This is post number 28 in the series “31 Days of Ghostbusters,” a celebration of the franchise’s return to the big screen.
Since the Ghostbusters RPG is long out of print, some wannabe Ghostmasters and Ghostbusters players might want an alternate game system to use for their paranormal adventures. Some might also prefer a game designed more recently that brings some fresh ideas to the ghostly gaming table. One option for such gamers is using one of the games I mentioned in my earlier post, “Ghostbusters: The Next Generation.” Another option is what I’m presenting today: using the Cypher System to moderate your Ghostbusters game.
For the purposes of this post, I am assuming that you are familiar with the Cypher System (as presented in the Cypher System Rulebook by Monte Cook Games), but that you aren’t necessarily familiar with the Ghostbusters RPG. I’ll mention the latter from time to time for comparison purposes, mostly targeted to players who ARE familiar with it, but it’s not necessary to know how the old classic worked to enjoy Ghostbusters in the Cypher System. And if you don’t know the Cypher System, reading its rulebook will teach you about how it works better than I could here.
(Note: Before writing this, I saw that the prolific 3rd party Cypher System publisher Ryan Chaddock posted an article about using the Cypher System for running a Ghostbusters game. I’m intentionally avoiding reading it until I get this posted so that his (surely excellent) ideas don’t influence mine—or worse, convince me I didn’t need to do this because his is awesome. After this is online, I’ll happily read his and see if it inspires modifications to the below.)
WARNING! THIS HAS NOT BEEN PLAYTESTED! THAT’S WHAT I NEED YOU FOR!
All page references are to the Cypher System Rulebook (CSR).
Using the Cypher System Rules to Run a Ghostbusters Game
General Rule Changes
The Ghost Die
Although the Ghost Die is a fun part of the Ghostbusters RPG, I recommend we drop it for the Cypher System version. Here are my reasons:
- The Cypher System uses a d20 for actions, not a d6.
- Even if the system did use a d6 for actions, the Ghost is on the 6, which is the opposite of the way the Cypher System treats a 1 as a special failure.
- In the Cypher System, the GM doesn’t roll dice, which would eliminate the way that adversaries get a bonus when the Ghostmaster rolls a ghost.
Luckily, the Cypher System already has a system in place that does generally the same thing as the Ghost Die: GM intrusions. Compare these scenarios…
- A Ghostbuster rolls a Ghost while trying to zap an apparition. The GM rules that the shot misses and knocks out the lights, adding a combat complication.
- The Ghostmaster rolls a Ghost during a spectre’s attack on a Ghostbuster. She decides that not only does the Ghost succeed in sliming the poor sucker, the slime also makes the Ghostbuster slip and begin sliding toward the nearby stairs.
- A Ghostbuster is trying to zap an apparition, and either rolls a 1 or the GM decides before the roll that it’s time for something new to happen. The GM announces a GM intrusion, giving the player the option of taking the complication or paying to get out of it.
- During a spectre’s attack on a Ghostbuster, the Ghostmaster decides to make things more interesting. She announces a GM Intrusion on the Ghostbuster; if the player doesn’t spend XP to avoid the intrusion, his character will find himself sliding toward those stairs.
Ghost Die coolness aside, I prefer the way the latter works. The GM has more direct influence over the narrative, and at the same time the players have control over whether they want to take a complication or buy their way out of it.
In the Ghostbusters RPG, Brownie Points served as a combination of damage points, experience points, and plot-manipulation points. Since the Cypher System already uses experience points for the latter two purposes, and it has a damage point system, I believe we can safely do without Brownie Points. (Having said that, if you want to call your Cypher System XP “Brownie Points,” go for it!)
In Cypher System Ghostbusters, you can choose a Goal just as you would in the Ghostbusters RPG. For our purposes, though, the choice will only influence how you play your character, and possibly how your Ghostmaster chooses to reward you with experience points. It will not give you extra Brownie Points, obviously, since this game doesn’t have those. (Except in their function as experience points, as we discussed above.)
The Goals in the Ghostbusters RPG were Fame, Serving Humanity, Sex, Soulless Science, and Wealth. You don’t need much elaboration to figure out how each of these would influence your character’s actions. Feel free to create your own Goals as well. (I’ve provided some in a post about new goals for Ghostbusters.)
For a Ghostbusters game, I recommend you use the Cypher System’s Shock rule (page 261) but not Horror Mode (page 262). The Shock rule helps emulate those moments when terrified characters freeze, scream, run away, or otherwise lose control temporarily. Horror Mode—creating a mounting sense of horror—seems more appropriate for a straightforward horror game, rather than a Frightfully Cheerful one.
