Posted on September 20, 2004 by Flames
Written by Mark Bruno and Brett M. Bernstein, Politically Incorrect Games (PIG-GD2), 2003
Ghost Stories: Horror Mystery Adventures is a slim volume (36 pages) that aims to provide an entire horror gaming system for players and referee to use with the minimum of delay. The system is necessarily very light in terms of details and examples and there will be some who consider the lack of artwork as a problem. A straightforward trait and die roll system is provided to resolve tasks of various sorts. Players can play such character types as occultists, demon stalkers, clergymen, archaeologists and similar staples of popular ghost stories. Additional sections briefly cover sorcery, combat, skills and backgrounds.
The four scenarios are sketchy and contain too much slack writing – without giving the game away, it is too much to write as part of the hook to bring characters into the adventure: “As you lie sleeping in your bed, your dreams suddenly transport you to what looks like an eighteenth century colony. A man dressed in appropriate clothing rushes from church enraged.”
This is not just poor editing – of which there is also far too much in such a short piece of work – it shows a looseness of thought as to what this book is trying to achieve. The settings possible are mentioned: Edwardian, Colonial, Victorian, without any meaningful description of what these historical settings would actually be like to play in and experience or how interactions with NPCs would be structured. It is assumed that players, it appears, will take a fairly cinematic approach to the game – with the characters they play automatically taking the lead in investigating various paranormal phenomena and having access to occult lore and rituals that they might enact. Yet explanations of how to play or what players and referee should actually do are completely absent. This must be aimed at experienced players, therefore – so why the need for a cut-down rules system at all? Surely it would have represented a more efficient use of space to have referred players to D20 mechanisms (or some alternative) and used what was left to analyse how to make distinctive and exciting ghost hunting games?
An additional problem is that the rules are frequently ignored and the referee urged to make use of supernatural creatures to compel characters to follow the sketchily written adventures as written. The writers may have decided that, if they were going to include scenarios then they had to be compact – but even so players (especially experienced players) generally resent being required to follow a pre-written storyline, no matter whether they are enjoying it or not (I blame too much self-expression taught in schools). The poor referee is given no guidance as to what to do if this happens in the game – and if we are to play a completely improvised game, why would we need to buy rules at all?
Presenting a complete set of role-playing rules with examples of character types, adversaries and scenarios for a range of different historical settings within just 36 pages must have seemed like a good idea. Politically Incorrect Games advertises the book as a Genre Diversion Quick Fix Guide, which is a gamebook designed to allow for a single evening’s play or a change of pace between installments in a more longstanding campaign. This book might have succeeded in this task had more thought gone into its production: removed the seven or eight pages devoted to repeated character sheets with statistics for character templates – this could have been presented in much more of a condensed fashion – and use the additional space (if space is indeed an important constraint) to explore atmosphere-setting, backgrounds, games styles and other much more useful considerations.
Reviewer: John Walsh