Saturday, March 28, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 2)

Ghostbusters - West End Games (1986)

Next up on the games that had a massive impact on me is another one of my favourite games of all time. Ghostbusters.

I was obsessed with Ghostbusters (the movie that is) and I desperately wanted to be Venkman when I grew up, so hearing that there was a roleplaying game? I was sold before I'd even looked at the back of the box.

The only disappointment for my youthful brain was the lack of character sheet. Looking back now I see it was a revolutionary work of genius, but despite the character sheet problem (that I remedied with some homegrown efforts) I could tell even then that the game was something special.

I mean, look at the thing - it was a work of perfect simplicity. It didn't need to be full colour, it didn't need anything except that logo on the front, and some dice. And one of those had the logo on it as well.

The thing about it was how quick and simple it was. The rules were possibly the most minimal thing I'd ever seen. And it introduced "Brownie Points", something that I'd never encountered before, allowing the players to fudge rolls, to tweak the outcomes and to generally make the story funnier, better and cooler.

The start of the Rules Chapter from
The Ghostbusters RPG
with thanks to
And story was what it was all about. No longer was it a simple dungeon crawl, it was about telling a cool (and funny) story. There were investigation elements, working out who the ghost was, what its typical behaviour was like, and then there was the fun of blasting the place to pieces with Proton Packs. And there was no dying. Buildings could be destroyed (and frequently did) and your characters would stagger out of the rubble in their underwear with a Wile E. Coyote dazed look on their faces.

There were adventures published in the Ghostmaster's rulebook, and what was a revelation, dozens of Story Hooks. Short adventure ideas that could be expanded to complete adventures. Brilliant.

We played Ghostbusters continually, I zipped through all of the Story Hooks in record time. We had some of the most bonkers characters (Coop's character of note was Mr. Oook, an orangutan with a Proton Pack) and some of the craziest adventures ever (I do remember the published adventure "Hot Rods of the Gods" was particularly wacky!).

Of course, without adventures (we'd gone through all the ones published) I had to design my own. And so I did something I hadn't considered before. I contacted the publisher...

A little self portrait I did at the height of
my Ghostbusters writing in 1987
I wrote a letter to West End Games and gushed about how cool and funny their game was, and they kindly supplied me the necessary release forms for budding authors. I saw this as a huge "Go For It!" sign, and promptly set to work.

The problem I had was that my life revolved around gaming and watching movies. So a lot of what I started writing was parodying movies in some way. Also, this was at a time that may seem alien to some... it was B.I. - Before Internet.

Writing was a laborious task involving a huge electric typewriter (not electronic, just electric) that had fans and stuff built in to keep it from overheating. It was about the size of a Volkswagen and when you needed to change the ink ribbon, the front lifted up like the hood of said car. Everything was typed up (double spaced), corrections made with those little Tippex Correction Strips, and then it was all photocopied and posted as a huge mass of A4 paper by airmail to New York to be read by those cool guys at West End Games.

So, what nonsense was I turning out?

The cover I did for Spooky Science.
This is a black and white photocopy
from 1986
I wrote two big adventures. The first was called "Spooky Science", a parody of Call of CthulhuIndiana Jones and Weird Science. 45,000 words of bizarreness where an automated computer system attached to the containment grid goes mad, a fitness cult open a portal to unleash their god, Yogurt-Soggoth, onto an unsuspecting New York, and the Ghostbusters have to escape from the Temple of Yogurt in an epic chase involving shopping trollies. I seem to remember the finale involving New York being flooded in yogurt, and the Ghostbusters arrive on the scene on wet-bikes.

Flicking through the photocopies of the manuscript that I'd recently uncovered, it isn't baaaad...  it's just filled with typos, and it's a little derivative. Mulu Pram, the high priest of Yogurt-Soggoth was an obvious rip-off, but it was a bit of a laugh, and a satirical dig at the fitness craze that was big at the time. I blame Olivia Newton-John. Hell, we all loved Olivia Newton-John at that time.

