Against All Odds
By Douglas L. Garrett, George MacDonald & Steve Peterson
L. Douglas Garrett, George Macdonald, and Steve Peterson’s1 1985 Danger International is a modern-day roleplaying game (modern per 1985), intended to cover adventures set “from 1945 to the year
2000 and beyond.” Published by Hero Games, Danger International (or “DI” as it was known to aficionados) is a descendent of the rules pioneered in 1981’s Champions.
And what did one find in the box? First, that there was no box. Danger International replaced the box sets of previous Hero Games, games with a 174-page perfect-bound text2 (176 if you count the ads).
DI is derived from Champions. Thus, players are given the same number of character points which may be exchanged for attributes, skills, talents, and other desirable aspects. If the points prove inadequate to the character that the player wants to create, additional points may be acquired by accepting various disadvantages. There is therefore no chance involved in character design; one learns to make a judicious selection.
DI displayed considerably better production values than Espionageor for that matter, most earlier Hero products. In retrospect, DI is also clearly an intermediate step along the path that led from Championsas it existed in 1981 to 4th Edition Champions (or more exactly, Hero System as it existed in 1989).
Viewed as a revision of Hero Games’ Espionage!,DI offered a significantly broadened focus. Whereas Espionage!concerned itself specifically with, well, espionage, Danger Internationalcovered the entirety of contemporary adventures. Whether characters wanted to liberate enemy secrets, serve in a mercenary army, hunt for food in a radiation-soaked America, or simply bring down a president with embarrassing revelations, DI could provide the necessary framework.
An issue faced by companies like Chaosium, Hero Games, and Dream Pod 9 when using the same basic core mechanics for games across a spectrum of genres is whether to use one core rule book accompanied by genre-specific mechanics-free sourcebooks or to create an instance of the core rules for each setting. Either solution ensures bitter complaints from customers. Either customers will moan that they need to buy multiple volumes (the core rules and at least one source book) or they will lament that they are purchasing the same core rules over and over. Creators are free to choose whichever option best suits their creative goals, comforted by the knowledge that whatever choice they make will be deemed the wrong choice by vocal fans for whom this is the most important issue in their lives.
DI opts for the second choice. DI is closely related to Champions. Being familiar with Champions will give new DI players a leg up on mastering the DI rules. However, DI differs in many details, altered to better fit the focus on mundane (albeit remarkable) characters.
DI exhibits some interesting blind spots that will help contemporary folk understand the American gamers of the 1980s. For example, despite having acknowledged Africa as part of a rapidly globalizing world, the nicest way I could describe DI’s treatment of Africa is “out of focus.” See languages for more details. DI is more modern in outlook than JI. From the perspective of nearly forty years later, it might seem that DI is only a smidge more modern.
DI has the same game mechanics issues as Justice Incorporated3. Both are derived from Champions. Game mechanics originally designed to simulate the entire range of superheroes are notably granular at the lower end of the power scale. Also, as was the custom in those days, DI cheerfully assumes players won’t mind tackling equations when engaging in character design or play.
Add-ons? Players could buy another adventure (S.H.A.D.O.W. over Scotland) and at least one sourcebook (Here There Be Tigers), in addition to which the third-party product The Armory provided a multitude of firearms. A handy conversion system permitted GMs to adapt Twilight 2000 products to DI. Otherwise, like Justice Incorporated before it, Danger International was poorly supported. In the 1980s, this was the kiss of death for game systems, something that game companies took a surprisingly long time to grasp.
Nevertheless … because it lacked superpowers and their complex mechanics, DI is much easier to grasp and use than Champions. In addition to mechanics, the game is densely packed with useful information. DI serves as a more player-friendly introduction to the Hero System than Championsor even Fantasy Hero (which I will have to tackle at some point). DI is also a perfectly serviceable game in its own right, self-contained, flexible and easily adapted to campaigns from Venezuelan counter-espionage to interdimensional adventure, and from near-future police procedurals to far future exploration of an Alderson Disk (which reminds me, I should also look at Star Hero). In fact, until 1989’s 4th Edition Champions, Danger International was my favourite Hero Games RPG.
Danger International is available here (Drivethru RPG) and here (Hero Games).
And now, the nitty-gritty details. Firstly, despite the issue with the index — there is no index — the table of contents is exquisitely detailed. This isn’t to say everything will necessarily be where you expect it to be. For example, a number of package deals—character design templates — precede the section on package deals by twenty pages. Nevertheless, marvel at the TOC’s completeness. Be grateful I am not tackling it point by point.
An overview of Danger International’s goals, also of the vast range of modern adventures that it can enable.
