It’s a tie. The folks at Evil Hat did a multi-book Kickstarter that included the Atomic Robo RPG. It was well-run, successful, got the books out on time, and kept the backers informed every step of the way. Similarly, the Transhuman Kickstarter by Posthuman Studios for the Eclipse Phase game was excellent on communication, delivered slightly ahead of time, and had been continuing to pump out their stretch goals on time.

I would also throw in a big shout out for Dr. Dante Lauretta and the people at Xtronaut Games for their superb Kickstarters for Xtronaut and the soon-to-ship Constellations board games. Lauretta is a project manager, I believe with the OSIRIS-Rex mission, and both campaigns were absolute exemplars of how to do Kickstarter. The games are also superb and I highly recommend them.

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Last week, one of our players cancelled out and at the same time we had a guy sitting in for a session…what to do? Go with an NPC in the current adventure? (I had an idea that would dovetail in nicely…) Do a one-shot? Board games — I can recommend Thunderbirds for cooperative grops, and Xtronaut for competitive types. Have a movie night?

These are all good ideas when you have incessant scheduling problems (the downside of having a larger gaming group. This week, most likely, we’ll have another two players out — one’s at GenCon, one’s working. (I really need a new hobby…) So this week, the answer will most likely be board games or a movie night, depending on if the one player is stuck working.

Last week, the answer was a one-shot. I decided to do a backstory one-shot on one of the new characters in the ongoing Hollow Earth Expedition game, John Hunter. We’re alluded several times to his misadventures on a mysterious island being how he got wrapped up with the secret society, the Terra Arcanum. So, I decided to do a one-night story that would tell the tale and be done, in case the one guest player didn’t come back.

So — how to tell this story in a 3 hour block of time? Hollow Earth Expedition, while a quick-playing game system, isn’t quite slick enough, and I needed to give the players a bit more of the heavy-lifting for the story and background development. I turned to Atomic Robo. It’s the fastest, best-playing version of Fate, in my opinion, and character creation is slick and quick. Four players were crafted (for the most part) in under half an hour.

The first act/hour was introducing the characters in media res — staging a burglary on the Order of Prometheus, a secret organiation dedicated to unearthing and using ancient knowledge. One of the players was a history of ill-repute looking for Atlantis, and chasing the tale of a “vanishing island” in the Indian Ocean that a Roman traveler once identified as that mythic place. The Order has two maps — one by Marcus Maximus Tinto, said roman adventurer, and another by the only survivor of a shipwreck from 1900 that had the coordinates of the island (not shown on any map, of course.)

The other players are John Hunter, in 1926 he’s a “man who can get you anything” in Paris; a member of the Terra Arcanum who is supposedly a smuggler, and who is along for this ride to stop the revelation of the island’s position; and a skeptical geologist.

They steal the maps, do a brainstorming session to figure out where the island is, then the historian — who has “More money that sense” as an aspect, gets them a crappy tramp steamer they take from Marseilles to the island’s position. His calculation give them the most likely time the island will show, and sure enough, the isalnd arrives under a suddenly-forming storm, giant rogue waves that suck them into an inlet where they beach on the hulk of a WWI submarine.

They have limited time to explore — they don’t know how long the obviously volcanic island will stay “visible”, and they speculate that the place may be “hydraulic” in some fashion — the pressures from the ocean flor rising the island and lowering it periodically…but how are there plants and animal life, much of it from different geological eras, present? They follow trails inland in the increasingly bad weather and light, and eventually run into a native tribe that captures them in a big skirmish, dragging the historian and Arcanum agent to their villge, which is surrounded by a giant boma of thorn bushes and large bonfires.

A rescue attempt is put together by the geologist and Hunter, while the others ascertain from the natives — who speak a form of Sanskrit not heard since pre-Harrapan times! — that every generation or so, the island is pulled to another world, where sometimes the every-present sun sets.  The Hunter and the geologist stage a daring rescue that revolves around setting the boma on fire as a distraction, and using their lone Chicago Typewriter to lay down fire and scare or kill the native warriors with a spray of .45ACP.

