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TSR's Gangbusters, First Edition

TSR's Gangbusters, First Edition

I’ve been playing Mafia Wars and Mob Wars on Facebook and have that roaring 20’s gangster urge. So off to the gaming shelves to pull down copies of the 1st and 3rd editions of Gangbusters, another old-time TSR game from the era of Gamma World, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret.

Gangbusters was interesting in several ways – while the game initially feels like a cops n robbers type of game (with character classes like Prohibition Agent, FBI Agent, and Police Officer as well as Criminal), there are also Private Investigators and Newspaper Reporters to push for a more “adventure” oriented game. The other big item was that the game was written with the expectations that a group of players will be working against each other – with some playing as criminals and others as the law all in the same city and occasionally interacting in a variety of “fun” ways.

We tried playing it like that once – with the players taking on conflicting roles and “playing it out”, but the combination of PVP and the ability of the law enforcement community to call for backup made the game short-lived.

We resurrected it for two different campaigns afterwards. One investigative law-enforcement based game ran through the various modules (we had five of them – Trouble Brewing, Murder in Harmony, Death on the Docks, The Vanishing Investigator and Death in Spades), and the other was a Mafia Wars style game with everyone taking roles inside one of the minor Lakeshore City crime families as they clawed their way up to being a big name in the local underworld.

I’ve lost my characters from both campaigns years ago, but still managed to keep copies of the rule books (but unfortunately not the boxed sets). So today, in the spirit of those online games I seem to have become addicted to, I’m rolling up a minor criminal.

Character creation starts with ability generation. The game uses 3 core stats rated as a percentile and one rated on a 1-10 scale. Like with similar percentile-stat games from TSR in this era, you get to add a number to what you roll, based on what you rolled in order to make your character somewhat above average (lower stats get a bigger boost, high rolls don’t get a boost at all). Rolls of 62, 99, and 71 give results of 72, 99, and 76 after modifiers for Muscle, Agility and Observation. This guy is quicker than grease! Presence (charisma) is determined with a d10 roll (again with a modifier) – and Pete gets a 1 (modified to a 3), not a very likeable guy and definitely not the kind of guy who is going to run a crime family without getting killed quickly by one of his own.

Pete’s Driving stat (important in a roaring 20’s RPG where every self-respecting criminal and copper has his own ride and some thugs to ride on the side with their tommy guns out) is the average of Agility and Observation (88). An interesting wording in the rules has you add the stats together, then divide by two, and then add any remainder to the final answer, instead of just saying to average the two stats, rounding up. His Luck stat is one half of a d100 roll, without modifiers (a 17 gives Pete a luck of 9, pretty pathetic).

Pete’s hit points are equal to his [(Muscle + Agility) / 10] +5 (rounding up). A nice hefty total of 23. An interesting footnote at this point is that the game uses a flat-damage system with no randomization. If you are hit by a .45, you take 6 damage; a Tommy-gun? 7 damage. And a shotgun at point blank range? 15 damage. So Pete here can take 3 hits from a Tommy gun safely. Well, safely with the knowledge that at half hit points he is at -20 Muscle, Agility & Driving, half movement, and will die if not seen by a doctor in 24 hours.

With muscles of 72, Pete has a punching score of 4 (dealing 4 damage on an uarmed attack).

I then flip over to the “Characters in Campaigns” rules in chapter 5 which adds additional background material. He can have an age of 21 to 26 – and there are rules for the penalties of aging which begins at age 42, because obviously a campaign is supposed to span at least 16 years of game time. I’ll roll a d6+20 and Pete is 26. Height and weight are given as ranges based on the character’s Muscle score. For Pete this puts him between 5’9″ and 6’3″, and 180 to 230 lbs. I’ll go for average height for an American male (5’10”) and make his muscle be from his intimidating mass (220 lbs).

Other physical features and ethnicity are up to me. I see Pete as a bruiser, but quite surprisingly quick on his feet. While from a Hungarian family, Pete is fully assimilated into the culture of Lakeshore City, USA, and thus isn’t treated as being of any particular ethnicity. He’s got black hair and brown eyes and a mean, hawk-like nose. There seems to be a perpetual sneer plastered across his face, and heavy acne scars make his cheeks and forehead pitted and rough.

Pete starts with two suits of clothes, $50 in cash, and “any items the character normally would get from his employer such as a police uniform and weapon, etc.” – unfortunately as a criminal thug, that’s bupkis. And that $50 won’t go far when he’s spending $20 a week to cover basic expenses (rent, food, laundry).

Skills (and ability score increases) are purchased with experience points when a character levels up. With no XP, he can’t buy any skills yet. To earn XP as a level 1 criminal, he has to commit some crimes to make money – the only way to earn XP is to have an illegal source of income, at a rate of 1 XP per $10 (and going up to as high as 1 XP per $10,000 at levels 9+). So Pete is looking to rob a few joints, and then operate as a weapons fence (a gunrunner). The upside is that the game has full rules to determine how much hardware he moves in a typical week ($500 / level), but the reality is that with his low Presence, he’s going to have a hard time negotiating great prices, so he’ll probably only profit about $50-$100 a week.

To make his life a little “easier” (or at least to boost his courage), he blows $40 on a .38 revolver, and another $2 on a box of 100 bullets. Leaving him with $8 when the game starts, and a mighty need to do some crime right quick.

Pete the Gunrunner
Career: Criminal
Level: 1
XP: 0

Muscle: 72
Agility: 99
Observation: 76
Presence: 3
Driving: 88
Luck: 9

Hit Points: 23

Age: 26
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 220 lbs
Features: Black hair, brown eyes. Perpetual sneer. Heavy acne scarring.

Kit
2 suits of clothes
$8
.38 Revolver (150′ range, 5 damage, ROF 1, 6 shots)
Box of 100 .38 cartridges

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