TSR's Science Fantasy
Gamma World, Gamma World, Gamma World
If you say it three times while looking in the mirror, I understand you may summon a Yexil swarm!
What's a Yexil, you say? Why, it is a fantastical beast that dwells in the radioactive ruins of a post-apocalyptic hellscape and would be the bane of Leisure Suit Larry.
Who is Larry, you ask? My, my, you are full of questions, aren't you? Well, Larry is the "protagonist" of a salacious vintage computer game series of dubious moral quality.
How does Larry fit into Gamma World? Well, he doesn't really except for the fact that he wears polyester leisure suits as he tries, and usually fails, to seduce nubile young ladies. And you see, Yexils survive by eating synthetic materials. Therefore, Larry would be seen as a tasty morsel. Well, at least his suit would be. He'd be discarded as offal.
Gamma World is a weird and fantastic trip which is truly odd considering the setting is a radioactive hellscape. It should be dark, dirty, disturbing and depressing. The whole world has been destroyed and there is nothing you can do about it. If you're lucky you can survive the radioactive wastelands to survive another day. But like the Dread Pirate Roberts says to Westley every night in the wonderful book/movie "The Princess Bride", it'll most likely kill you in the morning. Paraphrasing I know, I know. But you get the point.
Despite this apocalyptic background all of the campaigns I ran or played in were usually weird, trippy, and often slapstick comedy. Was it because you were often battling 7' tall humanoid rabbits (hoops) that were definitely not named Harvey? Or giant mutant chickens wielding machine guns in Famine in Far-Go? I guess so. Or it might be that we got to explore what the world would be like after the inevitable (so it seemed) nuclear war? Of course, as a species we have always wondered about the "End Times" and so many religions have some sort of cataclysmic ending to the world. I am not a philosopher and I don't know why it is so fascinating. But I do know it's a lot of fun to play Gamma World.
TSR was definitely correct in calling Gamma World a Science Fantasy Role-Playing Game because the game definitely emphasizes fantasy over science. How else will you end up with fun characters to play?
The History of Gamma World
Gamma Worlds "working title" while it was in pre-production in the mid-70s at TSR was "Mutants!". It was released in 1978 just as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was becoming famous. This would explain why the first edition did not receive a lot of support. AD&D was becoming kind of a big deal that year. It never received a heck of a lot of support as D&D was TSRs primary concern and rightfully so.
I was surprised to see that there have been 7 different versions of Gamma World and also a d20 minigame called Omega World by Jonathan Tweet. The second edition was released in 1983, third edition in 1986, 4th edition in 1992, 5th edition in 2000 (by WotC), Omega World in 2002 in Dungeon Magazine #94, Sixth Edition in 2003 (by Sword & Sorcery Studios), and finally the 7th edition in 2010 (by WotC). The 7th edition is said to be compatible with D&D 4th edition.
I am going to concentrate on the first version as it is the one we always played and it is somewhat compatible with AD&D or Dungeons and Dragons. Just check page 113-114 of your AD&D First Edition Dungeon Master's Guide. All the rules you need to convert your characters are there. Also rules for converting your Boot Hill characters to AD&D or vice versa. Such a deal! By the way, the 1E DMG is the greatest Role-Playing book of all time.
I understand from skimming the 4th Edition Gamma World rules that this version is also compatible with AD&D 2E. Hmm. I will definitely have to check this version out in more detail. Have you played? What did you think?
We did use modules and accessories from second edition in our first edition games. We also used some stuff from third edition but it was very different from the first two editions as it uses an Action Control Table to resolve player's actions. This is similar to the Universal Results Table in Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP). MSH is another great TSR game if you enjoy role-playing your favorite Marvel heroes. In the last decade or so we have also used many things from Mutant Future produced by Goblinoid Games the creator of Labyrinth Lord. By the way a second edition of Labyrinth Lord is projected to be released later in 2023.
The first edition of Gamma World was published by TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) in 1978 and was based heavily on James M. Ward's earlier 1976 TSR release, Metamorphosis Alpha. James M. Ward and Gary "Jake" Jaquet were credited as the authors of the Gamma World rulebook. David A. Trampier did many of the illustrations including the cover of the first box set.
In the foreward written in 1978 by Tom Wham and Timothy Jones they state the goal of the boxed set is to provide "the skeleton of a game campaign" drawing ideas from inspirational works such as "The Long Afternoon of Earth" by Brian Aldiss, "Starman's Son" by Andre Norton, "Hiero's Journey" by Sterling Lanier, and the animated film "Wizards" by Ralph Bakshi. It is up to the referee to add their own creations to bring the world to life. And boy did we!
Gamma World is assumed to be set in the United States after a series of apocalyptical events wiped out most of humanity and left the remnants struggling to survive. It can easily be set anywhere in the world. The biological and nuclear weapons unleashed also caused many of the survivors, whether human, plant or animal, to mutate in fantastic and terrible ways. The rulebook states the campaign begins in the year 2471. I've always wondered who is chronicling all this stuff since most records were destroyed.