Anyway, I packaged it up, sent it off, then waited the expected three months for a reply from WEG.

I called New York, which in the days before Skype and Facetime was a costly and scary affair from the UK, and talked to someone at West End Games to confirm it had arrived okay. Then, a couple of months later, I received a reply. It was very positive, but explained that they'd already published a food-based adventure (with the first official scenario, Ghost Toasties) and I saw it as an encouragement to go ahead and write more.

The cover I'd supplied for Back to
Transylvania. Really, not good... (1987-8)
The second of the adventures I finished was "Back to Transylvania"a bizarre time travelling adventure where, through a freak accident in history, Dracula had started a vampire plague and the Ghostbusters had to travel back to 1859 in a time-travelling DeLorean to take on the dark master himself, to prevent the world becoming overrun by vampires.

Again, it drew heavily from Hammer movies, Back to the Future and even had a moment where the filming of the TV series Moonlighting was interrupted and Bruce Willis became a vampire (the scene that initially tips the Ghostbusters off that there's something strange in the neighbourhood).

The scenario also introduced new rules for having non-human Ghostbusters (mainly to include Scooby-Doo as a player-character) and a basic magic system.

Again, I photocopied it, and posted it off to New York, and eagerly awaited a response.

And again, I had a really nice response from the guys at West End. I'm sure it was Greg Costikyan who wrote to me (or it may have been Bill Slavicsek) to let me know what they thought. I have the letter somewhere (though it's in a pile of stuff that has moved since the "moving everything out of mum's house" thing happened), but I remember what it said even now, nearly 25 years later.

It said that "you can obviously write, but..." and then went on to explain that Bruce Willis and Scooby-Doo's owners may sue for using them in a comedy adventure like this. While I understood what they were saying, about not using real people or copyrighted characters, the key thing was that letter said I could write.

I'm sure it was Greg Costikyan (and if it wasn't I'm sorry, and this is directed at you) who wrote to me, and without that positive reply I would never have continued writing. I'd have just packed it in there and then, got a boring job in retail (this is called irony) or something, and given up. So whoever it was who wrote to me, thank you.

The cover to an adventure I didn't finish, based
on John Landis' fake movie title
"See You Next Wednesday" (1988)
Encouraged by this, I kept going, but I didn't get every far. I started work on a new scenario called "See You Next Doomsday" which was going to be a fairly basic zombies and "Evil Dead" inspired story, as I'd just seen Evil Dead II and the idea of a Sam Raimi style comedy-horror with the Ghostbusters sounded awesome to me. The title came from John Landis' "See You Next Wednesday", a non-existent movie that appeared in the background of a lot of Landis' films, which in turn inspired our RPG group's name.

I came to a grinding halt a handful of pages in, when I was inspired to do a different game... based upon the movie "A Nightmare on Elm Street" I ran a proper horror game (strangely, using the Indiana Jones RPG system from the original TSR game) which involved going into peoples' dreams and facing their night-terrors. It seemed to go down pretty well, so I thought about changing it and doing it a little more light-heartedly as a Ghostbusters scenario.

Again, taking its title from another John Landis movie, I started work on "Into the Nightmare", but real life interrupted, and I found myself a real job. It wouldn't be until many years later that I would go back to writing RPGs based on dreams...

Since then, I've been able to continue my obsession with Ghostbusters with a project I did for EN Publishing for their WOIN system. I thought I'd do my take on Ghostbusters with Spirits of Manhattan. Must admit, I loved going back to that comedic style of writing. Just great fun. Check it out - you too can drive around Manhattan in a converted Pope-mobile and face a giant building sized Edgar Allan Poe. 

[Disclaimer - Some of this post was originally featured on this blog back in 2012]

[Disclaimer 2 - My wish to bring the Ghostbusters RPG back with a new edition has not changed.]

1 comment:

Jeffrywith1e said...

I feel like now would be a great time for a new edition of Ghostbusters! I'd be all over that!