Category Archives: Zines

Mark Hunt – An Interview – The Return of GangBusters

I knew +Mark Hunt from G+ and just happened to meet him at +John Reyst’s Open Gaming Store booth. I recalled seeing a post about Gangbusters, but it had not clicked that it was back. Mark has a license to the GangBusters game! I first learned of Mark with his prolific postings of items for White Star. Many know him for his DCC setting Drongo.

Mark was signing a Gangbuster’s box, and it had the look and size of what I remember from 30+ years ago. The guy asked Mark to sign it and I was really puzzled, thinking it was an original boxed set, until Mark explained that it was his game.

We talked about collaborating on some things in multiple genres/rule systems, one of them being Gang Busters! Wow! I haven’t played in 30+ years, so I guess I need to brush up on the rules….

I did a phone interview with Mark on Saturday, March 12th. Before I started asking interview questions, he mentioned that he is good for the next 3 or 4 years of putting stuff out on a regular basis.

Interview Questions

When did you get your start in RPG’s?
Summer 1979. D&D Red Box and Blue Box. One day in Jr. High, we talked about it in the  Lunch room & met up after school.

What games have you played?
Call of Cthulhu, AD&D, probably hundreds since then. Powers & Perils, Champions, you name it, I played it. I have played every year since then. I once played Champions two years straight.

What games have you ran?
I have ran pretty much just about every game. Which helped a lot with game design, you have to play games and know what is out there, if you want to make games.

I’ve been running GangBusters since 1983. I have enough stuff on hard drive to fill a dozen books without even trying.

What games do you still play or run?
GangBusters, D&D, Swords of the Empire, DCC, Basic, Swords & Sorcery, C&C, Call of Cthulhu, and boardgames, just games, our group tries to keep playing.

How many women players have you had in all of your games?
Dozens, our first group had women back in 1979, and 3 or 4 at a time all the way to the present. It’s easy.

Does you wife play?

Does it cause problems?
No, she plays computer games, some are RPG’s, just not table top.

What does she think of your endeavors?
She likes it, especially when they start cashing in. I take what I make and roll it into producing the next game.

Have you ever had a woman GM?
Yes, a few. They are just like everyone else.  I’ve played all over the world so I had all the kinds of game masters that you can think of.

You played all over the world because you were in the Air Force?
Yes for six years and it included the1st Gulf War. We used to play Twilight 2000 in Germany back in the 80’s. A game where we go to war with Russia and get stranded in Europe when it happens. We used all the strategies and tactics we knew, and we had more authenticity than most people.

You seem to have an eclectic taste in genres and historical periods, do you find it hard to focus with so many different irons in the fire?

Why not?
I like to read all kinds of stuff. I know a lot about this, this and this. If there is something you need to know, read a book. My dad says, They hide things they don’t want people to know in a book. A game designer should always be reading, and learning more stuff.

You got your start, at least in my experience, of publishing ships, classes, and supplements for White Star. Was that your real start?It was actually Drongo, then Planetary Transmission and some free items for White Star.

NOTE: Drongo is a DCC compatible setting.

I know you have a Napoleonic era game in the works, and other things, what can you tell us about that?
Swords of the Empire will be ready by the beginning of next month. People can follow on the G+ page and watch development of it, and see how it has changed and evolved. I revise based on feedback from others’ comments in the community.

The latest project seems to be a runaway success – GangBusters.
Is that a game you played back in the day?
NOTE: See above, he’s been playing and GMing it since it came out in 1983.

What made you decided to go for a license to GangBusters?
It was just sitting there and I just asked if I can use it and it went from there. If I like it, there has to be others that like it. If I can sell enough and it can pay for the effort I put into it, all the better.

Is it an exclusive license, that is, are you the only one licensed to do anyting with GB?
So far, I’m the only one out there. I’m working on several things, just making stuff work. I can’t go into more detail at this time.

How hard was it to get the license to do this?
More or less I just asked Rick Krebs and he was receptive. I can’t get into any details on that either. There is stuff [other famous IP] that people can probably pick up if they put in some effort to research it. It is not impossible, is the best I can say.

