Interview: Scott Haring, GB RPG designer

I don’t know about you, but I lost a lot of sunshine playing role playing games as a youth. Not heavy, crunchy role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. I went for the quirky, fantasy stuff. DC Heroes, Paranoia, and of course the Ghostbusters RPG.
For awhile I toyed with the idea of going into designing games like these. It must of been a passing fancy because I’m someplace slightly to the left of that now.
But for awhile I got to remember how much fun those games were by talking to the writer/designer of Ghost Toasties, Scott Haring. The lucky guy lives and breaths role playing games and he was kind enough to share some of his GB RPG recollections with Proton Charging.

PC: First off, toot your horn. What games have you done and what are you doing now?

SH: I’ve worked on the staff of both Steve Jackson Games and TSR, and freelanced for them and a number of other companies. I’ve mostly worked the past few years as an editor and developer, but my design credits include GURPS Horror and GURPS Autoduel, a bunch of Car Wars supplements (including Deluxe Car Wars), The early Forgotten Realms supplement Empires of the Sands, and the D&D Gazetteer Republic of Darokin. I also was editor of Autoduel Quarterly for nearly its entire run, ran an independent gaming magazine called The Gamer for a few years in the early ’90s, and have been editor of Pyramid magazine since issue #3 in 1993. Pyramid moved online in March of ’98, and I am still the editor. I also contribute regularly to Comics Retailer, writing about the game industry, and have done consulting work with start-up companies about the ins and outs of the game industry.

PC: How did you get the Ghostbusters RPG gig?

SH: My co-author (*uncredited* co-author — story to follow) Allen Varney had just completed writing a Paranoia supplement (“Send in the Clones”) with Warren Spector. All three of us were working at Steve Jackson Games at the time, and the West End powers that were offered the gig to Allen and Warren, since they were pleased with how the Paranoia adventure turned out. Warren begged off due to time constraints, and they both put in a good word for me, and I got the gig.

Now, after we submitted the adventure, the editors at West End made some changes, and Allen (in full artiste mode) was incensed at those changes and insisted that his name be removed from the product. So I got sole credit. C’est la vie . . .

And today, I can’t even remember what those editorial changes were.

PC: What was the design philosophy for the Ghostbusters game?

SH: Make the adventure seem like a sequel to the movie — equal parts slapstick, smart-aleck satire, and rip-roaring action.

PC: So what made the Ghostbusters PRG different from other games? Was it different good or different bad?

SH: There are a lot of different design philosophies when it comes to games, and I hesitate to label any of them “good” or “bad” — however, what makes the Ghostbusters system different, especially for its time, was its emphasis on quick action over rules-intensive simulation. That and the ghost die.

PC: I wanted to ask you about the game’s dice. Why 6 sided dice?

SH: Everybody’s got them, they’re cheap to buy, and cheap to make.

PC: Why was the Ghost Die so cool and why hasn’t anyone done anything like it since in other role playing games?

SH: It lent a great heaping pile of unpredictability into the game, and that’s just what a game based on that movie needed.

PC: Know any secret WEG treasure troves of those dice sitting someplace?

SH: No, I have no clue if there are any squirrled away anywhere.

PC: Well, drat. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Ghost Toasties the first companion out for the game? Was there an excitement about the game coming out or was it all business?

SH: We were excited to do the first supplement. Ghost Toasties was actually a fairly short adventure, only 24 pages, inside the GM screen (this was back when every game came out with a GM screen as its first supplement, whether it needed one or not). So it was an opportunity to set the tone the game would take, and to set the bar for other writers.

PC: Where did you get the idea for haunted cereal and a paranormal cereal mascot? Were you terrified of Capt Crunch as a kid or something?

SH: Hard to recall, honestly. I think we were still looking back at the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man from the movie as this great juxtaposition of cartoon cuteness and ultimate evil, and we ran with it from there. The other ideas — the making him the Demon God of Refined Sugar, the alternate dimension where all the cartoon pitchmen lived, the giant mountain of breakfast cereal — all followed from there. Allen and I basically took turns writing. One of us would do one scene, then the other would read what was written and go from there to write the next scene, then back and forth like that until the end.

PC: What kind of agreement did West End Games have with Columbia? Did they give WEG carte blanc or were they particular about their property? For example, I noticed that any art that had the likenesses of the movie actors were altered or removed in the later versions of the game.

SH: I can’t answer this one; I have no knowledge of the deal. We were told, if I recall correctly, that we could use the character names, but we shouldn’t involve them in any way. So the PCs could call Venkman for advice, or get a bill for damages from Louis Tully, but there would be no actual appearances from movie cast members.

PC: Were you a big Ghostbusters fan going into the game?

SH: It was a great movie. I still remember standing in line on a Saturday night in the parking lot of a Southern California movie theater to get in. It was the movie’s opening weekend, and we were in Orange, CA, for a convention. A bunch of us — Warren Spector and myself from SJ Games, Steve Peterson and Ray Greer from Hero Games, and a few other people — piled into a couple of cars, stood in line for two hours, and finally got in. We had a great time.

PC: Do you have a favorite character in Ghostbusters?

SH: Dr. Egon Spengler, no doubt. I still use his line, “Print is dead.” He was the most responsible of the three, but still went along with whatever goofiness the others proposed. I loved that.

PC: I played the game, so I know that I loved it, and I know that my friends loved it, but did the rest of the world love it? Did the GB RPG sell well or was it a niche market game in a D&D world?

SH: I really don’t recall. West End was happy enough with it to do a number of supplements, but when you’re dealing with a licensed product, there’s lots of things that can cause the line’s discontinuation that have nothing to do with sales or product quality. And I wasn’t there, so I really don’t know.

PC: If the game were to come out again and you were to have the chance to work on it, what would you like to do?

SH: I’d love the opportunity to write for it again, though I doubt it will ever happen. Society has gotten a lot weirder in the 13 years since Ghost Toasties came out — think of how much fun Venkman, Spengler, and Stantz could have with the Y2K bug, or the UFO believers, or the X-Files junkies.

PC: What are you up to next?

SH: I’ll keep doing things in the field on a freelance basis, like edit Pyramid and write for Comics Retailer and work on the occasional small project (I’m contributing a chapter to the upcoming GURPS Y2K, which should be out this fall). I’ve spent too much time in gaming, both on the inside and as a player, to ever give it up.

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