“Get your trousers on, you’re nicked!” We are still in the mood for some old fashioned cops and robbers. In this part we look a bit more closely at how the rules work in GangBusters. Judge Blythy, our resident rules lawyer casts his eye over some of the highlights of the system.
New in this podcast is Appendix G. This segment will invite members of the GROGSQUAD to talk about books, films, TV and other media that has influenced their gaming. Vaughan Allen provides a background to The Sweeney, the UK cop show from the 70s, and talks about how it has influenced his Delta Green game.
Over in the GROGGLEBOX we watch The Untouchables (1987).
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster in an RPG.
This time we look back at a classic from back in the day. Pound the mean streets of LakeFront City as we look back to playing the game back in the 80s. Blythy opens up the box of delights as we recall the old neighbourhood where we used to play.
I’m sure that I first saw this as a double-bill with Blood Simple (1984) at Manchester CornerHouse back in 1991. It was a new golden age of the American Gangster movie, thanks to the recent release of Goodfellas and ahem, The Godfather Part III. On first viewing, I was smitten by the knowingness of it all with its relentless homage to the films of the 40s, especially the film -noir classics such as The Glass Key (1942). My patience for such films has now worn a little thin. This is cinema about cinema that is sometimes difficult to connect to the characters and situations as they appear unreal representations, four times removed from reality. It’s imbued with everything that has gone before, including the obvious noir references, but there’s also Bertolucci and the Three Stooges in there too. This is a film that wears its references on its sleeve. It lacks a human-touch, but its genre emulation techniques are perfect fodder for gaming.
Leo, a crime boss of an unspecified American city at an unspecified time during Prohibition, has a meeting with Johnny Casper (a rival gangster), who urges him to kill Bernie Bernbaum, who has been skimming from the fights fixed by Casper. Bernie pays protection to Leo, he’s also the brother of his girlfriend Verna. Against the advice of his right-hand man Tom Reagan, Leo refuses to sanction the killing of Bernie. Leo doesn’t know that Tom is also in a romantic relationship with Verna, but he is suspicious of her and has her tailed by Rug Daniels.
Rug is killed (and his wig nicked by a street urchin) and Leo immediately suspects Casper so uses his political influence to bare down on Casper’s rackets. Tom tries to persuade Verna to leave Leo. He’s visited by Bernie who tells him that he has the details of Casper’s next fixed fight, he’s been told by Mink, the boyfriend of Casper’s sardonic lieutenant Eddie Dane.
Casper reaches out to Tom, offering to pay off his considerable gambling debts in exchange for Bernie. He refuses. He suggests to Verna that she or Bernie killed Rug. Verna says that she believes him to be jealous of her relationship with Leo. Later, Leo survives a spectacular attack on his home by Casper’s hoodlums. He’s enrage when Tom reveals his relationship with Verna, as he intends to marry her.
Rejected by Leo, Tom turns to Casper, who demand proof of his change of allegiance by shooting Bernie. Tom takes him to the forest and spares the whimpering Bernie, who goes into hiding. He reveals to Casper that it was Eddie Dane and Mink who was giving Bernie the details of the fixed fights.
Bernie threatens to resurface if Tom doesn’t kill Casper. Dane suspects that Tom didn’t kill him, but his plan to kill him is set back when a body surfaces in the woods. The corpse is Mink, killed by Bernie. Tom calls Bernie’s bluff by threatening to tell Casper that he is still alive. Casper kills Dane after Tom informs him that his trusted right-hand man was double-crossing him with the details of the next fixed fight. Tom tells Verna that Bernie is still living and sends Casper to a rendezvous with Mink.
Casper is killed by Bernie who ambushes him. After he has revealed that it was Mink that killed Rug, Tom kills Bernie. Tom uses Casper’s money to place a bet on the fixed fight to clear his debts.
At Bernie’s funeral, Verna ignores Tom, but Leo offers him the role as an advisor once again, forgiving him of his relationship with his finance. Tom rejects his offer. Leo walks away, framed by the trees.
