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.
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!
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.
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.