Reviewers face a similar challenge when reviewing a number of closely related games as companies do when designing them. Does one repeat material covered in earlier reviews or force readers to seek out older material. Happily, there is a middle ground: both!
Much of what I said about Justice Incorporated applies to DI. In particular, like JI, DI –
has eight primary characteristics (strength, dexterity, constitution, body, intelligence, ego, presence, and comeliness) and six figured characteristics whose base value is derived from (or figuredfrom) various primary characteristics (physical defense, energy defense, speed, recovery, endurance, and stun). The cost to purchase characteristic points varied by characteristic, apparently driven by how useful the characteristic was in play.
There were also three combat values:
● offensive combat value (derived from dexterity)
● defensive combat value (derived from dexterity)
● ego combat value (derived from ego)
Due to a few mathematical quirks in the system, certain values for primary characteristics were the most cost effective and therefore very commonly selected by players. Characteristics above 10 and evenly divisible by 5 and ones ending in 3 or 8 were most common, so that while in theory primary characteristics could be any value between 1 and 20, in practice one encountered a sea of 13, 15, 18, and 20s (unless the characteristic was dexterity, in which case 14 was also common). This amounted to just four (or five, for dex) of twenty possible options.
The process of character creation is more or less the same as it is Justice, Inc. However, there is nothing akin to the weird talents available in Justice, Inc. DI players will just have to be happy with an intuitive grasp of direction, keen sense of balance, and the ability to withstand extraordinary amounts of specific varieties of damage.
DI has a rather nifty linguistics system that was ported over to 4th Edition Champions, in which the cost to acquire new languages was affected by their linguistic proximity to languages already known. In retrospect, the languages of some regions are covered in more detail than others. In particular, the authors have with few exceptions thrown their hands up in despair where New World, Oceanic, and Sub-Saharan African languages are concerned.
Combat in DI requires a bit of math, but it’s not super-mathy. DI’s balance between defensive elements (avoiding being hit and withstanding damage when hit) and offense elements (hitting and the damage that follows hitting) is tilted towards offense compared to Champions. Firearms (of which there are a bewildering assortment of essentially interchangeable examples provided) and explosives have the potential to bring campaigns to abrupt and sudden halts.
DI was a bit too early to incorporate the outrunning fireballs skill a 1990s version would no doubt have offered.
Surprisingly detailed (given the limited page count available) advice on administering campaigns in such genres as crimefighting, espionage, modern military, post-holocaust, horror, invader, disaster, drama, giant monster, man vs nature, magic , martial arts, mystery, science fiction, super agent, special vehicle, and time travel.
Also included, a handy bibliography of TV shows, movies, and books. Not only are these useful source materials for game masters, the works listed confirm that particular proposed campaigns were inspired by exactly the TV shows, movies, and/or books readers may suspect to have been the culprits.
A short guide to the world of 1985 AND BEYOND. As with linguistics, the farther elements are from something with which a Reagan-era American might have encountered, read about or seen in a movie, the blurrier things get.
Linguistics offers a useful example. In DI, People in France speak French. People in Korea speak Korean. People in Zimbabwe speak English and “Native.” In fact, many Sub-Saharan African and Oceanic nations offer a choice of the language of their colonizers and “Native.” If players or GMs want to know how or if Benin’s Native is related to Papua New Guinea’s Native, they are what we in the trade call “completely fucked.”
Oh, well, At least the game doesn’t have Ivory Coast applying to rejoin France in an exuberant celebration of imperialism4.
Introductory adventures, providing examples what can be done with the system.
1: Even back in the mid-1980s, when RPGs were carved into cave walls using rudimentary stone tools, they were team efforts. A more complete list of credits is:
Editor: Steve Peterson
Cover Art: Denis Loubet
Interior Art: Steve Borelli, Denis Loubet, Charles Pickens, Scott Ruggels, Carolyn Schultz
Cover & Interior Graphics: Shannon Hudson
Layout & Production: Niki Canotas
Production Assistant: Steve Brien
Map Designs: Carolyn Schultz
Typographer: Debi Maxwell
Consultant: R.D. Greer
Overseer: Ray Greer
2: The ads in the back are not merely a marvel of nostalgia. They also reveal something I didn’t know. There was a limited-edition box set of DI. I wonder if it is too late to order one?
3: DI is also like Justice Incorporated in that there is no index. No index at all.
4: One of my gaming groups ran 2300 AD using DI for the core mechanics. So technically it’s true that this particular DI campaign did have Ivory Coast applying to rejoin France in an exuberant celebration of imperialism.