Atomic Sock Monkey and Chad Underkoffler
Truth & Justice is a superhero role-playing game designed by Chad Underkoffler and released by Atomic Sock Monkey games. The Truth and Justice RPG uses a version of the “Prose Descriptive Qualities System” for action resolution. The Prose Descriptive Qualities System is often shortened to the “PDQ” system in most places. The Truth & Justice Core Rulebook is laid out in 132 pages and is well-organized. The two page table of contents comes with sub-sections (complete with hyperlinks in the pdf version), so you should be able to find what page a concept, tip, character, or setting detail is found on. When you’re looking at the Table of Contents in the pdf version, simply click on the line you want to read about in greater detail and you go immediately there. Since the hyperlink appear invisible in my copy, you won’t know that unless you happen to click on the page in the right place by happenstance (I did).
The Truth & Justice Role-Playing Game won an Indie Award in 2005 for best support, while winning the 2006 ENnie Silver Award for Best Innovation and the 2006 ENnie Award for Best Electronic Book. The game at first was only available as an electronic download or print-on-demand book when it was released in 2005, but a print version was released in 2006. This is a good product, so I’m going to give it high marks throughout most of this review. Don’t think I’m shilling–I’m just keeping it real.
Prose Descriptive Qualities System
I should mention that Truth & Justice uses a modified version of the PDQ system, allowing for super-stats. The PDQ System has been used for games like Dead Inside, The Zorcerer of Zo, Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies, and Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot: The Roleplaying Game–which is a certain pleaser with the ninja-vs-pirate crowd.
The Game Itself
Truth & Justice allows a certain flexibility to the way you resolve action. You’ll find three different levels of resolution, so your players can choose to resolve something in full detail, less crunchy detail, or quick resolution. One rule which might be controversial with your characters, but which is appropriate in a super-powered game is the use of super-scale stats. These are like the mega-attributes in Aberrant or the mega-damage in Rifts, where two different levels of power exist. You have normal scale and super scale, which accounts for things like super-strength. The weakest super-scale person will trump the strongest normal scale person at a particular stat.
This also means you’ll have people who are Expert (Normal Scale) and Expert (Super Scale), which might confuse some. It should be noted the super scale character always succeeds at normal scale tests. It also means that character who only do normal scale damage might be able to hit someone with super scale damage resistance, but won’t ever be able to hurt them. This might be frustrating to players who build their characters without a full understanding of these implications, so be certain to explain everything before character creation. This is a supers game, so it makes sense, but everyone needs to be on the same page on the super-stats.
Drakesville is the default setting in Truth & Justice. Many comic book role-playing games these days include their own setting. This fluff or flavor text is sometimes used to pad the page count and sometimes seems like an afterthought. I tend to like the fluff, if only because I’m in the middle of a 6+ year campaign and I like to raid superhero role-playing games for new ideas (or see other settings that might “inspire” something semi-original). A lot of gamers don’t like the flavor text, preferring to get a set of rules and leave it at that.
The flavor I liked, for the reasons I stated above. It’s not too detailed, but there’s enough of it to inspire ideas and you could run it as a self-contained, rational campaign setting. That material isn’t organized the way you might want, since some sample characters are found after the character creation section and others are spread out in “Major NPCs”, “Supercorps”, and “Notable Organizations”, but it’s well-marked. You’ll also find a section called “Random Roll Inspiration & Handouts”,
These include tables for personality, occupations, hobbies, origin, powers, and the alternative “the power of something” power table. It makes a world of difference for the gamemaster to have a brief guide to playing a personality so they don’t all run together, so the one or two word descriptions of a personality are nice to have. I’ve also found, whether it’s NPCs like the guy in the cubicle next to the character, the love interest, or the would-be world-conqueror, non-player characters come to life more when you have simple details like hobbies mentioned. This type of humanization is as simple as saying a word, but it makes the cast of characters a little less abstract.
The Superpowers Table
As far as the powers table goes, while the first one is rather standard, the “Power of Something” chart I like a lot. Essentially, these characters have the power of some broad concept, object, character type, or animal. So a villain might have “the power of the weather” or “the power of shadows”, but he might also have “the power insects”,”the power of robots”, “the power of vampires”, or “the power of wood”. One option is even “the power of time”, so your random rolls can range over a wide area of possibilities. I’d never considered having a table like this before, but these first thing I thought of was, “Ooh, I’d like to make a random chart like this that’s really detailed”. Thus the mad scientist GM in me comes out.
On the next page from the inspiration tables, you have printable handouts including the PDQ Master Chart including quality ranks and their modifiers (only 5 to remember), as well as the difficulty ranks and their corresponding target numbers (again, only 5 to remember). On the same page is the “T&J Intensity Chart” that gives a succinct description of the time, range, and movement abilities at each level. Below that is a “Stunt Cost Chart” with the hero point costs for downshifts and upshifts. You’ll also find a list of ways you can gain hero points, along with a list of the many ways you can use hero points in Truth & Justice.
The Character Sheet
The Truth & Justice character sheet is about as simple and direct as you’ll ever find. If you’re the type of role-player who loves stylized or innovative character sheets, you’ll have the T&J character pages. You have sections for Qualities, Powers, and Stunts. Each level has a dot you can fill in, so looking over the sheet is simple. Otherwise, all you fill in is character name, player name, codename, and perhaps a little note about your background, origin, costume description, and motivation. Once you learn the different in things like stunts and qualities, everything should be quick to read.
The Character Generation Sheet
Even more basic is the character generation sheet, which is a tool the Truth & Justice uses to get players thinking about playing characters in the Prose Descriptive Qualities system. A player jots down things like their motivation, hobbies, and the players qualities. Then you discuss (briefly) how and why your player got their powers, what those powers are, and what kind of signature stunts and spin-off stunts you have for your abilities. Once you have all that, you choose a codename and write a few words about the player character’s uniform.
Again, this is optional material, but it’s helpful for those new to role-playing. I know one or two newbie players who would think this is all too much, but it helps role-playing, especially in a genre as character driven as comic books, where most protagonists have two distinct identities.
The GM Sheet
The Truth & Justice rulebook also has a GM sheet that helps you track your player’s abilities and health. It’s also has space for over 20 NPCs and their various abilities. This is a suggested tool, but you might have other ways of tracking your adventure. All of these fit on one page by itself and therefore are easily printable for use in your gaming session.