When the Bad Guys Win: Chatty’s Gamma World One Shot

D-d-dance p-p-puny Humanoids!

One of the two pieces of Swag I got from being a volunteer DM at the New York Comic Con was a set of Wizards of the Coast’s new Gamma World adventure game.  After reading through the (very familiar) rules, I decided that I wanted to try it out with my buddies as a one shot, among the growing list of different role playing games we’ve been trying out these last 2 months.

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.

Character Generation

Char Gen is a much simplified version of 4e’s process.  People randomly determine 2 origins (each a class/race hybrid) and mush them together to create their PC concept.  That part can be either the most boring or awesome part of the game.  If you just accept that you have an Hyperconscious Android and move on to select your skills then you skipped on the awesome.

Case in point, my ever brilliant storyologist Franky rolled Telekinetic and “Swarm of Rats.” When I saw he was struggling with the concept, I shared the game’s core assumption: “You are expected to re-skin anything to suit your needs.”

Franky: So can the swarm be made of spiders?

Chatty: Absolutely!

Franky: And can I hold my body in humanoid form through my telekinesis and webs so I can blend in?

Chatty: Awesome, no one will notice!

Franky later chose weapons from the list of generic choices.  He picked a bowling bowl embedded in his PC’s body, swinging it, web-flail style. He also chose to shoot actual web spurts (like Spiderman).  His concept was rich and very vivid. Along with Yan’s Seismic Radioactive (a depleted Uranium shooter called Boulder Dash), Franky’s character stood out among the concepts I remember most.

From experience, I know that character creation can be a huge pain with only one rulebook and 4-6 players. So in order to bypass that, I used Alphastream’s very useful Gamma World add-ons that feature PDFs with description of each origins and various Gamma World cheat sheets.

Heck I cut these all up and had players pick two for their origin, so we had no overlaps, perfect for a demo game.

Seriously, even if you hate Wiz Book, hop on just to get the tools (and thank Alpha on the way), it will help you maintain momentum in your Char Gen session.

The Wonders of a Game’s Exploration Phase

Char Gen was fun for most of us (See below), I distributed weird/antique tech cards around (again from Alphastream) and we started playing the first scene where our soon to be heroes were lounging in the ruins of the Seattle Convention Centre and got attacked by a technophobic hippie hunter that turns nearby docile robots into robo-killas.

(Aside: I must give huge props to Logan Bonner who managed to not only write a good, 3 scenes adventure that showcases what Gamma World does, but also by adding several funny and clever remarks that made reading it all the more interesting… if you aren’t already doing it, go support his 4e Open Design Project!)

As players got into their powers and the slight rules changes of the game (no more Healing Surges, Minor Action+ 1/2 HP for Second Wind, etc) we experienced what I call “the exploratory phase” of a new game.  We had lots of fun and the fight went rapidly.

When we reached the second scene, with the Warbot named “Dancebot 1986” blocking the way to the Space Needle, some players  reading this here site recognized the adventure. Yet, as much as I was looking forward to this part of the adventure, all players completely aced the challenge and danced, dodged, snuck and flipped around, over and under this fully armed Droid of Groove.  So while it was cool from a success point, it felt a bit anti-climactic.

Stumbling Down the Hill

In the last encounter, the players squared off against another of those bow and arrow back-to-basics tree-huggers, a laser-gaze flying monkey-lion and some porcupine-dervish-bushes-from-Hell.  The combat was longish, players started dropping left and right, Mutant powers some useless, some too powerful cycled through the hands of the players. Those bushes were LETHAL…

Yan: Math! Gimme that Plasma Gun of yours.

Math: But it leaks radioactivity man, I can’t survive shooting it.

Yan: I’m made of radioactivity, I can soak it in!

Chatty: Ohhhh dear…

Yan: Booya! Dead Lion-Monkey-thing and I got a nice greenish tan from it!

In the end, one character died, 1 or 2 others were dying and the Sentient chunk of Space Earth villain that had crashed in the Space Needle was able to make all technology permanently inoperable over what used to be the Greater Seattle area  while the PCs tried to save their friends from dying.

