Monday, October 30, 2023

Dare Ni Denwa o Kakeru Nodesu Ka?

Whoa, that's strange.

What should we do?

Get the Ghostbusters!

Whoa, that's weird.

What should we do?

Get the Ghostbusters!*

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

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

Ghostbusters Japan
The Official Japanese Ghostbusters Fan Club

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

I was pleasantly surprised...

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

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

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

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

Ghostbuster for Call of Cthulhu (TRPG Japan)

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

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

Any 1 Skill of Your Choice

Credit: 9~50%

Vocational skill points: EDU x 2 + DEX x 2

Art by Sato Sio

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

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

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

Art by Gurumeda for the Japanese movie magazine Cinema Today

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

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

Ghostbusters International

GM: Onagi Sunaga

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

Game/System Description

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

Scenario Overview

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

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

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

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

Additional Information

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

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

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

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

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

More Ghostbusters art by Gurumeda

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

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

Until next time...

Barking Alien

*Japanese translation of the Ghostbusters theme song, 1984

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

We're Ready To Believe You

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

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

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

Ghostbusters 'No Ghost' Logo Variant 
Art by Rafa Toro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jitters, The Coffee Shop Ghost

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

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

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Gear Cart
Design by Illfonic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barking Alien

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

Saturday, October 28, 2023

All Your Supernatural Elimination Needs

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

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

Image based on a t-shirt design by Secret Base

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

The Call

"We Got One!"

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

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

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

How The Call works:

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

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

The team might receive The Call when they are:

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

There are lots of possibilities.

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

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

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

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

Picture this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other reasons to use a 'random' haunting include:

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

Case Dismissed!

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

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

See you soon,

Barking Alien

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The Dead Rising From The Grave!

Not every ball the pitcher throws is a strike. Not every swing of the bat is a home run. 

By 1986 I had already been gamemastering RPGs for 8-9 years. I was a GM 'in demand' at my high school, mostly because I ran games no one else did but also because, for one reason or another, people thought I was good at it. Among the games I'd GMed that were popular were Paranoia and Toon, two comedic RPGs.

When the opportunity came up to run adventures in a Ghostbusters campaign I figured I had it in the bag. This would be both easy peasy and I would wow the group with my talents. How poorly did it go? Well...I opened this post with a sports analogy so clearly not one of my prouder moments.
The Case of The Unwelcomed Guest

Jane Curtain, John Belushi, and Bill Murray
Saturday Night Live, 1975

AKA: The Thing That Wouldn't Leave.

Inspiration: 'The Thing That Wouldn't Leave' was a 1978 skit on the comedy sketch variety show Saturday Night Live. It featured the talented Bill Murray (Hmm. That name sounds familiar...see below), the amazing Jane Curtain, and the late, great John Belushi. Using a mock horror movie trailer format, Belushi portrayed a guest at the home of Murray and Curtain's characters who just would not go home. 

In addition to the humor of it, I loved the idea of incorporating material that had Bill Murray in it as a wink and a nod to his role in Ghostbusters. The same is true for John Belushi, originally slated to play Peter Venkman before his untimely death. 

Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein

Synopsis: The Ghostbusters are hired to come to the suburban home of Richard and Jane Murphy in Queens, NY to deal with what at first appears to be a typical haunting. As it turns out, there is a snag to it. Richard's perpetually unemployed and loud-mouthed brother Jim had been crashing at their place when he passed away suddenly (a heart attack while trying to eat an entire bucket of fast food fried chicken and drinking an entire pitcher of beer. Yes, at the same time). Jim had already overstayed his welcome at the Murphy house but now that he was dead...well...he still wouldn't leave and had only gotten more obnoxious. To make matters worse, Dick and Jane's son Jack didn't want the Ghostbusters to blast his favorite (only) uncle and lock him in 'Ghost Prison'. 

Jim was indeed a menace though, playing the radio or TV really loud at all hours of the night, eating the family out of house and home, and generally pulling 'Fun Uncle' pranks somewhere between 'Pull my finger' and frights the likes of which Beetlejuice would be proud.

After several failed attempts and being on the receiving end of Uncle Jim's practical jokes, the boys in grey managed to drive out the freeloading spectre and get the family back to their normal routine. 