From the back of the box set:
Can you survive in a world gone mad? A world where civilization as we know it has been destroyed in a cataclysmic holocaust? What is left in this world? Find out and encounter such bizarre things as mutated plants and animals more terrible than you can imagine, radiation wastelands that stretch as far as the eye can see, and fearless machines gone uncontrollably beserk . . .
This is the setting for a GAMMA WORLD™ campaign, with players taking on the persona of an individual character somewhere in this forbidding locale. In a quest for survival and in search of a better future, the players adventure across the land, enduring hardships and encountering dangerous obstacles and mysterious foes - never knowing quite what to expect. The result is a game which can go in many directions, but will be challenging and fascinating no matter what the outcome.
The GAMMA WORLD™ Set includes all the basics needed to set up your own "world": game booklet (packed with terrible mutants, as well as guidelines for creating additional ones of your own), a large campaign map (designed to be easily modified by individual gamemasters), and a full set of polyhedra dice. The only other things necessary are a good imagination and a spirit of adventure! The GAMMA WORLD™ rules are also suitable for use with the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS rules.
The GAMMA WORLD challenge awaits you - are you ready?
The cover and title page were done by the ineffable David A. Trampier who often signed his work DAT.
The original box set consisted of the box, a 56-page softbound rulebook, and a mostly blank hex-map of the United States with a few military installations noted and virtually nothing else. It was a very minimalist approach. DIY was the rule of the day when it was released.
In researching the various Gamma World editions I saw a common thread weaved through my contemporaries blogs and essays about the subject. Most of the folks that lived through the cold war mention having a mindset that they expected a nuclear apocalypse to end the world. I did too.
When I first read the setting's background in the early 80s I vividly recall thinking that James M. Ward and Gary Jaquet were crazy! There was no way the apocalypse is going to be brought on by a political breakdown and various factions (special interest groups) destroying one another and the world in the process. Today, being much older and hopefully a little wiser this seems far more likely than a state sanctioned nuclear conflagration.
Some of you reading this might not understand this communal expectation of assured mutual destruction. Growing up in the 60s and 70s during the height of the cold war between Communism and Democracy I thought it would be unlikely to see the age of thirty. Surely the U.S.S.R. would launch an unprovoked nuclear armageddon causing the "good guys" (the U.S.A.) to respond with our seemingly infinite supply of ICBMs and only the Gods know what else. Well, that has not happened. Yet.
The shared expectation of a future blighted by nuclear war seemed almost a certainty. It was this environment that produced Gamma World and so many other creations dealing with this terrifying subject.
Please don't take this as me saying that we had it tougher back in the day. I'm not saying that at all. Just like with every new generation, the world has changed. There are still dangers (new and old) to be reckoned with and thanks to the MegaCorps and the politicians they own, no one has it easy today.
The Shadow Years and The Black Years
This is the introduction to the setting. If you want an easier to read version, please use this link.
Basically human civilization reached it's greatest technological heights in the 24th century and repaired the environmental damage done to the earth while taking the first steps to conquer the stars. Technology freed people from the daily grind of modern living and regrettably we remembered we don't really like each other very much. Society splintered into various special interest groups that embraced violence to achieve their wildly varying goals irrespective of national boundaries. An age of unprecedented terrorism followed and ended up with the destruction of the ancient world and heralded the beginning of the Gamma World.
Rules and Such
With this introduction it is up to the referee to create their own Gamma World and TSR jumps into this by page 5. All that is given in the rulebook is an outline of the things the authors suggest you include. Everything is really left up to the gamemaster.
It's amazing how much was jammed into the 56-page rulebook. The text is very tiny and dense. The way I like it. Or I should say the way I used to like it before my eyes got old. If you want to really test your eyesight try the text in the first edition Forgotten Realms boxed set. Even back in the day I needed a magnifying glass for that. Also, it was on a sepia colored paper which was very cool but had less contrast. Did I just digress again! OK. Back to Gamma World. Also included in the Gamma World box set was a hex-map of the United States. And that was it. You had to supply your own polyhedral dice and miniatures were mostly unheard of when it was released. Grenadier Miniatures did produce a line of miniatures starting in 1980 or so. We of course already had a growing collection of miniatures for AD&D and ended up using those. Mostly the monsters. As player characters. It was strangely freeing using a troll or bugbear miniature as a player character.
The game system was loosely based on Dungeons and Dragons and more so on Metamorphosis Alpha. Players could choose to be Pure Strain Humans (PSH), Humanoids, or Mutated Animals. Some gamemasters let the players also be Mutated Plants but that was rare. After all, most plants are not mobile and serve better as foes of the party. Although I do vaguely recall a large mobile broccoli dude PC with Death Field generation. Best not to think about that too much. The party hated him cause Death Field affected everyone in a large area, friend or foe, and instantly dropped them to 1 Hit Point. But not the character using it. Although it might be better than Life Leech.