Leo, Irish American gang-leader, political mover and shaker
A mover and shaker in the town with influence with the politicians at the highest levels. Leo is a reflector, trying to work out the moves that he some times can’t understand:
Leo: You hear about Rug?
Tom: Yeah, RIP.
Leo: They took his hair, Tommy. Jesus, that’s strange, why would they do that?
Tom: Maybe it was injuns.
Description: Cigar smoker, his hair is slicked back and wears suits with an insouciance.
Roleplaying hook: He’s rich, powerful with great influence in town, but vulnerable, his relationship with Verna is his weakness.
Tom Reagan, Irish American, world-weary consigliere
The smartest guy in the room. Tom has the ability to play different characters against each other. He’s got a high emotional intelligence and is always a couple of steps ahead of everyone else. He will offer his opinion and advice if you want it or not. Rarely smiles as he is carrying the weight of all of the tensions playing out in his head: gambling debts, an affair with his boss’ girl-friend.
Description: His accent is Irish rather than American. He’s got rugged appearance, smart, with a calm intelligence behind his eyes.
Leo: I reckon I can still trade body-blows with any man in this town.
[Tom looks at him]
Leo: Except you Tom.
Tom: And Verna.
Roleplaying hook: His hat is his comfort and security. If he loses his hat, or if someone possesses his hat, he gets anxious and vulnerable. He’s a risk taker and his gambles don’t always come off. Drinks rum, lots of rum.
Johnny Caspar, Italian American gang-leader and fight-fixer
Description: Overweight with a comb-over and fat tongue. He’s a working-class street-mobster who has little time for the people in power.
Roleplaying hook: He loves his son. He’s smart and ruthless, but blinded by his impulses. If he wants something to happen, he wants it now. Offended when his requests are not met.
Caspar: You think that I’m some guinea, fresh off the boat, and you can kick me! But I’m too big for that now. I’m sick a’ takin the scrap from you, Leo. I’m a’ of marching into this goddamn office to kiss your Irish ass. And I’M SICK A’ THE HIGH HAT!
[Puts on his hat and coat]Youse fancy pants, all a youse
Bernie Bernbaum, Jewish American provocateur bookie
Bernie’s power lies in his connections. He is pushing the limits by provoking Caspar, but he feels like he holds all the cards.
Description: Pale, thin, vampiric appearance with slick-back black hair and black suit. Wild-eyed and simpering.
Roleplaying hook: He’s in above his head but he thinks his relationships with Mink, Dane and his sister put him in a powerful position. Who is the weakest link? Break the connection and his elaborate get rich quick schemes will fall down.
SCENES OF NOTE
Perhaps the most celebrated scene is the one with Leo mowing down his would-be assailants with a Tommy gun to the tune of Danny Boy. Possibly the best use of a Tommy gun in any film ever?
Excellent use of the autumnal colours of the forest to frame the incongruent image of the urban and urbane gangsters (cf The Pine Barrens episode of The Sopranos, season 3).
The character who is the catalyst behind the action is Mink (Steve Buscemi). He appears briefly as Tom is passing through the speakeasy. With a ratta-tatt-tatt flow of dialogue and invective he provides exposition by way of implication.
Sam Rami (Evil Dead) has a cameo in the scene where the police shake-down the ‘Sons of Erin Social Club’ with bombs and a Gatling gun.
The Coen Brothers are known for their twist and tuning plots and Miller’s Crossing is no exception. Fortunes of the characters bounce up and down in a matter of moments. Their approach inspired FIASCO (Bully Pulpit Games, 2009) a story telling game designed by Jason Morningstar, which won a Diana Jones Award for its innovative approach to story-telling game-play. It aims to emulate Coen movies “inspired by the cinematic tales of small time capers gone disastrously wrong”.
It’s not a game that I’ve played, but I think it offers an interesting prospect as the game is motivated by relationships and objects and work through a Three Act Structure where every character has four scenes. A tilt table is used to manage the beats of success and failure in a scene. Sometimes the tilt elements generated by the dice may not appear until later in the game.
