Showing posts with label Gamma World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gamma World. Show all posts

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Remembering RPG Campaigns Past -- Meet The Crusaders

When I was and undergraduate at the University of Nevada, Reno I ran a DC Heroes campaign that lasted for a couple of years. It is the most successful superhero campaign I've ever run. I had the luck to have a great group of gamers who were willing to cut loose and have a great time with the genre and who felt free to push the limits of the DC Heroes game system. This campaign is one of the reasons that I think DC Heroes is the best set of rules to play a superhero game, though Marvel Saga System comes in a close second.

The premise of the campaign was pretty simple. I wanted to run a game where the characters were on the same power level as the Justice League, minus Superman and Wonder Woman, and I wanted the game play to have a touch of the feel generated by the Giffen/Maguire/DeMatteis run in the Justice League books. I wanted a mix of action and comedy. To be honest, based on my experience in running RPGs, I knew the comedy would come whether I wanted it or not. It's is the DM's Lament to want to run a game that captures the epic tales of the Eddas and Beowulf only to end up with Monte Python's Holy Grail. Instead of fighting that tendency, I decided to roll with it. The title of the campaign was Justice League: Auxiliary. The premise being that the characters were members of the Justice League, as then managed by Maxwell Lord, but where the second string of the team.

What a team it was too. The membership included an interesting mix of characters about whom my wife (girlfriend at the time) drew a couple of cartoon strips that ran in the school paper The Sagebrush. That brief strip was called "Meet the Crusaders" for obvious copyright reasons.  Over the next few days, I'll be presenting the Crusaders to you and will be including statistics for them for a number of role playing games. The primary games I'll be using to emulate the characters are Wizards of the Coast's excellent 4e based Gamma World game and Pinnacle Entertainment Group's Savage Worlds.

First, let me introduced the team to you.


Gabriel was character who believed himself to be the Archangel Gabriel and who exacted swift justice on any he viewed to be in violation of his very strict code of morality. During a battle with the god Ares, he attempted to use his Aura of Fear power and ended up not only succeeding at cowing Ares but in causing the entire continent of Europe to quiver in fear as his pushing of the power extended the aura over the entire geographic area. The character was played by my good friend, and best man at my wedding, Matt.


One of the great things about the DC Heroes system was it's ability to make almost any superhero and my friend Robert's character Aquarius was one that really demonstrated the strength of the rules. Robert wanted to play a super strong character who was a living water elemental and who could transform his hands into any weapon he imagined. In this particular case, the powers were called Omni-Arm, Density Increase, Dispersal, and Water Control powers. Robert was a relatively new gamer at the time, and had never played a superhero game before, so in the early sessions he tended to limit his use of Omni-Arm to turning his hands into sledge hammers. That changed soon enough.

This is just a glimpse at two of the members of the team. I want to save the other strips for when I present each member's statistics, so you will be seeing these strips again as well as those for Jynx, Vanguard, Spirit, and perhaps the most bizarre superhero ever made...Jody's beloved "Less" who was a character inspired by John Carpenter's THE THING and Larry Cohen's THE STUFF. Who is Less? Why is Less called Less? You'll have to wait for his entry.

To bide you over until the next entry, and I promise it will be soon, here is a glimpse at what the Gamma World statistics sheet (page 1) will look like.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Learning to DM, Thoughts on Campaigns, House Rules, and Rules as Written. #RPGaDay Megapost 2, Days 13-16.

Overall, I've really been enjoying this year's #RPGaDay question line up and am trying to give each question more than a single sentence answer. I love the RPG hobby and questions like these are a time to share thoughts an memories as well as to answer questions.

That's another way of saying, "give me an inch to talk and I'll take 50 miles."

Day 13 - Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

I imagine that for a lot of gamers, this is the kind of question that evokes a tale of the "best gaming session ever." In such a tale, the author would wax poetic about how having a DM of Matt Mercer quality changed their life forever and made them a better gamer. That is not my tale. Mine is a tale of abject failure and learning from that failure.

I'm at a point in my life where I think I'm a pretty darn good DM. My gaming groups tell me they have a good time and there tends to be great energy at my tables and our stories often go off in wild directions. Heck, my groups have even developed their own sayings over the years. My favorite is the famous Drow saying, "It's as easy as shooting a dwarf in a well." I'm not saying I'm on the same level as a GM as Tom Lommel, Jordan Caves-Callarman, David Crennan (America's DM), or Satine Phoenix, but I am proud of the sessions I run. And the reason I am a good DM today, is that I was once a terrible one.