Unlike AD&D there were no classes in Gamma World. Everyone was just a survivor. In this sense Gamma World is closer to Original D&D than AD&D in that race is basically used as class. I see that character classes were added in the 4th edition of the game. I really need to check this one out in more detail.
You had three choices of characters.
Pure Strain Humans (PSH)
PSH are direct descendants of pre-cataclysm humans and posses no mutations at all. Their benefits are increased Charisma and the ability to use many technological marvels. They can also bypass some ancient security that would react to Mutated Animals or Humanoids. Honestly, I don't recall anyone playing a human. The fun was in the mutations!
These are mutated humans possessing strange mental and physical mutations. This was the most often played character type in our campaigns. They seemed to have the best of both worlds. Strange mutations but just human enough to fool most robots and wear all that cool tech stuff like suits of Power Armor similar to those depicted in Robert Heinlein's iconic book "Starship Troopers". Another great book. I'm convinced this was the source for the Power Armor in the game. But maybe not.
These animals possess human intelligence with mental and physical mutations.This character required creativity for the GM and players as there were no "stock options" for your mutated animal. You chose an animal and then worked out with the GM what it was capable of, whether it could speak or use its limbs as hands. Stuff like that.
Not surprisingly Gamma World uses six attributes that tie directly to AD&D attributes and also range from 3-18. Attributes are generated by rolling 4 six-sided dice and discarding the lowest die roll. Do this in order for each attribute.
Mental Strength: Used to make and defend against mental attacks. This corresponds to Wisdom in AD&D.
Intelligence: Very useful to figure out technological artifacts.Every point above 15 subtracts 1 on die rolls to figure out artifacts and every point below 6 adds 1 to your die roll.
Dexterity: Used to determine initiative and modifiers to hit in melee combat. Every point above 15 adds 1 to your hit roll and every point below 6 subtracts 1 from your hit roll.
Charisma*: Leadership ability, persuasiveness, and magnetism. Used to determine encounter reactions, number of followers & their morale.
Constitution: Physical sturdiness, poison/radiation resistance and most importantly determines your hit points. You roll 1d6 for each constitution point and then add them together to determine your total hit points. If you're lucky to have a constitution of 18 you would roll 18 six-sided dice to determine your total hit points. Our house rule was allowing Pure Strain Humans to use an eight sided die for hit points. This became the rule in second edition.
Physical Strength: This is how physically strong you are. Probably never guessed that, huh? Every point above 15 adds +1 damage to physical damage and every point below 6 subtracts 1 from your damage roll.
*As was often the case in early RPG games organization, you'll find the Reaction Table to be used when encountering a creature and trying to reason with them under the Charisma description. By the way, this table was taken directly from Original D&D with little modification. If it ain't broke, why fix it?
Hit points were determined by rolling 1d6 for each point of a character's constitution and adding them together. I recall that we had a house rule that allowed Pure Strain Humans to use a d8 instead of a d6 to determine hit points. This was changed in the second edition and we must have carried it back to first edition. Still, no one played any PSH. Starting characters in GW were tougher than their AD&D counterparts but so were the dangers they faced.
This is when the game got really fun as you got your super powers! I mean mutations. Depending on the referee you could either choose your mutations (and the GM chooses any defects) or roll them randomly. We always opted to roll them randomly. Each player with a mutated character rolls 1d4 to determine each of their physical and mental mutations. So you could end up with a total of 8 mutations to start. You might get more as the game progressed but that was somewhat rare. You'll notice there are a lot of defects on this chart. You rolled your dice and took what you rolled and liked it! Don't worry if your character ends up with a lot of defects. Your character will probably die in the first encounter anyway. And then you get to roll more dice. But it's quick to generate a character. Make two while you're at it!
Mutation Super Stars
Some mutations were definitely better than others. You did not want to get stuck with Attraction Odor (you smell tasty) or Double Physical Pain (take double damage on every attack) but remember if your PC dies, you get to roll more dice. Take solace in that.
Some of the more useful or devastating ones are:
Dual-Brain. With an extra brain who needs friends? This gives you extra mental mutations, two chances to avoid being affected mentally, and makes it easier to figure out those sweet artifacts!
Wings. Who doesn't want to be able to fly?
Death-Field Generation. We already talked about this one. Reducing all enemies in a large radius to 1 HP is pretty sweet. Your character ends up on the ground stunned for 1-20 rounds but hopefully your friends are in the ruins just out of sight and effect to swoop in!
Life Leech. Another one to make you unpopular with the other players. This one drains 6 hit points from everyone in a large area and gives them to you as temporary hit points that last 24 hours. Holy Heck! That could be devastating if you had to battle the Black Knight to get across a bridge. Have your party "donate" HP to your champion to buff them up before the battle.
