Welcome to the RPG Lab Report. Each month we’ll be reviewing the game featured in last month’s RPG Lab, with input from both the GM and the players.
Kicking off the first month of Season One of Games & Stuff’s new RPG Lab program is Wizards of the Coast’s new version of the classic TSR RPG Gamma World (effectively, its 7th edition). Although there’s been controversy in the past (surrounding both the Alternity 5th edition and White Wolf’s 6th edition), the most recent pass at the concept cleaves closely to the original tone and themes but straddles the line between RPG and adventure board game in a way that is both approachable and compelling without forfeiting either richness or ease of play.
NOTE: The bits in italic quotations at the end of each section are player comments and not the expressed views of the RPG Lab coordinator.
SUPPLEMENTS & MATERIALS — USED
We used it all. We used the Gamma World core box, the Famine in Far-Go expansion, the Legion of Gold expansion, and several sealed booster packs of Gamma World mutation/alpha tech cards. We printed up a fan-created GM screen and got character sheets from the website. Everyone needs a set of polyhedral gaming dice.
Long story short, the LARGE HADRON COLLIDER fires up and causes the “Big Mistake”. The result of this is every known “worldline” collapsing into every other one and creating a patchwork reality filled with all imaginable outcomes. My version of this reality looks a lot like a terrible hybrid of Road Warrior, Six String Samurai, Class of Nuke’Em High, Freaked, and The Oblongs with a soundtrack of The Ramones, The Cramps, Dick Dale, and The Butthole Surfers.
As we used the adventure in the back of the Gamma World core book (“Steading of the Iron King”), we came up with some simple reasons as to why the characters would get involved. These reasons were enough gasoline and tobacco to get to a vast radioactive lakeside resort populated exclusively with fun-loving mutant flotsam.
“Gamma World takes the post-apocalyptic setting to a really fun place. This game never takes itself seriously, and the monsters encountered in the starting scenario reflect this. Talking ’bout angry, bipedal badgers, drugged out, giant rabbits, and flying bat-lions with insect mandibles and laser eyes. Friggin’ laser beams! With a background of a cross-dimensional rift causing endlessly possible realities, there should be plenty here for a group to explore.”
Perhaps the most entertaining of Gamma World’s features is its character generation process. Far beyond the usual measures of NICHE PROTECTION, Gamma World has everyone roll for their two character “origins”. The core game gives you twenty or so but with the expansions, it’s likely that a group of four or five players will be quite unique. Once the origins are rolled, the players and GM work together to come up with an appropriately absurd backstory to give the character an explanation. The RPG Lab group consisted of a Shapeshifting Gravity Controller spawned from the reality rending effects of the Big Mistake itself, a Telekinetic Hawkman exiled from a worldline that was ruled by other members of his race, a slow moving Reanimated corpse spawned from a pool of radiactive goop capable of causing minor earthquakes, and an enormous sledge-hammer wielding Yeti.
After basic character generation, characters get to build mutation and technology decks for themselves from whatever cards are available to the group. We had each player crack a pair of boosters, pick what they wanted, and then dump unwanted cards into a pool for the other players to use. Worked great.
“Gamma World brings a fun, albeit very random, generation system to the table. Rolling on two charts (to determine two more charts!) will tell you what two mutant types you’ll start as. That gives you your two primary stats, and a simple 3d6 roll for each determines the rest. No min-maxing here, which is a fine thing in my not-at-all humble opinion. Equipment is similar, with a couple rolls on a chart for the basics, and an interesting, semi-collectible card mechanic for your big mutations and “Omega Tech”. Think super powers and magic items.”
I’m not gonna mince worlds. This version of Gamma World is powered by a stripped down version of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. Grid-map combat, hit points, levels, and tap-able at-will and encounter powers. Oh shut up. It’s fine for Gamma World and in fact somewhat optimal. You have so much less to deal with I actually prefer it to its bloated 4e form. Combat is fast and explosive and resolved in far less time than I was used to with 4th edition games.
“Based on Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, Gamma World takes those rules and strips them down even further. Most characters will have two inherent powers, usually either “at will” or “once per encounter”, in addition to their basic attacks. This is plenty enough for some dungeon-crawling type of adventures, and makes it very easy for inexperienced players to hop right in. There are also “Alpha Tech” and “Omega Tech” cards that can be acquired throughout the game. Alpha Tech cards provide temporary powers representing random mutations coming to the fore, and Omega Tech is the left-behind technology of civilization past. Each player will have a small deck that they can customize to some extent, allowing you to craft to your character’s strengths (or to cover weaknesses). Some might be put off by card game style collectibility creeping into their RPG, but I found it to be fun and thematically the cards fit well with the background of Gamma World.”
I have to say, this first round of RPG Lab was a total blast. Thanks to Tim, Dennis, Nick, and Dave fun was had by all. Despite only getting through a small portion of the mutant badger fortress and revealing the main tunnel into the Stupendico Robot Fortress, the desire to continue play was inspired and enthusiastic.
“George ran this RPGLab and it was a blast! He provided all materials, from the rules and character tokens to pencils and dice. Even your character sheet and powers were prettied up and presented in an easy to digest format after creation. The game itself keeps a brisk pace with combat being straight forward. Gamma World might not be able to sustain a years-long campaign, but would be a nice change of pace for a group looking to play something lighter for several sessions.”
Coming up next for RPG LAB: Monsters and Other Childish Things (Arc Dream Publishing) in May
and Monte Cook’s Numenera in June.
Both of these events are SOLD OUT, but watch for next month’s LAB REPORT to see the announcement of Season 2’s game lineup.
-George Holochwost is the current mastermind behind RPG Lab, and is the Assistant Manager and Used RPG Buyer at Games and Stuff.