Thursday, 17 May 2012

Pocket Danger Patrol!

From time to time I don't just play miniatures or board games - I fiddle with role-playing games as well. Lacking a regular group, or a regular desire to play, I tend to go for short, simple games which I can either play with my family or run solo.

A few years ago I downloaded and played a neat sci-fi adventure game called 'Danger Patrol'. This is set in a retro future, and is inspired by various pulp sci-fi settings, such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, as well as the style of such things as the Indiana Jones moves. It's about Danger! Daring! Capitalisation! And Exclamation Marks!

It was great fun.

It's been in playtest form for years now, but I was thrilled the other day to discover that there was a new version of it available - Pocket Danger Patrol! All the fun of the original, but distilled onto two sides of A4.

The full Danger Patrol rules have a brief outline of the setting, which is deliberately open-ended. The players are member of the Danger Patrol, heroic and/or super-powered crimefighters who protect Rocket City from a variety of evil menaces and strange threats. It is set mainly within the solar system; Earth has been destroyed in atomic war, but humans fled to other planets. The two main colonies are the utopia of Rocket City on Mars, and the militaristic dictatorship of the Crimson Republic in Jupiter's red spot. All of the other planets are probably inhabited, either by human colonies or non-human natives.

Anyway, I thought that it would be fun to try out the pocket version of Danger Patrol. Much of the game is developed during play, which makes it an excellent role-playing game if you don't have a lot of preparation time. But it also makes it a good solo game as well; whilst you lack the range of creativity that several players offer, you can use simple die-roll mechanisms to generate information and setting details as the game goes along.

I decided to run two characters. Titanium Steel is a Robot Detective (all characters are defined by a style - Robot, in this case - and a role - Detective). I imagine him as a shiny metal man in a trench-coat and hat; a metal Bogart. To accompany him I created Sss'Kkk, an Alien Warrior; a blue lizardman from the swamps of Venus. Characters assign points to eight characteristics in order to define their specialities, then pick descriptors for four Bonus Dice, which are associated with their role and style. So the characters look like this:

Titanium Steel (Robot Detective)
Daring - 2, Heart - 1, Power - 2, Weird - 0, Action - 1, Cunning - 2, Battle - 1 Science - 1
Bonus Dice: Robot sensors, Overload!, Data Banks, "I Planned For This!"

Sss'Kkk (Alien Warrior)
Daring - 2, Heart - 0, Power - 2, Weird - 1, Action - 2, Battle - 2, Cunning - 1 Science - 0
Bonus Dice: Extra Life, Venusian Mind Link, Crystal Sword, Fearless

Danger Patrol is split up into scenes in which the characters deal with a number of Threats. A game starts with a short teaser in which a set of Threats are introduced. This is then interrupted by the 'Previously On ..' segment, in which the players get to narrate a short sequence, elements of which can be incorporated into the story-line at a later date. You then go back to the scene, and the Action begins. Players attack Threats by assembling a dice pool based on their attributes, bonuses and by narrating extra danger. They may also get Threat Dice, representing damage or other circumstances beyond their control. The dice have different sides - the games uses D4s, D6s, D8s and D10s - but regardless of the sides a score of 4 or more is a hit on a threat, whilst anything else is a miss and, except in the case of the bonus dice, generates danger and complications for the character. This means that there is both advantage and disadvantage to assembling a big handful of dice.

Danger Patrol Pocket includes a Threat-O-Matic, which allows you to generate random threats on the fly. I used this, plus some tables from the Mythic GM Emulator or of my own creation, to create my initial threats.

And so:

Twenty miles outside of Rocket City, in the Martian hills, sits the President's private retreat. Tonight this modest mansion is the scene of a secret conference between the President and the Neptunian Ambassador, in which the two official hope to settle the trade dispute that has nearly brought war to the solar system.

But suddenly, in a flash of energy, the discussions are disrupted. A giant mechanical floating head appears - Craniax, the mad psychic overlord of the dark side of the Moon. And with him are hordes of blaster-wielding Neuro-Soldiers - mutants from the smoking atomic wastes of Earth, converted to helpless slave-warriors by Craniax's mind-control helmets.

They attack the conference, cutting down bodyguards and delegates - the Neptunian Ambassador's life is in danger!

Speeding towards the mansion, a hovercar. And in it, two member of - Danger Patrol! Will they save the day?

Previously On Danger Patrol ...

Titanium Steel stands in front of a blackboard covered in writing. "Of course" he cries, "The robberies were just a diversion to divert security away from the Mansion!"

