Wednesday, April 6, 2011

F is for: Formshifters

To the tune of the Transformers cartoon theme...

The Formshifters!
Robots from the sky!
Always more to buy!

fight a conflict to destroy 
the evil forces of
the Destruct-O-Trons!

Yeah it's kind of dumb but when I came up with it for a project back in high school it seemed to me to be the apex of parody. We had to do something involving an advertisement and parody and we had to present it live in class. The Transformers were getting fairly popular so I took a small plastic robot and a 16oz hammer and proceeded to "Formshift" him after singing something like the words above. For the rest of that year I drew little parody ads involving action figure robots and hammers and phrases like "realistic battle damage". Hey, no one else combined robots and tools for their presentation! It was pretty memorable because the hammer came out about a half a second before it hit the robot so there was a surprise factor there too. 

Anyway, that really wouldn't bear mentioning on a gaming blog except that I was also fleshing out a world for my on and off Champions campaign and even though Transformers was kind of after my time by a bit (it was more of a little brother kind of thing) I thought the idea of a band of shapeshifting alien robots was not a bad addition to a superhero campaign so the Formshifters (less the hammer) made the jump from my head to the Hero System. I worked up some stats, a backstory involving the Motorbots versus the Destructotrons that was a complete ripoff of the Transformers background. We then proceeded to not play Champions again for at least 5 years.

So later we're playing around with another superhero campaign and looking through my old notes I decided that my players would get a kick out of the old Formshifters adventure arc. I dusted it off, updated it to 4th edition Champions, reworked the background, and then we ended up playing something else.

Another buddy in college decided to run a Champions game. I heard about it second hand and decided to make up a new Formshifter. I showed up with "Countach" the super-fast robot who could turn into a Lamborghini and it turned out he wanted to run a gritty street level game and my silly robot was really not a great fit. I made a new character. For all of the 3 sessions the campaign lasted, he was great.

A year or so later there was a GURPS Supers campaign in the works so I wrote up a Motorbot leader for it complete with transforming robot followers and it lasted all of two sessions.

Flash forward again a few years, Mutants and Masterminds, blah blah, same thing.

(As you can see, even though I haven't played a ton of characters recently due to DM'ing most of the time, even when I was playing more there were a lot of false starts. If we had played at least 10 sessions of every campaign we started I would have a ton more stories and characters than I actually do.)

Eventually, I started playing City of Heroes and this let me FINALLY play the leader of the Motorbots, Maximus Alpha. 

Maximus Alpha - Leader of the Motorbots
Maximus is a Brick/Tanker type of character - big, tough, strong and strong-willed. In Hero terms he had a strength of 70 and was pretty much the strongest of the 'bots. I also gave him 1d6 of Unluck because it always seemed that he was getting into trouble. Other Motorbots include:

Pit-Stop - the medic Motorbot

Pit-Stop was one of my early write-ups from the first Champions notes set. He's a retired racer who went into medical science after his racing career was over. I see him as a healer, protector, and ranged attacker when it comes to combat, and no he doesn't look like an ambulance in car form - he looks more like a stock car or Can-Am racer.

Bot-Rod, the younger hot-headed Motorbot
Bot-Rod is newer than the others and I wrote him up originally to use as the hook character discovered by the PC's who are then dragged into the Formshiters War adventure in the campaign. I've always thought of him as more of a hand to hand fighter than some so his City of Heroes incarnation has a lot of fancy moves with bladed weapons. The fiery aura is there mostly because I thought it looked cool and fit the character. If you're going to have a flaming paint job then why not have flaming powers as well?

Having a themed all robot group in a superhero MMO is pretty fun and I've even talked a few friends into joining it. "Motorbots - formshift and move out!"

Glock Supreme salutes Maximus
My backstory concept, modified many times over the years, is that there is a civilization of intelligent robots out there somewhere. One of them started experimenting in ways the others found abhorrent and he was eventually expelled from their society. Searching for a technologically developed remote yet secure place to work he eventually discovered earth and landed there in the 1960's. Not all of the Formshifters were comfortable with simply unleashing their problem child on an unsuspecting and blameless universe so they assigned Maximus Alpha to recruit a small band of fellow bots and track their renegade down and verify that he was behaving himself. If he was not then they were to silence him and any of his experiments that were hanging around. This means Maximus is not just a benevolent do-gooder here to protect people - he's mainly here to kill a villain and stop whatever he's working on, while keeping a low profile with the natives.

Now to help keep that low profile when the Motorbot strike force arrived in the 1980's they used their formshifting power to take on the appearances of some of the most common mobile objects on the planet - motor vehicles. This lets them move among human society without detection or suspicion and is an excellent disguise for what would otherwise be a 20' tall robot. The problem is that once a Formshiter takes a form, it's either temporary or permanent. A temp form takes some effort to maintain and goes away if the bot goes unconscious. A permanent form has no overhead but cannot easily be changed without a lot of energy and some special equipment available only back on the homeworld. Since this was likely to be a long-term assignment the Motorbots permanently took on the forms of the vehicles they saw when they arrived. Unfortunately they cannot change to a newer form and as time passes this is causing them some problems as their once-anonymous shapes now stand out among the 20-30 year newer vehicles around them. "Hey there's a really clean 88 Vette outside" is not conducive to stealthy observation. "Car nuts" are a constant problem for them. 

The leader of the Destructotrons is Gigatronic, a large fighting robot who after seeing a lot of friends blown up in combat wanted to find a way to fight without risking real Formshifter lives. His experiments involved imbuing lesser forms of robotic life with a rudimentary intelligence or programming and he also did some experimentation on using parts from different robots and even destroyed Formshifters to cobble together some devastatingly effective though monstrous combat machines. These prototypes horrified many other Formshifters to the point they exiled him, casting him out for his explorations into the forbidden. 

