Spooky season may have officially ended at the stroke of midnight on October 31st, but that doesn’t mean we have to immediately pack away the thrills and chills. Doing so would mean missing out on Ghoulboys, a new tabletop RPG that channels all the tension and eye-rolling of television shows such as Ghost Files and Buzzfeed Unsolved.
Created by designer Riley Daniels, Ghoulboys puts exactly three players into the roles of amateur ghost hunters who have a few hundred dollars worth of internet-purchased ghost hunting equipment (recently re-popularized by the cooperative video game Phasmophobia) and a location reputed to be extremely haunted, like totally brimming with spectral stuff, I promise.
The RPG’s biggest and most evident draw is the relationship between the three character roles - the Believer, the Sceptic and the Producer. Assigned by player personality (the Believer goes to whoever scares easiest, for example), each comes with their own sheet and specific moves that guide the players in establishing an, er… adversarial role with their fellows. The Believer is genuinely searching for evidence, while the sceptic follows along cracking wise and attempting to deflate the atmosphere. The producer, though? They’re simply making compelling content.
Ghoulboys uses a slight derivation on the Belonging Outside Belonging ethos, sometimes called No Dice, No Masters and powering popular independent titles such as Possum Creek’s Wanderhome and Sleepaway, Riley Rethal’s galactic 2e and Rae Nedjadi’s Balikbayan. Players will use moves to both earn and spend tokens, trading power for the ability to more strongly guide the pace and tone of the sessions.
For example, The Believer spends their tokens to speak with perhaps unearned authority on an area’s tragic past or why their dubious tech is particularly powerful in a certain situation, and they gain tokens back when a Spirit seems to respond coherently. The Sceptic, on the other hand, earns their tokens from Spirit responses that are undeniably silly or lame and can spend them to undermine the Believer’s gusto by recalling the last time they made such grand claims or confessing to being the accidental source of the spooky occurrence.
The referee exists to grease the wheels of the game as well as stoking friction between the two other roles. Their moves allow them to set Lures out of equipment that will only come into play when the team reviews the recorded footage later on, but they also take sides when the co-hosts butt heads. Daniels clarifies that Ghoulboys revels in the realm of good natured ribbing, and players should keep it friendly even as they constantly vie for narrative control.
Other moves are softer, creating opportunities to add flavour to a location or make a snide, offhand comment to the camera. Players are encouraged to riff as much as they want - hard moves exist to banish conversational lulls or answer the question 'okay, what do we do now?'
The digital PDF contains five locations to explore, including a farm, hospital and abandoned home. Some equipment, such as the SLS Skeletal Tracker, involves a little minigame using six-sided dice (the only polyhedrals needed for play) - the Producer will draw an image using a table of results, which might either reveal a slightly ominous stick figure emerging from the darkness of a hallway or a whole bunch of nonsense. Others, such as the talking stuffed animal, create evidence later on and opportunities for ridicule in the moment.
At 34 pages all told, Ghoulboys isn’t a terribly dense RPG, but I don’t think it needs to be - the tone is clearly conveyed in the mechanics, and the spirit of Shane Madej and Ryan Bergara’s antics is shot through nearly every aspect of this game, including the name. That’s a good thing - the actor and creator pair’s Ghost Files, a continuation of Buzzfeed Unsolved unshackled from its parent company, is a loving tribute to the conspiratorial, found footage ‘documatary’ programmes popularized in the early 2000s.
With sessions lasting between two and hour hours, Ghoulboys feels like the perfect pick for playgroups eager to keep their spines tingling into the nascent November days or anyone who likes arguing with their friends while juggling a Oija board and a flashlight in the basement of a meat packing plant. More information can be found on the RPG’s Itch.io page, which also features a soundtrack to be played during the session - or used when cutting to commercials. Happy filming, hunters!