Review of Cosmic Patrol by Catalyst Games Lab

When I was a lad, I used to beg my parents to let me stay up late and watch the “Creature Feature” movies now and again. I recall that these black-and-white or vista-color movies from the 50s and 60s had a tendency to start playing about the time I was being ordered to go to bed. While some of these movies dealt with mutant creatures created from atomic bombs or bad lab experiments, I was really drawn to the movies with space ships and alien worlds – The Forbidden Planet in one of those movies I remember most vividly, even to this day. And although the science was hardly “scientific”, there was still a certain allure to these films, offering an adventure far different than was possible back on good old Earth.

Now, there are quite a few Science Fiction RPGs out there, but many seem to deal only in “hard” science fiction. And I’ve certainly experienced quite a few of these sorts of science fiction RPGs over the years, from the various Traveller editions to the Star Trek RPG, and even a Champions campaign using “agent” level characters in a modified 2300AD space setting.

But Catalyst Games Lab has a different idea in mind when it comes to a science fiction RPG, and has reached back to the Golden Age of SciFi, and the covers of pulp fiction magazines. Cosmic Patrol hearkens back to the early days of outer space pulp fiction and alien invader movies, taking characters on dangerous missions in rocketships to battle foes all over the galaxy!

Review of Cosmic Patrol
  • Designer: Matt Heerdt
  • Illustrations: Leanne Buckley
  • Publisher: Catalyst Games Lab
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: PDF (138 pages)
  • Price: $4.99 (PDF available from RPGNow)
Cosmic Patrol is an indie-style science-fiction RPG whose setting is drawn from Golden Age SciFi novels, short stories, pulp fiction and films. The Cosmic Patrol Core Rulebook contains all the rules to create a character that has joined the Cosmic Patrol to explore the universe and fight alien monsters, as well as a gazetteer of the known universe and a plethora of alien races and planets. The book also includes rules to handle combat situations, and a set of mission briefings to provide scenarios for the game. The author also offers a list of resources for Golden Age science-fiction inspiration which includes famous writers, artists, and other sources.

Production Quality

The production quality of Cosmic Patrol is very good, with a logical layout, and an engaging writing style for the rules. The order of presentation took me somewhat aback at first, especially when the gazetteer appeared before character generation or even combat rules, but there is actually a good reason for that which I will discuss later. The PDF is well organized, with both a table of contents and bookmarks for ease of reference.

The artwork featured in the core rulebook is simple line art, but very well drawn, and completely evocative of the setting’s theme. Robots, bubble-headed spacesuits, big-headed aliens and more are featured in Cosmic Patrol, and my only complaint is that I think there should have been more of those illustrations in the rules.

To infinity and beyond…

As previously mentions, Cosmic Patrol is a role-playing game based upon that form of science fiction that existed before the Hubble Telescope and probes to the planets in our solar system. In some ways it’s a bit of science-fantasy, relying more on cool sounding science and gadgets like “atomic rayguns” than real science

One of the more interesting features of the game system is that unlike other RPGs, no GM is required – there is a Lead Narrator or LN, but he also has a character and participates in the adventure, setting each scene. The players take turns narrating their part of the story based upon the initial scene, making rolls as needed to resolve the action or conflict. In this way, Cosmic Patrol has elements not unlike improvisational theatre, as well as a role-playing game. In fact, the author recommends playing music in the background to maintain the mood, particularly pieces which heavily feature a theremin, which was so often heard in those old movies from the 1950s and 1960s.

The author opens the core rulebook with a nice piece of science fiction featuring members of the Cosmic Patrol, to introduce the theme of the setting and game system. It’s followed up with the first chapter, entitled “Prelude”, discussing the nature of a role-playing game, the features of the system and setting, and what players will need to run a Cosmic Patrol session – mainly dice, paper, and some tokens.

The second chapter, “Gazetteer” discusses the setting in some detail, as well as the nature of the Cosmic Patrol. In this RPG, player-characters are part of the Cosmic Patrol, and hail from the Earth, Mars or Venus. Forget any idea that Mars and Venus are deadly to living things, for in this setting there is a war-like race of Martians that live on the red planet, and a cerebral race of Venusians which dwell beneath that planet’s clouds. Heck there’s even life on the Moon, and on Jupiter’s moons – this is a science fiction setting written without the data from all the NASA probes, like Voyager and Mariner, brought back to us. In Cosmic Patrol, the solar system teems with life and intelligent species, some humanoid, and others bizarrely alien.

The Gazetteer presents a timeline which includes an invasion of Earth by aliens, and then a unification of planet Earth under one world government, after the invaders (lizardmen called the Uth) are defeated. The technology the invaders left behind give Earthmen a chance to venture to the stars, and so the Cosmic Patrol is born:

United world government announces formation of a scientific space program aimed at protecting Earth from further cosmic threats. This organization is dubbed the “Cosmic Patrol.”