Highlights: Once they realized they couldn't use their Proton Packs and Ghost Traps for this one, the players had to get creative (Eventually. See below). Their first idea was just trying to reason with Uncle Jim but they really didn't have a convincing angle.

Their second idea was to be even more annoying than he was but he just loved it and considered the Ghostbusters his kind of people. This part was what people today would call 'cringe' I suppose but it was also pretty funny.

Finally, once Jim thought of them as his friends, one of the Ghostbusters offered him a job. Yep, someone was really thinking outside the box and told Uncle Jim they'd be happy to hire him so he could contribute to the household or maybe get his own place. Jim immediately thanked them but remembered he was late for a thing, another job offer, came in last night. Yeah, he was already running late. It'd been swell but he really needed to get moving...

'Film' Title Logo from the original SNL skit.

Notes: While very memorable and humorous, I freely admit this was not one of my best sessions. It was the first one I'd run for this campaign and I failed to follow Joe's cardinal rule; the paranormal entity is a serious threat, the characters and their situation brings the humor. This set up was too silly, too much of a gag from the get go.

I really dropped the ball on the pacing in the second act and that lead to not knowing where to go with it in the third act. The first act was very funny, as I elaborated and expanded on the original Saturday Night Live skit in a way the guys found hilarious. After that though, with the reveal that little Jack didn't want the PC's to hurt his Uncle, the PCs weren't sure what to do next and kind of meandered for a while. 

I learned a lot running this scenario and it made me a better GM going forward, especially when it comes to setting the tone and pace.

Barking Alien

Friday, October 20, 2023

Forty Years of Darkness!

Joseph, our resident big-time Horror fan, Ghosthead, and of course Ghostmaster Extraordinaire ran this next scenario and in doing so created the exception that proves the rule.

What he didn't do was veer from his assertion that 'the [player] characters are funny. The situation and opposition are serious and scary.' This scenario serves as a perfect example of this viewpoint. While many of our adventures were challenging and we certainly took our share of bumps and bruises, this was the only one where we weren't sure we'd win. 

We had to pick up every stitch...must be...

The Case of The Wanting Witch

AKA: Season of The Witch

Inspiration: Various Walt Disney 'Evil Queen' Characters, European Witch folklore, Wiccan folklore and practices, and various European fairy tales.

Gamemaster: Joseph Vitaliano Jr.

Synopsis: A series of mysterious attacks against witches across New England catch the attention of the Ghostbusters Home Office. The guys are eventually called in by a contact of Dr. Alexander Thorton's and travel to Salem, Massachusetts to check things out. The boys find out that hexes and curses have been flying fast and furious as different Witch covens and related organizations are going at each other over a variety of issues. Ambient Psychokinetic Energy filled the air as so much supernatural power had been hurled about that some of it come loose from the woven spells. At the same time, someone or something appeared to be syphoning off the excess magic. 

It turned out that a sorceress named Minerva Blackthorn was behind it all.  It was she who spread anger and lies between the covens and instigated the fighting in the first place. Hellbent on amassing power from covens across the world, she began in New England by channeling stray PKE from all the magics of the fighting witches.

Using the redirected PKE to transform herself into a more powerful form, Blackthorn created a humanoid aura around herself resembling a giant, female 'demon'. 

Highlights: In our initial encounter with Minerva Blackthorn the PCs got their butts absolutely handed to them. She was already really powerful by the time we realized what she was up to. This lead us to 'splitting the party' in order to follow different paths to victory. Zimmerman focused on modifying their gear to be more effective against Blackthorn's PKE Witchcraft. Thorton did additional research with the help of his contact in Salem. Nelson and Stadler met Miranda Blackthorn, Minerva's older sister, who followed a philosophy that prevented her from directly interfering (she would not use her magic to harm another witch). That said, she suggested getting the feuding witch factions to unite once more, working together to team up against Minerva, the true source of their infighting. 

In the end, Minerva is undone by a three-fold assault, paralleling the three-fold law of Witchcraft. 'What you put out into the world is reflected back at you three times over'. Miranda clued the GBs into using this against her younger sister. The many local witch covens draw their power back and away from Minerva, the older Blackthorn took this opportunity to rest control of some of Minerva's spells, and the Ghostbusters used their jury-rigged, upgraded equipment to blast her aura form to pieces. 

