The game system for InSpectres can be described almost completely in a few sentences, but it has some potentially unexpected ramifications in actual play, so I’ll hit the ones I encountered.
The Ridiculousness Bar
The first thing to keep in mind is that this is a game that gives players a high degree of narrative control in a lightly sketched, humorous setting. This means that you’ll very quickly deal with the situation of raising the ridiculousness bar. This is a problem* for a lot of high-player-control pickup games (I’ve had the same thing happen in Capes, for example). Effectively, when one player creates something strange, campy, or even farcical, that is now the new threshold for how things work in the game world. In the few sessions I’ve run, I’ve encountered (in rough order of least to most insane):
- A rent-a-cop that did away with a mall janitor by planting shaped charges in the sewers timed for when he was passing by
- Phase nets
- Cat-possessing evil spirits infesting a predator preserve so they can make ghost babies by having cougar sex
- Phase whales (which the phase nets were needed to catch)
- One of the player characters being declared a cyborg invented by another player character’s dog
It’s a pickup game, so it doesn’t really matter, but if you have a threshold beyond which you’d feel a game was too silly to play, you might want to set expectations for the other players up front.
* You may, in fact, actually consider this a feature. Please game with people with the same tastes as you when playing InSpectres 😉 .
Something that took me a couple of sessions to notice is that stress is deceptively potent as a GM tool. If your players are anything like mine, they’re going to make sure they have their niches covered: with only four skills, it’s pretty easy to make sure at least one person has the full four dice for each skill. With 4d6 (keep highest) and success on 4-6, you’re going to fail rolls less than 7% of the time and you’re going to roll 6 over 50% of the time. The required franchise dice melt away when your players can consistently get 1-2 per roll.
Stress lets you limit that. You can roll it for literally anything stressful, and it can be liberally seasoned throughout the session. One-die attacks are especially useful, as they are rarely very bad, and even have the chance to award a Cool die that protects against future Stress, but they still make the players nervous. And, as the franchise dice start rolling in, you can bring out the more climactic levels of Stress to further lower success chances. If done correctly, Stress allows you to create a power law franchise-die-to-time distribution: the players get the first half of the dice required very quickly, but then have to work harder and harder until they’re inventing like mad to scrounge up that last die to end the adventure before they’re stressed-out wrecks.
Players are conditioned to roll in RPGs. They say they want their characters to do something, they pick up the dice, and they let fly. You have to break them of this habit.
Introductory InSpectres scenarios can feature a dozen or fewer franchise dice required to complete the session. You get 2 dice every time you roll a 6 and, as noted above, that’s roughly half the rolls with a 4 die skill. A standard player barrage of “I’ll talk to the client, you research the client’s house, and you start working on some anti-ghost technology” could get you over halfway done with the session in less time than this took to read.
Instead, rolls need to be fairly sparing and only called for as the GM requires for pacing. “Say ‘yes’ or roll the dice” finds another good home here: there’s no reason not to just narrate minor victories early in the case when there’s no compelling reason for conflict. Wait for the players to get spread out (when they can’t necessarily bring their specialist to bear on a particular problem) before rolls start happening frequently, and, as explained above, make sure you begin liberally using Stress to reduce die pools as the session heats up.
Even with a completely inexperienced group, InSpectres scenarios don’t take long, but proper roll pacing is the difference between a 15 minute game with limited twists and an hour one that your players will be crowing about to their friends outside the group tomorrow.
Of all the systems in the game, the confessional is the one that feels the least integrated. It’s a mechanic to turn Ghostbusters into Ghost Hunters: it creates the premise that everything the characters are doing is being filmed for reality TV. So, the first root problem with it is that players that are in a Ghostbusters mindset will probably forget to use it at all. And those who do use it, might wind up abusing it.
The system is intended to do two things:
- Allow players to comment in-character on the other PCs and, thereby, assign them new traits to roleplay (they get bonuses if the do); e.g., “and we wouldn’t have gotten into any trouble if Jim wasn’t a Pyromaniac…”
- Allow players to put in a short stinger that changes up the way the group was conceiving of the scene; e.g., “and if we’d known about the old Indian curse on the place, we wouldn’t have agreed to spend the night…”
It’s effectively a way for a player to snatch total narrative control of the scene without a die roll. It can create your coolest or your most insane moments in the game. The confessional gave one of my sessions, “but what we didn’t know was that the man that we’d been talking to died a year ago today…” and immediately kicked an aimless mall adventure into an interesting ghost story. It also gave us “And he’s a cyborg… programmed by my dog” which kicked the ridiculousness bar super high and baffled the player running the new terminator for a canine Skynet.
So I guess I’m saying that the Confessional may be worth dropping entirely if your players aren’t all on board, and is at least worth setting some play contract boundaries to keep it from being used to seize the game’s narrative.