They elude their pursuers, dodge massive creatures whose footfalls shake the ground, and escape to their steamer in time to set sail before the island disappears behind them.

We closed out the night with the Arcanum agent planning on recruiting as many of their valiant band as possible.

Scheduling getting you down? Maybe it’s time to do something different for a session or two. The one thing I’ve found over 30+ years of gaming: if you don’t meet regularly, forget campaigns…you won’t be able to keep the momentum and interest.

Admittedly, this is the “partially redacted” e-book version for the Kickstart backers, so some of this may change with the final version. With that out of the way — the boys at Evil Hat and Atomic Robo writer Brian Clevinger bring us the first sourcebook for the game: Majestic 12. The book revolves around the eponymous bad guy organization from the comic (and in particular their latest volume The Ring of Fire.

M12-Front-Cover-Mock-662x1024It’s a short splatboot, only 82 pages in .pdf. It begins with “The Secret History of Secret History” and outlines the creation and developmetn of Majestic 12. The second chapter briefly outlines the other secret organizations of the Roboverse — including Project Daedalus (which specializes in Helsingard tech), the Soviet’s Department Zero, China’s Most Perfect Science Division, and Big Science, Inc. This was a section I think could have been built out a bit, but more on that later.

Chapter 3 and 4 are the meat of the book. Three deals with new Weird Modes for characters, each for the six sections of the organization, and includes new skills like Teslology — the study of Tesla science and gear. Four focuses on some new rules — creating mission briefs, and requisitioning gear — which works like Inventions, except here you are getting gear not by building it, but by navigating bureaucracies. It’s a cool conceit and works well with the Atomic Robo rules.

There’s write ups of the various Majestic characters we’ve seen in the comic, as well as a few new ones. The final chapter is a series of adventure hooks.

It looks great, using mostly Scott Wegener’s art from the comics, but includes a comic vignette of the creation of Majestic with art by David Flora. some of the art, the indexing, and other things were incomplete (hence the funny redaction, which works very well with the flavor of the organization. I can’t wait to get the physical copy in a few months.

That said…I was very disappointed that they didn’t expand rules on Factions. In the core book, there’s very basic rules for Factions to cover Tesladyne, and how you can use the company to achieve your goals. In the core book, Factions only have a singular mode: Resources. Resources then have skills: Armory, Intel, R&D, and Transport. There is no write-up for Majestic. It would have been a simple text box to include it, so I’m hoping it’s in the offing, (and this may be the case, as Majestic’s Intel skill is mentioned in a few places) but I think adding similar stat blocks for the other organizations would be a good idea for those players and GMs that don’t want to write the stuff up themselves. With the new rules for Requisitioning, it might be an excellent chance to build out faction rules. (If you want some rules regarding organizations, you could also crib from Mindjammer by Sarah Newton…)

Style: writing and artwork (minus the Flora stuff) is solidly in the mode of the comics. I’d give it a 4 out of 5, for capturing the comic well. Substance: here’s where I have to ding them a bit. The lack of faction stat blocs is a big omission, but they might be part of the unfinished artwork. If so, I would expect to rate it higher than the 3 out of 5 I’m giving it, right now. Call it a solid 3.5/5.

So is it worth it? At $20 in physical form and you’re playing the game, yes. If you’re not a fan of the comics and game, then you probably weren’t looking to buy anyway.

No contest: Atomic Robo by Evil Hat. If you want to know why, hit up the comic’s site at Atomic Robo.com and read the whole thing for free. Then go purchase the graphic novels, you cheap bastids!

Here’s the bad guy group for our upcoming Atomic Robo game.

DIE SPINNE (THE SPIDER):

The Spider is a group connected to ODESSA or, “Organisation der Ehemaligen SSAngehörigen” (Organization of Former SS Members) that has helped hundreds of SS members escape Germany in the hopes of setting up the infrastruture aroudn the world to bring about “The Fourth Reich.”

Mission Statement: The Dream Lives On!