While Minerva was defeated, Miranda lost her powers following the battle and breaking of her oath to not harm a fellow witch. The Ghostbusters were cheered as both heroes and friends of the Witches of Salem. 

Notes: This adventure, which lasted a few sessions, was absolutely epic and definitely one of  the best Ghostbusters arcs of The Home Office campaign. It was tough, both strategically and from a role-playing standpoint. 

Various Disney productions play heavily into the inspirations for the scenario and its characters. Minerva is very much patterned after Maleficent, while Miranda resembled Lady Tremaine, the Wicked Stepmother of Cinderella. Minerva's 'final form' was modeled on Chernabog, the Demon King seen in Fantasia's 'Night on Bald Mountain'. 

The most interesting aspect to me, especially at the time, was that the adversary was a living Human being. The antagonist wasn't a ghost, essentially a 'monster' for lack of a better term. As a result, I think this made her more complex and layered. Her hunger for power made her the villain but her relationship with her sister made her a deeper opponent. 

It should also be noted that this scenario gave us one of the few 'big bads' of the campaign (aside from Hagost in Ghost Toasties). Most of our sessions dealt with 'situational hauntings' and not so much traditional adversaries. More about that in an upcoming post.

This mission may have included the 'fifth Ghostbuster', my friend AJ's character Pedro Preguntas but I am not positive. I just can't recall. 

Barking Alien

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Rivers and Seas Boiling!

An adventure run by my good buddy David Concepcion, this was one for the history books and honestly kind of difficult to sum up in a post of this nature.

Describing this session as I do other gaming scenarios doesn't properly convey the subtly and nuance of the story, the way he absolutely nailed the genre, and the creative approach he used to lay out the clues while simultaneously leading us astray.

Agatha Christie would be proud.

The Case of The Murder's Murder's Murder

AKA: A Ghost of a Clue
Gamemaster: David Concepcion

Synopsis: The Ghostbusters are invited to dinner at the home of an eccentric and very wealthy entrepreneur who is a big fan of theirs. He is also a collector of occult items and books and has donated many of both to museums and various paranormal societies. The GB team are the last guests to arrive; already present are the Host's Business Partner, his Lawyer, his Personal Assistant, his Nephew, the Butler, and the Maid. Everyone is escorted to the dining room and seated around a huge table. The guests wait for a while but when the Host doesn't show, the Butler goes to fetch him. He returns a few moments later to reveal the Host is dead!

Everybody rushes to the Host's bedroom and the Ghostbusters are able to determine the old man was strangled. In addition, he'd likely been dead over 24 hours and that's too long for him to have personally invited the Ghostbusters just that morning. Scanning the room revealed PKE until a power surge caused a lot of their equipment to fail. It also made the lights flicker, the phones go dead, and fireplace roar. The attendees discovered the windows and doors to the outside were all suddenly locked shut. A few of the guests wondered if this weren't some con by the Ghostbusters but the Lawyer and Assistant confirmed their findings and noted they arrived last [other confirmed when they had seen the Ecto-1 drove up]..

Re-assembling back in the dining room the Ghostbusters offered to help solve the Host's murder when the lights went out yet again. This time when the lights returned, not a moment later, the Nephew was dead, also murdered! Curiously, not the same way; the Nephew had been slabbed with a knife!

What followed was a mystery worthy of Hercule Poirot with numerous twists, turns, and everyone a suspect! In addition, the Host's Ghost appeared to aid the Ghostbusters in finding the killer, though his ability to do so was hampered by bouts of supernatural exhaustion. The Ghost was notably adept at switching between a Phantasm/Vapor (largely intangible) and an Undead/Corporeal state (physically solid, more like a Zombie) by absorbing energy around him (hence the failure of the lights, phone, the Ghostbusters equipment, etc.). His power to do this was taxing and limited so he couldn't give us all the insights he had without draining himself considerably (or so it seemed). 

In the end it turned out the Nephew killed his uncle the Host and the Host, in Zombie Ghost form, killed the Nephew and then turned back to his less substantial state and passed through a wall while the lights were out. All the time he appeared to be assisting in our investigation he was actually drawing us further and further from the truth. Unfortunately for him (though much to the delight of the GM) we noticed something was amiss and the more he did it the more we realized he had to be the guilty party (at least in part).

