Ghostbusters: 30 years on

Ghostbusters is one of my favourite films. I was saddened to hear of the death of Harold Ramis earlier this year. RIP Mr Ramis. He not only co-wrote it with Dan Ackroyd but also starred in it as Egon Spengler (whom I resemble in certain respects!).  I’d originally planned to blog about the Temple of Elemental Evil, but this turned up in my Twitter feed this AM. I’m not usually a fan of standup comedy in general, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. I’ll not miss a chance to see one of my favourite films in a social environment. Plus the Counting House is a gamer friendly environment (although we’re usually in the Attic/Loft).

Des O'Gorman: Ghostbusters
Des O’Gorman

Ghostbusters isn’t a well-crafted film. It’s not up there with Citizen Kane (or Superman 2!) in cinematic importance. It’s one of those movies where you’re rooting for the good guys – even Venkman – because they’re normal everyday guys. So are the people they deal with in the movie. They’re not buffed up, sanitized movie idols. They smoke, eat take-out and generally have all-too human failings. If they choose to remake Ghostbusters, I suspect they’d have Ryan Reynolds into the Venkman role, and Seth Rogen as Stanz. Urgh. Let’s hope they leave it be – Hollywood should leave well alone. I know there was talk of a Ghostbusters 3, but based on 2’s reception I think it’d lose a lot of the charm. Plus, most of the film wasn’t filmed as scripted – many lines were ad-libbed! See the Ghostbusters IMDB trivia entry for more info.

Ghostbusters is very much a RPG player’s movie. It’s one of those movies that your group will start quoting at any given time, no matter the genre. Also included in this list are: ANY Monty Python (film or sketch!), the Italian Job (original, not remake), Aliens, and the Batman movies (all!) to name a few. Usually this delays the game for about 5 minutes as the players (and GM) try and remember other quotes. For me that’s part of the fun of the game. I suspect that a few GMs would take an exception to this: to them I say: lighten up! So you’re playing a horror game like Cult or Vampire: big deal. It doesn’t have to be unrelentingly grim, dark, and bloody all the time. A game is played for enjoyment.

Which brings us to the Ghostbusters RPG.

The Ghostbusters RPG

The Ghostbusters RPG was one of the first to use a dice pool mechanic. Published in 1986, by West End Games.  The RPG used what would later become the d6 system in Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game the following year. You can expect a future post in why the Star Wars RPG is still much-loved by me! Later this dice pool mechanic was adopted in games like Ars Magica, Vampire: the Masquerade (and spin-off WoD games, and notoriously: Shadowrun.

The game is minimalist. The rules are intentionally light, as befits a comedic game. The premise is pretty simple. The original Ghostbusters have now become an international franchise (Ghostbusters International) and the PCs are franchise operatives in a town/city outside of NYC. Often this is the player’s home town (why not?).

What’s interesting is the designers for the Ghostbusters RPG. Two of the designers worked on Call of Cthulhu: Sandy Petersen (who also worked on the Doom PC game) and the late Lynn Willis. The other was Greg Stafford, creator of the Runequest and Pendragon RPGs. So the game has quite a design “pedigree”.

The boxed set (which I own) contained everything you needed to play. These included dice and character sheets. It also includes a guide to ghostly terminology, Ghostbusters International Membership/business cards,  a “Release from Damages” form and an EPA permit. Very much in keeping with the movie! It also included a “Ghost dice” that could be used to influence both PCs and NPCs. Very similar, when I think about it, to the dice used in Star Wars: Edge of Empire

As a game, I’ve only ever run a single session of it. It was fun, but I was dealing with players who’d only played Vampire or D&D, so I think they had less fun. I’d set it during an RPG convention. At some point in the future, I may put the adventure up for download!

More information on the Ghostbusters RPG is on wikipedia.

Oh, and we’re ready to believe you.


Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at and regularly play RPGs.

2 replies on “Ghostbusters: 30 years on”

  1. I had the joy of running this game a couple of times and it was a lot of fun; the players really got into the spirit of the game. I was going to try to find my copies before I discovered InSpectres, a similar game with a modern design mechanic.

  2. The game is a lot of fun to both play and also run; the minimalist mechanics really let the players get into the spirit of things. If you don’t want to shell out for a second hand copy and seek a modern take on this classic game I’d recommend InSpectres.

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