Gamma World

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Gamma World second edition cover.

Gamma World is a post-apocalyptic RPG created by TSR and set some 300 or so years in the future, after a global catastrophe. The specifics of the end of the world have changed with advancing technology: in early editions, nuclear war was responsible; in later versions the catalyst was nanotechnology, genetic engineering, or other extrapolations of current technology such as the C.E.R.N's Large Hadron Collider ripping apart the fabric of reality and letting no end of weird sci-fi shit spill in. Since the beginning, the style of the game is wacky and technologically fantastic similar to comic books back in the 1960s. That is, cartoonish mutants and high-tech equipment that look like they were invented by old-school Reed Richards.

The common player races include humans, mutants, sentient animals or plants, and androids. Mutations are determined by rolling a set of physical and mental (or just plant-based) mutations on their respective tables. Due to the randomness of the mutations, you can get game-breaking powers, crippling defects, or a set of useless or cosmetic mutations that do not benefit the mutant in any meaningful way. While "Pure Strain" humans were subject to mutation in the first edition, second edition and onward made them immune to mutation through radiation exposure, and were given a number of race-related benefits to offset the front-loaded power set of mutant characters.

Like most post-apocalyptic settings, the people of Gamma World had to scrounge for high-tech devices like guns, since the knowledge to create them had been lost in the cataclysm. This could result in pure comedy as players use unknown devices like a hair dryer in the false belief it is some sort of Ancient's death ray gun. Initially three levels of technology existed for different cultures: primitive, Medieval-level (or Mad Max-level if you prefer) and high-tech for cultures who preserved the knowledge of the Ancients.

In addition to living in a world full of crazed creatures with weird powers, there are also equally crazed "Cryptic Alliances". These societies exist to make the game world even more awesome, including the Radioactivists, who worship "The Glow" or "Radiant Divine Glory"; The Red Death (or Friends of Entropy), a Thuggee-inspired murder-cult (later a Max Max biker gang) who exist purely to kill you; the army of Bonapartists (Ranks of the Fit) led by a mutant sentient bear called Napoleon, who will probably want to kill you too; and the Knights of Genetic Purity (Purists), who are basically Ku Klux Klan-inspired human redneck racists who actively murders or enslaves genetically "impure" people. In later games, a number of Cryptic Alliances would be classed as 'unplayable' (like the The Red Death or Knights of Genetic Purity), or removed outright (The Red Death in fourth edition). This was due to TSR's policy of not allowing players to play as evil characters. (Although, in all fairness, the overriding goal of the Friends of Entropy is nothing short of eradicating all intelligent life, including artificial-intelligence, off the face of the earth and kidnapping babies to bolster their ranks like common Jedi.)

The first edition was based on how the original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D) was played, but with character levels being an afterthought (to the point of being an optional rule) and no class option. As such, the game used Weapon Class vs Armor Class, and hit points are based on the character's Constitution score (roll a d6 per point of CON) instead of level. Figuring out technology required the game master to roll on a set of flow-charts (being more and more elaborate, based on complexity of the item) in secret. It had tables to determine resistance to poisons, radiation and metal combat, but lacked a normal set of D&D saving throws. The second edition expanded in this rules, while adding more rule content, and again with the fourth edition to a greater extent. The third edition was a mess due to the inclusion of a radical game mechanic: The color-coded Universal Results Table. It was not a fully play-tested system, and part of the rules were not included. The multi-layered results usually bog-down the system with lot of small outcome tables for a variety of actions and effects.

Many of the campaigns in the earlier editions involved military robots/AI left over from the nuclear war awakening and had to be somehow countered/stopped by the players, who were generally otherwise no match for advanced forgotten weaponry with their pointy sticks and not-at-all-understood ancient artefacts. This trope became a bit overused among players and not least by TSR themselves: it was the story used in The Mind Masters module (for 2nd Ed), and the only Gamma World adventure gamebook Light on Quest Mountain (around the time of pre-Games Workshop Fighting Fantasy) (both 1983) and probably one of the factors prompting the thematic shift in later editions, but not before this had influenced popular culture.

After the fourth edition, Gamma World was sidelined for the Buck Rogers RPG, but returned as a supplement for the Alternity ruleset.

Like many of TSR's other RPGs WotC otherwise abandoned, it gets some nods in d20 Modern supplement material, with some support in both d20 Future and d20 Apocalypse. Jonathan Tweet also penned an article in Dungeon Magazine(2002, issue 94) "Omega world" which despite being just a few pages long was a heck of a lot better than the D20 Modern-based sixth edition crapped out by White Wolf. White Wolf succeeded in removing anything possibly fun by playing the setting dead seriously and costing you more money with the release of several turgid books needed to play the game. There is also, oddly enough, an adaptation of Gamma World to the Star Frontiers game, with reworked statistics for Star Frontiers, called Gamma Dawn.

The seventh edition saw the introduction of cards which bring in a collectable trading card game component. This sadly ruins what would have been an awesome edition and removed the vile after-taste of the lack luster White Wolf edition. The concept of starting each game with a new, random set of artifacts and mutations makes no sense, even for a wacky game like Gamma World, but that wasn't what really soured people. Had the mutations and tech cards been released in fixed, non-random expansion sets like Munchkin or SmashUp then they might have been better received as a bizarre gimmick to shake up encounters. But instead they were sold in random packs and the whole thing came off as a shameless cash grab.

In closing second edition is probably one of the most awesome editions as not only do you get a lot of useful material and a pretty map to look at, but best of all Pittsburgh gets nuked. In the first edition module, The Legion of Gold, the location called "the Barony of Horn" is located in Jacksonville, Wisconsin area and includes Lake Geneva — home of Gary Gygax and TSR Inc. And if the title is not clear enough, Famine in Far-Go takes place in Fargo, North Dakota, and is notable for its criss-crossing ruined highway system and army of mutant chickens.

Gamma World has a sizable cult-following, and over the years, spawned a number of spiritual successors, like Mutant Future, Mutant Epoch, Mutant Crawl Classic, and a host of other smaller titles.