Taking the Game Seriously

November 6, 2010

Yet Another Gamma World Article

Fast Leveling

This isn’t necessarily a problem for all, but it does set an upper limit on how long your campaign can go on. As it stands, if you include quest XP and build balanced encounters, the PCs will probably gain about two levels every three sessions. That seems to be the pace my group is running on. That means that the campaign will end after fifteen weeks. That may be enough for most groups.

DMs who want more should consider simply using the XP table from D&D 4E instead of the one from Gamma World. The monster XP is the same in either case, but the Gamma World values for each level are half what they are in 4E. Doing so should extend the length of the campaign to around six months on average.


Like fast level advancement, randomness does not have to be a problem. I haven’t change the randomness at all and my game is going just fine. I know that there are those who believe that random character generation precludes role-playing and character development, but I’m not one of them. I remember a time when all characters were randomly generated in D&D and we did just fine. In fact, random character generation can provide a good change of pace. A good role-player can find a way to play anything and it is a refreshing challenge to have to create a personality and a back-story for something you didn’t create. In fact, some folks who have trouble writing characters actually thrive when given a character to role-play. Constraints and limitations facilitate imagination and creativity by providing a starting point rather than a blank slate.

The randomness is also the easiest to remove, at least from character generation. It’s simply a matter of letting people choose their origins and skills. For ability scores, a DM can let people roll 4d6 for each ability score and drop the lowest. Or he can allow people to use an array. I suggest allowing players to use either ’14, 12, 11, 8′ or ’14, 13, 12, 11, 8′ as their arrays depending on whether they need to fill in four scores or five based on their origins.

Alpha Mutations can be left alone. But the DM who wants to rein in some of that craziness can let players build their own decks (as described in the Gamma World rules). The group can either buy booster packs or just divvy up the cards that came with the game. After that, the DM just has to ignore the rules that determine whether a player draws from his own deck or the DM’s deck and always allow the player to draw from his own.

And Finally, Humor

Gamma World is playable as a serious RPG out of the box, provided the DM is aware of a few of the minor obstacles that the game includes. If the DM keeps those few things in mind, there is no reason why he can’t build a campaign as he would for any other RPG. I’m about to enter the third session of my Gamma World campaign and the story already has my players hooked. I’ve used skill challenges, including a modified elite trap from the 4E rules, and we’ve had plenty of role-playing and story development. The first adventure is drawing to a close and the plot twist that will set up the next is about to be revealed.

But still, there are a few folks who have asked me how I can possibly run a serious story in a game that emphasizes humor and absurdity. They assume I must have stripped away the craziness. I haven’t. My game is effectively a comedy-drama and there are some very challenging themes and moral dilemmas. But the topic of combining drama and humor is a tricky one and it deserves a discussion of its own. So I will discuss it in Part 2 of Taking the Game Seriously.

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5 Responses to Taking the Game Seriously

  1. FlashbackJon on November 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Utterly fantastic article – I’m firmly in the circle of folks who like to combine comedy and drama in their games.

    And this line could not be more true: “A good role-player can find a way to play anything and it is a refreshing challenge to have to create a personality and a back-story for something you didn’t create.”

  2. BeefGriller on November 8, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    I recently bought Gamma World, so haven’t had a chance to dig thoroughly through it yet. However, I am well aware of the deadliness of the setting and the short life expectancy of the PCs. Now, I can see how this can become a problem for any long-term campaign plans. However, it would seem to me that, as long as the players are aware of this fact, there should be no problem with creating a continuous campaign such a setting. I know of several fantasy RPG campaigns in which I have been involved that have had a revolving door for both players and PCs. Why should a futuristic post-apocalyptic campaign be any different? As long as the GM is up-front about this, the players should be more than capable of coming up with a simple, continuity-safe background for a new PC. After all, the setting itself allows for it, right?

  3. Omega on December 23, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    Nice semi-review of the game and some well presented thoughts on how to move the game into a more serious, yet not too serious line that allows for more depth.

    Reading the book, from a game designer viewpoint. What we have is really three or more diffrent games. One is someones idea of kill-em-all slapstick – like Gammarauders did. The other is someones idea of deadly serious, seen allmost entirely in the art direction – which is nigh the diametric opposite of funny. And then there is whoever was writing the the actual rules, which takes the middle ground – neither one nor the other.

    Add to that the budget cuts the game was under and the remnants of some other game concept that linger, and the whole thing becomes a potential mess. Or at the very least a possible problem in getting players to even give it a chance.

  4. grickherd on March 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I’ve been running an ongoing Gamma World campaign since the game came out. We are about half way through. I’m a low prep/high improv DM and let the players largely set the direction of the campaign.

    They ended up choosing to ostensibly join the Iron Society. They’re not actually genocidal mutant-supremacists, but bringing the Iron Society in seemed like the best way to deal with the nearby Knights of Genetic Purity. So the game has a lot of very gritty and morally grey moments where they are basically pointing two genocidal groups at one another and making a few towns into battlefields.

    The PCs are also the victim of their own success. Their heroism in terms of saving a few towns from rampaging AIs and mind controlling aliens has won favor for the Iron Society. So more and more of the locals are polarizing based on how human or mutated they look as these famous heroes seem to be representing a rather racist position.

    So we’ve had the tongue in cheek and the zany, but we’ve also had moral dilemmas about ends justifying the means, civilian casualties, terrorism and racism.

  5. […] to get a better understanding of the history of Gamma World, I suggest you read Angry DM's post "Taking the Game Seriously" and an analysis that he links to from there: "Gamma World: Over 30 Years of I Have No Idea What Is […]

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