Prohibition Mobsters is a campaign I’ve been playing in since July 2015. It’s set in 1921, near the beginning of the Prohibition, and as the name suggests, all of the PCs are Mobsters. Specifically, our cast of PCs looks like this.
Salvatore “Sam” Licari (me): A wise-talker and money maker. Sam would rather be drinking and talking to people or drinking and working over an accounts book than getting his hands dirty. He joins the Barberinis after pissing off one Three-Fingered Jack Moran (Sam gave Moran's kid acute lead poisoning), looking for protection, and drags along his Jewish brother in law Teddy Katz. Teddy’s a simple man that likes fast cars and big explosions.
Rosseana “Red” Biancardi (Peter): A teenaged girl, Red is the younger sister of Leone Biancardi, a Barberini Capo/glorified accountant in charge of the prostitutes. She’s probably the most idealistic PC, really buying into the idea of the Family as a family, one that protects it from outsiders. Of course she’s also bull-headed, foul-tempered, and a has a bevvy of friends in odd places. Equally capable of dressing up in a ballgown or breaking someone's kneecaps with a bat.
Antonio “Tony” Calabrese (Josh): A sergeant in the Great War, Tony looks like a skinny kid in a trenchcoat, and is way too fond of the BAR he smuggled out of the service. But he’s a deadly shootist and leg-breaker. Aside from the temper issues and blood-lust, he’s probably the most moral PC after Red. He was hired on by the Barberinis as a merc, and the Mob War is just another war to him.
Vincenzio “Vinnie” Gambino (Mac): A teenage orphan and thug. Vinnie’s the classic thief of the group, with the best knack for sneakery and thieving, plus the standard leg-breaking. Has a knack for getting into poker games with people he needs to talk to. Likes the fast life, but has a bit of a death wish. He’s been a junior associate of the Barberinis for a few years at the start of the campaign.
Isaac Walker (Simon): A private eye originally based out of D.C. who joins up significantly down the road in the campaign. He’s a blue-collar type with a keen mind, highly flexible ethics, and a quick hand on his pistol.Campaign Assumptions
I’ll identify a few “genre rules” of the campaign, as follows.
Grow or Die: The game is about amassing power, money, and territory. All of the NPC factions are doing it, and if the players don’t look out for their interests and seize growth opportunities where they find them, they can expect to find themselves constantly outgunned. Conversely, taking charge and going out of the way to set up your own sources of money and power is rewarded.
There's No Percentage in Good or Evil: The PCs are all bad people. However, they're not sacrificing babies for lulz or picking fights with other PCs. Civilian deaths are avoided if possible, but the PCs have killed innocents. Basically, the PCs do bad things for money and personal security, but the focus of the "camera" is on the results, not lingering on the PCs more stomach-turning work.
Fairs Are For Tourists: Actions have consequences, for good and ill. If you send in the muscle on a social infiltration mission, and they’re alone and surrounded after screwing everything up, they’re going to die. On the other hand, if you’re careful to set up an ambush with overwhelming firepower and no way for the enemy to call for backup, the results can be downright anticlimactic. Play smart or die.
It’s a Big Bell Curve: The PCs are quite competent. We started out at 150 points, and after nearly a year of play we’re currently at about 260. Which means that everyone is very, very good at their role. The majority of crooks aren’t anywhere near that good, which has benefits (when thugs are shooting at us from a default), and drawbacks (when it’s impossible to find good foot soldiers). On the other hand, some of the NPCs are way more dangerous than the PCs, and playing games much above our heads.
Plots Within Plots: Branching off from the above, there’s a lot going on in the setting that the PCs aren’t aware of, or have some idea about but can’t confirm anything. We don’t know why the freshman senator from Vermont brought in mercenaries to kill the Senator from New York, but he’s a useful occasional ally.
11 Months of Play Later...
So, after much throat clearing, let’s recap the last year of plot-heavy play. I’ll note that this is essentially a retelling of the summary you can find here, from the GM’s perspective, extended a little further into the future.
The game starts with the PCs as a newly formed crew working for the Barberini Family, reporting to capo Jack Benedetto. Jack knows what he’s doing, but the Barberini family is small, lacks territory, lacks muscle, and most importantly lacks a stable source of booze to sell to thirsty civilians.
The boss, Michael Barberini is well-respected, but is essentially a peace-time consigliere in boss’s clothing. Most of the other families respect him personally. But consensus is that the family will probably go under in a year or two. His Underboss is his brother Harold, who is a hotheaded thug. His consigliere is a creepy Russian named Gustav, who is scarily competent and working with Michael for unknown purposes.
