Tag Archives: Spooktacular

Spooktacular (and Sixtacular)

Spooktacular is finally out! Or at least the initial PDF is up for sale on DriveThruRPG. I still need to put together the POD versions (UPDATE: It’s now available in print through Amazon!), and I also want to make a set of reference cards for equipment and such. It’s been something like 18 months since I started on it, and while I would’ve liked to have it out sooner, James Workman‘s art turned out great, and the extra time let me polish and improve the text, so I’m pretty happy with the end result.

Spooktacular Cover

I wrote a blog post about it back in August of 2016 (wow), but Spooktacular is basically an updated retroclone of the West End Games Ghostbusters RPG, which was a forgotten gem of 1980s RPG design that among other things served as the starting point for the D6 System that powered the beloved WEG Star Wars RPG. Much like the many OSR retroclones of D&D, I’m hoping that with Spooktacular I can help preserve a pretty amazing game that was way ahead of its time, a game that created or was an early adopter for several innovations that we largely take for granted today. (Like, it legitimately appears to be the first RPG ever to use a dice pool mechanic.)

I made some relatively small changes to the rules, but for backwards compatibility the main thing you need to know is that 1 point of Ectopresence in Ghostbusters equals 2 points of Presence in Spooktacular, owing to the slightly different damage system.

Supplemental

I’m also working on some supplemental material for Spooktacular. I was originally planning to just make one big book called “Spookstravaganza,” but I have enough ideas that it seems like it’ll make more sense to do 2-3 smaller ones.

Ghostbusters is kind of a weird franchise in that its core it basically consists of 2 movies, but it has kind of a lot of non-canonical secondary stuff. There was The Real Ghostbusters cartoon in the 80s (with tie-in comics), Extreme Ghostbusters, a bunch of video games (most notably the 2003 Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which brought the original actors back to do voices, and for which Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis did a lot of the writing), the 2016 reboot movie, and the IDW comics series (which has established its own universe that’s had a series of crossovers with other titles). There have also been some surprisingly good tie-in books recently, notably Ghosts From Our Past: Both Figuratively and Literally (based on the in-universe book from the 2016 movie), Tobin’s Spirit Guide, and Ectomobile (which is framed as an in-universe guide to Ectomobiles and other gear for Ghostbusters International franchisees).

One of the major challenges of Ghostbusters is that the premise includes some concepts that should have mind-bendingly huge implications for that fictional world. The Ghostbusters have scientifically demonstrated the reality of ghosts–which at least strongly implies that life after death is a thing in some form–and technology to detect and capture them. Ghostbusters II essentially dealt with this by trying to sidestep the question entirely, declaring that despite the marshmallow kaiju smashing up New York, most everyone had decided that the Ghostbusters were full of shit, including the courts, and they had to essentially claw their way back to restarting their business. Patrick Willems did an interesting video about the idea that Ghostbusters is “a movie about nothing,” which I think nicely encapsulates how the original Ghostbusters somehow manages to be a more or less perfect comedy movie despite having no character arcs or themes per se, instead presenting a procedural plot that periodically bends towards a number of themes but doesn’t quite develop any of them. The 2016 movie in contrast was written with more modern storytelling sensibilities, making skepticism of the supernatural and social acceptance and friendship into important themes. It doesn’t have the perfect alchemy of on-screen chemistry, a new and irresistible concept, an all-around fantastic soundtrack, cutting-edge special effects, etc. that made the original film so incredible, but the use of clearer storytelling devices makes it a much better film than it could’ve easily become.

For an RPG, the good thing about all of that is that Ghostbusters doesn’t create too many expectations beyond using dodgy gadgets to zap ghosts. In Spooktacular I’ve tried to find a happy medium between charting out my own approach to the premise and leaving it open for the people playing to decide on their own. My ideal take on a Spooktacular story is kind of like a Graham Lineham comedy with busting ghosts, but maybe yours is different, which would be totally cool.

