Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Articles of Dragon: "Why Is This Mutant Smiling?"

As Dragon slouched toward issue #100, I found the quality of the magazine to be declining, at least as far as I was concerned. Issue #96 (March 1985) was a good example of an issue that, were it not for the Ares Section, would have little interest for me. But then the Ares Section -- and John M. Maxstadt's Gamma World articles in particular -- was frequently the sole bright spot in Dragon. Maxstadt's article in this issue, "Why Is This Mutant Smiling?," presented some variant rules for handling the physical mutation new body parts and it very quickly became one of those articles I photocopied at the library and stuck inside my referee's notebook for use later.

For those who haven't looked at Gamma World in a while, here's what its second edition rulebook (which was current at the time this article was written) has to say about new body parts:
Character has extra appendage or organ not usually found in his species. Examples include: A third eye in the back of his head, light sensitive antennae, arms and hands (for a fish or other species that normally doesn't have limbs), a head or brain for a Plant. The players always design the new parts, but the GM must approve the design.
Now, I appreciate the brevity of this entry and its reference to the GM as the final authority in determining what is an acceptable new body part. However, as Maxstadt notes at the start of his article, "Some players have trouble inventing original mutations which are more than mere variations of the official mutations in the book." Likewise, there's always a tug of war between player and referee in trying to decide just what sort of mutation is "too much."

Back in '85, I'd neither developed a keen enough sense of "balance" to make such decisions with any reliability nor the dispassion I now possess about such concerns. So, when Maxstadt offered up a percentile table containing approximately 40 examples of new body parts, I was glad to see it. My players and I both found it easier -- and less stressful -- to roll on the table and be done with it. Nowadays, I probably wouldn't use such a table, but that's not an indictment of Maxtstadt's offering, which, like nearly everything he wrote for Dragon, was excellent. Rather, it's a testament to how much I've changed as a referee since I was a teenager -- something I hope is true of all of us who are still gaming decades later.


  1. I was just getting into Dragon at about the same time you seemed to be waning, apparently.  I devoured those issues, cover to cover...and Maxstadt's articles were pretty much my favorites.

    It's been ages since I've seen that ele-panzee.  Thanks for some fond nostalgia.

  2. I played "Villains and Vigilantes" before I did any serious Gamma World playing (though maybe "serious" is the wrong word), and in V&V there's a whole slew of powers (Body Power, Mutant Power, etc.) that are completely open-ended (have to be defined from scratch by the player and GM).  So, the open-ended nature of "Body Parts" wasn't a big issue.  In fact, we enjoyed coming up with gonzo ideas for parts. 

    I never saw this article back in the day, but I am guessing I would not have used it much if I had.

  3. Some of my favorite artwork from any issue of Dragon.

  4. Peter V. Dell'OrtoApril 10, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    I remember liking this article. It gave us a lot of ideas for extra body parts, which usually ended up being "I have wings." Plus it made for easy NPC generation.

    I think I'm actually more likely to use this kind of table nowadays. I have much less time, and I'm more likely to roll and see what I get for an NPC than I am to spend tens of minutes thinking of what to give him or her.