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I am a hyper-critical person about games.  I can be an absolutely nit-picky turd when it comes to a new roleplaying game setting or system hitting the market.  I routinely call many supplements, “not worth the paper they’re printed on,” and, “a colossal waste of space.”  I love getting a new game, sitting down, and like some mad scientist reverse engineering a device that fell from space, I tear that son of a bitch apart, looking for every weakness, fallacy, and foible.  I get gleeful about.

That said, when I find a game that really captures my attention, I become giddy as hell.  I will loudly, and repetitively, crow about its merits to anyone in earshot that will listen, and some that won’t.  My girlfriend and our other friend Nikki both have observed that I can be like a kid of Christmas morning when it comes to games.  I cheerfully tear into the packaging, almost lustful about what is contained within.  Once I get a chance to delve in and see that it’s a solid system, well the maniac gleam in my eyes intensifies, and I go whole hog.

That was pretty much my reaction when I opened the boxed set for the new Gamma World game produces by Wizards of the Coast.  This was some serious saved face for them, in my book, after what I call the Essentials debacle (fodder for a different post, okay?).  All the rules you needed to play were contained in a much smaller book, about the length and width of the Essentials line books, but much, much thinner.  Sheets of cardboard punch-out tokens to represent characters and monsters, a nice fold-out poster map, the deck of cards containing Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech, and a randomized pack of cards to add in to the Mutations and Tech decks were all inside; the only thing missing were dice!  I haven’t seen THAT since the days of the old red and blue boxed sets, back in the 80s (and they did come with dice).

Now, back in the day, I had only played Gamma World twice and then once again in the days of D&D 3.5 when it was produced by a White Wolf subdivision, and run at a Con by my friend Curt.  All three times were a riot, being just marginally serious enough to hold attention, but for the most part being off-the-wall, funny as hell, and entertaining in its ridiculousness.  Giant mutated badgers and bunnies that walked like humans, murderous and cantankerous as hell; mutated pigs called Porkers who acted like either bikers or rednecks; hell, even the world itself was amazingly ridiculous, a kind of Rifts through the Looking Glass. (Very inside joke there for gamers.  Look up the game Rifts by Palladium for some context, if you don’t know.)  It was the kind of game you played, had some laughs, and then got back to the serious campaign at hand in Vampire, Werewolf, Dragonlance, or what-not.

I have to say, they have really kept that feeling with the new one.  They changed the basic storyline up a bit, going from a massive war that caused the mutations and fallout to what is now dubbed, “The Big Mistake.”  The Hadron Collider in Europe caused some serious problems, and all the possible histories of our world collapsed into one singular world: Gamma World.  The best way I can sum up the feel of this world is to quote directly from the basic book itself:

In some of these universes, little had changed; it didn’t make a big difference which team won the 2011 World Series, for example.  In other universes, there were more important divergences: The Gray emissary who was carrying gifts of advanced technology, wasn’t shot down at Roswell in 1947, the Black death didn’t devastate the known world in the 14th century, the dinosaurs didn’t die out, Nikolai Tesla did conquer the world with a robot army, and so on.  The Cold War went nuclear in 83 percent of the possible universes, and in 3 percent of the possible universes, the French unloaded their entire nuclear arsenal on the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, because it had to be done.  When reality stabilized again, an instant after the Big Mistake, the familiar Earth of the 21st century was replaced by one formed from many different realities.

The year is now 2162 (or 151, or 32,173, or Six Monkey Slap-Slap  depending on your point of view).  It’s been a hundred and fifty years since the Big Mistake, and the Earth is a very different place.

That’s right; it actually says some of the denizens of this world refer to the year as Six Monkey Slap-Slap.  That is just a TASTE of what is in this game setting.

