Game: Judge Dredd
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Series: Judge Dredd: d20
Review Dated: 29th, May 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 36
Average Score: 7.20
Judge Dredd. You know the name. Whether you’ve read any of the comics or seen the movie, you know the name. In fact, world wide, I think it’s safe to say that more people know the Judge Dredd name that those who know Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, the World of Darkness, or any other campaign world you care to mention. So are Mongoose, the developers, or Rebellion, the current owners of the 2000AD license, sitting on a gold mine? Well, probably not. It’ll be a shame, though, because the d20 Judge Dredd roleplaying game is a cracker, it’s really rather good. Just while I’m linking these URLs back to the various company’s websites, let me offer up 2000ADrpg as the official website for the game.
You don’t need to know anything about the Judge Dredd and Mega-City One setting to play the game. You don’t even need to know anything about he setting to enjoy sitting down with the rulebook and idly reading through it. It makes a great setting for a RPG. It would be mad to try and run, for example, a Spiderman RPG without Spiderman in it, but it’s perfectly possible to run a Judge Dredd game without the overwhelming presence of the infamous Judge himself. Mega-City One, alone, has enough character to give the game a strong and unique flavour. The concept of highly trained police going out on different and demanding missions maps very nicely to episodic roleplaying style; a scenario as a mission, and then introduce a background plot which loops through these scenario missions and you’ve got a nice campaign set up. You don’t have to play as a Judge though, you can, if you want, play a civilian, a criminal or even a mutant. Heck, you could play as a professional Fattie if you want.
It’s a nice looking book. I like the simplicity of the front cover’s artwork. Throughout the book you’ll find snippets of Judge Dredd comic strips, normally just one or two cells at a time but enough to build up the darkly humorous mood of 2000AD. Better still, you’ll find full colour, full page artwork; maps, tech-specs and, of course, pictures of various Judges. There is colour on every page, in fact, with the Mega-City One skyline on the bottom and a Justice Department style frame as a border for the sides and top.
For the first time in an absolute age, I found myself carefully reading the Introduction in the book. The opening paragraph does a fine job of very briefly summarizing the game. From there, we move through the motions of pointing out what you need to play, explaining the d20 system to newbies or highlighting the changes made to the core rules for those veterans among us and even some initial help for people entirely new to Judge Dredd.
You’re welcomed to Mega-City One before the character creation process starts. This was absolutely the right thing to do. Whether you couldn’t tell the difference between a Juve or a Psi-Judge or whether you’re a Judge Dredd aficionado it’s worth reading the three pages of flavour building introduction.
There are already a range of Judge Dredd d20 supplements in the works and you might be resigned to having to fork out for separate rules for Street Judges, Psi-Judges and Citizens. Not so, right from the start you can create any one of these classes and you have enough information on them to happily run a fully-fledged campaign, although I’m sure each will see additional rules from future supplements. A particularly wise move was to include a list of possible Prior-Lives for judges and citizens (although, I guess, they count as ‘current lives’ for the citizens). This list not only serves a bit like the Character Concepts from Mongoose’s Collector Series but also quickly introduces further examples of what people end up doing in the mass unemployment and strangely dull danger that is future. For example, you could be a Batter and be proficient in skills required to dress up in a bat-like costume, leap from extremely tall buildings and glide to safety or you may have be a Rogue Psyker and have unregistered Psi-Talents. If you pick the latter then you’ll be pleased to find a whole table that charts the power progress for levelling up as the Rogue.
There are some new skills, some old skills and some changed skills for Judge Dredd. The new ones and the changed ones are fully detailed but the unchanged ones are left for D&D Core Rules. Yes, you do need the Player’s Guide, I’m afraid that was a given, that is what the OGL d20 license aims for.
It is a similar story for the feats. You’re told clearly which feats from the “old” rules can be carried over and which cannot, and then you’re introduced to some new Judge feats and given the full text for them. Actually, the new feats include Judge, Psi and Metapsi Feats. They do tend to concentrate on Judge style abilities but there are some, like Resist Arrest, which are clearly citizen orientated.
There are nearly twenty-five pages of equipment. The chapter is home for the initial information on the black market, income (the future uses credit, not gold) and the standard Justice Department Issue. There are, of course, an awful lot of high tech gizmos too. There are low tech items as well and I’m glad they’ve been included because it all helps to add to the theme; Juves, for example, gangs of juveniles will sharpen plasteen girders to a point and then prowl through the winding corridors of apartment blocks with these improvised spears.
The future, according to Mega-City One, promises much in the way of guns and armour. The armour mechanic has been changed. Huzzah! Armour reduces damage rather than making you harder to hit. This means that there’s less maths involved when working out what number you have to roll in order to throw a tracking device onto someone and it means you can get all nitty-gritty with armour piercing weapons and projectiles. This is why you’ll find a combat section in the book too. It’s a value for money chapter, throwing in rules for rapid fire, running gunfights, pistols in melees, stray shots, linked weapons (when you have a tank, say, with many guns being controlled by one computer), reloading, called shots, attacks on objects or fast moving targets.