The first few sessions are spent trouble-shooting for the Jack and the rest of the Barberinis. We lose a PC (Bruno, a triggerman run by Tony’s player) in the very first session to a bad attempt to infiltrate a rival distillery, things are good otherwise. We steal booze, trash rival establishments, cross swords with Sam's nemesis, Three-Fingered Moran. We quickly establish our base at Senga’s, a diner/speakeasy/brothel run by a Barberini associate of the same name.
Senga's, in a nutshell
Eventually, Moran proves to be too troublesome to ignore. Jack and Gustav the Consigliere comes up with a plan to kidnap and murder a Pinkerton agent and Moran’s girlfriend/stalking victim, a Broadway starlet. After we frame Moran for the murder of the two of them, he's arrested as the “criminal of the century” and we can move onto other plots. Incidentally, a series of comical events leads to war hero Tony acquiring intrepid reporter Rachel Xercotti as a girlfriend. Yes she's aware of his day job. Yes, we have a hell of a time keeping her from learning all the details.
Alas, we can't take credit for imprisoning Moran without trashing our work, so the Barberinis don't scoop up much of his turf at all. Instead, the PCs come up with up with a plan to hook up with Greggory Hanscombe, the mastermind behind the bank robbing Danger Fiends that we had met previously. The plan is to rob a bank, take the money from that and use it to set up a Caribbean rum connection. This should patch the consistent problems the Barberinis have had with meeting the public's ever-growing thirst for illegal booze.
This takes some serious prep work. We steal information on the security company, find a safecracker, strike a deal with an air pilot to avoid the revenuer ships, meet up with Esteban, leader of the Puerto Rican Chupacabra gang, help Esteban kill his rebellious cousin Jesus, and make a last minute effort to shut off the communications of the security company after our deadline is moved up.
All of this works, and it still doesn't save us from complications. One of Hanscombe’s crew turns out to be Moran's niece Pixie, who shoots Sam before he kills her. The gunshots attract police, and killing them breaks Hanscombe’s squeaky clean reputation for nonviolence. Still, we avoided having to deal with the scary private security company, and managed to get away clean.
|Basically what the Danger Fiend heist looked like. |
Not pictured: Sam getting shot by a girl
Besides oodles of cash, it turns out that Hanscombe was stealing new Treasury plates, suitable for making counterfeit bills. We should be getting royalties on those going forward. There is much rejoicing, the booze starts with pouring in from Puerto Rico, Sam becomes an official Made Man, and everyone has some downtime.
Then Three-Fingered Moran escapes from prison, reclaims his kingdom, and seals the deal by gunning down Michael Barberini and Jack Benedetto. Michael dead, Jack in a coma. Harold takes over, and Gustav disappears (he never got on with Harold anyways). This is a problem, because now three of the best Barberini players are out of the picture, and Harold turns out to be very bad at being the Boss and very good at pissing people off. The ongoing collapse of the Barberinis speeds up considerably, and Jack Moran is sitting pretty as the fugitive psychopathic Robin Hood of the Irish immigrant community.
A Coup is Fun For Me and You
Enter Ben Kincaid. A conman who pissed off some people on the East Coast, and then made a lot of money and pissed off more people in California. He had recently taken over the Lucchese family with poison and high priced hit men (The Grave Men). And he has an offer for the crew. Kill Harold, and bring the Barberini remnants under his banner. Sam will be made a capo, Tony a Made Man, and the group will be taxed lighter than most groups answering to the Kincaid Outfit. The crew is amenable. After being brought to meet Kyle DiGlados, boss of what is by far the most powerful crime family in New York, and receiving his blessing for the arrangement, the crew is even more amenable.
|Pictured: The crew takes the generous deal|
First, the group wins the support of Leone, the Barberini accounts manager and Red's brother. So we have control of the money, if we want to risk just stealing everything. Then we plot to frame Harold for the attempted murder of Jack, still in the coma. Trying to kill a popular capo to secure his rule is both plausible and fatally embarrassing for Harold. Alas, while Sam is visiting Jack's room to set this up, he discovers a bomb under Jack's bed. Sam books it, the room explodes, and the hospital burns down. It's Jack on Jack crime as Moran makes his return known, in a big way.
