West End Games’ movie tie-in Ghostbusters RPG was released in 1986. That’s three years before there was even a sequel to Ghostbusters, so this was very much prime Ghost Busters time. The game was a fair success and laid the groundwork for West End Games’ better-known Star Wars RPG, which used a very similar system of dice pools. The Ghostbusters game was notable for its easy character creation, sense of humor, and relaxed playing style.
Zack: Fair warning, neither one of us has played this before.
Steve: Jamie’s older brother had it and I think I borrowed the books once, but we never played a game of it because we were obsessed with Car Wars at the time.
Zack: Jamie is the guy who had the dog that swallowed the string, right?
Steve: Yes, we used to game in his basement during the summer because he lived halfway between me and Keith and one time his dog swallowed like 20 feet of string and Jamie’s older brother Ryan pulled the string out of its mouth and it was all orange and gross.
Steve: We mostly played Car Wars, Battle Tech, and AD&D when Ryan would DM for us and let us use his figurines.
Steve: Oh and the dog used to crap everywhere in the basement and so it smelled down there.
Zack: So basically you played Car Wars in hell.
Steve: At the time it seemed cool. Ryan had Heavy Metal and Penthouse magazines that were super water damaged from a flood so the boobs would sometimes have black mold all over them.
Zack: This is like something out of a nightmare. Just stop it.
Steve: At least there weren’t ghosts.
Zack: Smooth segue.
Steve: Clearly we are playing this game because of the new and controversial Ghostbusters movie.
Zack: How do you feel about those bad ladies ruining your childhood, Steve?
Steve: It feels okay. The more Ghostbusters the better, that’s my attitude. Were you a ‘buster as a kid?
Zack: Back in the eighties and early nineties, bustin’ made us all feel good. But to be honest, I don’t really care about this movie because Ghostbusters II sucked so bad and the trailers for this one look bad. Go watch the Frighteners, it’s not great but it’s way better than Ghostbusters II.
Steve: You just made every single possible person mad with your opinion.
Zack: I like Kate McKinnon.
Steve: That’s not going to save you from the people like me who loved Ghostbusters II.
Zack: House II was a better ghost horror-comedy than Ghostbusters II.
Zack: Guess what Steve? I’m the Ghostmaster or whatever the DM is called for this, so I get to make my Ghostbusters how I want.
Zack: What’s your character?
Steve: It says start with choosing a picture, so I chose this as my picture:
Zack: What? Who is there? I don’t see anyone!
Steve: So I picked his main Trait is Muscle at 5 and his Talent for that is Wrestle.
Steve: His name is Alexei Dragomirov. He is a former Spetsnaz commando who escaped to the USA after his unit encountered the ghosts of civilians they had killed.
Zack: Alexei works as a janitor at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, North Dakota. You are cleaning the particle accelerator lab one night when an old man carrying boxes mistakes you for “Eric,” one of his TAs.
Zack: He speaks in the usual Minnesotan accent. “Oh, hey, the ah franchise license came through from New York, Eric. The proton pack kits arrived. We are, ah, officially Ghostbusters now.”
Steve: “Bust of Ghost? What is this, Professor?”
Zack: “Oh, ya, well, some may be rather chesty, but ghosts are unlikely to be endowed per se. More often they will resemble skeletons or some other sort of discorporeal entity.”
Zack: You realize this must be Professor Aldo Dunkheimer, the eccentric particle physicist at UND. You’ve read his newsletters he circulates about ghosts.
Steve: “Da, I bust ghost. I am, how you say, haunted?”
Zack: Professor Dunkheimer straps you up with a proton pack. He already has one on himself. “Ya, there ya go, now come with me, I’ve set up the test outside.”
Steve: I’ll go with him.
Zack: He leads you out to the courtyard of the university’s science building. He has a device you recognize from his newsletter as a ghost trap. He reads a small card, squinting through his thick glasses.
Zack: “This trap contains a level 1 projecting entity or ‘ghost’ for the purposes of testing your equipment. Please place the ghost in your containment unit when testing is complete, as even a level 1 entity can be dangerous if not taken seriously.”
Steve: “There is ghost in trap?”
Zack: “What? Oh, hmm, ya, seems so. Let me test the PKE meter.” He waves a beeping wand-like device and it gets louder the closer he holds it to the ghost trap. “You betcha. Seems to be workin’.”
