Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gamma World, Cover to Cover (Part VII)

When traveling overland, the referee rolls 1D6 once every 12 hours to determine if an encounter occurs. A result of "6" indicates an encounter with some type of creature or being, as determined on a separate 1D20 table appropriate to the terrain. How such creatures/beings react to the PCs is left to a combination of the reaction table and referee adjudication. In fact, it's worth noting that the text in this section of the rulebook makes no reference to the reaction table whatsoever. Whether that's a mere oversight or indicative of the fact that the game had multiple authors and poor editing I cannot say.

I will admit now that I have always loved Gamma World's menagerie of creatures, which I consider to be every bit as interesting as D&D's own, perhaps moreso as they're almost all wholly original creations. The rulebook provides very little in the way of mechanical information about each creature, with their names, number appearing, armor class, movement, and hit dice being the only standard information offered. While this makes for compact entries, it can also be frustrating at times. For example, knowing what mutations a creature possesses at a glance would be helpful, as would knowing how many physical attacks it gets and the damage dealt. Likewise, Gamma World is much more mechanically dependent than D&D on ability scores, particularly Mental Strength and Constitution, most creatures have no such information in their entries. It's in this area where the second edition excels, in my opinion.

Another possible flaw, depending on how you view it, is that, of the nearly 50 creatures described, only one -- the yexil -- is given an illustration anywhere near its entry. A handful of others, like hissers and hoops, are given illustrations elsewhere. I think this is potentially an issue primarily because some of the creatures in Gamma World are bizarre enough in appearance that the lack of an illustration makes it hard to imagine what they look like. When you couple this with the fact that most creatures have names that don't in any way call to mind what they are I think it could become an issue for some. Of course, it was never an issue for me personally, but I readily admit I'm a weird obsessive about such things and can, even now, tell you what a parn is and how it differs from a zarn.

Overall, I like Gamma World's selection of basic creatures. I think it covers most of the obvious bases, providing a good mix of humanoid and animal mutants, both malevolent and benign, as well as mutated plants of various sorts. I'll admit to being especially fond of androids, perhaps because they played a big role in one of my old campaigns. I also like badders (evil badger men), centisteeds (16-legged horses mutants), hoops (rabbit men), orlens (2-headed, 4-armed mutant humanoids), sep (land sharks), and serfs (which I always played like the mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes). But, truth be told, I don't have a problem with any of Gamma World's creatures, though there do seem to be an inordinately large number of fish and water-based creatures for my taste.

Interestingly, I always found it much easier to create new creatures for Gamma World than I ever did for D&D. A big reason for this is that Gamma World provided a large list of mutations I could add to a real world animal, plant, or human being and -- Voilà! -- a "new" monster. In truth, D&D monsters are not harder to create, but, for whatever reason, those lists of mutations was a huge boon to my imagination and I used the heck out of them, proving once again that randomness is awesome.

12 comments:

  1. Yep, I also had some of the same annoyances - mostly with the lack of illos. The list of aquatic creatures did not bug me too much, as I tend to setup adventures around water sources (rivers, inland seas, and such).

    And yes, making GW mutants is great, as you have a lot of latitude with designing highly unique freaks, and the players usually have no idea who powerful they are - its just like the DM pulls out the Find Folio, but without the collective disappointment of the players. You dont even need to limit yourself to the mutation lists, as many of the mutants have unique mutations and powers. Hell, you dent even need it to make sense!

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  2. I agree on the lack of illustrations. I always wanted to know what some of those things looked like, but I usually just ended up trying to do my own version.

    And, I loved creating my own "monsters" for Gamma World by just tacking random mutations onto various real world creatures. I also liked the "open-endedness" of the system that you could kind of create your own mutations to do whatever you wanted. Many of the creatures (at least in the 1st edition GW rulebook) had mutations and powers that weren't listed anywhere in the actual mutation list - like the Hoops' ability to turn metal into rubber. I loved stuff like that, because it means that your players won't necessarily know what's coming.