Increased Speed. Permanent haste! Two attacks and double move all the time.
New Body Parts. Want tentacles or antennae or a third eye? Then this is the mutation for you.
Multiple Body Parts. This is where you get your characters looking like Kali or Sleipner. Multiple arms or legs. No rules on whether you got more attacks or moved faster. Rulings not rules was the way to play. Make it up. It does say they are fully usable so ten attacks a round for you! Well, maybe five.
De-Evolution. Remove mutations from your enemies! You could turn that Hoop back into a rabbit or that Hisser into a garden snake. But it took a while and could only be used 1/week. I ran an adventure based on this mutation. The PCs heard of an "evil cleric" that was stripping mutants of their mutations. They had been fighting the Knights of Genetic purity so thought it was related. The Knights are the futuristic equivalent of heavily armed KKK or Nazis and want only pure strain humans to exist in the world. Everything else is an abomination and needs to be purged. Preferably with fire. Anyways, turned out the evil cleric was helping mutants who did not want to be mutants any longer or removing their defects.
Mutations taken directly from the comics!
Density Manipulation. Just like The Vision you could become diamond hard (but tiny!) or get really light and become tall and fast. OK, the Vision's powers were cooler but I still suspect this was the genesis of the idea.
Magnetic Control: Can you say Magneto?
Light Wave Manipulation: Can you say Dazzler? Of course she did not debut until 1980 so maybe Marvel got the idea here?
Experience Points (EP)
Experience Points (EP) earned for combat are calculated by adding up the hit points (HP) of creatures slain or subdued in combat and awarding one EP for each HP. This would be divided equally among all the characters involved in the combat.
EP was also awarded for figuring out Tech Items, not before. You had to roll on this very cool chart to figure out items. This often resulted in players dying. You'll see a few notes we made to the chart and a terrible drawing of a Type I Phaser from Star Trek. Did my players find one? Yep. Also, tricorders, shuttlecrafts, a non-functional Tardis and other strange things from books, novels and TV.
Honestly, I don't recall ever keeping track of experience in Gamma World. We tended to judge our experience by survival and the weird tech items we acquired. Also, life was short and brutal in Gamma World. I can't recall any character lasting more that a few sessions.
If your character survived long enough to gain enough EP to go up a level you got to roll a d10 and you might get to add a point to an attribute (unless it was already an 18) or a modifier in combat.
I do love the section about not awarding full experience points for items if a character sneaks away while the rest of the party is being devoured by monsters. I would probably award full experience.
In our early campaigns, combat and looting was the central focus. Later we added more roleplay and tried to make the world a better place but looting radioactive ruins is so much fun. As was common at the time, combat was resolved with a twenty-sided die (d20) using hit tables similar to AD&D. What is unusual is that each weapon in the game is assigned a "weapon class" that ranges from 1 to 16 depending on the complexity and effectiveness of the weapon. The higher the better. The weapon class of the weapon determines how easy it is to hit a creatures Armor Class. For example, simple melee weapons (clubs, hammers, lances, maces, spears) are Weapon Class 1 while exotic Sci-Fi weapons (fusion rifles, micro missiles, mini missiles) are Weapon Class 16. There is also a hit chart for the creatures of Gamma World based on their hit dice. This was used for attacks without weapons or mutations against characters. Just like monster hit charts in AD&D.
Gamma World used a descending armor class system as does AD&D. Armor class ranged from 10 (unarmored) to 1 (power armor). Using the chart you would just cross reference the weapon class with the target's armor class to determine your "to hit" number when rolling a d20.
I thought Weapon Class was kind of weird at the time but it makes more sense to me these days. It is a workable solution to creating some difference in the weapons. Gamma World does not have classes, levels or a skill system to reflect weapon expertise. Well, Gamma World does have a very basic leveling system but it is very random. You never know what you'll get, if anything.
Mental attacks from mutations were handled on a similar table. You compare the two antagonist's Mental Strengths to determine the hit roll required to cause an effect.
Hazards are environmental dangers. There are two main hazards listed in the Gamma World rulebook; poison and radiation. When characters encounter these dangers they compare their Constitution score to the Intensity Level of the attack to determine the results. The possible results for poison are "No Effect", a certain amount of damage dice (d6s), or death. The results are similar when characters are exposed to radiation with the additional possibility of gaining another mutation or a defect. More super powers! I mean mutations.
Just like the character's abilities, the hazards intensity ranges from 3 to 18. There are no saving throws in Gamma World. So it's best to have an 18 constitution. Of course, that never hurts in ANY game.
Treasure, Swag, Wiifm, The Good Stuff
There are so many cool magic items available in this game. I mean technological marvels, not magic items. There are lasers, blasters, flying cars, robots, androids, force fields, and so much more. Here are a few highlights.
Duralloy: An indestructible light metal forged by the ancients. No one can cut it these days. All the ancient stuff is made of this.
