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The Space Patrol

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue.

The Space Patrol. Richard Hazlewood.
Stellagama Publishing (no website found)
93pp, hardbound and PDF

Reviewer’s note: The publisher provided a complimentary copy of the product for review.

Canonically, the Imperial Navy is responsible for anti-piracy operations in the Third Imperium, and this, presumably, is de facto the main source of operational experience for ships and crews.

Mr Hazlewood and Stellagama Publishing propose another alternative: As piracy and certain other activities represent criminal problems rather than military ones, they should be handled by an organization that is more of a “police department” than a military force. Enter the Space Patrol.

The introductory material in this volume sets out the nature of the Space Patrol, and outlines its organization, mission, and jurisdiction. The limitations of the Space Patrol’s mission (and the definitions of the various classes of crimes that the Space Patrol has jurisdiction over) are carefully set out to avoid turning them into a general-purpose police force and bogging them down in local crimes. As a result, the Space Patrol is cast as an agency quite different from the Navy or Starport Authority.

Because of these differences, and the effect that they can have on play, a discussion of planetary legal systems is included. A definition of the characteristics of a world’s legal system and a method of rolling it up are both provided; this profile focuses less on “what’s allowed and what’s not, and how likely are you to get hassled” and more on “how (and how well) the legal system works for a law enforcer doing law enforcement”. The characteristics thus selected are “Bureaucracy”, “Corruption”, “Repression”, and “Cruelty”. Each is broadly classified as “minimal”, “low”, “average”, “high”, and “extreme”, with a general description of how the level can be interpreted. There is an explicit invitation to adjust the definitions to fit the referee’s image of the world, and with some of the characteristics, it’s not impossible to conceive of expanding the rating into a “profile” of its own.

Much of the discussion of legal systems appears to start from a basis of what is often called “Western liberal democracy”, which decision is not difficult to understand, as it will be the likely background for most players, regardless of the world that the characters may find themselves on. Concepts such as separation of powers, rule of law, burden of proof, the necessity for warrants in appropriate contexts, and so on are treated as defaults. However, variation from the “Western liberal democracy” defaults are mentioned as possibilities, and enough information is provided that one can design a legal system that matches any present or historical system, or one that is completely novel. It should be noted that some variations are missed; for example, there is no discussion of the distinction between an adversarial system (such as is used in the United States) and an inquisitorial system (such as is used for some types of prosecution in France).

Basic rules for handling the entire investigation, charging, trial, appeal, and sentencing process are provided; most modifiers are based on relevant ratings from the legal system profile rather than the raw Law Level from the UWP.

The book to this point is quite well-written, and can serve as an introduction to (or clarification of concepts related to) legal systems for the layman.

As an interstellar organization in a presumed setting where the speed of travel is the speed of communication, the Space Patrol faces the same issues that other agencies of the canonical Third Imperium – or, in fact, any multiworld polity of any significant size – face. As written, the organization of the Space Patrol more-or-less parallels that of the interstellar polity as a whole, with the rank of the head of the Space Patrol organization normally being two ranks below the political head of the polity’s corresponding subdivision. The size of a Space Patrol organization on the world is generally determined by the importance of the world and the amount of interstellar traffic it receives; there are four types of Space Patrol “Bureaus” defined, from a small office with only a handful of Patrollers up to the largest with hundreds or thousands of Patrollers, training facilities, nearby courts and ship, vehicle, and equipment construction and repair facilities, and so on. Where internal borders are an issue, the Space Patrol establishes liaison offices to deal with cross-border matters; the criminals do not, after all, honor those internal borders. As with the overall interstellar polity, the Space Patrol’s ability to act is limited within a system’s own jurisdiction, though when actively pursuing an investigation or attempt at apprehension, there are exceptions to those limitations. Normally, agents of the Space Patrol will work with local law enforcement, and (as much as possible) within the local rules, to accomplish their missions.

Within the Space Patrol, there are four operational divisions, covering administration and politics (Secretariat), Investigation (including undercover work), logistical support (Operations), and active enforcement (Marshals). Agents working for the Investigation Division are what most people think of as “the Space Patrol”. To draw parallels between the Space Patrol and real-world police organizations, the Secretariat is clerical and administration personnel (and political liaison); Investigation is “beat cops” and detectives, Marshals are special enforcement units (e.g., SWAT teams, Counterterrorism, Vice Squads, political bodyguard details, and so on), and Operations is everything else.

All of this is useful background to give the player or referee a “feel” for what the Space Patrol is, and how it works. But by now, the reader is going to want more – and more there is.

This volume frankly admits that the standard Cepheus Engine careers of Agent and Navy could serve adequately for Space Patrol characters, but why settle for ‘adequate’? Mr Hazlewood has worked up four careers for the Space Patrol, one for each division. These careers actually extend the basic career rules from Cepheus Engine with concepts borrowed from various other compatible game systems (separate advancement tracks for enlisted and commissioned officers, decorations, mishaps and events, and allies and enemies), but otherwise conform to the basic career structure. Any one of the four careers can generate a character that will be useful in many ways, but each of the four career options has its own distinct flavor.

The Space Patrol, like any police department, needs vehicles – and in this case, spacecraft and starships – that are designed to meet their special needs. Several vessels are described, and three include deck plans (in the traditional monochrome plan view, not the more recent color isometric view). Most of the designs described are modifications of such familiar ships as the Modular Cutter, the Free Trader, or the Subsidized Merchant, and the latter two are deliberate mimics (“Q-ships”), with the intended mission of luring pirates into attacking an apparently unarmed or lightly-armed merchant, only to find the ‘victim’ to be more heavily armed than believed, and to have the tables turned.

The Space Patrol has standard equipment customized for its particular needs, and there are descriptions of a selection of Patrol equipment. Obviously, if the referee feels that additional equipment should be available, it can be added.

While the creative referee can certainly take what’s been presented to this point, and develop Space Patrol adventures without further reference to this volume, the author discusses several campaign settings and campaign types that mesh well with the described Space Patrol, and which are easily adapted to the referee’s preferences. A broad selection of generalized NPCs is also provided, capable of filling virtually any needed role in a Space Patrol campaign. Most can also be converted into player-characters if desired. There are even complete crew workups for a corvette and a Customs cutter, and a selection of Most Wanted criminals.

In addition to the generalized discussion of campaign types, a set of adventure seeds, in the traditional format, are provided. Two of the provided seeds can be linked together into a mini-campaign. These seeds do suffer from the “minor variations on a theme” problem with traditional denouements, but are still well-designed for the Space Patrol.

Overall, this volume is worth the price, even if you decide that the Space Patrol functions are folded into the Navy in your universe. The perspective that it provides on interstellar crime and law enforcement can enrich any setting.