Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Retrospective: Legion of Gold

Legion of Gold is the only Gamma World module I've ever used. Sure, I owned lots of them, but I never actually ran them as written. Instead, I just swiped a few ideas from them and incorporated them into my own campaign. Not so with module GW1, which formed the basis for one of my longer running Gamma World campaigns back in the day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have an inordinate amount of fondness for this particular adventure.

Written by none other than Gary Gygax himself (with the help of his son Luke and Paul Reiche III), Legion of Gold is a mini-sandbox in 32 pages. Set in a post-apocalyptic version of southern Wisconsin -- "Jen City" is Lake Geneva and "Horn" is Elkhorn, for example -- it consists of three "mini-adventures" and a larger location associated the eponymous Legion of Gold that's menacing the Barony of Horn. Like the best D&D modules, this one sets up a situation and then throws the PCs into it without any presumptions about how they will react or what the "right" thing to do may be. Characters are thus free to make their way as their players see fit, with plenty of material to aid the referee in handling it.

I know there are Gamma World fans out there who don't like Legion of Gold. They see it as insufficiently wild and woolly, which, for reasons I don't quite understand, is how many gamers view Gamma World. Certainly the game supports that style of play and there are plenty of bits in it that suggest a slightly less than serious approach, but, like D&D, Gamma World can be interpreted in a variety of ways, not all of them semi-comedic and/or over the top. For myself, Legion of Gold set the tone for how I've always played the game: post-apocalyptic pulp fantasy with science fiction trappings. I won't go so far as to say I treat Gamma World seriously -- how can you when there are humanoid rabbits that turn metal to rubber with a touch? -- but I try to treat all the setting's oddities not as opportunities for overt humor so much as occasions to emphasize just how weird the post-Fall world actually is.

That's the other thing I adore about Legion of Gold: the funky art, much of it courtesy of Erol Otus. If ever there were an artist born to draw Gamma World illustrations, it was Erol Otus. His work on this module unnerved me a great deal as a kid and, looking at even now, it's hard not to find the Buggems really creepy in that nightmare-come-to-life kind of way. Bill Willingham did some great work here too, although, as usual, it tends a bit more toward the "superheroic" than I prefer in my gaming art.

Regardless, I consider Legion of Gold a classic. Somebody needs to do something similar for Mutant Future. Jeff Rients did something close in issue 6 of Fight On! but I'd still love to see a full-bore module in the style of Legion of Gold. Guess I have another project to add to my list of things I never get round to doing ...

28 comments:

  1. I know we had a good time playing it ages ago. I do remember an incident that makes me think it might have been released a little too soon, as though it weren't quite ready to ship.

    I was in Pen Models in Oakville sometime in the 80s, long after I'd stopped playing GW, and the guy behind the counter asked me if I played. I said I had, and he said there was a rules supplement he was handing out free to people who owned the first edition. Something about a missing robots (?) index or something.

    So I wonder if they pushed it out the door before it was ready. I hope somebody can shed more light on my recollection.

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  2. Willingham's style is "superheroic"? Now I must dig out some of my old 1st ed modules and look.

    Oh, I just realized that this is the same guy who now does Fables. Amazing. I've even met the guy in passing at the latest Worldcon.

    (word verification: hobit - what printing is this blog then? Not the first one, apparently)

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  3. Nah, you can't take GW too seriously. I liked the first edition of GW better than I liked the second edition. For those, who wanted to play a SERIOUS post-apocalypse there is always the Aftermath! and Twilight 2000.

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  4. Somebody needs to do something similar for Mutant Future.

    I hope to have something like this for Fight On! quite soon, and something more expansive later on down the road.

    I *love* Legion of Gold. It's a great sandbox adventure.

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  5. I'm afraid that I'm one of those who doesn't like Legion of Gold.

    1. I don't like the cutsey-names, as though global armageddon wouldn't do much beyong shifting the language a bit. I prefer my GW to have no geography in common with the present day. Continents buckled, oceans boiled, and all that.

    2. I don't like the way the module lets the players cherry-pick through a pile of artifacts.

    My preferred style of Gamma World is dark science-fantasy. The science coming from the high-tech items, the fantasy coming from the mutations. And if a post-apocalyptic setting can't be dark, what can?