Between the source material, real-life reports of hauntings, and just exploring possibilities there’s kind of an enormous amount of stuff I can do for Spooktacular. I’m working on some new archetypes, new gear, options for different types of containment grids, a zillion different ghosts, paranormal organizations, a selection of human NPCs, dangerous paratechnology for NPCs villains to use, and monsters other than ghosts to spice things up now and then. I never really got the hang of writing up adventure scenarios, but Spooktacular is both a game that lends itself to them (unlike some of my other games that run more on GMing procedures) and a simple enough game that I already know the rules inside and out, so I’m seriously thinking of making the attempt.

Sixtacular

Sixtacular

I’ve been running a Doctor Who RPG campaign for some friends, and while the rules that Cubicle 7 put together for it are pretty good and the campaign has been a lot of fun, I kept thinking that something derived from the rules of Spooktacular could do pretty much the same job more simply. When I brainstormed ideas for different settings and genres to do with the system, I quickly wound up with an impractically long list of possibilities. While I want to do a bit more with the system myself, the sheer potential I see combined with the fact that it’s so much standing on the shoulders of giants led me to the idea of releasing it as an open system.  I arrived at the name “Sixtacular” for the system (owing to its familial relation to the D6 System), and I’m planning to release an SRD under the Open Game License so people can go to town making games. It may not amount to anything or there may be an annoying prevalence of games with “-tacular” in the title, but regardless it’ll be there for you to play with. The 1.0 version of the SRD will be a pretty basic thing with the Spooktacular core rules minus the tables and the ghost-specific parts, but I’m hoping that through myself and others developing the system further it’ll change and grow over time.

UPDATE: I added the SRD in PDF and docx formats to the Spooktacular/Sixtacular page:

Sixtacular SRD 1.0 (PDF)
Sixtacular SRD 1.0 (docx)

I’m planning for my next Sixtacular game after Spooktacular to be Zaptacular: Mad Science AdventuresRick & Morty is an important influence, but it basically mashes up elements of all my favorite comedy sci-fi stuff–Red Dwarf, Futurama, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, and many, many more–with a cynical modern-day Earth as the default setting (but options for time-hopping like Doctor Who, being lost in deep space like in Red Dwarf, and so on). There’s kind of a ridiculous amount of media that I really love that fits squarely into Zaptacular’s wheelhouse, as well as a bunch of my own random creations that work well with it, so I expect to have a lot of stuff to stick into the game’s multiversal setting.

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Catching Up

There’s been a bunch of stuff going on that I haven’t quite gotten around to posting about here, so here goes.

Kagegami High

The game is finally out! Well, the PDF is up for sale on DriveThruRPG. Getting the POD versions set up has been unusually difficult, since there have been some weird file conversion issues with CreateSpace, and DTRPG’s system for setting up POD titles is apparently messed up at the moment. Update: But it’s now up on Amazon at least!

Kagegami-High-Cover

The last push took a lot of energy, and I’m still kind of marveling at having written a 168-page book that’s so dense with references and setting info. I haven’t done all that much with setting in my games (though Dragon World is going to have the setting of Easteros in it), but this book is bursting with details about the school, and has 72 NPCs. My only regret is that I didn’t put more Utena-inspired stuff in.

Also the custom Weird Dice (and Spooky Dice for Spooktacular) are now available from IPR. Getting custom dice made through Chessex was pretty fun and easy, and definitely something I’ll do more in the future when I can find good excuses for it.

dice

Kickstarters

I have not one but two Kickstarters in the works.

Golden Sky Stories: Twilight Tales is the title we finally settled on for Mononoke Koyake, the first Japanese GSS supplement. We’re going to be properly publishing it in English and getting a print run of physical books, plus doing some nifty stretch goal stuff, albeit not nearly as much as last time (three books’ worth and then some was a bit much, not to mention the battle to get all the physical stuff printed and shipped). I was originally planning to do the Dragon World KS first, but Twilight Tales is closer to being ready, but really we’ll see how it all shakes out.