The interesting thing is that I didn't start terrible. I was inexperienced, sure, but the early games that my friend Sean McPhail and I put together had narrative qualities to them and our characters had personality. In my late Elementary school days, I was heading in the right direction. Then came my first experience being a DM for someone who'd never played. (Dun...dun...dun...)

A friend of mine in Middle School, not the one from the Sweet Pickles Bus Wars, saw me with some of my D&D books on campus and wanted to learn to play. We arranged a sleepover at his house with a couple of friends and we did our best all-nighter Stranger Things impersonation. Except it wasn't that cool at all. I had done ZERO preparation and didn't want to use one of the modules I was familiar with. I wanted to run my own adventure to teach these folks the game. So what was my adventure? I don't remember the particulars, and I'm pretty sure that I've suppressed them because it was so bad, but suffice it to say that it started in a tavern, had a fight with goblins, and ended with the PCs going down to Hell and killing Tiamat. They would have slaughtered all the levels of Hell if we hadn't gotten so tired.

That was all in ONE night. From 1st level to high enough to kill Tiamat. It was awful. I knew it was awful at the time. I was essentially opening to random pages in the Monster Manual and having them fight the monsters on the page.

As bad as it was, and as HORRIBLE as I was, it was still fun. It was at that point that I knew the game was better than I was as a DM and this was a good thing. I wanted to aspire to be a DM who improved the quality of the game instead of one who was "saved" by the quality of the game. That night changed my approach to the hobby and I'm grateful to the friends who endured the evening and were kind enough to wait years before mocking me for it.

Day 14 - Which RPG do you prefer for open ended-campaign play?

For me, the most important quality for open ended play is that the characters start out as great at what they do and stay that way. For a game to be truly open-ended, it cannot have class levels where characters start as inexperienced and work their way up to demi-god status. That makes for a great campaign, but not open-ended gaming that can be picked up at any time and place. In my mind, and this may be different for you, open-ended play is like a never ending soap opera. And I mean that as a complement. Good soap operas tell compelling stories for decades, but they don't tend to have people go from newb to l33t. If someone is l33t, they stay that way.

Games like D&D and with its levels, or Runequest with it's path to Rune Lord, don't fit that bill for me. They are fantastic games, but not open-ended in the way I'm interpreting this question. Surprisingly, Call of Cthulhu isn't either. I've heard too many stories of players with skill ratings in the implausible range, or even with enough power to fight the Elder Gods (can you imagine? That's like my D&D story above), to think that Call of Cthulhu fits the bill.

The best role playing games for open-ended action are super hero role playing games. The characters all start out highly capable, they are super heroes after all, and in most systems the character improvement curve is very shallow depending on how you run the game. In Champions, as Aaron Allston pointed out in Strike Force, characters tend to learn new things rather than get increasingly better at the things they do. This is especially true if you are enforcing campaign wide Damage Class restrictions. Mutants and Masterminds has a similar phenomenon. But the best two games for this kind of action are Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) and DC Heroes (MEGS), and of these two I have a deep love of DC's system.

What both of these systems share is that they use experience as an expendable resource. In Marvel it's Karma and in DC it's Hero Points. In both cases, the points can be spent to have an effect on outcomes. Why is Spider-Man able to hang out with Thor in fights? Because he spends a lot of Karma in those battles. Why doesn't Thor get even more Godlike? Because increases at his capabilities are super expensive and it's easier to learn to do new tricks with your powers. Why is Batman able to hang with the Justice League, I mean seriously? Because he blows through Hero Points like nobody's business. He's constantly going for "Devastating Blows" and Pushing attacks all day. Sure, his devastating blows are in the form of "exploiting the weaknesses of his opponents" rather than haymakers, but that's the mechanic.

Batman and Spider-Man's player can play for years and only increase in power by an increment, or choose to get better at a lot of things. The stories though, never get stale. This is because the challenges are at a fixed level an stay there.

I imagine that D&D could work that way if you started at 5th level or so and just told stories at that challenge rating, but that fails to take advantage of the "I'm getting better calculus" that underlies the game. The calculus underlying Marvel and DC is "I just did something normally not possible at my power level" and that's why it feels satisfying for very long periods of time.

Your mileage may very, but that's the kind of gaming I like for open-ended campaigns.