The crew regroups, make some speeches, and attempt to get Sam appointed as Jack's successor. Harold blocks this, but burns a lot of political capital in doing so. So the group falls back on Plan B: Killing Harold and his two pet capos, while faking attacks on on Sam and Lester (a quiet, neutral capo who handles distribution of booze). Teddy rigs Sam's car to blow right after he bails out of it, Vinnie lucks out and apparently stops an actual attempt on Lester's life by parties unknown, and then joins Red and Tony. They mow down Harold and his entourage while they meet with a small Irish gang, making egregious use of grenades and automatic rifles. It's a one-sided massacre.
|We weren't even pretending to fight fair that time|
In the chaos after Harold's death, Sam calls together the Barberini family remnants, proposes to incorporate them under Kincaid's banner. This is met with considerable resistance, but a lot of persuasion, promises of security and relative autonomy (including light taxation), and a timely poisoning of an assassin by Kincaid get most of the Barberinis on board.
So the crew is charge of things, with Kincaid mostly keeping to his promise to stay hands-off. Immediate priorities are retaking lost territory, smoothing over feathers that Harold ruffled, and hunting for Three-Fingered Moran.
Of course there are distractions. Marge, Harold's widow, hires a mob lawyer named Marco Santos to find out what happened to her inheritance. Meanwhile, a Pinkerton Agent named Jarvis Lord appears to tell us that his people aren't buying our framing of Moran for the murder of a Pinkerton, and they want the blood of Gustav and whoever else was involved. Of course Gustav is in the wind and the other people involved are the PCs, so we tell him to scram. He warns us that he had helped Moran bomb a hospital to get to kill off Jack for his part in the murder and he'd be happy to do it again.
The next day, Senga’s is raided by Jarvis and the police. Senga is arrested, contraband is seized, and an arrest warrant is put out for Leone. Attempts to cow Marco are unsuccessful. He's a canny mob lawyer, under police guard, and a personal friend of Tom Langford, the fantastically corrupt Mayor of New York City. So we break into his office, and find papers that would ruin him and seriously embarrass Hizzonner. We come back to negotiate with Marco. Threats are made on both sides, Marco shoots himself in the leg and is all set to have the PCs arrested for it and have Senga killed, Sam threatens to bring down the Mayor, and they settle on Marco dropping the case and leaving town, with the crew returning the papers to Langford with apologies. Jarvis Lord also stops hassling us, as Gustav is in hiding and Kyle DiGlado vouches for us.
Yet More Assassinations
While all of this is going on, the hunt for Moran continues. We follow one false lead, which turns out to be the aftermath of a shootout between the DiGlados and allies of Gustav (yeah, turns out he’s still around). We run into Jack Benedetto Jr, the college-age son of our old capo. He’s looking into his father’s death with surprising competence, but gets snapped up by the DiGlados for Unknown Purposes before Sam can hire him. Regardless, we track down Moran to an old steamship in New York Harbor, and find out that he’s shipping down to Washington with New York Senator Cedric O’Brien. Yup, Moran has a senator in his pocket.
So we go down to Washington DC and run into Petey, son of Red’s Irish friend in New York, and Doyle, the son’s friend. They agree to put us in contact with Fat Tony, a local money launderer that wants Moran dead. Unfortunately, Petey sells us out to Moran. We make it out, Petey is killed in an explosion in the crossfire, and we kill off the survivors at our hotel, and then telegram the boat. As far as Moran is concerned, we’re dead.
Sam goes to Capitol Hill to get more details on what party Cedric O’Brien is hosting when he gets to Washington. He runs into and hires Isaac Walker, the new PC. Then one Senator Larson, just elected from Vermont, calls him in for a meeting by name. It turns out he’s a friend of DiGlado, and he reveals that he’s plotting to murder Senator O’Brien, for reasons unrelated to the Moran situation, and is amenable to some cooperation. His secretary, Vivian, puts us in contact with the merc team, and they’re willing to give us some covering fire with the massive rifle they’re sniping at Senator O’Brien with.
|The Mauser T-Gewehr: For tanks, or really annoying rivals|
The entire crew, including Isaac, gets on the boat with one trick or another. Unfortunately, some last minute confusion over the plan means that we don’t get on with killing Moran until O’Brien is dead and all hell breaks loose. We manage to take out his guards and pin him down (not before Isaac gets a near-fatal headshot), when his last guard turns traitor, shoots him dead and swims away to safety. Our mission done, we GTFO, get Isaac to a vet that’s willing to branch out when we shove money at him, and leave the city.
