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 and Top Secret continus 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 Huntrevisited the setting and the system with a brand new release, GBM-1 Joe’s Diner and has since led to the release of GangBusters: The Blue Book Detective Agency Beginner Game, a new and introductory edition of the game that focuses on playing private investigators. This, together with a new and expanded edition of GBM-1 Joe’s Diner and Welcome to Rock Junction, formed the basis for the Gangbusters Limited Edition Box BEGINNER GAME. Of course, for professional reasons, Reviews from R’lyeh cannot review any of the aforementioned books or indeed the boxed set, but it can review other releases from Mark Hunt for GANGBUSTERS and his Rock Junction setting, beginning with GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend.
Written for use with Second Level characters, GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend describes a location and its staff, that of Vickers’ Race Track, a dog track owned and run by dog enthusiast, Margaret Vickers. Other notable characters include a rich young investor with a penchant for putting money on the dogs, plus his staff; a rich old lady whose dog—and the key to her lockbox on his collar—have gone missing, plus the private eye hired to find the animal; and a vet and his faithful companion. A number of punters that might be found at the Vickers Dog Track are also listed, though they are little more than stats. One NPC, the reporter Kit Baker, reappears from GBM-1 Joe’s Diner.
Unfortunately, neither the dog track or its operation are described beyond cursory details. Nor is there a map of the dog track and its facilities. All of which will be a problem from anyone who is unfamiliar with such places in the here and now, let alone in the Prohibition Era. What this means is that the Judge—as the Game Master in GANGBUSTERS is known—will have to do a fair amount of research of his own if he wants to get the most out of GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend. Further, there is not the wealth of detail and scenario ideas and hooks to be found in GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend as there was in GBM-1 Joe’s Diner—both the original version and the new version, again leaving the Judge with more to do.
What GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend does do is add rules for dogs in GANGBUSTERS. Whatever the size of dog—small, medium, or large—they all share the same stats as humans do in the game, but with Driving being replaced with the new Loyalty stat. This is a measure of a canine’s devotion to its master and how well it will obey his orders, whether that is running away or staying with him, or simply learning tricks. This enables a Judge to create dog companion for his NPCs as much as the players create them for their characters. They can also spend Experience Points to increase a dog’s Loyalty. These rules are supported by the inclusion of the Veterinary Medicine skill.
In terms of presentation, GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend is disappointing. It does not feel as it has been edited at all and this detracts greatly from the supplement as does the inconsistent layout. As with other supplements for GANGBUSTERS from Mark Hunt, GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend does benefit from the use of period photographs, but this cannot wholly address its presentation problems.
There is plenty of potential in GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend. After all, a dog track should be rife with dramatic tension—gambling, fixing races, stick ups and punch ups, money laundering, and much, much more, but none of this is brought out in the supplement. It should tell us what goes on at the track and what should go on at the track, but it never does. Whilst a better, cleaner layout would do much to make this a more professional supplement, it would not be enough to bring out the full potential of the underdeveloped and underwhelming location. Simply, GBE-2 Man’s Best Friend should be brimming with potential and possibilities, but sadly it falters long before it reaches the finishing line.