This last session of Story Games Glendale was a milestone. It was the first time neither David nor I were responsible for running a game... Huzzah!
It was just the three of us, which included Mead who brought Danger Patrol, a mini pulp-action RPG designed by John Harper. The game is in a sort of playtest-version, currently, and the pocket edition cheat-sheet didn't quite match the beta playtest material perfectly, but those are all minor details.
The premise is pretty simple, and given in the beta playtest material with this opening speech:
We’re going to play Danger Patrol, an action/adventure retro sci-fi game. The idea is to create the episodes of a 50s-style TV show in the vein of the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials (with maybe a dash of the Venture Bros., Star Wars, and Indiana Jones).
You’re all going to play members of the elite Danger Patrol—special super-powered crime fighters who protect Rocket City from evil Stygian Adepts, the nefarious agents of the Crimson Republic, rampaging monsters set loose by mad scientists, and other crazy threats.
It feels very similar to rules-light variants on this theme, such as Lasers and Feelings. In fact, the selection of characters and archetypes feels extremely similar, except that you select both a style (Alien, Mystic, Robot) and a role (Agent, Detective, Explorer). The "stats" are effectively die types that get rolled (not dissimilar to Savage Worlds), but the stat names actually match the role-types, which can be a little confusing when you first look at your sheet. It all becomes clear when you see that the stat of Detective does detective-type stuff, and similar for the others. An exhaustive list of actions covered by that stat are listed on a reference sheet somewhere.
Mead was going to play as the GM, and David and I started with some character selection. I played Prince Blork, the Alien Detective (think a playboy Dralasite), and David played Lieutenant Mark Stephens, the Two-Fisted Flyboy (with jetpack and everything).
The premise was that Earth was destroyed in atomic fires, and humanity has mostly colonized the solar system. Although Rocket City is supposed to be a city on a planet like Mars, Mead wanted to go for more of the: Rocket City is actually a rocket city... which we had occasionally flying around the solar system as a sort of United Nations of sorts. Jupiter is the domain of the Crimson Republic, the CCCP / USSR of the story.
The game wants to play pulp, so we went for pulp:
Lt. Stephens is the hero of World War III, the battle which left the Earth in ruins, where we destroyed the fourth (fifth?) reich. Little does the rest of the world know that Lt. Stephens actually caused the atomic fallout, and feels the weight of destroying humanity's birthplace.
Prince Blork is a unique specimen that was created using DNA from the alien technology left behind by great civilizations long ago. Raised secretly by a research professor who filed paperwork so that Blork would be protected as a citizen (and not an experiment), Blork is a bit of a playboy / playgirl, but despite its ability to quickly forge social (and sexual) bonds, is also keenly aware of its displacement in society, and unknown greater purpose.
The game is very story-collaborative, and Mead was excellent at being a GM in the middle of that chaotic fray. Before much time, we were thrown into a great meeting / negotiation between Rocket City's mayor and the Crimson Republic's Grand Commander Zukov. The press was in great force, including the Daily Neutron (taglines: "Our News Has Weight" / "Info for the Atomic Masses").
The audience chamber, where we are also a part of, gets ambushed by the forces of Hitler Jr (who's head is obviously in a jar). The attack is staged by the Post-WW III Ganymedian Nazi Robots of the fifth reich.
During certain times when actions are performed, and a player rolls a "danger" result (which happens often), the GM is then able to make a Threat Move. One of these is to Escalate the threat, and this happened very frequently in as our scene progressed. Each time, a new sticky note came out on the table, announcing further players and issues. It was like watching a snowball gain size. Before long we had Gunter Smitetrovich (Lt Capt of the Crimson Brigade), who I (Prince Blork) was having an affair with, but also suspected he may be a double-agent. Captain Musolof was his boss. We had Crimson Republic brigade, and troopers, and reinforcements. We had spaceships out of control and falling to the ground. Rocket City mayor's daughter (and Lt Stephens possible love interest) first in danger, and then in control but in danger of destroying negotiations with her calcium depriver gun. And disabled Rocket City emergency response vehicles.
It was chaos, but the story certainly felt like the crazy that happens in comics, and despite some of the pulp, there was some feels and darkness, and it wasn't all just silly jokes. There were some game and mechanical aspects that reminded me a little of playing Fate. The same way Fate has aspects hit the table, Danger Patrol has a similar feel for complications being introduced that are more narrative than mechanical. That said, threats do have a mechanical component of "hits", which is to say how many success rolls are required to counteract them. In fact, counteracting lots of hits requires lots of die rolls. How do you get lots of dice? One way is by using character aspects, such as weapons and other abilities. The other way is by adding danger dice by introducing narrative complications... and this can both help you (if you roll well) or cause further complications (when you roll poorly).
We didn't get too much going other than this one large combat-type scene, but because of the way the game narratively flows, we were able to introduce all sorts of complications by adding additional story complexity in between events. For example, when introducing the crimson guards, I added an agent that I was having an affair with. This developed the story through what felt like little hints at events that had happened in the past, and made the story more complex and interesting.
All-in-all the three of us enjoyed the session (about 3 hours worth?). We did little epilogues, including another post-cuddles bed scene with Prince Blork and Gunter, where we see Gunter pretend to be sleeping, while sending encoded messages to some secret recipient.
It looks like it'd be easy to continue the story, and to add additional players into the narrative without much problem. It has a very serialized feel. We may return to this in future SGG sessions.