Gamma World Actual Play: “Pax Extraterrestria” at DC Game Day

High Leaf, the Plant Mind-Coercer

I picked up Gamma World last Thursday. I hadn’t intended to run it so soon, especially with DC Game Day over the weekend… and then fate intervened. My sunday morning game of Old School Hack was canceled on Saturday since the DM had something come up, and so I stepped up. None of the other players minded the switch, so life in Gamma Terra was on.

However, there were some obstacles. As I talked about in my review, I wasn’t a fan of the adventure that came in the core book, so I only wanted to use that as a last resort. I managed to get my hands on the preview adventure from Pax by Logan Bonner that had gotten excellent reviews. (It’s the same one Wil Wheaton played.)

Then, I had to get my stuff in order. The evening before, I tossed a bunch of miniatures in a box (ones I had acquired for cheap from Miniature Market, mostly Star Wars and Horrorclix), grabbed my Battlegraph boards and dry erase markers for the maps, printed the adventure, some character sheets, and a copy of these power cards. With the time I had available, that was the extent of my prep, other than reading the adventure.

I had 6 players for the game, two of whom had never played 4e and one or two had played some previous incarnation of Gamma World. A good range of experience, to be sure.

Mutant Creation

We rolled characters at the table, as suggested. The process isn’t entirely smooth, especially when there’s only one book floating around, but far far easier than most RPG character creation. Rolling the two mutant halves is done first, and is the most important aspect. Getting some of the details down like powers, skills, and equipment takes a bit longer. This was drawn out a little bit because I too was learning character creation as we went, though the character sheet does help a lot. In fact, there were several times I was corrected (for the better) because of a note on a character sheet, like how weapon attacks are determined and that level is added to most bonuses.

One part that ended up being especially tricky for me was the gear section. I figured out early on that the main gear table would feature a lot of things that the PCs wouldn’t get a chance to use, and I was right… I just hadn’t expected there to be so many horses. More interesting were the rolls on the Ancient Junk table, which were more obviously “this is useless unless you’re really creative.” Then there was the weapons- it says “if you’re in a hurry, give everyone armor, a melee weapon, and a ranged weapon.” Instead of passing around the book and explaining the table, I gave everyone the choice between light ranged/heavy melee or heavy ranged/light melee. It wasn’t until looking closely at the table that I realized that it was more nuanced then that, where melee weapons and ranged weapons both can use Str/Con or Dex/Int. In the future, I’d probably have some copies of the equipment list to hand out.

After around 45 minutes, we had our intrepid mutant heroes:

  • High Leaf, Plant Mind-Coercer
  • Gemini Salad, Doppleganger Plant
  • Scrapple (the Magnificent), Electrokinetic Pyrokinetic
  • Bumpy, Radioactive Doppleganger
  • GRRM, Telekinetic Giant
  • Grubs, Pyrokinetic Hawkoid

Intruders!

After a short explanation about the world of Gamma Terra, and with some background about the complex where the characters have been living, the Alpha Mutations were dealt out, along with a short explanation of how they work. Then the map was set up (after I discovered that the maps in the adventure were the same ones included in the boxed set, after I had drawn my own version), tokens were grabbed for the monsters, and initiative was rolled.

The first encounter went pretty smoothly, an early “De-evolution” alpha mutation limited one of the main bad guy’s effectiveness and then mostly there was cleanup against some dabber (raccoon-humanoid) snipers, and some reprogramming of some shieldbots. An invisible wall-creating alpha mutation also sealed the exit to prevent anyone from leaving, much to their surprise. The main bad guy, a technology-hating humanoid called a Gren, referred to the Returned Earth as coming for them all before it died.

The computer running the complex came to life to ask the PCs to help (otherwise, it would revoke their vending machine access.) After recovering a slightly burnt postcard (burnt thanks to Scrapple) that revealed the location of “The Great Antenna” with the caption “Welcome to Seat.” This computer, I might add, resembled a certain other complex-running computer. The computer displayed a map using pushpins to draw out their location, leading our mutants to ask if they’ll be able to spot the red line running between them. The computer said they needed to stop the Antenna as it was preparing to destroy all technology in the area, including the complex computer.

Meanwhile, GRRM rummaged around the complex looking for something to copy the map with, so I let him roll a perception check to look around. He rolled poorly, so I rolled on the Ancient Junk chart, which produced a working toy gun that distracted him from what he was doing.

Soon, our mutant bunch left the relative safety of the complex into the great outdoors.

P-P-Party

A wrecked motorcycle nearby revealed a cache of Omega Tech, giving everyone their first card (I missed the rule that said they started with one.) They were excited about getting some awesome new tech, but also made sure to recover the gas tank for use in some of their equipment, just in case.

