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

Friday, 18 April 2014

Tales of the Star Guard III

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.

Having previously reviewed Into the Cosmos: A Cosmic Patrol Sourcebook, the first supplement for Cosmic Patrol, it only seems fair that I should also review the second, more recently released supplement. Although plenty of patrol encounters and scenarios are presented in both Cosmic Patrol and Into the Cosmos, what Cosmic Patrol is yet to present is something that fulfils its promised grandeur and scope. This void is negated by the publication of The Moon Must Be Ours! A Cosmic Patrol Campaign that pitches the men and women of the Cosmic Patrol against a threat that has been disrupting Grand Union activities for decades—making objects and people disappear, directing activities and experiments with false readings, and generally being a nuisance. Further, the Moon Men forbid anyone from landing on the Lunar surface, ever since the Rocketship EM disappeared! 

This has been done without their being seen, all through their strange powers of Dynamo-Psychism. They present a threat to humanity and the Grand Union like no other—so Director Roderick Dyson has assembled the largest flotilla of ships in the history of the Cosmic Patrol and given the order: “The Moon Must Be Ours!”

The Moon Must Be Ours! is a complete campaign that throws the player characters into the Cosmic Patrol’s operation to conquer the Moon and put an end to the Moon Men as a threat. The invasion begins disastrously—Cosmic Patrol ships suddenly vanish from the flotilla, some explode or are impaled by previously unknown and powerfully destructive weapons, whilst others career off course and crash or collide with other vessels. The upshot is that very few Patrol vessels manage to reach the Moon’s surface—much of this is described in the supplement’s opening fiction, ‘Retaking the Sky’. The player characters’ vessel is one of those few. With their rocketship having crashed, they are the Patrol’s only hope and must penetrate the labyrinth of rooms under the lunar surface to discover the secrets of the Moon Men.

Cosmic Patrol is played without a dedicated GM, instead each player takes a turn being Lead Narrator. Although the Lead Narrator needs to be fair in presenting a challenge to his fellow players, what it means is that the players are all playing against the game rather than the game as presented by a GM. The Moon Must Be Ours!  pushes this aspect further in presenting a ‘Choose Your Adventure Path’ scenario that the players plays together. In comparison to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain or the more recent Blood of the Zombies, the locations and paragraph entries are few in number, consisting primarily of forty-two rooms that are played one after another, even in linear fashion—depending on the difficulty setting that the group decides to play the campaign at.

Each room consists of a two-page spread that contains Objectives, Cues, Tags, and Exits, as well as Opening Narration, Room Description, and Enemies and Obstacles. Each room gives seven or eight exists divided between the difficulty settings. Typically three each for an Easy setting, two for Normal and Hard settings, but just the one for the Insane setting. The latter because the players have no choice in what room they choose next—it must be the next room in sequential order, from one to forty-two. In order to complete The Moon Must Be Ours! at Easy difficulty, the group needs to overcome nine or ten rooms, thirteen or fourteen at Normal difficulty, and twenty-two at Hard. The idea is that once a group has completed The Moon Must Be Ours! at one difficulty, it should then try and play it again at a higher difficulty. Again, another aspect of the campaign that feels like a ‘Choose Your Adventure Path’ scenario.

A Room Tracker is provided so that no room is repeated. Also included are sample hero character dossiers and dossiers for the campaign’s villains, advice for the Lead Narrators—particularly on handling character death, and plot twists. Tables give random Dynamo-Psychism powers and random adversary creation, the latter including what is probably the best gun in Science Fiction—the Godwinization Ray. Its effect? It makes the affected target irrelevant! (If a player character, then he is Knocked Out for the length of his player’s next stint as Lead narrator). Many of the villains presented in The Moon Must Be Ours! veer towards to the weird and wacky, including an incredibly silly villain towards the end…

The Moon Must Be Ours! is well presented. It is not as liberally illustrated as previous books, but that is primarily because the book consists of rooms and these are not illustrated in Cosmic Patrol. The campaign itself, is probably too combat orientated, so the rules and suggestions for character death are likely to be necessary.

The Moon Must Be Ours! A Cosmic Patrol Campaign presents the chance to delve back into the history of the Grand Union. It possesses a slightly creepy, almost Lovecraftian sense of the unknown that might be difficult to maintain with multiple Lead Narrators, whereas its joyous embrace of 1950s retro-futurism will be easier to keep up. Above all, it provides a Cosmic Patrol crew with a big adventure, mysteries to be solved, and the chance to be heroic.