Yet Another Gamma World Article
Taking it Seriously
Acknowledging that the necessary elements are there, that Gamma World can be run as an ongoing campaign, the question is how a DM can use those elements without tripping over the obstacles I’ve mentioned. After running a few sessions, I feel comfortable saying that it doesn’t require a lot of heavy modification. A DM merely needs to assume that running a Gamma World campaign is like wandering down the aisles of a liquor store. It’s a fun place to be, but stay just sober enough to watch your step or you’re going to have a lot of broken glass and wasted booze around. Specifically, a DM needs to be careful of the game’s lethality and keep an eye on the skill system. Some DMs might want to slow down level advancement and reduce some of the randomness.
Gamma World actually doesn’t seem to be as lethal as it claims. The game is actually nearly as well-balanced as D&D 4E and the PC’s accuracy and damage are boosted to compensate for a lack of feats and other such boosts and second wind is a minor action and restores half of a character’s maximum hit points rather than a quarter. The reasons for the lethality warnings are that it is difficult to build a well-balanced party, that in-combat healing is almost nonexistent, and because the random element introduced by Alpha Mutations means that the power level of the PCs is always in a state of flux. I actually did have a TPK in my first session that started when the party’s melee defender type (radioactive seismic) developed a stink gland and the rest of the party had to stay away from him, so Alpha Mutation related deaths are possible.
My second session went much better because I scaled down the difficulty of the encounters and limited them to the party’s level or slightly below. For a challenging encounter, I went one level above the party’s level. That’s all it takes. A DM who continues to have problems with lethality even after adjusting encounters could consider adding some form of in-combat healing, such as medical kits or a hovering healer robot that allows a member of the party to heal as a minor action twice per encounter. These are simple fixes but they can make a big difference.
The Skill System
The skill system doesn’t have to be a large problem either. I’ve been using it unmodified and restricting myself to easy and occasionally moderate DCs. For skill challenges, I’ve used low complexity and made sure that there were options for a very broad range of skills. Knowing what skills the party has access to is also helpful. Including several options for bonuses as suggested in the D&D Rules Compendium also helps.
A DM who still finds the skill system problematic for building non-combat encounters might consider two options. First, if a PC ends up with duplicate skills, he can ignore the rule about stacking the modifiers and instead pick a second, related skill. Second, he can allow each character two rolls on the skill chart instead of one and have players reroll all duplications. Again, a simple fix that can make a world of difference.