While we helped solve his murder, we did have to capture and incarcerate the Host Ghost for his crime of revenge. He agreed completely and said it would be an honor to be caught by the Ghostbusters (though he didn't make it easy). 

Highlights: Aside from the scenes I mentioned above in the synopsis, the one moment in the game that stands out in my memory was this unprepared, unplanned 'Who's on First' meets The Marx Brothers routine the team got into while discussing the mystery and the Host's role in it. We started to get suspicious that the Host's Ghost was not telling us everything he knew. Most of his words rang true...but definitely not everything.

So the Ghost, the Host's Ghost, did indeed boast the most exposed clues to post but always had ripostes when we asked that inmost truths be approached. 

This went on for a good five minutes.

Notes: To clarify, the Ghost assisted us in finding the clues and possible motivations for his killer, which in turn lead us to suspect the Nephew. When we arrived at that conclusion he said, "That can't be, can it? I makes sense but he himself was murdered."

Part of what made The Home Office game awesome is, as I've noted in the past, the fact that each GM brought a different feel to their sessions. It should also be said that the rotating Gamemaster also gave us a range of adventures types that one might not see with a single GM. If I had run all of the sessions it is highly unlikely we would've gotten an Agatha Christie style mystery. Especially back then I don't think I would have had this type of scenario in my repertoire. 

As I said before, Dave absolutely nailed the particulars of the 'Cozy Mystery' and in doing so brought an alternative way of looking at the Ghostbusters universe and how Ghostbuster characters interact with it.

Barking Alien

Monday, October 16, 2023

Fire and Brimstone Coming Down From the Sky!

This scenario from our Ghostbusters: The Home Office campaign was likely the third session I'd Gamemastered for the crew and I was eager to make up for its two predecessors. My prior attempts hadn't really landed as I'd hoped. Although they hadn't been terrible, neither were they all that great by any stretch of the imagination.

I felt I had something of a reputation to uphold as one of the most popular GMs in our high school and the only one in our four person Ghostbusters RPG group that hadn't yet had a real banger. I realized I was trying way to hard to make a humorous adventure and it simply wasn't working, so I put away the whoopie cushion and rubber chicken and went for a different approach.

The Case of The Tell Tale Tail

AKA: The Tailypo

Inspiration: Tailypo, a North American folktale/ghost story often told around campfires.

Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein

Synopsis: During a particularly bad winter, the Ghostbusters get a call regarding a number of mysterious disappearances in the Adirondack Mountains region of Northeastern New York. All the people who vanished did so while hunting. The Home Office fixed the Ecto-1 with snow tires and got themselves some cold weather gear and headed up-state. 

After some investigation, as well as dealing with the quirky locals and difficult environment, the team discovered evidence of a strange creature in the mountains and wooded areas near the lower regions. Not only did they find tracks but it often left marks in the dirt or snow reminiscent of a 'swishing' tail (as well as other signs of its existence).

David Nelson (Dave's character) was a specialist in the field of cryptids and other corporal entities and believed the beast they were searching for to be some kind of chimeric large cat. The paws prints were that of a large bobcat but the tail swishes were very different, more like that of an Ox. With this mental model they spoke to local townsfolk who suggested the Adirondacks folklore critter known as 'Tailypo'.

As the legend goes, a hunter or other mountain traveler who was very hungry would have an unsuccessful search for food and then come across the odd creature. For one reason or another the beast's tail would get severed and the hunter would take the tail home, cook it, and consume it. The Tailypo would then track down and terrorize the offender, saying repeatedly in a creepy, Human voice, "Tailypo, tailypo, give me back my tailypo!" (or some variation).

This gave Ghostbuster Nelson an idea. Tracing back to the cabin abode of one of the missing hunters, he checked the stove and fireplace and sure enough found the remains of what could well be ox-tail soup. 

Finally the Ghostbusters decided not to each lunch or dinner and go out into the cold night hungry, hoping that state would lure the entity out. It worked and the team was able to dispatch the monster in a most unorthodox fashion (See below). 