In the Ghostbusters RPG, a ghost had two key characteristics: Power and Ectopresence. Power was its strength of will, representing how much effect it could have on the world. Ectopresence was the spook’s physical (or perhaps metaphysical) form, measuring how much damage it could take—once a ghost’s Ectopresence was reduced to zero it could be trapped.
In the Cypher System, we’ve already got these under different names. A ghost’s level takes the place of power, and its health takes the place of ectopresence. (Again, like with Brownie points, feel free to keep the Ghostbusters terms for these characteristics.) Here are some samples of how this would work:
- When a ghost tries to possess a PC, the player rolls an Intellect defense with a difficulty of the ghost’s level.
- When a ghost tries to slime a PC, the player rolls a Speed defense with a difficulty of the ghost’s level.
- When a Ghostbuster tries to shoot a ghost, the player rolls an attack vs the ghost’s level. If this is successful, the ghost loses health (i.e. ectopresence) equal to the weapon’s damage.
An implication of this handling of how ghosts take damage is that, unlike in Ghostbusters where one hit resulted in one point of ectopresence loss, in this system ghosts will take different amounts of damage under different circumstances. One reason for this is that, as you’ll see later in the Equipment section, different Ghostbuster weapons deal different amounts of damage. (This is to give some variety in the feel and utility of the equipment detailed in the new Ghostbusters film.) In addition, some character abilities enable a player character to deal more damage than usual. With these two factors combined, it’s possible that a spook who could withstand several hits in the Ghostbusters RPG would be out of health in a single shot, if the Ghostbuster uses a powerful weapon paired with an effective ability.
I believe the simplest solution to this is to just add whatever health you want to the ghosts you create, keeping in mind that each hit from the basic proton pack deals 6 points of damage.
Remember, too, that some powerful ghosts simply can’t be weakened enough to trap. In these cases, ignore the ghost’s health rating. The only way it can be beaten is through story reasons, by finding out some alternate way to eliminate the entity.
Listing all the ghostly abilities from the Ghostbusters RPG is beyond the scope of this article, but you should be able to give your Cypher System spooks any abilities you can imagine using rules similar to the ones you’ll find in the CSR’s Creatures chapter (page 274).
Creating Your Ghostbuster
Building a Ghostbuster in the Cypher System happens the same way it does for characters in other genres: you’ll pick a character type, descriptor, and focus. In this section we’ll look at some ways to tweak the CSR’s choices of those components to give a distinctly Ghostbustery feel.
In addition to the skill list on page 20, the following skills might be useful to Ghostbusters:
- Psychic History
- Stage Magic
(Remember that only special cases such as character type abilities allow a character to add a skill in attack tasks; this is why “Firing Proton Pack” isn’t in the list above.)
I recommend a few changes to the Cypher System’s character types.
The Warrior would require the most changes, being heavily focused on melee attacks (which won’t help much against ghosts). I advise skipping this type for Ghostbusters, though you could also replace its less-paranormal abilities with those from a different Flavor (discussed further below), or assume that new Ghostbuster tech such as the Proton Glove counts as a melee attack.
The Adept type would be best reserved for campaigns that allow weird PCs, such as psychics, ghosts, aliens, or especially gonzo mad scientists. If the Ghostmaster wishes to allow one of these, she and the player should work out which abilities are allowable and appropriate for a paranormal Ghostbuster.
This type, and the Speaker (covered next), are much better fits for Ghostbuster PCs. To better capture the feel and needs of a Ghostbusters game, I recommend you replace the Explorer abilities at the following tiers with a selection from either the Technology Flavor (page 53) or the Skills and Knowledge Flavor (page 61). Most of the abilities I suggest ditching are those that focus on melee attacks (ineffective against most Ghostbuster threats) and armor (not a standard item of Ghostbuster fashion).
- Bash (melee). Suggested replacement: Tinker (page 54).
- No Need for Weapons, because unarmed attacks probably won’t often help. Suggested replacement: Investigative Skills (page 61).
- Practiced in Armor. Suggested replacement: Tech Skills (page 54).
- Experienced With Armor. Suggested replacement: Improvise (page 62).
- Mastery With Armor. Suggested replacement: Skill With Attacks (page 62).
- Spin Attack (melee). Suggested replacement: Skill With Defense (page 62).
Note that many Speaker skills target “intelligent creatures”; these will not affect mindless ghosts, and the GM may determine whether they affect intelligent ghosts.
The Speaker type is, out of the box, pretty good at rendering a character like Venkman. However, as with the Explorer, we’re providing a few suggested ability changes for the following tiers:
- Practiced in Armor. Suggested replacement: Understanding (page 62).
- Mind Reading, because this one is a bit too paranormal for a basic human. Suggested replacement: Flex Skill (page 62).
- Experienced With Armor. Suggested replacement: Read the Signs (page 62).