What did Rick Krebs say when you asked him, was he excited?
Others had talked to him and it never went anywhere, so I showed him what I can do and he purchased it and reviewed it. When the writer likes it and says keep doing it, that’s a seal of approval.

Why the twist with the “Weird Tales & Paranormal Investigations?
Actually it existed in the original setting. In Polyhedron magazine, they had an adventure with giant bugs that took over a farm. I did not create it out of thin air, it existed in some shape or form in the original game.
The original game talked about various ideas for how to expand it. All I did was expand it. I read all the articles where they mentioned GangBusters. I am making it modular so you can use or not, or expand or not, cause at the end of the day it is still a game of cops & robbers. If you can’t find an adventure after a night of watching TV, with so many police procedurals that are on now, I can’t help you, NCIS, X-files, etc. Warehoue 13, Thin Man, etc. There is so much that fits.
Me – It’s seeing the connections.
Mark – Exactly. I increased the book size to show what you can do with it. It doesn’t have to be just gangsters. You can do journalists. The Incredible Hulk is about new reporter chasing the Hulk cross country. The players  could be a pool of reporters in an Enquirer type organization.
Me – GangBusters is set in the same time period as H.P. Lovecraft was writing.
Mark – I’m staying away from the Cthulhu mythos, there is more out there than just that.
If you want to play Call of Cthulhu play it, it’s a great game. If you want to go in different directions, play my game. Play GangBusters, there is enough out there to keep you busy

I really like the NPC card decks, what was your inspiration for those?
Old police mugshots. I make cards with mugshots, with enough stats to run. I made the first 18, then another 18, and eventually I’ll have a full deck of 52 cards. Literally take a card and you are ready to play. At Gary Con I passed out cards, and said, this is what stats mean and we were up and running in minutes. NPC’s, bad guys, players, etc. They are small and portable. Once you know the rules that’s all you need. Keep it in your wallet and you’re ready to play whenever and wherever. [See this YouTube video for a sample of the cards.]

Me – They make a great tool for a pick up or convention game for pre-gens. There was a lot of buzz from those who played in the games Mark ran.

It’s been mentioned on the G+ TSR GangBusters Community, that you plan to do a Kickstarter. I know that you have a goal to have everything ready before the Kickstarter and to keep it manageable. How much can you tell us about that?
I’m still working on it. Eventually there will be a box set, hard back book, GM screen, and modules, plus add ons will all be figured out and done. So once we hit our goal and are funded, I will order and ship. I did a test run of box sets, and people are impressed with what I have now. Some have shipped to Spain, England, all over world now. I hope a Kickstarter will help it reach a bigger area.

When might we get wind of the Kickstarter?
Depends on when I get done with something in the background – I can’t talk about it – then preparing for the Kickstarter will start to speed up.

What is the secret to your prolific output? I ask, because it is an amazing story that just floored me. I was giving you a hard time at Gary Con to slow down because you’re making the rest of us look bad.
Last year was my last chemo – I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and going through treatments. I said to myself, “If this is my last year, I’m going to do what I want to do,” and I literally drove myself to do these games, even if only 5 words in a day. After a year, I had a lot. I just hacked it out piece by piece. “Never give up, never surrender,” as they say. Marks’ wife can be heard in the background: “He’s not going to do anything else. By Grapthar’s hammer….”
To the outside world it appeared like I was cranking it out fast, it seemed like a lot real fast. As they say, an overnight success is ten year’s worth of work. A lot of games that blew up were simmering in the background and no one paid attention until they got done.

You mentioned you were seeking a license to do a game with a big name, and well-know IP, but it fell through. 
Any clues to other IP’s you have your eye on? (Probably not, since you don’t want to spoil it.)
Exactly. I’m always looking for more stuff, but can’t mention them, so I don’t get scooped. If it’s not being used, why not? A Lot of stuff is just sitting quietly. It’s not hard if you do the work and ask. The worst they can say is, “No.”
Drongo for DCC is mine and I can always go and do a BX version. As long as I don’t compete with one of their [Goodman Games] products it should be OK.

