Archive for the ‘Gamma World’ Category

A Gamma World home town adventure site

This article is designed to help the new gamma masters out there (and arent we all?) create a bare bones campaign setting and adventure to help kick off a game of Gamma World in your very own home town. The idea of adventuring in your own backyard can be appealing, and it is a great chance to stretch the “improvisational skills” for GM and players alike. Since there are an extra couple layers of knowledge – that of local setting in a post-modern landscape, it should help the improv flow that much smoother. The goal, then is to create a sandbox for a small to medium length campaign with little to no prep required.

The first step is to come up with a list of areas or locales in the chosen region. These should number about half a dozen and can be vague, specific, or a mix. It is a great idea to choose a few places that are popular or well known. One thing to keep in mind when generating this list is that your hometown campaign will be SIMILAR but not IDENTICAL to your actual hometown. Two things are in play that will give you great amounts of leeway in mixing up your hometown campaign to be more suitable for post apocalyptic adventuring. The first thing to remember is that our actual world is only one of an infinitude of multiverses collapsing into the Big Mistake. So for example, in reality the airport 15 miles from the mall in your town might in Gamma World be a starport and only 3 miles from the mall in your campaign. Get it? The other thing to remember is that a long crazy time has passed since your neighborhood was a bustling 21sts century town. Since then wars have devastated the land and all sorts of crazy mutoid madness has come, gone, and come again, leaving its mark on the land. Lets start by jotting down a few landmarks or locations.

The Gamma World Commute

Suburban Neighborhood – this can be the starting location and it could even include the ruins of the house you sit comfortably in right now while reading this! In my “Points of Homeliness” Gamma World campaign, the players, my kids, are starting in our house as their home base. This can lead to whole new definitions of the term “walled community.” One thing to keep in mind is to imagine the “home of the future” and then to jazz up the ruins with some hilarious future tech, like a garbage disposal that has turned into a mutated monster like the sarlacc pit, for example. Or a refrigerator that has spawned its own sub-arctic mini-ecology. A radioactive dressing machine that strips you of clothes and alpha mutations and gives you new ones each time. Maybe left out on the table a half played game of “Grammar World.”

Indoor or strip mall – Every square mile of urban or suburban landscape has at least one shopping center. Malls at one time were the ultimate expression of commercialism, but since the 80s they have diminished in importance to the strip malls, the mega shopping center, and “downtown” districts. Zona Rosa in my town is a downtown style commercial district transported to the suburbs, and it is full of shops, restaurants, theatres, and clubs. It is also the perfect place to base a new age barter town. I will rename it the “Ozone Row.”

Hospital – A hospital is a great place for all sorts of weird research center type mutations, plagues, and other atrocities. This can be a great place for site-based exploration, for a villains lair, or a new breed of genetically mutated gauze bandages, for example.

Major Interstate – A cement river or two is practically a must. These can be the links between your major sites, and it is ok to deviate from reality. It is the radioactive future remember! I like to think of the highways as “free zones” where you never know what you are going to run into, but they offer the fastest travel-time between points, and also vehicular combat a la Road Warrior or Car Wars. So not so different from today, really. Placing your main sites along a great looping highway that rings the city is one good idea. Barry Road in my area will turn into “the Buried Road.” I guess I will have to come up with a reason its buried…

Local high school – Heck yes, in my game the Oak Park Northmen are long gone, but a tribe of porkers known as the “Ork Pork Snortmen” have moved in, and they wield the arms and armor from those latter day ultra-violent high school sports.

Factory – Any place that requires large machinery is a good thing to add, especially if there is a chance that machinery has become sentient, gone haywire, and threatens the surrounding countryside. It might be wise to change the rubber band factory down the block to a robotic missile launcher factory to get the best use out of it. Or better yet, a rubber band powered ballistic delivery systems factory. “Give me a rubber band big enough and I will launch this ICBM across the world.”

Business Park – There is something deeply satisfying about exploring the old burned out shells of office buildings. Perhaps it comes from the hundreds of hours spent in one of these buildings, fantasizing about its fiery destruction, but everyone loves looting the CEOs desk, kicking over the receptionist area and running from over-zealous sentry bots. Elevators, cubicles, stairwells and parking garages, oh my.

Airport – Airport, starport or military airfield, this is where the big heavy flying things go: jets, planes, saucers, rockets. Well, unless you put them other places, which is also fine, in which case they possibly came from here instead. But either way, plop one of these babies in front of your adventurers and watch things “take off!”

Bridge over river – How else to get to grandmothers? I would love to have a big poster map of a twisted old steel girder bridge over a radioactive river. The Big Mutey is a river that will feature in my campaign. Another option is a tunnel under the river, as many communities have.

