seven

The Atomic Robo Playtest, a Lunch Fail, and Dangerous Hungers

I slept in until 9 and just skipped breakfast in order to talk with Kelly for a while. I had no desire to pay for breakfast either. A cup of bad coffee and a cup of really excellent tea (Carl lent me his tea kettle, and I had my gaiwan and Flit's tea from Thursday. The Phoenix oolong proved to be astonishingly good) was plenty to get me into my really excellent Atomic Robo game with Morgan Ellis.

Carl had recommended that particular game to me, and I was really really happy that I was able to get into it!



Morgan had given out links to free editions of the comicbooks (there now you have them too), and I especially loved "When Science Attacks." So I threw the odd volume on my wish list on Amazon. I loved that my father gave me volumes one and two of Atomic-Robo. I suspect he also understood that the moment I unwrapped them, Jet was sitting on the couch next to me reading them as fast as he could. What's not to love about Action Science! (said in a deep voice, with a broad stance, and hands on hips)?

It's the genre is science fiction, and it's science fiction that spans numerous decades. The comicbook is astonishingly good at changing the demeanor, language, background, dress, and actions of all the characters that surround Atomic-Robo in the various eras he exists in. It's really lovely work, and I was intrigued that Morgan was going to run a game set in that space. It's based off the generic Fate rules.

Besides being an open source rpg, another of the things I really love about Fate is this concept called "aspects". The lovely label allows these aspects to be about the characters and about particular situations. It's a concept that's proven very useful for me in creating story characters as well. It's often a phrase that describes a key aspect of what's being described. Some of Atomic Robo's aspects were "I hope this works" and "I am the Atomic-Robo!". May Carter, a former 'Flying She-Devil of the Pacific' had an aspect of "Boys, this is woman's work!". In game play, invoking ones aspect gets rewarded with better rolls, and the first time's always free, but subsequent invocations require Fate Tokens. The genre of the comicbook fits the game mechanics to a T.

I've only played a game using the Fate system once before, and that was in a Dresden Files game that Carl was running. Morgan and I played as characters in that game, so I understood how Morgan saw how it worked. One of the interesting things I'd learned was that nearly no one actually chose to be the Atomic-Robo, either through intimidation or other factors. So I decided, in my usual fashion that since no one else was doing it that I would.

Disclaimer: The things I've written in here actually may or may not have happened as I'm writing it, as I'm going by memory, sparse notes (it was way too much fun to play to write down all the blow-by-blow information). I hope that people will forgive me my mistakes.

The Cast of Characters:
Liralen - Atomic-Robo
Will - Slim - the smoking theoretical scientist
Jesse - Mac - the ex-Marine who can fire anything
Simon - May Carter - the former She-Devil of the Pacific


The Setting: 1940's, post-WWII, during the Cold War.

A DC8 flies across the countryside. Back in the hold is a Science Gun mounted where it can be deployed if necessary from the cargo bay. Slim, May, and Atomic-Robo are in the seats while Mac checks out the weaponry.

May: What's the job this time?
Atomic-Robo: There's reports of flying things near Roswell, out by Alamogordo and White Sands. The Army wants us to go out there to check it out with them.
Slim nods smoking, while Mac checks out the sites on the Science gun.

An airstrip at the Alamogordo-White Sands Regional Airport. An Army Commander, a Sheriff, and a bunch of jeeps meet up with everyone on the plane. In the background, Mac is arguing with someone on a jeep who's saying an emphatic No to the Science gun getting mounted on anything.

Army Commander: I'm Commander Jackson, this is Sheriff Lewis.
Sheriff: There's been odd goin'-ons out on the Beckett Ranch, we'll take y'all on out there.

Everyone bumping over dusty desert stuff, through a gate with a circle B brand. At the ranch house an old woman shakes Atomic Robo's hand.