Highlights: In my version of the legend, if you steal the Tailypo's tail but don't eat it, it'll still track you down to get it back but might not harm you if you return the tail. If you don't or can't, it'll mess you up but good, then go searching for its tail. If you actually ate the tail, the Tailypo will definitely eat you to get it back. The tail always grows back/gets reattached once the Tailypo has found it (one way or the other).

At the end of our session the tail had been found by the team, dropped in the snow by some hikers who thought they'd survived an attack by a bobcat or some other animal. The group tossed it back and forth to each other to confuse and delay the Tailypo until David Nelson got it and the creature pounched on him. Dave had a flash of brilliance and shoved the beast's tail into its own mouth! After a bewildered beat of hesitation, the Tailypo ate itself trying to get the tail back, just as Dave surmised it would.

Notes: I think this was one of my best outings in the original campaign. Utilizing my love of this particular campfire story, my interest in animals and cryptids, and my first hand knowledge of winters in Upstate New York, I was able to formulate a scenario that was threatening, unsettling, yet ground in a sense of realism.

The guys were especially impressed by my use of the terrain, environment, and weather; such as how the low temperatures effected both the characters and their equipment. I was moved by how they took the situation seriously once they realized how dangerous the beastie was, though they still managed to inject comedy into it because of their PCs' personalities. 

After failing to get the tone right with subsequent goofy ghost antagonists, I really wanted to use a supernatural creature as opposed to a silly spectre. I think it worked quite well, though one of my lesser efforts remains particularly memorable to the group.

I'll save that tail...sorry, tale...for another time. 

Barking Alien

Real Wrath-Of-God Type Stuff

This post is very late and very long and I am very sorry.

Real LifeTM, especially in the form of my work schedule, has been particularly busy of late. I have so much I want to post, a lot of it Ghostbusters related, and I'm feeling more than a little bit frustrated by the fact that I am just getting to the first of these entries today.

Grrr. Anyway...onward.

Our original Ghostbusters campaign back in 1986 had some awesome adventures, largely thanks to our lead 'Ghostmaster' Joe and the amazing storytelling talents of my friend Dave. Will (of 'Champions: The Age of Champions' fame) and I ran a few each as well, with some gems and a few only OK sessions.  

What you'll find below is one of the best and most memorable scenarios we had, with more to follow in the coming days. Not all of them were perfect (namely mine) but many were amazing, literally among the greatest adventures I have been in as a player. I mean, how many campaign story-arcs do you remember 35+ years later?

The Case of The Cereal Killer Crunch

AKA: Ghost Toasties

Inspiration: This adventure was a revision of Ghost Toasties, the first published module for the WEG Ghostbusters RPG.

Gamemaster: Joseph Vitaliano Jr.

Synopsis: World renowned entrepreneur, explorer, and food industry magnate Jerome Westbrook III has announced a contest in association with his company's popular breakfast cereal, Flakey Jake's Golden Flakes; one of the millions of boxes contains a toy replica of The Crystal of Hagost, an ancient gem of supposedly mystical power that Westbrook discovered in a cave in Peru. Other boxes contain Red Leopard figurines, miniature Bolas, miniature Slings, and rocks carved with runes that can be decoded with a code key on the back of every box. Whomever finds the crystal (actually a remarkably well cut gemstone) wins a lifetime supply of Flakey Jake's Golden Flakes. Oh boy! Of course, something much more sinister was afoot. More evil than getting children to convince their families to buy sugary cereal just so they can win even more sugary cereal? Just you wait...

Soon after the announcement, supermarkets all over the USA were besieged by customers trying to find the winning box. Ghostbusters Franchises across the country became rather busy in the following days responding to pesky poltergeists who also seemed interested in the cereal. For unknown reasons, spooks started causing a royal ruckus in the isles of stores wherever Flakey Jake's Golden Flakes were sold. The GB Inc. community, coordinated by The Home Office, were able to find some clues that enabled the PCs to piece together what might be going on. Unfortunately, the team receives word that numerous grade school and middle school kids began acting strangely, obsessed with the toy surprises they have found and trying as hard as they could to meet up with each other and play [with the items] together. 