Any hints about projects coming up?
Oh geeze, let me look at my hard drive. I’ve thought about one or two retroclones, but will mention those when the time is right. I don’t want it all at once, that is, I want to spread it out. Cloaked Avengers is a new class for GangBusters in the next month, like the Shadow. You can add to an existing GangBusters game with mysterious powers. I’m also working on a WWI alternate history for GangBusters.  I plan to stage so it’s not out all at once, and do one or two adventures to flesh out stuff  I already have.

Joe’s Diner was 6 or 7 pages, then 18, then 32, then I made little booklets. The PDF is automatically updated, so it’s done. The only way to get it in book form is in the boxed set.
Me – That’s a smart way to drive sales.
Mark – Exactly.

Have you seen all the talk about yesterday’s press release about the new TableTop Library site?
Yes. I’m thinking about trying to sell stuff there, it’s one more avenue for sales.

Anything else you want us to know about?
Hit me up on G+ if you see me, and help out get the word out, Swords of the Empire, GangBusters , Fantasy game – no name yet. Everything is just falling into place so fast it is ridiculous. I might have Boxed sets [of the yet to be named and released fantasy game ] at NTRPGCon.

GangBusters boxed sets and T-Shirts, and Swords of the Empire boxed sets will definitely be at North Texas RPG Con.

– – –

Mark is a really nice guy, easy to talk to, and inviting. Other aspiring game designers were asking him to look at their stuff, and he was looking forward to it. He knows game mechanics. Just wjile talking about general ideas, he had an idea for something. Being in his presence, I couldn’t help but be infected by his enthusiasm for games. If we lived in the same town, I’d find a way to play in his games.

Mark is enjoying life and riding this dream of designing games and having a blast while doing it. I expect to hear exciting things in the coming weeks.

Review – Manor #8

The Manor is an RPG Fan Zine published by +Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor.

I had not purchased The Manor before. I have heard good things about it and several of the other RPG Zines, I just try to focus on things I know I will use. When I read that there was a streamlined grappling system for use with Swords & Wizardry, I bought it. I was curious because grappling in AD&D is “clunky”. In AD&D, it feels like it is a “blow by blow” combat, as opposed to how melee and missile combat is abstracted. I can deal with the blow by blow if it is simple.

Before I dig into the grappling article, I will mention the other contents. This issue of the manor is 26 pages, including the front and back cover. It has a few full page illustrations and some smaller illustrations throughout. It is not focused on one genre or rules system. Much of what it contains can easily be used in any system. Four artists did illustrations for the cover and seven internal pages. I don’t know all the artists in the OSR, but the cover is awesome and the internal art is of varying “quality”. While not all of the internal art exhibits the same level of skill, I feel that all of it is better than much of the early art I have seen in the original LBB’s. It is definitely better than I could do, so it is not a complaint! One cool thing about the OSR is that it brings together authors, artists, cartographers, and others and whether out of the love of it, or for a few dollars, it exposes more of us to the work of others. A zine is a fan produced magazine, so its quality is a factor of the skill, tools, and resources the producer has to put into it. I believe the quality is top notch.

As expected, there is an introduction to this issue by Tim that touches on the delays in its production and a glimpse into each article and author.

+Trey Causey of From The Sorcerer’s Skull, has an article with a player humanoid clade, for his SF Setting Supplement Strange Stars – on sale now as part of the Science Fiction Sale as part of Star Wars Day. Trey has a page about his Strange Stars supplement so you can learn more about it before you buy it.

Tim wrote the last two articles, Hirelings – 6 pages with a table on the number of general hirelings avaialble by settlement size, and the cost of specific hirelings, a table of hireling skills/knacks,  and six named hirelings, with one full page illustration. These are some helpful tables, and give ideas that can be expanded.

The second article by Tim is Torchbearer, a continuation of the previous article. In its 3-1/2 pages, including a full page illustration. Tim presents 8 different kinds of torches and 5 torchbearer skills to flesh out a torchbearer to be more than just cannon fodder. From Tim’s experience as a DM in one on one play, he finds that players often need NPC’s to help them accomplish their objectives.

