business as usual
The other week, we ran Gamma World (2e) using the Serpent Temple – Lost Tombs by Mark Thomas from the 2009 One-Page Dungeon Contest. I replaced the Lizard Men with Hissers (snake-headed dudes armed with golf clubs), turned the undead into robots, and otherwise just said, hey, have at it.
One player went for Pure-Strain Human (“Lomez,” whose name I kept mixing up with “Lomax” all night), another went for a Humanoid (“Sir Francis” the telekinetic), and one went the route of the Mutant Animal. The Mutant Animal, Kyrmit, was through a freak of dice rolling, the most powerful characters I think I’ve ever seen. He had flame-thrower hands, could create 10 duplicates of himself, vaporize enemies with a psychic pummelling, bounce damage he suffered back on its source, and read minds. Kyrmit was, basically, a Level 20 Magic-User hanging out with some durable meat-shields. (Lomez’s player proudly points out that he stabbed a monster for 1d6 damage, and figured out “laser scissors.”)
Given the enormous hit points of Gamma World 2e characters – (Con)d6 for most folks in a world where mundane attacks typically do approximately 1d6 damage – I started the characters off in Room H – dropped in by the Snake Priestess as a sacrifice to the horrific snake-abominations. Which were almost immediately destroyed by 10 Kyrmits, telekinetic crushing courtesy of Sir Francis, and Lomez’s lone 1d6 damage. The characters wandered around some, encountered some horrible-to-pronounce plant monsters, killed a Snake Priest, deciphered his mystical “paralysis rod” and “laser scissors,” and then went to the Hisser village to steal a boat to go home.
the escape plan goes awry due to a bad GM call
The gang ended up using telepathy to scope out the village. Sir Francis used telekinesis to pick up an insanely poisonous barracuda-fish to slap enemies and kill them with one hit. Lomez liberated a boat. They were all about to get free, when – fearing that this was going too smoothly and I should increase the opposition – I had the Snake Priestess show up and Death Field (or Life Leech, I get them mixed up) pretty much everyone, and I think there was some kind of area-of-effect attack to kill everybody once they hit 1 HP. This killed 2/3 of the party, plus 10 Kyrmits, but Kyrmit Prime was apparently invincible and, I think, escaped handily.
Sir Francis’s player took the death of his PC stone-faced, but Lomez’s player was visibly bummed out, and thought it was bullshit that the Snake Priestess could arrive at that location, at that time, and put a whammy on everyone in the way that she did.
And he was right. I hadn’t drawn a map of the village. I didn’t know the distance involved or how fast the Hissers moved. (We had already established that the Snake Priestess had this nasty mojo, though.) It turns out when you look it up in the book, a boat movies at speed “varies,” whereas the Hissers are pretty slow. As narrated, the boat would have been out of range long before the Snake Priestess could get into position. (The player didn’t point this out; I checked the rules and realized it couldn’t possibly have happened.)
So I ret-conned the last round, we had some carnage courtesy of the telekinetically wielded Death-Fish, and the three critters escaped to fight another day. At some point it was decided that Kyrmit should have pants – he missed out on some nice treasure simply because he didn’t have any pockets – and thus an epic quest was initiated . . . to be followed up, someday.
gamma world: what is the deal
Gamma World looks like a weird game, and the design is even weirder than it appears. In 2e, advancement is almost exclusively a question of getting better access to gear through social networking with the secret societies. (Tavis advises that several of his characters back in the day used to play “icarus” with radioactive sites, trying to get just close enough to radiation to mutate further, without getting killed.) Hit Point tallies are enormous, rendering a lot of conventional D&D-style weapons meaningless – though I didn’t check the more lethal ultra-tech items. Mutations are clearly standing in for spells, but you don’t get to change them each day, or (absent radiation) get new ones.
Most of the bestiary is full of critters with forgettable names, and who likely started as bad jokes in Ward’s home game (the badger-men who worship the University of Wisconsin mascot; bunny-men who turn things into bouncy rubber; etc.).
In effect, without a lot of inspiration and weird imagination, Gamma World seems to be mainly about the fun of rolling up an absurd character, and it’s kind of downhill from there. I’ve never heard of a Gamma World game lasting more than a few sessions.
Obviously a big part of my problem with Gamma World is that gonzo isn’t my style of game (though I do appreciate it very much from afar). I generally find pop-culture jokes really jarring in games like this, so you’re left with High Weirdness, which as a participant doesn’t give me enough to connect to, emotionally. (I like Pendragon so much in part because the setting connects to my dude at so many different points, including his personality traits, his passions, his income, and his ambitions.) A lot of the post-apocalyptic fantasy stuff that fed into Gamma World was long gone by the time I was a teenager in the post-Berlin-Wall 90’s.
I’m willing to give Gamma World a go – Jared makes a good point that Gamma World is kind of like “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: the RPG,” which may be a fruitful way for me to look at it – but it’s not a passion for me.
Tell me, people of the Internet: have you played in long-term Gamma World games? What in the world were they like? Reveal my ignorance and stupidity that I may stand corrected!