Cosmic Patrol Development: Building The Story

Cosmic Patrol is all about Building The Story and doing so in a cooperative, narrative fashion. To do so, it makes use of improve-style play.

What’s improvisational theater, you might ask? This is a form of theater where actors improvise each of the scenes of play without recourse to scripts. Complete spontaneity and playing off of each other’s lines and physical cues creates a fast-paced, vibrant experience that twists and turns as each person continues to build off of what has come before.

This style of play meshes flawlessly with Cosmic Patrol’s themes of by-the-seat-of-your-spacesuit action, hyperbole-filled catch phrases and plenty of rockets and rayguns.

Of course traditional role-playing is usually defined as improvisational theater, but it still has a single person channeling most of the creative energy of the group. Cosmic Patrol disengages that mechanism, allowing the entire gaming group to share in the responsibility of the gamemaster’s role.

So, okay, no GM? Then how does it work? Isn’t that just organized chaos? Well, in a quick nutshell, here’s how it works. Cosmic Patrol play is divided into a series of segments that build on each other: Turns & Narrations, Scenes, Mission Briefs and Campaigns.

First, Cosmic Patrol gameplay is divided into a series of turns. Each turn, every player will have a chance to play out and describe his Patrolman’s actions, called a Narration.

Lead Narrator
Each turn begins with the Lead Narrator and continues with the player on the LN’s left until all players have had a turn at Narration.

The LN begins the turn by giving a narrative of the current situation and advances the plot. The LN also makes any actions or die rolls for enemies the Patrolmen may encounter. Though the LN begins the turn, he is the last to act with his Patrolman.

Once all players have had a chance to narrate their Patrolman’s actions, the turn ends and a new turn begins.

A Scene is defined as the start and finish of a given section of time within a Mission Brief (generally an evening’s game session). A Scene will contain a number of turns, which will vary depending upon what’s occurring within a given Scene.

For example, the A Sargasso Of Space Mission Brief in the rulebook contains the following details:


  • The first obstacle is the wild nature of the sargasso. Ships slowly careen about, with many strikes and impacts. The crew will have to find a way to navigate the chaos.
  • Once inside the ships, there may be traps, malfunctioning robots, crewmen driven mad in isolation, not to mention dilapidated and broken machinery. No ship will be without its dangers.
  • The search for a replacement ignitor may be difficult. And when found, could be difficult to handle as the unit is large and delicate with age. Finding the way back to your own ship is tricky enough and now the machinery must be taken along.

Each of the three descriptions of the Enemies/Obstacles that can be found in that Mission Brief is a Scene. As noted above, there is no hard and fast rule on how many turns are in a Scene. Instead, that will be based on how many players are involved, their style of play and their Narrations, which ultimately leads to how quickly (or slowly) they’re able to accomplish the goals of a given Scene.

Now we reach the point where the entire group starts to share in the responsibility of guiding the entire evening’s gaming session: the LN starts a Scene and is the LN for every turn until a Scene is accomplished. However, once a Scene is finished, the player to the right of the current LN becomes the new LN.

As I mentioned above, a Mission Brief usually constitutes a single game session and is finished when all of the Scenes within a Mission Brief are accomplished. How many Scenes are required to finish a mission Brief is up to the player group; i.e. the very nature of how each gaming group will play out a given Scene in each Mission Brief means that some groups may end a Scene early, some right on the money, while others find a great, new Scene has unfolded and are earger to dive into it.

While the contents of the book are primarily geared toward a single day’s game session, enterprising groups can easily stitch multiple Mission Briefs together to build a much larger story that will span many gaming sessions.

So there ya go…pretty detailed micro-run down on the mechanics of how Cosmic Patrol embraces improve. In my next post I’ll get into the details of how characters can use the Cues off of their Patrolman Dossiers to easily build Narrations.

Till next episode…



07 2011

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  1. Dan #

    Alright, from what I’m reading, this game isn’t really GM-less. You just call the GM the Lead Narrator and give them their own PC, which is kind of weird, but not GM-less. The LN still does everything that a GM does in any other game.

  2. Dan #

    Oh, and you switch LNs at the starts of a new scene, so it’s more revolving GM than GM-less.

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