Saturday, June 25, 2011

Gamma World, Cover to Cover (Part X)

(I hadn't forgotten about this series, but I've been busy through much of the month with other projects and it fell by the wayside)

One of the thing I found very odd about Gamma World as a kid was that the currency from before the End -- the domar -- was still recognized and valued in the post-apocalyptic world, even if it was worth one-fifth that of gold. Like most modern currency, the domar, as described, has no inherent value, since it was made of some kind of indestructible plastic. Without the power a government to back it, what value would it have, especially 150 years after that government had ceased to exist. Consequently, we tended to treat domars more as curiosities, of interest to historians and the Restorationists rather than of broad use when trying to make purchases in most settlements.

Healing in Gamma World is slow -- 1 hit point per day of inactivity and rest -- but not as slow as in OD&D, where it's 1 hit point every other day of inactivity and rest. Of course, Gamma World characters tend to have more hit points that most OD&D characters, which may explain the difference. There are also various medical devices and medicines that increase the speed and efficacy of healing and these, too, have an impact.

I've already discussed the inheritance rules here.

Gamma World postulates the existence of a "common tongue" in post-apocalyptic North America, which seems reasonable enough, although the rationale behind its existence is odd:
Because so many of the mutants of GAMMA WORLD use telepathy, and so few Pure Strain Humans are left, a common language has evolved among all speaking beings and creatures.
I suppose the text means to say that a common tongue came about out of necessity, but it's phrased oddly. Regardless, computers may or may not be able to recognize or learn this new common tongue, as the referee decides. In my own games, I don't think I ever used language barriers when dealing with computers but I frequently used concept barriers, because the computers came from a highly technological world whose assumptions were very different from those of the PCs.

A distinctive feature of Gamma World is the presence of so many robots in the rulebook. Nearly three whole pages of the rulebook are devoted to the topic, which is a sizable amount, given its brevity. It's another way that the game emphasizes that its apocalypse takes place in the future rather than the present day. In describing robots, there are a couple of interesting rules conceptions worth noting. First, Gamma World retains a strong concept of armor class as strongly connected to the materials from which a type of armor is made. For example, duralloy typically provides an AC of 2 or 1, though a robot constructed from a combination of duralloy, plastic, and/or glass may have a lesser AC due the presence of those other, weaker materials. Likewise, hit points are directly related to bulk, with robots gaining 6 hit points (1 Hit Die) per cubic meter of size. Furthermore, every time a robot loses one-quarter of its total hit points, it also loses one-quarter of its functionality. The latter's a particularly interesting conception that could serve as a springboard for anyone looking to add "death spiral" mechanics in D&D.

In Gamma World, there are generally three types of robots: bots, robotoids, and borgs. Bots and robotoids are similar in that they both are programmed for limited and specific action, there difference being largely in appearance. Robotoids are humanoids, while bots are not. Borgs, on the other hand, are artificial intelligences. They possess inorganic brains that function like those of humans, right down to being susceptible to mental attacks and the ability to degenerate into insanity. There are also larger -- building-sized -- A.I.s that function more or less like borgs do, except that they lack "bodies" and thus function primarily through lesser robots that they control.


  1. Well the really nice thing about an indestructible currency where no one possesses the capability to make any more, is a relatively stable economy with very little inflationary pressure.

    Of course there will be fluctuations in the price of things as the harvests vary, and caches of oldtech are discovered, but you've actually got the situation that has held throughout history (at least until last century).

    Of course, banks can still be set up, and lend money using bank notes, underwritten by their reserves, and may even buy and sell domars amongst themselves. But if the bank can't redeem the promissory notes, it crashes (resulting in people losing their savings).

    All that is required is the agreement that this will be an accepted medium of exchange. It needs to be difficult to forge, and the supply of it should be limited in some manner, so that there are no inflationary surges (such as occurred in Spain when the gold from the New World returned).

    I'll leave it to the recent economic meltdown as an example that a currency without government backing is actually more stable than one that has government backing. After all, you can trust that it is still worth what it was last night when you wake up this morning. One domar.

    [Although I will add that the use of virtual money is something that seemed to gave completely escaped the authors. Although that would leave the adventurers unable to discover any lost hoards of domars in the dungeon, and probably need to introduce some other form of usable currency. Or barter, which is messy. Much simpler to postulate a gold piece equivalent.]

    I had forgotten that there are no androids (synthetic created "humans") in the original Gamma World, as they have always been such a big part of most of the GW campaigns I played in.

  2. Oops. Mea culpae. I had forgotten that standard Androids are considered "monsters" not "robots." [Even if they do operate off broadcast power and have extensive implanted prosthetics/cybernetics.]

  3. @Reverance: I dig your comments about currency in GW, but remember that the rules were written in 1978 when you sweat the authors about not thinking of virtual money.

