Who You Gonna Call?
Let’s not beat around the bush: InSpectres is merely an expensive license away from being the modern Ghostbusters RPG. It’s a game where you play a misfit band of everymen who’ve joined a small startup, franchised out from a central organization, that charges locals to deal with their supernatural problems. It’s funny, intentionally referential, and is directly tuned to use weird technology to fight the occult. Sure, you could use it to represent pretty much any modern monster-hunting setting you’d like… but you’ll spend your whole time knowing what the real inspiration is.
The game is a small, 80-page, one-volume work by indie great Jared Sorensen. While it’s pretty obviously inspired by Ghostbusters, it uses that to look into the world of business franchises with a dash of reality TV. It accomplishes all of this in the tiny space by keeping the game system very simple and focused. So this review is probably going to be shorter than usual.
The basic idea behind the system of InSpectres is running an investigation game where the PCs can’t fail to put together the clues to solve the mystery… because they’re creating the clues and giving them meaning themselves and the GM is just working to weave them into something of a narrative and provide conflict.
Each PC has four broad skills rated 1-4 (and a flavor trait that can give a bonus to skills in the right circumstance). When the GM calls for a roll (generally to uncover a clue), the player rolls a number of d6s equal to the relevant skill and keeps the highest die. If the result is 4+, the player gets to describe what he or she found, and rolls of 5-6 also earn Franchise Dice. Each scenario has a budget of Franchise Dice: once the players earn that total, the session wraps up with a victory.
Once per scene, players may also invoke a “Confessional” (a reality TV-style foreshadowing or character sniping directly to the camera) that allows creating new information without a roll (and may add new traits to roleplay to another character’s sheet).
Finally, players have bonus dice assigned to various things like Library Card and Bank that they can deplete to add to various rolls. Franchise Dice earned are largely spent to build back up these reserves after a case.
The GM’s role is largely reactionary after setting up the initial scenario, basically just trying to distill whatever clues the players invent into more game and keep the pacing on track so victory follows logically on getting the last die. The GM doesn’t get access to dice or stats, but does wield two mighty powers: deciding when a roll is called for (and, thus, maintaining pace and spotlight by keeping players from just rolling for everything) and invoking Stress. Effectively, anything from a monster attacking the character to just being cut off in traffic can cause a Stress roll of a variable number of dice. The player keeps the lowest die and compares to a chart: lower rolls result in long-term penalties to dice pools. Effectively, Stress makes the game harder as time goes on, and requires Franchise Dice to buy off after the session (“taking a vacation”).
The mechanics are so simple they can be described in totality in less than 20 pages, but they create some intricate results in actual play…