The Judge Dredd Roleplaying Game. Games Workshop 1988
A retro look by Marc Farrimond
For a long time Judge Dredd has been something of an institution here in Britain. He is the lead story in the world’s longest running boyscomic book 2000ad (21 years old this year) and has scored fans the world over. Set in the not to distant future (2106ad) the story follows the adventures of the meanest lawman to ever walk the face of the earth, Judge Joseph Dredd, empowered by the people to be Judge, Jury and if need be Executioner, he is the law!
The world of Judge Dredd would make an excellent setting for a roleplaying system and that is just what Games Workshop went about doing when they acquired the license to the comics games rights almost 10 years ago now. The Dredd RPG combined the talents of Marc Gascoine and games guru and Jedi master Rick Priestly to bring us perhaps the best ever post apocalyptic roleplaying game and the closet adaptation to any comic book hero ever.
Laid out in a neat black and gold edged box came the two rule books needed to play the game, one for the players and the other for the Games Master. Both books where literally covered in images taken directly from the comics pages and stuck strictly to the comics mythos. For those of you whose only exposure to Judge Dredd has been the dire movie made a couple of years ago by Danny Cannon and starring Sly Stallone, then you have sadly missed out on one of the most enjoyable characters of all comic history. . In a review as short as this it is very difficult to condense over 20 years of comic history, but I will try to do as much as I can. With artwork from some of the best known names in international comics, such as Brian Bolland and Cam Kenedy to the renowned artist Chris Achillios, the books had some stunning images of Dredd, his companions and his enemies .
The world of Judge Dredd is a highly detailed place and the rule books cover this in great depth, taking into account the nuclear war that destroyed most of the worlds population in the early 21st century and forced mankind to take shelter in the many huge domed metropolis, that became the Mega Cities. Food and resources where scarce and the survivors where on the brink of anarchy, till they decided to create the Judges, a legal force of highly trained men and women who would police the Mega Cities and bring order to chaos. Trained from the age of 5 years old in the Academy the recruits had to endure hours of intense training, both physical and psychological in order to become a full Judge and wear the full Eagle shoulder pad with pride.
Mega City One is the home of Judge Dredd and stretches down the entire east coast of America and houses over 100,000,000 people each one of them a potential perp (perpetrator) and a problem that the Judges must police at all times. The Judges are on patrol of these mean streets 24 hours a day, only sleeping for 20 mins in every 24 hours thanks to the sleep machines of the Tech Judges (although they must get a normal nights sleep once every 7 days) and they are always on the lookout for evil doers. Which in terms of the totalitarian state of the Mega Cities could be anything from Smoking in public too Mass Murder or use of a banned substance (comic books or sugar for instance!). The laws are swift and just and many perps are sentenced to years in Iso Cubes, small blocks where they carry out their sentence. Dredd has been accused of being the ultimate fascist in the past and he would certainly not win any prizes in a popularity contest. Old Stoney face as he is often referred to has saved both Mega City One and the earth from total destruction far to many times to mention and has gained some of the most impressive enemies that any comic book character would only dare to dream of.
The rule books go into a lot more detail than the condensed version above and rules for many of Dredds enemies are given including the infamous Dark Judges, warped creatures from another dimension where life itself is a crime, to Chopper the sky surfing hero who bucks the establishment and gets right under Dredds huge chin. Marc Gascoine certainly did his research when he complied the background for the game and took the then 10 years of information and weeded out all the loose ends to come up with a concise and very readable book.
Players could choose to randomly generate their Judge, or could choose from Tech, Med, Street, or PSI Judges. Tech Judges are those who are very gifted in the arts of using and maintaining technology and combat skills are not a prime requisite among them. Med Judges are the medics, doctors and nurses who not only look after the judges but carry out experiments and other things for the Justice Department. Street Judges are perhaps the norm among players and are the everyday Judges who patrol the many deadly streets of Mega City One, they are trained in multiple forms of combat and are excellent at shooting, driving and hand to hand combat, skills that they must rely upon daily. The last character class is the PSI Judge. These Judges show a potential for ESP and other psychic abilities during childhood and although not many in number they are a valid part of the Judicial forces.
Character creation is very simple with each player being allowed to assign 30 points to their chosen character. The characters where rounded out by gaining a new skill every ten points above 30 in their characteristics Strength (S) Initiative (I), Combat Skill (CS), Drive Skill (DS), Technical Skill (TS), Street Skills (SS), Medical Skills (MS), and finally Psi Skills (PSI). This allowed the player to gain the character they wanted with ease. Want a hot shot driver, then place more points into DS! A street wise Judge would go for SS as a prime choice and after generation the players got to place expericence points in any chosen charactistic. The number in the skills was a percentage based roll to use that skill and was modifided if needed by the games master, so for example if a Judge wanted to fire his Lawgiver pistol at a fleeing perp, the GM may assign a difficulty to the roll or may give bonuses to hit (range etc) if need be, then the roll was made and the result was either a hit or a miss. Simple.
The entire mechanics for the system were created by Rick Priestly who did a splendid job with them from character generation to driving and combat. Easy to read and understand and highly playable this is perhaps one of my all time favorite games and still gets played every now and then. The game also spawned a number of add-ons in the form of Judgement Day (an adventure of epic proportions) Slaughter Margin ( a boxed set that gave an adventure against the Judges of Nip Cit, what was left of Japan.) and The Judge Dredd Companion a collection of adventures and new skills from the talents of people such as Marcus L Rowland, Richard Halliwell among others. And a full range of miniatures was also released to coincided with the game most of which are exchanging hands now from lost of money. Fans of Warhammer 40,000 may be interested to note that City Block one of the last additions to the game was also for use with 40K, giving rules for fighting in buildings for the then newly released Rouge Trader. Also the Adeptus Arbities that govern the planets in the 40K universe where taken directly from Judge Dredd and where at one time even known as Judges!
Sadly the game went out of print in 1992, perhaps because of the lack of support shown in White Dwarf and no new miniatures released since then. Games Workshop lost the rights to the Dredd franchise in 1995 and its hard to find a copy of the game in the sales that they hold now as they cant legally sell it anymore. A shame as it is still a great system with very few flaws.
If you are a fan of comics or roleplaying games and ever get the chance to pick up the rules for this game (in the box or in the hardback book run that followed) then I highly recommend that you pick it up and treasure it. I played the Judge Dredd RPG on a nightly basis for over 3 years and didn't get tired of it once, it is a joy to play and is perhaps one of the easiest games to get into and can be adapted with little effort to any genre. If enough interest is shown I will place some of the adventures I used to run here on Gamers Web along with some of the skills and other ideas we came up with while playing the game.
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