Plot twists and turns are probably more associated with the film-noir crime genre rather than gangster films in particular. The crossing and double crossing may emerge from play, but unless there are specific mechanics (like those described in FIASCO) it may not be a feature of a prepared scenario. The twists need to be player led and unless there are mechanics to compel them towards doing it, they’re unlikely to emulate the rapid twists and turns apparent in the cinematic experience.
Why would you want to any way? Games are not cinema.
For my games, I’m more interested in the use of set-pieces. The Coen-Brothers set up situations very carefully, the inter-dependences between the NPCs and the PCs are woven together with relationships and connections. Reactions have a consequences depending on their feelings towards each other.
However, the most important element I want to take away is what @dailydwarf refers to as its unique vernacular. “What’s the rumpus”, “Always put one in the brain”, “take your flunky and dangle” and, of course, “the high-hat”. I’d like to bring that to my GangBusters game. It would be good to introduce the Dying Earth RPG/Skullduggery mechanic of quote cards. If the player is unable to come up with some clever word-play then they can use a card with a relevant and cutting quote to get a bonus.
In November, the GROGPOD will be featuring GangBusters, the TSR role-playing game of the roaring twenties.
In preparation, MOBTOBER is a short season of gangster films, a mini-film festival at my house, that you are invited to participate and follow online.
Elsewhere people with more stamina and stronger stomachs are participating in the October Horror Challenge, a more seasonal list. This is a similar challenge, but with a more leisurely pace. Instead of watching a film every day, I will be watching 10 films in 20 days and will write about them on the Dirk Malcolm world of film site.
Why have crime RPGs had such a continuing appeal from Lankhmar to Duskvol?
Heists are a standard adventure for most RPGs, but its difficult to find an RPG that reflects the daily paranoid grind of the fictional mobster: the moral descent into personal oblivion, the need to maintain networks, manage heat from rivals and settle scores. In the realm of genre emulation GangBusters and FGU Gangster! offer little to support this kind of play. The 1980s RPGs were more on the side of the authorities trying to break up organised crime. Of course, we had other ideas and were keen to play the mobsters. Recently, Blades in the Dark offered innovative mechanical features dealing with these matters. It will be interesting to explore some of the tropes of the genre more closely and consider how they might be brought to the table.
A couple of points to note as you study the list: this is not meant to be definitive. I’ve tried to avoid the obvious and focus on films that I haven’t seen before, or in the case of Miller’s Crossing and The Long Good Friday, films that I saw so long ago that I’ve forgotten about them.
Gangster films tend to gather cult status as they are not only ingrained in geek culture, the cliches and tropes appear in mainstream culture through advertisements and are referenced in music, television and every-day discourse.
The second criteria that I have adopted is related to gaming – what are the gameable elements of these films? What are the characters, situations, plots, structures and setting details that lend themselves to RPGs? How do they create the points of contact within the fiction and how can they be used in constructing scenarios?
As I have been pondering this list there have been a number of great suggestions made by the GROGSQUAD over on the discord server and twitter. There’s always the thorny genre issues to mull over, “is it a gangster film or a crime movie with gangsters in it?” In this list I have selected films that attracted my attention and seemed to fit into what I was looking for in a mobster movie. If you don’t think it qualifies as a mobster movie, that’s okay, because this is my list.
Here goes, this is when I’ll be watching the films and where you can find them online.
6th: Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Disney Plus (Star)
8th: Gotti (1996) – You Tube
10th Free Fire (2017) – Prime
12th Scarface (1932) – You Tube
14th New World (2013) – Prime
16th Underworld (1927) – You Tube
18th The Mission (1999) – You Tube
20th The Penalty (1920) – You Tube
22nd The Long Good Friday (1980) – You Tube
24th Boondock Saints (1999) – You Tube
Watching these films is going to be great, but it will be even better if you can take part in the discussion over at discord, on twitter or the Facebook group. If you need the details, then let me know and I’ll send them to you.