- Shatter Mind. Suggested replacement: Skill With Defense (page 62).
The Cypher System Rulebook uses Flavors as a tool for customizing character types for particular genres and settings. I used them in the previous section to customize the Explorer and Speaker character types using the Technology Flavor and the Skills and Knowledge Flavor. If you want to make further changes along these lines, I recommend the following flavor abilities as most appropriate for a Ghostbusters character.
Full List of Ghostbusters-Appropriate Flavor Abilities
From the Technology Flavor (page 53)
- Tier 1: Hacker
- Tier 1: Tech Skills
- Tier 1: Tinker
- Tier 2: Machine Efficiency
- Tier 5: Jury-Rig
From the Skills and Knowledge Flavor (page 53)
(Note: this is simply the list of every Skills and Knowledge ability; all are appropriate.)
- Tier 1: Interaction Skills
- Tier 1: Investigative Skills
- Tier 1: Knowledge Skills
- Tier 1: Physical Skills
- Tier 1: Travel Skills
- Tier 2: Extra Skill
- Tier 2: Tool Mastery
- Tier 2: Understanding
- Tier 3: Flex Skill
- Tier 3: Improvise
- Tier 4: Multiple Skills
- Tier 4: Quick Wits
- Tier 4: Specialization
- Tier 5: Multiple skills
- Tier 5: Practiced With Light and Medium Weapons
- Tier 5: Read the Signs
- Tier 6: Skill With Attacks
- Tier 6: Skill With Defense
The following descriptors are especially appropriate for Ghostbusters.
These descriptors, on the other hand, would be inadvisable for either practical or thematic reasons:
Use the Modern/Horror list (page 92) with the following exceptions.
Foci marked with an asterisk are allowed “only if the setting has a supernatural element.” For us, that means only if the Ghostmaster wants to allow a PC to be a weirdo like a medium or ghost or something (as discussed above under the Adept character type).
Hunts Outcasts could be especially useful to a Ghostbuster by choosing “ghosts” as the type of outcasts hunted. Two of this focus’s abilities (Outcast Tracker and Outcast Disruption) seem paranormal in nature, but if you don’t want to allow that, you could always assume they are equipment-based.
Is Licensed to Carry can easily be repurposed as Is Licensed to Collide by replacing “gun” with “proton pack.” (Also known as a “positron collider,” okay?)
Masters Weaponry might also be useful for proton-based weaponry, from the proton pack to the ghost chipper to the proton glove.
Needs No Weapon and Throws With Deadly Accuracy, on the other hand, would have limited utility against the supernatural due to their reliance on unarmed attacks and thrown weapons, respectively.
Wields Two Weapons at Once brings to mind Holtzmann’s slow-mo ghost smackdown at the climax of Ghostbusters (2016). Just remember that if your Ghostbuster usually has two proton guns in her hands, she won’t be as effective at other tasks, such as Conducts Weird Science.
Here’s the pertinent in-game info for the Ghostbusters’ main equipment. I’ve skipped the items in Ghostbusters that weren’t strictly ghost-hunting gear. With one exception, for tradition.
You could rule that all ghostbusting equipment be handled under the artifact rules, but I didn’t go that route. The paranormal equipment below (PKE meter, proton pack, etc) is certainly non-standard among the general population, but Egon and Holtzmann and your team’s technical expert are capable of building, maintaining, and repairing them.
In the following tables, items marked P deal physical damage, items marked E deal ectoplasmic damage, an items marked P/E deal both.
|Light (1 point of Armor)|
|Light (2 points of Damage)|
|Proton Glove (P/E)||Melee or short range attack|
|Swiss Army Knife (P)|
|Medium (4 points of damage)|
|Retractable Proton Sidearm (P/E)|
|Heavy (6 points of damage)|
|Proton Pack (P/E)||Inaccurate: attack difficulty is increased by one step|
|Ghost Chipper (E)||Can affect all entities with health 6 or less within short range (roll attack on each)|
|PKE Meter||Asset to paranormal tracking and analysis tasks|
|Aura Video-Analyzer||Asset to detecting lies, discerning mood, or determining possession in the wearer|
|Ecto-Visor||Fancy name for night-vision goggles|
|Infrared Camera||Useful for capturing images of invisible ghosts|
|Secret Tomes of Occult Lore||Each provides an asset to one or more subject areas, such as occult, parapsychology, or New Jersey hauntings.|
|Walkie talkies||Useful even in the era of smartphones|
|Beach Kit||Makes a trip to the beach more fun. Asset to resisting sunburn.|
I’m afraid I can’t provide equipment cards with this post. What kind of wizard do you think I am? I do like the cards, though, so I encourage you to make your own if you like this kind of thing. You can find printable Ghostbusters equipment card PDFs online, though they probably contain rules for the original Ghostbusters RPG. So make your own (and then send me a link so I can share them with everyone)!
