Actual Play: InSpectres

So I got to run my first game of InSpectres on Friday when Jackie called off Necropolis (pleading no prep time due to imminent departure to France). Now, I didn’t prep either but with InSpectres it hardly matters — everything went like gangbusters — the group took to this style of play like veterans and made me want to cancel every regular game so we can to squeeze in Trollbabe, My Life with Master and HeroQuest alongside InSpectres. Terrific stuff.

The Premise

InSpectres centers around a startup franchise that explores and deals with the supernatural. (Think two years after the first Ghostbusters movie, if they’d decided to incorporate and start licencing franchises, but with all the funnier legal bits of the Anita Blake novels thrown in (Vampires as ‘undead American’ citizens, et cetera).
Players create normal (but a bit strange) employees of this company. Said employees face a variety of challenges, and the franchise (and challenges) grow. It’s Ghostbusters, MIB, The Real World and internet startups all rolled into one game, with a great investigation/mystery-solving mechanic.
Supernatural events are usually more annoying or just plain embarrassing occurrences (they *can* be morbid and creepifying, but they aren’t always that way).
Character creation is simple. All InSpectres characters have four attributes, with nine dice divided between them:
* Academics: researching information, remembering facts, casting spells.
* Athletics: sweaty physical stuff requiring strength or agility (i.e.: fighting, shooting).
* Technology: building, buying and using hi-tech gadgets (i.e.: computers, lasers).
* Contact: persuasion, public speaking, interviewing clients, lying to people.
To make your character, just distribute 9 points between the four attributes (minimum 1, maximum 4) and write down a Talent your agent has. A Talent gives them a bonus in certain areas and don?t need to correspond to any one Skill. An agent with the Talent: ?Mechanic? could gain a bonus die when fixing a truck (technical), identifying a car?s make and model (academics), swinging a monkey wrench in a fight (athletics) or talking to fellow grease monkeys (contact).
After that, maybe a little background.
While you *can* make a Buffy the Vampire… umm… Hunter…, and it can be fun to play them, it can also be very funny playing Hank, the ex-Plumber going through his mid-life crisis and seeking a new career. Normal is funnier than weird. InSpectres is really about normal folks wrapped up in abnormal situations.
Once you create their characters, you divide some dice among the attributes of your new Franchise — it’s very much like the (five-minute) process of making characters.


Well, as soon as I mentioned the game and mailed out the preceeding to the players, people started to send me their characters — it’s not like it takes very long.
***Dave sent me:

The Summer Intern
Academics: 4
Athletics: 2
Technology: 1
Contact: 2
Talent: Bookworm
Background: John King Wong III is a divinity student working at the franchise for the summer as researcher and records-keeper. He’s got another year to go before he gets his DD and he’s looking for some good stuff to write his senior thesis on.

Dave also mentioned John being sort of a nerd, but knowledgeable and confident in that knowledge; he knows some of the “ritual type magic stuff”. (As I put it, Giles magic, not Willow magic ๐Ÿ™‚ His dad’s an orthodontist and Grandpa’s sort of a China-town ‘magician’. They both apparently think John could be doing different things with his life.
Not a lot I could add to that — I knew it’d be fun.
Randy sent me:

James (Jim) Taylor
30, white, male, ruggedly attractive
Academics: 1 high school grad, not a “reader”
Athletics: 2
Technology: 2
Contacts: 4
Talent: Cast Iron Innards (Jim can eat or drink just about anything without much ill effect. He can drink or smoke most people under the table, or eat expired sushi without consequences other than gas. He can cook for himself but nobody else eats his cooking twice. He hardly ever gets sick. When he does he’s a horrible baby about it.)
Background: James was a highly successful used car salesman. When he turned 30 he suddenly realized that he couldn’t stand to do his job another day. He wanted to do something exotic and adventurous, something to help people, and something with a lot of potential for big bucks. Oops.

