When There's Something Strange
After watching the new Ghostbusters movie recently, it occurred to me that the adventures of 4 or so heroes from a variety of backgrounds united only in their need to keep ghosts from terrifying the world was a perfect premise for an RPG. It easily allows for characters of diverse abilities and motivations, unifying them with funky science gear and a constant stream of foes. The nature of ghosts as an enemy is useful. They need to be tracked, but leave a lot of evidence behind. They can be used for comedy, horror, or just simple scrubs to fight. They can be big bad things that wreck the city or foul sorcerers who threaten reality itself. This setting is ready for play.
There is an old RPG out there using the D6 system that Star Wars gaming made famous. I’m an old fan of that dice mechanic, but Cypher System is not only easier to get ahold of, but it’s quite well suited to action-packed investigation filled with comedic mishaps (Intrusions).
So let’s do it.
First let’s start with what’s easy. There are a lot of foci which immediately spring to mind as useful in this setting. We’re clearly in Science Fiction as a genre, put within Modern/Horror times, so there are quite a few foci the book suggests. Pairing it down a little, here’s my own suggested list:
Calculates the Incalculable
Conducts Weird Science
Consorts with the Dead
Crafts Unique Objects
Doesn’t Do Much
Explores Dark Places
Fights with Panache
Howls at the Moon
Interprets the Law
Is Idolized by Millions
Is Licensed to Carry
Looks for Trouble
Moves Like a Cat
Needs No Weapon
Never Says Die
Works the Back Alleys
Works the System
Would Rather Be Reading
Ghost Busting Flavor
This is where things get fun. Let’s assume that since this is a kind of mad science setting, that any “magical” seeming Type powers are actually just science, such as those employed by Adepts. They require equipment and some technobabble to pull off. In fact, many of the specialized abilities we might want in this setting could be made into a kind of Flavor, a group of available Type powers such as those that would allow the use of proton packs or ghost traps.
So, the Ghost Busting Flavor is as follows. Characters in this setting begin play with the Proton Pack ability for free after they’ve used on in a combat or weapons test scene (allowing for one good “training” scene if you want the comic relief). All other abilities must be purchased as Tier powers.
Proton Pack. You are capable of firing a proton pack without any major issues, and count as practiced when wielding one as a weapon. Characters who attempt to use the packs without this ability suffer an Intrusion automatically during any round in which they fire the pack. Proton packs are heavy ranged weapons dealing 6 damage to material objects and creatures, but dealing 8 damage to ghosts, other undead, and anything else powered by “negative energy”.
Alternatively, they may be used to grapple ghosts at up to Long distance away. Multiple proton packs may be used to grapple the same ghost, allowing assisting characters to provide an Asset to the primary grappler (regardless of their skill level with the weapon). You may spend your movement to move a grappled ghost the same distance you would have traveled.
Crossing the streams of proton beams can be dangerous, unleashing 30 damage to everyone within Long distance of the event and knocking them a Long distance away from the blast. Additional GM Intrusions are likely in order.
Equipper. You are capable of constructing proton packs, ghost traps, and other important ghost busting gear given time and materials. Characters with the Constructs Unique Objects focus begin with this ability automatically.
Ghost Detector. As an action you may make use of a PKE meter or other phenomenon detecting device to learn the general direction of ghostly entities within double Long distance.
Ghost Trapper. You are capable of using a ghost trap to capture ghosts. The creature in question must be down to zero Health. You can trap a ghost within Immediate distance from you by spending an action kicking the trap under and activating it. If someone has already set a trap within Immediate distance of you, you may activate it to trap a ghost by merely using your movement for the turn. Someone without this ability may attempt to use a trap (the mechanism is simple enough) but must succeed in a Speed task with a difficulty equal to the Level of the ghost to do so.
Custom Proton Weapon. You possess, and are practiced with, a proton weapon similar to the standard proton pack wand. However this weapon is of a different form, such as a medium or light “proton pistol” or a melee “proton axe”. Whatever you can imagine and want to wield. The weapon deals two more damage than normal against ghosts and other negative energy beings, and can be used to grapple them from afar if the weapon is ranged.
Experienced Buster. You are trained in attacks using proton weapons of all kinds.
Ghost Mover. When you move a ghost that you’ve grappled with a proton weapon, you may still move that distance yourself.
Advanced Ghost Trapper. You may trap more than one ghost at once using a trap, so long as all targets are within short distance of you and each have 3 or fewer Health left. Prerequisite: Ghost Trapper.
Master of the Proton Pack. You are specialized in attacks using proton weapons of all kinds. Prerequisite: Experienced Buster.
The following skills are suggested for inclusion in the setting. A single skill for Science is included instead of any specializations because this is more of a mad science setting. For similar reasons, there’s just one Technology skill that’s all encompassing of construction and repair of simple and advanced tech.
Knowledge: The Occult
Knowledge: Local History
As ghosts are the primary antagonists of the setting, it’s worth exploring just how they work.
Ghosts are incorporeal, which means they can pass through solid objects without taking damage if they choose. This means that any weapon other than a proton pack weapon will deal no damage. However, they can still interact with the physical world whenever they want, allowing them to pick up objects or even drive vehicles.
The Ghostbusters use a classification system for the types of ghosts they deal with, to be found here.
I suggest taking the Class of the ghost and adding 1 to get the base Level of the foe. Thus a standard class 4 apparition is a Level 5 creature, a somewhat challenging encounter for a group of Tier 1 characters. That page also has a great list of additional attributes a ghost might have, such as being caustic or telekinetic.
Nearly all ghosts can hover in the air and fly at Immediate, Short, or Long distance as their movement, depending on the class of ghost. I’d go with Immediate for Class 3 or lower, Short for 4 to 5, and Long for 6 to 8.
Finally, ghosts are scary. Be sure to use the shock rules on page 261-2 of the CSR.
Besides proton packs/wands and ghost traps, the following equipment is probably at the disposal of the group, depending on the premise of your game.
Ecto-1. An old beat up vehicle repurposed for hauling the heavy proton packs and other gear. Level 5 device.
Ecto Containment Unit. A large machine used for long term storage of “entities and vapors” collected by the traps. Level 7 device.
Jumpsuits. Though they appear to be merely clothing, the reinforced nature of the Ghostbuster uniforms makes them light armor (Armor 1). Level 2 item.
I suggest using a combination of subtle and manifest cyphers, depending on your game. A group that has one or more scientist/tinkerer types might acquire manifest cyphers during downtime as odds and ends are constructed in the lab. Groups that are more investigative or martial might just get manifest cyphers as they snoop around and defeat foes.
Within this particular setting, artifacts could be grabbed from the various occult items in the Horror genre section, as well as a few of the items in Science Fiction. It’s really up to you and dependent on the kinds of stories you find yourself telling. It’s possible your artifacts might just be periodic improvements to the group’s gear. Proton packs that weigh less or provide assets on grapples, traps that can be slid a longer distance away, etc.
I’ve recently witnessed several discussions online debating whether Ghostbusters is horror or not. The Horror genre Horror Mode rules might be useful for us either way. If you’re not familiar, these rules are on page 262 and essentially cause the likelihood of a rolled Intrusion to escalate with time or the more Intrusions are rolled. In a comedy setting such as this, this works well, as slapstick or suspenseful events unfold during important scenes. Be sure to use these rules at the very least during the climactic final battle.
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures