Sunday, 18 November 2012

Actual Play: Murderous Ghosts

I spent yesterday afternoon playing a game of Murderous Ghosts over a pint with this guy. Now I am blogging about it.

I think straight away it's important to say that Vincent Baker is a minor genius of a kind - or the closest thing that the world of RPGs has to a minor genius, anyway: he's a proper innovator. Murderous Ghosts isn't up there with his best efforts, but nor do I think it is meant to be; it's a fun little parlour game for one-shots that, ultimately, isn't really a role-playing game per se. It's more of a story-telling game in the sense that the two participants co-operate to make up a sequence of stuff that happens. The stuff that happens, at least in our experience, is that invariably somebody gets killed by ghosts in a subterranean location.

We each had a game as 'MC' and player. I was the player in the first game. Nathan came up with a spooky scenario in which I came across an underground factory peopled by its former workers, including a cleaner, secretary and manager. I was killed by the manager for refusing to go through an 'interview', though I suspect I also would have died if I'd chosen the opposite.

As MC, I came up with a scenario in which the player came across an underground facility that had been used by the government to create materials hazardous to life; the back story I came up with was that there had been some sort of accident down there and the government had locked the facility down and left the workers there to die. One of them had killed and eaten all the others but had eventually starved to death and was now haunting the corridors as a mad cannibal ghost. Nathan found almost none of this out, however, because he was killed and eaten by the ghost in short order after discovering a cache of human bones.

Murderous Ghosts is not a role playing game, and I think we discovered that it falls apart if you treat it as such. When I was the player, my immediate reaction whenever something creepy happened was "I go back to the surface to get the police", or "I do not go down the spooky corridor from which the weird noise is coming", or "I hide and wait until it goes away" - reactions which I had to override in the interests of the story. When it came to my turn to MC I deliberately rigged things so that the player had to explore the facility by using the hoary old horror device: a door which suddenly swings shut behind you and which you can't re-open. The player physically could not go backwards and could only go forwards until he had encountered the ghost (as clear a railroad as you will ever see).

This isn't necessarily a problem - the game does what it says on the tin. It is set up like an idiot-proof Choose Your Own Adventure with clear instructions about what to do, which makes it not all that far removed from a Fighting Fantasy book and the attendant problems associated with that medium; but if you think of it in those terms, it's an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours.


  1. Having played it a few times this week, I also agree that it's a pretty good parlour game. I think that you and Patrick have a better imagination than me for thinking up plots off the cuff.

    I like the resolution mechanism a lot, and think it could be used in other games...

    1. Your stuff was cool Nate. The woman with one shoe was good.

      I think it is an RPG because you can't play it without pretending to be a character. I don't think I overrode any of my own anti-story reactions, I sent the whole time trying to avoid contact with ghosts and not to do anything someone in a horror movie would do but stuff still happened.

    2. I fear this won't end well, but by that definition wouldn't a fighting fantasy book be an RPG? Or Super Mario Bros? Or Duke Nukem?

    3. Actually, never mind. These definitional arguments are inherently ridiculous.

    4. The only solution is to some up with the most insane defentions possible.

      Murderous Ghosts was stapled together and I played it with a man who owns a pocket calculator in a room that smelt of grease. Therefore IT IS A ROLE PLAYING GAME.

    5. I don't own a pocket calculator. I'm a mathematician, I don't need a calculator. Tch. Really.

      Being a relative novice in these things, let me ask a different question. What might disqualify Murderous Ghosts as an RPG?

    6. It's not so much about playing a role as it is about controlling the narrative and seeing how it plays out in a more meta sense. So some people would say that makes it a story game rather than an RPG.

      I don't care about the distinction, really, but I think Murderous Ghosts really is more like a Fighting Fantasy game book with a GM, rather than an RPG per se. Still like it though.

    7. PS Patrick, Nate used to be in the "calculator club" back in school.

    8. Whereas I used to play D&D a lot instead, because I'm too stupid to add up. We were both extremely attractive to the opposite sex, needless to say.

  2. thanks for posting this - can't wait to try it!