Last night was a bit of a bust, as two of the players couldn’t video conference in, and two didn’t show up. However, myself and the one player with the most experience in system design managed to get together and do some character bashing with the new Atomic Robo RPG rules currently in development.

We were able to build four characters over the space of an hour and a half, and about half of that time was taken up with side talk, attending to my screaming 17 month old, and eating. The main changes from standard FATE, which this is based on (the author is Mark Olsen of Dresden Files RPG fame):

MODES — this is a skill package. Rather than cherry picking all of your skills, you have a mode of action that includes certain skills. There are overlaps between the modes that add together and make you better at some things. More in a moment. Our opinion on this was positive, and it occurred to me that it could be used to good effect for Star Trek, where anybody has at least a minimum proficiency in all skills. (Come on, the counselor can drive the super-complicated starship? I know it’s some variant of iOS and “just works” but lets be realistic…or not.) The modes fits the pulp style of the comic book and the “action scientists” that inhabit it.

The modes are ACTION, BANTER, INTRIGUE, and SCIENCE. You choose three and get either a base +3 (to your roll) Mode, a +2 Mode, or a +1 Mode. If you have a skill in two modes, you pick the highest, and elevate that skill one more  (so if Athletics was in your +2 and +1 Modes, it would be a +3 in the higher mode.) You then get a certain number of “upgrades” to tweak your skills. The only open skill mode is Science — you pretty much design the science skills in the mode as you wish and the number of upgrades is dramatically higher for the mode than others to capture the weird science feel of the comic book.

As with regular FATE, there is a concept aspect that can add +2 to your tests if appropriate. Each mode has an asepct, as well that adds under certain circumstances, or can be a negative to get you Fate points. There’s also another general aspect that you can develop in play. (The rules state you can do this for all but your concept aspect…the other player liked the ability to redefine the character on the fly — you never really know where a character is going to go that first play session or two.) You get Fate points for each aspect defined at creation. There’s also the usual Stunts, which can also be designed on the fly. they work like aspects, mechanically, but are more specific.

That’s it. Play.

Our impressions: Positive — Character generation is fast. You can get a pretty well defined character with just a few short descriptors and a couple of dice modifiers. Negative — If you’re into “crunch”, FATE is not for you. It’s very freeform, which I both like and don’t; I like flexibility and rules that don’t hamper play, but when they are too loose, I find that this can slow play or make it seem a bit unfair if the GM is not consistent in their rulings. You can’t really play weak characters, which was a comment of one player (Olsen’s response: Why would you want to?), but you could hamper them seriously with negative aspects (there’s an example or two below.)

Here’s the characters created — two were characters in prior games and were built to see if the system would handle them.

GORILLA ACE (Roland Cabot) — Concept Aspect: It’s a Talking Gorilla!

+3 Mode (Action): +4 Athletics, Intimidation, Notice, Physique, Vehicles, Will; +3 Athletics, Combat; Aspect: Prehensile Feet (adds to Athletics)

+2 Mode (Banter): +3 Contacts, Deceit; +2 Empathy, Rapport; Aspect: Now a Word From My Sponsor… (adds to Contacts)

+1 Mode (Intrigue): +1 Burglary, Stealth; Aspect: Sing into Action (adds to Athletics[also in this package])

Other Aspects: Created by Helsingard Science!

Stunts: Signature Hardware — Fighter Plane, other four not defined.

ARTEMIS CAMPBELL — Concept Aspect: Smuggler Queen

+3 Mode (Intrigue): +4 Athletics, Contacts, Deceit, Notice ; +3 Burglary, Stealth; Aspect: I always have a plan…

+2 Mode (Action): +3 intimidation, Will; +2 Combat, Physique, Vehicles; Aspect: Savate Expert

+1 Mode (Banter): +3 Rapport, +1 Empathy; Aspect: You may have heard of me…

Other Aspect: Criminal organization

Stunts: Signature Hardware (Pikros — old Italian gunboat), There’s always a way through (adds to Stealth), Sixth Sense (adds to Notice); other two undefined)

DR. ALVIN KINGHOFFER — Concept Aspect: More Enthusiasm than Ability

+3 Mode (Science): +5 Theoretical Physics; +4 Exotic Propulsion, Gonzo Engineering, Chemistry; Aspect: I haven’t exactly proven it yet…

+2 Mode (Banter): +3 Intimidation, Will; +2 Contacts, Deceit, Empathy, Rapport; Aspect: Stay Calm! We’re Scientists!

+1 Mode (Action): +1 Athletics, Combat, Notice, Physique, Vehicles; Aspect: Now where’s the safety..? (negative on athletics and combat)

Other Aspect: Whaddya mean do I know what I’m doing?

Stunts: Klinghoffer…You’re alive! (Fate point to shift all consequences to the environment), I think I packed that probe…: Fate point to have appropriate equipment, Signature aspect (Where’s the safety…?) Invoke free once per session for 2 fate points, I’ve been trained for this! (Fate point gives +2 to Will tests), 1 undefined

Captain Craig Carter, US Army [WWII period] — Frontline Gadgeteer

+3 Mode (Science): +5 Theoretical weaponry; +4 Chemistry, Demolitions, Physics; Aspect: It just needs one last adjustment

+2 Mode (Action): +4 Combat; +3 Athletics, Notice, Vehicles; Aspect: Where did I put that..?

+1 Mode (Intrigue): +2 Contacts, Stealth; Aspect: Science Underground

Other Aspect: Undefined

Stunts: Everything Has a Weak Spot (adds to combat vs. machines), Signature aspect (Science Underground; invoke for free or 2 fate when negative), Signature gadget — night vision goggles (adds to notice at night); two undefined