Domars: Coins of the ancients made from Duralloy. Weird that they still had coins but OK. Gold is also used as currency.
Offensive Armor (Power Armor). These were suits of armor that bristled with weapons, comms, medkits and other nice things. If you've read Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers you'll know exactly what these are.It's more of a personal vehicle than armor. There are different versions of these suits just like in Starship Troopers. These should be very rare and also very difficult to maintain. I gave them out like candy but they did not last long.
Plastic Armor. Storm trooper gear. Light and affordable and much better than furs. But nothing special.
Vibro Blades. These are the closest the game comes to a lightsaber and they're pretty close. The blade is described as a force field that will cut any substance other than another force field. Comes in a knife or sword variety but no two-bladed varieties like Darth Maul had. If you want one with two blades go for it. We won't stop you. But I want one too.
Medi-kits: These could heal your character as long as they were PSH. They might help or kill your character if they're a mutant.
Life Ray: A resurrection machine. Very rare. 50% chance to resurrect a character killed within the last 24 hours but you have to reroll your stats. I never used this one.
Here is the treasure table used by the referee to generate loot randomly discovered in the wastelands. All sorts of paraphernalia of the ages. Despite being set in the 25th century there are a lot of 20th century items on the list as well as some very interesting items.
Check out these entries in particular:
- #08 "Pleasure globe - excellent condition". This must be from Woody Allen's movie "Sleeper".
- #42 "Rollerball trophy - fair condition". From the great movie of the same name.
- #60. "A small pewter belt buckle - with cryptic writing (TSR Hobbies)". An actual TSR product!
- #000 "A very stylish looking Purple & Gold garment". Magic Johnson's Purple & Gold away jersey. This is not really on the list. But I did give it to a character and it allowed them to take double attacks once per day due to an electrical matrix in the fabric. Or something. Hey, I'm a Lakers fan. You should always put a little something you love in your game.
There may be other such Easter Eggs on the chart. Did you find any I missed?
I am a huge fan of the movie Rollerball. There is a lot of depth to this flick hidden under the ultraviolence. Here's a link to a great description of the joy in finding something this cool at the Noiseless Chatter Blog.
As I explored the blog I was saddened to learn that the author, Philip J Reed, passed away in July 2022. Rest in Peace, fellow nerd.
Compatibility with AD&D
TSR touted that Gamma World was playable with AD&D and they did share a lot of similarities. Below is the section title "Mutants & Magic" from the AD&D First Edition Dungeon Master's Guide on how to convert characters from one system to another. Did I mention before that the DMG is the best RPG book ever produced? I did? Oh, okay.
I note Gary is already talking about Forever DMs way back in 1979! He posits that AD&D characters taken to Gamma World might spark one of your players interest to run a GW campaign and that would open a new field to game in, "and most important to give you a break from DMing continually". Funny.
Lots of tips in this section to mix your fantasy and Science Fiction together. Gamma World characters do not get to make any saves versus magic effects and AD&D characters have no resistance to radiation. Can cause some havoc for sure. I don't recall having any characters from one world travel to the other. We often ran into tech items in AD&D and I did sprinkle a few magic items around Gamma World. Very few though. I did have a character's Top Secret character end up in Gamma World. We just winged it by basically creating a new Gamma World character. As I recall they hooked up with an NPC based on Deathlock from Marvel Comics and together they caused some damage.
Gamma World Factions
There are a lot of different political groups in Gamma World called Cryptic Alliances all trying to dominate the shattered world. Each have their own outlook and secret (or not so secret) agendas.
Brotherhood of Thought
These are the most enlightened of the alliances. They seek to bring peace to the world through unity. They welcome all kinds into their fold. Their missionaries travel in groups of three. A pure strain human, a mutated human and a mutated animal.
They identify other members by tracing the infinity symbol across their forehead as though brushing aside a stray lock of hair.
They are pure strain humans and mutated humans that seem fully human. They don't like mutate animals much but will work with them. They hate technology and want to destroy it all before it causes another apocalypse. Luddites.
They identify one another by scanning the horizon using both hands to shade their eyes.
Knights of Genetic Purity
They are the Gamma World KKK. They want to eliminate all mutated humans. They don't care about mutated animals or plants. I guess beneath their notice. They prefer to fight mounted with lance and sword. They also like all tech weapons and will hire out as mercs as long as their are mutated humans on the other side.
No subtlety here. They wear a bright red square emblazoned on their gear. Easy to identify and should be eradicated with extreme prejudice as soon as possible. I used these guys as villains. A lot.
Friends of Entropy
Known as the "Red Death" among themselves. I had forgotton their real name. Their goal is "the extinction of all life and the cessation of all mechanical equipment of a robotic nature". Especially that part about robots. Jonathan Tweet in his Omega World game mentioned that they are just not interested in waiting around for the eventual heat death of the universe and are doing all they can to bring it closer. That fits. They are nomads because no one wants them around.