So, the above example is a quick list of local features, some of which fit easily into the Gamma world theme, others will need to have some work done to them. Once a workable list of sites is prepared, it is time to Gamma them up by adding future, radioactive, post apocalyptic, robotic, alien, and alternate time-line elements to the mix. Everything should be gone over and twisted into varying levels of strangeness. Nothing should be left untouched, except for one strange diner that is exactly the same as it has been since 1958, only the fry cook and waitress are both encased in stainless steel bodies. Hope you have change for a five!

Did that flying saucer just move?

Maximize the Gamma

From this point forward, armed with nothing but the rules, your notes, and maybe whatever is playing on the TV across the room, it is possible to run a completely improvised game. When it is time for a fight, flip through the monsters until something catches your eye. Otherwise, let the players drive the story forward. It is a good idea to have a few villains, a gang or two, and maybe some friendly and neutral groups, and a village or two to protect, and these are some things that you can prepare ahead of time, or just let them pop up as the story progresses.

One hilarious idea that I am using for my gamma game is that the characters have come to this land to civilize it. I call it the Points of Homeliness campaign, where the goal is to carve out a community lifestyle of wealth, ease, and leisure in a world gone mad. And what better place to start that the ruins of your home on the 50,000th day after? There are oluminous writings on the subject of running campaigns, that can describe in far more detail and quality than here, but Gamma Worl follows the same basic princioples as kost role p-laying games, DnD 4E especially. Creating tension caused by potential threats is the key to having a good fast-paced improvisational game. In Gamma World it is easier than ever to come up with some crazy ideas. While all of them may not stick, the paths the players choose should always be crossing the paths of

I mentioned the Ork Pork Snortmen earlier, and this is the type of inspiration that should help to fill out the world. Think of some of the people who are around now, and then twist them into the mutated future versions of themselves, or wipe them out and bring in something completely different. The idea of turning a strip mall into a dangerous and lawless barter town is a way to twist the normal into the gamma extreme. Turning a walled community into a stronghold full of paranoid pure humans might work, or perhaps the humans are all dead and the various small appliances have formed themselves into a highly protective swarm of androids hive mind.

It is always a good idea to have something prepared in advance in case the improvisation is not flowing, or if you have a great idea you want to see come to fruition. I like to prepare a handful of complete encounters, some notes on various NPCs in the area, including a few groups. One area where Gamma World shines is in its fast and furious combat. It uses the same style of epic battle scenes that its parent DnD4 uses. This means that an encounter plays out better if it has all the trappings of a set piece encounter, including unusual terrain features, traps and hazards. It is notoriously difficult to come up with an entire unscripted encounter of this magnitude, so it is a good idea to do some prep work for the key encounters. The maps that come with the game are a great resource and can be used for multiple purposes.

Welcome to the neighborhood

Filling in the details

One of my favorite parts of the game is coming up with the crazy little details. For example, during character creation, everyone so far has spent a lot of time describing just exactly what is their “heavy two handed melee” weapon. A parking meter, fire extinguisher, and tire full of rocks are a few so far. The little details along the way do most of the heavy lifting of creating the ambience of the game. The armor made of road signs, the old truck pulled by a team of pack animals, these little details are very important, and should be the highlights of every description during the game. The game works best as a surreal blend of past, present, and future, and the idea of storming a castle that once once a sports arena with plasma rifles and vibro swords is where the game shines. Visualize a land where nuclear bombs dropped, where aliens invaded, where utopia was achieved, where the zombies invaded, where the robot uprising happened. As the player mutants explore this world, the little details will flavor the most memorable moments of the campaign.

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Welcome to the new mutant future

Played at the Basement Games in Zona Rosa, Kansas City MO on Oct 23rd, 2010, I gamma mastered a group of four mutants as they adventured into Trouble in Freesboro. We started by creating characters and that took the first hour of play since I was the only one with even a passing familiarity with the rules as we all tried to understand the sometimes vague or over-brief explanations. The four players were my 11 year old daughter who played in empath felinoid named Gale (then Gail.) My 13 yr old son played the electrified doppelganger Vivaldi. The other two players, one from the area and another from the nearby college town Topeka played an empath plant named Aloe (who spent much of his time in giant form) and a radioactive mind breaker named Cornibulus.

Character creation is one of the most fun parts, as it is fast and full of rolling. Starting of with a couple d20 rolls we quickly established the character origins, then moved on to the powers and traits, which I had printed out on a cheat sheet and stapled to the character sheets. I think it helped and allowed people to flip to their origin descriptions and abilities without consulting the manual. With only one manual (to start with) I think it proved helpful.