    On a totally different note, I just watched A Boy and His Dog all the way through for the first time last night on cable, and I started wondering if Blood the Dog's telepathic speech influenced the development of the Podogs in Gamma World. It notes that some Podogs will have the ability to telepathically speak with their owners. I know the movie came out after the game, but the movie was based on a book first written in the late 60's (1969, I think).

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  3. At the Gamma World seminar at GenCon 2010, one of the designers for the newest edition (I believe it was Bruce Cordell) said something that really tickled me:

    "The original edition's monsters were, like, 45% fish. What was up with that?"

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  4. Good point. Danged few of those campaigns were ocean-borne. :-D

    Some of those GW version 1.0 encounters passed into legend:

    "Greetings, strangers from across the desert, welcome to our village of mud"
    "Here, have this berry"
    "I'm with you, Master".

    (well, it seemed that easy decades later)

    Contrast the lack of illos in GW 1.0 to the second edition of GW, which seemed to have an illustration for everything under the sun.

    Not sure what to make of the latest version. I want to like it, but it's so tarted up with cards and geegaws that I get the distinct impression that it's lost its roots somewhere.

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  5. "The original edition's monsters were, like, 45% fish. What was up with that?"

    It's a funny comment, especially in light of my own feelings, but the truth is that only about 5% of the monsters are fish and that's if you include creatures like the sep that are fish-derived but land-based. But it does illustrate, I think, how often even designers let their false impressions of Gamma World color their judgments about it, almost always to its detriment.

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  6. I like that there are so many fish. I do wonder how that came about, though. Even two of the new mutants in GW1 are fish.

    I've been looking through the extensive "Monster and Treasure Assortment" (350 encounters!) lists in the back of the rulebook the last few days (sorry for reading ahead :), and while many of the listings are standard encounters from the creature chapter, some of the humanoid tribesmen encounters are quite unique. Really showcases the wide variety of interesting humanoids that can be generated by mixing and matching a few of the mutations and giving them to a band. Tiny winged/gilled humanoids that build elaborate underwater towns, "ghoulish" nocturnal humanoids, etc. Lots of neat ideas to build on.

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  7. I've been looking through the extensive "Monster and Treasure Assortment" (350 encounters!) lists in the back of the rulebook

    Those are some of my favorite pages in the whole rulebook. They really are quite inspiring in places.

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  8. I always had trouble visualizing the Pineto. Fortunately (for me) TSR released a choose your own adventure "Gamma World" book, which had several excellent illustrations of one (you used one as a mount for part of the "adventure")

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  9. ...some of the humanoid tribesmen encounters are quite unique. Really showcases the wide variety of interesting humanoids that can be generated by mixing and matching a few of the mutations and giving them to a band. Tiny winged/gilled humanoids that build elaborate underwater towns, "ghoulish" nocturnal humanoids, etc. Lots of neat ideas to build on.

    I couldn't agree with you more! That section of the rule-book was one of my favorite re-discoveries of GW and has led to numerous interesting and complex encounters in our game. (For example: a random meeting with "Archivists" one evening in town turned into a group of stranded aliens looking to fix their saucer with scavenged ancient tech.)

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  10. "A Boy and His Dog" appeared in Nebula Award Winners Five, in 1969. It was clearly influential on post-apocalyptic games - everything from Gamma World to the Morrow Project to Aftermath.

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  11. I've always felt the creatures in 1st edition Gamma World to be a cut above the ones from all other editions. They have a certain je na se qua that creatures from all other Gamma World products don't. Even the venerable additions in 2nd edition don't quite cut it for me.
    As to all the fish, my last few Gamma World campaigns were set on a topographic atlas of Virginia which featured little fish symbols at fishing grounds. Players quickly learned to fear the fish..

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  12. "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish"

    Sorry, It had to be said.

    I saw "A Boy and his Dog" in my late teens at an midnight theater show. That is one classic cult movie. Awesome.

    I used to draw my own pictures of the GW monsters, lots of wierd organs sticking out of bellies, added to faces or heads... real nightmares or killer-clown like sillyness!

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