2011-10-03 : Murderous Ghosts playtest

Murderous Ghosts

If you'd like to playtest Murderous Ghosts, excellent, I'd love to have your help! Email me, lumpley at the gmail, and I'll send you the documents.

The playtest period will run only from Oct 1 to Oct 15 or so. I'll ask you to play at least one game of Murderous Ghosts during the playtest period, and write me about it.

The game is for two players, takes about 20 minutes to play, and is suitable for players at all levels of roleplaying experience, ages teen and adult.

1. On 2011-10-03, Vincent said:

I'm delighted to answer questions and talk here, of course.

There's also an ecretsay orumfay for playtest discussion over at the barf.


2. On 2011-10-03, Simon C said:

Pick me!

I get the wigs super easy, but never from roleplaying games before, so that'll be interesting.


3. On 2011-10-03, Simon C said:

Oh! A question: "Trauma Games" - is that significant? Or just a name?

Also: I got issues with your cover, but maybe you don't wanna hear them? It's not a huge deal, so if you're settled on the design, I'll keep 'em to myself.


4. On 2011-10-03, Vincent said:

Email me!


5. On 2011-10-03, Vincent said:

Oh, and Trauma Games is a thing, but I'm not ready to talk about it yet. For now it's just a name.


6. On 2011-10-03, Simon C said:


Sounds like an exciting thing. I look forward to hearing more. Names have power.


7. On 2011-10-03, Vincent said:

Holy crap friends. I've been doing nothing for the last hour but sending out playtest documents.


8. On 2011-10-03, Vincent said:

A couple of people have asked, so: I'm exaggerating a little, and yes, you can still sign up if you want to. Email me!


9. On 2011-10-03, Silerias said:

Just emailed you :)


10. On 2011-10-03, Vincent said:

Oh, someone else asked, so:

The truth can finally be told! Yes, Llama Flames = Trauma Games.


11. On 2011-10-03, David Berg said:

I'll be playing this with someone whose only RPG experience is D&D2 10 years ago.

For your testing purposes, does it matter whether I give her some sort of orienting spiel, or just plop the player book down in front of her and say "go!"?

If orienting is good, what should I tell her?



12. On 2011-10-03, Vincent said:

Good question!

I wouldn't orient her beforehand, no. Just be ready to help her out during the first few minutes of play if she needs it (which she probably won't).

For my testing purposes, I'd love it if you'd give her the GM book first, not the player book. My plan is for people at seriously all levels of roleplaying experience to be able to GM the game out the gate, and I'd love to hear how she does with it.


13. On 2011-10-03, David Berg said:

Cool, thanks.

Yeah, I'd like to see her GM it too!  I don't think she'll go for it, but I will totally try.


14. On 2011-10-03, Vincent said:

Don't hype it up as GMing. Let her read "before play" in the GM's book before she decides.


15. On 2011-10-03, Timo said:

quick rules question, hope here is ok:  1-5 is a bust, and when you bust you discard your hand.  So this means that, from an empty hand if you draw a 3 of spades, you bust and discard the card immediately?


16. On 2011-10-03, Timo said:

...I should learn to read better.  ecretsay we go.


17. On 2011-10-03, Vincent said:

Here is fine!

Yes. Discard your 3, start the next draw with an empty hand again. It's unkind.


18. On 2011-10-03, Bret said:

I'd playtest but I remember a certain someone never giving me feedback on my game, VINCENT.

I'm kidding, fire it my way. I'll do read the thing and probably play it.


19. On 2011-10-03, jenskot said:

Played. Died in 27 minutes!

Terry GMed. I played.  The 27 minutes included reading the rules.

We printed out the "murderghosts-bothforcutting" version, double sided, cut it in half, and stapled the booklets together.

Although it's obvious now, I didn't realize the GM had a BEFORE PLAY section so I immediately went to START and started the game.

I didn't know exactly what an urban spelunker was. Terry explained it. Otherwise I would have looked it up to be sure.

Terry had no problem describing and GMing. Granted she's an experienced GM but as a player I kept wondering "is she just making this up or is it in the book." It was seamless. Terry went into GMing blind (no pre-reading).

The GM playing cards face down, the player playing cards face up, and flipping through the booklets, not knowing what was next, was creepy. I felt a little exposed as a player. Rolling dice would have detracted from the feel.

When I turned to 1 (saying turn to 1 out loud was awkward, we kept saying "page 1" instead of "1") the game asked me to choose what I thought the worst thing going on was. Nothing immediately on the list seemed right, but then page 1 says, "you can ask the GM questions before you choose" which is brilliant. I did, and then the answer became really obvious.

I chose "Madness. Turn to 7." The game said, "Draw. On turn 1, this is a free draw: count it as a high hand." That was confusing. Is this turn 1? When is turn 2? What is a free draw? The confusion only lasted for 30 seconds or so, then I followed the instructions under "high hand." But now I realize? I skipped a step! It said the hand counted as high, so I completely skipped and didn't read "High hand or low hand: Tell the GM who is your most important role model."

Terry was impressed how the rules followed the fiction, and covered most of the fictional situations we roleplayed.