The author goes onto discussing rocketships and weapons used by the Cosmic Patrol, describing everything from small three-man purpose-built ships to “tramp” ships with larger crews capable of multiple functions. There are also a variety of guns, from rayguns to Venusian Phase Guns, out there, as well as hand weapons such as the Martian Axe, favored by the Amazons of that world. It’s apparently a dangerous universe out there, so a Cosmic Patrolman needs to be prepared for anything.

The Gazetteer also details creatures and locales featured in the setting, and each entry includes a list of “Tags/Cues” about the races and planets. These are the buzzwords that summarize the planet or being, and make it easier for players to discuss and role-play with it. Of course, there are planets to explore in Cosmic Patrol, which include the nine in our solar system – and they are much different than we know them! For instance, the Moon is inhabited by a powerful ancient race which does not like to be bothered, and Saturn is a massive world with a pole-to-pole jungle, filled with deadly plants and monsters! And beyond the solar system are a number of exciting and dangerous places to patrol, including an evil empire, several alien worlds with bizarre races, and even Cometarians who live and travel between comets – yes, even the Öort Cloud is a frontier waiting to be explored.

As there is no GM in the game, there is no need for a “GM Section” in the core rulebook. It’s why I thought it odd that the Gazetteer for the solar system and the other intergalactic empires in the setting appeared in the book even before the character generation and rules of play section. It’s clear that the author wants all the players to become knowledgeable about the setting, which is certainly a benefit to both the character creation process and to immersion in the galaxy of Cosmic Patrol.

The third chapter of the game, “By the Book” contains the game concepts, character generation, and examples of how the narrative of the game works in conjunction with dice rules. Character generation is nicely designed, and leads the player through a step by step process which creates not merely a pile of scores, but a persona as well. Characters have four ability scores – Brawn, Brains, Charisma, and Combat – and each can be assigned one dice - one d10, two d8s, and a d6. A character can choose to grant his character a d12 instead of a d10, but suffers the reduction of the d6 to a d4. Characters also have tags which are a list of single words which encapsulate the persona, and cues which are personality quirks and catch-phrases. Characters have armor which is ablated throughout combats and then take Health damage. It’s a very simple yet elegant system which allows players to concentrate on the story, rather than on game mechanics.

I should note the author provides a nifty and easy-to-read character sheet which can be printed for use in the game.

Conflict resolution is handled by rolling a d12 and the appropriate ability score dice, and then compared with a d20 result rolled by the Lead Narrator. A Mission (adventure) has three or more scenes in it, and the Lead Narrator can change from Scene to Scene, allowing all players to participate. Players have “cues”, represented by tokens, which allow them to take a roll to resolve situations in each scene. Again, the rules are quite logically designed here, yet easy to use, and they take a backseat to the action of narrating the story and playing a character.

To assist players in getting into the action quickly, the fourth chapter of Cosmic Patrol is aptly named “Heroes & Villains”, offering nine pre-made characters for the players to pick from to get things rolling. There are also about a score of aliens, space pirates, and henchmen in this section to use in various Scenes, and each has a character sheet and stats ready to go during a play session.

The final chapter, “Blast Off!”, contains seven mission briefings for use with Cosmic Patrol, each detailing an opening narrative, setting, and Scenes filled with aliens or obstacles to overcome. They are all nicely written, and have plots which adhere to the Golden Age SciFi theme quite well.

Overall Score: 4.08 out of 5.0

Conclusions

I have to say I really like what I saw in Cosmic Patrol, and I think it will likely be a fun game system to explore for gamers who want plot rich role-playing without the burden of a complex game system. And although the indie-style game system is easy to use, it has a very logical design to its construction, and does not compete with the narrative process. My one complaint was about character advancement, which only changes a dice once in a great while, and also favors stronger role-players over less skilled ones.

But Cosmic Patrol is definitely worth a look for gamers who love Golden Age science-fiction, and it’s price tag is quite modest for all that’s packed into the core rulebook.

So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
  • Presentation: 3.75
  • - Design: 4.0 (Excellent writing; a logical layout; good presentation of rules and concepts)
  • - Illustrations: 3.5 (Simple cover, but cool thematic drawings within; wish they weren’t so few!)
  • Content: 4.0
  • - Crunch: 3.5 (Solid indie-game design; easy to play; mechanics secondary to roleplaying)
  • - Fluff: 4.5 (Tons of fluff; setting adheres marvelously to Golden Age sci-fi themes)
  • Value: 4.5 (A steal at the price marked!)

Author’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Related Articles

Visit Our Sponsor

Latest threads

Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top