Old woman: Y'kin call me Maggie.
Atomic Robo: Uhm. Right. I'm Atomic Robo.
Maggie squinting at Robo: Yer a robot.
Atomic Robo: Yes, Ma'am. What seems to be the problem?
Maggie stares at him for a moment but then frowns: There's terrible things happenin' ta my cattle out in the woods. She points toward one of the ridges with a stand of trees on them.
Atomic Robo: Can you take us out there, ma'am?
Maggie: Sure. But not by those jeeps. Only one way out there.
A frame with a horse eying Atomic Robo suspiciously, and Atomic Robo eying the horse back with equal suspicion.

Show them all riding out to the ridge, with one horse with Atomic Robo on its back going much much slower than all the others.

Maggie leads them all to a field up on the ridge, there's several cows wandering around, grazing amid piles of what once might have been cows. Slim heads for one of the carcasses. Mac wanders toward the grazing cows. May gets off a horse and looks up.

Maggie reins her horse up by Slim, who's on one knee by one of the piles: What d'ya think happened?"
Slim frowns down at the pile: It seems to have been exploded from within.

[The game mechanics were kind of cool at this point, as Morgan threw a card that read "Exploded From Within" as an Aspect for the scene. So the scenes can have aspects that can be tagged for free the first time and also cost a Fate Point when used thereafter. So the mechanics for the scene Aspects were identical for those on the character Aspects.]

Atomic Robo finally appears on a very tired looking horse. He gets off the horse, and walks over to May, who is standing with hands on hips, looking up. A set of trees have their tops sheared off at the top. [A card labeled "Ground Effects of Recent Air Travel" appears on the table.]

Maggie: Some o' the steers ain't actin' right, either. See that one over there?

Maggie's pointing at a steer that's staggering along, and something is roiling under its skin. Slim pulls out a pair of X-Ray glasses, and Atomic Robo trains his light eyes on the poor thing. Mac walks over to obviously distressed creature, and pats it on one flank.

Mac: I think I've seen something like this before. When I was on the Islands with the platoon. Losta lotta men to some giant critters that grew like these.
Slim nods in confirmation.

[The card "Gestating Giant Creatures" is tossed on the table.]

Slim's also got a Geiger Counter from the packs of one of the horses, and it's clicking away wildly.

[A card for "Radioactivity" is added.]

The steer gives a distressed sound, the focus moves, and from off-screen blood spatters Mac. We turn back to the steer, and there's a giant white larva waving bloody antenna in the air over the indistinct remains of what was once a steer.

Mac draws and shoots the larva between the eyes with a weapon that should be held by someone who "Can Shoot Anything." The head explodes.

Slim throws a hand up: WAIT!

Everyone looks over the resulting mess.

[This is where a "brainstorm" starts, where various players front various theories as to what's going on and what to do about it. The actual mechanics are the equivalent of battle mechanics, and we didn't know it but we were supposed to start by rolling lower numbers and building up to an agreement and Aspects of the problem together. Each time we rolled, we could have added something more to the possibilities of the solution at hand. Slim's player and I cheerfully started out with competing theories, using basic scientific theory to start, biology next, and Mac threw in with me and May with Slim.]

Slim: It's aliens! Invading from above.
Atomic Robo: But the larva are meat-eating like wasps, and there's plenty of radioactivity about.
Mac: They're giant radioactive creatures, like I saw in the Pacific Theater.
May: They explode things like aliens.
Mac: Hey, wonder if we can get a better view from up there?

Mac starts climbing up one of the broken trees. May gets out her jetpack and leaps to the top in a spurt of flame. Both of them take a look at the broken tree, but then they both turn to see... [I rolled a solid set of numbers, pulling in Mac's experience, his Biology science abilities he just suddenly added to his character sheet as part of his past having to do with a whole platoon that got wiped out by similar creatures, and we win the brainstorm.] ... a giant wasp. It's head is as wide as a six foot table, and it's flying through the air toward a mound of a nest that's the same color as the ground around it.[The card "Giant Radioactive Wasps" is tossed onto the table with THREE boxes for all the extras we rolled onto it through the discussion.]

