Publisher: Memento Mori Theatricks
Review Dated: 24th, April 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
“An invisible man sleeping in your bed
Oh, who you gonna call?”
Gho… no, try again. Try InSpectres.
InSpectres is up front about its influences and it really had to be. As obvious and as significant as the influences are in InSpectres the game is the very antithesis of “more of the same”. The players have a supernatural mystery to solve. Will they be able to put the clues together and deal with the problem? That’s more of the same. InSpectres isn’t like that. Will the players be able to put the clues together? What if they can’t? The GM has to keep the action going, perhaps a few nasty encounters, one of NPCs takes a more direct action, one way or another the game gets going again and the players wind up moving towards a resolution. That’s more of the same and that won’t happen in InSpectres.
In the InSpectres world the supernatural is an embarrassment and an annoyance. It’s annoying to have imps play with the traffic light signals. It’s embarrassing when your date comes back for coffee and your house moans at her. That’s annoying too. InSpectres are a franchised solution to the growing amount of supernatural annoyances. In the game players will be part of the franchise (or perhaps operating from the original HQ) and will be active, ghost hunting, demon slaying, mystery solving, InSpectres.
The franchise structure is a little bit different but that’s not why InSpectres avoids being more of the same. InSpectres can’t be played where the GM guides players through a supernaturally laced plot to a carefully thought out conclusion. The GM can’t carefully think out the conclusion because the GM doesn’t know the conclusion. The GM can’t nudge players in any given direction until they go where he wants them to go because it’s the players who decide what happens. For example, if one character decides that the house itself is a demon, sets out to prove this with a suitable amount of research and should the player roll high enough… then the character is right, the house is a demon. The house is a demon whether the GM was expecting that or not! At least for now, anyway, while it suits the plot. It’s not over until the fat lady sings.
Jared A. Sorensen explains this to would be GMs better than I could. He as the edge on the explication, though, since he happens to be the game’s author.
“If you’re used to the regular way of GMing, this game is going to feel like a bucket of cold water in your face at five o’clock in the morning – shocking, but hopefully refreshing. Prep time is minimal, yes. But you’ll need to be fast on your feet and willing to change your pre-conceptions about the game at the drop of a hat. You’ll also need to get your players involved in running the game, a job you normally keep all to yourself.”
InSpectres is a simple and easy game to play. Agents have four skills; Academics, Althetics, Technology and Contact. There is no health stat nor is there a sanity count. Characters get to pick a Talent unless they’re weird. Here at GameWyrd we like weird characters but in InSpectres you only have one in each game. Weird characters aren’t mundane humans; these are your vampire agents, your werewolf or supernatural InSpectres. Weird characters have more dice to spread around their skills but no Talent.
There’s no character improvement in the game. You don’t get to power up, rise in levels or get better at skills. Kinda. There’s certainly no experience system. Characters can gain Cool Dice but they’re also likely to loose them. Franchises can grow if the InSpectres are successful at their jobs. I happen to like this but I know many gamers will balk at the suggestion. No experience? What’s the point? Where’s the motivation to try? Where’s the reward for good roleplaying? I’d like to think that the game itself is the reward for good roleplaying and characters can still mature and develop without the need for more dice.
As it happens there can be dice rewards for good roleplaying. There are dice rewards for a growing InSpectre franchise too. A franchise offers the characters library cards, gym cards and credit cards. Dice from the library card can be used to assist Academics, dice from the gym card can be used to assist Athletics and dice from credit cards are used to assist Technology. There’s also a flexible but volatile “The Bank” for extra dice.
If you know other Memento Mori Theatricks’ games like octaNe then you won’t be surprised when I say that a successful dice roll allows the player to describe what’s going on in the game. An unsuccessful one gives the GM the chance to describe the turn of events. Roll high and you can describe your InSpectre in a cinematic back-flip grab for the crucifix on the wall and landing in front of the vile vampire just in time. A low roll will allow the GM to describe the attempted back-flip and the tumble to the ground in front of the vampire. Or, if the game has a more sinister theme to it, the GM could describe the cinematic back-flip, the crucifix grab, the character landing in place in front of the vampire and then the smugly immune vampire reaching forward to snap the piece of wood in two. If you’ve not played like this before then it can take a while to get used to.
The two InSpectre ‘quirks’ snuggle together nicely. Character actions actually influence what is going on. Different people, depending on dice rolls, describe what is going on. Let’s take our scary example of a poor dice roll above; the vampire crushes the crucifix like a brittle twig. What’s going on? The characters might decide that something is allowing the vampires to shrug off their traditional weaknesses. Perhaps the characters find some evidence of a ritual (a high dice roll resulted in a player describe their character not slipping on the blood on the floor, turning the light on and finding the gory pentagram on the floor) and conclude that the vampires have completed an arcane protection rite. We’ve just had the players write the plot. Sorensen’s spot on when he says that the prep time for the game is minimal.
Vampires immune to their usual weaknesses! Ouch! That’s not only scary but it’s likely to make for a rather stressed out InSpectre too. Stress is the spanner-in-the-works mechanic in the InSpectre system. Players aren’t always able to benefit from all the dice they have available for any skill. A stressed InSpectre is forced to temporarily reduce their abilities. Stress checks are made, yup, at stressful times. Cool Dice can be saved up to counter these situations.
There is a reality TV influence in InSpectres too. Rather than following the Cops around on their nightly tasks; here the camera follows the InSpectres around. It isn’t a real camera (the tentacle horrors can’t actually munch the camera crew unless they’re explicitly there as NPCs…) but once and a while characters can make “too the camera” comments; make asides, or in movie-making terminology they can break the fourth wall. The InSpectre terminology for this is the Confessional. In any scene a character can step into the Confessional and address the other players (not the other characters, but the other players). Players can even hint at future events in a Confessional and by doing so everyone else is encouraged to gear their roleplaying towards that scene. “I wouldn’t have wasted my time being polite to him if I’d known what Jo was going to do him later,” could be a Confessional I make after meeting a client and which sets Jo up to do /something/ to him later on. If Jo’s player doesn’t ignore this then there’s a Franchise Dice as a reward.
I agree with InSpectres. The Confessional is the most powerful mechanic in the game. I’m a little wary of it. It just takes one player to have a Confessional and describe the bloody mindedness of my character for me to feel compelled to play a bloody minded character through the whole game – whether I feel in the mood for that or not. We’re told often enough that InSpectres is about having fun. There’s no penalty for ignoring the implications in the Confessional either. Still. Any game system as powerful as the Confessional can make or break the game.
InSpectres is a great game. It’s different, original and exciting. I don’t think I’ll often be in the mood for a game like InSpectres but I do know that sometimes I’m in a mood where InSpectres would be just the game the Doctor ordered. InSpectres works best with an experienced GM and fairly experienced players. The GM has to be able to cope with the quickly changing plot strands. Players have to be confident enough to be active and forward. InSpectres isn’t a game that newbies are likely to find though. InSpectres is a game for me and, better still, it’s the sort of game I’d recommend to my roleplaying friends. I shudder in horror when I catch people talking about their Celerity Dice is the pub but recalling InSpectre games in the local after work on a Friday sounds like fun.