bannerI’ve been hammered this semester with a fair amount of work. The college I work at doubled up my classes (yay, money!), and my teaching certificate program (wait, haven’t you taught for years…yes, but not high school so that’s entirely different! But it’s not…), and the usual collection of life stuff, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busting out words on Gateway to the East, our upcoming guide for pulp-era Istanbul. As with the other Black Campbell books, it’ll be for use with Ubiquity and Fate. I’m estimating a final page count of about 80 pages — on par with our Shanghai book, Queen of the Orient. There will be two adventures included in the sourcebook.

Depending on work schedules next semester, I’m hoping to have this out by the beginning of the coming summer, as end of summer seems to be a popular time for the Kickstarter campaigns of other games to fire up and we got lost in the onslaught this year.

qoto cover

So…my daughter was playing “animal rescue” with me this morning and at one point we needed to leave the HQ in her cardboard box “jetski snowmobile…with wings that pop out…” to save the jaguars. We were going to find them at the jaguar temple.

So — the next adventure scenario for fate and Ubiquity will be Secrets of the Jaguar Temple. It will take place in Mexico, most likely, about 1937. There will be a temple. And jaguars. No word yet on the possibility of jetskis that turn into snowmobiles.


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 third installment of our Atomic Robo game went off last night, and all of us seem much more comfortable with the rules set.

This “issue” was “Face of the Enemy” and saw our heroes chase a half-Japanese, half-English femme fatale from Philadelphia, where she had contracted some mobsters to steal the plans for a device the navy was testing that would render a ship invisible (yes, The Philadelphia Experiment.) The device was TeslaTech, recovered by the FBI after the inventor’s shop was destroyed in a fire, and the characters brainstormed that drew power from the Earth’s magnetic field and created an electromagnetic bubble that warped light…it also appeared to slow time. After losing the mobsters in a chase, save one they questioned, they managed to figure out the identity of the agent from her boarding room and ascertained she had hoped a TWA transcontinental flight for San Francisco.

I did a quick bit of research and, of course, they could have had the FBI or someone stop her at one of the points on the way to San Fran…but that wouldn’t make for a good story, now, would it? The characters manage to requisition an aircraft from Mustin Field to Crissy Field on the Presidio. The DC3, even with stops, was looking like a 15 hour flight, while the B-25 they hopped a ride in would get there, with a refuel stop in Kansas City, in 11 or so… With her head start, they arrive in San Fran roughly the same time she does.

There was a quick bit of exposition and scene setting: General DeWitt, the commander of the Western Military District is introduced as the paranoid, racist old man he was…but in this case, he’s right: there are Japanese spies up to no good! The FBI has a man on the case, but they could only spare one man between the clean up associated with Japanese internment and men lost to the war effort. The SFPD is in worse shape, operating mostly with retirees and 4Fs. So it’s no surprise when they get to the airport, that the enemy — Betsy Brant — has managed to escape by using some kind of knockout spray on one of the codgers that tried to arrest her. Fortunately, Agent Clive was able to get the license plate of the ’40 Oldsmobile 60 she hopped into and it is quickly located by a patrolman in the Tenderloin District.

Despite a war on, and a curfew in effect, the Tenderloin is lit up, active, and full of sailors and soldiers, civilian blacks and women. It was a place of swanky hotels and restaurants, surrounded by jazz clubs, strip joints, gambling halls, and they search the place and find Brant, now dressed to the nines, gambling in a hotel casino where she is winning heavily…the casino owner is paying her off, or facilitating her pay.

We had out first action sequence here and I really tried to use aspects on scenes well for this evening’s play. The casino was FILLED WITH HIGH ROLLERS that one PC used his Rhode Island Royalty aspect to help him fit in an not be noticed; while the Working Class Dame of the other PC I compelled against her. They find Brant, there’s a scuffle and foot chase in which Brant nearly escapes, but they capture her.

During her interrogation, the PCs used the COLD INTERROGATION ROOM aspect to their advantage, hit Brant with a WILLING TO COOPERATE aspect. While they were doing that, another PC cracked the code on her notebook, figuring out where the Japanese cell was operating…in the now abandoned Japantown off of Geary. They grab some MPs and hit the place one of a series of rowhomes (that no long exist…)

The house was broken into several “zones” — the living room, kitchen/dining area, hallway and stairs, and the upper bedrooms, each with aspects like DARKENED ROOM, CROWDED WITH FURNITURE, DARK STAIRWELL, etc… A fight sequence against a pair of Japanese agents with the aspects NINJA! and I Would Die For My Emperor ensued and saw all sorts of chop socky goodness: shuriken, katanas, fraternal fire (oops!), through which the characters persevered.

