Game: The Rookie’s Guide to the Justice Department
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Series: Judge Dredd: d20
Review Dated: 13th, June 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
If you were expecting “The Rookie’s Guide to ____” to be a carbon copy of “The Slayer’s Guide to ____” then you might be in for a pleasant surprise. It depends on your opinion of the 32-paged Slayer Guides, I suppose, but it was never going to be possible to treat Mega City One’s Justice Department in the same way you might write about trolls, hobgoblins or bugbears. The Rookie’s Guide to the Justice Department has twice as many pages, smaller, crisper font and makes use of colour.
The use of colour is interesting. The cover is classic Dredd, the brooding judge himself towering above Mega City One, there’s a colour image of a cut away Sector House in the inside back cover and there is Justice Department style colour border around every page. The pages themselves are black and white but I suppose there was no pressing need to add colour to the illustrations of vehicles, robots, comic strips or NPCs.
The Guide to the Justice Department is a specialised book. You’ll need to be playing the Judge Dredd roleplaying game and you’ll need to be playing it with a vested interest in the nuisances of the hierarchy of the judges and the Justice Department. If you’re not familiar with the setting then it may sound strange but it’s entirely possible to have an in depth “Judge Dredd” game set in deepest, darkest Mega City One and still barely feature Judges at all. If your game is as just described then you may struggle to get value for money from the Justice Department unless you can eek some wicked pleasure from terrorising your players with the stats from the Holocaust Squad Judge prestige class or that there’s no saving throw from an urban nuke.
The book’s introduction explains that throughout the text you’ll find snippets from Judge Dredd’s own book; “Dredd’s Comportment”. There’s also an errata of sorts; “A little gremlin (no doubt an agent from Sov-Block) crept into the Judge Dredd rulebook, with the intention of denying judges access to the H-Wagons of their Sector Houses! The correct text of both the H-Wagon itself and the Back Up checks required to call them while on the street can be found in this book”. That’s probably reason enough to pick up the book but probably not the one the authors want.
There are about ten pages on the organisation of the Justice Department. This chapter explains, in brief, the founding of the Department and how it ended up arresting American President Robert Booth in 2070 near the end of the Great Atom War (World War III), a war that he started. It covers the different divisions within the huge department and their interactions. The inter-department divisions are all classic comic book common sense ones; there’s a division for each type of Judge you can think of. There are Med-Judges (medical) and so there’s a Med Division, there are Tek-Judges and so there’s a Tek Division and there are Psi-Judges and so there is a Psi Division too. There are some subtle points in here too; some like the internal affairs equivalent can add a different sort of flavour to your game, and other points, such as forensics squads being part of the Tek Division might just be there for purists.
Specialist Judges are bywords for prestige classes. The 2000 AD comic has a long history and think it is inevitable that years and years of plots will have introduced a vast array of different types of Judges and in traditional comic book style each new type is bound to be better, in some way, that the previous one. I think Mongoose does a pretty good job at presenting these popular sub-types of judge, it’s a hard line to walk when it comes to keeping the near inhuman abilities of the judges inline with a game balanced RPG. The Justice Department holds an innate safely system for these prestige classes though; the player character’s boss can simply refuse to promote or transfer the character to the prestige class worthy squad or division.
I said that the abilities of the judges were nearly inhuman; well some judges are “more nearly” inhuman than others. Judge Dredd is a clone, as is his brother Rico. Your player characters could be from the clone stock too – at the time of the game world I think there’s a fair percentage of these cloned judges out there. I wish the book gave me a better idea of what exactly that percentage was (it’s too tempting to have scary ‘problems with the clones’ style plots) but all we’re told is, “It is projected that by 2160 one third of judges will originate from clone stock”. Cloned PCs provide a way to quickly stat PCs – all clones have the same stats. That’s not as boring as it sounds though since the book provides a number of different “bloodlines” and clones from different bloodlines will have different stats. Those GMs torn between letting a player play Judge Dredd (of whom we’ve seen no stats – which gets the thumbs up from me) or not, now has a nice third option wherein the player can pick up a character from the same clone stock as the infamous Judge.
A far whack of the 64-page book is given over to resources, weapons, robots and vehicles. They’re presented over three chapters. I admit it; much of the charm of the 2000 AD setting is the weird and wonderful technology. Who can ignore a standard sidearm which fires six types of ammunition or the charm of robotic bomb hunting dogs? The dark sci-fi world is a haven for those of us who are weapon geeks too. At one point there’s a double page table that presents a dense collection of damage, range, weight etc for different types of weapon. A saving grace for those of us who are not weapon geeks is that there are some pictures for these weapons and plenty of pictures for the vehicles (like the gunbird) and robots (like the book keeper’s drone; the audit bot). You look at the huge guns and get the point; the Judges will react with terminal force if you litter or read forbidden books, you look at the pictures of a hundred and one robots and the mass unemployment of human redundancy becomes clear.
After an aside to the Judge’s academy the book ends with a detailed examination of one Sector House: a typical precinct for the Judges. It’s not presented a mini-adventure but instead a collection of the local judges and their surprisingly chequered history.
As a random RPG supplement off the shelf the Rookie’s Guide to the Justice Department might seem a little dry and entirely obsessed with a facet of Mega City One; it might just be a 5/10 or 2 star offering. However, if you judge the book by what it sets out to do and accept it as an overview of the Justice Department then it tallies higher. It does what it claims. It does what it says on the cover. GMs are presented with an RPG friendly view of the Justice Department and it’s done in such away which spoils neither the Justice Department established in the 2000 AD comic nor corrupts the essence of a player driven (as opposed to ‘back up judges turn up, back up judges deal with the situation) RPG.