I drew. High hand. My hands couldn't stop shaking. I decided its hands were the worst part as they did awful things to me. I drew. Busted. Panic! Drew again. Second Bust in a row. Dead!

Terry was caught off guard that I died so suddenly. She was a little disappointed she never drew any cards after her first face down draw.

We both enjoyed the game. Not at all what we expected? in a good way.  I LOVED that at any time I could stop playing and turn to page 22. I'm curious to do so, just to see what happens.

We will play again!


20. On 2011-10-03, jenskot said:


I had to flip to the back of the book to read "The Player's Draw" a few times to remind myself what a high hand, low hand, and bust was. Not a big deal. After busting a few times, I now know to beware of 1-5 and 21+!

I forgot that I could discard my hand before a draw. That would have avoided my first bust.

Just spoke to Terry again about the game and she's pretty excited to play as a player.


21. On 2011-10-04, Sean M. said:

I ran it twice! I didn't wholeheartedly try to give myself the wigs due to watching Blindness the night before and feeling adequately wigged out, which was on your recommendation in a AW thread so I'll technically lay the blame on the designer.

Neither me or my player got serious wigs, I was mostly amused at the game's design and the player was somewhat frustrated. The player recognized playing the game as something they'd rather watch other people do.

How do you get into the secret forum?

my nickname on barf is evilseanbot


22. On 2011-10-04, Alex D. said:

Sean: One does not simply walk into the ecretsay orumfay.
Er, wait, they do?

It's there in the appropriate place. :)

Vincent: Is this game part of an answer to these four problems: "trite content, oppressive social footprint, counterproductive procedures of play, and the microaudience"? It really feels like it is.


23. On 2011-10-04, Vincent said:

Bret: I'm a bad friend.

John: Excellent! Thank you!

Sean: It's just a hack forum, it's not really secret. Scroll down to Murderous Ghosts.

Alex: Well, it's my stab at an answer to the oppressive social footprint problem, yes. The others, I've made tradeoffs. It's got a super-micro audience, for instance.

I don't figure that many games, maybe any, can really take on more than one of those probs in a serious way.


24. On 2011-10-04, Alex D. said:

A-yep, you're probably right! I said "part of an answer" when I should've said "an answer to one, maybe two". Or a stab at it!


25. On 2011-10-04, Vincent said:

Oh, and Sean, I'm in suspense! Do come to the forum or email me and tell me about your game.


26. On 2011-10-04, jenskot said:

We played again, I GMed this time. It went almost an hour!

The game ended with Terry escaping / winning, after I drew my 5th card (after the 4th card, I had 3 suits).

Terry busted at least 5 times, lots of Low hand results and I believe 2 High hands.

We kept looping back to player page 17. Which confused Terry at first with the starting text, "the ghost expects you to fit yourself into its story". Most other player pages say things like "you do this but...". Where this was odd in play. She busted on page 17 at least twice which tells you, "do not ask the GM what this ghost expects you to do next" and then it doesn't prompt either the player or GM to turn to any specific pages or to do anything specifically. After some awkwardness, I figured that the intent was for us to roleplay back and forth till a specific mechanic was triggered on my original page.

There were also at least one point where it wasn't instantly clear who is turning to a specified page. I believe it was in the player book. Usually it says, "tell the GM to turn to X" but I think there was a spot where it says, "Tell the GM to do X, and to turn to Y." Going back to it, it was clear. But in the heat of play (especially scary play), we first misread this as telling the player to turn to a specific page. We didn't make that mistake but it was a point of temporary confusion.

After 30 minutes we were frustrated and a little worried the game was caught in a loop. I think part of the problem was that Terry didn't commit to 1 type of action. She didn't keep trying to escape. Sometimes she interacted with the ghost, sometimes she attacked it, often she tried to escape, 1 time she went backwards. Part of this was my fault. I describe victims that the Ghost was doing horrible things to, which kept giving Terry reasons to hesitate and consider helping them or finding out more.

In the end, both of us had chills. The story we experienced was brutal.

I would love to see this run by someone who has never roleplayed before. I will possibly find out this Saturday.


27. On 2011-10-04, Vincent said:

I'm beginning to suspect this is a place where the game really breaks down: when the PC becomes a witness to the ghosts' violence to one another, not a target of the ghosts' violence. Hm.


28. On 2011-10-04, seneca29 said:

I think I have the perfect chance to play it. : )
Email sent. : )


29. On 2011-10-05, Paul T. said:

I'm going to play this with a non-gamer soon. I'll have them GM, for sure. I'll try to pick someone who likes ghost stories.


30. On 2011-10-07, Simon C said:

Just got back from playing in my lunchbreak (I love that this is possible). The game was sadly cut short when we discovered we hadn't printed one page of the player's book.

My only constructive feedback at this point is that it might be useful to have some compelling reason why the protagonist can't just go back out the way they came in. Maybe heavy rain is making the sewers flood?


31. On 2011-10-07, Vincent said:

If the PC goes back into the sewers, that doesn't mean the rules aren't in force. Just keep playing. Now the PC's encountering ghosts in the sewers!