After dealing with all the weird goings on for nearly a week, The Home Office came to the realization that the Crystal of Hagost and the odd cereal prizes were all part of a ritual to return Hagost to the world. An agricultural god worshiped by a lost pre-Peruvian people, Hagost was connected to sugar cane, corn, and the ailments that come with consuming too much sucrose. The crystal hidden among the boxes of Golden Flakes wasn't a replica but the real deal! Jerome Westbrook III found it while exploring an area not far from Machu Picchu and the spirit of Hagost was able to possess him. Using Westbrook III, Hagost dispersed the components of his resurrection among his 'worshippers'; kids obsessed with sugary foods. 

The full ritual had all the kids with figurines possessed by the ghosts of Hagost's ancient temple guards, armed with the toy weapons which became real when they touched them. Then, those with the rune stones would assemble them into the proper order and positions for the words to a mystic chant to be read, translated through the decoder system on the back of the boxes. Finally, whomever found the Crystal of Hagost would stand in the center of it all to summon/be possessed by the full power of the deity. By the way, that someone turned out to be nine year old Jason Greer of Queens, NY.

In the final climactic scene, the ritual is performed at a press conference held at West End Foods Headquarters in New Jersey. Hagost manifests, using his powers to animate fiberglass statues of all the West End Cereal Mascots who then terrorized everyone present. The Ghostbusters HO gang  defeat those minions and damage the crystal as Hagost opens a gate to another dimension.

Within this other realm, which the Ghostbusters enter to chase Hagost, there is an ancient temple in the style of the indigenous peoples of Peru. A trap is triggered pouring sweetened corn flakes down on the heroes, threatening to drown them in frosted breakfast cereal. Using a combination of their unique personalities, skills, and specialized equipment The Home Office is able to separate the Crystal of Hagost from its young host and destroy it, banishing the Red Jaguar god back into the netherverse. Grabbing little Jason Greer, the team booked it back to the material plane before the gate collapsed.  

Hagost - Initial Incarnation

Highlights: Dave Nelson suggested the team try to locate the crystal before the general populace did, heading off the trouble before it started. The others agreed and tried to strategize the best way to do that. Meanwhile, Nelson took the initiative and a wad of petty cash and bought as many boxes of Flakey Jake's Golden Flakes as he could, got back to the Firehouse, and started eating. The rest of the team found out and, well, there was a lot of head shaking. 

Zimmerman delved deep into the 'lore' of the West End Foods cereal mascots, assuming their stories were influenced by the mythology and folklore of the original believers in Hagost. As it turned out, he was partially right! There were hints to the relationships between the various minions of Hagost in the relationships between the cereal characters. Stadler and Zimmerman were able to convince the haunted fiberglass Flakey Jake to side with the PCs and help against the big bad boss jaguar himself. 

There were a lot of tricks and traps at the end of the sessions big finale. It was as much about smarts as it was Ghostbusting talent and ability. We had to free the ghost possessed kids, grab and/or damage the crystal, fight the minions, and stop Hagost all while protecting the West End Foods employees, parents, etc. We really had to use every ounce of brains and brawn we had to win the day this time and it felt great. This victor was earned. 

Hagost - True Form

Notes: Joe based this scenario on the West End Games published module 'Ghost Toasties' but he modified it quite heavily. The major differences between the two versions are:

Joe's adventure was scarier and less silly then the official one as per his views on what makes for a good Ghostbusters game. He altered the names of a few things, replaced travel to a Candyland-like dimension with most of the danger happening here in our world, and made Hagost's minion ghosts less goofy in general.

Joseph also expanded the scope of the situation, with the nationwide contest resulting in nationwide paranormal problems. This allowed him to set up the world-building of the future of the Ghostbusters 1984 film continuity that our campaign takes place in.

Run early in the course of the original campaign, this adventure established the existence of other franchise offices in other cities and states (as well as a few in other countries). It further enforces the fact that our Ghostbusters continuity is different from that of movie canon but works perfectly well with the RPG and many of the GB fan clubs.

Our original campaign (as well as most of the Ghostbusters games I've run myself) featured very few high powered entities on the level of Gozer. Hagost was one of the rare ones.

Stay tuned for more adventures, adversaries old and new, and saying "Who you gonna call?" in Japanese!

Barking Alien