This should be a good exercise and will get us all in the mood ready for the trip to LakeFront City in November.
It’s that time of the year when I’m blasting out the e-mithers to all and sundry to wrangle them into gaming action. This year the GROGPOD is exploring Games Workshop’s booming RPG period (in the mid to late 80s), the planned games over the next couple of months will help us get into the GW zone.
I’m running The Judge Dredd RPG at Spaghetti ConJunction and UK Games Expo, which I’m very much looking forward to. @dailydwarf has furnished me with the counters and floorplans he prepared for GROGMEET to replicate the mean streets of Better Living Through Chemistry (the scenario he wrote for the GROGZINE). It has investigation, hard rain, muties and a series of stunning set-pieces; a perfect one-shot.
Golden Heroes was supported by a couple of great scenario packs. The people of twitter selected Queen Victoria and the Holy Grail by Marcus Rowland for my 7 hour slot at ConVergence in Stockport on 10th March. Simon Burley will also be at the event, running his new game Manifold, so I’d better be on my best behaviour.
The Patreons voted last year for us to do a podcast about PARANOIA, so I’m planning a one-shot in the next couple of weeks. Looking at the rules, I’m as baffled by it now as I was back in 1986. Thankfully, I’ve asked for help from none other than Paul Baldowski, who assures me that the computer is not *that* bad.
Last week, I ran a game of RuneQuest for the on-line GROGCLUB which is open to Patreons (play report to follow) and there’s a game of GANGBUSTERS planned for next week (I’ll be running Keehar’s game from GROGMEET ’16). The first ever Virtual GROGMEET was also unleashed. There will be games from the GROGMEET GMs available to play 13th and 14th April. More information will be available next month; follow Patreon for details.
We’ve also been invited to a meet up in Leamington by the Midland’s Massive in September (more details will follow).
Blythy continues his ongoing commitment to the Ninth World with a continuing adventure of Numenera planned for our monthly face to face game. He’s also coming along to Birmingham and running a game at Spaghetti ConJunction and UK Games Expo (assuming the government manages to hold itself together).
There’s quite a bit of D&D on the slate too. Storm King’s Thunder is coming to its climax as we’ve discovered the location of King Hekaton, so we’re off to recover his glory, restore the Ordining and collect the gold. A walk in the park, when you say it like that. My sorcerer Himo is becoming more emboldened and teleported into the middle of the fray after months of skulking at the back sipping on his hip-flask.
The Wednesday, fortnightly group is now well established after a couple of years, so we’ll probably continue playing together. Blythy has a copy of Tomb of Annihilation, which I bought from Bonhomiegames.uk when they visited GROGMEET. It looked like something that I wanted to play rather than GM, so I handed it over to him.
There’s something attractive about the big-book campaigns available for 5e. They’re rich with encounters and incident, even if the overarching stories are a little flakey. Over at Ed’s Shed, he’s got Curse of Strahd on the night-stand and has promised to unleash it at some point during the year.
I’ve resolved to abdicate from the role of The King of The One-shot and GM a campaign too. In April, I will be kicking off the Two Headed Serpent, Pulp Cthulhu campaign. It’s a terrific, world spanning adventure that will be available to the online GROGSQUAD. Two parties of investigators adventurers will launch simultaneously with Doc RPG (Ian Griffiths) as a second Keeper of Arcane Knowledge. Looking forward to running that for a couple of years!
From the very moment I began the GROGPOD, listeners have been asking “when will you cover Woof-Rough”. I had no idea what they were on about. Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing (WHFRP) passed the Armchair Adventurers by … it looked like too much of an investment at the time and we were locked into RuneQuest set in our home-brew world, drinking home-brew. I’m going to run the first couple of instalments of The Warhammer Campaign for Eddy and Blythy, so we can see what all the fuss is about.
The Smart Party salivate over the ‘new hotness’ in their podcast. I’ve been introduced to new concepts and ideas over the last 18 months, we need to pushing into new corners of the hobby, to explore all those areas that we missed when we stopped playing for nearly 20 years.
