Yesterday's games night was great. We played GHOST/ECHO with me GMing, and Patrick taking the role of GRIP, and Steve playing COIL. One minute these characters were just names on the page, and soon they were thieves on a job-gone-bad, armed with origami guns and brain hack knives, stealing information from the Ghost World and running from men and wraiths in a future-China of seemingly endless night...
I've enjoyed GHOST/ECHO before when Patrick has GMed it, and was eager to see what would come out of it this time. Between the three of us we told a story of a future world that sits in parallel with the Ghost World, a dimension of hyperspatial mathematics. Some can cross over naturally in specific ley line places, and some can manipulate pocket universes of Ghost Space with technology.
GRIP and COIL were looking for paper in the Ghost World; they didn't know what they had stolen, just that it was valuable to Bear and Lake, their employers for this job. The rest of their team either dead or missing, they go on the run looking for safe harbour and answers, all the while being pursued by WRAITHS. There's a lot of debate about where Wraiths come from. They exist in the Ghost World, but no-one can determine whether they are native to that space or are artificial lifeforms that were introduced by humans. In any case, they cross over to our world by using human bodies. On our side they inhabit/rent humans who put on totemic technological masks. Wraiths encountered last night included Hawks and Spiders, and a Viper agent was shown to possess remarkable survival mechanisms while wearing the mask.
I'm getting dizzy thinking about how much happened: the creativity and world-building at the table from the three of us, the ideas that the players came up with for getting out of situations and as the time for our session drew to a close the way different loose threads seemed to come together. Not through railroading or constriction, but just through a natural closure. It was a great, great story that came together.
GHOST/ECHO has two awesome things going for it as a game: great mechanics and great prompts for play. Someone GMing it for the first time needs only to give things a five minute lookover and you can just get going. Ask the players questions as they tell you about their characters and then go crazy thinking up the details of the world with the players. Throw everything you love about science fiction, dystopias, heists, The Matrix, Blade Runner, near future, far future, noir, cyberpunk - any and every trope you can think of. IT WILL WORK.
The mechanics really work: rolling 2d6 in a situation with a goal and a danger, and then assigning the individual dice to whichever you want (high rolls are better, goals come true, dangers are avoided). It gets strategic. For example: GRIP is trying to use his brain hack knife on the Bear - more on him in a minute - so his goal is brainhacking and the danger is that the Bear will get the drop on him. He rolls a 6 and a 2. So he can either succeed in the brainhacking but the Bear will get him, or he can fail at the brainhack ("The Bear shrugs you off as you go to stab him...") but avoid danger ("...you dodge out of the way of his paws").
Among all of the great stuff at the table last night, the origin story of the criminals Bear and Lake was my favourite, followed by meeting Bear in the final moments. Bear is a former Russian dancing bear that was rescued from a circus. Experimented on by scientists he was uplifted to above human intelligence, and then escaped. With a great intellect, a chip on his shoulder and massive bear strength, a life of crime beckoned... Lake was the assistant of the scientists who experimented on him. She felt sorry for Bear and helped him escape, and over the years has been his most loyal friend.
(imagine every awesome/bad Russian accent in cinema)
"You try to brainhack Bear? In Soviet Russia, BEAR BRAINHACK YOU!!!"
GHOST/ECHO is an awesome game. It's simple to play, has great background materials and prompts that inspire you to make an intriguing world to play in. If you get the chance, give it a go.