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Sunday 27 February 2022

Strontium Dog III

In the year 2150, the Great Nuclear War wipes out 70% of Britain’s population and results in a huge increase of mutant births due to exposure to the nuclear fallout of strontium-90, the children typically afflicted with one or more physical deformities. As the number of mutant births grows, so does the adverse reaction to them until the prejudice against them is open and adverse, with politicians, in particular, Nelson Bunker Kreelman of New Britain and his anti-mutant police force known as the ‘Kreelers’, actively campaigning on an anti-mutant platform. The prejudice would grow to the point where the Mutants banded together and formed a Mutant Army that would lead a Mutant Uprising in 2167. Although the rebellion fails, Kreelman is forced to resign and the Kreelers disband and whilst they continue to face prejudice, there are no pogroms against them. Most either move into the segregated ghettos set up for them, such as the large settlement of Milton Keynes, or because their work and business opportunities are severely limited, leave Earth all together.

The surviving members of the Mutant Army are also forced to leave Earth. They are also given a pardon in return for their joining the Search/Destroy Agency as galactic bounty hunters, tasked with hunting down criminals and threats deemed too dangerous to be handled by ‘norms’. The combination of their mutations being the result of strontium-90 radiation and the distinctive ‘S/D’ (for ‘Search/Destroy’) badges they wear, means that they are nicknamed Strontium Dogs, and their orbital base the Doghouse. This is set-up for the Strontium Dog comic strip from the pages of 2000 AD, which tells the tales of one of the most famous S/D bounty hunters, Johnny Alpha, a former leader of the 2167 Mutant Uprising, including going back in time to collect a bounty on one Adolf Schicklegruber! The comic strip, which originally appeared in the pages of Starlord in 1978 before transferring to 2000 AD in 1980 ran until 2018 with the death of its artist, Carlos Ezquerra. It is also the basis for Strontium Dog, a roleplaying supplement for Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD.

Strontium Dog, published by En Publishing, is not the first roleplaying treatment for Strontium Dog. Mongoose Publishing released a version using the Traveller mechanics, and before that, there was a version from Games Workshop based on Judge Dredd: The Role-Playing Game, but which was never published. In Strontium Dog for Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD the players take the role of Mutant Search/Destroy Agents, collecting bounties on the scum of the universe, travelling in the cargo hold from system to system, and suffering prejudice against Mutants along way—and not just from Norms, but from other Muties too. This can be because the Muties are criminals or simply because they hate the idea of Muties acting against other Muties. And although Strontium Dog is all about bringing in the scum of universe—dead or alive—and sometimes of the scum of other dimensions and other time periods, it is also possible for the players to take the roles of the scum of the universe and play criminals rather than bounty hunters! This would use the rules for creating criminals from Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD, which can also be used for potential Strontium Dog/Judge Dredd crossovers—just like the comic—as they share the same universe.

Strontium Dog leaps straight into creating a character for the setting, beginning with options for Species. These include Humans and Mutants as well as Gronks, the intrepidly cowardly aliens known for their timidity and medical skills, whilst the Mutants, there are tables for physical, cosmetic, and metabolic/metaphysical mutations. Thus it is possible to play a mutant with boils or warts, tentacles, a rubberised body, acidic blood, an ice-cold metabolism, shimmering skin, a rash of fake eyes, a face full of teeth, and more. All of these individualise a mutant and should suggest a possible nickname, not necessarily a serious one, in addition to their skills and exploits. An option is included for the selecting the cruel and identical Strix as a species, and there is a guide to including robots in the setting too (although they do not appear in the comic strip as bounty hunters). Outlaw and Civilian careers includes everything from the Animal Rights Activist, Anti-Mutant Enforcer, and Bandit to the Theme Park Staffer, Vis Presenter, and Xenodiplomat, whilst specific Mutant Careers include Mutant Cultist, Mutant Stalker, and Sideshow Freak. Many of these could be used in the Judge Dredd and other settings for Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD. Less easily adapted are the S/D Careers, which cover both recruitment and actual careers with the agency. The former include Born to It, mentored by an Older Dog, and Score to Settle, whilst the path for every S/D Agent is the same from Rookie S/D Agent to Veteran S/D Agent, with a choice of Agent in Time, Dimensional Agent, and S/D Agent in between. These are accompanied by a choice of Exploits such as ‘Nux for All’, which causes extra damage when using Electronux, ‘Making a Name for Yourself’ which grants a bonus to REP (reputation) checks because the rookie is trying to make a name for himself, and ‘I’ve SEEN Things’ (in other dimensions) enables an S/S Agent to initially ignore the Afraid condition!

