This article originally appeared in Pyramid #4
LOST SOULS, 2nd Ed.Published by Marquee Press
Designed by Joe Williams & Kathleen Williams
Now, here's a cool idea. Tired of putting all your player characters through endless life-and-death struggles? Not a problem in Lost Souls - they're already dead! Now, if they can just take care of that unfinished business on Earth before being reincarnated as a toad . . . or worse, as a lawyer . . .
Lost Souls is a roleplaying game in which the players take on the roles of ghosts, spirits from the Other Side, returned to this world to fulfill some sort of task unfinished during their material life before they can move on to the next life. The premise seems to borrow heavily from the movie Ghost, but that was a pretty good movie, so why not? The theology of the game is not likely to win any friends in the Moral Majority, not only for the acceptance of the existence of ghosts (and the idea that they're the "good guys'' of the game), but for the whole reincarnation thing. But the book seems to borrow generously from a number of different belief systems, and it's all done with a sensitive, almost light, touch, so folks with any sense of humor at all shouldn't be too bothered by it.
Character creation is relatively simple. There's a snappy two-sided character sheet in the back of the book (ready for photocopying) that has everything you need laid out, including the all-important Action Results Table (ART) that governs all game mechanics (more about that later). You can create a character out of whole cloth using the guidelines, or simply get out those percentile dice and start rolling. There are tables for sex, age at death, height, weight, eye color, and more, including a "Key Feature'' table that includes entries like Facial Tic and Albino.
You also need a profession (a former profession, actually). This profession determines your basic stats - former athletes have good physical stats, while former scientists lean towards the cerebral. There are 12 basic stats in the game, and each one is assigned a number between 2 and 13 (each number used exactly once), plus a d6 roll for each stat. This is a nice way to produce balanced characters (everybody's got the same stat range, with a few variations, just in different places). Your profession also determines your starting skills, your Special Ability, and the ectoplasmic gear you carry with you into the afterlife.
The next thing to determine is the Cause of Death. It's assumed that your death was an untimely one; people who die at the proper time go on to their proper reward, and don't become ghosts at all. It's only because you died too soon that you have the Will To Live (WTL, which serves as the hit points of the game) that keeps you going as a ghost. Lose your Will To Live, and you are reincarnated immediately - the Lost Souls equivalent of character death. Each profession has its own Cause of Death table, and this might be the weakest part of the game. For most of the rest of the book, Lost Souls reads like a serious horror roleplaying game, but the Cause of Death tables, in an attempt to lighten things up, go way too far into the silly. The Journalist profession, for example, has several interesting Causes of Death that could give your character something to keep him or her going for quite a while - "Researching political corruption. Murdered by politician,'' or "Covering civil war in Latin America. Caught in cross-fire.'' But the table also includes "Fell off doorstep while delivering newspaper,'' and "Tried to repair computer with a fork.'' I suggest that you don't roll on this table; just pick one - or make up a Cause of Death of your own, clearing it with your Game Master, of course.
Your Cause of Death also determines your starting Karma score, a very important stat. Karma is accumulated for doing good deeds and reaching goals; you lose it for doing evil deeds. You can also spend Karma during the course of the game to pull off special actions or bail yourself out of tight spots. If your character ever accumulates 60 Karma (even in the middle of a play session), it immediately moves to a Higher Plane of Existence (essentially retiring from the game). And when you die, er, I mean, run out of Will To Live points, your Karma level at the time of death or . . . whatever, determines how you are reincarnated. It is possible to have a Karma score in the negative numbers, but that is reserved (usually) for demons and other evil creatures.
But determining what you were is just the half of it. Next you have to determine what kind of ghost you are, your appearance and your supernatural powers. There are 22 different revenants to play, from Apparition and Banshee all the way to Will O' Wisp and Wraith. Ghosts can be Luminous, Vaporous, or Solid in nature, and can appear Beauteous, Monstrous, Skeletal, Decayed, or any number of other gruesome things.
Lastly, there's another set of tables to roll on to give you more information about your former life - children left behind, lovers unconsoled, misdeeds unforgiven, wrongs unavenged - that are very useful as adventure hooks. Then there's one final table for your Unfinished Business - the one thing you must accomplish as a ghost in order to move on to your next life. While all the die rolling can get tedious, especially if you're not used to a die-intensive RPG, it's probably a good idea to create your first couple of characters with the system as presented in the book, just to get the hang of how things work in Lost Souls. There's plenty of time to get fancy later on.
The game mechanics themselves are pretty simple, a good example of the "universal table'' school of RPG design. The all-important Action Results Table (ART) is not quite state-of-the-ART (pun intended), but it works pretty darn well. The rows are numbered from 1 to 25, and the columns are marked with five degrees of failure (Catastrophic, Pathetic, Feeble, Inferior and Poor) and five degrees of success (Passable, Good, Great, Superior, Awesome). Find the stat or skill number you're rolling against, fire off the percentile dice, and read what level of success (or failure) you come up with. There are ways to make Cooperative Rolls (more than one ghost trying to accomplish a task together), Competitive Rolls (opposing stats are rolled against, and the highest level of success wins), and even ways to determine durations, distances and other stats. For example, when Summoning an Animal (a ghostly power), you have to make a Passable roll (against your Nature stat) to succeed. But every column above Passable your actual roll hits is a multiplier to the amount of time the summoned beastie sticks around.
Combat also uses the ART, with the attacker rolling against some sort of offensive skill, the defender rolling against a Defense stat, and the results being compared. There are all the usual complications for area effect weapons, automatic fire, range, dodge, parry, grappling and so on.
There's one other possible role for PCs in the game, and they get their own chapter - Mediums. (Think of the Whoopi Goldberg character in Ghost.) Mediums talk to ghosts (and can deliver messages to other living persons), and often work with them on their quests. There are several types, including Cleric, Psychic and Witch.
The Referee's Section takes up the last 70 pages or so of the 192-page book: (Players who don't plan to run Lost Souls are asked not to read this section, but since everybody needs the book, what player isn't going to take a peek? On the other hand, keeping the entire game in one book does keep the cost down . . .) The referee gets the lowdown on how all the cosmic stuff works, a section of 27 NPCs (that is, monsters) the players can encounter (including Jack the Ripper and Hitler), a couple of pages on creating demons (the nastiest monsters the PCs are likely to run up against), and two introductory adventures.
The adventures not only give everybody a place to start, but also provide an outline for the way Lost Souls adventures should be run. Unless your group of PC ghosts are all related in some way (a team of secret agents all blown up by the same bomb, or a group of people who all died in the same plane crash), your PCs will have completely unrelated goals. Each scenario tends to revolve around a single PC (called by the book the "Central Character''), and ties directly into that PC's Unfinished Business. The rest of the ghosts are supporting cast, helping the Central Character accomplish his or her goal and picking up whatever Karma they can along the way. Then next adventure, presumably, it'll be somebody else's turn . . .
The cover is unremarkable and the interior art mostly mediocre. The typography is clear, however (with a neat blood-dripping typeface for the headings), though there are more typographical errors than there should be. But overall, this is a fascinating idea, well executed. Lost Souls may not become your favorite roleplaying game, but it will be one you return to time and again when you're tired of the usual struggles to keep your characters on this side of the afterlife.
- Scott Haring
Article publication date: December 1, 1993
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