The Cypher System Rulebook describes two ways of presenting cyphers in a game: manifest cyphers (which are physical items such as gadgets or injections) and subtle cyphers (which are more abstract, representing innate or hidden manifestations such as blessings, inspiration, and good fortune). Both can work for a Ghostbusters game.
Manifest cyphers for Ghostbusters might be smartphone apps, passages from occult tomes, or experimental gadgets. Subtle cyphers could be hunches, words of power, encouragement from a teammate, or simple dumb luck.
Sample Ghostbusters Cyphers
Manifest example: Pill
Effect: For the next 24 hours the user gains an asset on all tasks involving resisting fear
Manifest example: High-tech hand grenade that can be thrown out to short range
Effect: Explodes in an immediate radius, dealing ectoplasmic damage equal to the cypher’s level.
Level: 1d6 + 4
Manifest example: A page from a book that must be torn out and thrown
Effect: Creates an immobile plane of solid force up to 20 feet by 20 feet that prevents the passage of physical or ectoplasmic objects or entities.
Level: 1d6 + 2
Manifest example: Tin-foil hat
Effect: Provides the wearer with an asset to resisting possession for the next 24 hours
Manifest example: Tube of aerosol spray
Effect: Evaporates all ectoplasm in a 5-foot radius.
Classic Ghostbuster Foes
Luckily, it’s easy to create adversaries of any type in the Cypher System–and that includes ghosts. First, let’s look at some creatures already in the CSR that we might use in a Ghostbusters game.
We’ll start with the humble ghost (page 293). It is level 4 with a health of 12, which means it’s not too tough and can be incapacitated by two blasts from a proton pack. As written in the CSR, the ghost is immaterial and has a freezing touch and a terrorize attack. This is a good way to represent a Class III or IV apparition.
The demon (page 284) should work well for a possessing ghost (such as Rowan in Ghostbusters 2016, though he’d be much tougher). As presented here, the demon is immaterial and can fly and possess humans. Alternatively, it can inflict necrotic damage on a foe. In Ghostbusters terms, this level 5 health 25 foe might be better known as a Class III, IV, or V possessor, depending on its form.
Devils (page 285) might be useful as minions of major entities, or perhaps as mischievous imps. They can fly but they’re not etheral, and like the ghost, they’re level 4 with a health of 12. If you make one of these creatures immaterial instead, it would make a fine Class V vapor.
Another non-ethereal foe is the skeleton (page 314), a fragile level 2 foe with a 6 for health. In addition to representing a classic physical horror, these stats could represent other low-level foes such as animated furniture or a haunted suit of armor.
One option for representing a Class VII metaspectre is the kaiju (page 300). It’s a good template for a giant hulking monster that deals out lots of property damage. This beast is level 10 with 140 health and 5 points of Armor; it deals out lots of damage and heals quickly.
Your Ghostbusters might have to face off against a djinni (page 286), perhaps catching it while it tries to fulfil the wish of an immoral mortal. Elementals (page 289) and Golems (page 298) are also roughly within the Ghostbusters’ field of expertise. If your game needs an alien, the greys (page 299) are ready to serve. The neveri (page 305) would be useful as a Lovecraft-style horror. For a paranoid-flavored Ghostbusters adventure, let the team discover that people are being replaced by replicants (page 311). And a few other classic options would probably feel at home in a Ghostbusters game: the vampire (page 323), werewolf (page 329), and zombie (page 333).
Keep in mind, though—especially when using Cthuloid or traditional horror monster stats—that in a Ghostbusters game we’re going for a mix of comedy and horror, so you may need to adjust a monster’s abilities accordingly. Ghostbusters isn’t a world where people get their flesh eaten by zombies; it’s a world where creatures puke slime on hapless heroes and step on churches. In other words, ix-nay on the esh-eating-flay.
Finally, here’s my interpretation of the Ghostbusters as they’d be represented in the Cypher System. I’d be happy to see your versions in the comments!
Raymond Stantz, a Kind Explorer who Solves Mysteries
Peter Venkman, a Brash Speaker who Entertains
Egon Spengler, a Learned Explorer who Conducts Weird Science
Winston Zeddemore, a Skeptical Explorer who Never Says Die
Erin Gilbert, a Perceptive Explorer who Would Rather be Reading
Abby Yates, a Driven Explorer who Hunts Ghosts
Jillian Holtzmann, a Weird Explorer who Conducts Weird Science
Patty Tolan, an Inquisitive Speaker who Looks for Trouble
Kevin Beckman, a Foolish Explorer who Doesn’t Do Much