super frog defeats gamma world

a gamma world party

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!

6 Responses to “super frog defeats gamma world”

  1. 1 justme
    November 2, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    I’ve played a number of Gamma World (and Mutant Future) games over the years. The longest I’ve managed was a year and a half playing pretty much weekly (using GW 4th edition). A GM has to put in a lot of work to maintain a GW campaign and make it keep working. The whole cryptic/secret society thing can be used or simply ignored as desired the game doesn’t depend on it. The modules produced for GW were all over the place in tone and some simply don’t work with each other.

    Recommendations for running a GW campaign:
    Read the mutations list carefully, come to grips with how you as GM would deal with them and simply dump those from your campaign you don’t want to deal with PC’s having access to.
    Make the apocalypse your own. When and how it happened (in broad strokes) is important to the campaign as it develops what player could find and under what sort of situations. You don’t want badger men and rabbit men… don’t use them. The mutation rules give you a built-in monster generation system that will provide plenty of options.
    Have and idea of who you want the PCs to be and set things up to support or shape that. You want noble reconstructionists give them that shot. You want ruthless scummy scavengers build things with that in mind having the wrong tone or style and something the players can’t identify as goals will end the campaign.

    As for weapons and HP. In GW characters get 1 HD per point of CON and that’s that under most situations, HP advance very slowly if at all (CON increase is the only way it happens in 1st and 2nd editon GW). The average mutant PC will have about 36 HP, D&D characters aren’t immune with that may HP and GW has mutations and artifact weapons that will burn off those HP in short order. It’s more like cinematic movie violence or comic-book violence if you keep to the rules. Want more realistic crank back the HP totals and reduce the initial frequency of damage dishing mutations and weapons, I’ve found CON+3d6 gives enough HP to have a chance but still be a bit more gritty and if you want to allow it give and extra HD with each level/rank form there if you want D&D style character improvement.

  2. 2 maldoor
    November 3, 2013 at 12:28 am

    James, I cannot say I ever played in a long-term GW game, but I did play a bunch as a teenager. Most games were one or two sessions only. To throw out a couple observations on your comments:

    While characters have a lot of hit points compared to a starting character in D&D (and a straight-up sword fight can be a battle of attrition) poison and radiation are frequently encountered and advanced weapons and mutations often do 5 or 6 dice of damage per shot. One grenade can do 5d6 to multiple targets.

    Rolling up characters IS a lot of fun – for me it is like Traveller, where simply rolling up a character inspires storytelling to explain the rolls.

    Regarding your focus on connecting to characters and long-term campaigns: Most of my GW games ended in spectacular misadventures, and that can definitely be a lot of fun. Consequently I think GW is best played as an exercise in what bizarre thing happens to which character next, less as an extended campaign. This is a fun thing to do for a few hours with some friends when you do not have the expectation or ability to meet on a regular basis or want a break from a regular game.

    I also think justme’s comment above about considering the mutations carefully is a good one. Like certain magic items they can change the tenor of a game when imaginatively used.

  3. February 4, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    A while ago, Tavis recommend I read “Hiero’s Journey” by Sterling E. Lanier, because that combined with Metamorphosis Alpha were the main inspirations for Gamma World. I finally had the time to read it a couple of weeks ago, and it I have to say it is a solid if quirky SF novel- but all the strangeness makes sense in context of the world he describes.
    But I think a lot of the strange aspects of Gamma World make more sense to me after reading it- certainly it is a lot clearer of how psionics should work, or where the Cryptic Alliances are supposed to fit into the campaign. I think it suffers a bit like Traveller, where it assumes you have read the reference literature and come into it with a vision of how the game should play- so the game focuses on the just the 10,000 foot world/universe view or all the fiddly details.

  4. 4 Jarrett
    February 15, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Played a multi-adventure GW 2nd ed campaign in the late 80s. As we played through Legion of Gold and Famine at Fargo modules we somehow didn’t understand that the setting was so gonzo and missed most of the jokes, instead dutifully approaching it like a mid-level dungeon crawl (which some of the early modules basically were). From there we moved into the next generation of published GW adventures, which seemed to take themselves MUCH more seriously — just compare the cover of GW6 Alpha Factor to GW1. Though I think we started with a more “serious” approach to the game, oddly we lost interest when the published products followed suit and we moved on to TMNT, Robotech, Marvel Superheroes, etc.

  5. 5 basementleader
    July 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    I played a lot of Gamma World back in the day, many years for sure. The best thing about the game was its open ended character creation system. Because the constraints were scant at best, it allowed you to create a character unlike any from any other game. I recall my character, Andrew Quadpod, a 4 meter snake with wings. The lower section of his body split into four “appendages”, so he could stand, walk, etcetera. My best friend in the game was “Karl”, who was a disgusting acne covered human who had a hostility field. A game of flaws! What would James Bond be without his weakness for women? I do recall radioactive crater bathing to try and get new mutations. As far as running the game, the GM’s job was easier than Top Secret or CoC, where everything mostly had to fit into historical context and/or make sense. GW had “Blast Shutters” that were employed on city buildings to protect them from the apocalypse. I mean that is like totally crazy! Long live Gamma World! (I have a great Crockoid adventure mod if any one wants to play).

  6. June 18, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    I like this approach a lot… I’d love to see how you’d apply it to non-spellcasters.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

November 2013

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