Day 15 -- Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

Image by Andrew Asplund
Given my love of the Savage Worlds gaming system, one might expect that I'd drop that one down right here. Nope. Not that I run it "as is," though I mostly do, but it's not the one I'm always wondering what I could do with it. Though to be honest, I have yet to see anything it can't do with a little tweaking. The game I enjoy adapting the most is 4th Edition D&D, in particular it's Gamma World variation.

Shocking! I know.

It's just that the game can do pretty much EVERYTHING. It makes the basis of a very good super hero game. It's easy as pie to make Rocket Raccoon using the rules. You can be the characters from freakin' Phoenix Wright!

For what it's worth, I find that the Gamma World iteration and Essentials are all you really need. Once you realize that the game is really an effects based game and that you can rename powers whatever you want, it opens up endless possibilities. Coming from a super hero background, as I do, reskinning powers has never been an issue for me and I think this game can do least in a one shot setting.

Day 16 - Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

Truth be told, I play most games "as is." I don't have a lot of time to spend creating house rules for games I'm playing and changing them up. I'd rather write adventures than tweaks to a magic system. This isn't to say that I don't do any house ruling, but I do tend to try to give the designers respect when I sit down to play. For example, a lot of people feel uncomfortable with Savage Worlds' initiative system when they first read about it. "You mean it uses CARDS? And you reshuffle a lot?" But the fact is that it's a fast, furious, and fun way of handling initiative that has a lot more give and take that it might seem just reading the rules.
Clearly from my previous statement about reskinning 4e like crazy, 4e isn't the game I play "as is." No, that honor goes to Champions 4th Edition...still the best edition in my mind. The fact is that Champions is extremely well designed and well balanced and any tinkering I want to do is filled up with making characters and not house rules. The 4th edition of the game stretched the rules to as granular a level as I like to play. 5th edition got a little too "engineering" based for me and the players I gamed with started to fall too much into the "if it's not on your page and paid for, you can't do it" camp for my liking and that seemed to be a trend with 5th edition. The 4th edition started down that path, but was only beginning. Like GURPS and 3.x/Pathfinder, this is a rules set that tries to have a rule for everything to ensure that you have a fair and consistent answer for every question. The underlying math is sound in the game, though Wayne Shaw did make an argument for a change in the skill system on my Geekerati podcast that I agree with.

If only I had 4 weeks to teach people how to play and make characters before starting up a campaign. I really miss playing this game, but it's not one that's easy for players to pick up and play. There is an initial learning curve, particularly if you are making your own characters. But God is it a great game.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy in D&D Gamma World: Rocket Raccoon

Like most geeks, I am extremely excited about Guardians of the Galaxy. The latest Marvel Studios film is a brave leap into the lesser known characters of the Marvel-verse. Until Dan Abnett, Keith Giffen, and Andy Lanning's run on Annihilation the Guardians -like Alpha Flight - had been an acquired taste of a small niche of comic book fans. Abnett and Lanning populated the new Guardians with a strange group of characters - otherwise comical characters - and put them in extreme circumstances. Following after Tolkien's model, the Guardians' narrative within Annihilation is that of the "common man." Sure Rocket and Groot are a competent pair, and Drax has been a Marvel heavy hitter in the past, but none of them match the cosmic might of Firelord, Silver Surfer, or Nova.

It made for compelling stuff and now that same band of misfits - and not those who bear the power cosmic - are going to be featured in the upcoming film.

I asked my friends in the Social Network-verse what game system they would use to run a Guardians of the Galaxy campaign and received some very good answers. Some would run it in Hero System, others in Savage Worlds, and still others in Bulldogs!. I am intimately familiar with two of those systems, and almost chose to create statistics in Savage Worlds, but in the end I chose Wizards of the Coasts' excellent D&D Gamma World as my game of choice. As I was thinking how to stat the characters in as simple a fashion as possible, the ideas just leaped out at me. Groot was a "Giant Plant" and that's all I needed to know to stat him. I'll likely attempt a Savage Worlds conversion in the future...and a Marvel Saga and Marvel Heroic as well as purchase a copy of Bulldogs!...but for now, I'm using D&D Gamma World. It should be noted that all characters will be 10th level as most Gamma Supers should be.

My first entry is none other than my twin daughters' - History and Mystery - favorite Guardian...

