Monday, 28 January 2013
Review - Judge Dredd setting book for Traveller
By Lawrence Whitaker
This is a very difficult book to read, and a difficult review to write. You see, I’ve been following Dredd since 1981 and I’ve picked up issues and graphic novels for the last 32 years. I’ve followed him across the Cursed Earth (I used to have the Killdozer toy, with proper launching missiles!), in his search for the Judge Child, through the Apocalypse War, watched him fight against Judge Death, the Angel Gang, watched him hunt down P J Maybe and Marti Zpok, seen him battle through the Necropolis, watched him beat the ever loving Grud out of perps, punks and paramilitaries, deal with futsies, uglies, fatties, batgliders, boingers, chump-dumpers, Umpty addicts, sugar peddlers, mutants, monsters and Mega-City One mayhem… and all the way through he kept that stern, chiselled visage. All Dredd needed was the Law. The Law and a standard-issue Lawgiver sidearm.
Oh, yes. I’ve got a hell of a lot of love for Dredd. My 2000AD issue signed by Wagner, Grant, Bisley and Davies has pride of place on my shelf.
So this is a very difficult book to read. This is because I’ve seen Dredd in many different lights, drawn by many different artists and written by many different script droids for three decades. Judge Dredd can be funny, satirical, heartfelt and violent. It can cover science fiction, social commentary, horror, fantasy, the supernatural, adventure and mystery. It can make you laugh, cry and grit your teeth in anger, shock and exhilaration. How on Grud’s Cursed Earth can you possibly get all of that into one book?
*Ahem*. Anyway, that’s my 2000AD and Dredd credentials out of the way. Let’s get on with the review.
The 290 page full-colour hardback book is quite robust and well presented. The hero shot of Dredd on the cover is particularly striking and the rear of the book has a selection of his greatest foes leering above the cityscape. Already they’re building up the atmosphere and it doesn’t stop there. Inside the book its all glossy colour pages with art from the comic and the words in double columns. It’s all very clear, well-presented and easy to follow. There’s a really good map of the entire world inside the front cover showing Dredd’s world as it is now. It’s pretty impressive.
The book wastes no time and throws you straight in after the Introduction chapter, which tells you about the setting and what you’re expected to play (a Judge, of course).
Chapter One – Academy of Law gives you everything you need to know about creating a Judge character. The training starts at age 5, the normal entrance age into the Academy, and you take the character through 4 terms of training as you would a normal Traveller character, with the first term being three years instead of four. This will give the character the fifteen years of training a Judge goes through before they hit the streets, unless the player wants a more seasoned Judge, then they can run through extra terms to simulate time served nailing perps. During training players also have the chance to specialise in a specialist branch; they can be a Street Judge, a member of Psi Division, a Tek Judge or a Med Judge. Each has it’s own requirements and bonuses. There are also plenty of mishaps and situations that trainee judges can run into on the random tables that add depth and a chance at creating some good background.
In general, it’s no different to rolling a standard Traveller character, with just a few changes to reflect extra skills and the special training Judges undergo. At first I was wondering why there wasn’t any options to create a civilian or an alien or even a perp, but there’s no need for that in this book. If you wanted to play any other type of character you can just roll up a standard Traveller PC and, with perhaps some modifications to drop certain space-based skills, you have your citizens.
Chapter Two – New Skills and Special Techniques cover the extra skills that Judges have access to, and techniques that give them the edge in certain situations. These skills are pretty Mega-City One specific with skills such as Gun Combat (Lawgiver), Drive (Lawmaster) and Mega-City One History.
Chapter Three – The Justice Department gives you the lowdown on how the Halls of Justice work, gives details on the different sections and departments and focuses on some of them, such as Psi Division. In here you’ll get the history of the Justice Department so you’ll understand why it is the way it is, how it’s organised, and how the specialised divisions work.
Chapter Four – I Am The Law! Gives you everything you need to know about applying the Law in the Big Meg. The crimes, the severity, and the expected sentence. So, now I know that a Code 7 Section 2 is arson with intent to damage property – that’s 30 years to life in an isocube, punk! A Code 5 Section 4 is Trespassing – that’s 6 months, juve! It’s great. I could do that all day. That’s a Code 15 Section 2 traffic violation, creep! Dangerous driving! That’s 10 years, banned for life!
Chapter Five – Equipment gives your judge a few extra toys to play with. The Lawgiver and it’s selection of bullets, a bootknife, a birdy lie detector... its all here and ready to use on patrol.
Chapter Six – Megways and Skedways is for vehicle information and it covers pretty much everything that rolls across the ground or flies through the air. Now, even though there is space travel in Dredd’s world – and I’m sure there are players who’d love to hop onto Justice One and go on a Judge Child quest of their own – starships are not covered. The starship rules and designs in the Traveller core rulebook are more than enough to take care of that and, even though it would have been nice to have stats for certain starships, there is really no need as Judges won’t have much in the way of starship skills, anyway.