Now, on the surface, this is great, except that I had been talking to Randy about a slightly different character the night before that I pretty much thought would rock on toast. Jim’s a fun guy, but he didn’t have a lot of really good hooks. After asking Randy about it, he agreed and posted me his original Weird Character concept:

Vincent (Vince) Taylor, new vampire
30, white, male, ruggedly attractive
Academics: 1 high school grad, not a reader
Athletics: 3
Technology: 2
Contacts: 3
Cool: 1 (Vamp tricks)
Background: Vince was a highly successful (Lexus, Porsche, Rolls) used car salesman. He loved it. The thrill of the chase, the kill, the triumph over better educated people from wealthier backgrounds, all of it — being a vampire is a distanct second-place replacement to that kind of thrill.
On his 33rd birthday he met a very attractive young lady, put his wedding ring in his pocket and had a wild night. He woke up three days later, dead. Undead. Whatever.
Car sales is mostly a day job.
He lost his job, his house (his (3rd) wife didn’t take well to his new condition), his Lexus, his Land Rover, his wife, his golfing contacts and a lot of his ‘friends’. He has managed to hold onto a ’97 Porsche and still has a lot of his old charm and ability to scam. He has money. He also has alimony and child support payments from marriage #2.
Sleeps in the back closet of his Inspectres office, hanging from a set of gravity boots. Has a layer of dirt under the rug, a lock on the inside.
Gets his blood from muggers, mean dogs running loose and (idiot) Goth chicks.
Uses good quality fake tan treatments. Wears a fake Rolex, a good fake. Wears Armani-knockoff suits.

Randy also detailed all three ex-wives, the kid from the 2nd marriage, all the stuff he’d lost in the last divorce settlement, and the affair Wife #3 was now having with his ex-boss.
Now tell me there isn’t more ‘normal people’ stuff going on with Vince ๐Ÿ™‚ Heh.
The next few folks I have less info on, since it was verbal relayed during the game, rather than email prior.
Margie gave me:

Fred McGrew
Academics: 3
Athletics: 2
Technology: 3
Contacts: 1
Talent: Fringe paranormal theorist — uber-fringe. Even in the world of Inspectres, he’s fringe.

In short, Fred’s sort of the “Ray” character from Ghostbusters.
Jackie came up with

Katie Stone, ex-Mormon

Academics: 2
Athletics: 2
Technology: 4
Contacts: 1
Talent: Mechanic — Katie was raised by very strict parents who have several very clear rules: stay clean, and stay away from weirdos. Then she got out on her own. She joined a trade school and found out she was really good with machines… nice, greasy machines. After that, applying for a job as a tech for InSpectres just seemed… perfect.

The rebel girl busting out of her family’s rules. Katie’s a cross between Firefly‘s Kaylee and Julie-the-Mormon from the Real World (and now The Inferno) (you either know who I mean or you don’t).
And finally, Justin had:

Bart Wakisashi
Academics: 1
Athletics: 4
Technology: 2
Contacts: 2
Talent: Ninja Burger Delivery Boy (laid off)

A silly little homage to a silly little game, but the player had fun, and I had fun ruling on the fine points between where “ninja” and “ninja burger delivery” Talents did and did not overlap. ๐Ÿ™‚


We then started in on the Franchise which, by concensus, we assumed Vince had bankrolled. I set the whole thing in Denver, because that’s where we live and we assumed that would be more interesting. FRED’s player suggested a very particular building near Jewish Hospital (for whom she was also inventing a secret Paranormal Allergy Research Department, an unmatched Kabalism library, and a professional relationship with the franchise). The player rolled her Tech and got it, but blew a similar roll to have a really good Japanese place down the street. Them’s the breaks.
John wanted a smokin’ PDA with all sorts of Wireless connectivity. John’s tech is a 1. John ended up with a Hello Kitty Daytimer from 2000. The player’s started to understand that “He who thinks of the cool toy must be the one to roll for it.” For instance:

  • Fred wanted a good Client list already established. Fred rolls Contacts… the roll is not good. Not only does the franchise not have a client list, but Fred’s advertising campaign (fliers, yellow pages, and late-night local TV & cable ads) all have the wrong phone number listed. Nice.