One thing I always associate with Judge Dredd is a range of weird and wonderful robots and I suppose vehicles like the Lawmaster motorcycle as well. It’s with a sigh of relief that I discovered the Judge Dredd d20 RPG contained plenty of helpful rules and info for bots and vehicles. There are advanced driving rules as well as rules for vehicular combat. It’s dangerous and illegal to drive too slowly in Mega-City one. There are more than just go-fast or go-slow rules though, I’ve found rules for sideswipes, hardbrake turns, jumps and sudden stops… strangely enough there’s also rules to cover out of control vehicles! Ah yes, but plenty of people fly in Mega-City One and there’s some rules for them as well, but not nearly as much. There are a few pages of sample vehicles too, everything from road buggies to jet powered “broom sticks”. If you don’t see anything you like, you can customize vehicles. I love stuff like this; I think it adds years to the lastability of the game and tends to get players hooked on the genre as they scramble to design their own madcap creations. There’s a similar story for Mega-City One’s robots. You can either take one from the list, a “Robodog, Lethal Response Inc. Defender” or perhaps an “Assassin Robot” from Hondai War Systems, or you can build your own. As the mention of the assassin robot alludes to, the robot rules cover things such as Hit Dice, ability scores and attacks.
Some people just love anything Psi (other people just have a thing for Psi-Judge Anderson from 2000AD) The Psi-System is a simple one; you have power points which you spend to use psi-powers and which you regain over time. A quick count reveals over thirty psi-powers split through levels 0 to 9.
I’ve made mention of the Justice Department in this review. If you don’t know Judge Dredd you’ve probably already guessed it’s the organisation headquarters of the Judges. You don’t have to guess, there are nearly fifty pages on this centrepiece to Judge Dredd. It’s not fifty pages of boring bureaucracy though. For a start it makes references to things like the Space Corps and then points out that the Street Judges work within a different division from the Pis-Judges. You’ll also find rules on arresting people here and just how long their sentence should be. Implanting aggression chips into robots carries a sentence of between 5 and 20 years, taking part in a block war is 15 years to life sentence and selling old comics (restricted publications) could give someone between 1 and 8 years. It’s a useful chapter, if you want to know what sort of response a Judge could get should he call for backup then that’s covered here, so are the robots and vehicles exclusive to the powerful Department. Tucked away in this chapter you’ll also find not one new character class but many! The Med-Judge, the Tek-Judge, the SJS Judge (Special Judicial Squad, the Judges who investigate complaints made against other Judge) and the undercover “Wally Squad Judge”.
If you’re already fed up with Judges then don’t worry you don’t have to play one. In fact, Life on the Streets introduces a slew of rules, facts and figures on the various gangs that exist in the dark future. You’ll also find citizen prestige classes; those people who have turned assassin, professional bat burglar, a dangerous Blitzer, a bodyguard, a member of the Citi-Def, a member of the illegal Hunters Club, … the list goes on and on. In fact, the list covers such a wide range and Mega-City One is so hugely diverse (and just huge – the size of the entire East Coast of North America) it is possible to run many different styles of games all under the Judge Dredd umbrella.
There’s plenty of information on the actual Mega-City One too. In fact, there’s a whole chapter. You’ve everything you need here, a generic map of the city that points out the main parts and where it borders with the Cursed Earth, text on key areas in the city such as the City Bottom or the Undercity and more. Different habitats within the city are covered, everything from the giant city blocks which sometimes go to war with one another, the sprawling cardboard cities all the way up to Space Condos and the animated Escher like hallways of the Maze. The sub-section of landmarks serves either to please those of us with plenty of 2000AD comic time under our belts or simply provide even more flavour and inspiration for Games Masters new to the setting.
In fact, there is information on the other cities that have survived into the future in the Mega-City One chapter. The Emerald IsLe of Ireland, Luxor City in Egypt, Brit-Cit and Cal Hab in the UK, Texas City, Mega-City Two, Atlantis, many others, and even some Space Colonies. There are aliens in Judge Dredd’s future; some people make a healthy but illegal living selling them.
Creeps, Dredd lingo for bad guys (and yes, there’s an entire glossary at the back), covers everything from intelligent apes as villains, through Dinosaurs, Fatties, Kleggs, Mutants (create your own) and even Werewolves.
If you’re wondering whether the setting is too large to get to grips with the book concludes with a lot of useful tips and advice on how to run a campaign. Again, it’s not just Judge campaigns but criminal ones, or mutants or even private investigators.
As the length of the review suggests, Judge Dredd d20 is a comprehensive game. Two hundred and fifty six pages provide all the modifications to core d20 rules, entirely new rules and world setting information you need to run and enjoy the game. The book succeeds in getting across the darkly humorous future which Mega-City One and the Judges represent and it manages to do this in such away that it makes for an enticing game. If you only buy one new RPG this year, you could do a lot worse than buying Judge Dredd.