AAR: Heart of the Atom Isa

28 Mar, 2021, updated 28 Mar, 2021 hypertellurians

It’s Hypertellurians time again! I ran the Heart of the Atom Isa over two sessions, and it finished with the party sledging down a mountain on a moon, on a wave of alien mucus. So, if you take nothing else away from this, then you can do some very silly sci-fi.

A rocket-ship
The Atom Isa

The party’s rocket, the Atom Isa, has its heart stolen from it, and they have to get it back from Argencia, who is seen on the ship’s logs - departing for the tremendostaceans of the Zelteen nomads. The party are:

As the adventure is available to read for free on the web (see link above), I won’t completely retell the story. However, there were some good events:


This took about six hours to play over two sessions. We used Discord for voice and Avrae for dice rolls.

  1. I routinely forget to award Wonder. I should write this down on each location in a story in the future, although mostly I remembered in time.
  2. I forget to hand out weird loot. The pre-gen characters hint that it should be a core part of the game. Doesn’t matter much yet as I’ve been using the pre-gens and running one-shots.
  3. If you’re going to run a very trope-heavy game, discuss this in Session Zero, as it can require taking narrative control for a bit. For example, if Argencia is going to monologue, the players basically need to let her do it. She’s obviously vulnerable but we’re doing it for some TV-cheese. We were all on-board with it, and I’d introduced this scene as a narrative one, but still, reminder to myself to check earlier.
  4. Hypertellurians can organically get satisfyingly silly. I’m surprised every time, for some reason.
  5. I have the book in front of me and I keep forgetting the difference between the stat, the modifier, the affinity, and the buffer. And the modifier isn’t on D&D calculations, either!
  6. Don’t trust the published adventures. Again, this isn’t D&D, and it’s not Mines of Phandelver.

The last one needs a bit of unpacking. I like Hypertellurians, but it’s very sparse in its descriptions, and doesn’t have much of a bestiary or book of items. Mottokrosh is working on that. It’s also not a game that’s focussed on balance, either. And after a second game, I’m not much better at adding much balance either. The pre-generated characters have one who can do multiple, stacking, d8 attacks in a turn (Khepri), and two others who are barely suited for combat at all.

“That’s fine,” I thought. “Combat isn’t a large focus of this system”. But actually there’s stacks and stacks of enemies in this, once you reach the moon. I let the party dodge around a lot of them, as otherwise this would be a three-parter. But also trying to have “enough damage to be interesting” without totally wiping them out was quite hard.

The moon-bear has 3 d10 attacks a turn! Which can hit a whole party! Argencia has a 3d6 Mind attack that appears not to need an attack roll2. It’s a range of touch, but still.

I felt I spent a lot of this game tweaking things that seemed too hostile or too repetitive. In the end, it may have been too easy - few of the party took much damage that wasn’t healed at the end of the scene. However, the players didn’t complain about that, so who cares?

I guess I have lessons for when I next use write/run a Hypertellurians adventure:

  1. Decide how much combat to have, and how hard it is
  2. Make sure each fight feels different
  3. Have non-combat solutions for the characters who are crap at fighting
  4. Scatter Wonder, and loot

The final bit is that I need to decide how to use skill-checks in the game. Hypertellurians doesn’t have skills, just the three stats, and an encouragement to add advantage or disadvantage (which is quite a swing on a d20). I generally like players rolling for checks, when appropriate; as it gives me some suggestions for story ideas. I tried running this game with more of a “You Can Just Do The Thing, You’re The Hero” mentality, but I struggled a bit, and then the adventure text included things like “use piloting checks to land the Atom Isa on the moon”. Is piloting Agility or Mind? We settled on “Yes”, and I said “pick your best, it’s your ship”. I’m pretty sure this is about right, and maybe it’s just a figment of the system-neutral language in the adventure.

Doesn’t half leave me wishing this was Mothership, with its very clear skill lists, though. Mind you, I’m sure we won’t be too far into a MoSh game before all the players are complaining their characters are crap at everything!

  1. A minor achetype power for Aliens gained during the adventure ↩︎

  2. I added an attack roll and Argencia missed. I was gutted. I know we all say “GMs shouldn’t want to kill their players” but come on↩︎

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