Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Play A New RPG Month - Gamma World

A few weeks back I stumbled upon Play A New Role Playing Game (PANRPG) thanks to a post by Angry DM. October, if you’re unaware, is being promoted as Play a New RPG month. Considering this is followed up closely by Movember, I’ve got two full months of leaving my comfort zone and braving the unknown.

PANRPG encourages you to break out of your mold and try a new RPG. Besides being fun, it may let someone else take a turn DMing. It will expose you to new rule sets that may have something you find very interesting. It should help you appreciate what you like about your tried and true system and reinforce those points when (if) you return to it.

As it turns out, our gaming group had taken a break from our 4E campaigns and was dusting off all our board games we hadn’t had a chance to play lately. Like trying out a new RPG, I found a lot of the mechanics and game play in the board games made interesting food for thought. After our busy summers concluded, we all decided we wanted to jump back into RPGs. We’d eventually do a new 4E campaign, but one member had a few RPGs he’d been dying to try.

So without even trying, we ended up taking part in PANRPG month. We started ours a few weeks early, but it will extend into October and maybe beyond. In our case, we cracked open Gamma World to see how it ran.

Character Creation

We all decided to use the WotC automatic generator to create characters. Here’s how it feels. Walk into a grocery store blindfolded and run around screaming. Every 30 seconds, grab whatever food/cleaning product/shelf unit/small animal/person you just ran into and throw them into the cart. When you have 5 items in your cart, throw it all in a mixing bowl and cook at 350 for 20 minutes. You’ve just made supper! Or a Gamma World character.

The characters are crazy random, but that makes it fun. Everything from your origins to starting equipment is given to you by the dice gods. Not even old school D&D took away so much of your freedom. I ended up with a pyrokinetic plant, which became a Blazing Jack o’Lantern of Vengeance.  I made him into a giant pumpkin vine animating a suit of power armor. Kadaaf (a randomly generated name- what else?) would throw his grinning Jack o’Lantern head at his enemies shouting things like “Heads up!” or “Need a light?” and then grow a new head right after.

What I would change: I have no problem with the random generation for this game- it’s perfect for short games.  But I would like to make sure next time everyone has different origins. We had two plants and two giants at the table and that doesn’t give us much variety. With a game as crazy as Gamma world, especially for a one shot deal, you might as well appreciate the full zaniness the game has to offer.

What I like: It was easy to generate the character stats, but more difficult to create a character out of this. You had to stretch to bring some of your random concepts together, and that’s a good thing. The best creations are born that way.  Plus the lack of choice meant your character was ready to go immediately and you didn’t even need to know the rules.

The other nice thing about a rules light game featuring insane creations is that you can make crazy characters like pumpkins who throw their heads and it’s OK. In 4E, a head throwing character is so far off the charts for character creation that my Player’s Handbook would sit down and cry if I even tried.

Balance is for Tightropes, Not Radioactive Landscapes

So with our wildly different characters that have no synergy or balance amongst them, we head off to the adventure. And then we experienced Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech.

Remember the analogy about shopping blindfolded? Now imagine that while you’re eating your grilled sandwich of sawdust, pickles, a $5 bill, eggs and frozen cardboard, someone would come around every few minutes and spray each bite with a different condiment. First, you might get ketchup. The next time you get hairspray. After that you get hair. That’s what it’s like playing with Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech. Random powers that just keep popping up at … well, random.

What I would change: How could you change this in Gamma World? Forget about it.

What I like: Alpha Mutations are what I like to call “Hope”. You have so few options available with your characters, and so little control over how they were created, that you are desperately searching for some extra zip to come around and save your bacon when the going gets tough. That’s what these cards do. Even if you’re on the verge of getting wiped out, you can always hope to roll a ‘1’ and get a new Alpha Mutation.  Maybe it will be the one that saves your life! You can try to overcharge and get more power, or use that piece of tech and see if it blows up in your face. But no matter how long or hard the fight gets, you know something can always happen at random to change the landscape in a hurry.

Radiation is Deadly

I keep reading about how deadly the Gamma World game is. I don’t see it. The three fights we had were quite manageable. Ok, well, yes, we did end up entering our characters in the TPK Hall Fame in the last fight, but that was a very winnable battle. And it wasn’t my fault we lost, nope, no siree, Bob. We had poor strategy, and I almost actually won that fight and I only needed a few less bad rolls during my last 8 rounds of the firefight. So I’m not complaining.

If you can scrape through a fight, you get all your hit points back. Second wind is a minor action that heals half your hit points. There are no dailies either, so you have no excuse for holding back.

What I would change: Nothing.

What I like: I like more emphasis put on to the “now” part of the fight. Every fight can be an exciting near death experience and it’s no big deal because you’re at full hit points and ready to do it all over again in a few minutes. No extended rests, no excuses, no saving up for next fight; just burn them all!

Plus a TPK now and then let’s you really appreciate those near TPK’s that you avoided in the past. (or will in the future)

Same Ole, Same Ole

To steal and abuse a quote from Bon Jovi, “It’s all the same, only the games are changed.” Gamma World is a mutant skin pulled around a 4E D&D chassis. The rules were nice and familiar so we picked it up in no time. Despite all that, it had an old school feel to it, and not just because of the random characters. Combat went fast in Gamma World. Part of this is because of the high damage output of both the monsters and characters. But part of it was the simplicity of the characters. No action points, mostly basic attacks with one or two encounter powers. No crazy four attack Nova combos with 20 dice rolls to finish. We got through our characters meeting up, the adventure introduction, some minor investigation and finished 3 combats in less than 3 hours. Plus the usual mid game breaks. I’m even pretty sure that if we decided not to use a map and minis, the game would have played out the same. That’s old school.

That simplicity probably doomed my group. There’s a strong striker-oriented mindset in our group- run up and pulverize whoever is there. As the pyrokinetic, I was the only real striker in the group. Everyone else was out of their element and for whatever reason, the adjustments didn’t come. Instead of using standard 4E strategies of shifting, setting up flanks and using focused fire, the group constantly split up during battle, got bottled up and in the end, got reduced to writhing masses of glowing green goo. Of course, I was blameless in this entire affair. Yep, uh huh, no blame here.

What I would change: Nothing. In fact, we should do this more often. Getting out of a striker mentality can only help us become better at the game. I’m more of a defender mentality, so playing a striker opened me up to a different viewpoint.

What I like: Speed rules, baby. Whatever Gamma World is selling out of the back of their android, Yeti battle trucks to make fights go that fast, I want some. There’s no downtime in the irradiated future and I like it!


When it comes to gaming, I'm happy just to play. That being said, I really enjoyed my trip to Gamma World. The chaos in this game is the perfect fit for our group where nothing goes quite as planned. The quick pick up from 4E also made it super easy to jump into. For a long term game, I don't think it will quite cut it. Gamma World is all about barely getting through your lives, not building them up to something better or changing the world. That same fun chaos factor also indicates a lack of control that makes it hard to treat this as any more than a series of dungeon delves.

We're going to give Gamma World another go and finish our adventure. We decided to allow rerolls of characters if they match origins previously or already taken. And we're going to start at level 5 now to see how the game plays out when you are allowed to put the hammer down. Our GM gets to pull out some bigger baddies now and we'll see how bad life can really get for mutantkind.

So go out and give PANRPG a try. If you played Gamma World, I'd love to hear about it. If you're playing something else, I'd like to hear about that, too, so we know which new RPG to try next.

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