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  6. Nah, you can't take GW too seriously. I liked the first edition of GW better than I liked the second edition. For those, who wanted to play a SERIOUS post-apocalypse there is always the Aftermath! and Twilight 2000.

    Or The Morrow Project.

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  7. Any chance of you perhaps scanning and posting those Otus illustrations?

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  8. Any chance of you perhaps scanning and posting those Otus illustrations?

    http://jrients.tripod.com/otus/otusgold.html

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  9. Southern WI you say? As someone who went to school down there my interests are now offical piqued!

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  10. I've GM'd LoG in 1E, 2E, 3E and 4E GW. I even used it in an old D&D campaign. I love this module. I actually consider it the most perfect module of any gaming system I've ever encountered. I'll have to dig up my copy and give it a relook.

    Did anyone else ever notice the ode to A Boy and His Dog contained therein?

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  11. Morrow Project looks good, Paladin!
    First I hear of it, Thanks!
    I think that it goes will with the Traveler series of adventure paperbacks. When I get those off e-bay I'll pick up the MP rulebook as well...

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  12. It is my opinion that, in the realm of RPG catch phrases, "Buggems, no!" is second only to "Bree yark!"

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  13. Legion of Gold is great, but my heart will remain always with Famine in Far-Go. Yes, it's wrapped in a railroad, but the core (the abandoned but still active chicken processing plant) is an awesome dungeon and open to all kinds of approaches.

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  14. I LOVE Legion of Gold. It is the only one I own, in fact. You forgot to mention LoG had some great treasure tables plus had modern day firearms in it as well. Plus nothing beats the cover in my book!

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  15. That is my all time favorite module!

    When I started playing Gamma World, I took the game so seriously. When I got older, I took things less seriously, and I embraced the "wahoo" style of first edition. Somehow, its really fun when played it out like an 80s cartoon (you know which)! That is how I roll! LOL

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  16. For me the last time I was about to play Gamma World I chose the 2E Rite of Passage module over this one because I felt the sandbox was richer even though one of the set pieces in it was a bit lame.

    Legion of Gold feels a lot more like a Gamma-fied D&D dungeon module; it's as though they hadn't yet made the conceptual leap to Deathlands as "dungeon" - ie. focal point of exploration.

    That said I'm sure if I actually do get to play it some day I will probably totally reverse my opinion of it. In fact I'll admit that maybe I should have set Legion instead as my players in that recent Rite of Passage game, totally new to GW, really did have trouble making that conceptual leap - Legion would have been a better introduction perhaps.

    As far as wacky/cartoonish Gamma World well, couyldn't this raise the same sort of problems and expectations by players as that raise by an "epic" or "heroic" D&D campaign? Eg. zero-sum, my PC can't die, etc.

    I like to keep the "cute" but grubby mutants but also respect how very deadly they can be too, which is how James Ward, by all accounts I've read online, played the game. As you say, James in your Dungeonland review, it should be played as "a concatenation of opposites: at once light-hearted and deadly, literary and low-brow, and, above all, supremely challenging." Of course, that can be said of almost any RPG..

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  17. The Kamandi Comic (DC 1972-78 actually) and the novels Hiero's Journey (Lanier 1973), and Daybreak 2250 (Norton 1952) are the sources I think of when I reminisce about our Gamma World adventures.

    Kamandi's had a bit of a renaissance lately, appearing on TV for the first time in Batman Brave & Bold and being the best part of DC's Wednesday Comics tabloid.

    We enjoyed our 1st edition GW games and I wanted to play 2ed but group interest waned. It looked slightly better in that the mutant/monster were given player type stats which meant the powers that referenced stats were easier to judge.

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  18. I so hope Gibbons and Sook are allow to continue their Kamandi story from Wednesday Comics - it's fantastic.

    And yeah, the inclusion of stats for the monsters also helps the Referee to know how to play them and how to differentiate them when you roll up a group for an encounter: eg. low stats generally = a young one; highest stats = boss, etc.

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  19. "As far as wacky/cartoonish Gamma World well, couyldn't this raise the same sort of problems and expectations by players as that raise by an "epic" or "heroic" D&D campaign? Eg. zero-sum, my PC can't die, etc."

    Trust me, as wacky as GW gets, its vary dangerous! Even with all the HP you start off with, if you go in half-cocked, you will die! GW is a strange mix of stark black & white pulp and strange cartoon wackiness. Think "Heavy Metal".

