Gamma World does not use a saving throw system. Instead, its two most common hazards, poison and radiation, are handled through the use of matrices very similar to the one used for determining the success of mental combat. Poison and radiation are rated from 3 to 18 and compared against a character's Constitution score. This yields one of three results: "-," which indicates no effect; a number, which indicates the number of D6 in damage the character takes, or "D," which indicates death. In the case of radiation, there's a 20% chance that "D" indicates not death but a mutational defect that manifests one week later.
There are antidotes for poison but none for radiation. Antidotes are rated from 3 to 18 and is only 100% effective against poison of the same rating. There's a base 50% chance of effectiveness for other ratings, plus or minus 10%, depending on whether the antidote you're using is above or below (respectively) the rating of the poison you're trying to cure. Intriguingly, the rules state that
Because of the large number of poisonous creatures in GAMMA WORLD, most inhabitants will wear light body armor of some sortThis suggests that armor prevents, or at least impedes, poisoning, but, if so, there are no specific rules in the game to reflect this.
A common -- and cogent -- criticism of Gamma World is that, for a game set in the 25th century, there sure are a lot of 20th century items lying around. The game does address this criticism somewhat. In the beginning of the section on "artifacts and equipment," it's stated that, in addition to many military items, the PCs should also encounter
a healthy mix of 24th century [sic] version of such items as: toasters, typewriters, lawn mowers, powered hand tools, erector sets, portable radios and TVs, smoke detectors, hair dryers, eyeglasses, cigarette lighters, and so on.I give credit to the designers for providing an explanation, even if it's not a particularly good one. I suppose, in charity, one can only reiterate that Gamma World is not only a product of its time but also a product of the time before it was written. The future it postulates is the kind that might have been envisaged in a sci-fi pulp back in the 40s or 50s and would likely have seemed implausible even in 1978. There's a retro quality to the entire game that, while not to everyone's taste, seems to have been deliberate. That said, I never cared for it much as a kid and I suspect it's this quality, as much as anything else, that contributes strongly to the sense many gamers have that Gamma World is not a "serious" RPG. It's worth noting that this quality was toned down somewhat in the second edition.
There's a random table to determine what artifacts are found by the characters. Fully 60% of them are military in nature and, of those, more than 80% are weapons of one sort or another (the rest being armor). The remaining 40% consist of vehicles, robots, medical equipment, and miscellaneous devices. I'll discuss specific artifacts and pieces of equipment in my next post, since they deserve some closer scrutiny. For now, I want to focus on the rules for artifact use and operation. First, every artifact's condition must be determined, with a range from "obviously broken" to "perfect." 75% of all artifacts found have a less than 50% chance to function, while fully one-third of all artifacts belong to the "obviously broken" category and do not work at all. This suggests that functioning artifacts were, according to the rules, intended to be rare, which is a perfectly valid perspective. Unfortunately, most modules written for the game did not support this perspective and were instead filled with a great many, perfectly usable artifacts. Indeed, it was unusual to see an artifact's condition even noted in most modules.
Determining the operation of new artifacts required the use of one of three complexity charts that consisted of a series of circles, squares, and arrows to indicate how difficult it was to figure out an artifact's use. A D10 was rolled, modified by Intelligence and certain mutations, to track a character's progress in ascertaining an artifact's operation, with the goal of reaching the square marked "S" (presumably for "success") and avoiding the skull and crossbones symbol, which meant the character had accidentally harmed himself or one of his comrades. Each roll of the dice represented 10 minutes of puzzling out an artifact, so 6 such rolls took 1 hour. Consequently, unless a character was very lucky or smart (or both), it would take some time to be able to use a new artifact. It was nearly impossible, for example, to learn how to use even a simple high-tech weapon in less than an hour and odds were it would take even longer. A character certainly couldn't just pick up a Mark V Blaster, for instance, and start using it against rampaging mutants.
I always liked the artifact complexity charts in principle, but their use was somewhat tedious, because of the timeframe involved and because they lacked much in the way of color or flavor. Except for success or harm to oneself, it was just a series of dice rolls. Now, maybe that's just a failing on my part and, in the hands of a more talented referee, these charts could be made more exciting, I don't know. I can only note that the second edition did away with the tables entirely, although I didn't find its system much more interesting. This is one of those areas where I fear that the theory behind the mechanics seems more clever than it actually is and, while I very much like the idea that artifacts should be difficult to operate and potentially dangerous, Gamma World never really delivered on that idea. Of course, this may simply be one of those areas where it's best that each referee come up with his own method of handling it rather than resorting to these charts. Were I ever to run Gamma World again, that's probably what I'd do.