest bounty on his head, decided the group needed to do something about this right away. With the help of his companions the PC enacted a brilliant plan; he appeared to blow himself up in his landspeeder, left one identifying piece behind, then disguised himself as a different bounty hunter and turned it in to collect the bounty - ON HIMSELF! 

This scenario was the culmination of numerous previous events and pro-actively initiated by a player. I like to believe myself pretty creative but there is no way I saw that coming. Is that going to happen in anyone's pre-written adventure? Is there a way to pencil in room to have that happen? I mean, it's possible but I don't recall a lot of that kind of thing coming up in the Village of Hommlet or Griffin Mountain. Again, it could happen but generally the way most adventures are created and structured there doesn't seem to be room for the kind of pro-active, player driven narratives seen in this more open-ended method. 

For me, this improvisation-with-parameters or perhaps improvisation-with-provided-tools approach works much better than the more traditional version of adventure design. 

With that, I think I will end my analysis of this idea and move on to something else. November is almost upon us and I want to consider what I am going to talk about next month and perhaps beyond...

Barking Alien

*We never actually addressed fuel beyond being out of it or needing to get it. A botched Navigation or other flight based roll could have me saying, "Seems you burned a lot of fuel this trip" or "Your low on fuel after that last jump". Fuel was more of a MacGuffin than a tracked resource. 

**I have mentioned Gardine (pronounced gar-DEEN) before. It is one of my oldest original planets. It is also nearly identical to the planet Nevarro that appears in The Mandalorian streaming series from Disney+. From the ash covered landscape to the lava rivers and the presence of Offworld Jawas it is startling how similar Nevarro and Gardine are.