MK Cover.png

Dragon World is also going to be Kickstarting. I need to nail down some final planning stuff, and I’m waiting on the finished cover art (which is going to be elaborate, pretty, and very anime) before I launch. We also have quite a few stretch goals lined up, including some pretty cool stuff I’m looking forward to.

dragon world art sample

For both we’re going to be including wall scrolls from CustomWallScrolls.com among the rewards. We did that for GSS, and we were generally really happy with the quality and service.

DriveThruRPG Stuff

DTRPG has a thing where you get awarded a certain amount of Publisher Promotion Points, and I noticed that both the Yaruki Zero and Star Line accounts had accumulated kind of a lot, so I decided to make an effort to try using them. In addition to getting featured product impressions, I’ve tried having Golden Sky Stories, Kagegami High, and Maid RPG as Deals of the Day. The amount of sales that resulted wasn’t world-shattering, but it was substantially more than those games got without that extra promotion behind them, especially for Kagegami High (which hasn’t already gotten into the hands of quite so much of its potential audience).

Combined with the GM’s Day Sale, this is already one of the best months for RPG sales I’ve had in a while, so I’m thinking more about how to promote my stuff and reach more people, even though it’s potentially kind of a lot of work.

Other Randomness

  • I got inspired to check out the Savage Worlds version of Rifts. While I’m not really a fan of Savage Worlds, I was nonetheless really impressed and ended up buying all three books. (Though if I play an actual game with them I’ll probably use FAE or Strike! or something.) They managed to create a take on the world of Rifts that’s oriented towards having exciting adventures in that setting, where Palladium’s own books too often felt like an assortment of random stuff, which was cool but didn’t really cohere into a basis for stories. Each archetype is super-enthusiastic, and sells you on it being awesome to play, and in many cases makes changes that make it way more interesting.
  • A while back I designed Duel Questers, a mini-RPG thing for Millennium Blades, and it’s now available in the MB artbook. MB has a wonderfully bonkers setting, and it was a lot of fun to play around with it.
  • Jessica Price (PM at Paizo) has been posting some fascinating and insightful stuff about geek culture on her Twitter. Here’s a storify, and here’s another thread of note.
  • Nekomimi Land, a messed-up dystopian novel I’ve been working on for way too long, is nearly ready for publication, once my editor finishes with it. It’s raw and weird and imperfect, but I want to finally get it out into the world. It’ll also be my first self-published work of fiction, and I want to do more, albeit something a bit lighter next time.

Spooktacular

My deluge of freelance work has evened out a little, so I’ve had some time to seriously work on Spooktacular, to the point where I’m starting the first playtest. The core idea of it is simply to make an updated and streamlined serial-numbers-filed-off version of the 1986 West End Games Ghostbusters RPG, but it’s been a really fun and interesting project to work on so far. (Also, Amy Veeres is contributing some writing.) As things stand it’s most likely going to be a PDF/POD Yaruki Zero Games release. Most of my printed self-published stuff has been in 6″x9″ format so far, but I’ve been trying out and generally liking 7″x10″ lately. Part of it is just that it’s big enough that my habit of including a bunch of tables doesn’t require too much squeezing. Anyway.

I think I would sum up my overall approach as taking the core mechanics from the original RPG and more or less doing the rest by way of my own ideas and inspirations, creating a take on busting ghosts that’s uniquely mine, based on the related media and games I like and my own ideas about the whole thing. Stuff like InSpectres, Buffy, and Mob Psycho 100 (a currently airing anime series) played into the themes, and games like Apocalypse World, Maid RPG, PDQ, and Risus influenced the design.

ecto

Themes and Stuff

Coming at this as an adult fan has let me more seriously examine the themes behind Ghostbusters and write about my own take on it. The original movie was more about running a business, while the remake is more about science and skepticism, and I find both pretty interesting. The appeal of the overall franchise I think is in that where horror movies tell us that the unknown is deadly and only barely survivable, here the paranormal is not only something people can defeat, but something that can become another job. While there are serious challenges and the possible end of the world to consider, Ghostbusters also deal with a lot of ghosts with all the nonchalance of an exterminator spraying for termites.