Math: My iPod…

Mike: My turkey carver…

While we enjoyed ourselves, the evening ended in a some kind of a bummer.  I believe that people tend to remember the last emotional imprint of an experience and apply it to the whole thing itself. Thus, our game of Gamma World felt more meh than awesome.

You really have no idea what it feels like to know EVERYTHING do you.... ahhhh don't bother.

Dr. Chatty and the Hypercounscious Paranoid Android

In classic Chatty DM fashion, I decided to explore the why of this and how this can be circumvented in the future (or in your very own groups).

Character Dying Mechanics

One of the killjoys of the evening was that some players spent a lot of time not knowing if their dying character would feed radioactive worms or not.  While Gamma World, especially at level 1, is faster than D&D 4e, dying PCs still have to wait 10 to 15 minutes each round, just to roll a d20 to make sure they don’t die.

Since the PC might recover, or a friend might come over and help you out, the player and GMs don’t necessarily realize that the player should spend this time making a new PC.

Since I don’t believe that Gamma World was created to be a serious, deep story RPG, I’d suggest re-instating the oldest of Old school rules of them all: your PC dies at 0 HP… period. Then, just allow new adventurers to join as soon as the new PC is ready.  Thus, players always do stuff at the table.

Alternatively, my buddy Dave suggests having the player work on a new PC while he rolls death saves and when the new PC is ready, make a call with the GM about the fate of the fallen one.

Reintroducing the Randomness Element

This may come as no surprise, but some of my players were completely turned off by the randomizing aspect of the game.  While the selection of character origins was fine, Math started grumbling when he had to roll his tertiary stats.

Chatty: You know what Math, I just realized that since 1986, you AlWAYS hated rolling for stats, that why you jumped on Unearthed Arcana’s alternative methods.

Math: You’re damn right!

Chatty: And if memory serves well, you loved to roll 13s because they mysteriously turned into 18s over the next few sessions right?

Math: Is that the door? Pizza’s here!

Also, players motivated by tactical choices, planning and playing specialist roles can be turned off by the randomness. There were several moments where Yan grumbled that his Mutations and Omega tech were useless (and lets not talk about the antique crap) and I can see on the character sheets that some people were NOT inspired by their PC hybrids.

Math: Okay so I’m a Giant that’s real intelligent… woop de doo!

Chatty: But man, you could be this huge Brain in a Jar, floating around and bashing people with mechanical tendrils.

Math: Have you forgotten to take your meds again Phil?

This makes me think that Gamma World is especially well-suited for casual butt kickers, making it a GREAT one-shot/short campaign adventure game.

If you want to play this game and you have Yans and Maths in your group, consider letting players choose their origins (or at least one) and, if you don’t play with the “Players make their own deck of cards”, look at the PC and have the PCs pick their first piece of Omega tech from a selection of useful cards you picked for them.

Underneath It All, It’s Still 4e

That’s more of a personal thought here.  As many know, I feel like I need a break from D&D in its various incarnations and I was reminded of that as I was running the 3rd encounter.  I felt the weight of the numbers, the mind-numbingly slow (to my distorted perception) rules-exception based process. As the wonders of exploration wore off, I started seeing the Matrix again, the wire-frames of monster stats and combat mechanics underneath the otherwise awesome fluff…

The main reason why I’m currently tired of the WotC engine is because I can’t stop seeing the Matrix, and ironically enough, I no longer find this to be my main motivation for RPGs.

That’s why I need to stop DMing it and start playing it!

Dave, Enrique, Logan, Chris, Tracy and all you reader/bloggers/DMs/designers, I wanna play in your games when next we meet, I’m done DMing it for the time being but I loved playing it at Gen Con, and maybe I’ll stop seeing the wires and start seeing the rubber suits covering them again.

And that’s how Chatty sees it. 🙂


  1. I know I’m in the minority out there in the community, but there’s nothing about Gamma World that interests me. Keep in mind that I’m not an ex player with an anti new edition axe to grind
    as I’ve never played it before, the setting and the concept just don’t to it for me.

