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

Friday, 29 July 2016

Scant Treatment

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 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. He has since followed it up with several supplements, of which GBE-1 Doctors' Orders is the second.

This supplement describes a location, that of The Men’s Doctor, a clinic in Lakefront City run by Doctor Moses Levon. The obvious use of such a location in a game like GANGBUSTERS is somewhere where the player characters can go to get fixed, typically after a fight, and this is a service that Doctor Levon offers. He charges of course$20 per gunshot wound, but he also provides another important and legitimate service. He sells alcohol. For during Prohibition, the U.S. Treasury Department authorised physicians to write prescriptions for medicinal alcohol, typically a pint per prescription. Which meant that you could get alcohol whilst avoiding both having to associate with crooks or the chance that the alcohol you just bought was ‘bathtub gin’, notorious for its ability to poison or even kill you. Prescriptions for alcohol are not cheap, but it was an easy method of acquiring booze if you had ailment that the doctor thought could be treated with it, such as cancer, indigestion and depression. Of course, it was also a regular source of income for any doctor willing to write out the prescriptionsand in the case of GBE-1 Doctors' Orders, Doctor Levon certainly is.

GBE-1 Doctors' Orders details the owner and staff of The Men’s Doctor, although only two of the four receive any real attention. Even so, both feel underwritten and there are implications and questions left unaddressed with both. For example, Doctor Levon is described as being “ a German in his heart and left after the war with one purpose to get rich in America.” With a first name like Moses and you left wondering at the exact meaning here. Neither the clinic’s nurse nor secretary are detailed beyond their mere stats and that is a shame, since there is certainly room for it. In additionand unlike GBM-1 Joe’s DinerGBM-1 Doctors’ Orders is light on ideas. There are a couple of hooks, but no scenario seeds.

Available as a 1.6 MB, six-page PDF, GBE-1 Doctors’ Orders physically feels as rough and unedited as the earlier GBM-1 Joe’s Diner. There is also the matter of the supplement’s title, should it refer to one doctor rather than multiple? The use of period photographs is now more or less a trademark for the line and adds a nice sense of the era. Similarly, the addition of a blank prescription adds a degree of verisimilitude to the affair.

Again, as with GBM-1 Joe’s Diner, it is easy to drop GBE-1 Doctors’ Orders into a GANGBUSTERS campaign or indeed any campaign set within the Prohibition Era. Yet unlike GBM-1 Joe’s Diner, this supplement lacks charm and a sense of engagement, both of which did a great deal to assuage its rough and ready production values. Without either, the production values of GBE-1 Doctors’ Orders are more obvious and thus much more of a distraction. Underdeveloped and underwritten, GBE-1 Doctors’ Orders is a disappointment after the engaging pleasure of GBM-1 Joe’s Diner.