The PCs Become the Establishment
With Moran dead, we move on his territory. Doyle is brought up from Washington to serve as a capo that the Irish population will be more ready to accept, but a sort of rump gang called “Kelly’s Killer’s” pops up to protect the surviving Moran loyalists. Meanwhile, a certain independent large distillery has been resisting Doyle’s attempts to take it over. It’s also around this time that the crew renames the former Barberini family to the “Soldati D’ombra”, or Shadow Soldiers. Hey, it makes for good PR. There’s a good time skip of three months or so here, during which the Soldati solidify their position, everyone buys nice things with their newfound wealth, and Red starts dating Jack Jr.
With the timeskip completed, the crew plans a new heist: impersonating police to stage a raid and take most of their booze, distilling equipment, and lose cash. In the process of research for this however, we discover that the operation running this distillery also has a second location in Yonkers where the counterfeiting presses that we stole from the bank are set up. Which explains why we haven’t been getting any kickbacks from that since Michael and Jack died. We promptly decide to steal both.
|Our disguises were a little better than this|
It takes some prep work, including a run in with Wushu, an Asian launderer/criminal fence named Wushu, who sends Sam a bill for the police uniforms we stole from him. But we do a good job on prep work, and the “police raid” on the distillery goes off without a hitch. We walk off with a large amount of liquor, and some distilling gear that we’re sending down to Puerto Rico to improve their operation. Then we go to Yonkers to steal the counterfeiting plates. Turns out, we’re the second visitors tonight. The first visitor is mopping up the killing of everyone there for reasons unknown, and has no interest in the counterfeiting equipment. Sam asks for a phone number, which he gets, and then loads up the counterfeiting plates. Everyone kicks themselves after realizing that the assassin was the same guy who killed Moran in DC.
Shortly thereafter, pursuing DiGlado goals brings us in conflict with the Baker Gang, a smallish crew dealing mostly in booze. What should be a simple request for information turns into a shakedown, which fails and turns into a hostage crisis. The crew has to pay ransom to get Isaac back alive. The crew plans to double-cross the Bakers during this and the Bakers plan to do the same to us. I takes Vinnie quietly eliminating a machine gun placement and Sam quickly buying out and flipping Justin Grant, a greedy and ambitious Baker man, to avert catastrophe. Instead we "only" see one minion crippled and Tony put in the hospital by our recurring Assassin enemy. On the bright side, the attack on a made man gives the Soldati an excuse to wipe the Baker gang off the face of the earth, Justin is folded into the operation, and the influx of new cash is used to expand the Soldati D'ombra's thinning ranks.
|I paid points for Justin as an ally. He's still about as trustworthy as gas station sushi|
Crooks Turned Spy Catchers
With that done, we’re called in by DiGlado and Kincaid. With Senator O’Brien dead, there’s a lot of interest in who will win the special election to replace him. We’re supposed to make sure that things go smoothly for whoever the DiGlados wind up picking. To that end, we need to figure out who is killing off key politicians in what looks like hostile action. This takes a lot of detective work, but we eventually find evidence that the same people rigged the election for O’Brien. Specifically, we find that we’re looking for a fast-talking German of noble background, and one Polat Atalar, a turkish gunman who had previously worked with the Danger Fiends and the Grave men before both decided he was too unstable, and the same gunman who killed Moran and shot Tony.
Our digging isn’t consequence free. Pumpkin, a dangerous woman who is one of the leaders of the Grave Men, starts digging into Polat and his employer. Polat responds by exterminating the Grave Men, all highly competent assassins, one by one. Pumpkin and her bodyguard Tex come to us for shelter. We’re able to use information from them to get a rumor about a German diplomatic attache (promptly nicknamed Von Hitler by the players), and an encounter with his nephew, Fritz Austerlitz, and Fritz’s minder Lennard. Fritz is a nasty piece of work that’s probably going to leave someone dead and several people pregnant before he’s forced to return to Europe, but Lennard is an adopted member of the family, and decent enough. As we interact with them, the city’s underworld starts to tear itself apart. The Grave Men had kept a strange sort of nuclear peace with their contracts to kill certain crooks if they got out of line, and with them out of the way, everyone starts working on old grudges. The Barberinis are spared the worst of it, but Kincaid and Doyle both lose underlings.
And that’s where we leave off before our most recent session. In case it’s not obvious, there’s been a hell of a lot of plot over the last year, and I had to do a fair amount of pruning for space.