Categorized | RPGs

Tough Justice RPG Review

Posted on June 17, 2011 by Nix

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    Tough Justice is not an easy game to sell. It is not for everyone and I would not recommend it for children as I would many other role-playing games. Tough Justice takes the players and game master to one of the bloodiest periods in British history, at least judicially speaking anyway. In years between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries there were hundreds, some estimations go as high as 300, of offenses that could result in death for the accused. It is to this era that Tough Justice sets it sights and it barrels ahead full speed into a dark and horrendous time.

    Tough Justice is a beer and pretzel/crisp game only by default. It’s game mechanics are actually quite easy, even if it’s content is anything but easy. I may have missed the point of the game, but I find it difficult to find any pleasure in running or playing a game where a 10 year old shuffled off to the hangman’s noose. I’m quirky like that. I will give Tough Justice some credit though, it does not shy away from the facts of the time period. From the rampant sexism of the age to the degradation of the lower classes, it is all presented with very little flinching. It will even admit that a game of capital punishment is rather a heavy game for what is usually an extremely lighthearted and jovial realm of game play.

    The game slowly builds and unfolds with careful and moderated steps. Each step is well established and defined before it moves on. Ian Warner did a superb job of writing, at no point was I left with a question as to how something works, or why. From character creation to common slang of the era, Ian carefully wrote out each section. Of the hundreds of possible crimes that resulted in death, only a few are listed. I am sure the truly sadistic can use the links that Ian provided for further cannon fodder in their games. Character and non-player character generation are quick, also in the tradition of the beer and pretzel/crisp genre.

    Each character has six attributes and they are Authority, Jibe, Charm, Investigation, Violence, and Composure. Authority allows a character to win an argument through logic and facts, while Charm would be used to win people over based on looks or seduction. Jibe is used to distract through insults and banter, while Violence is the act of either fisticuffs, in its many forms, or other physical activity. Investigation would be used when a character wanted to route out the truth, or dig deeper into the facts of a case. Composure is the characters ability to keep calm, and it is also an ability that can slowly be chiseled away leaving the character exhausted. Players are given 18 points to spread between them, and the act of ‘min/maxing’ is encouraged. Once these traits are chosen, a player is able to pick two things that they are good at, for which they receive a +1, and one thing that they are very good at, for which they receive a +2. Examples abound, erasing any doubts or questions a player or game master might have. A single merit and a single flaw are picked, and then the players are left to choose teams.

    This is an important step, because it will also define what role the characters will take in the criminal proceedings. Female characters, from all walks of life, are allowed. However, due to the times they can never be Barristers or Attorneys. The times just did not allow such things. Any natives from the various colonies would also be denied such roles, so women shouldn’t feel left out that they are regarded as incapable of performing such duties. Thus all women, non-white males, and children are regulated to being ‘Allies’ to the Attorneys and Barristers.

    Once the roles are assigned, the defendant is created. A few rolls later and the unfortunate fellow is ready to be arrested. This phase of the game is the first to be acted out, and as one would expect, it will be a rather callous affair. Order of play is well specified, and as with previous steps, there are extremely good examples offered including insights into the sights, sounds, and smells of a lost era. Cases can be won and lost quickly, as I am sure they were in reality, and player characters can duel over personal vendetta’s or even get pregnant. Though there is very little left out from historical records, Ian does at times offer less gruesome versions to use.

    Ian Warner did an excellent job of writing. It is not an easy subject to base a game on, and for that he gets much respect. He even offers a set of rules to LARP Tough Justice. The few bits of art were well done, I have seen much much worse, and the cover art was quite exceptional. I could find very few flaws with the game other than the subject matter, and that was a personal issue. While such times should not be forgotten, they are not matters I would enjoy immersing myself into. I look forward to Ian’s next project, and hope that it is slightly less brutal in nature.

    Playability: 1.5 out of 5- others may find it a game they can effortlessly play, but I am not one of them
    Writing: 5 out of 5- one of the best written role-playing games I’ve read.
    Artwork: 2.5 out of 5- really, this is a minor detail.. what art there was, was good.

    Review by Sean “Nix” McConkey

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    3 Responses to “Tough Justice RPG Review”

    1. Ian Warner says:


      Nice to see I’m continuing to get some good reviews 🙂

      The next project Courtesans is a bit more cartoony and lighthearted. Though odly PCs die more often :S

      I understand Capital Punishment is quite a hard sell as a theme but it all depends what you aim for tone wise. The big arse example of play is my way of doing it. Dark and unforgiving but even little Chloe is making jokes on her way to the gallows.

      I have a feeling the Suplement giving alternate world settings will be a bit more playable for people with misgivings like yours. Vampires, Fantasy and Super Heroes/Villains make themes like death a bit more palitable than history!

    2. Nix says:

      As I said, the only fault in whether the game was ‘playable’ was with my own opinion. It was excellently written and even though it is not a game I would seek to play, does not mean I wouldn’t recommend it to others. Being a very slight history buff, I enjoyed the historical aspect quite a bit.. I just don’t know how well I could handle shuttling someone off to death.

      If I ran into a gm that was running it, I would probably sit down for a session (probably after a few courage inducing libations ;-))

    3. Ian Warner says:

      I’ll be runnning it with my Church group soon. I’ll be sure to record it and podcast it somewhere.

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