Danger Patrol: Thwarting Crushtjov

Last Thursday, I tried out the beta version of Danger Patrol. The game went well, but there are some kinks. I’ll start with a brief recap, then I’ll present some of my issues with the game. At the end, I’ll say a little about my overall attitude to the game.

Danger Patrol is a pastiche of old tv-shows like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. You play the heroes of the Danger Patrol, defending Rocket City from all manner of villains who want to destroy, conquer or enslave the proud city.

How the game went

We were three people playing : apart from me we were Mads and one of his regular players, Sander.

They made an Atomic Agent and a Psychic Commando – two of the many peculiar combo’s the game allow for.

I for my part took the easy way out, and took the setup that is used as an example: Scarlet Apes attack Rocket City’s rocket car traffic. We had an action packed first scene, with our two heroes zooming up and down, saving people from plummeting rocket cars, slaloming between clotheslines and using holograms and psychic projections to stop the disaster from happening.

After that, we took some brief interlude scenes. I don’t quite remember them, but I think one took place at the monkey cage, with the mayor coming to greet the heroes.

Then, on to investigate this crime. One of them stayed at the cage, trying to find out who had let the apes out of their cage, the other trying to find out who would benefit, a trail leading to the mayor – who turned out to be a traitor, and fled down a secret staircase. Meanwhile, the other hero found a trail leading to a warehouse. And lo and behold – this was were the mayor was running to!

In the warehouse was a number of Crimson Republic guards alongside their leader, General Crushtjov, the nemesis of the players. Also in there was a Mysterious Character, the mercenary villain who’d commanded the apes to attack! The mayor bust ind, and panicked explained that he was found out. But the General laughed – they were ready to launch the Red Comet upon Rocket City!

The players came up with an ingenious plan:  Sander, the Psychic Commando, would throw in a smoke grenade. Meanwhile, Mads, the Atomic Agent, would sneak up upon one of the guards, take him out and put on his uniform.

The minute the smoke grenade went off, the general started to prepare a Rocket Ship for departure. The Mysterious Figure summoned more apes, and the mayor panicked. This action scene was more combat oriented, but equally intense, than the first. Mads was surrounded by burning Gasolineum from barrels thrown by the apes, but used a burst from his rocket pack to get out – thus blowing fire straight down into the puddle of highly volatile, burning liquid! It all ended when Mads, somehow assisted by Sander, blasted over the head of the Mysterious figure, and destroyed the engine of the General’s Rocket Ship, just as he was taking off, making him crash a short way away.

All in all, we had good fun. There were a lot of funny things going on, a lot of which I’ve unfortunately forgotten now. The system, however, is clearly a work in progress.

The issues I had with the system

The first kink was making good “Last time on” sequences. This was mostly my fault for not explaining it properly. One player started describing the entire plot of the last episode, instead of just describing a short scene of something he wanted in this episode. Also, being only two players in the game, I didn’t get a lot to work with in these scenes.

The combat system mostly worked fine. Most of it was quick, and very action oriented. The role of the action map, however, seems poorly thought out: the impression is of something very loose, but some rules seem to demand more exact maps, to know what would have to pass to get somewhere. Also, the telekinesis power requires the map to be much more than a guideline. Giving the players access to the map may not be the best idea – it’s the purview of the GM, and giving the player a power that allows him to change the position of things on the map seems to require that the GM decides what can be moved and what can’t.

There is also the issue of threats and threat actions. Now, being two players no doubt played a significant role in this – but it often seemed like I had a whole host of Threats that should be activated because the players hadn’t done anything about them. In the game, the Threats act according to a Threat table. There are two instances in which you consult this chart: if the player rolled ‘dangers’ (failed dice) you’d add them together and look up that level. If the players haven’t rolled against the threat, you look up its level +1 in the chart. Having quite a few threats, I did this quite often. Now, the only thing the lowest level of threat can do if there isn’t a player within its reach, is to store up a so-called “danger die” that would be rolled the next time a PC rolled against it, but counted only  if it was a ‘Danger’.  At one point, half the threats had red (danger) dice waiting for the players when they came to deal with them. Other threats would instead warrant the creation of a new threat. Unfortunately, I ran out of ideas way before I ran out of opportunities to make new threats. I think it would make much better sense to make a Threat Menu with many options that could be combined for different levels, making it easier to mix up danger actions.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the fact that threats don’t act on their own, but instead react to players. It’s a good way of spotlighting what the players are doing. It just needs some tweaking.

Throughout the game, I had difficulty gauging the balancing of player resources. Players have a number of resources: danger, damage and [+]’es (aspects that can be tagged for bonus dice). Some of these can be regained during Interludes. But my players seemed to be using a lot of these – enough that it looked like they’d run out before the end of the game.

This led me to go against what I believed was the rules’ intention on Interludes. The game doesn’t state this explicitly, but it indicates that there is supposed to be one interlude after each action scene. This makes sense – if you have five players, having five interludes would be excessive. On the other hand, I had two players, who were running low on resources after the first Action Scene. Thus, I let them have an Interlude each.

Now, Suspense Scenes. Suspense scenes are supposed to be investigation scenes of a sort, fighting questions as if they were threats. This indicated that they would work like action scenes. However – I already said my players were burning through their resources. If they had to use them on Suspense as well? They’d run out immediately. Besides, it says in the rules that threats generated here should be saved for later Action Scenes. Thus,  it makes sense that they shouldn’t get danger, and especially not damage, through these scenes. What then? If they haven’t got the [+]es to get bonus dice, and they don’t really need danger dice (they could get them, I guess, but I’m not sure it makes sense for them to endanger themselves like that in the suspense scenes that serve to pave the way for action scenes.

I feel like there must be something I’m missing (and it has been a week, so I might have forgotten important things here). But in my opinion, Suspense scenes are the single weakest point in the game as it stands – they don’t make sense. As I recall, they aren’t very well described, either – they are probably still being thought out, as opposed to Action Scenes, which seem to have been well planned.

All in all…

I like this game. It’s unfinished – this can clearly be seen in the game document, which has “notes to the author” instead of finished content in several places. But I can see its potential. I want to try the next edition of the game – and eventually the finished thing. It may be a work in progress – but it’s a work I really want to see progress.

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