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Reverb Gamers 2012 #7

How do you pick names for your characters?
I covered this briefly yesterday with the story of Hal Duran, here. For that I just chose two names that I thought sounded cool and made the characters first name and the second their surname. It only turned out to be a cool "in joke" name after the fact. Depending on the genre, the game length era its from I choose different names.
For four color supers its important to have rhyming or sound alike names or aliteration. My supervillain for Necessary Evil is called Darklight. Darklight because he is a lantern weilder in the style of Green Lantern and Sinestro. Where does the rhyming come in? With the civillian Identity of Dr. Marcus "Marc" Wright. For our Gamma World game I made a fiery leader with a temper named Paul Cano which sounds like volcano when you say it fast.
One way I like to name characters is to brainstorm random words, write them out on a sheet of paper and sound them out string them together put different emphasis on syllables and recreate sounds you like with new spellings.
For D&D one-shots I use the random name generator on DDI until I find something that matches my character concept.
Another way I like to name a character is through play. Come up with a title or a nickname and then through play find the characters history by connecting yourself to other NPCs. is there a family in distress who needs the party's help. Take their surname and say that your character is a distant relative arriving in time to save the day. Thus creating backstory on the fly and a name approriate to the setting.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wizards of the Coast Adds Vehicle Rules to Gamma World

Are you wondering what to do with all those pick up trucks that your players acquired during Gamma World character generation? Do you want to add a little dash of Car Wars into your Gamma Terra campaign? Are you and your players fans of Death Race: 2000, The Road Warrior, and Knight Riders? Are you a big fan of Wizards of the Coast's latest Gamma World offering?

If so, then the new rules posted on the D&D website this week are for you. Keeping in line with Gamma World's "Quick and Dirty 4e" adaptation, the vehicle rules provide a fun and workable system for running vehicles and vehicle combats/races without adding undue complexity. Rules for the damage caused by crashes and the effects of critical hits on vehicles are presented in an easy to use format. Stat blocks for a decent number of vehicles are provided, as are some "customization options" like "oil jets." These rules also bring the idea of "stunts" to the table. Stunts are out of the ordinary actions that characters can attempt to perform with their vehicle, like jumping the vehicle off an incline.

I know that my gaming group, SUPER TEAM GO!, will make good use of the offerings and will likely begin coming up with some of their own thoughts on customization options.

It's good to see Wizards supporting the game even after all of the products have been released. Let's home they continue.

Oh..and it's FREE.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Interactive Gamma World Character Sheet and How Even When They Do Some Thing Awesome WotC Drops the Communication Ball

One of the best games of 2010 was Wizards of the Coast's latest edition of Gamma World. The game not only demonstrated how adaptable the 4th Edition D&D rules were to new settings, it also ably demonstrated how easy those rules are to learn. I have raved about Gamma World in the past, discussed how it makes an excellent superhero game with very little modification, and included it in my top ten games of 2010.

Wizards of the Coast has done a bang up job with the game, provided excellent follow up products, and allowed for an engaged fan base to create aids and material for the game on their boards.

Oh...they also created an excellent interactive character sheet that can make characters for the game that is fully updated to include the latest supplement.

You might have missed the article announcing the tool. I know I did. I found it one day when rifling through the site as I am wont to do from time to time.

The character sheet was released online on 12/21/2010, right about the time that Wizards became very quiet about their plans for 2011 and when products were falling off of their Product Schedule.

There was little fan fare and the fan base was spending so much time scrutinizing every Twitter post by Wizards employees in speculation regarding the fate of D&D. So much so that they missed this awesome tool. Fans have every right to complain about the new Online Digital Character Creation tool, but they have no excuse to have missed this spot where Wizards got it exactly right.

Well...exactly right except for the effective communication part.

The product isn't behind the pay wall. It includes all the character types from both rules booklet and it's web based without the need for unique plug-ins. It's exactly what players of Gamma World need...

Okay, it doesn't save the characters and isn't downloadable, but I don't care. It's awesome and I can make 20 Gamma World characters in less than three minutes.

I wish they had promoted it a little more boldly.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jim Ward, Creator of the First Science Fiction RPG, Needs Your Help

Jim Ward is one of the founding fathers of the role playing game hobby and the creator of the first Science Fiction role playing game, Metamorphosis Alpha. Ward's 1976 SF creation didn't merely extend the boundaries of roleplaying beyond the simulation of Fantasy novels, it offered a different style of play altogether.