They identify each other by cleaning a dagger with a red cloth and then stabbing the cloth. I'm sure they also recognize each other by that certain baleful light in each others eyes.
The Iron Society
These guys are mutated humans that hate pure strain humans and are all about wiping them out. They use mutations and tech weapons in battle. Fierce! Good to pit against the Knights. No notes on how they identify one another.
These are mutated animals who seek to rule the world as beastlords. All their agents are telepathic so say hi to each other that way. Not very strong yet.
A quasi-monastic order that heals everyone and has an uncanny ability to befriend non-intelligent creatures. Anyone can join. They have no need to hide as they are respected by all (except the Red Death) for their healing abilities.
I use these guys a lot to give quests and to provide succor to the party.
It's all in the name, baby! They want to bring the old world back and restore it. Primarily humans and mutated humans often accompanied by robots.
The Followers of the Voice
They believe the world was created by computers and dwell near installations that still have working (and talking) computers or AIs. They seek out more of the same and believe the power of computers will rebuild the world. Sometimes these AIs rule their followers as though they lived in Alpha Complex in that hilarious Paranoia game by West End Games, designed by Dan Gelber, Greg Costikyan, and Eric Goldberg. Hmm. That's actually a great idea for a beginning setup for a new campaign. Kind of like in that great computer game Fallout by Interplay. Alpha Complex could be a vault and the computer periodically sends out Troubleshooters to gather parts and such. I got distracted again. Sorry.
The Ranks of the Fit
These guys are a military-religious order founded by an enormous mutated bear who took some really bad ideas from some books to create his philosophy (Mein Kampf, Animal Farm, & bios of Napoleon Bonaparte to name a few). Anyone can join as long as they tow the line and understand that the mutated animals are in charge.
This group is made up of small mutated humanoids. Why small? I guess because they live in deep caves. They worship the artifacts of the ancients and hold them sacred. They take them to their caves where they are polished and worshipped. They love robots and use them as statues of their gods. They do NOT use any of these sacred items and will often barter or steal items from characters.
They worship radiation and are only found in areas of high radiation seeking out new sources of the "Radiant Divine Glory" as they call radiation. They are all highly resistant to radiation and possess many mutations.
This alliance is made up entirely of androids who seek to eliminate their organic revivals. They work with and possess many robots and technological items. Being able to pass easily as humans they infiltrate human society to further their digital dreams of world domination.
Elements in Our Games
We tended to incorporate any and all Sci-Fi elements into our chaotic 'campaigns'. I don't know if you can call a bunch of unconnected delvings into the radioactive ruins a campaign or not.
The second edition had a nifty box set. See the picture below. My box is long gone but I do still have the map!
The map depicts Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after the holocaust and it is now dubbed Pitz Burke for Gamma World. I love this map and when I saw it, I instantly thought of "Escape from New York" a great film by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken. Man, seeing that Disney Kid as Snake Plissken was amazing. Growing up on Kurt's Disney movies it was mind-blowing when he starting cussing up a storm! Anyway, with this map as inspiration I created the Duke of Pitz Burke and he too drove around the ruined city in a Cadillac with Crystal Chandeliers and a disco ball hanging from the rear view mirror. Because of course I did.
These guys also showed up more than once. They are mutants after all! It says it right in their name. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I know I included them at one point but have no recollection of when or how. I suspect they teamed up with the PCs on a quest for that Ancient Wonder, pizza.
Necron 99 from the Ralph Bakshi movie Wizards. This flick provided vibes.
Do you recall the fantastic movie, 'The Last Starfighter" directed by Nick Castle and starring Lance Guest,Catherine Mary Stewart, and Robert Preston? If you have not seen it, spoilers follow. Oh, and go out and watch it. It's a classic.
Anyway, Centauri (Robert Preston) shows up at the trailer park where the hero, Alex Rogan, lives. He's driving a car (a Star Car) that looks like a modified DeLorean. Centauri has been called to Earth by someone passing "The Excalibur Test" and has come looking for the person that broke the high score of the Last Starfighter video game. How cool is that? Well, it gets better. The pseudo-DeLorean is actually a spaceship and Alex finds himself whisked off to battle Xur and the Kodan Armada! Well, of course Centauris' space car showed up in one of our games and was dubbed the Centauri Starflyer. It was similar to the Bubble Car but better! The Bubble Car was a very rare Gamma World artifact that could travel in the air, space or under the sea.
This was also Robert Preston's last movie before he passed away in 1987. He was nominated for a best-supporting Oscar for his part in the 1982 movie, "Victor/Victoria". A delightful film and a very charismatic actor.
Centauri's Star Car. Our Centauri Starflyer
I used the AD&D adventure S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks for so many different military installations. I think my players started catching on.
