… down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.
He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.
He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
Last week, we played Judge Dredd the RPG, published by Games Workshop back in 1985, co written by former Dragon Lords editor Marc Gascoigne with Citadel supremo Rich Priestley. When I trailed this on twitter it generated a great deal of interest – more than any other tweet I’ve ever written in fact – so this is a follow-up play report for all those people who were interested in finding out what happened.
@dailydwarf came out of GM retirement, after a 35 year freeze, to deliver his own scenario Better Living Through Chemistry, as a online, dry-run ahead of its appearance at GROGMEET. It was a chance to stretch some of those muscles that have been dormant and to familiarise everyone with the rules. The scenario will also be appearing in the GROGZINE, so I’m going to avoid any spoilers here and concentrate on some of the experiences of playing rather than the details of the story.
Despite the usual setbacks that inhibit the gathering of grognards – including holidays, family commitments, the under-funding of public services creating staffing shortages, and dodgy online-gaming platforms – we managed to straddle our LawMasters to dispense justice on the streets of Mega City One.
“You’re not very good with your d6s are you?” complained @dailydwarf as I fell short on yet another zinger. Roll one on this table, five highlights from the sessions and one fumble.
“Be careful out there …”
In many ways, Judge Dredd is the perfect RPG set up: you are given missions to resolve, your motivations are straight forward, the setting is rich yet flexible and there’s plenty of opportunity for mystery and investigation. Every session begins with the report sheet of perp activity in the sector, packed with warnings, leads and specific tasks for your patrol as it hits the streets.
There were reports of an air-ship seen in the sector featuring costumed individuals, shouting about treasure … hang on, isn’t that our cast of characters from Storm King’s Thunder?
Very quickly, we felt like Judges, and adopted our roles very diligently, as we headed out into the wasted areas of sector 170. The scenario was set in the period after the Apocalypse War when the city was coming to terms with the devastation. Our judges were clearing through the wreckage of partially destroyed blocks. It felt like coming home, as this was the classic period of Dredd stories which generated nostalgia for both the game and the comics of the early 80s.
Unlike many licensed settings, the backdrop didn’t feel constraining. The city has been generating stories for 40 years and is richly populated with characters, perps, and imagery that provided instant immersion. @dailydwarf also used a slide-show of specially adapted elements from the strip to illustrate scenes and NPCs we encountered, which made it feel like we were part of a Prog.
Get me back to TEK
Each of our Judges had a role in the team: the grizzled Veteran, the giddy rookie, the hotshot, and I went for the Judge who had been reluctantly redeployed to the streets from TEK division. He was keen to impress upon his fellow judges the capabilities of their kit. In the first encounter he gave an impressive display of ‘high-ex’ bullets from his LawGiver to bring the ceiling down on perps. This was followed by a less impressive display as a close-ranged ricochet bullet hit one of his team members. Whoops, sorry ‘Holy Cremola!’
I’d forgotten about the levels of back up available to Judges and how they can get you out of trouble. There’s always Pat Wagons available to pick up perps, Clean-up squads, Meat Wagons, Med-squads and forensic support for those tricky investigations.
We traded one-liners as the incidents piled on us, we had some great fun with Chemical Brothers lyrics too: “Hey, isn’t that another one of those block bustin’ beats?”
@dailydwarf provided his “Dredd-Hack” cut down version of the core mechanics. Most situations are resolved through attribute based percentile checks. Depending on your Judge’s speciality, you may have some Special Abilities that allow for some additional investigative or combat edge over the perps. The combat is crunchy, and goes something like this: roll to hit, roll location (d100), roll for armour coverage if appropriate before rolling for damage. Perps are at a disadvantage as they’re not as souped up as the Judges, but they have the opportunity to strike first with their wild-fire. Judges have to be more measured in the their approach as they need to be able to pass sentence rather than shooting indiscriminately.
There’s a reference list in the Dredd Hack, providing advice on general sentences. I thought 20 years for illegal Boinging (R) was always too steep.
Why does it have to end?
Normally, when it comes to fumbles, I always complain about the interference of the online glitches (1-D-6 passim). I’m not going to this time. Sure, it was a right-royal pain in the arse for some of the time, but most of the time, it worked fine and the confusion, over-talking etc added to the experience as it felt more immersive.
The only fumble about this experience is when it came to an end. It felt like it should be the beginning of an epic campaign. Mega City One is a great setting, the rules are serviceable, the players were switched on, so it was one of those great RPG moments when you wanted to carry on with the characters and have more adventures.
“Hey, Grim, let forever be.”
As for @dailydwarf, his inert GM skills are now awakened, we’re all in for a treat. He’s a natural.