TSR's Gangbusters & Noir - Interview with Mark Hunt

Hi Mark! Thanks for answering a few questions about noir and crime fiction in games. First off, who is a favorite fictional sleuth of yours? Why?

 M: Ezekiel "Easy" Porterhouse Rawlins is a great detective whose stories combine traditional conventions of detective fiction with descriptions of racial inequities and social injustice experienced in the 40s and 50s.  I love how he starts out as the Every man, one only seeking to get paid and ends up caught up in things beyond his control.  This is so typical of Noir characters. 

TSR’s Gangbusters goes all the way back to 1982, are you working with the game as it was then (or the 1990 revision), or has it been updated to match modern interpretations of the 20s/30s or changes in game design since then?

M: I am working with the rules as written, they should flow well with 1982 version as well as the 1990 version.  I would love to write a modern interpretation of the rules while maintaining compatibility with the classic. Rick Krebs the original writer and creator of Gangbusters RPG has been very nice to allow to me to put out new material for his great game. 

How do GMs and players learn about the genre as they play the game?

M: Gangbusters is a game that takes place in the Roaring 20’s and early 1930’s, essentially the Prohibition Era, of America. The focus of the game is on the Prohibition and the police/law enforcement struggle to control the streets and the halls of power. The player characters can take the roles of law enforcement, criminals, and other types of roles. The game is based in Lakefront City, ostensibly a fictional Chicago. 

What parts of the rules and overall system capture what drew you to work with this noir game? 

M: Gangbusters may be one of the most perfectly formulated roleplaying games ever made. Criminals get awarded for making money. Cops get awarded for making high profile busts. Journalists get awarded for scooping stories. The game supports as few as a single player all the way up to dozens. The rules are a simple percentile based system that can be easily adapted to many things simply roll a percent chance to do anything you want to do. 

Noir often has a jaded view of society, how is this a part of Gangbusters?

M: This is a game where you don’t have to work together. There aren't that many non-cooperative roleplaying games out there. Gangbusters is one of them. Some of the players may play cops, others play as  criminals, and still  others play folks on the side. You don't have to cooperate if you don't want to. Sure, you could play a corrupt cop that lets your criminal friends getaway. But you can also play a straight-arrow detective who gets the other PCs put in jail. It's all up to you, and it doesn't interfere with the game the way, say, a party of evil destructive PCs killing each other might. Because this is part of the very meat of the game.  On top of that the damn thing is deadly.You get in a gun fight, you can die, Fast. Players need to use their head and know when to fight and know when to walk away. 

How would you rank wanting the players to experience adventure, justice, disillusionment and betrayal in Gangbusters? Are there other themes you find of interest in the game?

M: Well that all depends on the story and what is going on at the time. Some players may find out that winning may end up costing them more than they are willing to pay.  Prohibition is a time where the rules don't apply, you can get a prescription for booze and still drink alcohol if you have it in the stored up. but to sell it or transport it will get you locked up. It's a time of open secrets where lots of players will find a double edge sword in most  things.   Players often experiences both sides of the law and  conspiring with gangsters during the course of the game. So how much and how often is often up to the players and their actions. 

Thanks very much for talking with me about Gangbusters and for bringing this classic game back into people’s view!

I want to thank Rick Krebs for creating a great game and allowing its continued support.

Mark Hunt  is a Former Deputy Sheriff and Air force Veteran now game designer. He has created Drongo for Dungeon Crawl Classics., Adventures for Gangbusters RPG and currently writing his own RPG Swords of the Empire.  You can find material here  for Ganbusters RPG  if you  are interested in the game: