Using Lost Souls RPG in Your Games

Copyright 1992, 1996 by Steffan O'Sullivan

Last updated June 22, 1998

Lost Souls is an innovative role-playing game from Marquee Press where the PCs start the game dead - as ghosts. The genre is a lot of fun, and the game has a lot going for it. While I don't care for class-based, random character-generation systems, especially those which require you to look up results on a table (which this is), the basic concepts and the Powers, which are the heart of the game, are easily adapted to any other game system.

However, last November I had an occasion to use it in a way not even hinted at in the book - and the results were a big success! Because it was so much fun, I'm passing the idea on to you to try. All you need is your regular game system and the Lost Souls RPG. Note: I have no connection with Marquee Press; I just like the game.

PC Death

November 13, 1992, was Friday the Thirteenth. I was running a game at a convention (GURPS Bunnies & Burrows, but it could have been anything), and in honor of the date I made it a horror game.

The only problem with a Horror game at a convention is the death of some of the PCs. It's inevitable if the genre is run right, but it doesn't seem fair to me for someone who's paid money to have a short game.

I had just bought Lost Souls a few weeks earlier, and had spent some time translating the Powers to GURPS. So the game was on my mind while pondering how to run a Horror game true to genre yet not have the players be short-changed out of the entire time slot.

Then it hit me: although Lost Souls starts the game off with the death of all of the PCs, you don't have to run it that way! You can have a single PC become a ghost in the middle of the game, if it happens anyway. In other words, I could be true to the genre yet keep the players in the game.

The Convention Game

Since this was a Con and I had pre-generated characters, I spent some more time pre-generating a separate sheet for each character. This isn't as tedious as it sounds: each sheet shared most of the same information; only the Power lists were different.

When the first character died, everyone was stunned. I quietly handed a sheet of paper to the player, and told him to go out into the hall and read it, and to come back in when he had finished both sides.

Side One was a little story, common to all the ghost sheets. I followed Lost Souls' initial ghost-meets-spirit-guide idea, telling it from the point of view of the deceased character. I also used Lost Souls' Karma concept, and the idea of unfinished business allowing you to return as a ghost. At the end of the page, I gave the player the option to return as a ghost, or opt to pass on from this existence and leave the game.

Side Two contained game-mechanic information. I explained Lost Souls' concept of how ectoplasm, semi-material, and material beings affect each other. I then listed five Powers that the new ghost was capable of.

Since Bunnies & Burrows has psionic Powers in it, it was easy to arrange an occasional message between a Seer bunny and the ghost. In addition, each ghost (two died that game, all told) had limited ability to manifest in some way to the living.

I chose the Lost Souls' Powers for each ghost by category:

  • a Power that could communicate with (or at least to) the living,
  • a Power that could affect or influence the living,
  • a Power that could affect objects,
  • an ESP Power, and
  • a personal enhancement Power, such as Flight or Growth.
Lost Souls' Powers all have limited uses per day, and I kept to that - otherwise the ghosts would have been too powerful! Since I wasn't using their game mechanics, I had to improvise for GURPS: I set all Powers equal to skill 12. [I'd use Fair in Fudge.] A failed attempt to use a Power counted as one of the uses per day. The amount the skill was made by affected duration: making it by one might mean speaking five words to living being, for example, while making it by 5 allowed 25 words.

To put it briefly, the experiment was an enormous success. The two players playing the ghosts had at least as good a time as the living bunnies, and were able to affect the outcome of the game significantly. Since they had done well, and helped to save the warren, I ruled at the end of the game that they joined El-Ahrairah's Owsla after the game (see Watership Down for what that means . . .). The living bunnies were feted as heroes back at the warren, where everyone honored the memory of the noble dead.

The Regular Campaign

The idea of a PC becoming an active ghost can also work well in a regular ongoing game, of any genre. Normally, I hate to kill characters when I GM. But this concept allows a PC to die, when it is appropriate, without any bad feelings. This adds spice to games - my games, especially, where the players have come to expect that they'll survive anything, since they know I hate to kill PCs . . .

The technique of using PC ghosts in an ongoing game is very similar to that outlined above. However, instead of assigning the Powers, I let the PCs look over the list and choose which five they will start with. Since Lost Souls contains about 125 Powers (and I added a few more), I have reorganized them by effect to make it easier to choose. I don't limit them to one-per-category as I had chosen for the convention characters: if a PC wants all five Powers to be those that influence living beings, that's his choice. Of course, you could elect to have them roll up their Powers on the charts Lost Souls provide, if that's more in keeping with your game system.

I also put a few hours work into translating the mechanics for each Power - duration, uses per day, etc. - into my regular gaming system. This may be necessary to keep ghosts from unbalancing your game, but is a one-time effort, fortunately. A few other details are necessary to translate: for example, I made a ghost's Will to Live stat equal to twice the character's Health in GURPS.

Once the unfinished business that kept the ghost on this plane has been completed (which may take many more sessions!), the player has to make a choice. He can continue to play the ghost in an attempt to improve his Karma, or he can finally let the character go and create a new, living character to join the game at an appropriate interlude. If a player opts to continue as a ghost, I follow Lost Souls' Karma points system (instead of my game's regular experience point system) for raising skills, Power levels, adding new Powers, gaining ectoplasmic objects, etc.

All in All . . .

This is a refreshing technique to use with any game. While it may not be appropriate for every game, it must be admitted that the belief in ghosts is fairly universal across all cultures and times. Certainly any genre that I can think of can stand a PC ghost or two running around, at least until the death is avenged. Who knows, perhaps even robots have ghosts?

The concept certainly frees the "nice" GM who doesn't want to kill characters, yet really should on occasion when they deserve it. In the long run, this makes for better games: knowing you could lose a favorite character puts some spice into the game, yet also knowing you get to run him for one last gasp afterwards lets you take some risks. This creates a nice balance that I highly recommend.

Note: At this time (March, 2000), Lost Souls is out of print and the publishing company dormant. I am unable to tell you how to get a copy of the game, except in the most general terms in my web article on finding out-of-print games. Sorry.

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