Grubs took to the air to scout, using both binoculars and Omega Tech enhancements that enhanced his perception. He spotted the way to The Great Antenna, which contained a strange chunk of ground hanging off the side, and a winged lion-like creature guarding it.

As the party approached, they discovered a new challenge: the only elevator up the Antenna was surrounded by an electric fence, and a large robot with the inscription Dancebot 1986. Some options about going over the fence were discussed, but GRRM opted to take the direct route and walk up to the robot and try hitting it with a stop sign. However, GRRM discovered that this option wasn’t the most effective, as Dancebot produced several gun batteries and shot the giant repeatedly before kicking him back. “Entry is f-f-forbidden, but dancing is encouraged!” Dancebot told them. Grubs tried to fly over the fence, and he too was introduced to Dancebot’s formidable armory. Finally, the party decided to dance with Dancebot, which caused him to moonwalk away from the door. Taking the opportunity, the party dove into the elevator before Dancebot returned on his heels.

In the elevator, GRRM took a short rest- we discovered that it restores all hit points, though it did cause an alpha flux.

Top Floor: Returned Earth

The elevator doors opened to reveal the chunk of earth hanging off the top of the antenna, guarded by the lion-like creature spotted earlier, some mobile porcupine-like bushes, and two humanoids like the one that busted into the complex earlier armed with bows. One weakness of Gamma World is that the creatures aren’t as recognizable by name as D&D monsters, and their name doesn’t necessarily reflect what they are. So when I referred to Grens and Yexil, it was meaningless to the players even after explaining which was which, so I had to revert to descriptions more often than not.

After surveying the scene and spotting some trapped victims in the vines, the party started to formulate a plan. Scrapple stepped forward, flaring his pyrokinetic powers, and declared that he was the master of all and that they all should bow down before him. I had him roll an interaction check, to which he did well… so the Grens considered his proposal, keeping them from immediately engaging. Grubs came up beside him and added some extra flare.

The two dopplegangers used the distraction to split off and start to free some of the captives with their duplicates. Meanwhile, the non-humanoid guards were not swayed by Scrapple’s speech and waded into melee. The battle was on, with the two pyrokinetics taking point and burning their foes with a fiery aura in a doorway.

GRRM approached, holding his toy gun, causing the Grens to open fire on the giant holding “hated technology.” A pitched battle ensued, with GRRM being one of the first to drop. Eventually 5 of the 6 party members were down except for Bumpy, who used his doppleganger split in combination with his teleporting Alpha Mutation to confuse his enemies on who the doppleganger actually was. 4 party members ended up bleeding out on the ground, failing 3 death saves each. High Leaf, however, managed to roll a 20 on a death saving throw and get up (a rule that doesn’t exist in Gamma World, but I decided to port over to 4e on the fly.) The two of them finished off the remaining enemies… just in time for the Antenna to begin to fire up.

Victory, of a Sort

With just High Leaf and Bumpy remaining, the whole platform began to shake. If they didn’t act quickly, the Returned Earth would use the Antenna to knock out all technology in the area, and possibly take them with it. They found a set of vines connecting the ground to the Antenna, so they hacked away, scoring some solid hits and using the dopplegangers to assist in the task. The chunk of ground began to disconnect, so I asked them t0 roll acrobatics checks to stay safe… and they both rolled a 6, and went down with the ground, taking 50d10 damage.

One captive of the Returned Earth had been freed by the party. Since Scrapple (played by Fred Hicks) died, he started to roll up a new character that would be the freed captive, and made a Seismic Gravity Controller. While Fred didn’t get the chance to jump in since that was the end of the session, he pointed out that Gravity Controllers take no falling damage.

Thus, the original party suffered a TPK, even though they ultimately succeeded in their mission. That left only two characters left at the end to tell stories about what happened at the Great Antenna: the Gravity Controller they rescued, and Dancebot 1986. So the two of them walked off into the sunset, ready to start their new life in a buddy cop movie.

Lessons Learned

  • While character creation is considerably more streamlined than 4e and many other games, it’s still tricky to pull off for a table of 6 players at once. Multiple copies of the book would help this, as well as more experience in rolling up characters. Making copies of some of the important pages would also help considerably.
  • There are just a few “gotchas” in changes from 4e rules- plus full level to just about everything, the equipment table, how to determine your weapon damage, and how healing works. There are also a few carryover “gotchas” for non-4e players, like the difference between using your ability score and ability modifier.
  • For one-shots, don’t worry so much about the miscellaneous starting equipment for PCs. The Ancient Junk table is much more interesting anyway.
  • Gamma World is decidedly deadly, though there’s no aspect of long term resource management. You’ll either be in a deadly fight or you’ll be fine.
  • However, it says a lot about a game when there’s a TPK and the players still have great things to say about the session and the game system. As they say in the book, you can always roll up another mutant…
  • Nobody at the table felt like the Alpha Mutations were out of place, and often wanted to flux to see another card. The surprise aspect of the cards is definitely a prime motivator in the game. There was also almost no overcharging, which may have been me not explaining it properly, or the consequences for failure were too high.
  • Unless your group are longtime Gamma World fans, the monster names will be meaningless. Don’t be afraid to rename and reskin.
  • E-e-everybody loves Dancebot and wants to p-p-party with him.
About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.