Metamorphosis Alpha wasn't a game of far flung galactic empires or post-apocalyptic Earths. The game was set in a universe where interstellar travel was possible, but the game's action takes place on a single space craft. As the game's introduction describes it:

Mankind's urge to explore and expand its frontiers finally caused another push into the vastness of space -- first interplanetary, then interstellar. By the 23rd Century a great migration wave was spreading from Old Terra to the hundreds of inhabitable worlds which had been discovered in the Milky Way galaxy. During the next hundred years colonization ships of all types and descriptions went out to the stars, bearing seedling colonies seeking a better life. Many found their new homes -- for better or for worse -- but for one reason or another scores of these starships never reached their destination. This game is based on just such an event, the fact of a colony ship which became lost...

Ward's creation was more than a mere emulation of the fiction of Heinlein, Van Vogt, and Asimov, it contained it's own narrative ideas. These ideas allowed for a new experience in the role playing game genre. Players were still exploring multi-leveled complexes, dungeons if you will, but their reason for doing so was different. Instead of glory and wealth, the characters might be seeking mere survival or knowledge of a lost time.

Ward has contributed much to the hobby. He was the founding editor of Dragon Magazine, the creative force behind the Gamma World role playing game (a post-apocalyptic offshoot of Metamorphosis Alpha), and the Spellfire card game.

Sadly, Ward has been diagnosed with a serious neurological disorder. The condition is treatable, but the costs are significant and he needs the support of the gaming community. Visit the Friends of Starship Warden and do your part to help one of the original gamers.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gamma World Supers -- Out of the Box

I mentioned in my recent Gamma World review that the games mechanics felt very much like a super hero role playing game to me and that my current GW game was being run with a post-apocalyptic super hero theme. In my world, the mutant heroes have decided to pick up the legacy of the heroic legends of the Ancients and defend the defenseless. Consider it a Legion of Superheroes meets Ralph Bakshi's Wizards.

But the game could be run as a straight modern super hero game straight out of the box with minimal changes to keep the tone heroic and to avoid comedic randomness. I will make a list of recommendations and follow this with two examples, one a randomly created character and the other a "modeled" character based on an existing superhero.

  • Interpret the origins broadly. Look at what the powers and abilities affect the world around them and use the descriptive text second.
  • To simulate super strong characters do the following. First, use skill checks to simulate lifting capability and base lifting cars etc on an Athletics check (scaled by level). "Hard" difficulties for 10 tons or so and as per page 95, "a super-challenging" check for 100 tons. Require that the character be themed super strong to gain the benefit. Second, use the weapons table on page 74 as your ally. There are no rules for disarming in GW and who says that a "Heavy Two-Handed Melee Weapon" isn't a haymaker? Third, use the abstract armor rules to help you simulate characters like a certain rock covered blue eyed strongman. He's got innate Heavy Armor. It's simple, abstract, and freeform. Go with it.
  • Speaking of that weapons chart, don't be afraid to have it simulate all kinds of super hero attacks. A patriotic shield wielding brawler obviously is using a light one handed ranged weapon. Since the game assumes you "can find or make new projectiles as needed," you can simply rule that the shield returning to his hand is automatic. The "ricochet" ability of said patriot might require a power, but the basic throw doesn't.
  • Take off your Hero System Microscopic Glasses. Don't be afraid to be abstract instead of granular. Rather than requiring a specific rule be crafted for your specific action, modify broad rules to specific applications.

Now for a couple of examples.

Random Hero

Interpreting Plant -- Plant Characters have a high Con (18), a bonus to overcharging biological powers, are trained in nature, have high Fort, are vulnerable to fire, and once an encounter can damage and slow all enemies in a large burst.

Interpreting Yeti -- Yeti are Strong (16) as secondary, are also trained in nature, have a bonus to AC for being tough, resist cold, and can rake with their claws once an encounter, which slows their opponent.

Got it...

Doctor Chillbourne

Doctor Thaddeus Chadbourne was a undergraduate student assisting a professor who researching the polar ice caps when he came upon an amulet in one of his deep core samples. Upon examining the amulet Thaddeus body was altered. He acquired the ability to generate cold and manipulate the water in the air around him to create armor and weaponry. He also discovered that his body structure had become more hardy. He was now super strong and resistant to cold, but alterations in his body make up have made him vulnerable to heat based attacks.

