Review: Gamma World (Pen and Paper)

Review: Gamma World (Pen and Paper)

Has there ever been an inkling somewhere deep inside you to be a sentient pile of kittens? What about a giant cockroach that starts fires with its mind? Ok, how about a radioactive yeti? I am pleased to present Marooners’ Rock’s first ever pen and paper role playing game review, Gamma World.

Just a little background for you. This is technically the 7th edition of Gamma World, the first being released back in 1978 by TSR. Since then, it has been recreated by various studios in an effort to perpetuate this bizarre setting. Although I have never played any of the previous incarnations, I have heard reports and have gained a basic understanding by glancing over old core material that it is indeed the simplest version yet.

Gamma World is, on one facet intensely familiar to modern gamers. The world has “ended” several years ago during the “Big Mistake”, and now the remnants of civilization and society are banding together to get by in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. However, on the other side, we have the mutants. Because of the “Big Mistake”, thousands of dimensions have collided with our own, so creatures of virtually any possible reckoning can exist anywhere you go. This makes character generation a treat.

Essentially, all you do is roll two d20’s (twenty-sided dice, for those of you who have better things to do than play make-believe) and consult a table. Thankfully, Wizards of the Coast has provided this for free. Who does that anymore? Anyway, this is the process in which you determine your character’s origins, which designates the basic abilities and powers you will utilize throughout your adventures.

Box art for Gamma World

I could spend hours rolling dice and figuring out what type of horrific monstrosity I have created. The results can be just so hilarious and bizarre that I wonder why I would ever play in a typical fantasy setting at all. For instance, one party I playtested this game with included a house cat with bird wings, a poppy (you know, the flower) who predicts the future and wields a sledgehammer, a cockroach that starts fires with its mind, a radioactive yeti that shoots beams from its eyes and a rock man that makes duplicates of itself. So how about that?

Other than character origins, a good bit of character generation beyond that is randomly determined as well. Random training in a skill, random starting items, random ability scores; it’s a game that doesn’t allow the min-maxing that occurs in other roleplaying games. Thus, character generation takes about five minutes to complete after doing it two or three times. My only suggestions to other GMs (Game Masters for those who go outside) is when generating character origins, to give the players two or three chances to get something they want to play as. With 400 different possible character combinations, I think it’s only fair. Allowing them to simply pick a combination takes away from the random nature of the game otherwise. We want that, trust me.

The 7th edition of Gamma World is heavily influenced by the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, so much so that it calls itself an official Dungeons & Dragons product. However, this means that combat is swift, brutal and steamlined. For a game about being wacky, this works stupendously well. Combat can be fairly simple “roll this and see if you hit” kind of stuff if you stick to using basic attacks and powers, but this is Gamma World.

Rather than receive equipment that you write down at the end of encounters, players draw cards from the “Omega Tech” cards; pieces of advanced technology from different dimensions. These things can seriously change the entire course of a battle, from the Leaky Fusion Rifle that will obliterate virtually everything at level 1 (and maybe even the user), to the Envirocape that halted the radioactive moths I sent at Prudence the poppy from even coming close to harming her.

Contents of Gamma World, including tokens, character sheets, rulebook, book and card holder, dungeon tiles, Alpha Flux and Omega Tech decks

Now, you’re probably thinking “Well that’ll break up the monotony of typical RPG’s, I bet thats all they needed to put in.” And you’d be right. Except then we have “Alpha Mutation” cards. Yes, you’re a mutant, and as a mutant you will experience mutations all the time. These come in a wide variety, from growing extra arms, to surges of psychic power, to extra actions in combat and beyond. Really, along with the Omega Tech deck, combat is equally thrilling and hilarious.

While I do have a great deal of praise for this game, there are a few less stellar points. The death rate in Gamma World tends to be quite high, what with combat being particularly random and painful. Because of this, players might end up losing their beloved creations they have grown attached to in the short period of time they have existed quite sooner than they would have hoped. Yes, character death always stinks, and since it’s quite permanent in Gamma World, it stinks especially much. It’s not so much a problem of mechanics, just a problem with character mortality. Make certain your group understands that they will very likely die during the course of their adventures. But also be sure to note that making a new character takes but a few minutes, so they have little reason to be disheartened!

The only other thing about this game that bothers me is that it lacks the complexity of other RPG systems, and therefore characters tend to be quite shallow. You won’t suddenly discover hidden powers or branch off into a prestige class or learn deep arcane secrets that change your character forever after. You are who you are, and you only get better at it as you level up. Honestly though, this is the double-edged sword of Gamma World. It’s meant to be simplistic, and very easy to pick up and play without knowing much beyond what dice you are rolling. In that way, it is perfect at being what it is. So, why complain?

Now, I know a lot of you who read stuff on this website probably won’t get this far, but those of you who do, know this: this game is worth your $40. Before you spend $60 on a new console game, think about how much fun you could have for two-thirds of that, with a handful of friends and a handful of dice, and your imaginations. Gamma World is wonderful, insane and has yet to grow boring at all for my gaming groups.

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