    Also: Androids do not operate off broadcast power.

  4. I don't think wampum or cowrie shells had any inherent use value, and they were still used as currency without any central body backing them.

  5. @Duglas: That was my point. That the idea of virtual currency was so alien back then in 1978. It was an expression of wonder about how the world has fundamentally changed in ways that they couldn't have imagined. Sorry if I didn't make that clearer. =8(

    [Although you could easily argue that increased cyberwarfare technologies resulted in an increased segregation of networks and computers, making the entire concept of trusted communication/computing laughable in the extreme. In which case virtual currencies would have been a ridiculous notion of the 21st Century... <grin>]

    I agree, the standard GW androids are simply artificial-life. It's just that many of the ones we encountered in various campaigns had generally been augmented with implanted devices (such as bioenergy converters). If you are building a synthetic, it pays to make improvements as you do so. [But then we tended to run harder SF games of Gamma World than is the norm.]

  6. @anarchist - that because one of the things required for something to be money is that it is not useful. Useful materials disappear from circulation crippling their use as a currency.

    Gold, and silver are useless metals compared to copper, iron, zinc, etc. Too soft and malleable for any type of technology application known to ancient society.

    The ultimate problem of domar is that because they can't be made there will be a steady rate of them disappearing from circulation. This is due to people losing coinage, the destruction of coins by various means, and the simple burying of a treasure trove.

    This will cause a deflationary cycle as the volume of money shrink compared to economic activity. Eventually this will cause the adoption of something else as money.

  7. The domar concept seems sound to me. There is no certainty that the world would remain stable enough and high trust enough to support virtual currencies.

    As for the disappearances Rob mentioned, well yes but there probably isn't enough economic activity beyond barter for that to matter. I guess that arbitrarily allowing the extra currency to circulate is kind of Gamma Keynesianism designed by various groups (preservationists, trade federations, whoever) to try and recreate trade networks and more trade activity.

    Cryptic Society Cat Mutant is Cryptic ...

    As for common language, well its a dumb rationale. Given when the game was made it made and where it was set it made more sense to assume that there is a common tongue or at least mutual intelligibility because everyone spoke a single language at one time.

    Now a "now" based Gamma World game might not have such a tongue, there are well over a hundred languages spoken in say LA Unified School district for example and no guarantee English would come out on top in a tussle.

    Of course the original Gamma World ancients were kind of a jump suit future with a smidgen of dystopia that went boom rather than more modern C-Punk or Prayer of the Roller Boys decay styles too.

  8. 6 hit points is 2 hit die, not 1 HD James.

  9. 6 hit points is 2 hit die, not 1 HD James.

    According to the GW text, "robotic units have one full hit die (6 points) per cubic meter of size."

  10. Domars might have been a novelty before the Shadow Years, like bus tokens or casino chips, but the chaos of the Shadow Years resulted in people backing-up their credits in a more solid form. With all the violence and terrorism going on at the time, it would make sense that the criminal underworld would use a solid medium to make unlawful, untraceable transactions - if you haven't noticed, for a time with a lot of peace, they suddenly had a lot of nasty weapons at their disposal. Casino chips would make sense, as they are supported by a large industry, are harder to track then electronic funds, generally harder to counterfeit then real money, and the book noted Domars as being "inlayed with colors and symbols denoting various denominations", like actual casino chips. At least, that is how I rationalize it.

    As for their utility (or lack there of), making something described as "indestructible" into armor or building materials, would only make it as strong as the stuff that holds them together, but if the lesser materials is not much of an issue, then it sound down right valuable. I can imagine a suit of piece metal armor made out of Domars - a really colorful suit, at that!

  11. Currency and languages were two things I spent a bit of time considering before starting a GW campaign, trying to imagine what might be the most realistic extrapolation of each idea when pulled into the 25th century. Ultimately, I decided that the retro vibe of GW wasn't really suited for the kind of posthuman ultratech that most modern SF is focussed on these days. Also, simplicity of game play was on my mind. So, I kind of copped out and simply made domars equal to platinum pieces in value, but only in urban areas with a relatively strong local government. (I also picture domars as being somewhat like poker chips, as mentioned by Malcadon, but most modern survivors have no way of determining the values imprinted on the "chips", so all domars are basically considered equal.)

    For languages, I had come up with a short list of different root tongues that might have evolved into various forms of modern pidgin speech, but again, simplicity of game play won out and I pretty much let all that slide to the wayside. One thing I did want to keep, though, is the notion that the Ancients were inscrutable, so I borrowed a concept from Neal Stephenson's "Anathem" and had the Ancient written language be based on a continuously active morphing cypher. (Ultimately, I don't even really know what that means... but it certainly seems alien!)

  12. I love Gamma World to death but I've always said that Domars are stupid. Really in the far future we're using plastic coins for money?