Review: Gamma World

Introduction
There’s a lot of buzz about the new incarnation of Gamma World, more so even than there has been for the D&D Essentials series and they seem to have learned a few things from that – and unfortunately vice versa. It’s definitely a weird mix, old box-set ideas, a few Indie RPG ideas, CCG ideas and Old School ideas all blended into a mutant that is, perhaps, more strange than the characters in the game itself, but that doesn’t stop it being good.

Background
In this version of Gamma World the large hadron collider was performing some sort of experiment in 2012 when something went pear-shaped and hundreds of different realities came clashing together, annihilating the world as we know it, flooding it with strange radiation and mixing all the different dimensions together. Some weirder than others. Now it’s over a hundred years later and the world is a very strange place. The characters take the role of mutated wanderers and potential heroes, scouring the wastes for lost technology, troubleshooting for isolated communities and taking on the manifold conspiracies, monsters, gangs and other hazards of the changed world. Basically this entails a lot of comedic mutations, bad puns and mutant animals kicking the crap out of each other while things explode for no readily apparent reason.

Mechanics
Gamma World is built on the same mechanics as 4th Edition D&D and, interestingly, has been branded as such rather than another Wizards product. Whereas there are issues, many believe, in the 4th Ed rules used for D&D, the over-the-top power/stunt basis of the system is a much better fit for the crazy-arse nature of Gamma World. It’s also a bit simplified and stripped down – perhaps too much in the case of skills. There are only ten levels and some of the more layered, complex systems of 4e are missing.

The BIG difference to practically any game made in the last ten years or so is that character creation is mostly random. Characters are made by fusing together two character templates and trying to make sense of them. For example, you might roll an altered human/plant which might be interpreted to be a human crossbred with Japanese knotweed genes to make a supersoldier of exceeding toughness and survivability. Your powers and abilities are a combination chosen from those available to each type, mixed and matched as you want.

The controversial part isn’t so much this as the inclusion of cards that determine temporary mutant powers and represent high tech ‘treasures’, omegatech weapons. The randomised nature of the cards means you don’t get a full set and the idea is that players and the Games Master will build their own decks, paying out more money for them. I can see the impulse to make money but this feels like a bit of a gyp. Worse still the idea seems to be crossing over into normal D&D with similar card ideas coming into that game.

The temporary mutant powers are a bit of a killer for me, but you could use them to randomly determine permanent mutations, which might be a better way of handling it for people who – like me – don’t like that aspect too much and prefer a little character consistency.

Atmosphere
There isn’t a great deal of background information and the book is mostly illustrated with character types and monsters, so it’s hard to get a real handle on the vision for the ‘look’ of the game and its world. The maps that you get with the game help out a little bit with that but it still makes it hard to get a grasp on how the world is really meant to operate. On the other hand that leaves it fairly open for you to put your own spin on it.

The adventure – traditionally a ‘this is how you play it’ example giver – is disappointing, little more than a string of fights with very little plotting. Not really an example of roleplaying but, rather, much more of a skirmish game. If you’re trying to introduce people to roleplaying a bit more of it might have been a good idea.

Artwork
What artwork there is is fairly good, but more cartoonish than similar products for D&D. In one sense that’s a good thing because it fits the background and darkly humorous tone of the game. However, for some of the nasty creatures that are presented in the book I’d rather have seen a darker, nastier spin.

The game is sold in a box with a half-size book, maps, cards and tokens. It’s a good, tough, presentable box with plenty of room to carry additional supplements, maps and tokens to other games. Oddly though, for what feels like an intro product there’s no dice in there and that feels l‪ike something of a glaring omission given the way everything else seems to be aimed.

The tokens are a nice thing to include, but there’s a hell of a lot of wasted space on the card sheets that could have been used to have more tokens on there, which shouldn’t have cost that much more to produce… surely?

Conclusion
A great entry product with a few niggling irritations that prevent it being a truly perfect product. It needs some roleplay encouragement and some good supplements to be something really great but it definitely fulfils the role of a great RPG entry product better than anything else that’s been around since the original red box D&D, even better than the new one. Here’s hoping it can get into non-specialist hobby and toy shops.

On the plus side

  • Great introductory product
  • Takes some risks and experiments more than usual for a ‘mainstream’ product
  • Lots of room in the box to carry supplemental products

On the minus side

  • No dice? Seriously?
  • The cards feel like a gouging product and aren’t well presented
  • The intro adventure isn’t remotely inspiring

Score
Style: 5
Substance: 3
Overall: 4

Agents of SWING Dev Diary

I’ve finished everything up to skills and stunts in their final form. There’ll be another edit and there’s been some knock-on implications into other parts of the rules but all things considered, it’s done. I still have to do the ‘supernatural’ stunts, but those are a bit of a questionable area anyway. There’s no question that there are odd powers, psychics, even magic in a lot of the adventure series of the 60s and 70s – The Champions being one example – but they’re normally not that massively powerful and they’re usually pretty rare – so for the main book at least I want to keep them fairly low key. More powerful powers and so on may be introduced when I go into detail on Section Eight, the department of SWING that deals with the weirder parts of the world.

Sorting out the stunts I got rid of the prerequisites so there are now no multilayered stunts and they’re not dependent on skills. The only thing constricting you is your theme and the approval of Control (the Games Master). This means some entry stunts had to be powered up, others powered down and many eliminated altogether, though there’s a few extras to help make up for that. A lot of stunts were replicated across different skills in other versions of FATE so more were lost there and the whole effort – along with text consolidation and shortening – has massively reduced what was otherwise a very clumpy section of any FATE book.

I haven’t gone as far in reducing things as ICONS does, but this is definitely going to be a less intimidating lump of a book than many FATE based games are and I hope the streamlining and looser rules interpretations are going to make it an even more accessible and fun game to play.

Fingers crossed!

Courtesans – Ian Warner



A Response To the Controversy From Ian Warner
I have been reading the discussion on the “I like breasts” article and I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring.
Usually I can’t be bothered to respond to criticism. As far as I’m concerned the time you spend whining and nit-picking can be better spent reading the actual book and working out ways to make it work for you. RPGs aren’t passive media. Unlike a bad movie or a bad TV show you can take a bad RPG and make it something better with a little effort.
Having said this, this particular argument about perceived ‘sexism’ really made me chuckle so I thought I’d make up a response.
And what a response.
A whole damn game.
As soon as Tough Justice is finished I will be embarking on a new project. Courtesans: A seductive role-playing game of sex and society. Well to be fair the row wasn’t the only inspiration. I was also influenced by Katie Hickman’s biographies of the most infamous of these remarkable women and by a regular player at my games who loves playing sluts.
Still the timing is perfect. You think we’re tasteless and sexist? You ain’t seen nothing yet!
Having said that personally I consider Courtesans a very pro feminist game. These were intelligent, independent women who rose from the lowest orders to command greater influence than any other women in their extremely sexist time. We maybe having a laugh with them but we are not laughing at them. They are truly remarkable historical figures and this game will be a celebration of their incredible success.
There is a development blog under construction at http://courtesanstherpg.blog.co.uk
Comments and flames most welcome.