One of the players ended up buying a box set about midway through the 4 hour session, so I feel like I did my job. They also each bought two decks of cards, and I bought four decks – a pair for each of my kids. I am not sure how I feel about the tacked on collectibility and/or buy-in required to play the game, but I planned on hand waving the whole requirement and have everyone draw from my deck throughout the game. As it turned out, it wasnt an issue, and my decks never even got used the whole day! I was bummed,i especially since I fancied them up wth card protectors in my favorite aftermath colors: black and yellow of fallout signs.

The other problems with the cards is that the way the rules read, it could be that a character starts with two alpha cards and an omega, or one of each. It is difficult to figure out which one is right. During character creation it sounds like you draw one of each. But then jit says before a session draw one of each later on in the book. Is this the same set or a second set up alpha mutations? It ended up that I allowed them to start with two of each, but I have a feeling that a first level starting character should start with one of each, or possibly two alpha and one omega. More research needed.

Rolling for ability scores was fun and ended with LOTS of low abilities, but the ones that mattered were high so it had little impact other than flavor and skills. The skill list was small but I wish the character sheet listed all of them, rather than 4 blank lines, and totaling up skill modifiers was the most difficult aspect of the character creation process. The best part came next: gear.

I absolutely love the way they do weapons in Gamma World: broad categories that share stats. Everything is light or heavy, one handed or two handed, melee or ranged, or gun. At some point I would like to see a heavy 2 handed melee gun. Maybe a rifle that shoots out a giant clown fist? Each weapon type keys off STR/CON or DEX/INT which was cool, and even used the same damage dice, so a guy could pick a heavy two handed melee weapon, and call it a dumbbell for instance, and it could just as easily be a ranged heavy two handed weapon with all the same stats. Simple, elegant, awesome. It is great and each character got tl describe their weapon. longbow, electrified mono-filament, tire filled with rocks, land robot arm were the weapons of choice. The armor was a little more simplified, consisting of light, heavy, and shield, and we didnt spend much time on it. Next it was time to roll up the random junk and other gear, and much canoes, riding horses, cell phones and cans of fuel were had. Interestingly no one chose a gun, perhaps scared off by the ammo rules, which are another favorite aspect of the game. A character either has ammo or doesnt. if they use ammo once per encounter they still have ammo at the end, but more than once and might as well let loose, because at the end of the encounter they are out. Also, all ammo is universal.

So we started out with the most minimum of back ground role playing. I described them meeting up on the road while traveling near the atomic ruins of Ashville Innasea. They came to the small quaint village of Freesboro, a point of homeliness in a world of post apocalyptic mayhem. There were apple pies cooling in a window as they passed a town house and came to the town square which was bustling with townsfolk. Mayor Thompsoon greeted them in the town square. he was a happy fat man who seemed to hover and bounce a few inches off the ground as he explained the trouble in nearby MedCen park. He mentioned an antique mall the town owned, and offered them a free shopping trip should they succeed in rooting out whatever was stirring up trouble out there. The mutant allies then each got to question a town villager for more information before setting out.

I am constantly battling time while game mastering, and I am beginning to accept the fact that I am the main reason for my games never progressing quickly enough, and today was no different. Practically half the play session was spent before we even rolled for initiative, and from this point forward, other than some colorful description I kept the role playing to a minimum in order to get through as much of the “adventure pack” as possible. As it went, we made it through about 2 1/2 out of 5 possible encounters, which broke down into the first, final, and in between a shortened skill challenge type encounter in between.

The first encounter was brutal, and part of the reason may have been because it was intended for 5 allies instead of the 4 we had. The party was heading out to MedCen park to find out what was happening, when they came to a group of porkers burrowing into the side of a hill looking for food and treasure. A flock of radioactive red ravens hovered about picking from the remains the pig men scattered. With a grunting challenge, the porkers attack.

The battle lasted five rounds, and in the battle Gale failed three death saves, after falling unconscious from a porkers fetid sneeze. The doppelganger faced off single handedly against the radioactive bloodflock and as their glowing beaks pierced his flesh they stuck in him, following him wherever he moved. He was knocked unconscious by the birds but lived. The radioactive mindbreaker was practically immune to the flock and once he scared off the porkers who dared to attack him, he quickly drove off the radioactive ravens.