    Having said that, I’m not against DM’ing it for one shots or something *if that’s what people woulkd really want to play*, but I certainly won’t go out of my way to suggest it.

    And as far as DM’ing goes, I hear you. I haven’t ran 4e face to face since Gencon, with you at the table, for a variety of reasons. Although I’m having fun with start wars, I’m eager to run some 4e, but the essentials kind, and see how that feels. I’m not completely turned off by the system, but did feel like I needed a bit of a break.

    You’re welcome at my table whenever you want. Digital or otherwise. 🙂

  2. Fred Hicks says:

    I would probably moderate the 0hp suggestion a little: roll all your three death saves at once. Lose on all, you’re dead. Win on all, you’re back on your feed with a free second wind applied. Win more than you lose, you’re back after the next turn. Lose more than you win, it’s longer; either treat this as death (crippling injury, retirement) or as a chance to go pick up the pizza.

  3. @Newbie: I would consider a place at your table a great honor. I’m a very finicky player in terms of my expectations from the GM (just my players) and I loved every minute playing at your table!

    @Fred: That’s a much better hack of my initial idea. I like it! Thanks!

  4. BTW, that Alphastream link seems to take me only to my own profile. Got something more direct than that bit.ly URL?

  5. This is the full link: http://community.wizards.com/alphastream1/blog/2010/10/08/gamma_world_add-ons!

    You might have to be logged in advance to be able to get there cleanly- there’s no good way to link to anything on WizBook, especially if it has an ! at the end.

  6. Great Post, Chatty! I know exactly what you mean about “seeing the matrix” I’ve been feeling the 4e burn lately. It’s a great system, but I just think I’ve spent too much time in the DM seat, and it’s starting to weigh on me. Gonna take a break, you know, run a character for while, let someone else DM. Then it’s onward to Burning Wheel.

    But tonight… tonight is special Halloween edition of Spirit of the Century. Can’t wait to run that.

  7. I didn’t like the new randomness at all, so I had my players choose a single Alpha Mutation at random and made it permanent. In the future, I may let them pick 4 Alphas, and choose one to be permanent.

    It is really bare bones as a setting… but perhaps that’s the point.

    New Gamma World looks almost compatible with 1e Gamma World. You could run the game that way quite easily. The cards are simply replacing the tables of old. I’ve been re-reading the 1e rules, and well.. the fluff is better, but it needed a lot of GM intervention, 4e version doesn’t. I just need to add 1e style, deciphering Ancient Tech, exploration etc. and I have a really gritty game.

    I have noticed an outpouring of creativity for the new Gamma World. Something I’m not seeing in 4e D&D.

    By the way, those aren’t CCGs… they’re Variety Boosters.

  8. I really like randomness, I’m a bit of an anarchist at heart. When I get the chance I’m definitely going to check out the new Gamma World. I remember playing it back in the 80’s. I had a pyro/kryokinetic polar bear with wings. But my GM wouldn’t let me fly… said a polar bear was too heavy so he had to ride skate board . I wish I had a GM as flexible and creative as you, he would have had hermes shoes and been catching so serious air of the half pipe!

  9. Chatty, there will always be a chair open for you, should you ever venture to the EXTREME (six+ hours north of San Fran to be precise) Northern California area!

  10. Man, everyone and their brother is talking about Gamma World…. and everyone says it’s awesome… guess it’s time to try it out!

  11. Bobby Jennings says:

    I picked it up solely on the character generation I read.
    And you know what? Random is fun.

    Yes it’s a bit gonzo in the setting, but who says you have to keep it that way.
    Play it as a one shot, play as a filler, but you’ve gotta check it out and play it.

    I’m not keen on the constant randomness of the powers. I’d rather have people draw and keep what they get instead of “yesterday you had four arms but this morning you wake up with a third eye and the ability to smell at great distances!!” But that’s just me.

    Great post can’t wait til that adventure is posted somewhere to read!

  12. Randomness makes me a very happy monkey.

    For some reason, I still haven’t picked up this edition. I must rectify that soon.


  1. […] When the Bad Guys Win: Chatty's Gamma World One Shot (critical-hits.com) […]