The British Connection. Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000AD Roleplaying Game Interviews and insights!
Judge Dredd, while an actual American by birth, is as British as Fish & Chips, cups of tea, and complaining about the weather. Sure he was created by an American (living in Scotland) and a Spaniard, but the ethos and heritage of Judge Joseph Dredd is all British! The character has been around now since 1977 and has thrilled millions around the world, gained a huge cult following, thanks in part to the 2012 Karl Urban movie ‘Dredd’ and is instantly recognisable. But as mentioned already, although the comic is set in what remains of the USA, Dredd’s roots, origins and creation are purely British!
Created by renowned writer John Wagner and legendary Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra , Judge Dredd has been in almost every single issue of his parent comic book 2000AD, a weekly publication that defied all odds and still manages to sell well. The character needs little in the way of introduction, but in case you are a newcomer to the worlds of Judge Dredd and 2000AD, here is a quick recap.
With the world’s populations running out of control and fossil fuels all but gone, it was clear that something drastic had to be done to avoid facing global disaster. In North America, the first of the Mega-Cities was built, a vast sprawling metropolis that would be home to tens of millions of people, crammed into single buildings that held tens of thousands. The city grew at an alarming rate and soon what was designed for a few million people, would be home to over 800 million, most of whom were unemployed and illiterate, and as a result crime soared to levels never before seen. Enter the Judges, law officers trained from childhood in the hardest and most brutal school in history ‘The Academy of Law’ to police the mean streets of Mega-City One, acting as judge, jury and if needed executioner all rolled into one! Of all the judges, the meanest and toughest is Joe Dredd, a vat born clone, who lives only for one thing, the Law!
The history of Dredd’s world is vast and far more than I can go into here (though I will cover it at some point), but it is the British connection that we are looking at today. Many world famous comic book writers and artists have made their name by working on Dredd strips, and each of them has brought their own unique sense of Britishness with them. From writers such Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), Neil Gaiman (Sandman, American Gods) and Grant Morrison (Preacher); to artists like Steve Dillion (Preacher), Colin McNeil (Batman) and Simon Bisley (Batman, Spider-Man) countless British talents have graced the pages of the galaxies favourite comic book over the years.
Comics are by their very nature, an ideal source of material for other mediums and many comics get translated into movies or television shows (Dredd is no exception with two movies under his belt and a tv show in the works), novels and toys and more. The world of Judge Dredd is a vast playground to run wild in and over the past thirty years it has seen several successful pen and paper roleplaying games based around the character. From the 1983 Games Workshop roleplaying game Judge Dredd by Rick Priestly, to the more recent D20 and D6 versions of the game from Mongoose Publishing by Matthew Sprange, all written in the UK by British based (if not born) authors. Now as we approach the end of the later part of the decade, the last version of the Dredd roleplaying game is all but dead in the water, with no support material being released for over five years!
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of EN Publishing who in late 2017 announced that they had secured the rights to produce a roleplaying game not only based upon the central character of Judge Dredd, but on all of the hundreds of characters, backgrounds and settings in the titular comic book 2000AD!
I was fortunate enough to have the chance to chat with the folks behind the upcoming Judge Dredd and World’s of 2000AD kickstarter campaign from EN Publishing and find out what is their inspiration and what unique piece of Britishness they hope to bring to the project.
Gamers Web: Firstly thanks for sparing the time to chat with Gamers Web I know now more than ever you must be frantically busy with the kickstarter campaign about to shift into gear and launch at the end of the month. If you can tell us a little about yourselves and what was your introduction to Judge Dredd and what is your involvement in the game?
Russ Morrissey: I’m Russ Morrissey, AKA Morrus, and I run EN Publishing. I designed the system mechanics for this game, as well as oversaw the publishing process.
My first introduction to 2000 AD was when I was a young teenager. My (younger) brother got into comic-books about the same time I got into Dungeons & Dragons. Sadly, he never crossed over to the tabletop gaming side, although definitely embraced comic-books!
