Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 3 March 2014

Tales of the Star Guard II

One of my favourite RPGs from 2011 is Cosmic Patrol, Catalyst Game Labs’ Science Fiction RPG inspired by the Golden Age broadcast Science Fiction of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and X MINUS ONE as well as the writings of Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, and E.E. “Doc” Smith. It is a light storytelling RPG in which the characters are stalwart members of the Great Union’s last line of defence against a dangerous universe. As Patrolmen, members of the Cosmic Patrol, the player characters crew rocketships sent out to explore the galaxy, to investigate its strange phenomena, protect the Solar System, and respond to emergencies as necessary. The mechanics are kept light with everyone taking it turn to narrate scenes in the current adventure with heroics being encouraged. Plus the little rulebook is a work of art itself, looking exactly like a handbook for the Cosmic Patrol itself.

The first supplement for Cosmic Patrol is Into the Cosmos: A Cosmic Patrol Sourcebook. As befits a first supplement, it is a companion volume to the core rules. It adds further detail to the setting of Cosmic Patrol, presenting further threats and rumours, a guide to the rocket ships and other vessels to be found in the Great Union and beyond, detailed dossiers to support many of the threats, and almost two dozen Mission Briefs—enough to keep a Cosmic Patrol campaign going for session after session. As with the core rules, Into the Cosmos is presented as a small red handbook, lightly illustrated with solid line art. Unlike the core rules, Into the Cosmos has much more the feel of being a roleplaying game supplement and less of the feel being the Cosmic Patrol handbook.

It opens with ‘When in Doubt, Doubt’, a short piece of fiction about a Cosmic Patrol Intelligence Service agent infiltrating a Hakhaze base. A solid little tale, it throws a different light on Cosmic Patrol operations, one that is borne of necessity give the realities of the situation out in the Deep Black. It introduces a new race, the Hakhaze, which is one of the new races detailed in Into the Cosmos’ Gazetteer. The Hakhaze are a humanoid symbiotic species consisting of a reptile with a fungoid outer shell, which like many species the Great Union has encountered, is extremely warlike. Others include the mysterious Ro-Men, who not only capture other intelligent species, they also make them wear helmets that both make them slaves and dissolve their skulls! The Gazetteer also discusses the uses and dangers of the Fractum Drive which powers all Great Union interstellar rockets, what might be out there in the galaxy, the exploration of the jungle world that is Neptune, the Cat People of Annora, the Great Union’s manufactory behind Mercury, and an update about the Automen on Venus. All in all, it is an eclectic mix, but each of these little essays is informative and adds interesting detail to the Cosmic Patrol setting. Many are of them are further supported by the Dossiers section, which include Hakhaze, Ro-Men, Neptunian Frog Men, escaped Robots, and more, all written up and ready to bring to a game.

Of the eight vessels described in Into the Cosmos, three are particularly suitable for use by the player characters in Cosmic Patrol. They include the three-man Patrol Cutter, the twenty-five man Patrol Cruiser, and the one-man Intel Rocketship, the latter introduced earlier in ‘When in Doubt, Doubt’. Deck plans are given for each, but given the genre, it seems disappointing that the decks are horizontal along the length of each ship, rather than organised deck by deck vertically down the ship. This also means that these rocketships land on their bellies rather than on their tails, which would seem more in keeping with the genre. Other ships described include an Eiger Empire Attack Saucer, an Uth Hive, a Pirate Rocketship, and a Ro-Men Spereship.

Rounding out Into the Cosmos is a collection of twenty-three missions. Each consists of a narrative introduction, setting details, the scenes, plus a listing of its Objectives, Clues, and Tags. They begin with ‘Vo’s Fractum Cat’ in which the crew of Patrol Ship must go to the rescue of vessel with malfunctioning experimental equipment and ‘The Great Green Blight’ in which they must find out why the wary Frogmen of Neptune have turned aggressive. Other Mission Briefs will find the crew making mail runs, surveying asteroids, investigating both Eiger and Uth activity, going after pirates, going to dinner, and more. The almost two dozen run the gamut of genre clichés, but this should not be held against them. After all, certain clichés are part of the genre, and anyway, it is what the players and their characters do with them in the course of play that matters.

Despite it being a little book, just one-hundred-and-thirty-eight pages long, Into the Cosmos could do with an index. Finding things can be difficult. Another issue is the cost—it is not an inexpensive book. Nevertheless, Into the Cosmos provides excellent support for any group’s Cosmic Patrol game. Not just the Mission Briefs, which provide immediate support, but cues and inspirations aplenty with the support material.