Mode: Fair (+2) Resources: Intel, Transport +3; Armory, R&D +2

Pressures: Hunted Worldwide, Working in the Shadows

 

I’ve been busily putting together a new series of adventures for the group. This volume will start in World War II and end in 1959, and involves tracking Colonel Skorzeny, Vanadis Valkyrie, and one of their labs of evil in northern Greece, then following their trail through ODESSA in South America…

COMMANDO: This is essentially a reworking of the soldier weird mode and would have similar stunts. It’s an 11 point package.

Skills: Athletics, Combat, Notice, Physique, Stealth, Vehicles, Will; no improvements.

PARTISAN: Again, a reworking of the soldier package, it’s an 11 pointer.

Skills: Athletics, combat, Contacts, Notice, Stealth, Tactics, Vehicles; no improvements. Use Soldier or Action-like stunts.

…and from an earlier weird mode:

WHEELMAN: The wheelman is an expert with a vehicle (usually car, truck, boat…) and is often hired to get people in and out of a mission safely. The thought here is to emulate the bootlegger turned racer or getaway driver.

Skills: Contacts, Mechanic, Notice, Vehicles (6 points); Improvements: Specialize two trained skills.

Sample Stunts: Duck in That Alley!: For a Fate Point, use Vehicle instead of Stealth to hide from a pursuer; Just a Good Ol’ Boy: +2 with Vehicle skill to create an advantage when attempting a fancy stunt; Peddle to the Metal: +1 to vehicle test when overcoming in a chase; Rev’ It: Use Vehicle instead of Provoke when in a vehicle; She’ll Hold Together: The vehicle driven has an Armor: 2.

The final night of our Atomic Robo game went off quite well. We jumped straight in from a cliffhanger where one of the PCs — a WAVE with a penchant for machines — and her team had been captured by the Japanese soldier/scientists of the notorious Unit 723’s “Division X” who were working on creating a TeslaTech machine that would be able to shield their military units from sight. Unfortunately for the Japanese, the other half of the team, led by a PC “PT Boat Commander” with an Omega aspect of “Heroics First, Politics After” is able to slip in under cover of a scene aspect DARK AND STORMY NIGHT…

They slip into the massive underground base in a cavern created by a lava bubble, rescue the WAVE, before setting off grenades to cover their escape and put the kybosh on the Jap’s program for good. Problem: a crappy roll led to a succeed but situation: one of the scientists killed by grenades turns on the machine, which is hyper-powered by the lightning storm striking their collection antennae! The machine starts “hiding” sections of the cave and mountain as it had in Philadelphia. The characters know that there is some kind of temporal effect, as well, and start hoofing it for the furthest section of the island they can, as portions of the island disappear into the effect, letting seawater spill into the now exposed lava of the seamount below. Steam, scalding cinders, earthquakes, and panicked Japanese soldiers complicated their mad dash to a small fishing boat with a convenient outboard motor (thanks to Fate Point use) and barely escaped the destruction.

They were able to link up with their Catalina and fly back to Wake Island mostly unmolested, and that was where the characters in modern day closed the report on the Incident at Koro Jima in 1943.

The modern day characters choppered into Koro Jima — now back and having “merged” with the existing island just under the surface — with the assistance of the US Navy and a scientist from Big Science! Corporation of Japan. They find the island is unstable — with the volcano now active, earthquakes, and felled trees and burned sections of foliage from the event during WWII. They also find starving Japanese soldiers and their two American prisoners that had not escaped the effect. After a bit of contentious attempts to convince the Japanese the war is over, they manage to get the last 25 people or so off the island by SH-60s right before the island suddenly flashes out of existence again, causing another massive volcanic eruption.

After some wrap up on character bits, we closed out our first Atomic Robo volume successfully.

Overall, the response from the players was good. We liked the modified version of Fate and thought it played remarkably quickly. One place it fell down — more due to the limited number of players — was the Brainstorming rules, which are tres cool, but require more bodies to get that arguing scientists in the midst of a crisis feel from the comics.  The other was having players throw aspects or complications on scenes; my group isn’t used to that sort of input, I suspect, and I usually handle these bits of narration on the fly in our other game. It’s not an issue of game design, but more of we’re used to running/playing differently. I suspect this would become a bit more natural over time.