Dateline – Gammatoba

This past Sunday was the final session of the Gammatoba mini-campaign I’ve been running as a break from the Storm Point D&D campaign that’s been going for about two and a half years.

When we last left our heroic mutants, they had just entered the Karney Key Library, after overcoming the ark defenses. The dying ark leader laughed at them and said that they Librarian would take care of them. We opened this session with the heroes opening the doors of the library and seeing what waited for them.

Now, I haven’t been very strict with making encounters in Gammatoba. I just throw a number of cool monsters together, and run things off the cuff. For this game, I came up with the Librarian – basically, I reskinned the Eater of Knowledge Mindstrike from Pyramid of Shadows as a cyborg-centaur kinda thing, with a couple of new tweaks. For the rest, I threw in a double-handful of ark minions and some interesting terrain.

The first room had some sandbag fortifications and over a dozen of the ark minions. The looks from my players – all seven of them were present – were worth the price of admission all by themselves. They were hoping the arks were minions, but they didn’t know for certain, and I’d told them that I planned to leave a few of them dead on the floor this session. They took those out in very short order, with the last three fleeing into the main reading room of the library, where I planned the final combat.

I had expected the group to take a short rest before pressing on, but they didn’t – they just charged after the fleeing arks. So, I started placing every figure I had brought with me1 on the balconies and behind the shelves, ready to open fire. I used a sword spider figure for the Librarian, and rubbed my palms together in anticipation of the mutant blood about to be spilled.

The players were scared, which was the right reaction. They knew they were going to die.

And then they proceeded to completely dismantle the encounter.

A lucky draw from the Alpha Mutation deck got one of them machine control, which he threw at the Librarian because I had described it as a cyborg. It only gave him one round of control, but it also kept him dazed for a few rounds. Then the stun whips came out, and the Librarian was repeatedly stunned. Meanwhile, the bulk of the characters concentrated on taking out the ark minions, keeping them off the backs of the mutants taking turns putting the boots to the Librarian.

I got one round out of the whole combat (about eight or nine rounds in total) where the Librarian could attack. He blasted the brains of the group, and then used a special power I had given him to summon in some defensive data constructs2, but went down before his next turn came up.

Still, it was a tough fight. The group fought smart and used their resources well, but the sheer number of the minions and the damaging aura that the Librarian had almost did for a couple of them.

At the end of the fight, they were all still standing.

I had thought about a skill challenge kind of thing to hold the building until the Ishtarian forces arrived to take possession, but it was getting a little late, and I judged it to be kind of anticlimactic after taking down the Librarian and his minions, so I had the fish-warriors of Ishtar drop in on columns of light and erect a force dome over the library. The group got the crystal charging device they had been promised, wrenched the flying saucer out of the ground again, and flew home to Fort LoGray as heroes – the Fort LoGray Legion’s First Airborne Wing.

That’s where we closed the game.

I want to thank all my regular players for indulging my desire to take a break from D&D to try Gamma World, and to thank Cody for sitting in and playing with us. I had fun.

Now, it’s time to get back to the Storm Point game. I’ve got plans for that one.

  1. Well, almost every figure. I didn’t place the chuul figure that I had been using for the warrior-accountant giant crayfish. []
  2. Basically, some more minions to mess things up. []

Dateline – Gammatoba

Last Sunday was the penultimate session of the Gammatoba mini-campaign. We’ve almost made it to the end of our little excursion into the weird post-apocalyptic world of the future.

This session was set to be a big, knock-down, drag-out assault on the Carney Key Library, currently held by the Mad Tooth gang, trying to secure it for the fish-priests of Ishtar1. I expected it to last the entire session, and it did. I also told the players that, because we were coming to the end of the mini-campaign, I was taking the gloves off.

We started with a sketch of the crashed flying saucer and the defensive wall in front of the library. I put a bunch of figures on the board, both on top of the wall and in behind piles of rubble in front of the wall, and told the group they could see more of the Mad Tooths converging on the location. The top of the wall had laser ballistae on top of them, and I brought out one of the mutant crayfish warrior-accountants early in the first round2 to put the pressure on.