But what’s more, the mechanic is beautifully clean.  They really stripped down the core mechanic for Fourth Edition D&D, taking out a lot of the more intricate rules that a serious roleplaying game needs, and crafted a system that runs cinematically and quickly, with an emphasis on “OH HOLY CRAP.”  Adjustments to the systems include removing the concept of character classes, making the Second Wind ability a minor action, and basing all the power progressions off of character type.

Characters roll randomly for their origins twice, creating possibly mishmashes like Cockroach and Rat Swarm (man-sized and shaped swarm of roaches, anyone?), Seismic and Hawkoid (wanna be a gargoyle?), and more.  If you roll identical to your first roll, your second origin is Engineered Human, making you one of the few truly human-looking denizens of the world.  With the two expansions, there are a total of 49 origins possible for combinations.  These origins give you your powers and other small adjustments and abilities to make you unique.

They trimmed down the equipment list to generic classes of weapons (Melee, Ranged, Light, Heavy, Two-Handed, One-Handed), and armor down as well to Light, Heavy, and Shield.  You can describe these any way you want; it really is about the flavor.  So if you want your Seismic Engineered Human to wear plate armor made from Chevy Camaro fenders, carrying a shield made from an oil drum, and wielding a battle-axe made from a sharpened Stop sign… go for it.

Generating your ability scores is very easy.  The favored Ability for your first origin is set at 18 automatically.  The favored Ability for your second origin is set at 16; if both your origins share the same favored Ability, you set it at 20.  All the rest of Abilities are rolled on 3d6, in order.  They use the exact same abilities as the D&D game itself, paired the same way: Strength/Constitution, Dexterity/Intelligence, Wisdom/Charisma.  Some people would complain about this, but this really is a game about having fun for a session or four, and damn the consequences. (Kind of remind you of Paranoia, from West End Games?  It should; Paranoia was inspired by Gamma World and Metamorphosis: Alpha.)

Skills are a static list, just like D&D, and each origin provides you with special bonuses to certain skills, effectively “training” you in them.  In addition to skills from your origins, you also get to roll once, randomly, on the skill table to see what else you know, with the inherent +4 bonus.

One thing I really like about this is that there is no pages-long list of powers to pick from or ream of sheets listing possibly feats; your powers come from your origin, and there are no feats in this game.  Sure, you can add them yourself if you like (and I am working on that possibility right now), but you don’t NEED to for the game to run and be fun.

Alpha Mutation cards and Omega Tech cards add an interesting random element to the game, giving you the chance to do something else goofy and possibly helpful.  After combat, you cycle out old Alpha Mutation cards for new ones.  Omega Tech you hold onto until you use it, then you can either try to salvage it, or just wait until you find a new cache to raid!  Oh, and ammunition… I love the way they handle it.

Say you carry a .45.  You get into a fight.  If you fire it once, you are considered to be conserving ammo, and you still have ammo at the end of the combat.  If you fire it twice, you might as well fire it every round, because you are considered to be going whole-hog, and will be out of ammo at the end of combat, until you find some.  Oh, and ammo is ammo; if your GM tells you that you find an ammo cache, your ammo is reset until you go shooting the shit out of things again.  Streamlined, fun, easy.

So far, there are two expansions for Gamma World, named after classic Gamma World modules: Famine in Far-Go and The Legion of Gold.  There are rumblings of a third expansion coming out soon, as well.  (To let you know how much I love this game, I immediately ordered the expansions after getting the basic set.  If I had money to waste on booster packs for the cards, you can bet your ass I would be ordering those, too!)  I also have linked at the bottom some resources I have found for the game online.

What do you think? – great home-brew resource site, including a really good engine for making your own monsters, adding Gamma World-flavored templates to D&D monsters, and introducing Blast and Burst weapons.  I love and highly recommend this site! – Official WotC content for vehicles in Gamma World! – Some guidelines for turning your own hometown into a Gamma World site.


One Comment

  1. I love Gamma World, but I love 4e too.

    One tip I’ve been passing around to those new to Gamma World is to download a map of your local mall and have an adventure in a your own local post apocalyptic future!

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