Posted by : David Guyll October 08, 2010

Gamma World (or is it D&D Gamma World?) is a stand-alone post apocalyptic role-playing game that almost entirely operates on the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons--a motion that I wholly endorse--set on Earth 150 years afters the Large Hadron Collider goes south and ends up merging multiple timelines into one. It comes with a comparatively small, 160-page rulebook, four character sheets (also small, but double-sided), two sheets of tokens for characters and monsters, a large deck of Alpha mutation and Omega tech cards, and an eight-count randomized booster to add to the, well, randomness.

Unlike Dungeons & Dragons (and most role-playing games that I've played), Gamma World encourages you almost completely randomly generate your character with the exception of a few power choices made throughout the course of your career. From a table of twenty origins you roll twice, and these form the foundation of your character concept (and if that's not enough, the next expansion will add twenty more). If you want more control, the book recommends rolling for either your primary or secondary origins, picking the other, but if you really want you can just pick both. On one hand, I like the challenge of being forced to merge to random elements together, but on the other I just want to play an adorable swarm of kittens (or ferrets) linked by a hive-mind. 

Your origins determine the one-or-two key stats that you'll be using to blast, tear, and mind-rape victims apart as you tour the wastes: the primary gets an 18, the secondary a 16, and if both use the same then its a 20. For the rest, you *GASP* roll 3d6...in order. I fucking hated rolling stats in the past because commonly I had a concept in mind, and rolling--especially in order--was a surefire way to fuck me out of a good time. This? Not so bad. I could see doing this in D&D games, having characters roll stats but nudging their keys up to 16 and secondaries to 14 if they roll less than that (before applying racial mods). This would virtually guarantee functionality, but I digress.

Once you've determined your origins, you get all the traits--with the exception of the level 2/6 critical ability--and novice powers, which serve as your at-will attacks. All origins have a utility and expert power, from which you can choose from either as you level up, ultimately getting both. While only six powers over the course of ten levels it might not seem like a lot, but you get access to continually fluxing mutations and technological doodads that are determined by drawing cards.

Yep, cards


Before I go any further, some people are pissed that Wizards has added a random, arguably collectible element to the game. The game comes with an ass-load of cards, more than enough to play by itself, but if you want you can buy additional boosters. Again, the game comes with everything needed. You don't need to buy boosters. It's not some fucking trading card arms race. That being said, I like cards, so I picked up a pack. I forgot what was in it (though plasma sword seems familiar for some reason), and I don't care because it was only four bucks. However from a practical standpoint, you will go through numerous mutation fluxes and find tech at a much faster rate than you do items in D&D, so this makes it so, sooo much easier for a DM to juggle. I'd go fucking insane if I had to randomly roll and explain 3-4 magic items after every. Single. Encounter.

Whew. That being said, let's move on.

Cards represent mutations or tech, and are parsed as such into separate decks. 


Starting with Alpha Mutations, each player starts out by drawing one and keeps it at the ready (higher level characters ready more mutations). Some mutations grants passive benefits, an encounter power, or both. If it has a power you can attempt to overcharge it by making a d20 roll; a 10 or higher means increased effect, while a 9 or less means it backfires somehow.For example, death reading is a psi mutation that let's you touch a corpse and determine its name, how it died, and something it felt was important. If you overcharge it and succeed, you can animate the corpse to be your personal caddy, but if you fail then you experience the subject's death and are both stunned and rendered prone until you save. Sounds harsh, but you know the risks before you take it, and origins grant you a bonus to different mutation categories so you can try to play it safe(er)...if the cards are right. After each encounter, extended rest, or nat 1 you roll triggers an Alpha flux, which means that you ditch one or all of your cards for new ones.

Omega tech are like treasure drops. In most cases players will be able to loot one after each encounter, represented by drawing from the deck. While Omega Tech can break, players can in some instances salvage it if at a sufficient level. This makes it into a permanent item, allowing you to use it every encounter albeit at reduced power. Unlike Alpha Mutations, there's no limit to the amount of tech you can pack within reason. The only time you ditch tech is if you don't want it, barter it/give it away, or it breaks and cannot be salvaged.

On the topic of tech, most of the gear in Gamma World is handled in a very abstract way. You don't pick from various suits of armor or types of weaponry, instead picking items that fit in a general category. For example, you might use ancient plate armor for heavy armor, or a leather duster as light armor. Your katana might be a light melee weapon, while a chain saw is a heavy melee weapon. There's several examples provided for each type, but ultimately it falls to the group to arrive at a mutual conclusion. Really, the only mechanical choices are to have a hand free but deal less damage (or use a shield), or use both hands to deal the most damage. Simple, but perhaps too simple for my tastes.

The rest of the book is devoted to briefly providing some backstory (almost 2 pages...weak), setting details, sample sites, adventure design, monster tactics, and of course monsters. While some more concrete setting detail might have been nice, I've played and read enough post apocalyptic material to get the gist of whats going on, here. The Fallout series is a good place to start, while Shazbot recommends Borderlands. I dunno, after Rifts I'm kind of glad to have a 99% blank slate to work with. I liked the suggestion to use your local area and fuck it up, and will be doing just that for my first game.

There's 30 pages of monsters, and unfortunately each type only gets a single side of a single page, so there's not a lot of variety despite the 10-level cap. They're all statted using the updated layout from Monster Manaul 3, which means that you could easily get away with throwing D&D monsters into the game with little to no modification necessary; in fact, there's a displacer beast nom-nomming on someone near the start of the book, so maybe this was assumed? I would have liked to have seen more "real world" monsters added to the mix, like in D20 Modern. I think that this game would have been a lot better with a DM book that detailed some sample maps and more information on building up the world, as well as a monster book (or at least monster formula). It's a big box, after all.

{ 11 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. It's really quite faithful to the source material. As an example, every monster in it save one is present in the 2nd Edition main book. I'm thinking it will be quite easy to reduce the randomness of the mutation cards by having them stay around for re-use. ( Or having the physical mutations stay around, and the mental ones occasionally get switched out, say after exposure to radiation. )

    Also, there are six extra monsters in the back in the sample adventure.

    I'm quite optimistic about what the expansions will add. The first one has 20 more origins for characters. And I'm quite certain that Pure Strain Humans will be making a comeback on one of the first two expansions.

    This release has made me pull out my old Gamma World stuff ( 1st and 2nd Edition ) to compare it. Some of those old adventures were quite lengthy. I'm pondering some conversions, but it may end up being better to make something up.

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  2. The problem I have with the "you don't have to buy the cards" stuff is that...yes, yes you do HAVE to buy the cards. Every review I have read has said the game is a fair bit lethal and characters are likely to die. Let me guess, if you buy some boosters and get the really cool rare cards you have a better chance to survive. On top of that, throw in the fact that players can build personal decks from boosters...and BOOM! CCG.

    You don't HAVE to get air conditioning for your car either but it sure does make driving more fun.

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  3. @Fildrigar: Glad to hear it, and I'm also looking forward to the expansions. :-3

    @Anon: It's possible that if you buy boosters you might get your hands on cards that confer superior mutation powers and/or technology that what you had in your starter deck.

    Understand, however, that not all cards are created equally. Some provide some pretty narrow focus, like letting you see what a dead body did before it died. I got one that let's me grow clown's feet and swim, which isn't as powerful as one that lets you grow wings.

    You're also assuming that Wizards left out all the "good stuff". I don't remember what cards came in the box, but I'm sure I saw a level 6 and 8 item, which sounds pretty badass to me.

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  4. @Antioch, the problem is that this game breaks a mega rule for my gaming table, and that's that all my players are equal. They may not all have the same abilities, or be equal in all situations, but they all had the choices at chargen.

    This sets up players willing to spend more money to have more value in the party because they have access to a wider array of cards.

    It will spawn the same sort of arms race that all CCGs do. And yeah, as a GM I can say, "No you can't use the cards you bought" but how fun is that?
    About as much fun as having the guy with the most disposable income (or least sense) be the one that runs every combat because he has the best personal deck.

    No thanks. Not for $4, and certainly not for $40+

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  5. Also, I forgot to ask any of you apologists why WotC couldn't do this game with random tables?

    The CCG element is not some throwaway mechanic that they don't care if people use. You're naive if you think it is.

    The cards will be a necessity if you want to play the game, the same way minis became a necessity for D&D.

    Within 5 years D&D will have a new edition and it will have collectible figs and cards. No PHB or DDI, the PHB will be collectible cards and clix.

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  6. At first I thought I would never play the new Gamma World, because I have given up on 4th edition entirely. But this game seems a lot more light, both in tone and how you run it. I think this could be really fun as a sort of "side-game" to whatever else you are playing or just something to enjoy in a weekend like you would a boardgame.
    I think I will get it :-)

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  7. Likes: Abstraction of Weapons, Addition of the earth, android, and plants. The two origin requirement and having to weave them together. The Layout was nice, though the colors were off putting. The ammo rules are simple. I love the small form factor of the book, but there should have been two of them with bigger fonts.

    Dislikes: The cards. I don't mind the tapping et cetera, but setting it upas a CCG is kind of weak, and the fact that they can change every encounter makes it clunky. I can no longer make mutant marijuana plant or a sentient cactus that wipes hallucinogenic slime on its victims.

    The ammo rules are too simple; the abstraction is too much like a beer and pretzels game and makes suspension of disbelief kinda of difficult upon the read through. Have to see how it plays.

    Most of all, the non-book materials were of great quality, but the book itself is not bound particularly well. After two read-throughs, the density of it is pulling it away from the spine.

    I am keeing an open mind. While reading is great, the playtest will really see if this is an abomination of WotC garbage or if it really plays well...can't wait to see some actual playtest reviews...

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  8. My take on it, if interested...

    http://gneech.com/rpg/gamma-world-cheese-and-leaky-fusion-rifles-review/

    -The Gneech

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  9. so why doesn't everybody get a card list together with effects and post it for everyone to use. Make your own charts. Hell make up you own Alpha and Omega. Don't wait to be spoon fed. Do it yourself and take ownership of your game.

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  10. They did that on Wizards of the Coast already. DMs who like to create their own magic items are probably creating their own tech and mutations.

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  11. Are you really that worried about cards? Complete listing of all known cards (80 in box, 120 from boosters, 3 promo) with full text from each card is available at http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/26023881/Card_List?pg=1 I am using this info to "try before I buy" and do a sim run of the Game Day module.

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