Steve: “I bust now. Open trap.” Switching on my proton pack.
Zack: It whirs up to speed. You feel the intense magnetism on your back.
Zack: “Alright, be ready, Eric. I believe these things may be very wily.”
Steve: “I fight mujahideen in mountains. This is very wily. Ghost? Not wily.”
Zack: “If you say so, Eric.”
Zack: He steps on the trap trigger and the small doors on the box snap open. A cone of light shoots out of the opened trap and a translucent, glowing humanoid shape comes tumbling out and flies into the air. It looks sort of like a pillowcase with arms and legs and floppy head. It rolls through the air, yawns, and settles onto the branches of a tree.
Zack: “It’s an entity of pure sloth,” whispers Professor Dunkheimer. “We must not, ah, underestimate him.”
Steve: Blasting him!
Zack: Energy streams burst out of your proton gun in the general direction of the ghost, but it’s not like aiming an AK-47 at the Taliban. This is like trying to use a leash to lead a frenzied ape onto your target.
Steve: Good thing Alexei is wrestling as all heck. He wrestles that stream into submission.
Zack: You carve wild, smoking lines up the walls of the college and sever limbs from the tree. Just as you’re about to hit the ghost, it shoots into the air, avoiding your stream.
Steve: “Shoot him, professor!”
Zack: Aldo switches on his proton pack and is flung to the ground like a kid turning on a fire hose. The stream of energy nearly takes off your head. He manages to release the grip and stop shooting.
Zack: “Aw jeez!”
Steve: I guess it’s on me. I’m going to take another shot at this ghost.
Zack: It’s coming right for you!
Steve: Blasting it!
Zack: The ghost weaves through your streams of energy making “Mmmmwwwwa!” sounds and it flies right through you, leaving you covered in slime.
Zack: It escapes into the particle accelerator lab where you hear cartoonishly loud snoring.
Steve: “We keep this one. Call him Sleeper.”
Zack: Sleeper loves nappies.
Steve: So are Aldo and “Eric” Ghostbusters now?
Zack: Yes, of course you can’t work out of the university, especially after Aldo gets fired for torching trees in the courtyard. You set up a base of operations at a hunting lodge and you have one of those Duck tour amphibious trucks for your ECTO-1. Sleeper follows you to the new location and his snores can frequently be heard throughout the lodge. Sometimes he makes the many stuffed heads on the walls come to life Evil Dead style.
Steve: Sounds like my kind of life.
Steve: Are we making money as Ghostbusters?
Zack: Curiously, no, even though the Ghostbusters craze is huge on the East Coast, your ads on public access in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota have so far only generated some false alarms caused by raccoons.
Steve: “Professor we do something big. Bust big ghost.”
Zack: “Oh ya, like a publicity thing? Good idea, Eric.”
Steve: “We go to Afghanistan. Many ghosts there. We bust them.”
Zack: “Well Jeez, Eric, we don’t have to go so far as that. There is a legend of some ghosts over Bemidji way haunting Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. You know?”
Zack: “The lumberjack legend. He’s a giant and he has, ah, Babe his ox. There are a couple statues over in Bemidji. Might be a good place to start.”
Steve: Right. Packing up DUCK-1 and bringing some grenades, shotguns, automatic rifles, that sort of thing. Just in case there are any insurgents.
Zack: It’s early fall and horrible to drive in DUCK-1 because it has a canvas top. You’re both wearing heavy parkas designed to look like part of your Ghostbuster uniforms, which are insulated overalls with reflective stripes on the legs.
Steve: I prefer arm bands and a funny t-shirt, but I guess I have to make adjustments now that I’m bustin’.
Zack: You arrive at a huge statue of a lumberjack beside a statue of a giant blue ox. They tower over DUCK-1 and look ominous in the floodlights.
Steve: “Is this Pavel Bunyan?”
Zack: “Oh ya, that’s him. You betcha. Think there’s a gift store sorta gas station thingy, we can fill up the old Duck and have a look see.”
Zack: You see a gas station with a station wagon parked outside fueling up and a mom in a puffy coat looking at your vehicle in confusion. An old timer in a flappy hat comes out of the station and walks towards you.
Steve: “Greetings we are the buster for ghost. You have ghost?”
Zack: “Ghost, huh?” He scratches his scruff. “Ya, got some ghosts. Never saw the need for bustin’ them. They just do their thing out back.”