Darren Pearce: Hey there, I’m Darren Pearce. I’m the lead writer for Judge Dredd & the Worlds of 2000AD. I’ve been reading 2000AD since I was around 8, back in 1977. I had the first issue; my nan brought it for me along with some Marvel comics. I was hooked; I’d never seen anything like it before then. I’ve worked on some pretty awesome things in the last 19 or so years in the RPG industry including Doctor Who with Cubicle 7, Lone Wolf alongside Joe Dever, and even the new Warhammer 40K RPG through a sourcebook – but if you told 8 year old me that he’d one day get to write a RPG book based on Judge Dredd, he’d have given you an odd look.
Gamers Web: I am pretty much the same Darren, I was 13 years old and delivering news papers when I came across the first Prog and if I had known then that my first writing gig would be on a Dredd project I think I would have screamed with joy!
Andy Peregrine: I’m Andy Peregrine, and I’m a freelance RPG writer, although I work in theatre to pay the mortgage. I joined the project to write the Robot Wars supplement, but did stick an oar in over some of the playtesting. I read a lot of Dredd when I was younger, but 2000AD was always an extra rather than a regular comic for me. So I’ve really enjoyed the ‘research’ catching up on the old stories and finding out how some of the stories that I missed the start or end of actually turned out.
Gamers Web: The history of Judge Dredd and his universe is vast, spanning decades of stories and adventures, drawn and written by dozens of different talented people. Was there a deliberate decision made to go back to Dredds early years and retell them?
Russ Morrissey: Absolutely. That was our initial pitch to Rebellion, the owners of 2000 AD. We plan to work our way through Dredd’s chronology, starting right at the beginning with The Robot Wars and moving forwards through Luna-1, Cursed Earth, and so on, all in order.
Darren Pearce: Yes. Right from the get-go we wanted to tell the story through the game, of Dredd’s very early years. 2099, Mega-City One has no wall and Dredd’s just getting started. It was important to us, and me, that we start from the beginning so that we can touch on as much of the awesome early stuff in Dredd as possible. Like the Robot Wars, which was expertly handled by Andrew Peregrine and is the first of the supplements to cover the first major plot arc for Dredd.
Gamers Web: How difficult was it to do that , yet still remain relevant to today’s world of instant media that is light years away from 1977?
Russ Morrissey: I feel like, just looking at The Robot Wars, it’s very relevant today. Dredd has always had a heavy element of satire and black humour, and the social commentary of the 1970s is still appropriate. Different names and faces, but the same issues. The Robot Wars is a commentary on slavery and the abuse of power, for example, while also being a fantastical rollicking good story about Robots! I mean, Mega-City One is a virtual police state. It’s not a recommendation, it’s an observation, if that makes any sense.
Gamers Web: It makes perfect sense Russ!
Darren Pearce: 2000AD and Dredd’s stories are timeless really, they are still as relevant today as they were back then in 1977. 2000AD has a pretty unique style to it, and as long as we remained true to that in the RPG we really didn’t need to much else except present Dredd in 2099 using WOIN. Which is OSR but has modern design paradigms built in, so all I needed to do was ensure that I got the world part of Dredd right.
Andy Peregrine: There is a lot of Dredd that remains very relevant. We still have crime after all! What causes it and how we deal with it will be debated for years to come. Hopefully we won’t need anything as brutal as Judges, but Dredd remains a warning about taking certain policies and zero tolerance punishments to their extremes.
Gamers Web: What is it that makes Dredd and 2000AD stand out as a comic but still remain its British identity and roots?
Russ Morrissey: It’s that black humour, and satire. 2000 AD’s “heroes” aren’t caped crusaders, they’re often anti-heroes.
Darren Pearce: 2000AD and Dredd have always stood out, because they embraced the counter-culture of the time. The various movements of the time and things like Nemesis the Warlock were undeniably different to any other story that had been told in a comic at that point. The hero: an alien, and not a square-jawed badass gun-toting, cigar-chomping awesome guy? That was pretty amazing. I think it’s the level of the storytelling, the tongue-in-cheek humour, and the dry wit that makes 2000AD British – we’re also not shy of satire one bit.
Andy Peregrine: For me it is the way the insane becomes absolutely normal. Mega City One is a place full of people on the edge under horrific mental stress, and yet it is all just normal. No one talks about it; they just repress it all and get on with their day! The craziness is also particularity British as well. There is a strange sarcasm and surreal oddity to the actions of not just Dredd but the criminals he arrests.
