Ghosts and Stuff
Last year I spent a lot of my free time making a “ghost game”. Each adventure would be a sort of murder-mystery where you play as a group of ghosts trying to solve the details of your demise. I ended up scrapping it, but thought I’d do a bit of a post-mortem (ha) as to why.
So, as a new ghost, you have some limitations. You can’t really interact with things, you’re invisible, you can’t communicate with the living. Standard level zero ghost stuff. But to make up for it, you have all of these supernatural powers that you can aquire. The usual tropes of flight, passing through walls, spooky manifestations and so on. Sweet, right? Nah. Because they were all trapped behind dice rolls! The more I played with the mechanics, the more navigating through the world seemed like a chore.
I still like the logo.
The intro adventure had players rise from their graves in the backyard of a 70’s bungalow. Memories of the house led them to believe that there was something important inside. They get to the back door and make an attempt to enter.
Based on which ghostly powers they started out with, they might tackle entering the house in a few different ways. For example…
- Cohesion – Become corporeal, turn the knob
- Ethereal – Pass through the door/wall
- Levitate – Fly up to an open window
- Telekinesis – Open the door, with their mind
- Teleport – Disappear, reappear inside the house
All of which are thematically ghostly, but become a drag game-wise as each player tries to use these powers to progress through the world.
Not everyone has the same powers. Just because one ghost makes it past the door, doesn’t mean they all will. Unless someone manages to perform a successful Cohesion or Telekinesis roll, opening the door for everyone else — an outcome on par with being alive — the door is essentially sealed for each ghost.
Short of introducing a mechanic where “everyone holds hands” to move from one closed area to the next (which, okay, maybe?), I wasn’t quite sure how to make traversal both thematic and functional for a group of players without this conga line of dice rolls occurring between each room.
Navigating the rest of the house would it’s own hell. There’re doors and walls everywhere!
Made a map. Might as well use it for the blog post.
Unpacking the idea further, it seemed that any sort of interaction with the world would become a hassle. What if a player wanted to pick something up? Open a drawer to look inside? Prod some fruit to test its firmness? What I thought were going to be interesting supernatural powers, became supernormal hamstrings.
Looking back on my notes and how I approached things, it was clear that I was thinking too traditionally about these mechanics. Treating them like spells. Spells that players were dependant on to do basic things within the game world. Which isn’t fun.
There are all kinds of ways to tackle this type of game, but what I had come up with wasn’t clicking for me. I decided to put this one on the shelf for a bit and let it ferment. At the very least, I’d like to revisit the theme, I like the idea of a game where you investigate your own death. The limitations of not being able to interact with the world can be an interesting design challenge in and of themselves. As for ghost powers, maybe those are always active? Certainly not based on chance. Boo.