Every year, my friend Dave runs a charity game day at Imagine Games and Hobbies. Proceeds go to Winnipeg Harvest, and the entry fee is a non-perishable food item. It’s a fun day, with Christmas-themed games and great prizes. Originally, it was just Warhammer 40k that was played, but in recent years, it’s expanded to include War Machine, Wings of War, and (for the first time this year) Gamma World.
Yes, this year, Dave asked me to run a Gamma World game1. There were two catches – the game had to be Christmas-themed, and it had to be competitive.
I forget what initial ideas I had for the game2, but eventually I came up with a workable idea for a scenario. Here’s the opening pitch I gave to the players:
How GR, Inc. Stole Xi-Mas
This is the story the elders tell, each year when you gather to receive the gifts of the season.
They tell of the Big Mistake, when the worlds collided, and the walls between the real and the not-real were torn down. They tell of the founders of Whatville, of how they banded together to build a place of safety in the wilderness. They tell of Fall of the Machine, when the great manufactory from the robot-ridden world of Xi crashed into the mountain nearby. They tell of the noble warriors who defended the Machine from the assaults of the evil mutants from Genome Reassignment, Inc. And they tell of the pact forged with the Machine, when it had recovered enough to flee to the northern wastes at the top of the world.
This season commemorates that pact, when the skysled arrives from the workshop in the north, laden with Omega Tech produced by the Machine – a gift to the descendants of those who defended it as it struggled to repair itself in an unfriendly, alien world. These gifts are what have allowed Whatville to flourish in the shadow of GR, Inc.
But one year, GR, Inc., HQ stirred once again. A leader arose among the twisted creatures that dwell there, a mutant of great cunning. The Xi skysled was shot down, and the bounty of Omega Tech destined for Whatville was instead claimed by GR, Inc. With this weaponry, they would have the ability to wipe Whatville from the map.
This is the tale of the season. The story of the valiant defenders of Whatville who refused to stand and sing in the shadow of death. The brave mutants who went up the mountain to regain their stolen gifts.
And of the greatest among them, who became a legend.
The tougher part was coming up with a way to make the game competitive, but not have it degenerate into a PvP slaughterfest. I wanted to preserve the co-operative nature of an adventuring party3, but I needed a way to secure a single winner. I also didn’t want to be the judge – too easy to display favouritism, real or perceived.
So I did what any good GM does when faced with a decision that he doesn’t want to make: I foisted it off on the players.
I awarded a poker chip to every player whose character survived an encounter4. They then had to give that chip away to the player of the character that they felt had done the coolest, most heroic, or most amusing thing during that encounter. At the end of the session, the player with the most poker chips won. This way, the players were encouraged to try bold, heroic things during the session, and they were competing to impress each other with what their characters were doing. And, of course, it took me out of the loop for the voting, so I had no say about who won5.
As for the adventure itself, I reskinned a few monsters from Gamma World and D&D. The horl chus became tinselballs and mistletoes, bloodthorn vines became holly bushes, hoops became nutcrackers, porkers became teddy bears, and I converted a hoop warchief to an elite to make the dreaded green-furred mutant, Jemkayree. I also kitbashed some reindogs and dire reindogs.
The adventure had three encounters: the tinselballs, holly bushes, and mistletoes outside GR, Inc.; the reindogs and dire reindogs in the basement of the complex; and Jemkayree, the teddy bears, and nutcrackers in the lab with the bag of Omega Tech. To get the size of encounters I wanted with the creatures I wanted to use, I decided it was best to start the characters at second level6 and with two pieced of Omega Tech each.
One other thing that put a fun twist on the game was a house-rule that’s traditional at these charity games: one table always has something on it that can throw random stuff onto other tables to mess up what’s happening there. It hit my table three times, though only twice during an actual encounter – once to crash Santa’s sleigh onto the field7, and once to airdrop a squadron of gummi bears onto the table8.
I had four players, and we got through character creation and the entire scenario in about three and a half hours. Some highlights:
- The dream grenade that, on the first action of the first round of the first combat wound up expanding its blast to put pretty much everyone on both sides to sleep.
- The use of the Explode alpha mutation that missed two out of three reindogs, but hit (and killed outright) the Rat Swarm Speedster character. It incidentally also left only the Felinoid Rat Swarm as the only character facing two dire and one normal reindog.
- The double whammy of eau de roach and portacomp that dumped Jemkayree through the dimensional portal and then closed it down9.
The prize was a wonderful edible scuplture of a Santa sack full of stuff (including Squiddy the Christmas Squid) being grabbed by a cluster of tentacles10.
All in all, a great success, I think. Thanks to everyone who came out to play and support Winnipeg Harvest, to Dave for organizing the day, and to Pedro and Wendy for hosting it at the store.
And just wait for next year: The Revenge of Jemkayree!
Pedro kindly sent me a photograph of the prize, as it was serving as terrain and threat during the game. Thanks, Pedro!
- Okay, that’s a lie. He asked me to run a D&D game, but I pitched Gamma World as being a wackier game, and a better fit to impromptu crazy one-shots, and he acquiesced. [↩]
- Really, from what I can recall, they’re best forgotten. [↩]
- Also, I felt that having the characters turn on each other would be, I dunno, sort of not-Christmasy. [↩]
- Why only the survivors? Well, if someone dies, it doesn’t directly penalize them in the voting. In fact, it penalizes the rest of the party for letting that character die – that’s one less chip going to someone who survived. Incentive to keep everyone alive, and a cushion for those who decide to make a heroic sacrifice. [↩]
- Well, not directly. I did have a little influence, as I reminded people of cool things that happened during the encounter. [↩]
- This also gave me the opportunity to see the critical powers in action for the first time. They are cooler than I had expected, just having read them. [↩]
- I tossed a card box blind onto the map. It wiped out one of the tinselballs and created an obstacle during the encounter. Afterwards, the characters looted it for two more pieces of Omega Tech each. [↩]
- Same encounter, actually – seven gummi bear minions. I set their attacks at +5, 5 damage on a hit, and defenses at 15. The player who killed one got to eat it. [↩]
- He hadn’t even been bloodied, yet. That was when his heart was going to grow three sizes, and he was going to become seriously badass. Well, more seriously badass. [↩]
- It was also terrain, with the tentacles attacking any character that started its turn within two squares of it. [↩]