Omega Tech Deck Check

After the fight, each mutant ally was able to make an omega tech deck check, or I should say they each drew a card. They also had to turn one of their alpha cards in and pick a new one. This also happened whenever a one was rolled, for any reason, even when a monster rolled one. By the 3rd battle most of the characters had three of each type to choose from and whenever a 1 was rolled, I had them roll a six sided die to randomly choose which mutation the alpha flux changed. Also, I misread the section on taking from the gamma masters deck on a roll of 1-9, so I can see one instance where my deck would come in handy. It would have meant my yellow and black cards would not get lost in the players hands, had the rule been used, so I am doubly glad for the awesome protectors. Also, and I promise this will be my last complaint about the cards, they should had had different backs. They are never used together, there is no earthly reason why they should have identical backs regardless of whether it is alpha or omega. It simply makes them more difficult to sort without adding any benefit.

About this time it was 4 pm. We had started playing around 1 pm, so 3 hours had passed and only had an hour left, so I skipped ahead some – I wanted to have the boss fight with Genghis Tang, so I gave a quick summery of their working the way through the MedCen research building. I skipped the handouts, which seemed pretty useless, although it would have been fun to use the floor plan for some exploration if we had time. It was a lot of fun to improvise the types of things the party came across as they explored, being similar to our world just before the big mistake. I ran a short version of the computer terminal skill challenge type encounter, where everyone had a chance to work on the computer of glean some info from it. They got to see the video feed of giant cockroaches in the basement. Luckily, they were going up.

I also described how they found the alpha and omega cards on their way to the final encounter – I wanted the players to have the full arsenal for the final encounter, including the two bonus cards given away to participants. As it happened, no powdered scientists were used, however everyone loved the power mimic, especially for one of the doppelgangers mutations that allowed him to create a whole pack of himself. As far as omega tech goes, it might have been bad luck, but few omega cards were used during the game, and although overcharging was attempted, it usually resulted in a failure.

So I flipped the poster map to the excellent research center map, placed the enemies, and we went to town with a crazy final encounter. Genghis was a great villain, and the fact that he wore a NASA space suit (complete with a jet pack) and carried a firemans axe made him unforgettably awesome. Another awesome villain was the dabber who did nothing but sit on the elevated cat walk and shoot his ancient WW2 era carbine the entire fight. I pictured him as some weasel faced sniper. The porkers all charged, the bunny bounded, and it was a big melee on one side of the room. The midbreaker had an omega tech that allowed him to take control of one of the laser batteries. And Gail the felinoid was knocked unconscious, but was thankfully soon healed.

We were out of time, so I let each character have one last turn to try and clear the room. Genghis went down, as did the hoop and all the porkers, and when we finished the game, only the dabber and his M1 Garand were left on the board. Over-all it was a great time, and I am in love with the simplicity of design. It was easy to jump into the game, and the combat was quick, over the top, and nail-bitingly exciting. Killing the character of my youngest daughter in the first encounter was not how I hoped to start the game, and for a moment I could see her eyes start to tear up. But just then some one mentioned cats 9 lives, and I rolled with it, and let her to bring in the twin sister of Gale, Gail, and a crisis was diverted.

Incidentally, my 11 year old daughter has gone on to proclaim Gamma World her favorite RPG ever, better than DnD and the recently acquired Ravenloft which we also played the first time this weekend. She went on to roll up another character later that night which was a swarm-of-rats/felinoid, which she describes as a litter of kittens who work together and wear a trenchcoat, hat and sunglasses disguise to appear as a single person. This litter is the children of her gameday character Gale (or was it Gail?)

All 4 players, my kids, and the tguys I met and GMed for pronounced the game a blast, and even though we were slowed by my unfamiliarity with the rules and the adventure, it was wildly fun. As I mentioned earlier, one guy bought the set on the spot, and I have a sneaking suspicion the other fellow will be buying a copy, too. The store was very accommodating. I have never seen it so busy in there, but there was a Warhammer tournament going on. They gave me a 10 per cent discount on the gamma cards, card sleeves, and Ravenloft, which I will describe in another post.

In summary, the gameday was a success, and the Gamma World game is off to success. The adventure Trouble in Freesboro was pretty good, and the poster map included is the best. It will see lots of use in future Gamma World games. One map is a stretch of highway, another is a garage, and both feature plenty of old burned out vehicles. The flip side is a huge research facility complete with strange machinery, laser batteries, an armory and even a restroom (where hilariously one of the porkers began the final encounter, heh.) The second best part are the monsters, new builds of ones featured in the rule book. The two cards, power mimic and powdered scientists seem pretty cool, but there are so many wonky power cards, I am still being surprised by some of them.

This game is a lot of fun, and some people say Gamma World is perfect for beer-n-pretzel style “one off” games, but I can see potential for longer term campaign play and look forward to the chance. Another way I plan on squeezing more Gamma World into my life is by including some “transitional” adventures where I cross-pollinate in and out of my regular DnD games. Oh yes, the mutants are out of the box, and they cant be stuffed back in.

The cat is outta the box

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