Tough Justice Review

Reviewed by Chris Field at RPGNOWThis is one of the strangest products I’ve ever bought and I enjoyed it immensely. Tough Justice is a rules light RPG that plays out court cases in England’s justice system under the Bloody Code. I’m not normally a fan of rules light and indy games, but I liked the mechanics behind this one. Basically every action in the game benefits one of two sides (played by opposing groups of PC) the prosecution and the defense. In essence, the entire game becomes one long, drawn out opposed skill check, which adds incredible amounts of tension and allows for the kind of back and forth competition of good court fiction. Now, the book was inspired by BBC period dramas, but as an American cop-show junkie, the ruleset could easily be modified to handle something like Law and Order and the Wire.

Alternatively, the opposed skill check mechanic could be used to simulate prolonged tensions and elaborate battles for dominance between any two groups. I could easily see this as the engine for a cyberpunk espionage game, with one group taking the role of spies and infiltrators, and another group playing the security forces set out to stop them. Likewise, I could play out Spider Jerusalem’s battle against the Smiler, from the comic Transmetropolitian or zoom out a bit and have one set of players represent NATO and another group represent the Warsaw Pact.

The historical info was great, and the exhaustive dictionary of cant and period slang was almost worth the purchase price alone. The gaming fiction was incredibly well done, and a high point, if incredibly bizarre. The one problem I see with this system is that being so rules light, you really need a good, well educated group of experienced gamers to play it with. If you have that, you’ve got an experience as good as the sample game played out in Tough Justice’s pages. If you don’t… well you’ve got Victorian flavored crap.

One thing that bothered me was the almost complete lack of art. One of the benefits of running period games is that there are plenty of public domain art (such as etchings from period newspapers) resources to pick from. I wish Postmortem Studios had availed itself of some of the free art resources out there to illustrate its product.

The adaptability is a good thing and well pointed out. I’m hoping we can explore some alternatives on the TJ blog or in the pages of a revitalised Autopsy irregular magazine – something that I am intending to bring about in due course.On the art issue there were two things that pushed me into NOT including a ton of extra art…

1. At 250 pages TJ was already a hefty book for what was meant to be a rule-light indy game. Additional art resources would have pushed the page count and the cost up beyond what I considered a good price range for the book in hardcopy.
2. While there are a lot of art resources that are public domain they’re generally MUCH more suited to the sister game Courtesans than they are to Tough Justice – Hogarth etc tended to depict the depravity and licentiousness of the period more than the executions.

So it was a choice, perhaps a bad choice and a mistake, but a conscious and thought out choice not to include more art.