Steve: “We investigate ghost. We bust for free.”
Zack: “Well, okay then, you can have a look for yourself, but don’t get them too wound up.”
Steve: Me and Aldo are strapping on our proton packs and heading out back. Checking with the PKE meters.
Zack: There’s a mine in the hills behind the gas station. The entrance has been converted to a gift shop, but you get PKE readings from a hatch in the back of the shop. The old shopkeeper open the hatch up.
Steve: Switching on some flashlights and going down.
Zack: “Careful down there. There might be some rickety mine carts that you don’t want to mess with.”
Steve: How long has this mine been abandoned?
Zack: The gas station owner is not following you down, but he shouts a reply. “Since the collapse in aught three. Killed the Chinese. That’s why the ghosts are Chinese is what I figure.”
Zack: You’re out of earshot now, so no more questions for him.
Steve: Can we follow the PKE meter?
Zack: Aldo is getting good readings. Very strong down a particular tunnel in the mine. You go deeper and deeper until you reach a huge empty chamber, some sort of natural cavern. A glowing scaffold of tracks for the mine cart crosses a gap. A ghostly cart sits on your side.
Steve: “Can mine cart be ghost?”
Zack: “Well, ah, I suppose it is possible that a mine cart was immersed in enough psychic turbulence to leave an after-image of itself, so, yes. In theory.”
Steve: “And track we can cross?”
Zack: “Again, in theory.”
Steve: “Okay, you first, in cart. I push.”
Zack: “Well, jeez, ah, it’s purely a theory, Eric. We should run some more tests.”
Steve: “Test is you, professor!” Throwing him over my shoulder, plopping him in the mine cart and shoving it onto the scaffold.
Zack: You push the mine cart onto the glowing scaffolding. It slides easily and something seems to grab the cart out of your hands, pulling it across. Your foot, however, plunges through the scaffold. You realize you’re either going to fall backwards, away from the cart, or tumble into the cart with Aldo.
Steve: I’m going with him. Jump into the cart.
Zack: It turns into a wild ghost coaster almost immediately, flying over ghost tracks and through caverns where you see ghost miners still chipping away at stones. You are unceremoniously dumped out of the cart and onto the a pile of slimy ore as you see a huge, glowing heart surrounded by ghostly miners.
Steve: “This is not good, professor.”
Zack: He holds up the PKE meter and it might as well be doing that thing in a cartoon where a thermometer busts out the top when it’s hot. There is so much psychic energy it is blowing out the meter.
Steve: How many ghost traps do we have?
Zack: You each brought one with your gear. There are a couple more in DUCK-1.
Steve: How many ghosts?
Zack: 25 or so miner ghosts, plus this weird giant heart the size of a Volkswagen. It beats every few seconds and sends out puffs of ghost vapor from its disconnected arteries.
Steve: So I’m guessing these miners are like harvesting psychic ore and piling it up into this heart thing to come back to life.
Zack: No, not anything like that, but close enough.
Steve: Maybe it’s the ghost heart of a giant who died back in the time of giants.
Zack: No such time.
Steve: Dinosaur heart?
Zack: “Perhaps this is the heart of industry,” suggests Aldo. “These miners are still serving the psychic force that claimed their lives and by doing so for all these years it has manifested separately.”
Steve: “Is ghost of industry? Is alive?”
Zack: “In, ah, the sense that any ghost is alive. Like our friend Sleeper. He’s no spirit of the dead, he is a raw psychic projection.”
Steve: “We don’t have traps for this. Maybe I should go back and get grenades. Blow whole mine up.”
Zack: All of the miners turn slowly to face you. Some look almost alive, but most of them are rotting away to bones and tattered clothes.
Steve: “I think you pissed off ghosts, professor.”
Zack: “Me? What did I do?”
Zack: The ghosts are coming towards you, raising pick-axes and moaning like zombies.
Steve: “Retreat! I will lay down suppressing fire!”
Steve: Blasting these dudes with the proton pack.
Zack: Your proton pack sends out twisting streams of pure energy that you swing back and forth, raking the ranks of ghosts and sending several tumbling away. Your stream of energy slashes across the heart and it’s like a defibrillator. It starts pumping out ghostly fog that fills the room.
Steve: “Nyet good!” Going to stop shooting and start retreating.
