Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 11 January 2016

Gangbusting back!

For a great many, Dungeons & Dragons was their first RPG, but as popular as the game proved to be, this did not stop publisher, TSR, Inc., from diversifying and looking for potential success with other genres. This resulted in games such as Top Secret, Star Frontiers, Marvel Super Heroes, and GANGBUSTERS, which in the case of the latter three, were designed as much to be introductions to the hobby as much as they were to new genres. The Old School Renaissance has plundered many of these titles, sometimes over and over, so that there are innumerable interpretations of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as versions of Marvel Super Heroes in the form of FASERIP and continued support for Star Frontiers. With continued support for these three RPGs, it would seem that GANGBUSTERS continues to be TSR’s unloved title, but in 2015, after twenty-five years since the last release for it, GANGBUSTERS is getting some love and support again.

Originally published in 1982, GANGBUSTERS: 1920’s Role-Playing Adventure Game is an RPG set during Prohibition Era America in Lakefront City, a setting roughly based on the Chicago of the period. It has the players take the roles of crooks, gangsters, reporters, cops, private eyes, and FBI agents and depending upon the scenario and campaign, fighting crime, taking a piece of the action, getting the big scoop--and earning Experience Points for it. Beyond the core boxed set, the RPG was supported by six releases, five of them scenarios and then the misnamed third edition in 1990. Then in 2015, Mark Hunt revisited the setting and the system with a brand new release, GBM-1 Joe’s Diner.

Designed to be used with First Level characters, GBM-1 Joe’s Diner is a seventeen-page 3.52 MB PDF that describes a location in Lakefront City and the NPCs to be found there before providing the Judge with some situations that the player characters can get involved in. The location is the eponymous diner, a place where the player characters can drop by, get to know the locals and the regulars, and then perhaps get pulled into an adventure or two. The diner’s location is given as a busy one across the street from a railway station and some warehouses, and given the number of dockworkers that appear in the area, not far from the docks, giving it plenty of footfall and thus customers of a diverse ethnicity. The establishment itself is not described, the presumption being that both Judgeas the Game Master in GANGBUSTERS is describedand his players will be familiar with such establishments, the supplement instead focusing upon its owner and its staff, each of them receiving a thumbnail portrait and description.

A number of the diner’s customers are accorded a similar treatment whilst others form the basis for certain scenarios and situations. There are opportunities to make some money, whether through honest investment or through simple theft; a murder to prevent (or perhaps carry out!); and rumours aplenty to follow up on. Two scenarios are given in some detail, but there are plenty of one line hooks scattered throughout the supplement. Getting the player characters involved in any one of these scenarios or hooks is relatively easy, but several suggestions are given. A cop might be introduced to Joe’s Diner whilst a veteran cop shows him his new beat; a gang might move into the district looking to stake out its territory in a Ward relatively free of gang activity; law enforcement could be looking to crack down on criminal activities; and perhaps a reporter might just be looking for a good story. These suggest possible campaign types, but of course, there is nothing to stop an ambitious Judge letting the players create the characters they want and rather than run a party of characters, run a game in which they have their own aims with their paths crossing occasionallyperhaps at Joe’s Dinerand sometimes even be at odds with each other.

GBM-1 Joe’s Diner is a first product and it shows. The editing and formatting is inconsistent and rough around the edges. Nevertheless, the supplement is an easy enough read and really benefits from a well-used selection of period photographs to illustrate the various NPCs and possible locations. 

GBM-1 Joe’s Diner does not have to be used with GANGBUSTERS, something of problem given that the game has long been out of print. The fact that it just lists the game stats for its various NPCs and that these are essentially percentages means that the game is easy to use with any RPG that uses percentiles as its mechanics, for example, Call of Cthulhu. Then again, the setting is simple enough and the Prohibition Era familiar enough that almost any set of rules could be used to create cops and robbers, gangsters and G-Men, private eyes and reporters would work in this milieu and in this setting. Similarly, it would be just as easy to move the location of Joe’s Diner to wherever the Judge is running his campaign.

GBM-1 Joe’s Diner is published under the banner of ‘From the Case Files of the Blue Book Detective Agency’, though that location is itself not detailed in the supplement. Perhaps it might be at a later date, should the author collect other ‘Case Files’ into the one supplement? As rough and ready as GBM-1 Joe’s Diner is, there is no denying the charm of the piece and the able support it gives to the Judge. GBM-1 Joe’s Diner marks the addition of GANGBUSTERS to the fold of the Old School Renaissance and a very welcome addition it is too.