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:
- Allow the player to pick at least one of his or her origins.
- Use an ability array instead of random rolls to complete the other abilities.
- Allow the player to pick his or her third trained skill.
- Give each character 10 extra hit points at 1st level.
- 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.