Remember when I said that I had not played Gamma World yet… well, that all changed yesterday when I ran my first game of Gamma World. It was a lot of fun. I’ll explain what we enjoyed about the experience below.
I will say first off that our experience with Gamma World was fairly non-traditional, because, I ran the game with only one player, and that one player ran three characters. So, right off the bat, things were a bit different than how most role playing games are played. I had hoped to have a few other people, from the group of English Teacher gamers in the area come over, but most of these teachers were either on a massive ski trip, planned by other teachers in the area, or were headed out on dates, to concerts. But, I did have one of my players from my semi-frequent D&D group express interest in coming over and trying out some type of new game.
The first thing we decided was that instead of having him play a single PC and then dumb down the fights intensely, he was going to run 3 PC’s and we were going to keep the fights exactly the same as usual.
I wasn’t sure if the game was going to happen or not, so I didn’t have time to do any prep, so we decided to just use the adventure that is included in the box, the “Steading of the Iron King.” But before we get into the adventure, and how we liked the first few encounters, I want to talk about character generation. Given that the same player was going to be running three characters, we thought that it might take a little bit of time, but actually, we were able to pound out three characters in 20 minutes – and most of that time was spent with him copying down everything about the Origins onto lined paper, since I didn’t want to have to thumb through the book during the game, trying to figure out how his powers worked, I thought this would work better than simply writing down power names onto the character sheets provided in the box (which I actually hate, but I will get to that later). One thing that occurred to me during this phase of the session was that simply making copies of the one page origins and then having them at the table would be a great way to speed right through things. You could simply hand a character his origin copy and be done with it. If somebody in the party happened to roll the same thing, I would just ask them to re-roll their origin in order to keep the party’s mutations varied and interesting.
Character gen went great. My player ended up playing a Radioactive Hawkoid, named Mr. Flibbles (you Red Dwarf fans out there might recognize the name) – Mr. Flibbles was a giant radioactive Emperor penguin, who, through his radioactive mutation, gained the ability to fly, separating him from most of his flightless Emperor penguin brethren. His other two characters, a Cockroach Android, dubbed Mecha Mothra, and Piles (as in … of leaves), a Swarm of Bio-Matter, rounded out this little motley mutant crew.
If there weren’t enough laughs had during the random selection of Origins, there were quite a few when we got down to finding out what random junk he was carrying around – included among the three characters were: 2 Horses, one draft horse and one riding; a wagon; three canoes; 2 water purifiers; and a partridge in a pear tree (actually more like an Emperor Penguin riding in a canoe inside a wagon).
I wouldn’t say that I particularly liked the adventure in the book, but I won’t say it was bad either. The first two encounters ran very smoothly and there were some interesting surprises, especially in encounter 2. One of the big failing of that adventure had to do with the total absence of plot hooks or description of the outside village, which leads into the 8 encounter delve. As soon as I started the game, my player was wanting to know about the village and I had to make up some stuff on the fly, turning the village into a make-shift refugee camp inside the ruins of an old high school (gotta go with what you know right?).
One of the things that I would like to call out as being very, very awesome were the Alpha Mutation and Omega Tech cards. I was skeptical at first, but it turned out that they worked really, really well. One of the things that gets discounted a lot is that it would be just as nice having random tables for this type of loot; but honestly, that could really slow down the game, especially when you have to constantly write down new powers and erase old ones. I think, during the game, my player ended up having at least 3 Alpha Mutations per PC, due to Alpha Flux. The cards kept the pacing up and prevented the game from slowing down. Loved it. Also, when his PC’s searched around and found Omega Tech loot lying around, it was really easy to just hand him a card and say, “This is what you found.” I didn’t have to look up anything, and he didn’t have to fill in anything on his character sheets. Awesome.
Also, the speed of the game worked out really well. After just two encounters, with three PC’s, you get dangerously close to hitting L.2. After our second encounter, it was nearing time for him to head home, so I just had him level up and head back into the village to take an Extended Rest and barter using some of the random junk he found in the ruins.
There were a few negative things that I have to say about the game though. As we played, there were numerous times that I caught myself thinking, “Is this the same as in D&D 4e or not…” So, I had to go through the rule book and try to remember if that rule had been changed, thrown out, or left the same. I still haven’t been able to find out how standing from prone works in GW. We also had some problems finding out about healing, surges (there are none btw), and using a Second wind, which doesn’t work the same in 4e at all. Also, it was very unclear whether or not you add any ability score modifiers to damage with basic attacks (I think we found out that you don’t). The reason that this was such a pain was that the index for the book is EXTREMELY LACKING. It is only about half a page and it leaves out a lot of valuable information.
However, other than what I said above, the entire play experience was entirely enjoyable. With the general speed of leveling being fairly quick, it seems like you could pretty easily make it to the top without spending too much time; if I did, I would just start running paragon tier monsters from the other D&D books for my players and homebrew them some new powers.
We also shared some interesting thoughts on how we could see running Gamma World over the long run. My player didn’t have much of a connection to his characters, so he remarked that he didn’t really care if they died or not, and actually admitted that he would have loved for one of his character to die in order to bring in a new one. We both could see running a GW game using a party of PC’s which are drawn from an organization of some kind, then have the players play new characters, from that organization, alternating the characters played each session. We also thought it would be interesting if the players were actually rolled up 2 characters each, and then have them play two opposite factions trying to vie for the same hoard of omega tech; in the final battle, the GM would take control of one set of characters and the players would play the other, winner take all.
We really enjoyed our Gamma World session. All in all, it only took 3 hours to: Explain the rules, do character generation, explain the setting, explain the adventure setup, explore the adventure setting, and run 2 encounters. This is a game that you can do a lot with in not a lot of time; I like that. It works perfectly for my schedule. By the end of the game, we both agreed that we prefer GW using the 4e rules to actual 4e itself. That is a BIG DEAL. I am not entirely sure how I will cope with that in all honesty… is there a GSL for Gamma World??