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Sunday, 23 December 2018

1988: Justifiers RPG

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles—and so on, as the anniversaries come up. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.


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Published in 1988 by Starchilde Publications, the Justifiers RPG is a Science Fiction roleplaying game that depicts a far future in which settled space is governed by a corporatocracy. By the end of the twentieth century, the various national governments on Earth had bankrupted themselves in a series of small wars, forcing them to turn to the corporations to bail them out. As the national governments were left weakened and then replaced by the corporations, the latter came together as the Terran Trade Authority (TTA), which with the discovery of TransMatt technology would lead the colonisation of world after world. Each colony though was also a corporation in its own right and would come to chafe under the control of its parent corporation back on Earth. This would result in a series of Intercorporate Wars that would lead to a radical move by the TTA. It destroyed or co-opted all TransMatt technology and personal owned by rival corporations and then got the other corporations to agree to its monopoly by accepting payment in its own currency and 
charging them favourable rates. It is rumoured that TTA will also employ underhanded means to maintain its monopoly.

The twenty-fourth century of the Justifiers RPG is dominated by two technologies—Transmission of Matter and gene manipulation. Transmission of Matter or TransMat enables mankind to achieve interstellar travel, but is limited to a range of about six light years and is best done via a sending and receiving portal at a TransMatt Station of no more than twenty square feet in size. It is also not instantaneous, but it is twelve times faster than the speed of light. This still left the problem of exploring new worlds which did not have a TransMatt Station, but it possible to ‘blind beam’ a team into a suitable star system, have it land on a world, explore it, and then build a TransMatt Station in readiness to receive more explorers or colonists. Such teams are known as Justifiers, since they would also ‘justify’ as well as pacify any new planet they landed on. Originally, Justifiers teams were comprised of highly trained human explorers, but by the twenty-third century advances in gene design combined with the high costs and potential losses involved in using humans meant that corporations switched to using Beta-Class Humanoid Lifeforms, human-animal hybrids of equal or near equal intelligence, which the corporations could own and easily replace.

Besides the TTA, notable megacorporations include Tau Ceti Prime, which specialises in natural and artificial foodstuffs and was the first colony to secede from the TTA; Enclave LTD, which manufactures habitation structures of all sizes; United Industries, a relatively young corporation which stays neutral of inter-corporate conflict by manufacturing and selling arms and armour; and the recently established B’Hazard Mining, which specialises in deep gravity mining. In addition, the Galaxy Worker Alliance is all but a corporation of its own, but specialising in workers’ rights. The GWA is responsible for negotiating the limited rights which Beta-Class Humanoid Lifeforms currently possess. This includes the right to purchase their freedom, known as their ‘Buy-Back’ value.

It is these Beta-Class Humanoid Lifeforms that the players roleplay in the Justifiers RPG, a humanoid animal such as a bear, bison, gila monster, owl, rhinoceros, or turtle, who is trained as Field Scientists (Life, Social, or Planetary Sciences Specialist), Field Engineers (Electrical or Mechanical Engineering Specialists), Field Operatives (Scout, Security, or Pilot), and Field Doctors. Some of them may also possess cybernetic enhancements and some may also have psionic powers. To create a character, a player rolls percentile dice for seven attributes—Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Agility. One of them can be raised to a value of sixty-five. Several factors are derived from these, most notably a character’s Base Skill Level and Base to Strike. All characters have a 5% chance to have one or more Psionic powers and may also have some cybernetics, although their price is factored into their ‘Buy-Back’ value. A player then selects a Beta Racial type, each of which can provide attribute modifiers, extra abilities, natural weapons, armour, movement, skills, and so on. A character receives skills for his career, cross training in other careers, and then a random number of elective skills.

Ottlie SaintcMarie, Warrant Officer Third Class
Otter, Pilot Level 0
Buy-Back: 8,800,000 C

Attributes
Strength 65 Dexterity 114 Constitution 29 Intelligence 86 Wisdom 80 Agility 65

Statistics
Mental Strength 166 Body 2 Resilience 14 Base Speed 17 Base Skill Level 8% Base to Strike 38% Damage Bonus 6

Skills
Administration 8%, Advanced Navigation 33%, Advanced Zero-G Training 23%, Air-to-Air Combat 23%, Aircraft Technology 18%, Arctic Survival 8%, Basic Math 58%, Cartography 8%, Carousing 8%, Combat Driving 23%, Communicator Operations 23%, Computer Operations 23%, Corporate Structure 8%, Desert Survival  8%, E Suit Operations 33%, Emergency E Suit Repair 28%, Electronic Counter Measures 8%, First Aid 23%, Ground Vehicle Technologies 8%, Hand-to-Hand Combat 23%, Navigation 23%, Pilot Ground Vehicle 23%, Pilot Hover Vehicle 28%, Pilot Aircraft/Submersible 28%, Projectile Weapons (Hand) 23%, Scanner Systems Operations 33%, Smuggling 8%, Speak Native Language 83%, Transmat Operations 33%, Read & Write Native 83%, Surveillance 8%, Swim 99%, Track by Scent 45%, Trauma Treatment 8%, Vehicle Mounted Weapons 28%, Zero-G Training 23%