Gamers Web: I know that by starting at the very beginning of Dredd’s timeline and working forwards, you have some of the best stories in comic book history to cover. Will you hopefully be covering all the mega epics such as The Cursed Earth and The Apocalypse War?
Russ Morrissey: Absolutely. We’re working through in order. Each major storyline will get an adventure/sourcebook. For example in The Robot Wars, we have two adventures (The Robot Wars, and Saving Matt Damon Block) so that Judges and Perps/Civilians can play. Plus we have a ton of expanded material for Robot player characters, and lots of information and discussion on Robots and their roles in Mega-City One society. The Cursed Earth will have lots of rules for Mutants (expanding on those already in the core rulebook), two adventures, and so on.
Darren Pearce: We can’t speak fully of the plans, or at least I can’t. But as the lead writer, it’s something that I’m very keen to pursue. There are a lot of great stories to go through, and there’s some of the very best Dredd yet to come. I think we’d be doing him a disservice and Judge Anderson, if we didn’t at least cover the Dark Judges and other stories too.
Andy Peregrine: Oh yes! This is one of the reasons we start with the Robot Wars. The plan is to give a whole book over to each of Dredd’s major cases, giving you all you need to run them as full campaigns, including all the background they offer to expand the setting. Personally, I can’t wait to get to the Dark Judges!
Gamers Web:The first supplement written by Andy is The Robot Wars campaign book and it was the first real story arc for the characters. How did you go about condensing this and were there anything’s in the original comics you had to leave out or wish you could have included?
Andy Peregrine: I was very lucky working with Russ and EN Publishing on this as I got a very free hand. We only have a certain amount of space, but I think I managed to get everything into the book to be honest. The stories that make up the series are actually very self contained and to the point. So I only needed to identify the main points and use that as a structure for players to become involved. So you get a campaign structure to play out the Robot Wars as a Judge, fighting alongside Dredd or taking his place. The Robot Wars also gives you a lot of detail on how to create and play robot characters, and I had the opportunity to go completely crazy with those. Robots in Mega City one are just insane, so I embraced the madness. We also include an equally large campaign for civilian characters (and/or robot characters) trying to save their block during the robot uprising.
Gamers Web: The game uses its own mechanic Whats Old is New (WION), could you tell us a little on how this work’s for those who may not have encountered it before?
Russ Morrissey: Sure! Here is is in a nutshell!
You have some attribute dice pools and some skill dice pools.
To make a check you add an attribute dice pool to a skill dice pool and beat a target number. This is called an attribute check.
- To climb a wall you might roll AGI (3d6) plus climbing (2d6) = 5d6.
- To shoot a goblin you might roll AGI (3d6) plus bows (1d6) = 4d6.
- To bluff a guard you might roll CHA (2d6) plus bluffing (2d6) = 4d6.
That’s basically it. You can combine any attribute with any skill. Super simple! It’s very flexible, so you can have some interesting combinations.
You might get additional dice from high quality equipment or circumstantial bonuses, or you might lose dice from complications. But that’s basically the game.
You choose five careers (you can repeat them or choose new ones) to create your character’s background. Each time you choose a career it gives you:
- Attribute increases
- Skill increases
- An exploit (special ability)
Andy Peregrine:The system is very simple to get to grips with, just roll as many D6s as you have skill and apply the result. The character creation system is career based, so you have an instant template for your character, with the ability to pick lots of different options and your own career path. Each has their own special ability options and there are a lot of cool traits you can add for each career. I think this is especially evident with the Judge careers as you don’t need to play a Psi or Tech Judge to be interesting. There are a lot of options for Street Judges to make every character very individual will cool skills and abilities.
Gamers Web: The excellent video intro you have created for the kickstarter campaign looks awesome and mentions that you can play not only the judges, but citizens and perps (perpetrators or those that commit crimes). Was this the goal all along?
Russ Morrissey: Definitely. Mega-City One is vast, and there are so many stories to tell, and the Judges aren’t omnipresent. You could run an entire criminal campaign and rarely see a Judge (fortunately for you!) or play civilians defending their block from a juve gang. For Perps, Judges are the bogey-man, the monster you hope you don’t ever meet.
