Ghostbusters RPG: Part one

Making Character and understanding game basics

Out of the thousands of role-playing games produced since the invention of the 12-sided dice, there is a little gem of a game that all Ghostbusters fans everywhere should enjoy. Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Role-playing Game.

Sadly, the Ghostbusters RPG is no longer being produced and even sadder is the fact that West End Games (an 80s giant in the world of RPGs) went out of business in 1998. However, the makers of the game left behind a funny and simple game system and with luck, beginners to the system can learn enough of the basics here to start making and playing their own episodes. Treat this as an introduction, a chance to evaluate the game, and should you happen to like it enough, you should definitely consider looking around town to find old copies of the game. There are plenty of copies out there; you just need to look.

Before we get started, it should be said that if you’ve been turned off of RPGs before because they’re too complex, you don’t have to worry here. Ghostbusters is a snap. It is arguably the simplest RPG ever.

But explaining it is tough, so in part one will we only cover game basics and making characters.

What You Need To Get Started
-5 six-sided dice (or die) of one colour
-1 six-sided die of a different colour
-Some paper and pencils
-At least one friend (two or more is better, but no more than 4)
-A comfy place to play (bring snacks)
-One whole afternoon to play

This introduction assumes that you will be acting as Ghostmaster for the game. You will be the person guiding the story along. Be prepared to use silly voices, bizarre props, and deal with excited players who will do things you’ll never be able to guess. But first things first.

What The Game Is All About
Ghostbusters is a game designed to emulate the movies. So the average campaign is about blasting ghosts, getting the willies, and cracking jokes. It doesn’t have to be. Fans of horror can easily give the game a darker tone. Fans of the cartoon can give it a lighter tone. But the idea is to have fun.

How To Make a Character
The original game came with character sheets for the actual Ghostbusters. The idea was that you could skip the hassle of making characters until you got the hang of the game and use the pre-made characters from the movie instead. But we re going to get right down to it here. There are four parts to a homemade Ghostbuster: Traits, Talents, Goals, and Brownie Points.

Each buster has four traits: Brains, Muscles, Moves, and Cool. What they do is pretty self-evident. Brains is how smart your buster is, you Muscles is how strong your buster is, Moves is how quick and dexterous your buster is, and Cool is how smooth and suave your buster is. Each character is given 12 points to distribute among these four traits however the player sees fit (at least one and no more than 5 to each trait). The more points prescribed to a trait, the better that character is in that particular area. The number of points for a Trait is the number of die the player can roll when trying to accomplish a task, but that s a whole other explanation and I’ll leave that for later.

The Ghostbusters system is designed so that everything you could ever attempt to do in this world can be boiled down into these for traits. Deciding what trait covers what actions is meant to be common sense. How well a character can walk a high wire is dictated by Moves. So is driving a car. Lifting a box is Muscles. So is eating 2 whole pizzas in one sitting without getting sick. Y’see?

For each trait, a buster has a particular talent in that area. Players can pick one talent for each trait. The points for each Talent are that points for the corresponding Trait plus 3.

So let s say Egon has a big brain Trait with 5 points. But he’s an amazing physicist and has physics as his Talent. So 5 plus 3 is eight. That s a lot of dice to devote to working out the physics of a particle thrower or building a time machine. It doesn’t mean that Egon will be able to build an actual time machine, but it means he’ll have a better shot at it than Peter.

Here are some example Talents:

Accounting, Electronics, Medicine, Deduction, Linguistics, Occult, Guessing, Library Science, Bureaucrat, History, Mechanical Repair, Ghostbusters Trivia.

Brawl, Intimidate, Run, Swim, Jump, Climb, Grapple, Knock Things Over, Rip Things Open, Lift, Toss, Eat.

Haggle, Bluff, Charm, Borrow, Browbeat, Convince, Fast Talk, Orate, Play Poker, Play Stock Market, Raise kids, Tell fibs.

Balance, Catch, Disguise, Dodge, Drive, Listen, Sneak, Throw, Breakdance (this is such an 80s game), Fire Weapon, Hide, Pick Pocket.

The Ghostmaster is God, A Wise God, A Funny God (But Not THE God)

This is as good a time as any to point out one important fact; Ghostmasters are in control of the game and when decisions have to be made, they’re word is final. So players don t have to stick to the Talents listed above. They can choose their own. But the Ghostmaster has to approve it. If players try to do something in during a game that will ruin the storyline, the Ghostmaster will have to steer them in the right direction. This is not however, dictatorial power. If you lord over your players, they’ll get bored and never play again. So if a player wants a Brain Talent of “make nuclear bomb” it’s probably best to say no. You’ll only end up with a player who has a talent they’ll never get called upon to use. Worse still, they may try and use it all the time.

“You see a glowing light in front of you.”

“I blow up the city.”

Your best bet is to recommend something more useful. Nuclear Physics covers A-bombs (what the player wanted) and particle throwers (something the player will be using a lot during the average game).