I’ve realized that while the characters can and probably should be a bit weird and quirky, it’s like Fiasco in terms of being something that works best with relatively normal characters rather than cartoons. A lot of the appeal and humor comes from the juxtaposition of supernatural horrors with that mundane aspect. Ghosts as a verifiable phenomenon and the busting thereof are things that the premise superimposes on an otherwise pretty ordinary world, and it’s really interesting to think about what those ripples result in. (To me that’s one place where Ghostbusters II kind of fell down, since it tried too hard to “reset” the characters back to being nobodies who had to start from square one.)

One of my favorite parts of the book so far (and the one Amy is contributing to) is the “Interesting Places to Hunt Ghosts” section, which profiles various cities in terms of what it’s like to be a paranormal investigator there. I started with places I’m familiar with–San Francisco, Albuquerque, and Washington D.C.–and Amy is adding Philadelphia, Kyoto, and London. While I have nothing against New York, I’ve never been (I’d like to some time), and for me the personalized specificity of SF or Washington is much more interesting to me personally. I can imagine busting ghosts on Capitol Hill or a Google bus plodding down Market Street much more vividly than the streets of New York, and bringing that kind of personal experience to the table helps it feel more grounded.

Game Mechanics

While I kept most of the very core conceits of the original game, I am making some changes, a mixture of personal preference and general attempts to improve it.

The biggest change I made to character creation was simply adding a bunch of optional d66 tables for the various things you have to come up with. This is a technique I first came up with for Magical Burst (inspired by Maid RPG), and it’s served me well in a bunch of other games since. It’s a way to present a bunch of examples, provide a quick out for anyone who’s stumped, and gently shape the tone of the game, so it’s something I’ve wound up using a lot in my various games. I’m also inordinately happy with adding “Ate a Telephone Once” to the table of Quirks as a nod to the GBRPG rulebook’s penchant for using eating a telephone as an example.

The second biggest change is the addition of Archetypes, which give you a broad character type (Charlatan, Parapsychologist, Esper, etc.) and a special ability that you can use by spending Awesome Points (which are Brownie Points under a different name). While I do like the addition to the game, it’s becoming clear that I need good reference materials to keep it from becoming a drag on character creation.

In 1989, WEG put out a second edition of the RPG called Ghostbusters International, but fans by and large found that it overcomplicated the game. I’ve tried to implement a handful of ideas from it while streamlining it as much as possible. One of the major things that GBI does that looks like it would pointlessly slow down play is to use margins of success a lot. While you have the option to just treat it as a binary pass/fail, the game encourages you to subtract the target number from the roll result and compare it to a chart to see how much the character succeeded by, which is kind of a lot of extra math to pack into every single roll in what it supposed to be a pretty freewheeling game. We’ll see if it survives playtesting, but I came up with the concept of Exceptional Success and Ridiculous Success for when you succeed by 10 or 20 points (respectively), which I’m hoping will make it easy to do something with crazy rolls without excessive math involved. Likewise, I added the concept of damage to stats from GBI (with a little inspiration from Risus and PDQ), but tried to simplify it as much as possible.

I did away with any semblance of initiative or movement rules (not that the original game had a whole lot of that), and instead basically wrote a couple paragraphs about doing it the way Apocalypse World does (which also happens to be more or less how Maid RPG does it).

Anyway

I’m hoping this will be a fun game, and my own unique take on something that was a defining part of my childhood. (an obsession that the new movie actually rekindled stronger than ever). It’s generally been really fun to work on, and I’ve already commissioned James Workman (who did the illustrations for Fantasy Friends) to do some artwork for it.