While I was part of the initial playtesting, I hadn’t read the finished product until I had a little time on planes while running around the country on ‘vacation’ (seeing family.) Evil Hat has the print version in the final works, but the pdf is available through their preorder or Drive Thru. Behold! The dramatic reveal!

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The system is Fate, tweaked a bit for the universe of Atomic Robo, but the basic mechanics are unchanged. Character creation is fast and “no-math” — the player choses the usual concept descriptor, a couple of their modes (ex. Action, Science, Intrigue) and their skills lump under those. Those odes with the same skills stack, so a character with, say, a vehicles skill in three modes would place it under the highest mode with the +4, then add two more for the synergy with the other modes. It’s easier than it is to describe.

You can have a character slapped together in minutes and be playing, and the rules allow for tweaking your character on the fly, and whenever you hit a particular milestone connected to the adventure or character.

The main additions to the rules are in the area of “brainstorming” science ideas, in which the players get to use their skills to try and figure out a science conundrum, then the one with the best quasi-applicable idea gets to define how the bad guy or mcGuffin for the adventure works (“The giant ants were obviously created by radiation!”) As for the rest of the mechanics, it’s Fate. It you aren’t familiar with the mechanics, you can find them for free on the interwebz. Have a look, if your puny mammaliam brains can conceive it!

On to the book itself — it’s very well laid out, easy to read, and captures the flavor of Atomic Robo and the related Real Science Adventures comics very well. Explanation blurbs with pics of characters from the series help you understand the mechanics, or just amuse you. They have Dr. Dinosaur — that alone was work the price of admission for me. Do not question it!

The book does an excellent job of laying out the timeline of Robo’s adventures, describing the various organizations in competition, and has rules for the kind of support the organizations can provide and how the characters’ adventures affect them.

So is it worth the $35? How can you even ask that? It’s got robots, and science!, and punching…and dinosaurs and stuff. The layout and utility of the e-book is better than most , but I’ve got one of the final pre-release copies and the hyperlinks to jump around the book weren’t enabled yet. I assume they will be in the current or future releases. The substance? The new rules help capture the flavor of the comics, and the book gives a pretty decent introduction into the world of Atomic Robo for those who are uninitiated, but this book has a pretty specific demographic — fans of the comics — so they could always crack open the original material, if need be. The rule book is very good about pointing you and the right series and issue of the comic that ties to the material in the background sections.

It’s a buy, especially if you’re a Tesladyne booster.

UPDATE: I received the physical book today from Evil Hat. The $35 gets you the book and a free e-book download. The look of the pdf is preserved in the softback book, which has a nice satin finish to it, and is slightly smaller than usual for a game book at what looks to be a 6.5″x10.25″ aspect. (I didn’t measure it, but should be close.) Still worth it.

Despite a dickish Twitter exchange with one of the creators, I am still a firm Atomic Robo fan and have Comixology on the iPad set to let me know every time a new comic drops. So i was very happy to hear an RPG of the comic was coming, and despite the rules being FATE, I signed the group up for playtesting. We didn’t get to do as much as I hoped, thanks to folks leaving New Mexico or finding gainful employment that prevented them from playing, but it looks like the game is finally here.

You can now preorder Atomic Robo through Evil Hat’s website. Clickenze here to do so.

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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

 

I “inherited” a bunch of the Burning Wheel stuff, including Mouse Guard from a friend last night, so I will do a review of the game once I’ve had a chance to look through it. Also, our group is in the first playtest round of the upcoming Atomic Robo RPG, so there will be an after-action report on the game tonight — character generation and play.

 

W00t!, as the kids say: Looks like my gaming group has managed to get itself into the Atomic Robo RPG playtest.

SCIENCE!

Oh, and just in case you haven’t had a chance to read any of these excellent pulp comics, here’s the first volume, second volume, third volume, fourth volume, fifth volume at Amazon.com. You can also get them through Comixology on the iPad (and I’m assuming other e-reader doodads.)

And no — I’m not being paid for recommending the books. They’re just that good.