That last statement soon becomes important, because the rulebook also states:
It is desirable that few, if any, of a player character’s basic attributes be below average. Player characters represent an elite with the desire, the initiative, and the ability to venture outside the boundaries of the village, town, or tribal lands. They are the pioneers, explorers, and tamers of the vast wilderness. It is they who will eventually bring order to the chaos of GAMMA WORLD and an end to the Black Years.The foregoing is interesting for a couple of reasons, first of all because it strongly suggests that an assumed goal of a Gamma World campaign in bringing order to the chaos of the post-apocalyptic world and "an end to the Black Years." The second point of interest is that Gamma World, unlike OD&D, assumes that characters are members of "an elite." Remember that this is 1978, a mere four years after the release of OD&D -- clearly the desire to play exceptional characters was already well established by this point. I do remember, as a younger man, that many gamers felt that you needed characters who were well above average in Gamma World, because it was "so deadly." I actually thought it was less deadly than D&D, given the starting power of a Gamma World character but what did I know?
After that bit of gaming philosophy, the rulebook then offers a solution to the problem of below average characters:
To increase the player's chances of rolling up an exceptional character, the referee will find it advisable to use the following method: for each basic attribute, the player rolls four dice (4d6) but totals only the highest three. If, for example, the player rolled 4, 3, 5, 1 on the four dice, he would add together 4+3+5=12 and leave out the 1. It he rolled 4, 3, 2, 2 he would add 4 + 3 + 2 = 9 and leave out the second 2. While it is still possible to roll very low numbers (3, 2, 2, 1), the player's chances of rolling an average to above average character are greatly increased.I won't say for certain that this is the first instance of 4D6 drop the lowest in the history of gaming, but it's the earliest example I know of. Metamorphosis Alpha does not adopt this approach and AD&D won't canonize it until the release of the Dungeon Masters Guide in 1979. First or not, it's worth noting its appearance here, since it firmly establishes that the primacy of 3D6-in-order was challenged -- and with official sanction -- quite early.
I've discussed the system for determining how many mutations a character receives here, so I won't repeat myself in this post. Next up are overviews of the three character "types," starting with pure strain humans, which are regularly referred to as "PSH" in the text. This calls to mind the ubiquitous abbreviation "EHP" in early D&D products. Pure strain humans are described as the "weakest" character type, having only two advantages. First, they are held in awe as descendants of the Ancients and thus gain a +3 Charisma bonus. Second, with proper identification, most robots and computers will respond positively toward them. "Humanoids," as mutant humans are called, are described as the "strongest" PC type, as they have mutations and may, if their physical mutations aren't noticeable, able to pass themselves off as pure strain humans. Mutated animals are assumed to be of human intelligence to start, but "whether the mutated animal character is capable of speech, the use of paws/hooves/fins as hands, and so forth, should be made as logically and reasonably as possible before the start of the game." There are, of course, no rules or even guidelines for such determinations in the rulebook.
Intelligence has only one mechanical purpose in the game and only for scores above 15 or below 7: aiding or hindering the process of understanding the workings of an artifact. Dexterity is used for determining attack order within a combat round (as well as granting a bonus when determining initiative). Likewise, scores above 15 and below 6 provide bonuses or penalties to physical attack rolls (both melee and missile). As in OD&D, charisma receives the lengthiest treatment of all ability scores, as it affects reaction rolls, the maximum number of followers a character can have, and the morale of those followers. It's here that we get Gamma World's reaction table, as well as a brief discussion of followers vs. henchmen/hirelings. We also get a modifiers based on the type of the character, so that a PSH character gets penalties when dealing with other types but not as great as a mutant animal might.
Constitution is a vital ability in Gamma World. For every point, the player rolls 1D6 to determine starting hit points. Since hit points don't automatically increase with experience, as they do in D&D, having a high constitution is important. Likewise, constitution functions as a resistance factor against poison and radiation, as we'll see in a future post. Mental strength serves a similar function, being used solely in mental combat to determine the number needed "to hit" an opponent with a mental mutation. Physical strength, meanwhile, affects damage done by physical weapons. Having a score higher than 15 or below 6 grants a bonus or penalty to damage, respectively.
This section of the rulebook ends with a brief discussion of non-player characters and creatures. The section emphasizes two points. First, the reaction table and charisma modifiers should be used to determine the initial disposition of NPCs, with events played out from there. Second, followers and henchmen can be found in many places and are of great assistance to the PCs. In these areas, Gamma World clearly follows in the tradition laid down by OD&D.