I played the game with about 10 or so people together, and we had a really good time with it! We had no issues setting up the discord or anything like that, and permissions for people weren't an issue (though I can see how they might be if there were rowdier players who weren't as set on following the roles). Here's a basic rundown of our issues and favorite parts:
OUR FAVORITE PARTS
- Using the discord format is brilliant. Making rooms as a ghost feels really cool, the "walkie-talkie" feel of being all in a channel with push-to-talk is fun, and overall, the use of the discord mechanics as the game space was innovative and exciting. I almost wish there was more use of the discord environment to gameplay ends.
- It allows players to lean hard on ghosty tropes that we all just... get. The classic haunted house is so deeply embedded in our brains that no one was at a loss for what it means to be a ghost, or what ghosts can do. And on top of that, it didn't feel... cheap? Even the most obvious spooks and frights were fun and interesting to play out. I don't know if that's just because we're an easily entertained group, but it was a lot of fun.
- Frights! Creating a list of the available fears for everyone to work with was a great way to "game-ify" something that might instead be overwhelming or too vague. Making the list of fears was fun, RPing being afraid of a specific thing is fun, and as a ghost having the frights as a fallback if they can't think of what else to do in a scene was very helpful.
- The scale of the game. It's not often that I get to play out what feels like a full RPG in a few hours. Minus one ghost in our game who struggled a bit with directing the players, we were in and out in about 4 hours. Which, given this was a basically unscripted one-shot by a bunch of unprepared players who learned how to play an hour before playing, was really fun! Overall, it was quick, easy, accessible, and the perfect scale for an evening of fun.
STUFF WE WERE CONFUSED BY:
- 10 people (5 ghosts, 5 investigators) might've been too many. Admittedly this is partly on us, but the rules as written says that part of the fun is the chaos increasing as people are solving different issues, but it didn't seem fun, it just made it harder to tell what was going on for everyone.
- What's a ghost? We had to look up in the forum here what it meant for a ghost to have a bloodline, title, and malign. In retrospect it's kind of obvious (who they are, why are they tethered to this place) but because those things have a gameplay consequence (releasing or calling ghosts), we felt they should be more explicit about what they are, how they should be written and understood by players, what's a good title vs. a bad one, etc. Which leads me to...
- Examples! There ought to be examples for like, everything in the book. They don't even need to be long, but just a basic framework that lets the players look at and go "oh, that's what that means," or "oh, that's how that should be written."
- It could be hard to tell what room an investigator is in. Obviously that's fine for other investigators, but for ghosts it's important. It was rough for a ghost to be typing out all the terrible frights happening to an investigator and wondering why they're not responding at all...
- Can ghosts trap investigators in a room? Obviously investigators can't (and SHOULDN'T) leave while a ghost is still typing, but do ghosts have the power to say "you cannot leave this room"? Should they have that power? When we played, we had ghosts trap investigators once or twice. Opinions ranged from "somewhat frustrating" to "exciting twist".
STUFF WE FELT WERE PROBLEMS
- Frights, while fun, felt unrewarding for ghosts. Wanting to make sure that they tried them all out on an investigator to identify their chosen fears meant that the scenes they created could feel scattered and disorganized, or worse, drift away from the thread they were trying to craft as a ghost with a specific story.
- Similarly, the "reward" for a ghost discovering an investigator's frights felt counterintuitive at best, and useless at worst. Our ghosts all agreed afterwards that none of them felt the need to call an investigator to a room at any point during the game, since they could just... be where the investigator was. Even if this is meant to allow a ghost to call attention to a location they feel is being ignored, it's not intuitive or explained as such in the rules, and can lead to off-theme haunts as ghosts scattershot frights at an investigator.
- There are more game elements than game mechanics. This goes hand in hand with frights feeling useless. Investigators have codified roles, names, and pronouns. Ghosts have specific titles, maligns, and bloodlines. Frights are listed and secretly chosen. Some of these things are helpful for creating a character or ghost, but if they don't serve a mechanical gameplay purpose, including them as a named and necessary part of playing the game (as opposed to being helpful tips, or character advice) feels unnecessary.
- Our ghosts found themselves in conflict with each other on occasion. More than one ghost's story intruding on another, a wide disparity in tone between the different ghosts, ghosts that seemed to suggest different timelines... Our haunted house ended up having something like 3 different secret rooms in the basement, and was both built in the 70s and was inhabited by a ghost from the 1800s.
