Saturday, June 16th is Free RPG Day ‘12
and with it comes a slew of new and interesting little releases. They can usually be divided between tasters for new games that will be released at Gen Con this forthcoming August and support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera. In general, the tasters for the new, “hot” games are highly anticipated and on the day itself, in high demand, but come the day, it would be remiss of us to ignore the less-in-demand titles. Many of these it should be made clear, are worth your time and effort to make it to your friendly, local gaming store to get hold of a copy. One such title is Cosmic Patrol Quick-Start Rules: The Kahn Protocol
, provided by Catalyst Game Labs.
Cosmic Patrol is a story-telling RPG of “Rockets and Rayguns!” set in a retro future based on the Golden Age of science fiction. Inspired by the covers of classic science fiction pulp magazines, the works of E.E. “Doc” Smith, Harry Harrison, Robert Heinlein, and Philip Francis Nolan, and classic science fiction radio series like X Minus One and Dimension X, Cosmic Patrol with its mantra of “Rockets • Rayguns • Robots” is not the Buck Rogers RPG, but it could be. Nor is it the Flash Gordon RPG or the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet RPG, but again, it could be. As the Grand Union’s first and last line of defence against a dangerous galaxy, the players take the roles of Patrolmen of the Cosmic Patrol crewing rocketships that set out to explore the galaxy, investigating its strange phenomena, and responding to emergencies as necessary. They could be cocky, stalwart heroes from Earth; Red Amazon warriors from Mars armed with their infamous red steel axes; or high thinking Venusian scientists, but whatever their origins, they are not only members of the Grand Union, but as members of the Cosmic Patrol, they are its first line of defence against the universe.
Mechanically, Cosmic Patrol is very simple. To undertake an action a player rolls the Base Die (always a twelve-sided die) plus a Stat Die appropriate to the situation (either Brawn, Brains, Charisma, Combat, or Special, the latter highlighting a particular aspect of the Patrolman, such as Martian Axe Master or Expert Roboticist), and any modifiers against the Lead Narrator’s roll of a twenty-sided die. The highest roll wins. Now where the play of Cosmic Patrol differs from most traditional RPGs is that as the title Lead Narrator suggests, the narration or refereeing of the game does not remain with the same person. This is not to say that Cosmic Patrol could not be run as a traditional RPG with a single GM, but as written, the players take in turn to be the Lead Narrator for a Scene. During his Narration he controls and rolls for all of the actions undertaken by the NPCs. His own character gets to act, but it is always after everyone else has acted.
Inspiration for narration comes primarily from the events of a previous scene, but it can also come from “Cues,” the suggestions and descriptions, such as “I’ve got two pistols… but only need one” or “Don’t you understand what this means?” that Mission Brief, NPC, and Patrolman has. Players can also expend Plot Points to add to the current Narration as well as to modify die rolls, regain health points, and of course, to add a plot twist! Naturally, the role of Lead Narrator has its own fund of Plot Points to spend. Player input is further encouraged by elements such as the setting’s equipment, none of which is defined but merely named so that the players are free to determine how each item worked according to the needs of the situation. The overall tone of Cosmic Patrol is intended to be upbeat and positive, and that includes accepting plot twists suggested by the players, though this is accepted and continued with a “Yes, and…” rather than a simple affirmation.
Cosmic Patrol comes with four ready to play characters. They include a raygun toting Earthman Rocketship Captain, an Earthwoman marine who specialises in knife fighting, a Venusian scientist, and a Martian Red Amazon axe fighter. Bar the Venusian scientist, these characters are physical and combat orientated, well suited to the first part of “The Kahn Protocol” which comes with the Cosmic Patrol Quick-Start Rules: The Kahn Protocol. Each mission is essentially a simple outline around which the Lead Narrators will build and play a story. Comprised of four parts, “The Kahn Protocol” will see the Patrolmen survive a Rocketship crash, rescue a hostage from a hive of scum and villainy, and track down and then confront a space tyrant! Of the four, the first part is really intended to get the players used to how Cosmic Patrol works and has little to do with the subsequent trilogy.
Physically, Cosmic Patrol Quick-Start Rules: The Kahn Protocol is neatly and tidily presented. It contains only a little art, all of which is in keeping with the genre, but the layout has a nice period feel in places. It would have been nice if the examples of play given had been written around the four pre-generated Patrolmen given in the book, but that is a minor issue.
It would be fair to say that I like this game a great deal, having already reviewed it. If you have already got a copy of the rules, then another set, even if just a lighter version, will be useful, and of course, more scenarios are welcome. Overall, Cosmic Patrol Quick-Start Rules: The Kahn Protocol is an engaging introduction to roleplaying in a Golden Age of Science Fiction that should provide several sessions of play.