I was running through the What is Roleplaying ?Archive thread yesterday, and folks got talking about my old favorite RPG, Gangbusters.
For folks not in the know, GB was an old, early TSR game set during the Prohibition Era. It's a sort of peculiar game, being, well, cops n robbers as an RPG.
It's also a sort of odd duck in design, being a very transitional form of RPG. It, like other similar era TSR games came as a boxed set with maps and counters making a nod to the minis gaming roots of RPGs. It had classes and levels, and even a sort of implied alignment system by class. It wasn't personality trait based like the D&D alignment system, rather being more along the lines of whether you were on the side of law enforcement (FBI, Prohibition Agents[sometimes], or Local Police[sometimes]), something of an independant operator mostly working with the Law side ( Private Detectives, Reporters), or a variety of paths in the Criminal trades ( with emphasis on either being a Dust Bowl Bank Robber or an Urban Bootlegger/Mafiosi).
Interestingly, honest cops got an XP bonus. Prohies got bonuses for taking down bootlegging operations. Presumably crooked cops had advantages of their own: Quick XPs for fram-ups leading to convictions on one hand, and social benefits like a fat bank account and a chance to have an after-work beer at a decent speakeasy on the other.
Characters were mostly defined by their stats, and those stats covered most things you would roll for, although as characters advanced in level, there were opportunites to acquire skills or upgrade stats. Characters wuld tend to have only a handful of skills, even at high level ( levels went from 1-10 with some options for going higher although highly unlikely to do so). Levels tended to also correspond to some sense of social/professional success. At around 3rd level, characters were beginning to be at the really sweet spot of their professions. Criminals were beginning to form their own gangs, reporters and PIs were solidly reputable as skilled, and policemen had adavnced to the point where they were being trusted with some authority and able to act a bit more independantly.
Earning XPs was class based. Each class had it's own specific, short, table of ways to earn XPs and they were geared towards what your character was supposed to do in game. Cops got XPs for catchig crooks and getting a conviction. PIs got that too, but earned XPs for their fees and for solving cases. Reporters got ahead by scooping the competition and putting out stories about corruption, especially among politicians. Crooks, well they only got XPs from profitable crime. It was Get Rich or Die Trying for the criminals.
Characters generally never left the realm of real-worldish human potential, even with very high stats, although most could take a couple of bullets and survive if treated by competent doctors within a reasonble amount of time, while convalescence took a while to bring you back up to speed from any serious wounds.
The system used d10s, usually as d%. There was a fair bit of fiddliness there, as might be expected, something common in other non-D&D TSR games of the time.
Okay, so that's the quick synopsis. What makes Gangbusters interesting to the present day gamer?
Well, as noted in the other thread, the game could be played without a GM (Judge). that's a bit peculiar for the time, although not much advice was given.
It tended to be a multi-faction. The how to play CYOA style paragraph based starter adventure has a multi-agency team of cops running a dustbowl backrobber to ground, but the book itself is very split on suggested approaches. Examples of play include sitautions where some PCs are planning a heist (criminals) while the others are the cops shadowing them. For criminal classes, the GM is specifically warned against creating any sort of adventure for them. Players of criminals are expected to make their own schemes with the GMs reacting to them, a more sandbox type approach. PIs can roll for clients with jobs, and reporters may roll for tips on stories. Cops are the only ones that have any real cases that fall in their laps, but even they are more likely to be assigned a beat or area of operations and expected to be a bit (pro)active.
The original module for the game is a campaign module called Trouble Brewing that details the default setting of Lakefront City ( a midwestern city on the shores of the Great Lakes, in easy boating distance to Canada-important for bootlegging operations). The module is folded into the later single-book version of the game. It details NPCs, politics in the city, and includes a series of events in a bootlegger beer war as a jumpstart. by the end of the adventure, the local gangs will have been upset leaving a power vaccuum for PC criminals to exploit, presuming they aren't jailed or dead, and other classes with a few XPs under their belt and possibly some clients.
(The remaining modules are a couple of different takes on mysteries, with criminal PCs discussed but mostly afterthoughts to the main action).