I used Yexils, Robots, Hissers and Hoppers a lot as adversaires in our games. Why? Because of the fantastic illustrations. I would have loved to have many more illustrations but you can only jam so much in a small rulebook. Also used lots of androids because it was so easy to slip them into a party's orbit. I loved Isaac Asimov's depiction of the android Daneel Olivaw in the novels "Caves of Steel" and the "Naked Sun". Both are great Sci-Fi detective whodunnit mysteries. Although my androids were generally not working for the benefit of humanity. Although a group of my PCs did meet Daneel even if they did not know it. Asimov is one of my favorite authors. His book "Foundation" is amazing. I think I was going to do more with Daneel but as I recall the party got vaporized trying to figure out a Torc Grenade. A torc grenade is a hand-held disintegrate spell in a 15m radius! Say goodbye to everything in that area and say hello to the new hole you created. Assuming you're still there.
Now, I must admit I misrepresented Yexils earlier. They are actually quite gentle, intelligent and are usually willing to trade technological marvels for synthetic or other manufactured clothing. Such a deal!!!
Yexil: Hey! I'll trade you this laser rifle and torc grenade for that duffel bag filled with leisure suits.
Party: Whaddya mean we have to bargain with the yexil? The last creature we talked to ate half of the party!
A Yexil in Flight
A Death Machine. Also known as a flying TPK!
A hopeless character that has been haunting
gamer's nightmares since 1978.
This amazing robot illustration was done by the amazing artist, David A. Trampier. Known as "Tramp" he illustrated some of the most iconic images in TSR's history and was a world class artist in his own right. He often signed his works as DAT.
The image below is of DAT as imagined as a character in Gamma World. This very cool illustration is at the blog Old School FRP along with more information on DAT and GW.
Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards released by Sierra Games in 1987.
I hope you enjoyed taking a trip down radioactive memory lane with me. if you need more post apocalyptic goodness I have gathered a few links for you to peruse to your mutated hearts' content.
Downloads and Links of Interest:
Other Musings on Post Apocolyptica
Looks like James has been busily thinking about Gamma World too. As I was compiling this massive post James has added five more! I probably should have split this up too.
Musings on Gamma World from Daddy-01!
Encounter Charts for Mutant Future or Gamma World
Lots of other great stuff on this blog too!
Goblinoid Games (Mutant Future)
The Joy of Rollerball or a glimpse into a social nightmare.
I know I mentioned it before but I really wanted to make sure you saw this one.
These adventures by Les Braun and other Gamma World fans complete two series of linked TSR modules that were never released when the Gamma World lines were cancelled.
Rapture of the Deep GW5
2nd Edition Fan Adventure by Les Braun
Omega Project GW11
3rd Edition Fan Adventure by Les Braun
Jay at Gamma World War! has an Appendix "G" for inspirational books and media. Pretty nifty.
Scot Hoover runs (ran?) this blog. Lots of stuff for Gamma World and Mutant Future as well as lots of other Killer Stuff. There are quite a few dead links as it does not seem to be maintained any longer but search for Gamma World. I liked the Barony of Horn maps usable in GW1 Legion of Gold.
Back in 2009 I downloaded two indispensable listings for Gamma World from his site but I don't see them there anymore. They are the "The Complete Post Apocalyptic Scavenger's Field Guide" and "Mutant Manual II". I use them whenever we play. The Guide has gathered all the items from GW 1e & 2e and updated them to 2e. All in one PDF. The Mutant Manual does the same for creatures. It is my Monster Manual for Gamma World. I reached out to Scot at the only email I could find but it is no longer current. If anyone knows where to download these please let me know.
I have placed these items on Google Drive. Please download them for your own use. Not for resale!
You can order a print of the amazing artwork by Jeff Easley used for the cover of the 2nd Edition Box Set from his site.
Gamma World Wiki
Gamma World at Wikipedia
Mutant Future Wiki
So much stuff that can be used for GW 1st/2nd Edition
A nice reference site to create a 1E Gamma World Character.
You can find vintage Gamma World products available at your preferred digital marketplace. We occasionally get some of this great stuff at our store or Etsy Shop but it is generally harder to track down than many of the other vintage games.
Other Interesting Stuff
by John O'Brian & Jeremy Borsos
Atomic Postcards offers a fascinating glimpse of a time when the end of the world seemed close at hand.
Examples of postcards during the Cold War. Amazing the things we'll celebrate.
Session Recaps as of 05/05/2023
Here is a brief gaame recap of the major events during Famine In Far-Go.
The party consists of 6 PCs.
The mutated humans.
Thri Maksim. A 9-armed mutie with increased speed (haste), Death Field Generation, and Reflection (reflects damage). He gets 5 attacks a round with swords and uses a large shield and two small shields.
