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 may also designate one NPC for each die they have in 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 are two lines for the Player Character's Signature Skills. To be clear, 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 3 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 overthrow 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 have a skill in a less common area that their companions don't have or lack a skill because they grew up on a backwater world with a lower tech 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 in my opinion 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 D&D PC starts out as an Adventurer.

Then you add Wizard, Cleric, More Fighter, More Thief, or whathaveyou to make your character stand out. In Ars Magica everyone plays a Mage as well as one or more companions who may be of any number of non-Magical professions. Why? Sometimes you need to be a Mage. Sometimes you need to be a skilled denizen of Mythic Europe. That's what the game is about. Whoah! Mind blown!

This is very clearly seen in Star Trek RPGs. Everyone can technically fill any given position on the bridge but each excels 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 exception 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