A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Robot Zombies and Exploding Mushrooms

No, I'm not talking about a Roger Corman film... This blog is about RPGs, so it has to be none other than Gamma World.

It's been a long, long time since I look at Gamma World, but I have to admit that I've been familiar with it all the way back to the first version. It didn't quite captivate me as much then, and when I did flip through the books that were available I couldn't help but think "I'm not wasted enough to handle this." Let's face it, James Ward must have been on something epic when he came up with the first few versions... Then again, looking through the original Monster Manual and Fiend Folio, maybe that was par for the course...

If you want to get a better understanding of the history of Gamma World, I suggest you read Angry DM's post "Taking the Game Seriously" and an analysis that he links to from there: "Gamma World: Over 30 Years of I Have No Idea What Is Going On". It's a great read!

Recently I picked up the latest version of Gamma World (the 2010 version), and I gotta say it is pretty wild. I look through these pages and can't help but think how much of this is lost on the youth of today. Some of this stuff is straight out of the science fiction/horror/post-apocalyptic movies I would watch religiously on cable at 3am in the morning. They just don't make this kind of cheese any more, do they? These are things that I would present to my son and he'd get a quick chuckle over, then move on; he'd much rather be bashing dragons with swords... that's much more realistic than a machine gun toting chickens and a cockroach the size of a Buick!

The thing is that, although the system is based on the 4e mechanic, it's much more simplified. It's not the content overload of D&D 4e: you don't have twenty different powers to consider, you don't have to worry about healing surges (you auto-heal at every short rest) and second wind is a minor action, there isn't an overly complex equipment system (except for Omega cards, which feels more like Magic: the Gathering than anything else. You even have to "tap" the cards when you use them) and several other things are much more easy to get started on. Strictly from a mechanics sense, I'd consider it a very good introduction to D&D 4e.

One thing I also found interesting is that, due to the nature of the environment and that nobody's supposed to be in control of mutations anyhow, character generation is completely random. If you don't like your character, take it out back, shoot him dead and re-roll another one.

To give you an idea of what this could create, using an online Javascript tool for Gamma World, I wound up with two characters:

  1. An Android Reanimated with a dexterity of 5, making him the clumsiest robot EVER. He carries a pair of binoculars and a canoe... 'cause, hey, in this world you never know when you'll need a canoe.
  2. An Exploding Fungoid that also has a canoe, but instead of the binoculars he was smart enough to bring a beer. Well maybe not *that* smart... hit Intelligence is 7. What can you expect from a sentient mushroom that just can't hold itself together?

Reading through the core manual and one of the add-ons (I have Famine at Far-Go. Still need to get Legion of Gold), it almost reads like the most off-the-wall comic book you can think of. Chickens with artillery, super-sentient badgers, sharks that tunnel through solid rock, little green men, cockroaches the size of RVs, the "yexil" (see below), etc... I may never play a game in my life but it's definitely worth it at least for amusement's sake.

Reading through all this must have affected my subconscious, because a few days ago I had an oddball idea for a short module. Well, it's either going to be a Gamma World module or a late night Cinemax movie, and I don't have the budget to do the latter. So I began to develop the story line in to a series of encounters.

But I realize I have a problem: I think I'm making it too serious. The first two encounters I created were pretty straight up, in the same style as several of my other encounters in the D&D world. But this isn't D&D we're talking about, this is Gamma World: the encounters just didn't feel weird enough. The two encounters could have been ported to D&D and they might actually fit.

I found myself out of my element for a bit, realizing that what I was doing simply wasn't in the style that Gamma World intends. To give you an idea of what that style is, look at what the sample campaign in the core rulebook has:

  • Heavily armored badgers with crossbows.
  • Pigs on motorcycles.
  • A "yexil", which is a giant, orange-colored lion with wings of a bat, mandibles of a spider and shoots laser beams from its eyes.
  • Gypsy moths that fire beams of radiation.
  • Radioactive birds.
  • Killer robots. Lots of killer robots.
  • A giant rabbit with a katana.

I mean, God, what were these people on when they came up with this stuff?

So I decided to try something for my third encounter that didn't already exist but seemed appropriate. No gimmicks or special circumstances to it, just the PCs walking along until they come up with... wait, seriously? Is that what I think it is?

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the module when it's done. It's technically the right length to be a Dragon/Dungeon submission, but I don't know if they're taking that sort of thing. I might resort to alternate means of distribution. I might give it away for free. Who knows? We'll see once I'm done.

In the mean time, let's see what character I get now: A Hawkoid Felinoid. I'm a bird cat... I'm my own worst enemy!

Comments () Trackbacks (0)

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Trackbacks are disabled.