Slim: Does the square-cubed law mean anything anymore?
Atomic Robo just shakes his head.

The scene fades away to the Holloman Air Force Base by Alamogordo. Commander Jackson has the equivalent of a Battleship sunk in the ground in the middle of the desert, and he is working with Atomic Robo on setting up the firing coordination for a Titan Missile. Mac is shown mounting his Science Gun on a Bell 47 Helicopter. Slim, who has all sorts of Shrink Ray parts, is putting together, quickly, a Microwave Shrink Ray built on the principles behind 'Giant Radioactive Wasps' [and checking off one of the three boxes, but adding the aspect 'It's Highly Unstable' to the gun itself]. May is studying the controls of the Bell 47 with intent.

At dawn, May pilots the Bell 47 from the launch pad, the two men with their guns inside. Atomic Robo goes with the observing troops, Commander Jackson and Sheriff Lewis in a convoy of jeeps with 50-caliber machine guns and other jeep-mounted artillery. They reach an observation point on a ridge, where they can see the giant nest in the pre-dawn light. At a given signal, there's a 'foom' from the direction of the air force base. A missile appears and strikes 'Whooom' with the appropriate cloud of dust.

When the dust clears the nest is clearly broken wide open. There are pieces of enormous wasp bodies in all directions, and the appropriate debris scatters far and wide. From the ruins rise three angry wasps, all of which head straight for the helicopter. Behind the Army contingent another wasp worker rises from the forest, and heads right for the body of men and Atomic Robo.

A zag of lighting cracks from the Science Gun, and true to his calling, Mac zaps one of the wasps. It whirls dizzily through the air. There's the thrum of an enormous magnetron, a flash of light, and one of the garage-sized wasps shrinks to horse-sized. The third wasp goes after the helicopter itself, and May goes through an insane maneuver that dizzies it.

The wasp in the woods surprises Atomic Robo and the Army men. Atomic Robo tries to punch the thing, but it's armored. It just grabs him in its jaws. The Army men get their act together and fire at it with their guns, but all the bullets bound off the wasp and off Atomic Robo, who is struggling in the jaws of the enormous wasp.

The last huge wasp catches up to the helicopter and grabs its tail and starts to chew on the struts. It's locked onto the back. The dizzy wasp gets blasted from the sky by another of Mac's lightning bolts. Slim carefully lines up his microwave shrink ray, so that it only hits the wasp and not the tail of the helicopter. They're spinning down through the air because of the weight and struggles of the wasp on the tail. Slim fires at the last minute, shrinking the wasp, but his shrink ray starts to smoke and sputter. May wrenches control of the helicopter back again in time to land just before the gun blows itself apart.


Atomic Robo: Nuts to this.

Atomic Robo rears up and roars one radical Robo Right-Cross into the wasp's eye. It roars and tries to slam Atomic Robo into the ground. He takes advantage of its damaged eye, and rolls just enough so that the wasp slams its own head into the ground at full speed. It collapses.

Commander Jackson's radio crackles.


Jackson: Report.
Staticky Voice: Commander Jackson! Commander Jackson! There's an absolutely enormous wasp flying into Albuquerque.
Jackson: How big is it?
Staticky Voice: She's... oh... hold on a second. The lab coats here are sayin' she's the queen of the nest they found earlier. What do we do, sir? What do we do?
Jackson turns to Atomic Robo, who takes the radio handset.
Atomic Robo (aside): I hate bugs... (into the handset) We're going to need some real fire power and a lure...

The next panel shows a truck careening through the streets of Albuquerque. Adobe houses get clipped and risstras go flying everywhere, in the background is Sandia Peak. A giant wasp, twice as big as the one that came flying out of the nest is chasing the truck, and you see May at the wheel of the rampaging truck.

Slim: Looks like the wasp pheromones are doing the trick. (close shot of some towels rolled up under some of the meat)
Atomic Robo: Oh, great.

Backed up shot of a semi with a contraption on the back, with Atomic Robo strapped to said contraption.

