AAR: Heart of the Atom Isa
28 Mar, 2021, updated 28 Mar, 2021
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.
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:
- Garmotte, a human-sized Alien amoeba
- Khepri-the-Rising-Sun, a beetle-man Royal
- Philomena Dashwood, a young explorer and Ultranaut
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:
- Garmotte sold a bottle of his own acidic blood in the market to trade for a healing cement
- Argencia monologued whilst departing Sonnos for her moon-base to end Part One
- Khepri killed a lot of things single-handedly while everyone watched
- Garmotte summoned a demon and used it to possess the moon-bear that was attacking the party, and then used it to fight the moon-goblins further up the moon-mountain
- Stealthing through Argencia’s base was done through use of cardboard boxes, in the finest traditions of Snake
- Garmotte fiddled with the buttons on Argencia’s throne and the party decided that one should open the floor to drop advancing guards into a shark tank. The sharks had frickin' lasers, attached to their heads. Of course! 🦈 🦈
- Once Argencia was knocked out, the party leaped out of a smashed panoramic window and used a combination of Monkey Paw Luck and Garmotte’s Marvellous Mucus1 to slide back down the mountain to the crashed Atom Isa 🚀 and restore its Heart. ❤️
This took about six hours to play over two sessions. We used Discord for voice and Avrae for dice rolls.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hypertellurians can organically get satisfyingly silly. I’m surprised every time, for some reason.
- 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!
- 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:
- Decide how much combat to have, and how hard it is
- Make sure each fight feels different
- Have non-combat solutions for the characters who are crap at fighting
- 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!