    "Kamandi's had a bit of a renaissance lately, appearing on TV for the first time in Batman Brave & Bold and being the best part of DC's Wednesday Comics tabloid."

    Thundarr The Barbarian have always been an unofficial mascot of GW, but lately the discovery of Kamandi has made people consider him as a mascot by his own right. The silly 70s pop culture references really appeals to the fans - like the "Cult of Watergate Secrets"! The whole thing had a Planet of the Apes style to it.

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  20. My preferred style of Gamma World is dark science-fantasy. The science coming from the high-tech items, the fantasy coming from the mutations. And if a post-apocalyptic setting can't be dark, what can?
    Geoffrey has a great post on the ODD forums about his version of GW, that I find incredibly intriguing, though I like the wahoo style personally.

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  21. Trust me, as wacky as GW gets, its vary dangerous! Even with all the HP you start off with, if you go in half-cocked, you will die! GW is a strange mix of stark black & white pulp and strange cartoon wackiness. Think "Heavy Metal".

    Malcadon, that sound you're hearing is my head nodding furiously in agreement. :)

    JJ, at first when I read this from Geoffrey: "A post-apocalyptic campaign should be nothing if not serious," I groaned a bit because sustaining that level of seriousness over a campaign let alone a session would become a bit of a drag.

    But when I read the rest I had to agree - good stuff. I really like his idea of "mutant gods".. it's very Weird Tales...

    His game report is very funny. Perhaps most of the black humour in gaming comes from player pratfalls. =)

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  22. Whoah! A new Kamandi!? I need to get on that. I'd love to have the entire Kamandi series under one cover. You can find them pretty cheap, but there were so many ads in the original comics that it really broke up the beautiful Kirby artwork.

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  23. WalkerP, a couple of years ago DC released two hardcover volumes of classic Kamandi.

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  24. I'm actually working on a (probably 24-page) Mutant Future module (easily adapted to GW or EC), although it's got more of a plot and structure than Legion of Gold and is intended to be a story rather than a sandbox.

    It includes scenes set in Hoboken, the Pine Barrens, Acey, and Vega$, and I make no promises about when it will be ready.

    Adam

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  25. I, too, greatly enjoyed LoG (wish I still had it), though like WalkerP, I believe I preferred Famine in Fargo (one-eyed chickens with infrared guns? How cool is that?).

    I DO seem to remember it being quite hard though...the legionnaires were quite deadly to my players. I'm not sure if we ever had a successful "completion" of the module!

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  26. I haven't been able to play Gamma World in years --- when last I did, it was 1980 or so and as far as we knew, there were no pre-written adventures, so we had to make our own.
    A few years ago I picked up a copy of Legion of Gold and the Albuquerque Starport (a ~8 page adventure that came with the 1e GW DM's screen). If I were to run a GW game tommorow, I'd prefer the Albuquerque Starport simply because it looks like a lot more fun (and is more like I envision Gamma World).
    My review (sorry if it is a breach of decorum to post links to my own blog within your blog):
    http://aldeboran.blogspot.com/2009/09/legion-of-gold-earns-only-bronze.html
    Word verification: Jurrev
    The name of the next NPC in a Gamma World adventure. Perhaps he has 6 eyes, a blue tongue, irradiated hands and a poor dual brain and sells scrap metal in a small frontier town. He might hire PCs to 'acquire' more material from the ruins...

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  27. I am running Legion of Gold right now for our gaming crew as a way to relax my mind from more complex rule-systems and because I always wanted to play it since I was a kid and just never got around to it! I have a great love for the old games (just as much as many of the folks do around here), but I have to admit GWs 1e rules are a bit clunky and I've had to tape things together here and there. No problem, thats part of the fun for me. Regardless, the merits of Legion of Gold are huge... that so few pages can contain so much adventure potential! This module represents the flavor of GW completely to me. And, frankly, I don't find much of anything goofy about it. (Aside from a few corny pictures here and there in the rulebook.) The setting is very deadly and grim. At least thats how I play it and there is nothing to contradict that anywhere I can can see. I think GW plays best as a SURVIVAL game... right down to where are you getting your food and water. But, then again, thats how I like to play my D&D games as well!

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