    MARGIE: Um, guys, do we need a contact list of customers?
    DOYCE: Margie, you roll for it.
    RANDY: But that’s *my* job.
    DOYCE: Yeah, but she asked about it.
    DAVE: (to RANDY) It was your job to think of it first.

  • Katie, impressed with the brick-facade, two-story home office, built in a cool brass firepole from the 2nd to 1st floor.

    JACKIE (Katie): Got a five.
    DOYCE: K, you got it built just fine, and after some people mentioned it, you even put a nice bit of padding around the edges of the hole so no one gets splinters in their butt.
    JACKIE: (nods at Vince-the-Vampire) Probably more important to some people than others.

  • Katie got an Amazing lab set up in the back…
  • …but Fred arranged for Internet connectivity and ended up with a single dialup that all the PCs in the office had to spoon-proxy through (using the Lantastic Token-Ring network) to use.
  • Fred bounced back with a 6 on the company Espresso machine: a beautiful work of art in copper, mounted on Italian marble and shipped direct from the motherland (Vince winced at the expense report).

    SOMEONE: Crappy networking gear but great coffee machine — this really is a startup company.

  • Bart managed to score a sweet katana with his single Tech roll.
  • Vince got a state-of-the-art walk-in restaurant-grade fridge… with a rack for Type O in the back.
  • Katie scored the group’s only Wierd Science weapon: the basic Proton Pack that pretty much only she could use (though Fred had some very strong guesses about it and a stronger desire to test them out).
  • Fred got a (5) on the Spectre Detectre ™ he wanted and ended up with one that worked reasonably well.

By this point in time, I was ready to call a halt to the Franchise equipping (we hadn’t really decided on where to put the 7 dice yet!); even though everyone was having fun, we were running out of space on the Franchise sheet for all the notes.
Right about then, Randy remembered that the group needed wheels. He asked me for a Contact roll instead of Tech, since he used to be a car salesman. I let him have it, he grabbed his three dice…
1’s. All three of em. 1’s. Bus-passes for everyone… at best.
Working out the story behind this, Randy decided that his “old buddy” and former boss (remember him? the guy sleeping with Vince’s ex-wife behind Vince’s back?) had taken the money but bought the new vehicle in both Vince and his wife’s name, and now the damn thing was tied up in court.
Vince first arranged to trade in his last personal car… the Porche… to get a panel van to cart everyone around in. For this sacrifice, I gave him another roll, which got them a 4, but they improved the van later (more on that in a bit). Meanwhile, Vince went over to the dealership to find out why the guy had screwed him like that and… well… Vince’s ex-wife was on the boss’s desk. With the boss.
The first Stress check. We haven’t even started PLAYING yet.

Stress, in game, limits your character?s skill, representing real world difficulties (getting stuck in traffic), on-the-job issues (copier jams), and even moments of intense fear (your mailman’s face falls off and he starts moaning ‘brains’). The more difficult the situation, the more stress you have to deal with… the lower the number is one the lowest die you roll, the most stressed you get — the more stressed you get, the more your OTHER stats are screwed up.

But Vince nails it. He rolls a 1 and a 6, but has a point of Cool — so he discards the 1, keeps the six, and gets EVEN COOLER.
At this point, Katie LEAPT… LEAPT, I tell you, into the Confessional.

Confessionals are taken from real world reality shows where characters take an aside to comment about the current scene. In InSpectres, characters can take confessionals, describing in past tense some piece of the puzzle that allowed their characters to survive the particular scene. This information is then granted as a new trait to a particular character, allowing them to immediately use it to solve the current situation. It’s a great, fun mechanic.

KATIE: I don’t know what happened over at the dealership, but… when Vince came back, he had a weird smile on his face and brand new Range Rover.
Heh. So Randy has Vince walk over to the security camera VCR, pop the tape, walk right by the boss’s desk, show them the tape in his hand, pick up the keys for a new Range Rover, and walk back out… leaving a claw scar on the top of the marble desk as he left. See… the divorce settlement’s not over yet, and it seems Vince’s ex-boss is married. Nice.
The players are starting to get Confessionals.
Note: we haven’t started playing yet.
Dave/John wants to roll to get some Art School friends to spruce up the panel van, rolls his Contacts, and gets a 6.