32. On 2011-10-07, Simon C said:

That's certainly a possibility, although I feel like that might make it harder for the GM to tie things to the history they've invented. Also it might make it easier for the player to come up with "try to escape" options which don't engage with the scary ghost stuff. I haven't played enough to know for sure though.

I have to say, the way the game makes the player's "try to win" agenda mesh with the GM's "give yourself the wigs" agenda is pretty damn intriguing. I was sceptical at first, but I'm coming around to it.

Looking forward to playing more this weekend.


33. On 2011-10-07, Simon C said:

NB: "Sceptical" is where you are skeptical about sceptres, a common condition.


34. On 2011-10-07, jenskot said:

Played 2 more times with new people.

Making ghost less subtle greatly improved the game. 3rd game was 35 minutes long, 2nd game was 22 minutes long.

One of the new players became very frustrated when they kept looping to the same pages. We talked about it afterward and their frustration was because: they felt trapped, they thought the game may have broke, they wanted to see more of the book. They also noted frustration that 21 was a bust and not a good thing (due to black jack). I personally enjoy breaking expectations with 21 being bust but they didn't share my feelings.

New players still had problems determining if they flip pages or if the GM flips. It's almost always obvious but in the heat of play can become confusing. One new player who GMed also felt frustrated when they turned to a page that then instructed them to turn to yet another page without any roleplaying or card play involved first.

Hopefully I will have someone with minimal GM experience run tomorrow.


35. On 2011-10-08, Paul T. said:

Disclaimer: Haven't played the game yet, although I will have a chance to play a few times this coming week, and I'm looking forward to it!


Is there a particular reason why you've chosen to give the protagonist a character identity (urban spelunker and all that) instead of just saying "imagine YOU are in the following situation..."?

The "character" is pretty thin, right? What is its purpose? (If the character gets developed in more detail later in the game, then you can safely ignore my question—I've decided to test how the game plays with no prep, so I'm not reading the booklets.)


36. On 2011-10-09, jenskot said:

Played 2 more times at Recess on Saturday. 1 thing of note: games went better when the ghost was obviously a ghost. If the ghost was similar to a zombie, or seemed like a person at first and wasn't immediately recognizable as a traditional ghost ghost... when the booklet asked the player, "is a ghost here", they answered no, which slowed the game down.

4 other people also played with my copies but I was busy and couldn't observe their games. I'll try to get feedback.

I'm printing the updated documents now.


37. On 2011-10-09, jenskot said:

Played the new version.

In the GM book, page 29, where it says:

"Has this ghost already attacked the other player before? Then it murders her. Turn to 37."

By "already attacked", do yo mean a "successful attack" that the player survived? Or any attack, even one the player avoided?


38. On 2011-10-10, Ethan said:

Passed the first playtest documents off to a couple waiting for a LARP to start at the con this weekend. Maybe it was the unfamiliar format, but they struggled with the thing and handed it back after 15 minutes. One said something like, "We got lost real fast and there's someone here who will explain a board game to us."


39. On 2011-10-10, jenskot said:

I sold the game concept to a friend who has never GMed and only played 1 RPG ever. She agreed to GM.

Unfortunately she gave up after 10 minutes.

I tried to study what was going on as best I could. And asked a few neutral questions after to understand what the issues were. As best as I can tell, it felt too overwhelming.

She started reading the "TO PLAY" section. The part that said "Your job is to create an unexplained terrifying experience for yourself, and leave troubling unanswered questions" caused her anxiety. The word "your job" felt like a lot of pressure. And "create an unexplained terrifying experience" sounded simultaneously too big and too vague.

She then moved on to the "USE THIS BOOK" section. This completely confused her. I LOVE that in the MC book, all the page numbers are odd now (and even in the player book). This made playing the game much easier. But when she read that the top number was "all odd numbers", she had no idea what the context was. It was confusing but she didn't blame the text for being vague but blamed herself for not getting it. Causing more anxiety. She skipped pass most of this section.

Then she moved onto the "THE PLAYER'S DRAW" section. This made things worse for her. It was a lot of information that didn't relate to her job or responsibilities. She was still waiting to read something that would calm her anxieties... something that would tell her in easy steps how to do her job.

She moved to the "YOUR DRAW" page. She drew the card face down into her hand but was confused. In most cards, face down would go on the table, not into your hand. If she held them face down in her hand, the face of the cards would face the other player which seemed weird. Then when she read "whenever the other player moves closer to her eventual escape, draw another card..." she assumed that this happened whenever she wanted, not dictated by the game rules themselves (which isn't the case). The section ends with, "for complete details, see 3 and 23 in the book". So she flipped to 3. It starts with the words, "CORE LOOP", she got even more confused, and her anxiety increased.

She flipped back to the "BEFORE PLAY" section. This repeats some of the info in the previous "YOU DRAW" page. It says to draw a card into your hand again, so she ended up drawing 2 cards.

We were then about to start and she said, "I can't do this."

We then played Dungeon World, no problem. Most of the info on the Dungeon World / Apocalypse World style character sheets didn't confuse her at all. Partly I think it is because she didn't feel alone in using them.


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