September 22, 2011 by brennon
There are plenty of science fiction roleplaying games out there on the market from big licence intellectual properties to some more hardcore. It’s certainly a challenging area to burst into, and you need something particularly special if you’re going to take the attention away from the likes of Traveller or Star Wars.
Thankfully Cosmic Patrol is one such roleplay. If you’re of a certain age you will remember the television shows and comic books that showed bubble helmeted astronauts firing ray guns at monsters on alien worlds, bravado and buzz words were all the rage and you all had your favourite character. This is the feeling that Cosmic Patrol evokes, unlocking the world of mid-20th century science fiction and allowing you to be the stars in your very own space opera television show.
The feeling a roleplay can evoke, allowing your imagination to bloom is a massive part of what draws you to a certain system, but its nothing if the mechanics behind it don’t work. Cosmic Patrol has taken a different stance on just what a roleplay should consist of. Sure there is still the need for a ‘Games Master’ controlling the flow of the story but the neat addition here is that everyone gets a chance to both play director and actor as an episode unfolds.
The system is simple. At the beginning of a given episode or mission one player is chosen at random to lead the story, explaining the situation the characters have been put in and outlining the way they can beat their foe, or solve the problem. All the players then resolve an action going around the table, giving as much or as little detail as they like to their characters action. Sounds like a normal roleplay system right? Well here is the clincher. Once everyone has had their turn, the lead narration passes to another player next to you and they take over charge of the next scene as it unfolds. This of course means that everyone gets to play, everyone gets to direct, a fantastic concept. It leads itself (and the book emphasise this throughout) to improvisation stage performance, with no one person in control of what’s happening it becomes a co-operative and interesting experience.
You might be thinking at this point ‘but I suck at games mastering, I would rather just play’. Sure, it sounds a daunting prospect having to come up with some plot moments on the fly but the game also has a great way of easing in new comers. A number of plot points and hints are laid out at the start of a given episode which people can use to anchor the next encounter and keep things moving. If you’re ever stuck on what to do next, a quick glance at the buzz words can quickly get you going.
Of course if you are to be getting into a crazy science fiction episode you will need some characters. Again, character creation is fairly straight forwards and everything is kept at a minimum to ensure that the roleplaying and acting comes first. When making a sci-fi hero you have to simply assign different dice to the various statistics. Every Patrolman as they are called has a D6, two D8, and a D10 to assign to the statistics of Brawn, Brains, Charisma and Combat. The higher the dice, the better your Patrolman is at a given activity. After that most of the character creation from then on is simply flavour. You fill in your sheet with a mass of buzzwords and catchphrases for your character to prompt your actions, building up his character through personality traits. It’s a great way to encourage inventive and different characters all flowing from a font of creative knowledge.
One of the big questions is without a doubt, so how do I kill things? Again the mechanic is simple and effective, allowing for minimal time rolling dice. The core dice of the game is the D12 (which is pretty fantastic since they never really get a look in!) and when rolling a test to say, lift a heavy door you would simply roll your Brawn dice + the D12 against the current narrator. The narrator rolls against you, rolling a D20 and setting the difficulty level for your exploits. Of course you can add in some variables for the simplicity of a given action but that’s all in your hands, it’s up too you how things unfold.
Combat is another versus roll but of a different kind. Instead of rolling the D12 you have to roll simply your Combat Statistic plus any bonuses you might have for a given weapon, against the opponent who rolls the same. If you win the roll, damage is done! Damage is applied to the character or NPC’s armour first before hitting their health and is usually a pretty standard affair. As you get more and more hurt, there will be penalties to your actions and dice rolls but if you’re inventive and interesting with your actions, it can be a fantastic experience. The Lead Narrator plays judge, jury and executioner in combat and awards bonuses and minuses as he or she sees fit, but must remember the golden rule, fun is the name of the game. Don’t abuse your Lead Narrator powers!
The book is a really great product on its own and can come in pdf form as well. Unlike many pdf roleplay games this one actually felt easy to read and with clearly defined sections, avoiding fancy over the top graphics it was quick to navigate too. The artwork is top notch and really does invoke a great feeling, bringing back all those memories of retro science fiction. As well as a great amount of artwork the book also comes with a bunch of pre-made characters to get you started, an in-depth look into the world they have created, and a starting adventure for you to sink your teeth into. It doesn’t make you buy other books for aliens and games master eith, which is always a nice thing. Everything comes in the one core book and you could play mountains of episodes before you ever got bored.
Cosmic Patrol is all about inventive and interesting roleplaying. If you’re a dice monkey then this won’t be the game for you. If you love funny and exciting objectives and generally feel like you and your group are up for it this will suit you. While it’s a daunting prospect to have the lead narrator position pass to you, the game does everything it can to help you along and so will your fellow players. Anything is feasible as long as it is within reason with this game, and the freedom is fantastic. I urge you to give this a go.