Camani Penn. A mutant with a radiation absorbing organ, No Sensory Nerve Endings (doesn’t feel anything), Light Generation (say “cheese!”), a Complete Mental Block vs. Pandas, meaning they cannot see, hear, feel, or react to pandas in any way. Are there a lot of Pandas in Gamma World? Well, there are now at least in my campaign. She also has Telepathy, Heightened Intelligence, and Heightened Brain Talent. Quite the brainiac.
Doos Victor Doos is a mutant with Radiated Eyes (death beams!), Electrical Generation (electric eel!), Ultravision, Empathy and Thought Imitation (reflects mental attacks).
Quan Becky: A mutated human with Regeneration, Gas Generation (paralysis), Planar Travel (Sigil here we come!), Mental Block vs. Elephants (see pandas above), and illusion generation.
Alf Geronimo. A pure strain human dude who is very into the tribe’s deity, Arx Skystone. Also, a bit snooty. Them darn purebloods! Thinking themselves better than everyone else.
Sven Lagertha. A pure strain human Viking warrior. Ummm. OK, not a Viking. Just a badass warrior with an 18 Physical Strength.
Spoilers follow for Famine in Far-Go.
The party is made up of youths on the cusp of adulthood. They are setting out on a journey that will either make them full members of the Far-Go tribe or exiles banished to the glowing wastes. I hope they make it.
Their first stop is at the meeting place outside of Far-Go where they must leave behind their childish talismans. Each child wears a crystal necklace (purple for PSH, blue for muties). Pay attention. These colors are important later.
At the meeting place they leave their necklaces and discover a hidden cache in the center of the pedestal used to leave the necklaces. They find some treasures of the ancients but the coolest things they find are a beaten-up copy of the Gamma World rulebook (say what!) and Gary Gygax’s Priority 1 ID card. Pretty nifty.
Here’s the pertinent section:
After wandering through an Erol Otus inspired radioactive wonderland (think myconids and weird fungi trees) and a few encounters (Knights of Genetic Purity, a destroyed bridge over the River of Blood, radioactive rain and aiding a dying man that gifts them with an artifact of the ancients) they make it to the Forest of the Ancients where they must seek and ingest the correct Berries of Truth. Then they must pass the night in the nearby clearing while in the thrall of the berries inspired dreams.
Well, the players were smarter than me. They are presented with four different colored berries on bushes surrounding the One Tree in the forest of the Ancients. Black, Red, Purple and Blue. Were you paying attention earlier? My players were. The PSHs gobbled the purple berries and the muties ate the blue ones. These of course matched the color of their childhood necklaces. So, by eating a dozen of the correct berries, no more, no less, they got more super powers! Well, the PSH got additional bonuses to their strength and such.
They passed the night in strange dreams and woke groggy, in the dark, and tied up with rough ropes. A group of nasty badders (think evil man-sized badgers) took them back to their lair. The PCs quickly got free since one of the new super powers they got was Shorter. Yeah, that’s not a defect. Camani Penn shrank to about 45cm (18” tall). A wingless pixie! She quickly helped the others free themselves and then slipped around the badder’s lair to get the lay of the land. She discovered a shrine to Becky Badger, their living/cooking area and the treasure room! BTW, Becky Badger was a short-lived mascot for the University of Wisconsin–Madison in addition to the more well-known mascot Bucky Badger. After the PCs overpowered their one badder guard they snuck to the badder’s treasure room, looted the best stuff. They still had not found an exit to the surface. They ran into a trapped hallway and half the party was caught in a rockfall. They actually were looking for traps everywhere but for some reason not the one hallway that had traps. Go figure! Anyways this alerted the badders who had them trapped in a dead end. Quan Becky decided to create an illusion of Becky Badger and command them to stand down. It worked! The PCs freed themselves and caught a whiff of fresh air. They quickly made their way to the exit. Off they want back into the wastelands with all the badders best stuff! Also, they stared a bit of a holy war. Not all the badders saw the illusion. Some were out of range or were not affected. So, half of the badders had a religious experience and the others think they’re crazy. Fun times. Pursuit was greatly slowed by this. The chief returned from a hunt and chased the kids around the wastelands until they realized they could not outrun them. They set an ambush and Thri Maksim jumped out into the midst of the badder hunting party and unleashed his Death Field and then promptly crashed to the grounds helpless. No worries. With most of the badders reduced to 1 HP the party made short work of them. A couple fled back the way they came.
Back to the road to continue their journey home. During the night spent at the One Tree the party had dreams of salvation for their village. When they came across a large dead tree pointing into the woods that matched their dreams, they had a choice. Return to the village as instructed by the elder or follow their dreams of salvation! They of course went into the fantastical wastelands in search of their dreams. After passing through strange foliage, they arrived at LPI. The La Prix Industries Automated Chicken Processing Factory (A subdivision of RobCo). The PCs spent the better part of a day circling around the plant and watching some automated farm machinery (Robots!) take care of the damaged crops. Mostly picking and discarding plants damaged by the excessive radiation.
We'll leave off here and pick up again as the PCs enter the plant.