DOYCE: The whole college art department comes out and does a fabulous job …
MARGIE: … all sorts of colors, and a big flaming skull, and …
DAVE: No, I got this. It’s a 6, so it’s Weird Science, right? So, it’s very elegant, black, a nice logo, and subtle screening of caballistic insignia on
it — that makes it proof against spirit invasion.
DOYCE: So if things get out of hand, you can go hide in the van? I like it.
DAVE: Exactly. Of course, we’ve got a problem the first time the boss [Vince] wants to ride. [As Randy] “Okay, guys, one of you get in and invite me the hell in.

At this point, out of desperation to actually have a job happen, I put Dave/John in the Confessional Chair and start up a scene where he’s being interviewed by Adele Arakawa.
[Stress Check 2 for being on camera, cuz I’m a bastard, which costs John 2 Attribute dice.]
She’s telling people about the new InSpectres franchise in town, interrupting John as he tries to talk about his degree in Divinity (a “hot” field since paranormal activity has kicked up), and asking John how the first case went. John replies that everything came out very, very smooth… remarkably so, in fact.

ADELE: Really? You think it went well?
JOHN: Umm… yes?
ADELE: Really.
OTHER PLAYER: …and the camera pans out to the police cars and flaming wreckage in the background.

Remember the flaming wreckage… it comes up later.
So, we cut from the interview and I have the phone ring in the office and jump to that scene while everyone’s busy laughing. The setup for the job was a simple randomly generated deal right out of the book that I didn’t roll until that moment: an employee from the Denver courthouse calls up, terrified, because weird things are going on in his office, and he can hear whispering voices. (So can the players on the speakerphone, for that matter.)
Before they head over, John does some research.

[Academics roll of 4]
“Um, well… being a court house, well… dating back to the old western days, the
spirits of the old cowboy guys who were hung, they haunt the place?
[checks books]
Except, back then, it used to be a different building. So if those are cowboy ghosts, they would have had to move when it was torn down. I mean, otherwise, they’d be haunting where the Barnes & Noble is on the 16th Street Mall and dude, nobody haunts a Barnes & Noble.”

Riiiight. Everyone gears up and heads to the courthouse.
[For those who don’t know, the way to solve the mission is to accumulate Franchise dice — in this job, the group needed 14. You get dice by making attribute checks and either getting a 5 (earn one dice) or 6 (earn two). Somehow, the fact that the player’s are making up the story, earning the dice to conclude the story, and basically writing the ending by racking up the dice… it all works — the story comes together and even ends when it’s supposed to… it’s brilliant — and every time, they solve a mystery that they made up.]
Bart scores the first 6 of the mission when everyone piles out of the van.

[Athletics roll of 6]
BART, the NINJA PIZZA BOY: Hmm. I’ve delivered here before… I’ll meet you inside.
ONE OF THE OTHERS: What do you mean — [looks around — no one’s there] — I hate it when he does that.

Everyone else heads in into the darkened building, unarmed, since they have to get by the security guy. They head upstairs to the third floor and start checking things out as they close in on the office… the voices are already audible in the air.
[Stress check, level 1]

[Margie: Academics roll of 6, using the Spectre Detectre ™]
FRED: Hmm… the ectoplasmic “hot spot” isn’t in Whittiker’s office. It’s in the
janitor’s closet, next to it. In … the mop bucket.
RANDY: Does it smell like blood?

But… the low Athletic check indicates no blood. Hmm.

[Another 6 on Tech, this time with Jackie]
JACKIE: The water fountain is clean… the water’s clean… so the bucket is clean. It’s … the mop.

Right about then, BART slips into Whittiker’s office through the window and see’s their potential employer pinned against the office wall, feet dangling being strangled by… a mop (a HA!) — the bushy end is jammed against the man’s throat and holding him off the ground.
[Stress check, level 2]
BART pulls out his sword, and attacks the mop. Athletics roll — “I roll a 6!”
[DAVE goes to the Confessional chair.]

