One of the most important business relationships in the history of Mongoose Publishing is that between them and Rebellion, the videogame company that also happens to own 2000AD and its associated intellectual property. This started early on in Mongoose’s existence; they landed the Judge Dredd RPG licence that had laid fallow since Games Workshop’s 1985 attempt at a Dredd RPG, and managed to put out a D20 Dredd game as early as 2002. It reached its zenith in the late 2000s, when Mongoose became a part of the Rebellion group, but by the early 2010s it was on the wane – Mongoose detached itself from Rebellion for reasons that have never been wholly explained, and more recently their various 2000AD-related licences came to an end.
Though the split was cordial and civilised, it’s clear that this gradual winding-down of relations was very damaging to Mongoose. Rebellion seem to be happy enough having added Cubicle 7 to their family (a company I generally find to be rather superior to Mongoose in the production values, editing, and overall quality stakes) – they quite evidently didn’t need Mongoose nearly as much as Mongoose needed them. Conversely, Mongoose’s product range has been gutted, with lines based on Rebellion properties like Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog vanishing from their catalogue. With their loss of other important licences, Mongoose have been left a gutted shadow of their former selves.
It is a shame that one casualty of this is their 2009 Judge Dredd campaign setting book for Traveller. Not only does the militaristic bent of Traveller prove a good match for the brutal Justice Department of Mega-City One, but it’s also a rather gorgeously executed product, with generally tighter editing than expected for Mongoose and excellent layout and use of the 2000AD art assets.
The darkly comedic undercurrents of the Dredd series even make some aspects of the Traveller system feel more appropriate than in vanilla Traveller. Character creation, for instance, is adapted so that instead of starting as an adult and going through terms of service in some career or other, you start as a child recruit to the Academy and character gen takes you through the process of training as a cadet until you have your Full Eagle Day, when under the watchful eye of an active Judge you do a live-fire street patrol, and if they reckon you are ready you become a full-fledged Judge. (More experienced characters can be produced using tables covering terms of service as an actual Judge if desired.)
Everyone laughs about Classic Traveller character generation and the way it makes it possible for characters to die in character gen, and in some respects this a return to that, but for my money it’s an amusing and characterful implementation of the idea which, crucially, establishes useful stuff about the setting. Although flunking the Academy isn’t likely, it’s definitely possible, and the danger of it existing means that new PCs feel like they have survived a recruitment and training process as cartoonishly gruelling as it’s supposed to be, and like any good lifepath system it’s a nice instant introduction to the flavour and style of the setting.
That commitment to the flavour of the setting remains firmly in place throughout the book, even when it comes to rather dated and unkind storylines (like the whole “Fatties” thing concerning a cultish subculture based around weight gain), and is arguably the strongest aspect of the book. You get the big picture stuff – an extensive rundown of the history of Mega-City One as recounted in the comics, details on the structure of the Justice Department, descriptions of other Mega-Cities and offworld colonies, and stats for baddies ranging from street toughs to invaders from other dimensions. You also get a nice discussion of how things work at a Sector level (as well as a sample Sector, Sector 13, to use as a pregenerated focus for the campaign), which helps tie things down to the level of the player characters.
The rules offered are generally quite good, but some editing issues here and there crop up. The thing which stood out for me the most is the duty allocation table you roll on to see what job your party’s been assigned to for today’s shift; on a 2-8 you get a standard street patrol, on a 9-12 you roll 2D6 to see what sort of special duty you end up with. Unfortunately the special duties have been arranged on that 2D6 table in alphabetical order, without any regard given to the relative probabilities involved, leading to the absurd situation where you are twice as likely to be dealing with a Block War as you are to do a simply patrol of a block. This isn’t too hard to amend, but it’s still an irritation.
On the whole, the Traveller incarnation of Judge Dredd is a great one-book presentation of a distinctive SF setting. Yes, it’s a misanthropic world in which a fascistic police force lords it over a twitchy population prone to violent criminal crazes – a cartoon crapsack world which has become dystopian largely because it’s mostly inhabited by various flavours of total asshole – but as a vehicle for cathartic venting or dark satire it’s still a great setting, and this may be the nicest treatment for an RPG it’s had.