I didn’t really balance this encounter too much. The Mad Tooth gang is made up of arks, so the bulk of the opponents were ark whelps – minions – with some ark scouts manning the ballistae on the walls. The mutant crayfish was a giant crayfish I found in the Monster Builder: it was a solo, which I decided was too tough as I was putting it on the table, so I reduced its hit points by half. I also had stats for an ark hand-taker that was going to be leading from behind the wall.

I just kept pouring the whelps onto the board, adding a couple more each round. Some lucky teleportation got many of them, as well as the mutant crayfish, flung a mile away, and the heroes made it to the top of the wall. At that point, I put a bunch more arks on the table, hunkered down behind sandbags at the front of the library, and gave them guns. I also put the hand-taker on the table, and a second crayfish3.

There were some memorable moments:

  • L’Unite Cinq, the AI Reanimate, going down under a horde of arks, all on his own on the ground before the wall.
  • Ikto Umoo, the Gelatinous Mindbreaker, blasting the hand-taker down in one amazing shot with his leaky fusion rifle.
  • Vant, the AI Shapeshifter4, invisibly wrestling for control of the laser ballista.
  • Skitter, the Ectoplasmic Arachnid, switching the ballista to automatic and opening up on the defenders in front of the library.
  • Barto Melu, the Temporal Gravity Manipulator, sacrificing himself to use unsafe Omega Tech, and spending several rounds unconscious because of it.

In the end, though, they got into the library, barred the gates, and heard the dying words of the ark leader:

“The Librarian will take care of you.”

Everything wraps up next session.

  1. Just the fact that Gamma World means I get to write sentences like that makes me smile. []
  2. Which prompted a quote so good, I had to tweet it: “Which is the bigger threat – the laser crossbows or the mutant crayfish?” []
  3. The group was pretty battered by that point, so I reduced the hit points down to a quarter of the solo total. []
  4. That’s right, AI Reanimate for the T-800 and AI Shapeshifter for the T-1000 []

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 sight1 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 sad2, 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 backs3. 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.

  1. Two sessions, at my guess. []
  2. Yay! []
  3. 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. []

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 campaign1. 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 run2, 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 One3.

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 pets4, 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 winter5. 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.

  1. 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). []
  2. Welcome aboard, Cody! []
  3. It also gave me some real insight into what sort of game the players were looking for. Don’t tell them that, though, okay? []
  4. Yes, that’s right. Road hogs and schweinhunds. []
  5. 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. []

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 One1. 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.

Anyway.

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

  1. If you’re wondering where that name came from, the slogan for Winnipeg is, for some lame reason, One Great City. []

How GR, Inc., Stole Xi-Mas

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!

**Edit**

Pedro kindly sent me a photograph of the prize, as it was serving as terrain and threat during the game. Thanks, Pedro!

Stolen Omega Tech

  1. 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. []
  2. Really, from what I can recall, they’re best forgotten. []
  3. Also, I felt that having the characters turn on each other would be, I dunno, sort of not-Christmasy. []
  4. 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. []
  5. Well, not directly. I did have a little influence, as I reminded people of cool things that happened during the encounter. []
  6. 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. []
  7. 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. []
  8. 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. []
  9. 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. []
  10. It was also terrain, with the tentacles attacking any character that started its turn within two squares of it. []

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 testy1. 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 encounter2. The middle encounter turned out to be a cakewalk, even with the addition of some sentrybots from the other table3. 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 attacks4, 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 origin5, 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 do6 – 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.

  1. As my players will attest. Sorry again, guys. []
  2. For the record, the other group playing did wipe in the final encounter. []
  3. 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. []
  4. 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. []
  5. 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. []
  6. This is an in-joke. My players get 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 random1, 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 tentacles2.

Most powers and weapons3 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 pike4.

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 Mortality5

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 nowhere6. 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.

  1. Admittedly, it may be a little more random in this version than in some others. []
  2. 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. []
  3. Especially Omega Tech items. []
  4. 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! []
  5. I almost typed “Lower Character Morality,” which is a completely different kind of game. []
  6. “What do you mean, now I’m aquatic? When the hell have we been near any water? This is a desert!” []