- Investigators felt like they didn't have their own narratives to explore. They were less characters, and more cardboard props the players held up while exploring the house. They had names, pronouns, and motivations, but since everyone's actual motivation was "explore the house", their characters fell to the wayside in the interest of learning about the stories the ghosts were creating.
- The roles that investigators and ghosts are supposed to take in a gameplay sense. The one that we fell into was roughly "ghosts create spooky environments, trying to scare or shepherd the investigators, while leaving small clues to the story of who they are and why they're a ghost." My assumption was this is how it's supposed to work (and it was fun playing it this way), but because the ghost and investigator roles don't have that explicitly written out, we had to explore the roles a bit before we found what worked. This leads me to...
THE BIGGEST ISSUE:
Ghosts Are Game Masters. Full stop. When we played, we started out assuming that there would be more of a push-and-pull, or exchange of agency between the two based on the way the rules are written, but it's hard to see how that could be the case given that the ghosts have almost all of the power to create the circumstances of an interaction. This is reinforced by the implicit knowledge that ghosts, being supernatural creatures, don't really have constraints on what they can and can't do, and the explicit rules that give them the power to create and alter rooms. Investigators have a clear prerogative and constraints (they are human and limited to human senses and capabilities, and they are hired, inspired, or transpired to enter and investigate the house), while ghosts have neither of those things.
If the ghost's goal is to remove the investigators from the house, the game is not fun (this is laid out quite well in the ghosts vs. poltergeists section). If the ghost's goal is to explain their bloodline and malign, there's nothing stopping them from having the investigators experience a vision, or drop a diary at their feet that explains everything, which is also not fun. So the ghosts have near unlimited power compared to the investigators, and the most fun thing for a ghost to do is craft an environment for the investigators to explore, while slowly revealing tidbits of information that reveal a larger story... Which just makes them GMs in all but name.
Now, I should be clear, THAT'S TOTALLY FINE. There's nothing wrong with having the ghosts be GMs and investigators be players. In fact, it was a lot of fun! For a diceless RPG with multiple GMs that operates through an unusual medium, I was very impressed at how easily we were able to pick it up and have fun creating a spooky haunted house story. But what this game isn't is GM-less. And I think that unless that is explicitly stated as the case in the rules, it will cause problems. In our game, we had one player who found themselves very out of their depth as a ghost because of this, and though it didn't happen to us, I can see it creating friction for investigators that want to have more control over the narrative.
OUR TAKEAWAY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Ghosts are GMs, and should be clearly stated as such
- The use of discord as a game space is innovative and lots of fun
- The theme being "spooky haunted house" meant all the players had very clear understanding of the tropes and imagery.
- The game was perfectly "sized" for 4 or 5 hours of play, even with 10 yahoos who just learned the rules day of.
- There are more introduced elements than gameplay mechanics, which can be disappointing when invoking an element (investigators' fears or motivation, ghosts' malign, etc.) doesn't yield an interesting (or any) mechanical result.
And, as a final point, here's some stuff we would like to see included, or discussed and thought might be fun to try:
- Have all the players agree beforehand on the tone of the game. Is it Scooby-Doo, or the Amityville Horror? Blair witch, or Luigi's Mansion? Those share a lot of tropes and themes, but can be very different in practice.
- Have the ghosts coordinate beforehand! Work together to create a single narrative, or at least make sure they have their stories straight.
- Give the investigators more explicit agency and identity by assigning specific abilities to their motivation, e.g. inspired investigators can ask one question of the ghost they have to answer truthfully, or something like that).
- Have the investigation take place over multiple days, with the ghosts using or gaining different ghostly powers over time.
- Pressure release valves for large groups of players: Constrain ghosts to one or more specific floors, cut down on the total number of frights, etc.
- Use more of discord! Custom statuses, room roles, maybe even profile images? There's stuff to use there!
- Have invoking frights feel more mechanically impactful. Maybe "banishing" investigators by muting them for a period of time?
- Ghosts have a secret "method of release", like re-burying their body, burning a diary, or locating a secret room that is necessary for them to be released beyond simply knowing their title, bloodline, and malign.
Hope all of this mess is useful in some way! We had lots of fun playing (and discussing) the game and will certainly play more in the future (though likely with less than 10 players...)