#RPGaDay XXI: Favourite licensed game: Judge Dredd RPG (1985)
Particularly during the early days of roleplaying, licensed games were such a big deal that it’s hard to know where to begin. Certainly, when I was a kid, it was quite overwhelming looking at the number of games that carried high profile licenses, from Star Trek to Doctor Who.
The first licensed game I ever bought was also my second ever RPG - Middle Earth Role Playing. Looking back on it now, it was almost laughably unthematic with regard to playing a game set in Tolkien’s world, with players playing wizards, weird new races such as the Umli (half dwarves) that never appeared in Tolkien’s writings and a huge map, again featuring things that Tolkien never talked about. It still deserves a lot of respect for its ambition however.
I’d argue that the most influential licensed RPG was Call of Cthulhu. These days, HP Lovecraft’s writing is public domain, but Call of Cthulhu originally wasn’t. It pretty much single-handedly created the horror RPG genre. Unlike most licenses, most people of my generation (I suspect at least) bought the game and went on to discover Lovecraft’s work rather than bought the game because of Lovecraft’s name, so it deserves a lot of credit for getting a whole new generation to discover the writer. Of course, that’s a double edged sword; Call of Cthulhu probably also did more than anything to reduce Cthulhu to the status of a cutesy tentacled Godzilla in the popular imagination, albeit indirectly.
The licensed game I have probably played the most of over the years is probably DC Heroes, by Mayfair Games. However, that’s sort of cheating because I never used the DC setting, favouring my own cobbled together setting instead based on the Golden Heroes scenarios and the 2000AD strip Zenith. In terms of DC, I did once set up a game of Vampire: the Masquerade mashed with Batman and at some point I’d love to give that another go.
Probably the licensed RPG I have the most affection for however is Games Workshop’s Judge Dredd RPG. Combined with the board game, it’s what got me into 2000AD. I played a lot of it when it first came out and had a really different feel to most games I’d played up until that point.
Looking back on it, the system wasn’t brilliant. However, it was almost certainly better suited for the setting than the D20 version which Mongoose published years later. I’d love to see someone come out with a new, definitive Judge Dredd game (a distinct possibility; RPG publisher Cubicle 7 is owned by Rebellion who also own 2000AD and they’ve already announced they’re working on a 2000AD-related game). For me, the ideal Dredd game would have the following features:
- it’d be quick and simple; Fate Core would make a great basis for a Dredd RPG, as would Apocalypse World.
- all the various Dredd RPGs have made a big deal of the equipment and gear, and this is right and proper. The GW version did this the best, although this could have been streamlined so that you weren’t keeping track of every single bullet.
- instead of trying to turn Dredd into D&D by giving all street judges different specialities (Med Judges, Tech Judges, Psis, etc.), the focus on the game ought to be drama and backstory. Look at classic strips such as The Pit and it’s various sequels. All the existing versions of the game have assumed that judges are uncorrupt true believers in the law. In the comic series, that’s rarely the case. Everyone has their lovers, dirty secrets and problematic families.
- Judge Dredd has been going for nearly 40 years now and has a rich history. It has phases. The original RPG was very much influenced by the “comedy” era of the early to mid 80s while the Mongoose RPGs seemed undecided about which style to place the game in. A definitive Dredd RPG ought to give groups different options for different styles of play, from gritty police procedure to wacky future crazes.
A few more Dredd-themed board games wouldn’t go amiss, either. I’d love a Doomsday Scenario board game myself.