Comments

  1. Excellent — I really wanted to play in this as well, once I knew you were running it, but as you know I was in Scott’s Old School Hack game which was also a great game. Thanks for the game summary — now, I definitely want to play some Gamma World! 😉

  2. Thanks for running this at DCGD, man! I’m eager (as you’d expect) to try some longer-term play in Gamma World — I think it can be done. May even be nursing a few ideas about it… 🙂

  3. Woooo! I wish I had been there. Sounds like awesome fun.

  4. I really love that adventure. It was a blast to run at PAX. If you end up running it again, I have some great handouts. Also, my blog has some very good printouts for Gamma World (full color random junk deck, origin reference cards, etc.).

  5. Logan Bonner says:

    The GMs at PAX were fantastic, and lent me complete sets of ancient junk cards, postcard handouts they’d printed, and maps and tokens I’d forgotten. They were as prepared as I’d wanted to be!

    D-D-Dancebot thinks those g-guys are r-r-r-r-rad!

  6. Really want to play Gamma World even more now, and I look forward to things like Dancebot when you run it and I get to play!

  7. Logan, it was a pleasure to lend you my stuff. Least I could do for the writer of such a fun adventure. All the materials were created by Matt Vincent, a DM in Portland, OR that regularly adds all sorts of fun handouts for LFR adventures.

    I won’t ever forget how perfect it was when the young boy at my table randomly found a car stereo and a power generator and asks if he can connect them and play something for Dancebot… when I ask what kind of station he tries to dial in, he says, “I guess 80’s music”. It was so perfect. During combat one person went back down and brought Dancebot up to the combat and ordered him to go beat on the vines. The final scene was Dancebot (someone had incredibly chosen to put a cowboy hat on him) on the rock as it was severed… he re-enacts Dr. Strangelove as he waves his hat in the air and stutters a cry as the rock plummets to its doom. Perfect.

    This adventure really needs to be released as part of Dragon or just as an add-on to the game. It really sells GW well.

  8. Oh, and here is that link for the handouts that Matt created. The junk tables are amazing. I have no idea how long he spent on these, but they are excellent. http://bit.ly/GW_AddOns

  9. Where does a GM get a copy of Pax Extraterrestria?

  10. I played High Leaf in this adventure and the game was a blast! The game came across like a “lighter” 4E, and in a good way! I like the way the game handles ammo, mutations and weapons (either it’s light or heavy, you decide what it is); very streamlined and easy to use. The only downside I saw was the lethality, though I imagine that would be “tweaked” with experience.

    Great game, Dave!

  11. Like Alphastream, running Gamma World at PAX has turned me into a bit of a cheerleader. Sadly, Pax Extraterrestria is not available for distribution, but it really is a much better introduction than the bundled adventure. Logan really cannot be congratulated enough for this one. Excellent, excellent job.

    The origin reference cards are a real boon to character creation, removing the need for everyone to hog the book. For a one-shot game, you can even speed things up by just shuffling the origin reference cards and having everyone draw.

    The game is clearly intended to be pretty lethal, with healing powers rare (but remember that everyone gets Second Wind as a minor action). While characters can activate other character’s second wind with Science checks (analogous to Heal in D&D4e), I’ve taken to allowing characters to `stabilize’ others using Science as well. A stabilized character need not make death saves, but can choose to do so. Failures still accrue as normal, but 20s let you (re-)spend your Second Wind. I’ve found this rule encourages heroics a bit as PCs try to save their allies.

    The first expansion, Famine at Far-Go, is due out in November. It includes an adventure, new monsters (with tokens), and 20 new mutant origins. Also, the Gamma World Gameday is 23 October (just over a week from today).

Trackbacks

  1. […] by a yexil or dissolved by radioactive slime. If you need some more incentive, Dave the Game has a thing or two to tell you, as does Penny Arcade (click through News for more from Gabe). […]

  2. […] This post is a recap of our experience with the game rather than an actual play report.  Since I used the PAX prime adventure written by Logan Bonner, you can follow the story in more details in Dave’s excellent DC Game Day game report. […]