|Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Role-Playing Game|
|RPG published by
West End Games
|Rule System||Original (precursor to D6 System)|
|First Publication||1986 (Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Role-Playing Game)
1989 (Ghostbusters International)
Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Role-Playing Game and Ghostbusters International ‒ colloquially and collectively called simply the Ghostbusters RPG ‒ are comedy/horror roleplaying games published by West End Games. The initial title was a shameless cash-in of the first movie, with Ghostbusters International helping suck in more cash following the second movie. Despite this, they were pretty darned good, and the system used was a precursor to the D6 System later used in many titles, including the Star Wars RPG. It's also the first game to feature a dice-pool mechanic, which changed roleplaying games forever.
Deliciously simple, the Ghostbusters RPG system used 4 basic Traits: Brains, Muscles, Moves, and Cool. To create a character, simply spread 12 points over those four Traits, putting at least one in each. For normal characters, five is the highest any Trait can be at character creation, but that's not a hard limit, and isn't imposed on NPCs or the pregenerated characters (see Setting).
To perform an action, a player rolls as many six-siders as the character has in the relevant Trait and tries to beat a number set depending on the difficulty of the task. Woah, hold on there. One of those dice has to be the Ghost Die, which doesn't have a 6, it has a nifty ghost symbol. If that side comes up, the player is screwed; it's a Bad Thing, and whether the roll makes it or not, Shit Happens. Conversely, when a GM rolls a ghost, it works in the favour of the ghosts. Raw deal, players.
Each of the four Traits gets a Talent, like a skill that's associated with the Trait. If it's relevant to the roll (like if Venkman is making a Moves roll to trick some hottie into bed with him, his Seduce Talent is absolutely relevant) then 3 more dice get thrown in the pool.
Even more dice can be added to the pool with the expenditure of Brownie Points, which were a very early showing of hero points. They also acted as experience points ‒ spending 30 bought a new point in a Trait, whereas a Trait could be sold off by a desperate character for 20 Brownie Points. In the original game, they also acted as hit points, but that was later replaced by a slightly saner system in Ghostbusters International that just imposed penalties to Traits as characters got progressively beaten up.
Another surprisingly insightful feature was the inclusion of Goals for characters, which encouraged roleplay ‒ remember, this was published in the 80s.
The basic premise of the setting is that the original Ghostbusters, particularly Peter Venkman and Louis Tully, love to make money, and can see great potential in screwing over small groups of people that want to run Ghostbusters franchises all over the world. Enter the players. The deal goes that the parent corporation will provide the hapless players with equipment and all that jazz, and in exchange will get a cut of the fees they charge. The Ghostbusters franchise will generally find its own customers (or, more accurately, the customers will find them) but the parent corporation can also step in and make the 'Busters do a mission for free while they rake in the monies. This is amongst numerous powers to shit on the local franchise that the parent corporation has. It's arguable that this game can be played to have more bureaucracy than Paranoia, also by West End Games, and comes with numerous photocopyable forms to get the players to sign, just like in Paranoia. Unique between the two, though, is that the Ghostbusters RPG has a Last Will and Testament for the players. Creepy, huh?
If that all sounds like too much, or the players really don't have any imagination for generating original concepts, they can play the original Ghostbusters or Louis Tully or Janine Melnitz or Dana Barrett. Truthfully, those characters are probably better used as NPCs by the Ghostmaster.
Whoever they play, the setting's baddies aren't limited to ghosts. The full range of cheesy B-movie monsters are available and encouraged, so the 'Busters might be facing off against vampires or creatures from the Black Lagoon or aliens, despite how thematically incompatible that would be with the original movies. While the Real Ghostbusters cartoon series isn't treated as part of the game's history, many of the concepts and storylines used in it would fit right in with the writing style of the RPG. No given GM has to give in to using those elements, of course, but the followup supplemental adventures really jumped the shark with things like Hot Rods of the Gods, an adventure about teenage aliens that felt like it was intended for a completely different game.
The original Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Role-Playing Game was pretty fresh for its time, on the cutting edge of rules-lite which was just about to become zeitgeisty. It had little cardboard equipment cards and the encumbrance rules were that you could carry three of them. Yes, that was the whole rule. The game had a lot in common with boardgames; it literally came in a box with a couple of books, some dice and the aforementioned cards. The illustrations were mostly of the stars of the movies, with little bits of text as quoted by Venkman, Spengler et al. A perfect gateway game to roleplaying.
Ghostbusters: International was a bit different. The rules were more crunchy, much more in line with the majority of pen and paper RPGs. Instead of equipment cards there were equipment lists, and there were rules for distances in combat. The claim is that this was all in response to customer demand for more detailed rules, but that claim has never been substantiated (and is unlikely to be, since West End Games is now defunct). Cynics say it wasn't broke, and didn't need fixing. Extra cynics say the game was only pushed out because of the impending Ghostbusters 2 film. True believers appreciate the more complex rules, and appreciate that anything beside a one-shot would need more than the first game provided. Suffice to say, opinion was and still is divided.
Do you see what I did there? The Ghostbusters RPG has inspired other games in two distinctly different ways.
The first avenue of succession is the system. As one of the first ‒ if not the first ‒ rules-lite game, it could be argued that all such games yet to come were inspired by it. S. John Ross cheerfully admits the role this game played in inspiring Risus, and all the D6 System games were to an extent derived from it (even if they went on to become significantly less rules-lite).
The other path is that of the numerous rip-offs of the setting. Obvious examples include Spooktacular, InSpectres, ExorSystems, and M-Force, each of which owe more than just a little bit to the Ghostbusters RPG, and don't you forget it.
Ghostbusters RPG on /tg/Edit
Talk of the Ghostbusters RPG shows up on /tg/ every few months or so, more often than a game of its vintage really has any right to. There have been at least two quests, as can be seen in the archive.