We've never played Gangbusters before. I had never even REALLY thoroughly read the book before. I have a pdf of the thing, not a hard copy, and the OCR is quite atrocious. We were hanging around in IRC, not doing much, and someone (I believe a fella by the handle m4) commented that we should just create a D&D game for every possible combination of available people. That way, we would never be stuck with our thumbs up our asses when we wanted to play something. I said, "Hell, instead we should just play Gangbusters. It's a perfect system for not everyone being around." And I was right.
Gangbusters is like Birthright (or perhaps its more accurate to say that Birthright is like Gangbusters) in that it takes place at a more tactical level than I'm normally used to playing AD&D. When someone wants to find information in AD&D, I force them to roleplay out the encounter with the various people in the city. When someone wants to make some quick gold, they roleplay that too. Each individual instant of life that we can capture is usually expanded into an opportunity to get lost in the alien world of the fantastic. That's not the way that Gangbusters roles.
Instead, the basic unit of action is a week. Not all the players are on the same team; some people play beat cops, others Prohibition Agents, and still others play reporters or criminals look to make a quick score. At the beginning of each week, everyone says what they want to accomplish that week, and then I decide how to break that up into scenes—and whether or not that causes everyone to interact with each other. For example, if criminals rob a jeweler along the beat of some of the city cops who are PCs, I may check to see if they're around to help put a stop to it.
Why is this perfect for a mass group of people who aren't always online all at once? Well, because a lot of the time, people can say what they want to do for their week and then do it without interference from anyone else. The "teams" are very small: two criminals, for example, or two beat cops. ONE reporter. Two Prohis. This means that when they want to accomplish something, they can often jump ahead of the other players so long as they don't directly interact with them. This is perfect for the sometimes-there sometimes-not IRC group. As long as everyone shows up a few times a week, the game can go on.
Of course, I've been heavily involved in creating the setting for them to play in as well. When I took a poll of what type of city everyone was interested in (you know, East Coast-West Coast-Great Lakes sort of question) Baltimore came up almost unanimously on account of the Wire. I was prepared to make a fake Maryland city until I read that Maryland alone among all the states heavily resisted implementing Prohibition and declared itself "Wet Maryland." So instead I took my city modeled on Baltimore and plopped it down on the New Jersey coastline, north of Atlantic City.
Calvert City is a shadow of Baltimore mixed with some New York and Atlantic City. Because Baltimore has the iconic Domino's Sugar factory, I opened with an iconic factory of my own, this one slightly more industrial: The American Atlantic Copper Refining Company. The ACRC became the core of the city's detail, and I expanded out from there. With the copper company representing the political and economic backbone of Calvert City, it was easier to anticipate how the rest of the place functioned. Thanks to the Wire, I have an understanding of modern(ish) American cities as vast interconnected web of interests all playing off of one another. In fact, this understand has been the basis of my city design since I watched the show even in D&D. I'm thinking of writing another essay on what makes a city a city, since you want flavor which makes each city it's own town.
The game mostly takes place in Calvert City's 6th Ward, Little Italy, because it's easier to confine the creation of a city to a single district.
The Dramatis Personae
Agent John Farkas... a strict Prohi Agent who doesn't believe in the Prohibition per se but believes in the law.
Agent Olive DeWitt... a temperance league woman who believes strongly in the end of alcohol
Eugene "the Flash" Gordon... a heavyset newspaper man who works for the Calvert City Chronicle
Patrick Brennan... a good-hearted irish beat cop down in the 6th Ward
Sid O'Connor... another beat cop, fought in the war and is a crack shot
Seamus Finnegan... a local good ole irish lad looking to get into some trouble
Terry O'Doyle... the same, but only 15
Louie Delvecchio... a short-lived Italian "driver"
So far, here's what's happened...
Eugene was told by his editor, Willie Vance, that there was something going down on Lombard Street in Little Italy. How he knew this was not exactly clear.
Meanwhile, John Farkas was dispatched by the Commissioner of the Prohibition in the city to the 6th Ward to investigate the sale of the Redbrick Brewery and Distillery as well as to make a show of force to prove that Prohibition was no joke. He went to go and get help from the Captain of Police there, and was introduced to the local Master Patrolman, Tommy O'Doyle.
