Who Ya Gonna Clone?

Ewen Cluney through his Yaruki Zero Games small press has quietly pulled off a little coup. Realising that the odds of the classic Ghostbusters RPG being republished any time soon is mininal, and further realising that precisely because that system was so delightfully light the number of integers you’d need to change to avoid copyright infringement would be limited (indeed, by avoiding direct references to Ghostbusters itself the job is mostly done), it would be entirely viable to make a retro-clone of the old game and unleash it on the world – which he has done in the form of Spooktacular.

Interestingly, though one of the various hands that West End Games’ corporate carcass passed through post-bankruptcy put out the D6 System on an OGL basis, Cluney does not seem to have seen any need to do the OGL thing here – possibly because the full-fat D6 System would be overkill for the purposes of reproducing Ghostbusters.

To a large extent Spooktacular is based on the nice, simple approach of 1st edition Ghostbusters; equipment cards aren’t used (but had barely any mechanical effect in 1st editon; that said, Yaruki Zero do sell a set of Spooktacular cards via DriveThruRPG), Brownie Points are called Awesome Points, but otherwise the general format and style is very much like 1st edition, right down to the nice, clear writing.

On top of that there are a number of improvements. Some of these arise from the 2nd edition of the RPG, Ghostbusters International, though they are implemented in a vastly less fiddly and complex way from the approach of that edition (which largely flinched away from the rules-light approach of 1st edition): these ideas are the concept of damage to PCs coming off their stats rather than their Awesome Points (though you can spend Awesome Points to avoid damage if you wish), which feels less aggravating than damage robbing you of the game’s most important resource, and the idea of getting special or critical successes if you beat a task’s target number by 10 or 20. Both concepts feel like useful new tools that don’t appreciably clutter the game, unlike the way rules additions and changes were handled in Ghostbusters International.

Other differences arise from Cluney’s own concepts. There’s the fun idea of giving each character a particular archetypal schtick, allowing them a bonus to their pools for stuff that happens to be in their personal wheelhouse; as well as a more grounded set of examples, there’s also a range of weirder archetypes available like psychics or monsters, allowing for a bit more character variety than Ghostbusters. On the subject of variety, there’s also nice options for customising your ghost-hunting business, as well as scope to tweak the flavour of your game. (If you’d prefer your spook hunters to work with more magical/psychic methods than pseudotechnological methods, you can totally do that.) Nice examples are given both of interesting cities to hunt ghosts in and of different ghost extermination businesses and ways you can provide an IC basis for their particular advantages or limitations. (I particularly like the operation that can’t afford its own containment unit, so has to pay to store captured ghosts in a warehouse specialising in spirit containment.) The idea of using Awesome Points to propose additions to the narrative is rather modern.

Perhaps the best change, though, is the tonal shift from the more overtly adversarial tone of the original game, in which West End’s Paranoia instincts kicked in and prompted much chortling about making the PCs look like total buffoons, and towards a much more co-operative tone – not that wacky chaos won’t result from the game anyway, but the residual 1980s GM-vs.-player attitudes are absent, and good riddance to be honest.

Rounded off with delightfully endearing artwork with way more women represented – Holtzmann and the rest of the new Ghostbusters crew would be right at home here – and Spooktacular is a small press home run, an absolutely perfect rebottling of Ghostbusters‘ distinctive flavour. By and large, it feels like a far better followup to 1st edition Ghostbusters than Ghostbusters International ever did, thanks to it retaining the gloriously rules-light approach of the original, and the changes it does make are near-universally for the better.

On top of that, just as Classified ends up being more broadly useful as an RPG by its retro-clone status forcing it to decouple from James Bond, the fact that Spooktacular can’t allow itself to be too slavishly bound to the precedent set by Ghostbusters broadens its usefulness similarly. The exact same rules set could happily be used for more occultist or spiritualist-focused ghost hunters, for instance, provided a similar sense of humour is welcome, and on thinking about it I reckon the system would be just about ideal for running a Scooby Doo RPG. Cluney apparently isn’t done with the project either, with some supplements apparently being on their way; if he keeps up the standards there then Spooktacular may turn out to be the definitive game line for Ghostbusters and its knock-offs – certainly, the core book gives the classic 1st edition boxed set a run for its money.

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