Chapter Seven – Mega-City One Guided Tour takes you through the sprawling, urbanised hell that is the Big Meg, the city that covers the northeast corner of the former United States. Huge mile-high plascrete ‘blocks’, miniature cities in themselves, rise from the nightmare of the lower levels and 800 million souls, 97% of them unemployed, are crammed together. It’s no wonder it’s so dangerous in the future. The guide covers the layout of the city, what little politics there are, the economy, how city blocks are organised (and a great sidebar in how to name them) different locations, weather control, landmarks, leisure, sports and fads, food and groups and clubs. It also helps you with bringing the city to life and takes you through, step by step, how to build your own unique block. There’s also a brief section regarding cities and locations across the world and how the Big Meg interacts with them, but its surface detail and is beyond the scope of this book. Of course, if you’ve read about these places in 2000AD and know them, then there’s nothing stopping you from running games there. This book has given me loads of ideas for a Brit-Cit game already.
Chapter Eight – Thought Crimes covers Psi Division and the extra rules for them, and expands on the psionic rules already found in the Traveller core rulebook so everything is compatible and fully interchangeable.
Chapter Nine – Crazies, Fatties, Muties and Creeps covers the general adversaries and/or weirdoes a Judge may come across. From aliens to crazies, fatties to mutants (and plenty of mutation rules to go with it) this section gives you an idea of what a Judge is going to have to deal with on a daily basis. There’s also some stats for adversaries, such as intelligent apes, the alien Klegg mercenaries and the secret, cult-like troggies. These are then followed by some famous individuals and their stats, such as the Angel Gang, Judge Death and Chopper. These are all well and good and help give you an idea of what Judges are up against but something this section sorely lacks is illustrations. I want to see what a Klegg looks like, or what Chopper looks like, or what a Judda looks like. I know who they are, I’ve been reading this stuff since I was a kid, but some players might not. Images of the baddies would have been a massive bonus and it’s a shame they left them out.
Chapter Ten – Robots talks about how robots are used in the Big Meg and how they’re perceived, and there’s plenty of details on how to design, build and stat a robot with plenty of samples.
Chapter Eleven – Mac’s Databanks give you a timeline from 2023 (the end of the Volgan War and the first steps towards building the Mega-Cities) to 2131 (the victory of Senior Judge Dan Francisco in becoming Chief Judge). In here you’ll also get some great advice on how to run a Judge Dredd campaign, with one-off crimes, incidents on patrols and story arcs. It’s a great little section and gives you plenty of ideas on how to structure a game and emulate the comics.
Finally, Chapter Twelve – Sector 13 details an entire city sector to be used as a complete campaign setting. It contains details of the Sector House and key personnel, the local gangs and criminals, the City Blocks, and a selection of adventure seeds to get the players cracking skulls with small incidents and larger campaigns.
An index, character sheet and a cool illustration of the Mega-City One cityscape finish the book.
So, my first question is – does the Judge Dredd setting suit the Traveller core rules? My answer is a most definite ‘yes’. Dredd stories can be anything you want them to be; serious, funny, satirical, horror, action adventure – anything at all – and the Traveller rules are quite capable of handling each of these with little to no problem at all.
There are no real new rules in here, just tweaks and additions to the original game so there isn’t really a learning curve, so Traveller gamers will have no problem. Apart from the slight change to the terms for specialist Judge training, the game is the same and anyone wanting to play norms on the streets of the Big Meg can easily knock up a standard Traveller character and use them. The NPCs in the Traveller core rulebook are fully compatible, too.
Were they able to cram the Dredd world into this book? Well… yes and no. They’ve certainly managed to get in everything you need to know about Mega-City One in here and they’ve managed to convey the bleak, dangerous world exceptionally well, so anyone picking up the book, not just Dredd fans, will enjoy it. Of course, nothing will replace experiencing the city via the comics and reading every type of story and epic so that you truly get that feel of the world. The book can only ever really touch on the depth of the world of the Mega Cities, it’s the comic where you’ll find the real meat, but there’s more than enough to make sure that newcomers to the setting are catered for. You can also run games in any period of Dredd’s history, so you can go right back to the early stories or set it right now during the modern era. There’s certainly enough here for me to run the Apocalypse War game I’ve always wanted to run.
The lack of artwork let me down a little, and this is a usual gripe in my reviews. It’s especially harsh in this game because Judge Dredd is a comic, ego it’s a hugely visual work and there’s decades of imagery to choose from. They do have some wonderful art in there from the greats – Ezquerra, Bolland, Kennedy to name just three – but it’s never where you really want it to be so that you can see what they’re talking about, especially chapter nine when they’re talking about the baddies. For a book based on a comic that’s a bit of a shame.
Now that I’ve been through the book I refer you to the opening of this review – as a massive 2000AD and Dredd fan, what did I think of this book?
Well, I thought it was pretty drokkin’ wonderful. I’ve owned two previous versions of the Judge Dredd roleplaying game and this one is by far my favourite content wise. I enjoyed the way it’s written, I think it gives enough information on the world of Dredd to get any gamer going, fan or not – on fact, even I learned a thing or two reading this – it looks great and the system suits the setting. I can’t wait to get on my Lawmaster, get on those streets and start shouting ‘Armour piercing!’ and ‘ Suck my kid glove, punk!’ at the top of my lungs.
Posted by Jonathan Hicks