[Carnage 2009] GURPS Ghostbusters: The Lurker in the Limelight


They ain't afraid of no ghosts -- just the client's credit card being declined.

Friday night at Carnage was my moment of truth. This Ghostbusters game was the one in which I invested the most thought and energy over the last six months of con preparation. It’s also the one that most inspired me. Usually I beat my head against the wall in coming up with adventure details, but everything just flowed with this one. I even had the time and opportunity to run a playtest session in September. Even with all that preparation, though, I felt most nervous because I felt like this was the one that could go most badly. In retrospect, it was a lock in every regard except the possibility of players who didn’t get the mood and concept, but that was rather remote.

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How to Make a Pamphlet Prop

A helpful pamphlet for any recruit new to the dynamic Ghostbusters International organization.

A helpful pamphlet for any recruit new to the dynamic Ghostbusters International organization.

One of the little things I did for The Lurker in the Limelight was create a short orientation brochure for new employees of Ghostbusters International. I used it as a way to get a laugh at the start of the game, help give the players some useful lingo and an idea of how a bust goes down.

A glossary and breakdown of the ghost classification system give them some lingo to throw around without feeling they’ve been spoon fed, plus they have something to refer back to. The meat of the piece, six and a half steps to finding and busting a ghost, not only give the players an idea of not only how the action will go down, but also the nature of their characters’ employer, through the cheesy corporate doubletalk, as well as some helpful game mechanics tips.

I ran across the idea of an explanatory pamphlet many moons ago, on RPG.net. Someone linked to a brochure they’d written for their Nobilis game, entitled “So You’ve Been Ennobled.” It was a quick primer introducing a newcomer to the Nobilis cosmos, in the guise of someone explaining how things work to a newly ennobled Power. It was also very clever, and I was taken by the idea.

Another game that would benefit from a prop like this would be Paranoia. There are already props like printable table tents to help troubleshooters identify team members like the leader, morale officer and hygiene officer. A “Welcome to Alpha Complex, Citizen!” pamphlet would be a hoot, as well as helping newcomers get past the barrage of lingo and newspeak that too often serves as a barrier to getting what’s fun about the game.

Making a pamphlet is easy with a little word processor fu. First I tried screwing around with premade tri-fold brochure templates for Open Office, but decided that they weren’t very good and not the worth the effort. Here’s the quick and dirty way: Continue reading

Things I Learned From Playtesting The Lurker in the Limelight

Thanks to the selfless efforts of players throwing themselves upon the rocky shoals of my Ghostbusters adventure, I have gleaned the following insights on what needs revision:

  • Include research materials on Ecto-1’s load-out. Nobody thought to consult Tobin’s Spirit Guide. I suspect that was in part because they could have used a reminder such a thing existed.
  • It’s great to realize how severely one has over-prepared. It makes it so easy to pull material out of the air when you’ve had it tucked up your sleeve the whole time.
  • A 3d-1 cone of fire breath is too much for a Ghostbuster’s first day on the job — or first day at a new franchise, in Jim Monroe’s case. And they need some DR 1 padding in those flight suits.
  • The ending, as always, needs work. Typically I hover in a very uncomfortable area of not wanting to create a tightly defined “pixel bitch” solution, but not being very good at suggesting lines of thought to inspire the players to their own solutions that don’t amount to “we blast it a lot.”

All in all, it was a solid success. One of the most beneficial things I get from running an adventure is the things I make up on the spot then — like names and personalities for incidental characters — can be revised and presented less haltingly in the “real” play experience.

And now, after some updating of character sheets and my notes, it’s time to get on that Highway to Niflheim!

Lurker in the Limelight Playtest Tonight!

So the Lurker in the Limelight playtest got pushed back by a week, making tonight the night. Character backgrounds are written, sheets have been tweaked — I opted not to make slime blowers an option, as they’re presented as too much of a “solve all” piece of gear — the players have been wrangled and I’ve bashed out the sequence of events and character motivations to the point I feel comfortable running the game from memory. The notes are growing into a full-fledged adventure module, but I plan to keep them just in case of catastrophic brain fart.

I also resolved, for the moment, the question of mechanical representation of zapping ghosts with proton streams. After going over a number of different ways used in other games to represent ghostbusting — including the recent video game — I opted to go with Ken Hite’s “ghost blaster” in his Ghost-breaking article in GURPS All-Star Jam 2004. In addition to being native to GURPS, which is the system of choice for this adventure, it’s pretty straightforward. I don’t want blasting spooks to be tedious, so I’m hoping this mechanical take runs as quickly as it seems. This playtest will demonstrate whether that’s the case. And perhaps the biggest plus to playtesting tonight is, barring some revision work, I can turn my creative attentive fully to Highway to Niflheim, which has fallen so far back, it’s barely even on the stove.

Wish me luck!

Ghostbusting and You

The cover of an orientation brochure for new GBI employees.

The cover of an orientation brochure for new GBI employees.

Here’s another quick screenshot of something I whipped up in Open Office for this Ghostbusters adventure that so thoroughly dominates my brainspace lately.

Sometimes, I need to reassure myself that yes, I have spent plenty of time and thought working out the game itself, so making something like this isn’t just a method of procrastination by focusing on an inconsequential element at the cost of ignoring the real work waiting to be done. But yeah, I know I’ve got something good here.

Playtest next Thursday!

Making Sense of All the Little Ideas

I’ve been thinking about this Lurker in the Limelight adventure for more than just a month now — since April, probably — and making little nibbles of progress without the kind of solid strides forward in extending the concept to a broad framework that give me the confidence to believe I know where this thing is headed. Fortunately, this past Thursday I had just the revelation I was looking for that kicked off a major session of writing and adventure structuring.

The trouble was the antagonist really didn’t fit the location of the action. One just happened to place itself in the other and there was no interesting connection between the two. And the whole premise for this adventure grew out of “Hey, it would be neat to set a Ghostbusters scenario in a theatre.” The theatre practically is a character. It should have a meaningful connection to the agent precipitating the action. So making dinner this past evening, it finally hit me what to change to make it all work. And boy, does it work.

From that little change, I got pages of notes and ordered ideas that have been tromping around my head for months, as well as developed new thoughts and details to flesh it all out. Most of that is thanks to two techniques, both of which I picked up from Unisystem games, however tangentially.

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Today the Page, November the Tabletop

Screenshot from Google Docs.

Screenshot from Google Docs.

Here’s a quick peek at the beginning of my GURPS Ghostbusters adventure The Lurker in the Limelight, for Carnage this fall — can you tell I have a long development cycle?

For a while now, I’ve been writing my convention scenarios as though they’ll be published in some form. It helps me focus on the process and really work through possible chains of events if I act as though someone other than me may read and try to use it. I rarely actually write one start to finish, but it helps me get started and pointed in one direction.

Part of this tendency to writing an adventure out formally has to do with how super unprepared I was when I first started doing convention games — at a time when I had never GMed at all, no less. If anyone at Bakuretsucon in 2003 had actually wanted to play Adventure! or WitchCraft, I’d’ve been in deep ca-ca.

At this stage, most of what you see is a rough outline that I’ll fill in later, with names and greater detail as necessary. The list of characters, for example, is just to give me an idea of personalities and who’s filling what role in moving the action forward. “Football jock” will become something more substantive, but for now, I get the idea of their motivation and what good they are fighting ghosts.

Some day, I really will finish one of these, with a proper ending and everything, to a degree that I feel comfortable publishing it on the web. Given how readily the ideas are flowing for this one, The Lurker in the Limelight could be the one.