The same thing applies to game play. If you player wants to try something that may jeopardize the flow of your game story (i.e.: summon a spirit and ask it what s going on and how to defeat the evil monster) and it’s within their abilities, don t say outright that they can’t do it. Instead let them try and if they succeed, say in raising that spirit, then have fun with it without spoiling the game. Give them a useful tid-bit of info, but nothing much. Or make the spirit speak Dutch. Ghostbusters is a funny game, and no opportunity to watch the players bumble around should be turned down. It’s more fun for them and it’s more fun for the Ghostmaster.

Pretty straight forward. Each player needs a goal. Some goals suggested by the game are Soulless Science, Fame, Serving Humanity, and money. This goal is a reflection of the character. For example, Egon would be Soulless Science and Peter would be Fame. This explains why after the first movie Egon returned to research and Peter got a TV show.

If a player achieves a goal in the course of a campaign, then they are rewarded at the end of the game with brownie points.

Brownie Points
Every player starts with 20 brownie points. These points can be used in a number of ways. Most I will leave for subsequent articles, but the most important one I’ll describe here. Brownie points can be traded in for extra die rolls. They can be used at anytime, but smart players will save them for tight situations.

The Universal How-Much System
Ghostbusters RPG takes the world and using common sense on the part of the Ghostmaster comes up with a difficulty rating for everything. Using these difficulty ratings, players then know how much they need to roll to succeed at certain actions. it’s probably best if I use the game s own example of lifting.

Automatic Success (no need to roll die)
Lifting a toy poodle

Easy Jobs (difficulty 5)
Lifting a Yorkshire Terrier

Normal Jobs (difficulty 10)
Lifting an Irish Setter

Hard Jobs (difficulty 20)
Lifting a St. Bernard

Impossible Jobs (difficulty 30)
Lifting a buffalo

Using this scale Ghostmasters can get a sense of how to assign difficulty to actions. And be fair. Don’t make a player roll to answer the office phone. That s pretty straightforward. Make them roll to answer the office phone while blindfolded. And they’re in the basement. And the phone is upstairs.

Every action, other than the easy ones, has a difficulty that players must beat using their Traits and Talents.

And this is where the dice, the brownie points, and the different coloured die come in. If Peter wants to pick up a terrier and he has a Muscles of 3 (Peter’s no American Gladiator, he’s just average) then he can roll 3 die, one for each Muscles point, to see if he succeeds. If he rolls over 5 (picking up a terrier is an Easy Job, requiring 5, so he probably will), he picks up the terrier successfully. If he doesn’t roll over 5, and this is possible, he fails and everyone can laugh at him for not being able to pick up a dog. Now if it happens that picking up the dog is vital and he cannot fail (say, a villain wants the dog s collar, which has an amulet attached that will allow him to take over the world), then the player playing Peter can use brownie points to get more die. One brownie point equals one extra die, so a smart player will spend two brownie points, giving them a total of 5 dice to roll. There is no way they can get less than the roll of 5 required.

It should be noted that Ghostmasters and players can use the outcomes to have fun. If Peter rolled 5 dice and got a five on each one, that s a total of 25 points and he only needed 5. Overkill equals humour in the Ghostbusters RPG. So a witty Ghostmaster can paint the scene of Peter successfully picking up the dog, and for good measure grabbing the cat and a bowl of goldfish on the way out. Funny!

The Ghost Die
The Ghostbusters RPG has one wild card to make things wildly unpredictable and fun. The Ghost Die. In the game, there was actually a special six-sided die with the no-ghost logo where the 6 should have been. Since you might not have the game at home (and why would you be reading this if you did?), you likely don t have a proper Ghost Die, which is why I suggested you get dice that were all the same colour except for one. The one die should be designated the Ghost Die.

Every time a player has to roll, one of the dice they use has to be the Ghost Die. If they happen to roll the ghost (or 6 if you’re playing without a proper Ghost Die), something goes wrong, even if your point total (which includes the ghost as a 6 by the way) says you should succeed. So in our above example Peter successfully rolled more than the 5 needed to lift the terrier, but the Ghost Die came up ghost, he picks up the dog, but it attacks him.

Now you have the basics to make a character and make them interact with the imaginary world of the Ghostbusters RPG. The only thing missing now, are the ghosts.

Additional Materials
Over the years, the web has produced a lot of excellent materials that may help a Ghostmaster. Some of these would be list, their original sites long inactive, and so efforts have been made in some cases to preserve them here at Proton Charging – all copyright remains with the appropriate holders.

Dead 7 – Rules expansions
The Collect Call of Cathulhu by Rik Kershaw-Moore
The Pizza Problem by Rik Kershaw-Moore
The Ooze Brothers by Chris Hodgson – Originally printed in three parts for Chaosium Digest
RPGNet review 1
RPGNet review 2
Proton Charging Interview with RPG designer, Scott Haring

NEXT TIME: Ghosts, running a game, and a few, optional extras.