Stick To The Code
Ever heard of The Bloody Code? Me neither, but it’s the setting for the Tough Justice courtroom roleplaying game. It was one of the darkest times in British legal history, running from the late 17th to early 19th Centuries. There were over two hundred offenses that could lead you to the gallows via a colourful and exciting legal system. In this game the players are split into two teams – the Defence and Prosecution, the aim is to convict or acquit the accused. A true life or death situation.
Tough Justice utilises the ”Beer and Crisps” mechanic which is very simple and I like that. Choose one of yor six stats, roll a d6, add, modify by merits and flaws, compare. Winning tests adds to your case total and the side with the most points determines the poor defendant’s outcome. There are character classes but these don’t define your abilities, more your role in the trial – lawyers, police types and allies. Allies are everyone else that could be involved in the story, including women and children. As the time setting suggests, playing a women has it’s own special difficulties but they aren’t ignored or relegated, so anything goes. Including felons themselves! The case is split into phases, allowing for pre trial actions. Handy for the characters who aren’t able to talk in court due to the laws in place at the time. Here they get to investigate, harass, seduce or whatever else may help their side win. The book is a hefty two hundred and sixty pages with minimal art but I imagine that helps keep it nice and cheap at ten dollars to download as PDF.
There are many good things about Tough Justice. Never before have I seen such detailed examples of play throughout the book, following an entire case from start to finish using player’s dialogue. It is littered with helpful hints and has a seventeen page ‘olde slang english’ lexicon. They have obviously really tried to help the players understand both the game and the legal proceedings of the time, without getting too technical. Also included are suggestions for making the game kiddie friendly and LARP, something other games would benefit from. I personally like the rules for rolling up defendants and the group story generation. You need a game to play that evening and have nothing prepared? A game of Tough Justice can easily fill that gap as encounters can be player driven without much difficulty and the judge purely reactive.
The biggest challenge with Tough Justice is that it’s a game about playing through a trial in a court of law. When I first proposed it to my gaming group they weren’t jumping up and down with excitement. There are no bad guys to destroy, empires to build, civilisations to protect. The scope is very small, one life to save from the gallows with wits and cunning. Unless this appeals, it’s going to be a hard sell. However I think the game has excellent potential as additional rules to use in your current campaign, whatever setting that may be. Vigilante finally caught by the police? Pirate brought before the conclave for breaking the code? Spaceship pilot threatened with court martial? Tough Justice can be adapted to play out the trials in a way usually glossed over during sessions. Imagine how impassioned a player would be to save his character from a carbonite judgement after two years of play!
As an experienced gamer I would recommend Tough Justice as a well produced game with reams of background knowledge of the time, a simple ‘pick up and play’ concept and it’s usefulness in other campaigns. To misquote the judges of the time and their dreaded sentence of death “Take this game from whence it came, to be held in the hands until read.”