Armour: Light Hide
Speed: 20/50
Natural Weapons: 1 bite (small)

In terms of character progression, the Justifiers RPG offers two tracks. The first is a standard Class—or rather Career—and Level system. Whenever a character attains a new Level, he is given to sets of points; one to be assigned to his Body, Resistance, and Mental Strength and the other to be assigned to skills. Experience Points are earned for both completing missions and getting paid for them, which brings us to the second track and that is money. Justifiers get paid for completing missions as a team—anywhere up to a million credits and this is divided amongst the team members, the percentage depending upon a members’ rank. This money can be spent on equipment or upkeep, but primarily it is added to a character’s bank and saved towards his Buy-Back value.

Mechanically, the Justifiers RPG is a very straightforward, simple percentile system. For the most part there is a list of mostly negative modifiers to apply to skills and attributes as needed. Combat again, is relatively simple and harsh. Fire combat takes place before melee combat, and in melee characters only have actions rather than actions and reactions. So when a player has his character decide to dodge or parry, he is also giving up a offensive maneuvre. It also only takes a roll under half of a character’s skill for an attack to become a critical strike, which increases the amount of damage done. So whilst a variety of armour is provided, combat can be fairly deadly.

To support the combat aspect of the game, an extensive list of arms and armour is provided, ranging from simple swords and daggers right up to handheld Particle Beam Projectors or ‘blasters’ and laser pistols. A similarly lengthy list of camping and other survival gear is also provided as are descriptions of a few vehicles. Notable amongst these is a description of the shuttle used to transport Justifier teams via ‘Beaming Blind’. The shuttle contains everything a Justifier team needs, including vehicles, survival equipment, and the means to build a TransMatt receiving station. The vehicle lists are accompanied by a section on vehicular combat, but this again, is quite short.

Rounding out the Justifiers RPG is a short scenario, ‘The Axon Confrontation’. Designed for new Justifiers who are owned by United Industries, the team is assigned to track down another team which has gone rogue and taken some valuable weapons prototypes with them. The team will be sent to the other team’s last known location and are expected to retrieve the prototypes at all costs. It is a decent enough scenario, primarily combat focused, but with just about room for a little roleplaying.

Unfortunately, there are bits missing from the Justifiers RPG. The list of corporations is all short, so the motivations of each of them are unknown. There is no map of known space and there no adventure hooks with which draw the characters into the setting and its possibilities. Worse there are no planet descriptions and no means to create them, so no tables from which the Game Master can be inspired to write great adventures. Fortunately, the system was supported by a surprising number of scenarios and supplements given the size and scope of the original roleplaying game. That said, there is nothing to stop a Game Master from taking the concepts presented in the Justifiers RPG and applying them to the setting of another Science Fiction roleplaying game or taking the rules for creating worlds from another Science Fiction roleplaying game and using then to generate new planets for the player character Justifiers to explore and 'justify'.

Physically, the Justifiers RPG is a relatively plain affair. The black and white interior—clearly designed on an Apple Mac given the roundedness of the game’s sidebar boxes—is complimented by a good mix of black and white line art. It does lack an index though and it could have been better organised.

Justifiers joins a small number of RPGs that do ‘pets in space’, like FGU’s Other Suns; Albedo from Thoughts & Images, Chessex, and more recently, Sanguine Productions; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Guide to the Universe, the supplement for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness from Palladium Games; GURPS Uplift, and any number of Science Fiction roleplaying Games which translates familiar Earth animals as alien species. Yet as much as the Justifiers RPG is an anthropomorphic roleplaying game, it is also something quite different, a ‘slaves in space’ roleplaying game. Like Expendables from Stellar Games, Bughunters for TSR, Inc.’s Amazing Engine, and to an extent, Khaotic from Marquee Press, the Justifiers RPG is about playing disposable property sent to do a dirty job. The characters literally work for the ‘Man’—a corporation—but whilst they are property, they also have rights and they can also buy their freedom and thus gain full rights. In this, they are more akin to indentured servants or even gladiators in that their freedom can be earned. How much that appeals thirty years on after the Justifiers RPG was originally published is debatable given how much gaming tastes have changed.

Further, given that the player character role in the Justifiers RPG is to explore, pacify, and justify worlds, it is odd that this mission is never properly explained or explored. The Justifiers RPG is not a bad game, but it is not quite a complete game as it lacks a coherent background for the Game Master and her players to latch onto, descriptions of worlds and systems for the Justifiers to ‘justify’, and the means to both create the worlds and the missions. There are potentially interesting themes and ideas to be explored in playing the Justifiers RPG, ones which need to be handled with both care and maturity, but they may have to wait until there is a second edition of the roleplaying game.

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