Game: The Rookie’s Guide to Criminal Organisations
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Series: Judge Dredd: d20
Review Dated: 15th, October 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 5
Average Score: 5.00
The Judge Dredd license continues with the The Rookie’s Guide to Criminal Organisations. The 64-paged softcover book goes as far as the light use of colour for the borders but not for any illustrations however the whole book benefits from the better paper quality required for even what colour there is. At $14.95 it’s averagely priced. Another note for the illustrations is that there’s less than usual for a Mongoose book, the reasons for this seem to be the number of large tables and that the use of artwork from the Judge Dredd comic strip lends itself to discrete squares of illustration. There are ten pages of prestige classes in all of that there’s one small picture of a spaceship taking off.
The first third of the book concentrates entirely on describing criminal organisations in Mega-City One. It seems that no matter how effective and scary the Judges are that there will always be people turning to crime and people trying to organise it. I think there should have been more in the book explaining to those players and GMs who’ve not had the chance to follow the twists and turns of Mega-City life in the 2000AD comic that there is a whole range of persistent crime in the city and not just people flipping out and doing crazy and illegal things on the spur of the moment. If you look at a typical Judge’s character sheet it can be hard to imagine that anyone even gets away with dropping litter in the future. However, Criminal Organisations does put some effort into reassuring readers that there is still plenty of crime and moves swiftly on to describing the way organised crime can be contacted behind the scenes of a legitimate business.
Here’s a blast from the past: I used to really enjoy creating spy agencies and criminal organisations using the point system in Palladium’s Ninjas and Superspies. Mongoose has devised a similar system for creating a criminal organisation and matching business front. It’s just not as fun to use. Okay. It might not be as much fun it is perhaps better in that it starts off on the important figure – the organisation’s leader – and then builds things around her. The crime boss needs the new “Advanced Leadership” feat in order to set up an organisation and needs to be 12th level (and have the Leadership feat) before she can qualify for Advanced Leadership. 12th level is high but I believe it’s a sensible level demand given that the would-be crime boss is trying to operate in Mega-City one. Unfortunately, in the example given in the book Dax Lacer the would-be leader is only 10th level so his player must have been bribing the GM. The example does show the use of the Visibility, Activity and Loyalty statistics for the organisation though. In fact, in following pages there are lists and lists of criminal incomes and expenditures. It does well, I think, to giving a tangible goal to PCs who aren’t Judges in Mega-City one. What do you do as a civilian? You try and increase your gang’s status and standing. That’ll jell with lots of players.
Then you have to keep your new criminal organisation going. There is a quick set of rules for checking to see whether the Judges have noticed your presence. It’s a rather scary thing to happen to a carefully planned criminal game but I suppose it’s quite likely. Besides, as with all rules, it’s there for the GM to use or ignore. It does give excuse for even more charts and tables though.
Some of the tables in this first third of the book have gone awry in the formatting. The header of the table sometimes ends up in the grey background designed for the first entry and as a result all the text in the table is a line off. It’s not a disaster, it takes just a second to find your place again after rolling the dice or picking the attribute but it is annoying.
Then come the prestige classes I mentioned earlier. There are quite a lot of them.
– The Creative Accountant
– The Fall Guy
– The Family Advisor (who’s easy to miss since his header text is smaller than the rest)
– The Fixer
– The Jimp
– The Lowstreet Doc
– The Recreational Chemist
– The Sleazy Lawyer
– The Umpty Bagger
– The Veteran Smuggler
All these prestige classes are only detailed through five levels. I saw this and I snorted. I thought that was just cheap. However, between reading the book for the first time and writing the review, I had a quick chat about prestige classes with a veteran player. The point was made that there are two primarily acceptable uses for five level prestige classes: as a flavour class and an uber-class. A flavour class is a prestige class that the characters can get into quickly and leave quickly, it shouldn’t be very powerful and an uber-class is a prestige class which the characters can’t hope to qualify for until they’re well past the 10th level and for which there is little point extending beyond 5 levels. I looked again at the prestige classes in Criminal Organisations. Maybe. I suppose there are some prestige classes here that might just count as a flavour class – needing about 9 ranks in a primary skill before you can qualify. There are a few who have an even weaker claim to the powerful uber-class concept (but still nothing compared to anything the Justice Department puts out). There’s even an argument that given the make up of Mega-City One and the people there you wouldn’t find anyone who’s been a Fixer or a successfully Sleazy Lawyer long enough to ever push past five levels. So the prestige classes are a bit like the tables of juicy numbers in the chapter before; they’re honestly useful in the game and just because there isn’t a truly meaty new prestige class doesn’t mean it’s a disaster but it’s still annoying.
Tucked in right after the prestige classes are a few pages of new uses for old skills (this time called “New Tricks for Old Perps”). I think this sort of chapter is best suited to newcomers. Some might argue that you don’t really need to be told that the Bluff skill can be used to hustle someone or negotiate quickly. There are some gems in this particular incarnation of the chapter to add value to it this time though. For example, the Craze skill lists a few crazes (Prank Vid-Calling, Semi-Pro Pin-Boing, Shuggy, Pyromania) and assigns the matching attributes to them; Pyromania is a craze which tests against Int but Semi-Pro Pin-Boing tests Dex and yet it’s all one skill.
By now you’re in the last third of the book and reading about reputation. Reputation is a great ideal; it’s even better than challenging the players to go out and make money. Reputation is the sort of attribute that will drive your players on and encourage then to role-play proactively rather than just sitting back waiting to see what happens next. Players love to collect and earn reputation and they’ll hate the fact that Sally sitting on the couch next to them and stuffing her face with Pringles is playing a character with more reputation than theirs. The reputation system has been cleverly designed here; it’s just perfect for collecting. Rather than running the range of numbers up to 18 or 20 the system uses a scale through to a 100 and then offers a separate table for converting reputation into suitable d20 bonuses for intimidation and other appropriate social checks. There’s a whole page of sample reputation modifiers too. If your criminal character manages to get away with at least 5,000 credits after a job then his reputation goes up by one. There’s lots of lovely ways to penalise character’s reputations too. In a touch of completeness the book points out that an updated character sheet with room for an official reputation stat can be found on the 2000AD RPG website.
There’s enough room at the back of the book for a few pages of plot hooks and scenario ideas and a fairly comprehensive rules summary. The scenario ideas are worth a scan at the very least but they’re well worth looking at if you’re truly stuck with the whole idea of organised crime and can’t think of anything better to do than pit Judges against a Blitz Agency.
The Rookie’s Guide to Criminal Organisations is not a Must Have. If you’re running your Judge Dredd game and your characters are civilians then the book quickly becomes a Think Above Having; especially since every single citizen in Mega-City One has the potential to become a criminal.