Strontium Dog

By on 28 October 2009

Back in the dim and distant days of my youth (1978 to be precise) a sister title to the popular weekly comic 2000 A.D. Was released called Starlord. Starlord failed to find the success that its stable mate had for a variety of reasons; however it did introduce one strip in particular that struck a cord with readers including me: Strontium Dog!

Strontium Dog was the story of mutant Bounty Hunter Johnny Alpha and his norm Partner Wulf (later revealed to be a time displaced Viking warrior!) who hunted down the scum of the universe for cash only to find that they were more hated then the criminals they caught!

Unlike the early days of Judge Dredd which were more straight sci-fi, Strontium Dog often incorporated strong fantasy elements into its stories, the pinicle of which was the quest into the Hell Dimension to bring back a rogue S/D Agent Fly’s Eyes Wagner.

Just in case it isn’t clear I loved the strip, even making up and playing the “Journey into Hell” Board Game that was printed in several parts, so it was with some pleasure I noted that after all of these years (and failed attempts) Strontium Dog was finally to get a RPG of its very own.

I’ve never really taken to Judge Dredd as an RPG – the Chraraters are too same-ish and horribly overpowered when compared to standard perps; with only the introduction of more fantasy based villains such as the Dark Judges or when they pulled Dredd out of Mega-City One which quite frankly made the strip more like Strontium Dog was – go figure!

Strontium Dog always seemed to have more potential to me for a wider variety of situations and gloriously over the top Player Chraraters that the cookie-cutter Judges lacked.

Anyway, enough of that and on with the review . . .

Sadly I have to start with a big negative – in order to play Strontium Dog I have also had to pick up a copy of the new Traveller rules, a game I am not a Fan of – all of the talk of tech levels, re-fuelling, jump-drives etcbores the shit out of me and prior to this I have no intention of buying it. I’m sure such news warms the heart of the bean counters at Mongoose, but I have been known to boycott companies whose practices I dislike in the past (White Wolf are a good example) and not returned as a customer since. That said I also have friends who don’t know Strontium Dog but like Traveller, and whose interest has been pipped by the radically different style of play on offer and may in the future buy it as a source book, so there are pro’s and con’s here.

If I’m honest I would have liked to have seen a Carlos Ezquerra cover on the book, preferably a nice action shot of Johnny Alpha and his Electronux rather then the slightest pedestrian one it has, but then it could have had one by Simon Harrison (whose art is conspicuously adscent from the book), so thin could have been much worse!

First impressions skimming through is that the book has a nice clean layout, easy to read without too many illustrations (although too many of Durham Red!) and I am pleased to see that the mutations tables are as extensive as promised.

Something that was important to me was that the mutations be both as horrible and as useless as they were in the comic, and having swiftly run through the creation of six would-be SD Agents I can honestly say that they are, although as stated you do have to apply a bit of common sense to keep the Characters playable (Left Knee fused to two adjacent areas makes your guy either a statue or human pogo-stick!). You can get lucky however as I did with one whose severe mutations where a twisted nose with an extra nostril (which affects his Dex for some reason?) and a half-size left foot. My favorite however is the fella with a withered groin who can extend his arm an extra 40cm – I guess the blood has to go somewhere!

My other worry was that the game would end up with a whole bunch of Agents with Super Powers, and while these do make an appearance I had to roll 9 times to get onto the tables and then it is all very much at the disgression of the GM what kind of ability they feel is with keeping with your Character, so don’t expect to be playing the X-Men any time soon! It is also nice that the PC’s are still in the same ballpark as people like Johnny Alpha or Middenface rather then having them be god-like beings of unreachable power.

Beyond mutations the general Character creation was fairly straight forward and fun to do (I have heard Traveller Character gen described as one of the best solo games out there!) although I did find myself having to reference back to the main rules from time to time snce I’m only semi-familiar with Traveller. There is however a full example of Character creation starting on P. 40 which is very helpful especially as it promotes a certain flexibility from the GM which I found appealing.

I was also very pleased by the sections on Time Travel, which easily become the foundation of a game in its own right if you were of a mind to (Time Quake perhaps!), and dark sorcery, both of which are important aspects of Strontium Dog.

So, despite my gripes am I happy that this is the Strontium Dog game I’ve always wanted? HELL YEAH!

What importantly hasn’t been lost in the book is the repeated emphasis on the weirdness that is at the core of Strontium Dog – nothing is too mad or stupid to happen here! The core system may be po-faced Traveller, but this is a grotesque screaming blood-soaked clown of a game ready to tweak your nose before shooting you in the kneecaps and laughing about it afterwards!

I’m already committed to running Paranoia at Dragonmeet and 3 weeks of Cthulhu at the Club before Christmas, so sadly I probably won’t actually get to run this before Conception next year(mind you there is still Indie Con or Consequences . . . ), but for me at least 2010 will be the year of the (Strontium) Dog!

Rating 8/10

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