I’ll be running the Night’s Black Agents scenario set in the midst of the British miners’ strike in 1984 for UK GamesExpo. I need to up the stakes (through the heart) following the playtest on GROGMEET eve, it needs a bit of work, but the context of the strike and the ‘Ken Loach meets Jason Bourne’ approach worked well.
Also, Blades in the Dark was my favourite discovery of last year and I’d like to keep the momentum of what we started, I’m keen to see if the Lamp Blacks deduce Phin the Thin is the murderer of their boss. The greatness of the game is that as a GM, I don’t know; I’ll be discovering what happens at the same time as the players.
I’ve bought a gift to myself, Vurt The tabletop Role Playing Game, which is a licensed product using the cypher system (similar to Numenera). Its filled with some fantastic artwork and background information to recreate the post-cyberpunk experience of Jeff Noon’s vision of a near-future Manchester. It’s been fun reading the rule book, not least for its depiction of Bolton of the future as some power-house of respectability. I need to plan in a game at some point in the year.
FATE captured our imaginations, but other than a Jerry Cornelius one-shot, we haven’t taken advantage of its clever resolution mechanics. Blythy has been promising a Robin of Sherwood game using the system, maybe this year we’ll get around to doing it.
There’s lots of old is new projects in the pipeline from various publishers. It’s difficult to tell which will grab our attention and take the traditional ‘August experimental slot’.
As for GROGMEET 18, well last year we had a terrific meet up in Manchester. We’re going to do it again this year on the 10th November. Details are being finalised, but watch this space. Super heroes, there’s going to be super heroes. Bigly.
Another busy schedule for The Armchair Adventurers, but play is the thing.
“You’re so rock n’ roll!” declared @oilpainting on Twitter. This was following my RPG Academy all-nighter, as I was on my way to work, bleary-eyed after the excitement of the night before.
“I’m only doing this because I can’t be Bruce Springsteen,” I replied, echoing President Obama.
I operate the Armchair Adventurers much The Boss operates the E-Street Band: old friends who enjoy playing together under the control of a benevolent dictator. At this point of the year, my messianic megalomania kicks into overdrive as I fill up everyone’s diaries with the plans for the next 6 months of gaming. There’s method in this madness, as when it comes to negotiation with the fun prevention officer (FPO) it’s essential that you declare your intentions on the family calendar because once it’s on there, it’s happening.
Last year was such a remarkable year. The number of games we played and the hours that we managed to commit was at levels not seen since the 80s; it’s going to be hard to sustain. I’m moving house for one thing. Dirk Towers has moved in its entirety to a half-way-house until the new site is ready. It was a difficult and exhausting exercise. We’ve already filled hundreds of boxes and have barely made a dent on the years and years of accumulated stuff.
Thankfully, the ridiculous home-made shrine to the actress Caroline Munro has been diligently bubble-wrapped.
Judge ‘Little Steven’ Blythy has been on hand to step into the GamesMastering duties for the Wednesday Night Roll20 group. The old gang is together once again after the triumph of Old School The Traveller Adventure, this time joined by none other than the Daily Dwarf, to take on the revival of Against the Giants in the New School Old School D&D 5e STORM KING’S THUNDER.
The first session was hit by some technical glitches with video and audio, but the kit provided by Roll 20 for the campaign works really well. This is the first time that we’ve used ‘miniatures’ for years. Normally, we talk through locations and relative distances, but having the characters on the screen represented by tokens on a gridded map, brings a new dimension to the game. I was frantically trying to pick a spell that would have enough range to hit the goblin who was firing arrows at my Sorcerer.
A great start to what promises to be an exciting campaign.
The Armchair Adventurers – MONTHLY SESSIONS
The monthly sessions are sacred. There’s a change this year as we will be changing location. We’ll be moving from Eddy’s shed and heading for the FLGS in Bolton, Portcullis War Games Emporium. If you live in the area, get in touch, you’re welcome to join us. Sessions are on the first Tuesday of the month 6pm – 10pm, the first is on 7th Feb. Let us know if you’re coming, we’ll have a character ready for you.