BART: But I got a 6!
GM: Okay, got it, you’ll kick ass in a second, just hold on right there. Dave?
DAVE/JOHN: “It was kind of ironic. I’ve always liked old, classic films. I’m probably the only one in my class who’d seen Fantasia, or remembered the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene …”
GM: [prostating self before the Confessional Chair] Thank you!
DAVE: … so our ninja pizza boy had no idea what was going to happen next.

I should point out here that, while the rest of us are in our 30’s (or more), Bart’s player is thirteen… he missed the Fantasia reference ENTIRELY.

GM: So, Bart, you rolled a six. What do you want to do?
JUSTIN: I cut it up into little slices, all the way up to the threads, then I
kick the mophead away from his throat.
GM: Eeeexxxxcellent…

I love the fact that Dave used a confessional to screw things up.
So… a few seconds later, the bits of Mop start to reform… each piece becoming another Mop. Bart screams for help.
KATIE runs back to the van for her Photon Gun and some Pieces and Parts.
VINCE strides to the office door, whips it open, and sees 14 five-foot-long stakes — er, mop handles gyrating around the room.
[For a vamprie, this should probably have been about a Stress check, level 3, but I spaced it.]

VINCE: Mops … why did it have to be mops?

MARGIE leaps into the Confessional Chair.

MARGIE: None of it started to fall into place until I saw the nameplate on the office door when the Boss pulled it open… Whittaker worked for the City Zoning Commission.

JOHN tries an academic roll on the whispering voices in the hall but, with a 3 or 4… all he’s getting are things like “Hey baby, you look good tonight…” “Look at the one on the pole…” “Champagne room is only twenty bucks….” and “Adult peepshows in the back…”
[Huh? What were we doing here? Oh, we figured out from Margie’s Confessional that Whittiker was rezoning a less-reputable area of town. According to Margie’s suggestions, which I took, the ghosts were pissed because a local strip-joint was being torn down (it was their favorite… haunt). The mops were actually from a different disgruntled victim of the rezoning… a local witch who was losing her fortune-telling shop.]
Still, John seems really interested in all this information about the strip club… very interested.
BART grabs his grapple line, hooks a broom, grabs their client, and leaps out the window (Athletics, 6). The broom is pulled after them and wedges across the window frame to brace the line. Whittiker screams like a fat, balding, middle-aged drag queen and wraps is arms around Bart’s face… Bart can’t see where to stop falling and barely keeps from impaling the both of them on the wrought iron fence below.
[Stress check, level 2]
VINCE burns a Cool dice to use massive vampiric speed to gather all other the brooms up in one big bundle. He get’s the mops in his arms, but they’re throwing him all over the room. He hollers for something to tie the bundle together with.
Meanwhile, KATIE has grabbed her Big Gun and some stuff that she thinks she can use to turn FRED’s Spectre Detectre ™ into a dousing rod to locate whoever’s animating the mops.

[MARGIE rolls a 3 (on Tech) to try find some duct tape in the janitor’s closet to wrap up the mops the vampire is trying to hold.]
GM: No duct tape, but you found an old garden hose.
MARGIE: Great!
DOYCE: … which someone used to, uh, clean a clogged waste line, you think.
That’s how it smells anyway. It’s nasty.
MARGIE: I toss it to the intern.

[Should have been a Stress check for that, but I forgot, I was laughing too hard.]
JOHN races into the room, rolls a decent athletic’s check to tie up the mops but NOT the vampire (a 5) and then tethers the bouncing bundle of mops to the leg of Whittiker’s desk.

Jackie hops in the Confessional
KATIE: … of course, anyone who’s ever had a big dog knows you never tie something to the leg of a desk or table… they’ll snap something like that right off.