They find a photography lab with the Tesla plans, and figure out the spies made copies. Brant helps them decode the notebooks after their use of the US Army Intelligence Corps faction rolled spectacularly badly and had no Japanese speakers available to help them. They figure out the spies transferred the plans to a submarine, most likely, and that the destination is an island in the Bonin chain — Koro Jima — 1500 miles behind enemy lines!

DeWitt sends them out to the front lines…maybe, somehow, they can get ahead of this. They catch a military-chartered Boeing Clipper out to Hawaii, then from there fly with an old school chum of one of the PCs who is now piloting PBY Catalinas. At one point, the WAVE PC tunes up the Catalina with a new benie — LONG RANGE that allows the craft to have enough range for whatever the story requires. They island hop from Hawaii to Wake, where the Marines are still mopping up from their invasion.

And there ended the third installment.

Having played the game a few nights now, I feel we are starting to get the hang of the system, although we have a tendency to not use aspects and fate points as much as we should. This is most likely due to the nature of plot points in Cortex — the system we’ve been playing for so long. Plot points can be used to mitigate damage in combat and it’s natural that the players tend to hoard their fate points because of this. Also, fate points don’t get doled out as often for playing to your aspects, but also I might be concentrating on using other elements of the rules and could be giving the players short shrift on the fate points.

The game still seems to run fast, even with the longer fight sequence we had this night (A great, very cinematic one it was, too!) and I’m finding I need to slow it down a bit from time to time to allow for more player/character interaction and to fill time. Ordinarily, a game night for us is about three to 3.5 hours; we’re still running about 2.5 using Fate. It also could be I’ve been trying to break the action up more effectively into “issues” as the comic the game emulated does.

After talking with the players, we seem to be unanimous in thinking the mechanics of Fate are working very well for the pulp-style of the game, and also facilitate the multi-decade nature of the campaign I had envisioned. The five aspects, rather than 10, of normal Fate, and the more extensive use of Stunts and Mega-Stunts lends itself very well to multiple genres, we thought, and I suspect the Atomic Robo version of Fate will see more service for our gaming than we initially expected.

Chases are an integral part of the pulp genre, which Atomic Robo most certainly inhabits, and our first two sessions of the game have included chase sequences — a delivery van vs. a giant kaiju crab, then a motorcycle vs. car/boat chase in the Philadelphia Naval Yards of the 1940s. Going off of the rules in the game, this can be done one of two ways — if it’s to be a short chase, say you have to get far enough to find a place to hide, or the opponent only has to go a short distance to escape, you can play it as a straight challenge, or you can run it as a contest — where the PCs have to get a certain number of victories in a certain number of rolls (we did the latter…)

But to really give chases character, something they really need to get that pulp flavor, you need something a little extra. One thing you can do is break the chase into a number of zones, each having its own particular stunt or setting to overcome while trying to catch the bad guy. You can also set a victory parameter for when the prey in the chase escapes. Since characters in the same zone are assumed to be able to get into direct conflict, lets assume this is “close” range — if the pursued can gain a victory in a chase over their opponent, they get to be a zone away and can only be attacked by long arms (let’s call this “long”) and also gain a +1 boost to their next chase test. If they can gain a second success, they are two zones ahead and are at extreme range with a +2 boost for the next test. With three victories, they have escaped. If you want to make it more interesting, if the opponent “steals” a victory from their prey during the chase, and close the distance. A success with style — for either side — would count as two victories.

The end point of a chase would be one of two events: the prey either gains 3 victories and escapes, or the pursuer is successful in catching their opponent by gaining a success in while in the same zone — perhaps they’ve tackled the guy, or cut off the fleeing suspect and stopped their car.

You can make the chases more interesting by allowing different skills. Perhaps during the car chase in which your characters are involved, they have managed to gain a zone from the bad guys. Instead of using Vehicles, they might choose Stealth, and try to hide the car in a convenient alley or behind that semi truck; maybe they bailed out of the car and hide (Athletics) — a success would count as another victory, mechanically, but would give the chase more character.

If the pursuer has caught them, there’s always the possibility of fighting. Maybe the pursuer has gotten a victory on a chase contest and has now “caught” them…the characters might decide to fight by using their vehicle to try and force the other off the road — you would use Vehicles or Combat in a direct challenge here with the stakes being the other car is disabled or crashed, or they are caught.