Mac: It's a good thing they had this extra jet launcher from the carrier just sittin' around. It was made to fling thousands of pounds...
Atomic Robo: And I only weigh 500...
Next Panel shows Atomic Robo looking thoughtful and thoroughly strapped to the sled of the jet launcher.
Atomic Robo: I hope this works....
Slim has a slide rule and a paper and pencil and a graph of trajectories.
Slim: It should work, the math is solid.
Mac: And I can fire anything...
Mac rotates the makeshift turret to follow the trajectory of the Queen Wasp who is buzzing angrily over the truck, which goes bouncing by with May screaming.
May: NOW!! Shoot her NOW!!
Mac leans, sights, and fires.

Atomic Robo goes flying out of what is basically a rail gun. He starts to tumble but slams into and then through the Queen Wasp. Chitin goes flying everywhere, and the enormous queen crashes through a billboard for Termidex! Rid Your Home of Pests! Atomic Robo, however, continues on his trajectory in a perfect flat arc over the rest of Albuquerque's fine skyline. He hits the desert floor and leaves fine dust clouds with each skip and tumble, and ends up at the end of a furrow in the sand.

Atomic Robo: Ow.

The End


Bryant, Carl, and I tried to get lunch at the bar at the hotel between 2 and 3, but the place was utterly packed with gamers trying to find food, and the poor waitress was utterly and completely swamped since she was by herself. So instead of making her wait on us, we ordered our food right next to her ordering machine, got our own drinks, and let her come to us with the food. There was, luckily, a popcorn machine right there in the diningroom, and we got several bags of that while we waited. The kitchen, of course, was equally understaffed, but the people in it did a marvelous job.

The food was wonderful, but arrived with only ten minutes to spare. So we wolfed down what we could, got boxes for what we couldn't and ran on to our next game.



My next game was the Monsterhearts game I really wanted in on. It started a little oddly when one of the people who had signed up for it came in with her boyfriend and asked if he could join us. When Carl diplomatically said that he didn't feel like he could do a good gaming experience in four hours with anymore than four people, she decided to leave with her boyfriend. So we were left with three, and the Con wasn't able to find a fourth player, though later on we found out that Eric was just hanging out and would have played with us. *laughs* It's funny how that goes.

What even more interesting was that the other two players were both named Zed, though one had two d's in his name.

Zed - Gerard - Boy Witch
Zedd - Logan - Infernal
Me! - Dana - Serpentine

The Serpentine template was a new one, and had more to do with a teen utterly caught up in a long long family history politics, who really has to serve the family and they serve and protect her. Infernals have an Understanding with some Dark Power, and make bargains to gain their lives back (they've usually died) and anything else they might desire. Witches can throw hexes of various sorts and do their best when they cross societal lines.

One of the things that I really appreciated was that Logan's player took on a drawl as we played. It wasn't the French-cut Creole of an eater of mud bugs, but it did lend atmosphere, and it was fun to echo and play with.

During character formation we figured out we had been a band the previous year. Dana was the singer, since her family was very well off, she dressed the part, willowy, graceful, and really just that much better than you. She fronted the band, but Logan was the backup guitarist. He was grungier with fierce piercing eyes, and a rage that could shake worlds. Gerard was our roadie, who had set up his own garage for our practice area, 'cause his mother didn't really care. He was always in motion, always dressed colorfully, and while he always seemed on the edge of being too weird, managed to just come down on the side with social grace.

Logan had disappeared near the end of the summer. Only he knew that he'd died over the summer, but came back through the auspices of his demonic Protector. Logan's middle class parents had indulged him as a child, and they'd moved into the area ten years ago, from Baton Rouge, after Katrina, his father was a contractor. His mom volunteers all the time, and they care about everyone else. His mom's also expecting another child, and when he reappeared, her first comment to him was, "How could you make me worry so much when I'm pregnant?"

