A couple of weeks ago, my guinea pig gamer group played Danger Patrol. On Monday they got an email detailing their one way ticket to the gleaming domes of Rocket City and a license for daring adventure. I attached some retrofuture photos to get them ready for the danger patrol setting that Friday.
Who are the Guinea Pigs?
The Guinea Pigs are a shifting band of very new players, some with past D&D experience and some who have only experiences RPGs as video games. They are classmates at my school, and they are patient and willing to try new games with me. We will play games that I want to write about, and games that I’ve been digging for an excuse to try.
Danger patrol is styled the same way a pulpy episodic sci-fi episode is. Cliffhangers! Suspense! Problems on problems! Unlikely saviours! SHOCKING BETRAYALS! It is a storytelling game with rules focused on piling circumstances on top of one another. It’s supposed to be co-operative, with the players forming the Danger Patrol and protecting Rocket City.
To play Danger Patrol, you go to www.dangerpatrol.com and download the playtest kit. You will want quite a few sets of dice and 3 or more players. This is a game that needs a GM. Instead of the index cards suggested, we used small memo pad sheets because they’re cheaper. You will go through a lot of little sheets.
Everyone except the GM has a character with a Role and a Trait (Intrepid Flyboy, Mystic Detective, Atomic Explorer). This is a set of two sheets with all of the information the player needs on it, no further selection is made. Your skills are die sizes, with your main skill (the skill with the same title as your Role) giving you a d12, and other dice are divided among the remaining skills on top of your sheet. You use these dice when resolving Threats.Previously, On DANGER PATROL…
Pretty much all of the game play is done by roleplaying a turn, fighting threats, and the GM writing threats on cards and placing them on the board to show how they are connected. Many of these threats are decided collaboratively at the beginning of the session. If you wanted to plan it ahead, you definitely could! The game has two pre-planned scenarios for you if you want to get started that way. I wanted to fully improvise the session, so we had no pre-planning and went only off of the “Previously on…!” phase.
In Danger Patrol, threats are versatile. A threat can be an enemy, an impending circumstance, or a shocking realization. Threats can be static and have a GM judged threat level, or they can be countdown threats, which is “in so many rounds, ____ happens”. Threats are resolved by the players using their skills, items and special abilities to vanquish them!
When a character engages with a threat, they use a dice pool. First, they decide what type of skill they are using from the top of their character sheet, and that die goes into the pool. Next, they decide to use any special abilities or items from their character sheet. Those dice go into the pool. Afterward, the active player, the other players at the table, and the DM can add d6s to the pool for extra danger. Once the dice pool has been decided, they all get rolled. On a 4+ the roll succeeds.
Each roll 3 and under results in one move along the danger scale at the bottom of the character sheet, making the character vulnerable to worse damage effects. Each failed roll also means that something will happen on the table. Your character takes damage, a threat grows in size, or a new threat shows up! Play pretty much continues like this. It is fast paced and it gets very ridiculous very soon, in the best possible way.
The beginning of Danger Patrol! There are characters and some threats on the table.
What happened when I played? Wackiness happened! At the guinea pig table were two newbies to Danger Patrol (three counting me) and a friend of mine who has played and run Danger Patrol a few times before.I knew I had players new to roleplaying, so I had a stack of hook cards constructed for the scene creation phase of the game. I decided not to plan anything – I would let them set the scene entirely. If they couldn’t think of anything, I would ruthlessly exploit my friend’s uncanny ability to be an awesome roleplayer and totally delight me 24/7. I did this a few times.
Once we had the relationships and possible scenarios written up, we moved onto playing the game! This was basically a chain of threats. Chance usually sides with more danger so it’s very rare that you have to force the action with “What’s that! Over there!” Threats will enter the game naturally.
Getting roleplay to happen in this game is essential. Luckily, it’s silly and the failure condition is simply more silliness – so the pressure is pretty light. The few times I have GMed pen and paper games I have felt nervous and under the microscope, but at the table with this game I had an absolute blast. Everything happens so quickly, you can’t really lock up or be nervous that you’re wrong.
Chuck: His chest nuclear reactor is unstable because of the relic, so he threw himself out of a building, but landed on a space car… activating its self destruct.
I also played this game with a healthy dose of rule breaking and simple mistake making. My plan to ruthlessly exploit my buddy who is great at RP left him feeling a bit overwhelmed. Luckily he told me, so I scaled back for him. If a player is feeling overwhelmed with threats, they aren’t having fun – so don’t be afraid to dish out some damage. I’m a carebear who hates dishing hits, and that is probably why I threat overloaded him. There is a table of threat options. Once I started referring to it more, I did a better job of balancing these things.That was basically the rule I broke, too. I didn’t progress threats the way the game recommends, because I was worried I would scare the awesome away rather than make it shine. With experienced roleplayers, dire circumstances make amazing things happen. But when you’re completely new to a game and roleplaying, it can be intimidating when 300 things are trying to kill you.
Because I avoided dishing hits, my action scenes never really ended. If I wanted more division between action, I should have doled out more hits instead of adding more threats. Your players recover at the end of the action scene, so give them a few whacks to end combats. This is the GM’s call, really. Ending a combat goes to an interlude, then the interlude becomes a suspense scene, leading to the next action scene, etc.
That being said, the mistakes I made didn’t slow or dampen the gameplay. It stayed fun, players stayed engaged, and they definitely made some wild things happen. Just saying yes is the key to fun in Danger Patrol. Because really, why would you say no to a guy with a nuclear reactor in his chest?
All in all, everybody had a very fun time. I would play this game again with newbies and experienced roleplayers alike. This is a game you can run with minimal prep once you pick up the rules.
I would recommend this game for:
-People without much prep time
-Beers and games night
-Players shy of fantasy settings
-When you need the silliness