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Danger Patrol to the Rescue

Started by Matt Wilson, July 11, 2003, 03:36:22 PM

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Matt Wilson

Last night began a three-game playtest of ShootingIron Design's upcoming game, Danger Patrol. You can see some cool stylin's and art for the game at //

Danger Patrol is a to-the-limits pulp that takes place throughout the solar system, but mostly in and around Rocket City, Mars. Characters are members of the elite force known as Danger Patrol, sworn to protect the citizens of Mars with their jetpacks, atomic rayguns and handsome profiles.

Characters have types and roles, always both. Type determines which powers you can choose. For example, if your type is Mutant, you could take "tentacles" as a power. If your type is Atomic, you could take "force field" as a power. Role determines areas of specialty. If your role is Agent, you do well at charm and related things. If your role is Commando, you do well at shooting things and fighting.

My character is Dr. Langston Bradbury, a two-fisted scientist. Imagine the professor from Gilligan's Island as played by Charlton Heston. His powers include things like "fists like sledgehammers," and his professor role gives him a bonus when fighting damn dirty robots, among other things.

The system is sort of like Sorcerer played with cards. I won't go into details about traits and how many cards, but the result is that you will either win or lose a conflict by a certain number of cards. If you win, you get chips equal to how many successes you earned. If you lose, you give up that many chips.

It gets better. The type of chip you get depends on what you did. There are Action, Danger and Style chips. You can spend the chips on different things in play. One Action chip, for example, will let you discard your hand and redraw. If you save up ten chips of any one color, you can declare something very important about the story, either who the villain is, where you need to go, or a big plot twist, depending on the chip type.

Enough of this rules talk. Let's get to the good stuff...

The adventure included two characters from a previous playtest, played by Forge members who will hopefully fill in details I missed. That adventure left off with a monstrous cliffhanger: a burning magnazeppelin heading straight for rocket city full of deadly magnetic plasma! Cindy Cannon, the two-fisted daredevil, had leapt out of the zeppelin without any sort of parachute and was now freefalling at 5 miles up (magnazeppelins fly at high altitudes). Iron Mask, the atomic ninja, was still on board, trying to avert disaster.

This whole next scene happened without any mooks or significant NPCs.

Dr. Bradbury is on his way home from an important lecture on Atomic Science at Rocket City College when he gets a call patched through from Cindy. Holy Half Life! He turns his atomic powered flying car around and roars up into the sky to save her (after pausing to take off his glasses for dramatic effect, which I developed a bad habit of actually acting out).

A crazy scene of them plummeting at crazy speeds toward the ground ensued, with them whipping through skylanes of traffic, full of cheering citizens (Go Danger Patrol!). I spent a Style chip at one point to narrate Dr. Bradbury abruptly stopping near a stalled car in the middle of chasing after Cindy, and telling the young driver, "son, I think you flooded it. Try letting it sit for a few moments."

Iron Mask, meanwhile, manages to divert the magnazeppelin, but the strain is too much, and the cabin shears off and plummets toward the city. Cindy pushes the professor out of the driver's seat and prepares to destroy another danger patrol vehicle in the process of helping Iron Mask.

Several cool things happen at this point, mainly because John always draws an ace, usually more than one.
[*]Mask shoots out his magna-grapple in an attempt to use his atomic strength to grab the cabin in one hand and swing spider-man-style in the other, grappled to the side of a building. The grapple instead hits a rocket fuel transport vehicle, bashing a hole in its side and spewing fuel out in a huge geyser.
[*]Cindy has to swerve unexpectedly for some reason I can't recall, and the professor, who's in the back seat with blueprints for the magnazeppelin, is almost thrown out (it's a convertible). He's left hanging by one hand. "Atoms!"
[*]Cindy then decides it's their duty to protect the citizens from the perilous geyser of fuel and spins the car upside down and flies under it, hoping to disperse it on the car's underbelly. Alas, the flame spout is more powerful than she had thought, and the car is destroyed in the process.[/list:o]

There's more to the story, but I think that gets across the feel. There's definitely a lot of color to this game, and rules stuff happens at a fast enough pace to keep things exciting. I might have talked John into letting me bring a playtest copy to GenCon if anyone's interested in an after-hours game. I'm not sure when it's actually going to be released.


Dan, here, checking in with the point of view of Iron Mask, Atomic Ninja at-large.

Matt covered the salient points of the adventure pretty well.  Without diving further into breathless "and then...", which is hard to do because pulp serials with lots of color just encourage it, I'll say I definitely had a total blast playing.  I loves me some pulp action, and Danger Patrol delivers in spades.

Mechanically, the system works surprisingly well.  The card usage does not slow down play at all, being faster in some ways than dice, and slower in others.  As Matt pointed out last night, it's very easy to hold a hand and sort it, unlike a table full of dice, which tend to roll onto different numbers if you look at them funny.  Shuffling takes a little time, but tends to be something you idly while you're between actions, so it rarely impacts the game.  It works best if the players each have their own deck and the GM has a spare or two, so he doesn't have to stop to reshuffle in the middle of things.  The chip/hit system definitely supplements the cards well, and tends to keep action fairly steady, which is always a plus.  The flow of chips is pretty constant, though there is some risk of 'bottoming out' and being stuck in situation where it's hard to start accumulating chips again.

