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Monday 24 February 2020

Vamped Up Science Fantasy

Heart of Atom Isa: A Short System Neutral Adventure in a Science Fantasy Future of Old is a scenario for Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm, the roleplaying game of retro-Science Fantasy inspired by the artwork of Frank Frazetta and Roger Dean, the adventures of John Carter of Mars, Buck Rogers, and Barbarella published by Mottokrosh Machinations. Unlike the previous A Bride for a Vampire, which was a blend of the Gothic horror with the Science Fantasy, Heart of Atom Isa is very much grounded in classic Science Fantasy. It mixes Planetary Romance with a B-Movie supervillainess worthy of the Pulps of the twenties and thirties.

Heart of Atom Isa is written with Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm in mind, it is all but systemless, and so like A Bride for a Vampire, it can be adapted to almost any set of mechanics. This extends to the four given pre-generated Hypertellurians, who come with strengths and weaknesses, plus a drive, all ready for the Game Master to adapt to the roleplaying of her choice. Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm is of course, an Old School Renaissance Science Fantasy retroclone, so there are plenty of other retroclones which Heart of Atom Isa could be adapted to, but then again, it would equally work as well with Evil Hat Productions’ FATE Core. The given pre-generated player characters include a Victorian-era Ultranaut adventuress, a fez-wearing formless alien green blob fascinated by magic, a greedy ex-Pharoah, and a beetle-man general cut off from his Hive. The playing group is free to adapt these or use the the versions provided by the publisher.

As written, Heart of Atom Isa is designed to be played by four players in just one or two sessions. The scenario is thus relatively short, consisting of three scenes, but with plenty of scope for player input. The player characters are ultracosmic explorers, discovering the wonders of the multiverse aboard their silver bullet rocket, the Atom Isa. Unfortunately, when visiting the desert world of Sonnos, the ‘heart’ of the Atom Isa is stolen. It can still travel through space, but not with any sense of finesse, but it can no longer traverse across or through the Ultracosm. The culprit is Argencia, the feared Silver Sorceress known to crush men. As the scenario begins, they have discovered where the archvillainess lives—or hides depending upon your point of view—and that is amongst the nomadic tribe of Zelteens, who live and travel on gargantuan hermit crab-like beings, known as Tremendostaceans.

In the first part of the scenario get to visit the Zeldeens amongst their walking village of connected Tremendostaceans with their tremendous conical shells upon which stand the Zeldeens’ houses and connecting bridges, and visit one of their famous markets where traders from all over the Ultracomos come to deal. This can be in anything from strange paints (Dulux is not going to be offering these paints any time soon) offered by Magnus the Paint Seller and explorer’s gear from Taque’s Emporium for Explorers & Fortune Hunters such as a breathing bowl helmet to Lomarc’s Fashionistas of Tomorrow at which can be found figure hugging, shrink-to-fit Helix second skin onesies and Extra Teeth and Nanny Nontyvia’s Reclaimed Relics where you can find Relic-shards of the A.I. saints. Add in a table of random events, whatever the player characters want to do, and the opportunity to do some shopping, should provide plenty of opportunity for some fun gaming and roleplaying.

The second part sees the crew of the Atom Isa chase Argencia off Sonnos to her secret lair on a distant, icy moon. (Of course it has to be an icy moon, the player characters have been on a desert planet!) Naturally—or rather unnaturally (which is perfectly natural when you are dealing with a feared archvillainess like Argencia)—Argencia’s lair is just a little bit weird and a whole lot creepy, including keeping a harem of physically fit and attractive men and women for pleasure and decoration because, well because… In addition, Argencia has actual minions at her command, so if the player characters want a fight, then they will give it to them. Conversely, Argencia herself is intended to be sexy and slinky, preferring to use her charisma, bargains, and seduction to get what she wants. Or get away with what she wants. Ideally, she should give the Game Master plenty to get into in terms of roleplaying, but the sex appeal of the character may not be to be the taste of every playing group. Now Argencia is designed as a B-Movie, Pulp villain, and so this does fit the archetype, but the Game Master needs to be aware of this prior to play and may want to take her players’ sensibilities into account. Of course, like any good Pulp villain, there is a means for her to make her escape and be ready to make a comeback in a future scenario.

Physically, Heart of Atom Isa is a slim,digest-sized book. Done in full colour throughout, the artwork has a pleasing cartoonishly pulp look to it. In particular, the thumbnail portraits of the pre-generated player characters are really good. The adventure is mostly presented in an almost bullet point style, making it easy to pick up off the page.

Heart of Atom Isa is really easy to pick up and run and easy to adapt to the roleplaying game mechanics of the Game Master’s choice. A minimum of preparation is required and the Game Master could easily run Heart of Atom Isa as a completely systemless adventure with even less preparation. Whether running as a one-shot or as part of an Ultracosmic Saturday morning style serial, Heart of Atom Isa: A Short System Neutral Adventure in a Science Fantasy Future of Old is a tongue-in-cheek, pulpy, fun scenario.

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