Atomic Robo RPG (Fate Core)
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
Cost: $11.99 (PDF)/$35 (Physical)
Page Count: 322
Release Date: 05/23/2014 (PDF)/June 2014 (Physical)
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
My favorite comic book of all time is Justice League International, which probably dates me as an old fogie. Still comics that have blend a blend of comedy and action remain my favorites. I loved Sam & Max, Excalibur, Scarlet Spider, the John Rogers penned Dungeons & Dragons and of course, anything by Carl Barks, Don Rosa and Floyd Gottfredson. Currently I would say the three best action-comedy comics on the market are Archer & Armstrong, Quantum & Woody and Atomic Robo. While the Valiant crew has been releasing free teasers for their upcoming Valiant Universe RPG, Atomic Robo RPG actually beat them to the punch with their comic book RPG release! Even though I am a big fan of Atomic Robo, and especially his nemesis Dr. Dinosaur, I tend to buy it in digital trade form rather than pay attention to any news or the like about the series. So I was caught off guard and pleasantly surprised when a review copy of Atomic Robo RPG showed up in my inbox. Now before we begin, if you haven’t read Atomic Robo, you really should. I will try to keep from comparing the game to the comic for newcomers sakes (and avoid spoiling them), but Comixology.com has a lot of digital issues of Atomic Robo for free, so either download those before continuing or boomark the Comixology link. FCBD 2009 and 2012 are my favorites of the freebies and rank up there with some of the best in the entire series. If you don’t at least crack a smile at those two, much less laugh at loud, then you have no soul. That’s all there is to it.
Atomic Robo RPG uses the Fate Core System, which is a pretty unique and well-designed system. Unfortunately, I’ve tried the new Mindjammer, Dresden Files RPG, Cthulhu in Space, Present Day Cthulhu and other titles/setting that have used Fate Core System, but I never really got into them. The only game that uses Fate that I’ve really liked was Spirit of the Century, buy my friends and I tend to use Basic Roleplaying or Amazing Adventures for my weird pulp style games, so it rarely sees use. Now that said, Atomic Robo RPG makes exceptionally good use of the Fate Core System. Modes, Aspects and even the die rolling mechanics seem tailored made for an action science somewhat comical RPG. Maybe I (or Fate) just needed the perfect setting to be tied to. After all, after reading the core Atomic Robo RPG rulebook, I can’t imagine this setting working better with any previous super hero or comic book style game, and this is coming from a pretty diehard zealot of TSR’s old FASERIP Marvel Super Heroes game and an equally big fan of Mayfair’s DC RPG. I think Fate and Robo just complement each other nicely and deliver a RPG that is somewhat rules light while being incredible expansive in the field of character customization.
Now, if you’ve never played a Fate game, then I need to warn you: you’re going to need some special dice. Now, as a tabletop gamer, we’re already have special dice. We have D4s, D8s, d10s, d12s, d20s and the crazy Dungeon Crawl Classics dice. However, Fate games don’t use those dice. They have their own special d6 variants and they are nearly twice the cost of the polyhedral dice set tabletop gamers usually use. Expect to pay about between ten and twenty bucks for a set of Fate dice, depending on what type you get or where to get them. This does mean that the dice will cost you more than the PDF version of Atomic Robo RPG and while I realize that might put some off you off from purchasing the game, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it to people new to Fate and also say that the purchase is worth it. Amazon.com has a wide selection for those willing to buy the game and the dice.
So let’s talk the basic mechanics for Fate dice. You grab your four dice (rare situations can change things). They will either come up +, – or blank. A – is a negative and a plus is a positive. Add the results together with the appropriate skill and there you go. So if I got a +, +, ,-, I would have an end result of 1 which I would then add to my skill rating of oh, let’s say Burglary, which is Fair/+2. I would then have a grand total of +3 for my result. I mean, Fate is not rocket science people (although you can have the skill of Rocket Science since you are an ACTION SCIENTIST!). This is about 85% of the mechanics right here, so don’t be expecting a game like Pathfinder or Shadowrun where you spend more time looking up rules and mechanics than actually role-playing. Now obviously there are other modifiers such as Stunts or Mega-Stunts which are essentially powers or skills that let your character do comic book type things. You also have aspects of your character’s personality which can be invoked to give dice a bump. There are also Fate points similar to Bennies from Savage Worlds but closer to the GM Intrusion system you’ll find in Numenera. The bottom line is that with some rare exceptions, that paragraph above is all you need to know how to PLAY Atomic Robo RPG. You can pretty much start playing now!
One thing I absolutely love about Atomic Robo RPG is the character creation system…or should I say TWO character creation systems. You have an easy streamlined no muss, no fuss version to help you churn out a character for less experienced or younger gamers, as well as those that just want to play a run of the mill action scientist. Both versions are a lot of fun and due to how open concepts, aspects and stunts are, you can make whatever character you’d like without being restrained by die rolls, or predetermined categories. One of my big problems with the Margaret Weis version of their Marvel Super Heroes RPG was how you couldn’t really make your own characters and the premade Marvel ones were far from accurate. Honestly, the character creation system for Atomic Robo RPG is so fun, I’d use it (and the full mechanics) for other super hero licenses as well. There’s no reason why you couldn’t.
Which of course brings me to my next point. Do you have to be familiar with Atomic Robo to use or enjoy Atomic Robo RPG? Definitely not. The system does a great job of explaining the world of Atomic Robo, not just with words and descriptions, but with panels and sometimes full pages from the comic. Yes, instead of original art by guys like Larry Elmore or Timothy Bradstreet (I’m old!), Atomic Robo RPG does the right thing and uses the comic itself to sell and even explain the mechanics of the RPG. By the time you are done reading the core rulebook. You will not only feel familiar enough with the world of Atomic Robo. To comfortably play in it, but you’ll be treated to some great scenes from the comic and even have a bunch of spoilers on the first eight volumes of the comic. Of course, those free Comixology issues I mentioned at the beginning of the review will also help to familiarize yourself with the game. Between the two, by the time you are done reading the core rulebook, you’ll be enchanted by the world and mechanically equally.
For only twelve dollars, you’re getting a complete 300+ page core rulebook and an in-depth look at the Atomic Robo universe. For that price, you should definitely pick up the PDF version of the game, even if you’re only mildly familiar with Fate or Atomic Robo. Now I can’t say the same about the physical copy as it’s three times as much. That’s probably best left to people who really love Fate or Atomic Robo. Simply put, the Atomic Robo RPG is exceptionally well done. It does an amazing job of explaining everything and at no point does it ever get dull, dry or boring like a lot of core rulebooks. With this in hand, you’ll definitely be able to “Tell Stores the Atomic Robo Way” (Chapter Ten). Again, grab those free comics from Comixology and if this review or those comic have your interest in Atomic Robo RPG piqued at all, just throw money at Evil Hat via their website or DriveThruRPG.com and download this game already. You won’t regret it.