The grappling article, by +Douglas Cole, of Gaming Ballistic and +Peter V. Dell’Orto, is 9 pages including the initial full page illustration, that is a repeat of the cover, and a 3/4 page illustration for the last page and a half page illustration in the middle of the article.

They clearly state that their goal is to present something that is easily applicable to player characters, NPC’s, and monsters. Something simple, that can be done without referring to tables.

Attacks are a normal d20 roll to hit. Instead of HP as are used in regular combat and subdual, they use Control Points (CP), which is immediately regained if breaking free from a grapple.

They have suggested options to tweak the system, and have two methods of tracking grappling. One is a bookkeeping mechanic of tracking the aforementioned Control Points (CP). The other is a chart with an increasing degree of effects of the grapple and if it is improved or minimized.

I think this system is what we have been needing for a simple mechanic for grappling, that makes grappling an option players would choose. Various options and outcomes that are realistic in grappling are discussed and addressed. While not perfect, I can’t think of how else to handle it without building yet another new subsystem just for grappling. This is simple enough that it can easily be implemented at your next session. I know that I will use it, if I need to resolve a grappling issue.

I bought this issue of The Manor just for the grappling article. If you have never tried to run grappling in AD&D you won’t get it. I have no idea how grappling works in other versions, or other rules, but they must all be clunky for someone who likes GURPS to come up with a simplified system.*

Like the blog articles, and PDFs available for free, or the PDFs, modules, manuals, books, and other zines available for a fee, the OSR shares how others do it, or ideas they had that others might find useful. Not every idea is a neat fit for everyone. With the OSR you are presented a buffet of ideas from which to choose. If you find someone else’s idea is not to your taste, you can move on to look at the next idea in your personal line of the way you interact with the OSR. None of us have all the same bookmarks, blog lists, or G+ Communities, so we don’t all have the same list of options from which to choose, or at least not in the same order. We learn of options we didn’t find in our own search, in the shared finds of others. We are free to choose those things that fit our taste for our own use, enjoy them for their own sake, or ignore them.

Lastly, if you think you can do better making a zine than someone else, show me. Zines are not easy to produce. Sure word processors make it easier, but if you get separate software for layout, like the free Scribus, you still have to figure it out and get the layout right. You then have to produce it in physical form, if you offer that option. Not to forget the need for artists, mapmakers, and others to write articles, and perhaps an editor. I tried my hand at putting together a “zine” for April 1st, and it wasn’t that easy, even for just a crude cover and a couple of interior pages. Few people have all the skills to produce a complete issue of a zine that would make the whole thing of uniform high quality. That is, art, articles, formatting, and marketing.

Zines may not be for everyone. I only tend to buy individual issues of fee-based zines if I know they have something in them that I might find useful. Others seem to collect zines because they can, while others have no interest in zines.

My recommendation for any zine is look for articles that scratch an itch you have as a DM/GM. If the blurb advertising it does not indicate that it contains anything you might need for use at your own table, then don’t buy it. For this issue of The Manor, I zeroed in on one thing I knew I could use, if it was as simple as advertised. It contains other articles that I could use, some I may never use, and some I know I won’t use. I will point out that this was also true of The Dragon, and other early magazines from the early days. Not every issue had something that you could use at the table.

* [This last sentence comes off as a slam against GURPS. That was not my intent. Re-reading this sentence, it is not conveying what I meant, and at this point the simplest thing is to note my error. I have never played GURPS and only flipped through the rule books 25+ years ago in a store. I have no idea how grappling works in GURPS. I was trying to say something along the lines that they authors like GURPS. My assumption is that because grappling in clunky in AD&D 1st edition that it must be so in all editions and all other systems. Not having experience with grappling in any other edition or other systems, that is a dangerous assumption. There might be a mechanic in Top Secret, Boot Hill, Gamma World, etc., but I don’t ever remember grappling in those games (That was 30+ years ago.). Since I mostly play AD&D 1st edition, this is where I will use that system, and to which I should have limited my comments.]