Gerard's father had disappeared a year ago. His parents were freaking out over Gerard's power, but he bound them to keep control. His mom now has severe drinking issues, but his seven-year-old sister, Hannah, is all right. He watches out for her, and gets her to and from school in a paneled van he drives the band and all its equipment around in, too. He has stolen Logan's sunglasses and one of Dana's silken scarves.

Dana's family is huge. Cousins, Uncles, Aunts, Second cousins twice removed, and a genealogy that spans centuries. Grand-mére was the matriarch for the family, and held it all in a very tight fist. She and Dana's mother do not approve of Dana's moonlighting with the band, but she does it out of defiance and as a way to finally be free of a very binding family situation.

There are two other members of the band: Rowan, the lead guitarist and Roche (whom everyone calls Roach, and she prefers it) the drummer. When everyone returns from the summer for the first day of school, others gather as well. Chad, the jock, Marie the most popular girl in the class. Morton, the school nerd.

The school itself was in Morgan City, with cypress swamps, lakes all around, and on the flood plane of the Atchafalaya, so it's small and insular and, of course, everyone knows everyone else and their business. Logan gets started off right in a van ride with Gerard, who asked Logan about his summer, what he'd done and where he'd gone. Logan lied about traveling the far world in order to learn how to play his guitar better. They talked about the possibility of a first gig for the band at the Welcome Back Party that was happening at the end of the week, the way it always did, at Marie's house.

On reaching the school parking lot, they see Chad's GTO, which is in as good a condition as a teenager can make it, pulling up to let Marie out at the front walk before parking in the lot. Rowan's low man on the totem pole in the class, getting kicked from seat to seat by Chad. And end up with most of the band in the back row.

During lunch break, Logan and Rowan steal Chad's car, take it out to a lonely spot, where Logan challenges Rowan to a duel. Logan speaks to his demonic companion, and strikes a bargain to steal every one of Rowan's skills with the guitar. By the end of the duel, Logan has taken every one of Rowan's capabilities, and they go to the practice at Gerard's house with Rowan just shaking his head over what he's lost over the summer.

They practice at the garage, Dana having to lie to her parents and say that she's studying with Roche, and Roche's used to it, so she does it. Turns out that Roche's dad is the sheriff of the town, and he's not only having an affair with Gerard's mother, but he's also the one that put Gerard's Dad in a swamp. He also was the one that killed Logan. Gerard's sister, Hannah is doing her homework in the back room, and Logan, during one of the breaks, tells her to meet him at midnight in the playground if she wants her father back. She asks Logan if she can have a pony, too, and he says sure you can.

When everyone starts to leave, Roche's dad appears following the stolen car. Logan says he knows what the Sheriff did to Gerard's dad, "Sheriff thought the swamp was good enough for your pa, so it oughta bee good enough for me." The threat is enough to get the Sheriff to back of just a enough for the boys to escape, and using Chad's car, Logan drops Dana off at home.

Later that evening, Gerard used his witch powers and got a vision of the Sheriff forcing his father into a sink hole, with a gun to his head.

The next morning, Gerard wakes up and finds Hannah wondering what it is that ponies like to eat. He tells her that they like grass, not cereal. When he gets to school both Rowan and Chad are missing, and Marie is really upset. The school announces that Chad died in a car crash and that grief counselors will be available that afternoon for anyone that wishes to avail themselves of their services. It doesn't make any sense, though, as Logan and Rowan dropped the car off at the school pretty early in the evening. Chad was making a lot of noise about going after Logan and Rowan for taking it, but he never showed up at either house.

Gerard and Logan go to Rowan's house to see what's up, and he's just in his bedroom. Rowan and Roche had taken a detour and at four am they'd heard Chad's voice, roaring, so they left, as they didn't want him to catch Chad.

They all go back to Gerard's garage. Gerard finds a pony tied up in the back with a mound of grass. The sheriff shows up again, and tries to kill Rowan, Logan, and Gerard. A shambling thing busts in and stops the sheriff and they recognize it as Gerard's Dad. Hannah apologizes for bringing him back from the dead, but she just wanted him back again. She had made a deal with Logan's Infernal Power. She was smart and started with a pony, just to test things out, and then asked for her Dad back, but he's come back as a zombie.