The life of an S/D Agent means collecting bounties and making, hopefully big, money, but it also means paying out too. A Mutant gets nothing for free, and that includes his equipment. Strontium Dog includes a lengthy list of guns, grenades, and gadgets. These start off with the ubiquitous Westinghouse Variable-Cartridge Blaster and the dreaded ‘Der Happy Sick’ Warhammer wielded by Johnny Alpha’s friend, Wulf Sternhammer, and go from there… Some of the devices and bombs are extremely powerful, such as Dimension Warp which opens up a rift to another dimension, the Pocket Nuke (Throwing) capable of levelling a city, the Time Drogue for rewinding time on a victim or target, interrogating them, and then letting them die a second time, and the Time Shrinker, which speeds up time for the target to the point of death and beyond. It is suggested that the Player Characters only have access to these as plot devices rather than being readily available, but in general, they will have access to a lot of the gear and guns presented—if they have the credits, but then so are the criminals!

For the Game Master, there is a lot of support in the pages of Strontium Dog. This begins with advice about setting the tone, which is very much that of a Sci-Fi Spaghetti Western with blasters, mutant powers, and heavy prejudice. The latter runs throughout the setting and the players will need to have a thick skin when playing a campaign set in this twenty-second century. That said, their characters are armed—often heavily armed—and they have a lot of agency. Similarly, this future is not one in which there is a lot of trust, not even with the Player Characters’ fellow Muties, especially if they are rival bounty hunters. The notes on describing the world of Strontium Dog are pleasingly evocative, and this is backed up with descriptions of typical locations and then the various locations visited by Johnny Alpha in the pages of the comic strip. Both are really quite detailed and give the Game Master plenty to work with when taking her Player Characters there. Plus, there is a timeline for Johnny Alpha and the comic strip running from 793 AD to the 37th Century.

Almost a fifth of Strontium Dog is devoted to a series of Bounty Contracts. There are six of these, which can either run standalone, but they really work as a full campaign—the ‘En System’ Campaign. The campaign begins on Weaver’s Rock with a bounty of the Wispa gang, who have gone from robbing cargo trucks to murder! The first bounty is fairly simple and once completed, there are plenty of hooks if the Game Master wants to expand the Player Characters’ time in the backwaters of Weaver’s World. The second bounty takes the Player Characters to the planet’s big settlement, Paradise City, where they can continue tracking down the remaining members of the Wispa gang. Besides the main bounty, the Game Master is given another list of bounties available in the city, but once on the main trail, they become involved in a big chase across the city skyline. The third takes a darker turn when on the trail of an assassin, the Player Characters are inadvertently diverted—or are they?—to another planet and probably the best pun in what is a campaign packed with puns as they have to assault the ‘Merlock of Firestop Mountain’! The final encounter turns up the gonzo and the Merlock theme for an underwater, shark-infested big fight. In the fourth part it quickly becomes clear that the authors are really big fans of Doctor Who as the names and references fly thick and fast when the Player Characters are tasked with tracking down the creator of a gas which quickly grows anyone who breathes it into a zombie! They accidentally get dumped into an alternate dimension in the fifth part after they have to deal with a Mutie who has been terrorising Gronks—there is a bonus if no Gronks die during the apprehension of this bounty, so good luck with that!—and then fight their way out of it in readiness for the final showdown in the last part of the campaign. As the Player Characters have bounced from one bounty to the next, it has become clear that someone has been monitoring their actions and there they learn that it has been much more than that—the real villain has been broadcasting them across the galaxy! Cue lots of television jokes and shenanigans which bring the campaign to an entertaining close.

The ‘En System’ Campaign is not just a lot of fun, but it is clear that the authors had a lot of fun writing it. The jokes are as silly and as groanworthy as you would expect and they should be, and both Game Master and her players will appreciate the campaign even more if they get them. The Strontium Dog supplement is rounded with a lengthy section of Allies and Enemies, including Johnny Alpha, Wulf Sternhammer, the Gronk, Durham Red, Middenface McNulty, and a whole cast of criminals. This is the only section where the black and white artwork from the comic strip’s early days is seen, which is a pity. However, it is the ‘En System’ Campaign which pulls everything together and gives a playing group something to get started with.

Physically, Strontium Dog is a bright and breezy affair, which lots colour artwork drawn from the comic strip. It needs a slight edit in places, but is an easy read otherwise.

Strontium Dog is an impressive supplement for Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD that with the addition of the ‘En System’ Campaign the Strontium Dog feels complete and succinct. It gives the Game Master and her players everything necessary to play an entertainingly gonzo, over the top game of hunting bounty on the scum of the universe and more!

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