So… snap. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love when the player’s hose themselves (they claim they had to… they needed three more dice ๐Ÿ™‚

RANDY: Wouldn’t a government desk be metal?
GM: Can’t be. She just said the leg broke off. ๐Ÿ™‚

I have dubbed this “Confessional Logic”. ๐Ÿ™‚
The bouncing, angry mass of pissed-off mops bursts through the door into the hallway, right on top of KATIE and FRED, who are regearing Fred’s Spectre Detectre ™ to home in on whoever’s animating the mops. Everyone gets knocked around… the Spectre Detectre ™ goes flying through the air, the Proton Pack goes another way…
[I should have had a big Stress check here… but I forgot again.]
KATIE dives for the falling Detectre. She rolls a 5 and just catches it.
FRED, realizing this is his only chance to get to Fire the Cool Gun, leaps for the Proton Pack. (S)he rolls a 6 (the last two dice they needed to finish the job), grabs it, and zaps the ghostly mops. The burning wreckage (remember the burning wreckage?) is blasted into flinders and (GM retcon) out the window at the end of the hall.

GM: And, of course, leaves big char marks along the walls.
DAVE: Yeah, this ties in great with the newscast at the beginning.
GM: You said it was a “smooth”.
DAVE: Exactly. The proton beam melts the linoeum in the courthouse hallway, so it cools off all glassy and …
GM: … and now it’s smooth. Niiiiiice.

In the wrap-up, the PCs helped the cops home in on the witch, and Vince slipped her a business card before she got hauled off.

VINCE: First offense… she’ll get off, and she might be useful. She does good work. Lot’s of personal investment in the project.

The whole actual game part of the game took about ninety minutes… maybe two hours. Tops. What a blast.

In Retrospect

It’s a great, fun game to play, and requires no prep whatsoever (though I did have fun printing up all the franchise sheets and making ‘real’ inspectors badges for everyone to wear). Here’s the stuff I noticed:
1. We didn’t use the Confessionals a lot. That’s the sort of thing you just have to learn to do with practice. That said, what the player’s did do with the Confessional was REALLY GREAT.
2. I didn’t remember to call for Stress checks enough. As a result, the whole group was down only three attribute dice at the end from Stress, and the group ended up going from a 7-dice franchise to 14-dice in one shot (even after Vince siphoned some off to bump his Cool up to a 3). Government gigs pay well, apparently.

JACKIE: Wow… we’re at 14 dice now? Kick ass.
RANDY: Which means that next time we need… 28 dice to complete the job?
GM: Yep.
EVERYONE: Oh crap.

It was a great, great time.


  1. That’s right, give away all our great character ideas!
    (Not much to comment on yet, except to nod along.)
    My initial thought was that this is a pretty frothy system. Simple, fast, entertaining. Not much for the character development, nor for serious, dramatic gaming/role-play.
    On the other hand, at least on the last point, why not? It all goes where the players want it to. We just have probelms keeping a straight face in our group.

  2. Okay …
    Stress tests are killer, man. it’s way too easy to lose two (or more) attribute pips with a single bad roll — which can seriously cripple your character. Maybe it was too easy, but it didn’t feel that way. ๐Ÿ™‚
    On the other hand, we went hog-wild with the Tech (you left out my Very Nice Library), so I guess that balances.
    I think the setting from the book worked better than the experiment the following night — probably because of the sense of normalcy in the Ghostbusters/Buffyverse/MiB realm (versus something that was largely fictional — if that made any sense).

  3. I would say that most of the parts that didn’t work with the 2nd night’s game was that I didn’t have a very clear definition of what the setting was, so everyone felt constrained and not willing to do much, just because they didn’t want to go outside the lines.
    I didn’t help this — I should have just let Jackie’s ship idea work with ‘magic’. Would have made things clearer.
    So… yeah… I wouldn’t say ‘normal’ and ‘fictional’, I’d say “defined” and “undefined”.

  4. Well, it would be interesting to see how it works in another fantasy setting. In some ways, yeah, what’s “defined” is critically important. We understand the bounds of the Scoobyverse genre (once we know that vampires have legal rights), so we can move around in it freely (another reason as well to set that story in Denver). In a less-understood setting, folks either rein themselves in, or go hog-wild. Interesting. So if it *is* a fantasy setting, it needs to be one that’s reasonably understood.

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