Thoughts on Danger Patrol

I don’t know about the structure

The game’s structure is a decided change from the typical: role play for awhile, conflict, role play for awhile, conflict, etc seen in most games. The idea seems to be to keep everything in terms of the game mechanics, basically nothing but conflicts and recovering damage. Now, the conflict structure is pretty versatile allowing threats like “Is it true love?” or “Troubled past.” Given that the source material is very plot/ action focused, I understand the desire for an action oriented game. However, there are some potential problems with it.

The unusual structure can throw players off their game, one of my players as much as said so. This would be especially true for players that pretty much stop role playing during conflicts and really concentrate on the rules and victory, a fairly common trait amongst gamers. Since there is only conflict, such players really wouldn’t see the role playing potential. It is there, but it’s harder to role play while rolling dice and working mechanics.

There isn’t any real down time. Even the investigation scenes use threats that must be dealt with. There is the recovery phase, but that is more geared towards healing damage and bookkeeping. So the game does achieve the goal of pretty much continuous action. But that can get exhausting. It might be better to run an action scene, recovery, investigation scene and then stop coming back to the next action scene during the next session, rather than run three action scenes and two investigations in one go like I did. It would allow the time between games to be the down time and have a more movie serial feel to it.

Action scenes need different types of threats

I thought that my first action scene went pretty well

The threats covered most of the skills in the game. The engines needed Professor. Getting out of the ship was primarily a Daredevil roll. The leaches could be dealt with using Commando, Warrior, or Explorer. Figuring out what was in the jungle would be a Detective or possibly Explorer or Agent. Obviously, creative use could bring other skills into play against these threats but, other than Flyboy, there were obvious uses for most of the skills. Also, a single skill couldn’t be used to deal with all of the threats. It required the use of several different skills. The result was, I thought, entertaining and reasonably varied.

My second action scene was not nearly so good. It was pretty much a straight up combat encounter like I would use in the middle of a typical game. The problem was that all of the threats could be dealt with using Commando, and since one of the players was playing a Commando the simplest and most powerful solution was to just roll the same skill over and over again. The Agent mixed things up a bit, but overall the scene was flat and repetitive because a straight up fight doesn’t really work in this system. There needs to be a variety of threats.

This is potentially problematic in an improvisational game. The first scene went well because I had time to plan it out. My quickly conceived second scene just wasn’t as detailed. Another reason why running the game with only one action scene a sitting may be a better plan.

Action scenes probably need time pressure

I’ll talk about investigation, they call them suspense, scenes in a bit. But one of the things I noticed from running those scenes is that without some kind of time pressure the players are really encouraged to do a slow and steady wins the race approach to minimize the danger. This discourages the use of danger dice and runs counter to the action orientation of the game.

There seem to be a few ways to create time pressure. One is timed threats. These are threats that will turn out poorly unless dealt with in a set number of turns. Brute force, but very effective. The other big one is having more threats than the characters can deal with at one time. Because any threat they leave alone causes bad stuff to happen the characters need to quickly winnow down the number of threats. A variation on this are staged threats were the characters can’t deal with one threat, all the while generating bad stuff, until they deal with another threat.

A GM needs to be careful though. The tipping point between too little to do so that the players just mosey through the scene, enough that it is exciting, and so much that the characters are just overwhelmed is not necessarily so easy to figure out. And since things like new threats appearing are baking into the mechanics it is a bit more difficult to adjust on the fly than in a traditional game where the players don’t know that the ninja showing up half way through the fight weren’t part of the plan from the beginning.

Certain abilities also change the time pressure. The Robot can make two actions a round and the Commando can spread shooting/ grenade damage amongst several targets. These characters will change how many threats can be dealt with at a time.

Throw away action scenes don’t really work

One of the classic GM tricks when things get slow is to follow the advice of Raymond Chandler, “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” Given the action orientation of Danger Patrol, this shouldn’t be needed all that often. However, the quick, small fight to get the players moving that can be so effective in a regular game doesn’t really work in Danger Patrol. A small action scene will just be crushed by the characters, who then automatically get a recovery phase. Since the scene was unlikely to harm them much, what a short action scene does is heal the party. Now, if that’s what the GM is going for, it works great, but it isn’t quite the prod that it is in a more traditional game.

I just don’t get suspense scenes

These are the scenes where the characters run investigations to figure out what is going on. They are handled pretty much like action scenes, though any action threats generated are supposed to be used in future action scenes. However, the examples in the game don’t use timed threats or more threats than characters. I did this and it just seemed tepid, certainly not suspenseful.

Also, suspense scenes are followed by action scenes. This means that the answers to the questions really need to demand some kind of action. This can be hard, especially if the players are allowed to decide the answers. In my game the answers they decided were good ones, I don’t blame them at all. But it did leave an “ok, what now?” sort of feeling.

The Agent’s ability seems a bit much

Characters have abilities that they can activate using a power point. Most of these abilities are twice as effective as just spending a power point. Instead of doing one extra hit the Detective can do two. Instead of decreasing the damage they take the Daredevil can decrease the damage and do a hit to a threat. However, the Agent’s ability increases the damage done to a specific threat by one for everybody that deals with it until the threat is defeated. While unlikely, this can add as much as twelve hits to the target and in my game easily added three or four. It’s good enough that it is really the automatic thing to do when faced with any large threat.

Overall

I enjoyed the game, though it took some serious energy to run. The system has some quirks that I’m just not sure about. Hopefully, I can get a better grasp if I run it again. Thanks to John and Manu for putting up with another of my wacky, experimental games.

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One Response

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the game, but I could easily see how the threats could be easily overwhelmed if you have four or five players + the Agent.

    More planning by the GM is good advice for any game, and I thought you did pretty good. During the animal headed people riding giant hornets combat, it came down to what was your best skill against the critters. Since combat wasn’t my character’s strong suit, I had to mix it up a bit to defeat the threats. Manu had his superior Commando ability, and that was his best choice in the combat.

    I noticed that we stopped asking for Danger Dice halfway through the game. I stopped asking for them because it really wasn’t worth it. In fact, we started using fewer dice because there wasn’t a time constraint on our actions. Sure, danger was building up on the threats we ignored, but the only timed threat was the walk the plank over the lava pit, and my character could just float in mid air, so it was only a threat to Manu’s character.

    Have you sent your thoughts on to the game designer? This is a betatest of the rules and your comments are too the point on this game.

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