The Robot Wars is a supplement for Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD. It is as different a supplement as there has been for any of the four roleplaying games based on the Judge Dredd comic strip from the pages of 2000 AD, and that is all down to its focus. Traditionally, supplements for Judge Dredd roleplaying game have concentrated on particular aspects of the setting—criminal organisations, crazes, psi-talents, block wars, and more—but The Robot Wars focuses upon the one storyline, examining its episodes or Progs, and their ramifications in detail. This includes the nature, role, and creation of robots in 2000 AD and thus Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD, new Careers for Human characters, a complete summary of ‘The Robot Wars’ storyline and guide on how to run it as a campaign, a complete self-contained campaign for non-Judge Player Characters, other campaign concepts, further Case Files, and then personalities and robots of The Robot Wars. This comprehensive examination sets the format for future supplements Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD which will go on to explore some of the eminent lawman of the twenty-first century’s most amazing cases!
‘The Robot Wars’ is the first big storyline for Judge Dredd, consisting of nine Progs, running from 2000 AD Progs #9 to #17. It first recounts how robots are sold, showcased, and treated at the Robot of the Year Show before a newly built carpentry robot, Call-Me-Kenneth, runs amok killing people until it is destroyed by Judge Dredd. However, before he could be reprogrammed, he reactivates and calls upon the robots of the city to rise up against their masters. This sparks a war across Mega-City One, the deaths of thousands of Humans and destruction of thousands of Robots, and a civil war between the robots loyal to Call-Me-Kenneth and the robots loyal to Humanity. Many of the robots loyal to Call-Me-Kenneth find that their conditions are no better, and even worse, under his rule. Judge Dredd is able to work with the robot resistance against Call-Me-Kenneth and ultimately defeat the mechanical tyrant.
The Robot Wars opens with a deep examination of the place and role of the robot in the societies of the twenty-first century. ‘We Who Serve’ is a systems agnostic essay which highlights how robots are ubiquitous in Mega-City One, performing all manner of tasks and roles, often to varying degrees of hostility and Robophobia, how they are limited by their programming—in a good way by the Asimov Circuits and the Three Laws of Robotics and a bad way because it means they can be literal and single-minded, their construction, and their various types. The latter includes service robots, heavy labour robots, social robots, professional robots, expert robots, and more. It includes pleasure robots—fewer than you would think, and illegal robots—which can perform criminal tasks doggedly, but not necessarily be able to adapt to changing circumstances once a crime goes wrong, or if actually programmed for crime, decide that Human criminals are not as good and simply take over. An interesting aspect of robot society is that they do have emotions, most of which they suppress when around humans as part of their subservience, but in private they do share them with other robots and they do so as a form of therapy.
The supplement provides options for both Robot characters and Human characters—the ‘Fleshy Ones’, both expanding upon the character design rules in Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD. Robot characters start with six intrinsic Exploits (the equivalent of abilities, talents, and flaws) of Asimov Circuits, Automation, Augmented, Deterministic, Electronic Vulnerability, and Mindless. The Robot Careers fall into the same types discussed earlier and it is suggested that to best reflect robot design in the twenty-first century, each Player Character Robot should be relatively specialised. A player has plenty of options when it comes to form and design of his Robot and these will be expanded and developed through Careers such as Administrator, Bounty Hunter, Delivery Robot, Domestic, Host/Hostess, and more. In conjunction with the core rules in Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD, what the Game Master is given here is a means to create detailed robot NPCs as well as players to create Robot characters. In the main, Humans are just given new Careers and Exploits which relate to robots in the twenty-first century. Thus, Robo-Tech, Robot Rights Agitator, and Robot Hate Activist, with both of the latter including lists of groups campaigning for and against robot rights respectively. There are lots of roleplaying opportunities in both of these, as there is in the Resurrection Man—named after the body snatchers of the Victorian Era, who specialises in the theft and reprogramming of robots. Rules are also provided for both cybernetics and Robophobia, the latter designed to model the fear and ultimately the hatred of robots. This is primarily intended for use with NPCs, but guidance is included for its use by a Player Character.
A good half of The Robot Wars is dedicated to playing through ‘The Robot Wars’. The first of these is as Judges, sometimes serving alongside Judge Dredd himself and sometimes not. Each of the series’ nine Progs is given a detailed breakdown and guidance on getting the Player Characters involved. They vary in complexity, but each should provide a good session’s worth of play each. This is contrasted by the mini-campaign, ‘Saving Matt Damon Block’ which is set in a high-security block of the same name where the Player Characters are residents who are caught up in the robot rebellion. This is for Civilian, Perp, or Robot Player Characters—or a mixture of all three—and is more of a detailed outline than necessarily a full campaign. It even discusses an alternative campaign in which the Player Characters, probably Robots, actually decide that Call-Me-Kenneth is right and side with the robot rebellion! Of the campaign options in The Robot Wars, this has the greater roleplaying potential and is the more personal, even intimate, and consequently more interesting of the two, even though it is the shorter of the two.
Besides the two campaigns, The Robot Wars also gives advice for running campaigns structured around ‘The Robot Wars’ and it also provides a breakdown of the Cases setting during the same period, that is, from the early Judge Dredd stories from the pages of 2000 AD. There are six of these, and they all include a synopsis, a guide to running the Prog as an adventure with Judge and non-Judge Player Characters, further suggestions for expanding upon the Prog, and descriptions of the settings, locations, villains, and bystanders they involve. These are all very nicely done, gameable summaries which the Game Master can again use to provide a session’s worth of play, if not more. Like the two campaigns earlier in the book, they will all need some development upon the part of the Game Master, but they do include much more than the basic outline. Lastly, the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ chapter is a robotic bestiary giving all the stats of the important robots involved in ‘The Robot Wars’, starting with Walter the Wobot, Call-Me-Kenneth, and the Heavy Metal Kids, which the Game Master will need.
Where The Robot Wars disappoints is that it never takes a moment to step back from the story itself and examine what the story is about. As exciting as the action is in Judge Dredd—and it always is—the character and its setting has always been a satire too, and in ‘The Robot Wars’ the satire is upon racism and slavery, and the treatment and the liberation of slaves. A commentary upon the story and its satire, as well as how to highlight those elements in play, would have been a welcome inclusion in The Robot Wars. The other issue is that The Robot Wars does not always bring the humour of the comic into its pages. There are moments certainly, like the naming of the criminal gangs in the Matt Damon Block in the scenario, ‘Saving Matt Damon Block’, which are genuinely humorous, but it feels as if there should have been more. To be fair, translating the humour of the comic to the supplement was always going to be challenging.
Physically, The Robot Wars is a slim, but nicely presented book. It is an engaging read and it is liberally illustrated with artwork from the ‘The Robot Wars’ story and the other Progs it details in its pages. This is all black and white artwork and it is drawn from the very early issues of 2000 AD so there is certain quaintness to it since it dates from before the character of Judge Dredd evolved into the way he looks today.
The Robot Wars showcases a fantastic approach to turning episodic source material into gameable content. Whilst it does not develop that approach fully in terms of what the source material or Progs, are really about or their satire, it is a good start and hopefully, more of that will come in the future supplements which in turn focus on the some of the epic Judge Dredd storylines which appeared in the early 2000 AD Progs. Nevertheless, The Robot Wars is a great start for Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD. It is a good sourcebook on ‘The Robot Wars’ story, for the stories which can be told in and around it, and for creating robot characters in Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD (or in fact, any roleplaying game based on Judge Dredd).