Eugene went to go have a drink in Cosimo's Cafe when he saw Officer O'Connor (who had been assigned to the Lombard beat in the area) going to get himself a coffee. Both were given free coffee by a kid named Alfonse. They chatted for a while before a thin weasel-faced man came in with a pair of bodyguards and sat down. His bodyguards left, and Alfonse begged them to "eat faster" but Sid didn't catch the meaning of the plea. With his thugs outside smoking, a huge guy in a fur coat came into the Café, saw the cop, asked "Che cazzo è un poliziotto fa qui?" then drew a handgun and said to the guy in the back, "Figaro dice ciao," and shot him in the face.
Eugene snapped a series of pictures while Sid fired at the assassin, striking his shoulder before he disappeared into the kitchen.
Terry and Seamus hyped themselves up, got the help of a local Italian named Louie. The first week, they watched the routine of a local Orthodox Jewish Jeweler -- particularly how he emptied his safe on Wednesday and carried the money to the Banca Stabile through back allies. They planned to ambush him the following week.
John Farkas inquired about where the booze was gonna be, getting Tommy O'Doyle's opinion as a 40-year-veteran of the police force. He reluctantly said that the coffee and pizza shop Siciliano was probably going to be wet that night. He phone Eugene (who he had heard of through the cops) and got him down to write an article when they busted the joint—which they did, storming it and arresting an old Italian named Manzinni.
The robbery of the Jew is undertaken. He laughs at the gunmen at first, warning them "You don't vant to be doing dis!" but eventually gives up his case. Once the three crooks start walking away, he runs out of the alley and calls a cop over, shouting "Call Moishe Edelson!"
The cops (Sid and Pat) pound after the crooks. They split up at the other end of the alley, leaving Louie with the bag of money. He's eventually chased down into a tenement building and throws the case down and turns himself in. When the cops take him in they find the concealed pistol in his pocket. He gets arraigned, and put in jail awaiting his trial. The Public Defender begs him to plead guilty and roll on his friends. He does not.
In the holding cells, a cop calls him over to the bars. "Be a mensch," he says, "and come over here. I have something for ya." When he gets near, the cop claps his hand over his neck and stabs him in the thigh, whispering "This is from Moishe Edelson, cocksucker." Louie bleeds out on the floor of his cell.
Meanwhile, Farkas and Eugene start digging, hunting for names of bosses in the neighborhood. Eugene discovers that Alfonse is an informant for Vance, and starts paying him to give HIM information. Farkas questioned Manzinni in prison, warning him that he would do everything he could to get the names of his bosses out of him. Manzinni affected not to care, saying firstly that he had led a good life, that he was better off now than he had been in Sicily, and that the Prohibition Act had no teeth. He did imply that his old boss, Danny Zambrano, had died a few months back and sold Siciliano to him. Farkas is beginning to put together a pattern with this fellow named "Figaro" and those who work against him.
Sid and Pat walk their beat as normal, but Sid is now the renowned "Hero Cop" who shot an assassin, participated in a raid on Siciliano for liquor, and helped chase down a criminal who stole from a local jeweler.
Eugene's talk with Alfonse in the Calvert City Graveyard (the kid didn't want to talk in Cosimo's, where he works as a waiter) led to him explaining why "Meester Figaro" was so mad at Liuzzi (the guy in the restaurant) and Zambrano: they had both arranged to purchase the Redbrick Brewery out from under Figaro in October of 1919, secretly swooping in to buy it when Figaro wanted it.
Farkas spent Week Three digging into the County Records to see who owned what. He discovered that the Redbrick Brewery and Distillery (actually registered as the Rotembackstein Brauerie) was sold by one Friedrich Schultz to an Anthony Avolino Esquire in October of 1919. Furthermore, Siciliano was sold by Daniele Zambrano to Audio Manzinni for a paltry sum around the time of the mobster's death. He requested a warrant from the Commissioner to raid the Rotembackstein Distillery, and was informed that the warrant would come through on Wednesday of the following week.
Seamus broke into the abandoned Distillery that Tuesday to see what he could find. He recovered a letter from A.A.Esq. to Friedrich Schultz as well as three cases of Rotemback Whisky and spirited them back to his house. He then went and sold a case to Big Dan McShane for $73 and a shot of whisky.
At the end of the week, an ACRC copper truck skipped the curb and hit a kid on Lombard street. The driver was fried on booze. Sid and Pat responded, but Tommy O'Doyle and his younger cousin Mickey (a sergeant) arrived and warned them not to touch the truck. Fancy ACRC lawyers soon showed up and spirited the driver off.
Eugene spent week 3 expanding his contact network.