RPG Overview – InSpectres
For as long as tabletop roleplaying games have existed, their name, and indeed their very concept, has been synonymous with Dungeons and Dragons in the mind of many people. This isn’t unreasonable; after all, not only is D&D the line that invented the entire hobby, but for most of its existance, it’s been the top seller, and certainly front and center from a marketing perspective. Indeed, a quick look at the RPG shelf at your local hobby shop will likely show you either nothing but D&D, or that along with some games that share many of its core concepts: character classes, stat/skill pairings, level advancement, ect. In fact, even if you aren’t a tabletop gamer, you probably recognize several of the terms I’m using from video game RPGs, like Final Fantasy.
So, D&D undoubtedly created the mold, but they’re not the only game in town. The last decade in particular has seen the rise of a second type of tabletop RPGs called ‘storygames’. While still retaining much of the feel of more traditional RPGs, these tend to have less in the way of rules (particularly where combat is involved) in order to provide a more dynamic framework for the story and storytelling itself. A few even eschew the concept of a single Game Master telling the story and running the show in favor of putting all players on equal narrative footing. We won’t be going quite that far today, though.
The game I want to talk about today is InSpectres, by Jared Sorenson’s Memento Mori Games. The pitch is simple, but ripe with comedy value: you and the other players are employees at an InSpectres franchise, which is essentially Ghostbusters without as much cool gear. Or any idea what they’re doing. See, times are tough all over, so hiring standards have been a bit lax. Your characters don’t actually know anything about the supernatural; they all come from banal backgrounds that are guaranteed to give them no relevant on-the-job skills whatsoever. But who cares! It can’t be that hard to pick up, can it?
Rules for the game are pretty simple as well. Every character consists of 4 attributes (Academics, Athletics, Tech, and Contact), and one skill (which the player must make up). Challenges are resolved by rolling a number of dice equal to your relevant attribute, and taking note of the highest die rolled. A six means the player gets to describe what happens. A one means it’s entirely up to the GM. Anything in between, and whoever it got closer gets to say how things go down, but must include a description of why things didn’t happy quite as planned. There’s also Stress checks, which happen whenever your character encounters something that really rattles them (like, say, ghosts). It’s one rolled die, and a low result means you temporarily lose dice from your stats. Welcome to the downward spiral! The last and most interesting mechanic is the Confessional: once per player per game, a player can stand up and do a ‘confessional’, like you see on a reality TV show. They get to describe things that are happening or about to happen in the story from a future perspective…and whatever they describe MUST be worked into the narrative!
Running the game is a snap. Rule #1: no advance preparation! That’s right – as a GM, you must not do any work on the scenario or story before the session! Even if you did, it wouldn’t help you any, for reasons that will soon be apparent. Forming the scenario really just means deciding on 3 basic facts: the client, the problem, and the location. There’s even some charts to roll on if you get stuck there. For example, the first time I played, the facts were “paranoid sales clerk”, “cult activity”, and “Wal-Mart” (and it turned out wonderfully, for the record). The characters then get a call from the clients, and must go to investigate. Here’s where things start coming together: the players will no doubt want to ask questions and snoop around, but the GM just needs to have the players make rolls for this. If you remember, if a player rolls well, they get to narrate what happens. This applies here, too! If a player asks “What did the creature look like?”, and then gets a 6 on their contact roll, they get to describe the creature! In essence, you’re letting the players put together the story for you, bit by bit. All the GM needs to do is a little nudging to make sure everything falls into place. Every successful roll gets the players a Job Die, and once they reach a predetermined number (picked for group size and desired difficulty), they can start wrapping up the case!
I can understand how this all might sound a little chaotic to someone used to more typical RPGs. That’s okay! I felt the same way when I first picked it up. Once you’re actually working with it, the whole structure is very intuitive; your players are probably already good at coming up with things on the spot, and once the clues start coming, they’ll follow them like they would in any other game. This has quickly become one of my group’s favorites, in part because of its pick-up-and-play-nature. In our sessions, we’ve seen rampaging ogres, irritable kachinas, extra-dimensional gazelles, and stranger. So don’t let the lack of detailed combat mechanics and weapon tables put you off. After all, what’s RPG night but an opportunity to tell some stories and have some laughs?