Arriving on earth Gigatronic used his superior technology to integrate himself into human society and began his experiments all over again. Early on he had to steal technology and funds and for a time used a scrapyard as his secret base. From cars to military phase-outs this scrapyard business gave him a lot of raw material. His first step was to create some lieutenants and for the first generation he used some reanimated Formshifter bodies that he recovered from a battlefield on his way out of the robotic colonies. For a second and third generation he has used earth-native technologies boosted by his own improvements. With the rise of the internet his advanced technology has allowed him to expand into many businesses as a human presence is no longer required. He has created several corporations and makes a ton of money legally now, something the Motorbots are unaware of. They think of him as a deranged criminal, but he is really a scarred combat vet determined to find a solution to some of the problems he faced. That doesn't mean he is not a bad guy - he's willing to kill to make that happen - but it's not quite as black and white as the Motorbots would like.

As far as using the Destructotrons in a game there are all kinds of possibilities. Gigatronic is focused on advancing his craft but he does have lieutenants. There is tension between the first generation, who think of themselves as "real" formshifters, and the later generations who see them as delusional half-measures clearly inferior to the newer generations. Even between the second and third generations there s tension as the second generation (created in the 70's & 80's as microprocessor technology took off) is somewhat technologically inferior to the third gen bots (created in the 90's and oughts). Older Motorbots might recognize some of the first gen and might have fought alongside them in some old battles but assumed they were killed years ago, giving them a mystery to solve and a personal stake in things. A third-gen once discovered might laugh at a Motorbot trapped in a 25 year old body form. Many of the newer gen bots have no knowledge of the homeworld and no attachment to it - they are earth natives and this is home. The primary motivation for them is either knowledge (like their creator) or power (a side effect of their combat orientation) - some of the more common villain motivations like money or women or fame do not really apply to them. Not all of them have to be thrilled about the low profile policy of G-tron either, and may long for openness, especially in a world of supers.

To try and wrap this up I don't see this necessarily as a complete campaign unless all of your players want to play giant robots. I see it more as one possible story arc within a Supers campaign set primarily on modern or near-future (or near-past for that matter) earth. The player characters would encounter a transforming robot (probably a D-tron committing a crime of some kind), start looking for more of them, find more of them (probably the Motorbots as much of the D-trons are using native earth tech and harder to detect) leading to conflict (either through mistaken identity or interference with a mission) and more investigation of who and when and what and possibly taking sides. You also could flip it around and have Gigatronic asking for help to stop these alien assassins sent to kill him, especially if he has had positive contact with the heroes previously in the campaign.

Anyway there are a lot of possibilities here for several sessions of campaigning and then it could be resolved and the campaign could move on. For a future appearance using some old friends from this run there are possibilities as well. Who were the Formshifters fighting out there? Maybe one day it's time to find out.

One more thing:

Maximus Alpha, Leader of the Motorbots for ICONS

Prowess: 8 (Amazing) He is a combat veteran and hand to hand is his thing
Coordination: 6 (Remarkable) For such a big bot he is surprisingly agile, even graceful 
Strength: 8 (Amazing) He is the strongest of the Motorbots
Intellect: 6 (Remarkable) Not a genius but not easily outwitted either 
Awareness: 5 (Excellent) Years of experience mean he's canny and difficult to surprise
Willpower: 9 (Monstrous) His indomitable will is perhaps his defining characteristic, even more than his size and strength

Stamina: 17
Determination: 1

Origin: Unearthly (+2 to two stats)

Specialties: Leadership (Expert, +2), Military

Blast - 5 (Excellent) - Big Motorbot energy pistol. He prefers fists anyway.
Life Support - 4  (Good) - No breathing, no pathogens, no toxins, immune to vacuum
Invulnerability - 5 (Excellent) - It takes a fairly big gun or a fairly strong robot to hurt him, but he's not truly invulnerable
Transformation -8 (Amazing) 18-Wheeler from the 1980's, one particular form only! (Effective Super-Speed of 4 in this form)

"Ultimate Leader" - Maximus can, has, and will again sacrifice everything to complete his mission but he does have a moral code and would not consider blowing up the earth as an effective solution to his problem. His preferred solution would be to engage his enemy in one on one combat and beat him, settling the issue once and for all.

"Stubbornly Curious" - Though he does have a mission to complete, earth is his first extended exposure to alien life and despite his instincts he is almost insatiably curious about humans, their society, and their history and culture.  

"Glory-Hogging Martyr" - despite his hi-tech nature Maximus sees hand to hand combat as the ultimate expression of a warrior. He knows he's a badass and seeks to prove it in almost every confrontation. He leads from the front and heads for the biggest enemy target. Even if he is aware the enemy is trying to trap him he sometimes charges in anyway, confident he can take their best shot and still come out on top. He is more than happy to sacrifice his body or even himself if he thinks it will save his people or complete his mission. This has not always worked out well in the past and some of his followers cringe when it's brought up but he cannot be dissuaded from this approach - it's just part of his personality. 

"Giant Alien Robot that Looks Like a Truck " - He's about 25 feet tall in robot form and looks like an 18-Wheeler from 25 years ago in the other. Both of these can cause problems and frequently do. 

Maximus is pretty high powered at 68 points but he sets the upper limits for the Motorbots. Most of his followers would run in the 6-7 range for physical stats and the 4-6 range for mental. Gigatronic would have similar physical stats to Maximus but would flip the Intellect and Willpower scores. D-Trons would have higher physical stats and more combat powers but lower mental stats.  All Formshifters would have similar levels of Life Support and Transformation, with the D-Trons actually being a Transformation 9 due to their use of actual earth tech parts. 

Never know who you'll run into at these parties

No comments: