Dateline – Gammatoba

Slowly catching up.

Sunday before last was the latest installment of my Gammatoba mini-campaign. It was a small group; we had only four players, the minimum for quorum. Still, we’re in sight ((Two sessions, at my guess.)) of the end of this little excursion into the wacky post-apocalyptic wasteland of the Red River Valley.

In the previous session, our heroic mutants had managed to acquire the Illudium Q-36 Space Modulator and recharge the energy crystals for the crashed flying saucer. They ran back to the ship, minds awash in images of raining fiery death down upon their enemies from their sky-chariot. And then they got to the engine room, tried to plug in the parts, and I smiled and said, “Let’s roll some dice.”

You’d think I had stomped on a puppy.

I ran the repair as a modified skill challenge. I set a moderately high Science DC to get the parts installed properly, and didn’t tell the group what the DC was. They rolled appallingly well to get the space modulator slotted in, and I was getting a little worried that the repair would be done in two rolls – not really bad, but I wanted it to be interesting.

I shouldn’t have worried. They blew the roll to install the power crystals by more than 10, which I had already decided meant there would be a mishap. I had one of the four crystals discharge, blasting the primary character working on the repair with a bunch of energy, almost killing him. Plus, now one of the crystals had no power. They continued on, with a few more failures, though none as severe as that first one. With each failure, I had them roll a supplementary check of some sort to avoid making things worse: a Dex check to keep from dropping a crystal, a Mechanics check to keep from breaking one of the power couplings, things like that. They did break one of the power couplers, and then had to repair that before they could proceed.

Finally, after some interesting play where the characters successfully used different skills to augment the Science check, they managed to get the crystals properly installed. The ship was powered at 75%, and I decided that the computer would automatically prioritize certain systems: life support, engines, computers, sensors, communications, and gravity. Weapons and shields were offline, and would remain so until the ship was at full power.

This made the players sad ((Yay!)), and they decided to go back to the Ishtar ziggurat to try and trade for their own crystal charger. After getting jumped by some Mad Tooth construct soldiers in the ruins, they made it to the Ishtar site and got another audience. The fish priest explained that they really didn’t want to trade away one of their portable solar crystal chargers, because it would cut into their market for power services. However, if the heroes would do them a very large favour, they might consider it.

The favour? Seizing the Carney Key Library, with its wealth of Ancient information, from the Mad Tooth gangs that had claimed it. Once the Library was in the hands of the characters, they could signal the Ishtar, who would come take possession, and bring the crystal charger with them.

Seeing as the original plan had been to loot the Library for Fort LoGray, the group agreed to this, figuring a solar charger and a flying saucer should pretty much guarantee their admittance to the Fort LoGray Legions. They scampered back to the ship, and decided to use it to fly themselves in to the Mad Tooth compound, and land on the Library roof to secure the building.

We had some more fun with them trying to fly the ship. I decided that there were four consoles: Piloting, Navigation, Power Control, and Tactical. Most of Tactical was dead, but that was where the scanners were. One character manned each console to get the ship pulled free of the collapsed building – we ran it as a series of mini-skill checks, with me deciding what rolls were called for based on what they were trying to do, and narrating the outcome based on which rolls succeeded and which failed.

So, they managed to pull free from the rubble with a horrendous screeching sound, got a feel for the speed and control of the ship through trial and error, and then took her up several miles, where they found that the horrendous screeching sound had been the hull tearing as the ship pulled free of the ruins. They hastened back down to a safe altitude, and located the Library on the scanners. They came in high, and then dropped down, seeing the Mad Tooth Arks running for cover, and the giant crayfish warrior-accountants readying for battle, strapping on their armour plates and stowing their abacuses on their backs ((The giant crayfish warrior-accountants come from a throw-away comment in the background of one of the characters. The other players aren’t pleased that he came up with something that I’m using to hurt them.)). Then a series of flubbed rolls had the saucer plow into the ground in front of the Library, with the Mad Tooth forces converging on it.

And that’s where we left it.

Dateline – Gammatoba

Wow. I’m behind on my blog posts. Nine days and two games since the last one. Sorry, folks. I should catch up this weekend.

So. The last Gammatoba game – almost two weeks ago – went a little differently than I expected it to. The brave mutants of the Red Valley, in their expedition to Great City One to prove themselves worthy to join the Fort LoGray Legions, had found a crashed flying saucer. After clearing out the strange creatures and automated defenders, they managed to get the computers online enough to run a diagnostic on the engines. They discovered that the Illudium Q-36 Space Modulator ((I think I might have called it a Q-13 Space Modulator, but I can’t remember, now. I meant Q-36.)) was damaged and needed to be replaced, and that the energy crystals were drained.

I let them know that the inhabitants of Xi were the best bet to get another space modulator, while Ishtar were most likely to be able to recharge the energy crystals. I had pointed out a Xi cube and an Ishtar ziggurat on their way into the city ((I wanted to show them something from Xi, Ishtar, and Area 52, so I described the cube, the ziggurat, and the crashed flying saucer, immediately derailing my plans for the game right at the start. So, I wanted to bring in the other two alternate world sources of Omega Tech, by having them deal with them to get the saucer flying again.)), and expected them to mount an assault on both the other sites.

The group surprised me. So far, the most complex their strategies got was, “Get ’em!” ((I’m being unfair, I know, but that’s the style of play they’ve shown so far.)) But instead of charging in, they decided to barter with the others to get what they needed. So, I sighed to myself, tossed the encounters I had prepared aside, and started improvising madly.

The meeting with the Xi Trade Construct went well, and everyone seemed to have fun with it. It was a neat chance to riff on some interesting ideas I’d picked up from a bunch of sf novels and movies about AI and transhumanism ((And also to get the group to trade in a whole bunch of Omega Tech in return for the space modulator.)). Over at the Ishtar ziggurat, I had them meet with a priest in his fish outfit, who agreed to recharge the energy crystals in exchange for retrieving some sacred scrolls from the Badders who had stolen them.

This let me recycle an encounter that the group had avoided previously, beefed up somewhat to handle the higher level of the party. The fight went pretty well, with some neat tactics on the parts of the players, and some close calls for them, as well ((The hidden badder guards opening with a barrage of grenades can really put a damper on the player’s actions.)).

So, things wrapped up with the characters returning the scrolls to the Ishtar, and getting the crystals recharged. I think there’s probably two sessions left in the Gammatoba mini-campaign, then we’re going to return to Storm Point.

I’ve got some plans for that brewing, too.


Dateline – Gammatoba

The Sunday before last ((I’m really getting behind on these posts, aren’t I? Sorry about that. I’m trying to catch up, but there is another demand on my time that actually has a deadline, so it’s getting priority.)) was the second installment of the Gammatoba mini-campaign. We were only one person short of a full complement, which meant six players clustered around the table.

When we’d left things last time, our intrepid mutant heroes had killed a strange giant beetle in a crashed flying saucer. They decided that bringing back a real flying saucer would be a great way to prove their worth to the Fort LoGray Legion, thus earning their stripes. To that end, they began exploring the ship, which proved to be much larger on the inside than on the outside ((As such spaceships often do.)).

Along the way, they rescued two prisoners of the aliens, who decided to join the group ((These are, of course, the characters of the two players who couldn’t make the fist session.)), and looted a nice pile of Omega Tech. They spent some times and Science checks on trying to figure out how they could get the ship back in the air, and found that there were two main problems: the engines and computers were both offline.

To my immense surprise, they decided to split up, one group going down to the engine room and one to find the computer core. I hadn’t expected this, so the big fight I had planned for whichever site they chose to investigate this session got split into two smaller fights in the corridors while they were searching for the engines and computers. So, each group got a bunch of robots that tried to electrocute them.

Running a combat with only half the players involved was sub-optimal, but not as bad as I thought it might be. The wackiness of Gamma World meant that most of the players stayed interested in the fight that they weren’t in, looking for the cool stuff to happen. That was an unexpected bonus; still, I tried to get through these two fights as quickly as possible.

That’s about when I realized that I didn’t have a good, thematic encounter left for the big fight of the session. I had a number of encounters that would have kinda worked, but they would have been out-of-place, and I really wanted to use them in other situations, like when the characters have to go out into Great City One looking for spaceship parts.

So, I stalled a little bit, letting the group in the computer room fiddle with getting the computers on, and finding out that they didn’t have enough power to operate at full capacity. They did have enough juice to give them a basic diagnostic of the ship and point them to the engine room, though, so at least I got the group back together.

By the time we got to the engine room, I had decided to throw a couple of orlens at the party ((Yeah, it didn’t make any better thematic sense than the encounters I had prepared, but orlens are cool, and I had them bickering with each other about how they should have known other people would be investigating the ship, as well.)). I hadn’t prepped a stat sheet for them, like I usually do, so I ran them straight out of the book, and that worked better than I had feared.

It was a pretty good fight, but the team is loaded down with Omega Tech, so it wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be ((Something for me to keep in mind for the next session.)). The group managed to get the laser defenses operational, which helped them take out the monsters, and now they have a (broken) flying saucer. Next session is going to start with them trying to figure out what’s wrong with the engines.

Because this is a mini-campaign, I’m not bothering with experience points. Instead, I’m just letting the characters level up at the end of certain sessions, and I’ve decided that this session was one of them. Next session, the gang is going to be second level. We’ll see how that goes.

Dateline – Gammatoba

I’ve been down with a nasty flu for the better part of the last week, so this post is a bit later than I had intended. Feeling better now, and playing catch-up.

Sunday before last was one of our regularly scheduled Storm Point games but, as I mentioned previously, we’re taking a hiatus to play some Gamma World. Thus, that Sunday was our first Gammatoba installment.

This game is working a little differently from the Storm Point game in a couple of different ways. First off, while we’re still playing quorum-style, I’m doing some hand-waving to have the different characters enter and leave play if the players aren’t at the game. I don’t do that in D&D because the party composition is such a huge part of 4e and I don’t want to have to do all the messing around with the encounters that I did in the 3e campaign ((Admittedly, such messing about is much, much easier in 4e, but it still produces some strange things both narratively (Well, the fighter suddenly catches up to you this session, after sleeping in last session and missing all the fun.) and mechanically (Differing experience and treasure amongst the characters make it difficult to properly build appropriate challenges).)). But in Gamma World, things are a lot looser, so it’s not such a big deal.

We’ve also added one player for the duration of the Gammatoba run ((Welcome aboard, Cody!)), giving us a potential party size of seven if everyone shows. That’s a pretty big group, but should be doable, though not long-term.

In setting the game up, I sent out the pitch I posted here previously, and got the players to each submit a short paragraph about their hometown in the Red Valley near Great City One and Fort LoGray. I also asked them each to give me a rumour, something cool they’ve heard about within Great City One that would be a good way for them to earn their stripes with the Fort LoGray Legion. This worked pretty great, in my opinion, giving us a number of towns in the area, a bit of an understanding of the political situation, and a bunch of good hooks for adventures in the ruins of Great City One ((It also gave me some real insight into what sort of game the players were looking for. Don’t tell them that, though, okay?)).

For this homework, I gave each of them an extra Omega Tech card at the start of play. It’s not a huge reward, but it’s a fun one. It also does a little bit – not a lot, but a little bit – to mitigate the high mortality of default Gamma World. Again, it’s not a huge impact, and I don’t want to completely defang the higher mortality threat, but I intended it to make certain that the party survived the first session intact without me having to do any dice-fudging.

And it worked, as far as that goes.

So, what happened in the game? Well, the group got together, looked over the rumours they had about Great City One, and decided that their target was going to be the Karney Key Library, near the heart of the city, in the territory of a mysterious gang known as the Mad Tooths. They bundled into their car, and drove down the highway towards the city.

I hit them with a gang of porkers on motorcycles, with some hybrid boar-wolf pets ((Yes, that’s right. Road hogs and schweinhunds.)), who took out the tire of the car, forcing them to start and fight. Due to some good rolls with some Omega Tech, the fight wasn’t all that tough, though there were some tense moments as a couple of the characters wound up split from the main group and thumped pretty thoroughly.

After the fight, there were some rolls to repair the car, and they salvaged one of the motorcycles, as well. Then they were off on the highway again. Where the highway crossed the Primter, they found a series of fortifications set up by the local badder tribes. Rather than fight their way through, they decided to hide the car and try and cross between the forts stealthily on foot. It was about this time that they asked me what time of year it was, and I told them winter ((I hadn’t decided before this point. Indeed, I had made up a couple of other encounters in case they wound up with a keel boat and decided to take the river into the city.)). That got a lot of groans, because crossing open ground in a Manitoba winter is nobody’s idea of fun.

Some decent stealth rolls got them past my planned fight at the Primter fortifications, but I came prepared for this. For this crew, I always try and keep a couple of floating encounters in my notes that I can drop in where needed. I was looking for a good place to spring the encounter on them, and describing the weird mix of timelines and realities in that part of the city, amid the normal industrial parks. So, I mentioned the machine tower from Xi, and the Ishtaran ziggurat, and the crashed flying saucer.

Yeah, you see where this is going.

They broke into the flying saucer with some good Science checks, and then started exploring it. The encounter I had prepared was a parn, so it struck me that this would be a good Alien-style scenario, with them exploring the downed ship while the sword-beetle stalked them from the shadows.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do much of that. It was getting late in the evening, so I cut the creepy ship bits short, gave them some info about a monster on a spaceship that they picked up with Conspiracy checks, and let them face the bug in its lair.

The fight went very quickly. The parn was stunned for two rounds, and then dazed for the next two, which meant it didn’t get to unload nearly enough before dying. Still, it worked nicely, and was a fun fight. I pulled together a quick deck of only Area 52 Omega Tech for the next draw, figuring it made sense inside the flying saucer.

That’s when the hippogriff moment hit.

The characters are talking about salvaging the flying saucer and bringing it back to Fort LoGray. And really, I’m okay with that. In fact, I think it’s awesome. So, I’m preparing the next session to be about them finding out how to get the ship back in the air. I figure they’ll need some specific parts, some Science know-how, and maybe an alien to help them pilot it.

I’m looking forward to it.

Welcome to Gammatoba

So, the Storm Point crew and I are looking at taking a bit of a hiatus from D&D to play some Gamma World. Maybe. If the whole gang wants to. I’m kind of pumped to give it a try, so here’s the set-up I pitched them to drum up interest:

The settlement of Fort LoGray in Red Valley grew up in the early years after the Big Mistake. It coalesced around an old set of fortifications that grew and multiplied as the various timelines overlapped and stayed. The strange combination of walls and buildings provided safety and security, even so near the devastation that struck the Great City One to the south (called in the oldest stories Winter Pig, though no one knows why). In the Red Valley Confederacy, Fort LoGray stands as the vigilant protector, providing elite soldiers and armaments to the villages and towns of Red Valley, and the young people of Standroo, Selk, Locks, Raw’s Deal, Eepul, and Weepul all dream of joining the ranks of the LoGray Legions.

You have all come to Fort LoGray in order to attain that honour. Each of you is a hero of your home village, with unique abilities and the mixed blessing of the Flux, the twisting of timelines and parallel worlds that grant you your various mutations. You have also each been given a valuable piece of Omega Tech and the best wishes of your friends and family to aid you in your endeavour. You have passed the initial interviews and gone through basic training, getting to know your fellow aspirants. More than half of your initial class of recruits has already washed out and been sent home. Now, you have one last test to prove your skill, adaptability, and determination.

As with each new squad of Legionnaires, you are being sent south down the river, to Great City One. To gain admittance to the Legion, you must return with some great artifact of the Ancients. Many before you have turned aside on their final quest, fearing the rumors of the Energy Spirit, the Black Bombers, and the Forks Tribes. But you will not shame your clans in this way. You will succeed, and take your place among the elite warriors of Red Valley.

If they go for the pitch, I’m planning to have them each write up a sentence or two about their hometown in the area (north of Winnipeg along the Red River), and another couple of sentences describing a rumour or legend about Great City One ((If you’re wondering where that name came from, the slogan for Winnipeg is, for some lame reason, One Great City.)). I’ll probably toss them a reward for doing that homework, something like an extra piece of Omega Tech. Or maybe start them at second level.


I’ll let you know if they decide to go with Gamma World or D&D.

Dateline – Storm Point

Been a while since we visited the fellows in Storm Point. The last session, the focus just wasn’t there. I spent an hour trying to get the group to make a single Stealth check before giving up and teaching them to play Fiasco instead ((Used the Lucky Strike playset, and everyone had a great time.)). The time before that, the game was the fifth one I was running in four days, and I wimped out to run the Gamma World game day adventure for them, instead ((A mistake. I was tired and stressed and short-tempered. I should have just canceled the game.)).

This meant that it had been about two months since the previous session, and the Silverfalls adventure had gone on far longer than I had planned. I wanted to wrap it up, which meant unleashing the beholder on them.

See, I’d been carrying around the beholder ultimate tyrant miniature for the previous several sessions, and taunting my players with it. They all know by now ((Or think they do, anyway.)) that I’d never throw something like that at them at their level. Well, I was planning to do just that, but using the stats of a bloodkiss beholder. This was just the only beholder miniature I had.

The release of the Beholders Collector Set fixed that problem, and the release of Monster Vault provided a stat block for a level 9 solo beholder, so that all just worked perfectly. I bumped the level of the beholder up to 10, to take into account the fact that I’ve got six players, and went to town.

I’d never used a beholder in a game before. Honestly, I think they’re kind of silly monsters. But they are iconic, and the ones in 4E are much simpler to run than in previous editions, so I was looking forward to how it played out. For the first round, I became very afraid that I had built a TPK – most of the characters had their encounter and daily powers stripped by the central eye, and the petrify eye had locked down the main tank. Things looked grim.

But they rallied ((Most of them, anyway. The guy playing the cleric spent pretty much the entire combat either petrified or immobilized after only a single petrify ray attack. Sorry, Mark.)), and came on strong. The whole fight was about as good as it could have been, with the party pretty much terrified that they were going to die, and horrific eye rays firing off like a disco laser show. The mechanism for having an eye-ray fire at the start of each character’s turn is a great way to make the beholder feel like a whirling ball of death.

They managed to put it down without losing anyone, though there were several close calls. And then they found the bones of the dwarven ancestor they had come to retrieve, and decided to call it a day.

I didn’t like that ending, though. It lacked the sense of achievement and heroism that I thought the lengthy adventure deserved. So, I had the ghosts of the dwarven warriors appear and ask to be bound to defend the home they had died for. The group used a skill challenge to throw together an impromptu binding ritual, and I described how the ghosts of all those who had died in Silverfalls came back to drive out the drow, troglodytes, minotaurs, and their mind flayer masters ((I had a mind flayer encounter prepped and ready to go if I needed it, but it would have been really nasty to throw it at them right after the beholder fight.)).

So, now Silverfalls is cleansed of the evil invaders and open to resettlement. And the gang are even more heroic than they thought they’d be.

I call it a win.

We’re talking about running a more extended Gamma World adventure next, so it may be a while before we come back to Storm Point. But I’ve got some plans for when we do.

Mutants! Mutants Everywhere!

I’m finally starting to dig myself out from under the backlog produced by two very full weeks of gaming. I’ve got a few things that I’m going to be writing about over the next several days, but I’m starting with my thoughts on Gamma World after finally getting to run it. Twice, as it turned out.

You may recall that I ran the Gamma World Game Day for Imagine Games. That was on Saturday. On Sunday, I decided I had too little energy to do the prep work necessary for the next Storm Point installment that evening, so I ran the Gamma World Game Day adventure again, for my Storm Point group. I think it was very useful to run the same adventure twice, with completely different people, and totally different mutants. It illuminated some interesting things about the game.

First off, everyone at the Game Day had a lot of fun, and enjoyed the game. At the Sunday game, it wasn’t as successful, primarily because I was pretty burnt out after running games on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and it left me distracted and testy ((As my players will attest. Sorry again, guys.)). Still, it wasn’t a complete wash – I think the game went fine, it just didn’t show itself off to best effect because of my mental state.

The Game Day crowd was a table of four, and I almost killed them all in the first encounter. And again in the last encounter ((For the record, the other group playing did wipe in the final encounter.)). The middle encounter turned out to be a cakewalk, even with the addition of some sentrybots from the other table ((This is how that happened. In the middle of the fight with the Klickies in the underground parking garage, the GM from the other table comes over with a handful of sentrybot standees and big grin. A couple of the players from that table are behind him. He says, “One of the players just teleported these sentrybots five miles in a random direction. I’ve decided they end up on your table.” My players kind of chuckled, and then I said, “Sounds good,” and started setting up the standees. I did it mainly to see the look on their faces. And it was worth it. And yes, I did make them fight the sentrybots and the Klickies at the same time.)). On the other hand, the Sunday game was a table of six, and they pretty much walked through the entire adventure, except for a few close calls in the final encounter.

Now, I’ve said before that the mortality rate in Gamma World is pretty daunting, and may be a barrier to longterm campaign play. What these two run-throughs of the same adventure taught me is that the mortality rate skews a fair bit based on a number of factors. I was surprised that it wasn’t the size of the group that seemed to have the greatest impact; it was the types of mutants.

The first encounter in the Game Day adventure includes a pretty powerful monster – a blood bird swarm. This is a level 4 soldier, with a damaging radioactive aura, in addition to some pretty nasty attacks ((To be fair, most of the monsters in Gamma World have some pretty nasty attacks. Genghis Tangh and his hoop barbarian are truly frightening when they get rolling.)), and it was responsible for doing the most damage to the Game Day group. On the other hand, they were no problem for the Sunday group. Why? Because two of the Sunday group had a Radioactive origin ((We wound up with a few doubles in the groups. At first, this surprised me, but then I realized it’s another example of the Birthday Problem with a smaller set of possible options.)), and were therefor immune to the damaging aura.

Given the random character generation method, and the random Alpha Mutations, this means that it can be trickier to judge an appropriate encounter absent the knowledge of the player characters. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something you need to be aware of if you’re designing your own adventures.

Another interesting thing I noticed in the game is that the players, even those who were skeptical about the card-based system and the rapidly changing powers and tech, really got into the whole random draw thing. It was like a mini-lottery every encounter, with all the anticipation, exaltation, and disappointment you could ask for. And the fact that rolling a 1 meant Alpha Flux, players who drew crappy mutations for the situation kept trying stuff on their turns, hoping for that 1. It made for a very dynamic, interesting game.

I still don’t think that the game is designed to make things easy for longterm campaign play, but I have a better feel for it now, and some basic ideas of how to go about tweaking it to make it work a little better for that. If I were going to run a full campaign – which I would never do ((This is an in-joke. My players get it.)) – here’s what I would change:

  1. Allow the player to pick at least one of his or her origins.
  2. Use an ability array instead of random rolls to complete the other abilities.
  3. Allow the player to pick his or her third trained skill.
  4. Give each character 10 extra hit points at 1st level.
  5. Change the Alpha Mutation mechanic in one of two ways:
    • Reduce the frequency of Alpha Mutation change, either to every extended rest or to only when there is Alpha Flux, OR
    • Build a themed deck of powers for each character.

The only other factor that might need to be addressed is the silliness factor, and that can be handled through play style and the choices players and GMs make for character types, monster types, and adventures.

So, in short, yay Gamma World. We’re probably going to revisit it in the Storm Point group as a bit of a vacation between Heroic and Paragon tiers. I’m looking forward to it.

Gamma World Game Day

Just a quick reminder that I will be running the Gamma World Game Day this Saturday, October 23, at Imagine Games and Hobbies. Festivities start at 1:00. We’re going to have three GMs on hand to run, so there should be plenty of space. Here’s the snippet for the adventure:

Grab a friend and get ready to celebrate the launch of the new D&D Gamma World Boxed Set. Mutate a brave new hero and be ready to take on just about anything! Experience the return of an old classic in a new play experience using the D&D 4th Edition rules engine! The D&D Gamma World game is a fast, furious romp through a post-apocalyptic Earth where mutant heroes face-off against killer robots, alien weirdness, and strange irradiated creatures.

Gamma World Game Day: Trouble in Freesboro

It’s shocking how the Big Mistake completely obliterated some places while others got by relatively unscathed. Freesboro falls into the latter camp, but if Genghis Tangh has his way, life will never be the same for the mutants of Gamma Terra. Delve into the origins of the Big Mistake as you take on Tangh and his forces! Pick up a D&D Gamma World Boxed Set, a few booster packs of power cards, and create your own characters in an exciting new Game Day experience! A D&D Gamma World Game Day adventure designed for 4-6 characters of 1st level.

Come on down and play. No purchase necessary.

Gamma World: First Impressions

So, like every other gaming fan-boy, I grabbed my copy of Gamma World on Friday night. Not only am I running the Gamma World Game Day on October 23 at Imagine Games and Hobbies, but the Storm Point campaign is looking at taking a short D&D hiatus to play a little Gamma World. I’ve spent some time over the weekend reading through the game and generating some characters, just to try things out, and I’ve got some initial thoughts on the game.

It looks like a lot of fun, but it is pretty fine-tuned for a very specific kind of play experience. The game is designed to be rather crazy, with strange mutations, bizarre landscapes and situations, weird tech, and high mortality rates among PCs. The mechanics are based on D&D 4e, with things tweaked a little bit for the new style of play. The healing rules, the level-based bonuses, and a few other things have been altered to reinforce the free-wheeling, beer-and-pretzels, absurd style of play that the game fosters.

Like pretty much all Gamma World editions, character creation is random ((Admittedly, it may be a little more random in this version than in some others.)), and you can wind up with some very strange characters to play. When you factor in the idea of Alpha Flux, and the changing mutations reflected in the Alpha Mutation cards, characters can – and do – change from one encounter to another. The random rolls can create some very strange origin combinations, and the Alpha Mutation deck adds another layer of weirdness as you try to figure out how your gravity-bending android suddenly has the power to read minds or grow tentacles ((The baseline explanation, of course, is provided by the explanation of the Big Mistake, with the mixing and merging of alternate universes still ongoing, re-editing the characters from time to time.)).

Most powers and weapons ((Especially Omega Tech items.)) do pretty impressive amounts of damage, and hit points are about on a par with 4e. This means that characters are not as durable as you might expect them to be, especially as healing is pretty thin on the ground. No more healing surges – instead, everyone can take a second wind action once per encounter and heal up to full after each encounter for free. Second wind has been beefed up, healing half your hit points, instead of a quarter, and it’s only a minor action. On the down side, there are fewer powers and items that I’ve seen that offer healing. This can lead to a pretty high mortality rate during play.

The game touts this as – well, if not actually a feature, per se, at least a design goal. Characters are pretty quick to generate, so dying means you’re out of play for maybe fifteen minutes as you whip up your new mutant to wander by and join the fun. Because so much of the game is focused on the experience of playing your character changing so often, this is less jarring than it might be in a more… serious, I guess… game.

I have to admit that I was a little leery about the use of cards and deckbuilding in the game. It struck me as injecting a lot of what I don’t like about CCGs into my RPG fix – you need to buy more and more cards for your character to be viable. After reading the game, I am less troubled by it. The game comes with enough cards that you won’t ever need to buy a booster pack. They are completely superfluous to play. Having said that, they do add some real coolness to the game, with neat new powers and toys to make the game even crazier than before. The guides to deckbuilding are very loose and, while they can let you tailor your mutations to fit a little more with your character concept, I can actually see a carefully constructed deck removing a lot of the weird, unexpected awesome that the cards can contribute. If you’re always pulling the same four Psi mutations and Xi items, you’ll never have the wild, giddy joy that comes of suddenly growing mandibles for no readily apparent reason and going to town with your newly discovered force pike ((In addition to this, Gabe over at Penny Arcade makes a very telling point: “If you decide that you would like to build your own decks to draw from then yes, you can go and purchase booster packs. You are not at a disadvantage if you don’t though because this is not a competitive game. In MTG you are pitting your deck against your opponents. If you don’t buy booster packs you don’t have a deck and that will making winning very difficult. In Gamma World you are playing with your friends and against the DM who does not get to draw any cards. The cards are just for fun and to help you kick the shit out of whatever the DM throws at you.” Thanks, Gabe!)).

So. As I said, the game is very focused on a certain kind of loose, rollicking, wahoo style of play by default. In doing some thinking, there are a couple of things that I think you could tweak with house rules to turn it into something better able to sustain long-term campaigns, or turn it into a more serious type of game.

Less Random Characters

If you’re not a fan of the very, very random character generation, it’s pretty easy to change it to allow for more designed characters. Allowing players to pick and choose their origins – even if you only let them choose one of their two origins – can go a long way toward letting people play the kind of character they want. And you can bypass the random roll of attributes for those not set by origins, allowing players to use an array, similar to in D&D. Easy.

Now, I found the random character generation I tried this weekend produced some interesting and very playable characters. The three I rolled up include a robot powered by a contained quantum singularity (Android/Gravity Manipulator), a colony of psychic Moebius Newts (Mind Breaker/Rat Swarm), and a Mi-Go (Plant/Cockroach). I think the random elements can really spark creativity, especially when you’re trying to reconcile two apparently contradictory origins.

This will also lead to a longer character creation time, so if you’re going to do this, you need to also address the next issue.

Lower Character Mortality ((I almost typed “Lower Character Morality,” which is a completely different kind of game.))

Allowing characters to take a third wind in combat might be all that’s required to balance this. That and maybe making some healing potion analogue readily available during play. If you’re looking for something more complex, you can revamp the damage of the various weapons and attacks so that they’re more in line with 4e values.

Stable Mutations

First off, everyone gets a couple of powers based on their origins that are consistent no matter what happens with the Alpha Mutations cards, so it’s not like everything about your character changes when you draw new mutations. But some of the weird things that happen with Alpha Mutation cards kind of strain credulity when they come up outta nowhere ((“What do you mean, now I’m aquatic? When the hell have we been near any water? This is a desert!”)). Allowing characters to build their own Alpha Mutation deck is one answer – they can pick options that fit their character concepts a little better, and focus on certain types of powers. Another option is to give each character a permanent card (or two, or more, if they’re of sufficient level) that they don’t have to discard after use. You can then decide if they get to pick the card or if it’s random. You can even do a combination – they get three random cards, and have to pick one to keep.

Those are just some thoughts after reading the game. Having looked at some of the buzz online, though, I’m going to encourage the Storm Point geeks to play it as written, at least for our first game.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Dateline – Storm Point

Last Sunday was the latest installment of the Storm Point campaign, and it wound up being a bit of a frustrating throw-back for me. This was all my fault: first of all, I was late to the game, so we were kind of rushed. Secondly, I put together a pretty big fight, which I knew would take a fair bit of time, and the late start, along with the big fight, made things drag at a couple of points.

Now, I mentioned in previous posts that I was trying to use smaller combat encounters, to get through more in a single session. I deliberately used a larger one this time because I realized that, although the group had just hit 9th level, I still had not given out the bulk of the treasure for 8th level. Rather than just exacerbate that problem, I put all the treasure in a big pile and gave it some tough guardians.

The game-reason I came up with for the encounter is that, though Silverfalls had been taken by invaders centuries ago, and looted at that time, there were still periodic scavenging parties going through the many, many mansions, tunnels, and buildings. This one party had accumulated a pretty good haul, and were gathering it at a staging point to carry it down deeper into the dwarven ruins.

So, the party is not all that stealthy. The bad guys figured out pretty quickly that there were interlopers, and set up a bit of an ambush. Our heroes found the pile of booty, guarded by a gang of troglodytes and a single drow. Once they were engaged, a few more drow popped out of the scummy pool of water where they had been hiding, and a drider dropped out of the shadows to join the fun ((7 troglodyte maulers, 1 drow cleric of Lolth, 3 drow adventurers, 1 drider fanglord – 3725 xp, an 11th-level encounter for 6 characters.)).

I could tell early in the game that the fight was going to stretch longer than I had anticipated, so I ignored some of the more complex ((And, unfortunately, more interesting.)) abilities of some of the combatants – the drows’ darkfire, for instance. Still, it went on longer than I really wanted it to.

But we got through it, and now the gang is looking at pressing into the Lower City, still searching for the bones of Thrun’s ancestor, which should lie where he fell defending the evacuees.

And what could go wrong with that, right?