Monday, June 27, 2011

Gamma World, Cover to Cover (Part XI)

Gamma World doesn't have levels as such, but it might as well. Every so many thousand experience points (starting at 3000 and roughly doubling at every step after that), a player gets to make a 1d10 roll on a table to determine the bonus his character gains from experience. 60% of the time, the bonus is a +1 to specific ability score (but no score can exceed 18), 20% of the time, the bonus is +1 to hit in physical combat, and 20% of the time, the bonus is +1 per die inflicted by non-energy weapons.

Experience points are awarded first for defeating enemies at a rate of 1 XP per hit point of the defeated enemies. Even compared to OD&D Supplement I's revised XP charts, that's a very small amount. Secondly, XP is awarded for finding artifacts, at rates listed in the rulebook. The XP amounts vary according to the type of artifact, with grenades, for example, awarding only a couple of hundred XP, while a high-tech rifle might award a couple of thousand. It's worth noting that XP is also given for the worth in gold pieces of valuable non-artifact items. As you can see, finding artifacts (and other items of value) is thus the ticket to advancement in the game, much as treasure is in OD&D. Thirdly, the referee may award XP "for outstanding actions." Just what constitutes an outstanding action or what an appropriate XP award for it might be is not stated.

XP is awarded on both an individual or group basis. Combat XP is divided equally amongst all combatants, provided they all participated equally. Characters who don't do so or who sneak away in the midst of battle ought to be awarded less (or no) experience. XP from artifacts or items of value, however, are awarded to individuals. In general, such XP seems to go to the character who figured out how to operate the artifact and can therefore use it.

All in all, Gamma World's experience point award system is very reminiscent of those in old school D&D but (once again) pointing the way toward the more "story-oriented" approach that would be adopted more broadly later on. On the other hand, "level" advancement means comparatively less than in D&D, with its benefits being random and potentially non-existent depending on how one rolls. I've sometimes found myself imagining what D&D might have been like if advancement were similarly unpredictable.


  1. The average mutant (player type) has 38 hp, so a beginning characters would only have to defeat 79 other beginning characters to get their first experience based bonus.

    Experience points for artifacts in GW certainly encourages an explore and loot style of play.

  2. The recent D&D board games have an interesting advancement system. Defeating monsters earns points for the party, and these points go into a pool that can be used later in the game to buy off certain events; for example, the party can spend a certain number of their accumulated experience to avoid a trap.

    If a player rolls a natural 20 on their attack, and there are a certain number of points in the pool, they can spend those points to gain a level, complete with bonuses and new abilities.

    It's an interesting mix of resource management and randomness.

  3. I can only imagine that if D&D had not been strictly level-based from the beginning that the creep towards character advancement as the dominant goal of the game would have been at least significantly stunted. As a result, I assume modern iterations of D&D would look quite different.

  4. This may be heresy but in my GW campaign I didn't even bother with level advancement. Acquiring increasingly advanced weapons and armor seemed to be an effective "level up" for players.

  5. @Kelvingreen

    Sounds a lot like the Karma Pool concept in Marvel Super Heroes. XP or "karma points" could be used individually or thrown into the group karma pool for everyone to use as needed.

  6. Just for fun I recently started to try and list some "level-titles" for Gamma World advancement, similar to the AD&D ones for the various character classes. So far I only have come up with...
    level 1: Scavenger,
    level 5: Surviver,
    and level 10: Omega Man.

    The thesaurus hasn't been as useful as I hoped.

  7. @jeffrey Fleming

    That makes me think of Classic Traveller, where the assumption was you had done all your character advancement before the game started, and now you were mostly in it for the money.

  8. @Duglas

    Just use some of the level titles from Fallout 3.

  9. @freebfrost: Hey, that's great... thanks man! There are definitely enough good ones in there to flesh out 10 levels.

    Kind of surprised not to see "stalker" in there. I have never played Fallout, but I had heard somewhere it was partially inspired by Roadside Picnic.