Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/02/28/tabletop-
Here’s a bit of character dialogue you’re likely to hear in a session of the new RPG Cosmic Patrol by Catalyst Game Labs, just to set the mood:
“Engage the turbo thrusters to full speed, rotate the Gibson Device a full quarter turn, and set us out at a flux of one hundred!” — “Are you mad? A flux destabilization at that level could turn us all into little bits of atom!” — “Well I don’t know about you, Dirk, but I’d rather be a particle than a gosh-darned Uth slave!”
Sounds like a bunch of nonsensical classic Sci-fi babble? Good! When you’re playing Cosmic Patrol, that’s how your characters ought to talk. Cosmic Patrol is a rules-light science fiction role-playing game set in what they call “retro-future.” That’s the way the distant future was thought to look by our parents and grandparents in the 1940s and 1950s. Cosmic Patrol is full of rayguns, lizard men, Venusian geniuses and Martian barbarians – and it’s a blast to play!
The basic premise of the game features all the Player Characters as crew members aboard a spaceship. Each game session, as prepared in the book, is a mission on which the crew must embark. Each mission is comprised of one to four scenes, and a scene is a burst of action and a major obstacle/problem/mystery that the crew must overcome. The game encourages fast and loose play with dice whirling, dialogue and conversation bursting forth, and a heavy emphasis on the “Yes, and…” aspect of improvisational theater. The result is a heady mix of action, glorious success, ridiculous failure, and (in my gaming group’s case) uproarious laughter.
The book does a wonderful job of providing a lush background to the world. The opening pages of the book contain an exciting short story set in the world of Cosmic Patrol. From there the readers get a detailed outline of events that brought Earth from the pre-space travel age to the current age of the book: where faster than light travel is easy, the moon is full of strange bald psychics, and Mars and Venus have, for ages, been the home of humans not terribly unlike Earthlings. This information is all crucial, as so much of the role-playing involved is off the cuff. If all the players have read the book and understand the world their characters live and die in, they are much better suited to confidently roll with the punches and further the story.
The structure of this storytelling game involves a revolving GM, or a “Lead Narrator.” Each LN is in charge of a Scene in the mission. He or she describes the scenario, plays all NPC’s and then the PC on his or her left describes what their character is doing. This rotates clockwise until it comes back to the LN, who then describes what their Player Character is doing. The shift in LN means the game can have wild shifts in tone and pace as the role of head storyteller changes. It keeps everyone on their feet and it really keeps the pace moving. Add to all this the mechanic of “Plot Tokens” and the game can really spin on its axis. Each player receives Plot Tokens, as well as the LN, and they can be used to do everything from changing the turn order and healing to making a giant comet come and crash into the moon base your characters are exploring. Anything can happen with a Plot Token, and we found ourselves at the end of our session lamenting how stingy we were with ours!
The game mechanics are simple and extremely easy to pick up. It took about fifteen minutes to get even the minute details explained and to get all players up to speed and ready to roll. Each trait: Brawn, Brains, Charisma, and Special (different for every character) have a set die mapped to them. To accomplish a task that may have a chance of failure, you simply roll that die plus a D12 vs. a D20. In combat, you roll your combat die versus the enemies combat die and see who comes out on top! In addition, there’s a static Luck number, and if you ever roll that number it’s an auto-success. There’s also hazy idea of distance (close, near, far). And, honestly, that’s about it for mechanics!
To play, you should have a copy of the book, something to take notes with, and the standard array of dice (D4, D6, D8, D10, D12 and D20). Also crucial to play is a good sense of humor, the ability to go out on a crazy limb, and a group of players you can role well with. Our only complaints were that there weren’t enough scenes in our Mission to let all of the players take a turn as Lead Narrator. If you’re playing with more than three players, think about how you could break up or add to the scenes written in the pre-made scenarios. We’ve already got plot threads dangling for, at least, three more missions with five scenes in each.
Finally, a note on the book itself: in physical form the book is refreshingly small in stature, but has everything you need to play immediately and build from. There are no separate books for Lead Narrators, no huge tomes of monsters and beasties, just a bunch of good stories, some basic rules, some cool characters to play as, and a few essential baddies and henchmen to get the game rolling. This is absolutely worth the suggested market retail price, at least!
If you’re looking for a game you can pick up quickly and jump right into, look no further than Cosmic Patrol. So buckle up, cadets, and blast off to your first mission aboard the Cosmic Patrol (just be sure to keep an eye on your flux destabilization)!
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