STRENGTH: 16 (+3)
  • Atheletics -- +4
  • Acrobatics +0
  • Stealth +0
  • Conspiracy +1
  • Mechanics +1
  • Science +1
WISDOM: 9 (-1)
  • Insight +0
  • Nature +8
  • Perception +0
CHARISMA: 11 (+0)
  • Interaction +1

HP: 30 Movement: 5 (Heavy Ice Sheath)
AC: 19 (Heavy Ice Sheath)
FORT: 17
REFL: 11
WILL: 11
RESIST: Cold 10, Vuln Fire 5

ATTACKS (Interpreted from Weapons on Page 74)
Blast of Cold (Heavy One Handed Ranged)
Intense Cold Wave (Heavy Two Handed Ranged)
"Ice" Claws (Heavy One Handed Melee)

Heavy Ice Sheath (Heavy Armor)

Chillwave (Encounter as per Lashing Creepers)
Devastating Ice Claw Blow (Encounter as per Big Claws)

BRAIN FREEZE (As per LMAO Base Card)

AMULET OF NEGESTH (As per Flash Neurojack)

I have left out some of the specifics of how the powers work, I want you to buy the game after all, but I am ready to play this character. As you can see, it didn't take much to adapt existing power titles based on their effects. Lashing Creepers does damage and then slows the opponent. That seems like a wave of cold to me. His Athletics check, and Yeti Origin (one of the super strong origins), will let him lift 10 tons on a 13 or better and more on higher rolls, but topping out at 20 tons if I choose a +5 to skill check for double the weight rule with categories doubling with each level increase as well.

Now for the "modeled" character:


STRENGTH: 10 (+0)
  • Atheletics -- +1
DEXTERITY: 18 (+4)
  • Acrobatics +9 (Flying Tricks Only)
  • Stealth +5
  • Conspiracy +1
  • Mechanics +1
  • Science +1
WISDOM: 16 (+3)
  • Insight +4
  • Nature +4
  • Perception +4
CHARISMA: 16 (+3)
  • Interaction +8

HP: 26 Movement: 8
AC: 18 (Flame On!)
FORT: 13
REFL: 17
WILL: 14
RESIST: Fire 10

ATTACKS (Interpreted from Weapons on Page 74)
Fiery Energy Blast (Light One Handed Ranged)
Double Fiery Blast (Light Two Handed Ranged)
Fiery Punch (Light One Handed Melee)

Flame On! (Light Armor)

Fiery Aura (see page 49, house rule auras can be turned off per 4e standard)
Mobile Assault (Encounter - as per Quick Attack)
Intense Flame (At Will as per Fiery Flare)

ALPHA POWERS (Deck of 7 Selected Cards, Can only use 1 at a time):
WALL OF FIRE x1 (as per Force Field Generation)
FLIGHT x2 (as per Fire Wings)
ENHANCED FLAME AURA x2 (As per Shimmershield)
SMALL NOVA BLAST x1 (as per Body of Light)
LARGE NOVA BLAST x1 (as per Explode!)

None Selected

I had to use cards from the booster to do this particular modeling of Johnny Storm, but I could have gone a different route to simulate his powers had I wanted. I think that this looks like a highly playable character. He won't be flying in every encounter, though he will be flying in about 30% of them and the odds increase as he goes up in level. I don't foresee adding more Alpha Powers as he levels up and with eventually being able to use 3 alpha powers at the same time, he will be able to fly in most encounters. That's if I use the "core" rules and make the players change Alphas after each encounter and on a roll of 1. House rules could guarantee the use of core powers.

My thoughts are that super heroes tend to have more powers than they actually use in any given encounter, so it isn't too big a deal for Johnny to only fly 30% of the time. Otherwise, I'd have given him the Hawkoid type which has a flight speed to start with.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reviewing the New Gamma World -- The Adventures of Gamma Terra's Super Team Go!

This week Wizards of the Coast releases a new edition of the perennial "Gonzo Post-Apocalyptic" Role Playing Game Gamma World.  This edition will mark the seventh incarnation of the game, and the 6th version by TSR/Wizards.  In the 2000s, Wizards of the Coast licensed the game out to White Wolf Publishing who released a number of books that presented the Gamma World setting under the d20 rules set.  The newest edition of Gamma World uses the new 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons as its foundation, and demonstrates the flexibility of that rules set.

Historically, the Gamma World game has fluctuated between editions which have significant similarities to the TSR/Wizards flagship game (D&D) and those that have their own unique system.  The first and second edition of Gamma World were close enough for government work, and the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide provided conversion rules that would let dungeon masters use Gamma World monster in their D&D games and vice versa.