Sss'Kkk pushes doggedly on through a sandstorm ...

The Threats were as follows:

Craniax, Two Squads of Neuro-Soldiers, Save The Neptunian Ambassador, The Mysterious Fleeing Figure. The latter two Threats had a countdown - after three rounds they would cease to exist, and push the characters closer to failure as, respectively, the Neptunian Ambassador was assassinated and the mysterious figure got away. To make things harder the Fleeing Figure was a protected Threat; it couldn't be attacked until at least two of the Craniax/Neuro-Trooper Threats had been defeated. All Threats have a strength (which makes it more dangerous to attack them with certain attributes) and a weakness (which allows certain attributes to score extra hits). This affects how characters may choose to approach them.

On with the action:

Our heroes intercept frantic radio messages as they hurtle into the grounds of the mansion. The Ambassador, and diplomatic relations with Neptune, is in danger. Sss'Kkk fires up his Danger Patrol rocket pack and hurtles out of the car. Fearlessly dodging blaster fire he hurtles past the Neuro-Soldiers and grabs the Ambassador. Shielding him from fire with his own body he carries him to the safety of an armoured hovercar. Meanwhile Titanium Steel readies a rapidly assembled psi-jammer; his investigations had given him forewarning of who and what he might be facing tonight, and he'd come prepared. He has wired it directly into his own power-cells to boost it, and when it activates the entire first wave of Neuro-Soldiers go down. Unfortunately it also causes a wild, unstable, chain reaction in his power cells.

With barely a thought Sss'Kkk hurtles back into the mansion, drawing his sword to confront Craniax himself. Through a hail of blaster bolts he charges, reaching out with his Venusian mind-link in an attempt to distract the evil overlord. Craniax fights back with all his will, but the lizardman is too determined. Cowardly to his rotten core, Craniax teleports to safety before Sss'Kkk's sword descends. But his presence is planted in the Venusian's mind ...

On the assumption that Sss'Kkk can deal with the last of the Neuro-soldiers, Titanium Steel guns the engine of the hovercar and sets of in pursuit of a shadowy figure that was leaving the mansion as they arrived. the figure is fleeing into the night in their own hovercar, firing behind them to throw off the pursuit. Into the steep hills and deep canyons of Mars the two vehicles go, both navigated by quick, cunning minds. As the chase hots up a fierce Martian storm adds to the danger ...

By this stage there were only two Threats left in play. The others had been defeated quickly by judicious use of attributes keyed against the Threats' weaknesses. However both heroes not only had Threat dice against them, but had Complications, which are extra, mini-Threats generated during play - Titanium Steel had a Martian Storm to deal with, whilst Sss'Kkk had 'Craniax Is In My Mind!'.

Fighting the residual mental influence of Craniax, Sss'Kkk moves to attack the last squad of Neuro-Soldiers.  Taking blaster hit after blaster hit, shrugged off by his Venusian constitution, he cuts his way through the mindless drones. But the lunar overlord's influence has weakened him, and he is overwhelmed, joining the drones as a controlled soldier.

If a character takes too many hits in one turn they are taken out of the fight. In this case I assuemed that Sss'Kkk became a mindless slave of Craniax, so I added his complication to the Neuro-Soldier Threat to represent the extra strength he gave it.

Titanium Steel pursues the other hovercar into the storm, and takes a risk. Drawing his ray pistol he slows and, with great concentration fires a single shot at his quarry. It's a risk, but it pays off; the other hovercar flips over and crashes. Its occupant is thrown out, unconscious. Titanium Steel pauses only long enough to handcuff them, before leaping back into his own car and speeding back to the mansion. As he does so he attempts to repair his damaged systems, with only limited success.

There was enough time on the clock for Titanium Steel to take a rest, which recovers bonus dice. He also spent a round trying to remove his short circuit complication, but failed.

Titanium Steel arrives back at the mansion, and uses the psi-jammer to drop the last of the Neuro-Soldiers. But the strain on his own systems is too much, and he falls, disabled. By he time he recovered, and returned to the crashed hovercar the mysterious occupant had escaped into the night. Craniax's hold on Sss'Kkk was broken by the jammer, and he recovers to fight again.

So that was the end of that scene. The heroes defeated the threats, but their own defeat means that they may start the next scene with additional complications in play. Before them they will narrate some kind of interlude; full Danger Patrol has a special Interlude scene structure for this, but the Pocket version doesn't, so I am making a mechanism up on the fly.

Who was the mysterious figure? What was Craniax up to?

Find out by tuning in ... one day .... for the next episode of :

Danger Patrol!

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