Darren Pearce: From the outset we wanted to ensure that we had careers for Judges, Perps, and Citizens in the game. It was a clear choice design wise, and one I totally embraced, especially when writing the various Crime Blotters that I did for the core book. Since you have to write the story so that it can be handled by all 3 career types.
Gamers Web: Moving away from Dredd slightly and onto the bigger picture. With the whole 2000AD universe to play which other series would you like to do first? I loved both Slaine and Strontium Dog as roleplaying settings but I really am holding out for either ABC Warriors or Nemesis the Warlock!
Russ Morrissey: Personally? I’m an Absalom fan. And Caballistics. And Necronauts. Huh, I think there’s a theme there. All of those you mentioned are on the list, along with many others!
Darren Pearce: Nemesis the Warlock, and ABC Warriors are near and dear to my heart in that regard – so given half a chance, I’d like to do both of those books as part of supplements to the game. I see Slaine as another project entirely, and who knows what the future brings. Except Tharg, he knows, you’ve seen those Future Shocks right?
Andy Peregrine: There is such a long list. I know Darren is going to scream Nemesis as he’s a huge fan. I’d love to do Rogue Trooper, and asking about Robusters was what got me working on Robot Wars. Personally I’d love to do Indigo Prime, but only after Absalom, which I only read recently and it’s become a huge favourite.
Gamers Web: 2000AD as always been a satire of current culture and trends, is that something you intend to emulate with this project?
Russ Morrissey: Of course! Rebellion has trusted us with their characters and stories, and we fully intend to remain true to them!
Darren Pearce: If you read some of the Crime Blotters, you might see that in action. There’s a wealth of satire out there that’s just ready to be written really. So for my part, I’d like to say: Yes.
Andy Peregrine: I think the important thing with any licensed property is to do justice to the source material. If we do that, the satire and relevance of Dredd and 2000AD will just naturally come out of that process. It’s already a great project; we just need to let it speak for itself and it will do that work for us.
Gamers Web: Other than the GM Screen and Limited Edition with its stunning cover artwork, are the any items or stretch goals you can tease us with from the Kickstarter?
Russ Morrissey: Our Kickstarter philosophy is not to promise things we can’t immediately deliver. For that reason, we don’t usually have much in the way of stretch goals — nothing that could delay the Kickstarter fulfillment. We have a few items such as a live streamed show, some Robot pregenerated characters, etc., but there won’t be anything “big” that we need to produce. We’re all about fulfilling Kickstarters quickly, and we’ve been doing that for a few years now.
Gamers Web: Dredd has famously taken on many heroes and villains over the decades that the comic book has been going, are there any that you found inspirational?
Andy Peregrine: I suspect if I found any of the criminals in the Dredd universe inspirational I would be in prison by now. However, you’ve got to admire Walter for his dedication, even if it is hopelessly misplaced!
Gamers Web: Finally what are your favourite storylines or stand alone moments in 2000AD, I know that there are so many, but if you had to choose which would be the top and why?
Andy Peregrine: I know it’s a bit obvious, but the Dark Judges are very high on my list. However, I’d also really like to take a longer look at Brit Cit. Essentially, the more I read of the stories to catch up with the rest of the team, the more I find I want to work on!
Darren Pearce: The Dark Judges, one scene in particular, Judge Fear. You probably know where I’m going with this. Just that very panel… ‘Gaze into the Fist of Dredd’, by Brian Bolland. That to me encapsulates all the awesome of 2000AD in one moment. When faced with fear itself, Dredd punches it in the face. You just can’t top that. I still laugh about it even now.
Gamers Web: Many thanks for all your precious time gents, it has been a pleasure and we at Gamers Web will be waiting eagerly for the moment that the Kickstarter begins to get our pledge in early!
The Judge Dredd and Worlds of 2000AD kickstarter campaign goes live on Kickstarter on Tuesday September 25th at 5pm BST. Head over to the official website and sign up for the newsletter to be kept up to date with all the latest news and information. My many thanks go to all the amazing people over at EN Publishing for taking the time out to chat with us at Gamers Web
All images and artwork copyright Rebellion and ENPublishing All rights reserved.