These 49 physical mutations are each described briefly, after the fashion of OD&D's spell descriptions. Together, they take up slightly less than two pages of double-column text. What's particularly noteworthy is how often phrases like "left to the referee to determine," "the referee may," and "referee's discretion" turn up in these descriptions, which I think speaks volumes about the gaming culture -- or, at least, the game design culture -- of 1978. Equally interesting, too, I think is the lack of interest in mechanical specificity in many of the entries, again, much like the OD&D spell descriptions.
Rather than go over every entry, I've chosen a few I find interesting to give a taste of how the rulebook treats physical mutations:
- BODY STRUCTURE CHANGE (D): Much latitude is left to the referee on this defect. Generally, this involves the replacement of essential elements, such as calcium in bones, with some other damaging substance that will lower the body's resistance to outside force. Possible changes might include: lack of calcium in bones - they break easily; no body hairs - anywhere - beware of dust; only one eye in center of head - no depth perception; and so on.
- INFRAVISION: This power allows the mutant to see any heat-producing body. At night, everything will seem like day to this mutant. Flashes of heat, such as laser blasts, explosions, raging fires, or even torches at close range, will blind this being for a short period of time. The full light of day will also be painful if endured for any length of time.
- NEW BODY PARTS: Add one or more parts, not usually found on the being in question, such as: third eye (back of head), feelers (radiation sensitive), antennae (light sensitive), pincers, fur coat, feathers, radiation absorbing organ, and so on.
There are also 49 mental mutations and their random table and descriptions share all the characteristics of the physical mutations mentioned above. I was also a much bigger fan of this table than of the physical list, because I found these mutations much more fun in play, even the defects. Here are a few good examples:
- DE-EVOLUTION: This is the power to strip abilities from a mutant opponent by regressing it along its ancestral lines. If this power works (treat as a mental attack), it begins by taking away, permanently, the opponent’s greatest special ability (referee's choice). On every subsequent melee turn, another special ability is thus removed, until the mutant's opponent is returned to its original stock. This power lasts for the duration of one combat situation, however long that may take, has a range of up to 30 meters, and may be used once per week.
- PLANAR TRAVEL: This is the ability to open doors to alternate planes of existence. The mutation manifests itself as a 3 x 3 meter opening lasting up to 3 full melee turns at the discretion of the mutant. These planes of existence may or may not be populated (with referee-inspired creatures), but once entered, there is no way to leave them (unless the mutant re-opens the door), so they make perfect places of exile. Only one such door may be opened per week.
- POOR DUAL BRAIN (D): This is a second brain which handicaps the function of the primary brain. It may take over the body at strange times, have several defects, or even counteract a mental power of the good brain in difficult situations. The extent and effects of this mutation should be determined by the referee and may be kept a secret from the mutant until the moment of truth.
The following plant and vegetable mutations are to be used by the referee when creating non-player plant mutations with which to populate GAMMA WORLD. It is recommended that the referee not allow the players to become mutated plants. Most of them do not have the intelligence or life span necessary to successfully interact with other player-character types.Subsequent editions of Gamma World eliminated this restriction and made plant mutants a baseline option for player characters, which, I think, was a good move. I find the caution against them in the first edition interesting, as it suggests to me that, for all the oddities and weirdnesses of the game setting, it was still viewed as operating according to certain "laws," one of which was that plants, even mutant ones, are generally unintelligent. In retrospect, it seems a bizarre thing to say, but it implies (to me anyway) that Ward and/or Jaquet had a particular vision for the game and the game setting, one that didn't jibe with the players taking on the roles of plants.
The section on mutations ends with a short discussion of how to "non-player creature mutations," which is to say, monsters. Here are the steps it suggests:
1. Choose a basic animal or plant type.I reproduced it in its entirety above, because I think it dovetails with my point above about mutant plants. Take note particularly of steps 2 and 5. The process presented here is a naturalistic one. It most emphatically is not an "anything goes" approach to designing mutants. Though certainly laughable according to anything we'd today call "scientific," it's nonetheless an attempt to ground Gamma World in a consistent, even logical (within the bounds of its own principles), reality. Gamma World may not accurately represent our world, but that doesn't mean it's intended as a pure flight of fancy without a rationale behind it. That's a point that comes up again and again, albeit obliquely, in the first edition and that somehow many gamers (and designers) seem to have missed.
2. The creature will mutate from 1-10 generations.
3. For each generation of an animal mutant, roll once on this percentile table:
01- 50% Roll one physical mutation
51- 80% Roll one mental mutation
81- 85% Roll one physical and one mental mutation
86-00% Heightened Intelligence
4. For each generation that a plant mutates, simply roll one mutation on the PLANT/VEGETABLE MUTATIONS TABLE.
5. It the creature mutates in a defective manner for the first two or three generations, it will not be able to survive, so choose another creature and start over.