When it comes to planning these, there’s always a tussle between on-going campaigns and one-shots. We alternate Games Master responsibilities, so we’ve found it difficult to have a really good run and develop a momentum. This year we intend to have a longer run to get to the end of Fungi From Yoggoth, the campaign that we began in the Autumn of 2015. It has been a great campaign, shredding through characters, and illustrated by Ed’s sumptuous hand-outs. Ed is currently retro-fitting the final sections to fit with 7ed, so we can experience the differences.
Blythy has just concluded an episode of Numenera that left our adventurers fleeing the alternate planet of Star Swarm to find our way back to the Ninth World. It will be back later in the year, as will Nights Black Agents. We ran several sessions of excellent Zalozhniy Quartet last year, but I’ve decided to rest it for a while. Of all the games we played, it was the one that suffered due to the loss of momentum as we ‘GM-switched’. I’m keen to run the Dracula Dossier, but I think we’ll work out a way that we can do it over a sustained weekend of several sessions. It needs to be compact and have a certain dramatic intensity to work.
KING OF THE ONE-SHOTS
For my GM duties, I’m going to be the King of the One-Shots, starting with a couple of Mythras games in the Luther Arkwright setting. I’m going to have a play-test at the session mentioned above, to get me ‘match-fit’ for the session at Convergence – which is set to be a 7 hour epic, based on the magnificent ‘Fire Opal of Set’ which appeared in Imagine #14. Please sign up if you can come … so far it’s me and Blythy.
Also, I have a commitment to deliver a ‘one-shot’ for the Patreons. I’ll be polling them soon on a date and game. I’ll also be running Top Secret and GangBusters online soon too.
In our plans for the next 6 months is a trip to Southport with our Gnomes, to join the Steam Dwarves, with our friends The Old Scroates and believe it or not, we’ve been given a press pass for UK Games Expo.
This town rips the bones from you back. Baby, I was born to roll.
On the 12th November 2016 there will be the first ever GROGMEET in Manchester. It’s a day of Old School gaming which will end in the official launch of the first ever annual the GROGNARD files ‘zine.
A PACKED PROGRAMME
The event will begin with demonstrations and ‘pick up and play’ board games hosted by bonhomiegames.uk – the home of convivial gaming.
Judge Blythy from the GROGNARD files will be running a STORMBRINGER adventure to feed Arioch with souls.
Making a trip up the East Lancs, will be Kehaar, co-host of the brilliant DISSECTING WORLDS podcast, he’s Games Mastering a rip-roaring heist for TSR’s GANGBUSTERS.
We’re delighted to have GM @Asako_Soh on the team, who will be fresh from running games at UK Games Expo and the D&D Tweetup, to run a classic adventure for West End Games Star Wars RPG
Dirk the Dice will be taking players to Glorantha in a Classic RUNEQUEST scenario: Assault on Lunar Outpost XIII.
More Games will be coming on board, so tip some coins in the Patreon beret to keep up to date with the developments. Please note that, at this stage, the proposed games my be subject to tweaks and adjustments.
The event will run from 10.15 – 17.00 with the RPG sessions running from noon.
The fun will be located at Mad Labs in the heart of Manchester, we’re happy to support this wonderful community resource. There’s plenty of places to eat nearby in the swanky (with a silent ‘s’) Northern Quarter; you don’t NEED a hipster beard, but it will help. The famous Manchester European Markets will probably have started too, so why not make a weekend of it?
Tea and coffee is provided throughout the day to keep old-timers refreshed.
The GROGNARD Files fanzine will be officially launched at the event and all attendees will get a souvenir copy.
This project has been made possible thanks to the generous support of our Patreon backers.
The space is strictly limited, and there’s no tickets available at the door, so if you want to come, please book your place early. Tickets are £10 to contribute towards the hire of the space. It’s free if you’re a Patreon $5 backer.
Sign-up for the RPG sessions will be available nearer to the event and will be released to Patreon backers first.