The Sheriff confesses to having killed Chad on the orders of Dana's mother, because she thought Chad had brought me home the other night. He'd done in Gerard's father, because he was showing up with witch powers, and Grand-mére was not going to tolerate outside powers coming into town. With the confession, there's nothing to hold Gerard back, and he forces the sheriff to go into the very swamp that killed his father.

So we just hightail it. All of us, as a band, onto the road. Dana in utter defiance of her family, the rest for reasons of their own, and to stretch their powers among far more people.

Brrr....




Chris, one of the owners of Endgame really loved an old Italian restaurant just a few blocks down from the hotel. It's called Francesco's Restaurant, and it's Old School. I'm pretty impressed that they have a website. They have 40's architecture all dark wood, dark brick, and the display cases with posters under glass. They had linen napkins and waiters who will put them on your lap for you, and a menu that was mostly pasta, seafood, and steaks.

Carl, Chris, Eric, and I walked there from the hotel, and we had a great time talking about the gaming industry, where they saw it and how much fun Big Bad Con really was. We got to talk a little bit about the history of the Airport Hilton and the kind of history it had seen.

The restaurant had one special, that looked like Joe's Special, spinach, eggs, and ground beef, and all the guys ordered that along with the salads that came with them. I wasn't up to a steak or anything big, but they did have a cannelloni with steamed vegetables that looked great. The pasta sheets were tender, the filling was savory in just the right ways for a good cannelloni, and the creamy béchamel on top was perfectly toasted.

I really enjoyed dinner a very great deal.

Afterwards, we set up camp in the main lobby of the fifth building and just sat and talked about games, gaming, characters, setups for games. I finally went to sleep again at 2 am, and took one package of Pop Tarts with me, from Carl. I only really need on Pop Tart to start a day, especially if I have coffee or tea to go with it.

It was a truly lovely day.
Tags:
What do ponies eat?
It was SO MUCH FUN running Monsterhearts for you! And thanks for stepping up to play Atomic Robo and solving the problem with SCIENCE!

I think Monsterhearts was set nearer Morgan City than Baton Rouge, in the eventual path of the Atchafalaya River (if the Old River Control System ever fails and the Mississippi changes course, although that didn't happen this time).

And in case it wasn't clear, Logan recruited Gerald's 7-year old sister Hannah for his Infernal Power, so she asked It for a pony first, to test, and then to have her Dad back.
"What do ponies eat?" is one of my favorite foreshadowing lines ever.

And before you all hit the road, Gerard forced the Sheriff into the same swamp sinkhole the Sheriff drowned Gerard's dad in.

Thanks for the writeup! And the Giordano's Special at Francesco's was delicious. Too bad they're closed Sundays, along with almost everything else in the area.
Re: What do ponies eat?
Oh, shoot. Sorry... my notes were more sketchy than I like... I'm now realizing that Logan moved *from* Baton Rouge... Sorry....

And, yeah, I did need to get the Sheriff going into the swamp.

It is too bad that they are close Sundays... it was amazing, and I was very happy you all brought me there!!

It was a blast, and thank you, so much for running the game!!
Atomic Robo RPG
I'm gonna leave this right here....

http://www.evilhat.com/home/atomic-robo/

Sounds like it was a fun playtest! You can't really ask for a better GM than Morgan.
Re: Atomic Robo RPG
Excellent! I love advertising the game for you guys. <3

And, yes, Morgan was amazing.
Re: Atomic Robo RPG
Mmm... and looking at the other playtest notes, Morgan was really great about suggesting Stunts when we needed them, and making it pretty clear that we shouldn't assign Science abilities until we really needed them.

I really liked that Slim got his 'Expert at Shrink Ray Technology' while in play, and Mac's history with his platoon and Giant Creatures came out when we needed it, along with a biology science specialization that helped a lot. Having Morgan suggest powers and abilities as we went, when we didn't know what was possible, was really useful.