Being one of the players who was in the previous episode of this playtest, John made one adjustment that I felt helped a lot, namely the borrowing of the narrative truth idea from Dan Bayn's Wushu (and less emphatically, but still present in Ron's Sorcerer).  Which is to say, if the player narrates it happening, it happens.  If the cards come up a failure, the action still succeeds as planned, it merely has additional unforseen consequences or introduces new complications.  Like Wushu's use for cinematic action-adventure, this is completely ideal for high-color pulp serial games, as it greatly encourages players to do the things that make pulp distinctive, without penalizing them.  For example, the rocket truck accident was a result of Iron Mask trying to grapple a building so he could swing the falling cockpit out and away from the city center, but not achieving succeess when the cards turned against him.  So instead of  simply having the grapple fail to attach, or the cockpit slam into something, the grapple attached to the truck and the cockpit was deflected, but the strain was too much for truck, causing it to burst and spew flaming rocket fuel everywhere.  There's still a problem to deal with, but the action "succeeded" as I, the player, intended.

Afterwards we discussed places the game is still incomplete.  Most things were minor, such as the possibility of switching to the Donjon variant of Sorcerer's mechanic, where ties are counted for the total amount of successes, rather than ignored, and the names and abilities of certain roles and types.  One major thing that came up was that it currently lacks any sort of advancement system.  As it stands, there's a Trollbabe-like mechanic, where you can redistribute points within certain limits, but that's it.   On one hand, lacking any further advancement system fits the genre fairly well.  The Shadow and Doc Savage did not noticably improve from story to story, in comparison with, say, epic fantasy novels where the naive farmboy eventually becomes one of the ultimate powers in the universe, over the course of a trilogy.  Having played two sessions now, I never really felt the urge I feel with some games of "oh, man, just wait till I have enough points to get this next power...."  On the other, advancement is definitely something that many players want and look forward to greatly.  

One idea that came up was something based on the Lines of Experience used in the new Marvel Universe RPG.  Namely, after each session, the players get to write down some number things they did during the session.  For example, our heroes could write down things like "escaped from burning manga-zeppelin" and "catch falling people in rocket cars" after last night's session.  After accumulating some number of similar lines (1, 3, 5, 10?), that becomes one of the character's Gimmicks, and they can then use it to automatically overcome a similar situation in the future by spending a Style chip.  So next time Iron Mask and Cindy Cannon are trapped in a burning magna-zeppelin, the players can point to their Gimmicks and go "hah, we've done this enough times before, like in the Case of the Mind Controlled Ape!", spend their style point, and automatically find some way to escape their doom, rather than playing it out.  Advancement thus becomes a function of the character building up things that the player can choose to use to skip over scenes that might otherwise become repetitive.  At the same time, it rewards writing down the highlights of each adventure for posterity.  The character sheet iself becomes a living record of all the "and then" events that make a particular game memorable years later.

Dan Root

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

For possible advancement, you might consider a ceiling to the amount of chips you can have at any particular moment. It depends on whether the game would still be as fun - i.e., whether spending as many as you can earn is what you want from the get-go, or whether looking forward to being able to spend more later is more fun.

For this game, both ways seem do-able, and maybe that should be decided by a given group when starting to play.

It sounds like a great game, but then, I would say that, given its influences ... but really, what matters is that you guys had a lot of fun. Did any inter-character banter get going? That's way pulp, after all.



Quote from: Ron EdwardsHi there,
For possible advancement, you might consider a ceiling to the amount of chips you can have at any particular moment. It depends on whether the game would still be as fun - i.e., whether spending as many as you can earn is what you want from the get-go, or whether looking forward to being able to spend more later is more fun.

Given the current mechanics, this isn't going to all that workable.  In general, it's fairly rare to have more than a few chips of any type sitting around.  You gain them for succeeding, but you likewise lose them when failing.  Unless you happen to get a really lucky card draw, you're probably going to be hovering between 1 and 4 of any given type, as far as I've seen.  Plus, there's also already a 'break point' of 10 chips, where you suddenly gain the very powerful ability to throw a curveball into the game by doing something like declaring who the master villian really is.  Likewise, putting a limit on how many you can spend at one time doesn't help much, because usually you're only going to be spending one at a time, except in the case of Danger chips, which are used to eliminate damage.

And yes, there was a fairly good bit of character banter.  Wil is a master of it, and Cindy Cannon is the epitome of the plucky sarcastic heroine in all her glory.  Matt also seemed to have a lot of fun taking off his glasses, miming smoking a pipe, and going 'Good God!' or other very retro-pulp exclaimations.

Dan Root

John Harper

I really like Dan's suggestion about "lines of experience." Instead of earning more powerful characters through play, the players earn the right to skip events that they feel have been "done". This tosses the hot-potato back to the GM, so she can't simply have another pack of mind-controlled scarlet apes show up and threaten the city when she's out of ideas. Cool.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!


whoa, whoa, whoa... this "narrative truth" thing interests me.  Somehow I've missed that so far.  Can anyone throw me some references on this mechanic?  "Whatever you say you do, it happens, but if you roll a failure it happens and you are still hosed"?  Wushu?  Where's wushu?  That's how sorcerer works?  Gotta reread that... dang...


Got around to buying Wushu.  Totally digging it and can see how it could be a big inspiration for Danger Patrol. :)