The 3rd edition of Gamma World featured an Action Table mechanic that was used in a number of non-D&D TSR games at the time -- including Marvel, Indiana Jones, Conan, and Star Frontiers' Zebulon's Guide.  The fourth edition of Gamma World saw a return to D&D based mechanics, but the fifth edition of the game had mechanics based in TSR's Alternity Science Fiction role playing game.  Alternity was a quality game, that had a couple of high quality settings like Dark*Matter and Gamma World, that had the bad fortune of being released during a time when TSR's product lines were so extended that they were cannibalizing TSR's market share -- one of many problems TSR faced at the time.

For the sixth edition Wizards of the Coast licensed the property to White Wolf Publishing's "Sword & Sorcery" studio.  That edition of the game used the d20 Modern mechanics (those rules were an adaptation of the 3rd edition D&D mechanics) and was published under a d20 System license.  The game received some good support and like other editions of the game has its share of fans.

That's enough history for the moment.  I'll be doing a series of posts covering the various editions throughout the month.  That brings us to the newest edition which hits the shelves in its wide release today.

As mentioned earlier, the latest edition of Gamma World uses a stripped down version of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules.  Gamma World's 160 page rule book provides all of the rules that you need to have an entertaining post-apocalyptic game experience, but this experience can be extended if you supplement the rule book with the 4th Edition Rules Compendium, as will be made clear as we move forward.

First Impression

As soon as I opened the box I new I was going to enjoy this game, but not for the reasons I would have assumed.  As readers of this blog know, I am a sucker for super hero role playing games and have made it my life's work to own a copy of every super hero rpg ever published.  Past editions of Gamma World, like this edition, featured mutations that afflicted the post apocalyptic player characters, but those mutations never quite equated with "super powers" in my mind.  This edition of Gamma World, on the other hand, screams to be played as a post-apocalyptic super hero game. From the character creation systems "origins" mechanic to the incorporation of "Alpha Mutations," this game comes closer than any earlier edition to being a supers game.  This supers connection is enhanced by the "What is Human?" sidebar on page 57 and the discussion of "Reconciling Contrary Origins" on page 35 and the themes of the origins themselves.  For some, that will be a bad thing.  For me, it is a blessing.

Essentials got me to play 4e, but this Gonzo Post-Apocalyptic presentation will likely keep me playing that system.

The Setting

This game has one crazy post-apocalyptic setting.  As their Introduction describes it:

In the fall of 2012, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, embarked on a new series of high-energy experiments.  No one knows exactly what they were attempting to do, but a little after 3 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon came the Big Mistake.  Something unexpected happened, and in the blink of an eye, many possible universes all condensed into a single reality.

In some of these universes, little had changed; it didn't make a difference which team won the 2011 World Series, for example.  In other universes, there were more important divergences:  The Gray Emissary, who was carrying gifts of advanced technology, wasn't shot down over Roswell in 1947, the Black Death didn't devastate the known world in the 14th century, the dinosaurs didn't die out, Nikolai Tesla did conquer the world with a robot army, and so on. The Cold War went nuclear in 83 percent of all of the possible universes, and in 3 percent of the possible universes, the French unloaded their entire nuclear arsenal on the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, because it had to be done.  When reality stabilized again, the familiar Earth of the 21st century was replaced by one formed from many different realities.

The year is now 2162, (or 151, or 32,173, or Six Monkey Slap-Slap, depending on your point of view).  It's been a hundred and fifty years since the Big Mistake, and the earth is a very different place...

This world features mutated Badgers, Giant Cockroach-Yeti Hybrids, Flying Plants, Fusion Guns, Pick Up Trucks, Draft Horses, Alien Technology, Felinoid Rat Swarms, and random holes in reality.

It is desperately in need of heroes.

The Rules

The game uses a pared down version of the 4th Edition D&D game mechanics.  During character creation, players roll on a chart twice to determine their primary and secondary "origins."

The character's origin determines the value of the character's primary and secondary statistics, thus guaranteeing that at least some of the characters statistics and powers will line up with regard to usefulness.  All other statistics are determined by rolling 3d6 like in "old school" D&D.

As might be imagined, the character origins might not always line up with what one first imagines.  What does a Hawkoid/Plant Hybrid look like exactly?  The rules provide some guidelines for reconciling these difference, but the key concept to take away is that what the powers do, and how those relate, is more important when reconciling origins than the origins' names.  Our Hawkoid/Plant hybrid has a sonic screech, the ability to fly, and an ability that damages and slows all opponents within a small radius.  Hmm...that sounds like Banshee of the X-Men.  Players should feel free to redefine the "special effect" of an origins power set to assist in creating a theme for the character.  The power that slows and damages opponents is described as "Lashing Creepers," but there is no reason it couldn't be an alternate scream effect that affects enemies inner ear.

