Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ghostbusters: The Role-Playing Game

Most pen and paper role playing games are about tons of statistics and variables and whenever bad guys show up the experience sometime has to stop for upwards of an hour to game out the fight. Ghostbusters, on the other hand, is extremely easy to pick up and play no matter how short the players’ patience might be.

After saving the world from Gozer the boys decided to expand, making the office in NYC the headquarters of a worldwide ghostbusting corporation. The option to play as the guys from the movie was there if your group felt like it, but you were encouraged to run a campaign where your friends save the world from the forces of darkness in your own hometown.

Rather than the loads of numbers required by most RPG’s Ghostbusters has four: Brains, Muscles, Moves, and Cool. When you try to do something, the GM will assign it a number based on how hard it is, the harder the higher, which you try to equal or beat on the number of dice for your relevant attribute. Each attribute also gets a Talent, like driving, shooting, nuclear physics or picking up girls which gets you three extra dice in the appropriate circumstances.

There’s also Brownie points, which you can burn for extra dice on really hard rolls, and the Ghost Die, which has a ghost symbol instead of a six and causes some kind of annoying mishap when it comes up (although when it comes up for a ghost, it powers them up for a little bit). That’s pretty much all there is to the basic game. There’s no health stat because death and permanent injuries aren’t funny, and humor after all is what makes Ghostbusters what it is.

The game is so dedicated to not dissolving into boredom, in fact, that the manual comes with a number of “routines” for things like going to court or catching a plane that can alternately be used to breeze through such procedures or generate humorous role-playing during them. You roll a die, generally the lower the better, and consult the first column. What comes up may modify your roll for the second column, and when you resolve the third or fourth column, you’re done.

The simplicity of the rules can make the game easy to abuse, though. Especially when it comes to whipping up new gadgets; the GM’s basically expected to analyze how something could upset his campaign’s dynamic and just say no if it looks like things are heading that way. An entire section of the NPCs in the manual is “plot ghosts” the GM can use to take away anything too disruptive to his game. There are a few things in the equipment list that the book even says are so powerful the players should only get access to them for one or two adventures before the plot ghosts come to repossess them.

The game didn’t see a lot in the way of peripherals, sadly. Only three premade adventures were released during its intial run, and only a couple more when the advanced rules (which really aren’t much more advanced) were released at the same time as Ghostbusters II. Still, most of the premade adventures are fun and should provide a good basis for a sufficiently twisted GM.

In the interests of keeping this review on topic, heavy details on premade adventures aren't happening. As for recommendations, Scared Stiffs earns the Spectrum of Madness Editor’s Choice Award for its intriguing premise and great ensemble cast, Lurid Tales of DOOM! wins Most Original, but Ghostbusters II: The Adventure is a piece of krelm not worth your time. Its connections to the plot of the movie are pretty minimal, so having seen the movie won't actually ruin the adventure that much, but it's designed to play out in a very specific way. And for some reason there's a ton of content from The Wizard of Oz.

Ghostbusters The RPG has some balance issues, but there are few that are more dedicated, let alone suited, to keeping play moving briskly and the humor coming hot and heavy. If you’re looking for a good introduction to pencil and paper RPGs, who ya gonna call? This game, hopefully.


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