Friday, November 12, 2010

Gamma World Impressions

So, Fred ran some Gamma World last night, and in addition to an opportunity to play with some locals who I usually only see at conventions, it was a chance to change the game from hypothetical to actual. We had a good time on the outskirts of the Baldy Moor, seeking the fabled All-Mart. and getting into some trouble along the way, and my impressions follow.

  • The Gamma World box is nice, but it's awkwardly sized to use as an actual box (A point that was reinforced by Fred showing off his Monster Vault and City Tile boxes). For any future play, I will certainly migrate it into something more compact. If I was younger, I would see if it all fit in an ammo box.
  • We only had one death, but it was a very near thing - several other characters came very close. This was expected - GW has a reputation for lethality - and I was curious to see why that was so when compared to a D&D group. Having seen it now, I think I have a sense of it, and I think it's two things.

  • First, there is less overall alpha strike capability, which 4e provides with its encounter and daily powers. This is not so important in terms of general output so much as the ability to respond to specific threats (since it is often the case in combat that one enemy proves a disproportionately high level of threat) by concentrating fire on a dangerous enemy to tip the balance. Alpha mutations and Omega tech fills some of this niche, but unreliably, and in fact we had a generally stronger draw of tech in the second fight (which was nominally harder than the first) which proved much easier. I don't think these facts are unrelated.

  • Second, there is less synergy between the characters than there is in 4e. This is partly a result of how the powers are structured, but it's also a result of the more freeform chargen. Without roles or clear ways to make other players more awesome, figuring out how to get a group to work as an effective team takes some time and experimentation.

  • The random gear table is actually a surprisingly powerful tool for telling you what your character's story is. If anything, I wish it had more stuff - we had a lot of repeats, and certain things (like canoes) suggested more about the character than more practical things (like flashlights).

  • This didn't come up, but does anyone know: When you hit 6th level do you get both crit effects at once, or do you get to choose which one applies on a per-attack basis?

  • Doppelgangers, BTW, are particularly awesome, especially when paired with a good secondary power. Having now seen more of the templates in action, the logic of their balancing makes a little more sense. It would be very easy to create new templates of a certain type (like the pyrokinetic or radiation ones) but others, especially the ones with odd novice powers (like Doppelgangers) or novice powers that are encountered rather than at-will (like Rat Swarms) are often balanced against something less obvious.

  • While the Alpha Flux rules (which kick in on a 1) are nice in theory, the don't help much when everyone is rolling 3's.

  • Having now seen it in action, the temptation of the custom deck is very clear to me now, for two different reasons. The first is thematic - After I finished making my character (Doppelganger/Mindbreaker) I quickly pulled all the biological mutations out of my deck - I did not see this guy growing spines or spitting acid, so I themed the deck to that. I didn't feel this was terribly abusive or cheaty. The second is practical - the range of utility of the mutations and tech is insane. One mutation might mean you get to attack twice every turn while another means you can breathe underwater[1]. The range in Alpha Tech utility is similar. This means that over and above the temptation to stack the deck in a way to suit your character, there's a temptation to just make a deck out of "the good stuff".

    I cannot decide if I consider this a hurtful design decision (effectively designing cards to not be used) or a profoundly cynical ploy to drive players to buy cards, rather than leave them at the whims of the GM's deck, which is going to be neither thematic nor optimized.

  • Despite the specifics of its implementation, the deck idea is pretty fantastic. One thing Fred and I were discussing is that you could easily tweak things into Torg by doing a GM-Deck game where the GM's decks change depending on the Realm you're in. The decks already have the hints of the ability to do this (with the various power and tech origins) and it would be a lot of fun to explore that. Unfortunately, cards are more work to mess around with than rules.
All in all it was a very fun game. A few warts that come from learning a new system and having a full table, but since the full table was full of fun players, it was quite worth it. I suspect I may take a hand at running it soon, and I'll be curious how it looks from that side.

1 - And since the GM doesn't know about these too far in advance, it's not liek he has time to make the scenario account of such things.


  1. Yep, your critical effects stack at sixth level.

  2. Thinking about it, some of the slowness last night may have been due to me not insisting enough on folks writing down the stat calculations for their powers. I felt like a lot of on the fly math was happening around reasonably static numbers..

  3. Heh, the random junk table can have some interesting results. We had a guy roll double keelboats.


    Good thing he's a giant.

  4. @stoppableforce I actually rolled a Keelboat and a canoe. Thankfully, there were two of me!

  5. A dude in my game rolled two pickup trucks and a keel boat. He decided that he'd had them fused together into some kind of bizarre land boat. And then he drew a picture of this construction, complete with his hypercognitive tree dude driving it. Ah, the magic of randomly-chosen story elements!

    Speaking of such things, I've been OCRing ancient junk tables from earlier versions of Gamma World to combine then with the new one, and possibly with the random gear table, too. Coming along okay, so far.

  6. The junk table continues to be an issue with every game I've run. Not so much to stop the game, but whenever I get to that step, it always ends up being a speedbump. Like origins, too many duplicates just end up diluting things. So many people with boats did give us an initial hook, but if we decide to go on a water excursion, will we really have to say "sorry, you can't come because you didn't roll a boat?" Ancient junk just always ends up being far more compelling to me, and can lead to some of the same hooks.

  7. I won't argue that a larger "mundane" gear table would be a benefit. :)

  8. I won't argue that a larger "mundane" gear table would be a benefit. :)

    Have you considered using the Yellow Pages as a basis? Comes preweighted for the likelihood of finding various items in a community.

  9. I hadn't, and that's brilliant. Except for me generally tossing the physical yellow pages right into the recycle bin when I get it. Until now I hadn't had much use for the thing.


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