Combat results and Skill use outcomes are determined using the standard 4e mechanic.  A player rolls a d20, adds one or more modifiers, and compares that number to a target number.  If the roll is equal to or higher than the target, then the action succeeds.  Very simple.

Gamma World adds a ripple to the standard 4th Edition mechanical framework with its use of Alpha Mutation and Omega Tech cards.  In the rules as written, these cards add a random element to game that adds to the atmosphere of unpredictability in the setting.  Alpha Fluxes, and encounters with alternate realities, can occur at any moment which can cause new mutations to players' characters.  Omega Technology, devices and weapons left by the "Ancients," are old and neglected tech that is amazingly powerful but isn't very reliable in the long run.

Players can minimize the pure random nature of Alpha Mutations by purchasing booster decks that contain a Alpha and Omega cards.  These cards can be used to build character decks, typically 7 - 10 cards, that are used when the Alpha powers shift or when players discover Omega tech.  This allows players to assign powers that match their early themes and with some minor house rules strengthens possibility of playing Gamma World as a super hero game rather than as a post-apocalyptic game.

Some consumers balk at the collectible nature of the game thinking that the collectible aspect makes the game sillier than it would otherwise be.  The purchase of boosters is not a necessary activity to play a Gamma World game, the game is perfectly playable out of the box.  Contrary to assumptions, the cards lessen the silliness of the game by providing additional stability of powers that are available to characters.  The collectible cards won't be for everyone, some people will play the game and have a great time without them, but I am a big fan.  As a "completist," I would have preferred that Wizards sold the cards in sets rather than in booster packs, but that is a different conversation.

All I can say is that the card mechanic makes this edition of Gamma World a pretty good super hero game.

Game Play Experience

The first session of Gamma World that my group and I played last week was one of the most entertaining gaming sessions we have had.  It ranks up there with our Eberron, Greyhawk, and Necessary Evil experiences.  This game is fun.  It plays quick and is easy to pick up.  The character creation is fast, but inspires the imagination.  The shifting Alpha powers can get a little silly, but as we shift to player built decks this will become mitigated.

Our group decided early on to play the game as a super hero game in a gonzo post-apocalyptic setting.  Yes, civilization is shattered.  Yes, reality fluctuates.  Yes, there are cannibalistic mutant humanoid chickens.

But this is a world in need of heroes, and my players are stepping up to the plate.  The team is named Super Team Go! and is inspired by the heroic visual narrative archives of the ancients -- stories of heroes like Speed Racer, The Stig, and The Super Friends.  They vigilantly defend the residents of Cul Ity in Sou Cal.  Their ongoing battle against tyranny and villainy begins with a foray into the Hollywood Hills where they seek to find the source of the sinister attack robots that siege the fortress gates of Muggem Dios, the Keep of Cul Ity.

Their roster includes the following heroes:

Paul Cano --Pyrokineticist/Mindbreaker.  In his White Alpine Stars armor and wearing his Stig helmet to conceal his features, Paul is the current leader of the team.  His fiery temper in the face of injustice motivates the group.

Harvey Glenn -- Plant/Hawkoid.  Harvey is the team's frontline fighter.  He is agile, tough, and wise.  His deep connection to nature allows him to call upon the spirits of the air and the woods.

Wendel Heckler -- Mindbreaker/Electrokinetic.  Wendel is the cautious type.  When combat begins he fires on the enemy with his trusty mini-autocannon and only after they are softened up does he enter the fray to bludgeon his foes with his trusty "transformer on a stick."  Those who think he is a pure combatant are quickly surprised as they feel the brunt of his psychic assault.

Francis Speed -- Speedster/Seismic.  Francis is the descendant of the famous NASCAR/F1 driver Scott Speed, an Ancient hero from Sou Cal.  He embodies Ancient Sou Cal culture.  He is always on the go, but likes to shake things up every now and then.

I cannot wait to see what this group encounters next, and will blog about their first encounters soon.  Needless to say, their early Alpha powers included Wings, Tentacles, a Proboscis, a Polar Aura, Hyper-Balance, and the ability to speak with dead.

This last power led to their recruiting of their handy "valet" Stiff.  Every super team needs a valet after all.

Friday, October 08, 2010

First Impression of the New Gamma World

I am in love!

Sweet Christmas!

Can't wait to play this tomorrow!

...why is the book so shabbily bound?

More will come next week after a proper playing.