Zack: The ghost miners regroup and behind them you can see the shape of the giant heart seemingly crawling up through the steam onto the ceiling.
Steve: “RUN! Professor, RUN!”
Zack: He’s trying to run, but he’s pushing 60 and is carrying an unlicensed nuclear reactor on his back.
Steve: “I give you ride!” I’m picking him up and carrying him.
Zack: You reach the scaffold and realize you don’t have a mining cart to cross it.
Steve: Can I go back?
Zack: The spreading fog has enveloped where you left your mining cart.
Steve: Is there some way we can use our proton packs or even our ghost traps to make the bridge solid for us to cross?
Zack: What is your Brains stat?
Zack: What is your Brains Talent?
Steve: Sports Facts.
Zack: You think that setting your proton pack to overload would be like juicing for baseball and allow you to win the home run competition.
Steve: “I have good idea…”
Zack: “It gives me an idea. I’ll supercharge one of the ghost traps and position it so the aperture energizes the scaffold. We’ll only have seconds to cross.”
Steve: “Do it, professor. Fast. Evil ghost chasing us now.”
Zack: The professor makes has seven dice in nuclear engineering plus brains, plus he spends three brownie points to do it quickly. He uses his proton pack to supercharge the ghost trap. You swing it off the rocky outcropping and he triggers it, catching the scaffold in the beam of the trap.
Zack: “Ya, well, ah, time to go I think.”
Steve: Grabbing him. Hauling butt across that bridge.
Zack: You sling Aldo over your shoulder and go running. The bridge feels weirdly squishy under your feet. Like running on a water bed or something. You’re about halfway across when the miners appear from the fog, chasing you onto the bridge. One by one, they become stuck as the bridge starts to crumble behind you.
Steve: Running as fast as I can. Not looking back.
Zack: “You may want to run a bit faster,” suggests Aldo.
Steve: Looking back.
Zack: The bridge is falling apart, plank by glowing plank, and forming a spinning wad of ghost miners and ghost planks caught midair in the beam of the trap.
Steve: Jumping the last few feet to the other side! “Ahhhhhhhh!”
Zack: You’re not going to make it.
Steve: Can I spend brownie points?
Zack: Two will get you there.
Steve: I’ll spend three so I can land like a badass and turn around and say, “Dasvidaniya!”
Zack: A blinding flash sucks the bridge and the ghost miners into one trap. It is steaming and hanging from its cable. The remaining miners brandish their picks menacingly.
Steve: “Who you call? It is us, the busting ghost men.”
Zack: The enormous heart, now sprouting legs from every artery and climbing on the ceiling, comes out from the fog in pursuit. It lets out an unearthly roar.
Steve: Okay, not good. “Call more ghost busting mans please.” Running like heck for the exit.
Zack: You make it out of the mine, the heart ghost monster smashing after you and bursting the timbers of the gift shop.
Steve: “Shoot it, professor!”
Zack: He tries as you’re carrying him, blasting wildly at it. The streams seem useless, but the ghost suddenly veers away, disappearing behind a nearby hill.
Steve: Running for DUCK-1.
Zack: “Jeez, you just busted up my whole gift shop. You know how many ‘mine your own taconite’ kits I sell to kids every year? At least four.”
Steve: “Gentlemans, bad ghost is on loose and very peesed off. Is good idea now, call sheriff, yes?”
Zack: Just then you hear the horrifying roar of the heart and it leaps atop the shoulders of the statue of Paul Bunyan. With another ear-shattering wail it jumps into the statue of the giant lumberjack.
Steve: “This is also not good.”
Zack: “What the christ,” says the gas station owner. “I’m calling Earl.”
Zack: “This is a Class 6 Entity!” declares Aldo. “Incredible. Very few have been spotted.”
Steve: “Class is not in session, professor. We go now. Get ghost buster tank before Pavel comes to life.”
Zack: You’re too late. As people filling up their cars at the gas pumps start screaming, you see the Paul Bunyan statue come to life. It’s foot lifts from its pedestal and it steps down with a thud that shakes the earth. It smashes DUCK-1 onto its side. The giant lumberjack, now with glowing red eyes, sets off for the quiet town of Bemidji.
Zack: TO BE CONTINUED…
Steve: Oh, this isn’t good. How are we supposed to stop this thing?
Zack: You have about a week to come up with something!