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Saturday, 29 July 2017

RPGPundit Reviews: The Space Patrol

This is a review of "The Space Patrol", written by Richard Hazlewood, published by Stellagama Publishing.  It is as always a review of the print edition, which is a hardcover, about 90 pages long. The cover has a full-color image of one starship in pursuit of another, near a saturn-like planet (possibly Saturn). The interior is black and white, relatively sparse of images, and these mostly consists of other images of starships.

The Space Patrol is a sourcebook/setting-book for the Cepheus Engine, which is a kind of OGL clone of the Traveller rules. This means that it is generally compatible with most of the standard Traveller rules.  At first glance, I thought it was possibly a sourcebook for the "These Stars are Ours" setting I reviewed previously, but that doesn't appear to exactly be the case, and this is in that sense a stand-alone book.

It must be noted that in another sense it's not a stand-alone book. You need either the Cepheus Engine rules or some other version of the Traveller rules to play.

I think the Space Patrol is meant to be Traveller hearkening back 10 or 20 years earlier than default-Traveller's 1970s style. Even the term "Space Patrol" sounds like the kind of thing out of Heinlein's juvenile novels, that early-60s sci fi that was a bit like cops-and-robbers in space. Even the artwork seems closer to the imagery of 1960s pre-hippie sci-fi than the slightly-grittier 1970s sci-fi; space-suits with big bubble helmets, etc.

The Space Patrol is an independent interstellar police force formed during the era of space exploration to help keep the peace and enforce interplanetary law.  Their job is mainly to deal with criminals and pirates.

The first chapter details the space patrol's mandate, the different levels of law they deal with and enforce, and their structure.  One note obviously there for the benefit of better campaigning is the awarding of prize money, where the patrol crews that capture wanted criminals get to keep the bounties on their heads, and captured illicit goods or pirate ships grant them a percentage of the monetary value of those confiscated goods.

There's also some other forces that have overlapping jurisdiction with the Space Patrol: the Imperial Navy, the Port Authority and local Planetary Law Enforcement are all other law-enforcement groups that the Space Patrolmen have to interact, deal, and maybe sometimes clash with.
There are some special new rules for adding more detail to the basic "law level" of a Traveller World profile, to make it more useful for a space patrolman campaign.
There's also material on gathering evidence, search warrants, courts and trials, and determining the result of trials.  Additionally, material on the different Space Patrol bureau offices you can find on different types of planets, space patrol ranks, medals and awards, and mustering-out benefits. There's career tables (for standard Traveller Character Creation) for various separate sections of the Space Patrol: Secretariat, Investigation, Marshal, and Operations. This is complete with survival/mishap tables and event tables.

Next up we get 11 pages of the Space Patrol's ship. These include information and deck plans.  I'm sure this is the sort of things some Traveller fans will find interesting, exciting, and useful. It's not something I've ever been too into though.

This is followed by 4 pages of Space Patrol standard equipment. This doesn't just include weapons and armor, but also information about their uniforms and badges. That's good detail.

After this, there's the chapter on Space Patrol Campaigns. Since the default background of the Space Patrol 'setting' is kept mostly vague, there's a lot of options provided here for the type of background you might want.  You can have the default, of a single galactic empire. Otherwise, you could have adventures along a frontier region, where space patrolmen can't count on a lot of help and it's all a bit more 'wild west'. Or you could have a "pocket empires" campaign: where there isn't a single unified interstellar government, but lots of different little polities and many independent worlds. In that kind of setting, the Space Patrol is the main trans-governmental authority, operating independently and able to work across borders to hunt interstellar criminals.

You also get models for different kinds of campaigns: the standard "patrolling the spacelanes" approach, the "CSI in Space" model, the wild-west style Travelling Justices model, or even a game where the Space Patrol isn't all lily-white but rather much more like an intergalactic protection racket.

None of these descriptions are given very much detail, just a paragraph or so each.

Next you get about 20 pages of NPC stat-blocks, for a variety of standard models for Space Patrolmen of different kinds as well as criminals of different kinds.

Finally, there's 8 different "adventure seed" scenarios. Each of these are written out as a template. You get a recommendation of the type of characters the adventure would be suitable for (eg. "Marshal and Operations Personnel"), the required equipment (eg. "Dragon-class corvette or other Space Patrol ship"), a paragraph of basic information detailing the setup of the adventure, a paragraph of referee information that explains what's going on in further detail (which may include things like planetary information or prize money offered for capture), and finally each has a random table of 6 'adventure hooks', which add a twist to the basic adventure.
It's a good format; it doesn't provide a complete and detailed adventure, but it provides more than enough for a capable GM to fill things out to create a detailed adventure that he can customize to taste. Adventure seeds include a murder mystery ("Murder on the Orient Star"), a manhunt for a fleeing suspect, a situation with a bio-terrorist organization threatening to release a deadly plague, a fight with pirates, and a protective-duty mission where the patrolmen have to protect a noble.

So how useful is this book?
If you wanted, I think you could use it as the foundation for a campaign, or at least its central theme. I could imagine someone running a campaign of this in the style of a 60s sci-fi TV show, where the rest of the setting wasn't really all that detailed.  You could have episodic adventures with worlds and material being added to the background of the setting as you went along; and of course, in 60s sci-fi style not all of it would really have to be all that consistent, and you could add weird stuff (gas entities, a planet whose inhabitants are nazis, space-mobsters, all the stuff that came from any of the corniest episodes of original-series Star Trek, basically).

You could also adapt it to fit into any existing sci-fi setting you were already running with Traveller; though I would think this would need some adaptation. Basically, the Space Patrol as it is presented seems a bit too white-hat and respectable for the Imperium, way too old-fashioned for Mindjammer Traveller, and it doesn't even match the more realpolitik style of Stellagama's own big setting "These Stars are Ours". In each case, I could imagine a slightly different, less four-color version of the Space Patrol that could in theory exist in those worlds. But it would require altering some of the fashion of the text.

On the whole, though, I can see this book being a worthwhile product for Traveller fans, especially those who may want to try something a bit different than what they've done before.


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