Example time: the opening motorcycle chase in Skyfall is an excellent example of giving zones their own character. The chase starts in a Crowded Bazaar, in the same zone. It progresses through Busy Streets, then onto Angled, Tiled Rooftops, before jumping though a big window into Covered Bazaar, then to Moving Train (where it turns into a foot chase.) There are five zones — each with decent character in their Aspects — and in Skyfall it would seem that the bad guy is never able to gain more than a single victory from Bond, before they are on the train. Bond “catches” the guy on the roof and the action moves from a chase contest to conflict.

Opponents, of course, could also throw aspects on scenes, as per the rules, to give these scenes more character, like Stained Glass Window on the Covered Bazaar scene — you’re going to have to take that bike through the window to follow!

These are just a few ideas to give chases a bit more character in a Fate-based game.

The second installment of our Atomic Robo game went well last night. In it, we jumped from the modern day (see the last play report a bit down the page) to Philadelphia, 1943. This first of several WWII “issues” was titled “The Philadelphia Experiment” — in which the Strategic Science Division and Office of Naval Intelligence tried to cloak a destroyer, USS Eldridge, with some Teslatech they got from the inventor’s destroyed labs (this was established in the comics…) They have no idea how it works, and the players tried to do some brainstorming to figure it out.

One of the players has a “Gearhead” weird mode we made up (see Finch from the She Devils) — a WAVES aviation machinist’s mate that just has a knack of gizmos. She realizes it pulls its power from the Earth’s magnetic field, somehow. During the test, the ship is cloaked or gone for ten minutes, but for the crew — one of the PCs was aboard — it’s a harrowing few seconds of bulkheads dematerializing, strange electric effects, and other weirdness. A later brainstorming session they decide that it might have created some kind of Einstein-Rosen bridge.

Note: the brainstorming sessions are less fun than I suspect they would be for a bigger group — we have two players and a GM, right now, and that cuts down on the back and forth banter I think these sessions are supposed to generate. Still a great set of mechanics, though.

The science is interrupted by imposter FBI agents collecting the plans to take them to the vault on the Philadelphia Naval Yards. A foot chase ensured that led to a throw down with local mobster mooks. While the PC naval officer was fighting and interrogating one of the suspects, the WAVE and an NPC member of the SSD chase down a shore police jeep with the other bad guy on a messenger’s Harley-Davidson. The officer learns the mooks have been hired by a dame — English — and they are taking them to the rendezvous by boat and grabs the a nearby Chrysler Airflow and tried to catch up in the chase.

It’s taking some getting used to throwing aspects on zones and scenes — I’m used to doing that on the fly and narratively — but we’ll get there, I think. The chase wound up on the wharf, where the baddies were transferring to a launch. The Chrysler wrecks into the jeep and takes out a mook, and the harley hits the Chrysler and the whole shee-bang winds up in the Delaware. Now with the bad guys having a big lead, they give chase in another launch that wound up with a wreck and gun fight in the marshes south of the yards.

The bad guys got away — the players got fate points for conceding so we could continue the story — but they find out the English dame is possibly Eurasian and was holed up in a boarding hotel on Carpenter Street that the naval officer knows. Turns out, he’d had a drunken night a few weeks back with the girl and knows what she looks like. He has to talk his way out of being a suspect in the whole issue and vows to catch her, convincing the SSD leader to take him on the mission to stop her.

They track her on a TWA transcontinental flight to San Francisco and give chase, requisitioning a B-25 that was headed to Crissy Field. That was the end of Issue 2. Next week, issue 3: The Face of the Enemy.

The general consensus is that this version of Fate runs very smoothly and quickly. The mechanics are simpler, in some ways than the gigantic list of aspects you have in normal Fate (5 compared to 10.) I’ve noticed we’re plowing through adventures in about a 2.5 hour session, rather than the usual two 3 hour sessions of something like Battlestar Galactica. Partly, that the pulp genre nature of clipping along on a story rather than wallowing in character development, partly the mechanics lend to a faster play (we think.) I’m still not a huge fan of the +/nought/- dice mechanic, but it’s not awful. I rather think the Cortex Plus d4-d12 is a bit more fun, if only because it entertains the classic fun of rolling polyhedral dice.

I’m not won over from classic Cortex for some of the campaigns I’ve got in mind for the future, but this version of Fate and the pulp universe of Atomic Robo lends itself well to doing some of the niche campaigns (a ’40s spy game, a ’70s blaxploitation/James Bond-style action game) and allows me to connect these disperate ideas I’ve had in a single campaign and system of rules.

So far, so good.