Monday, 18 October 2010

D&D Gamma World [Review]


Sometimes RPGs can be a tad too serious. Obviously Tunnels and Trolls, the roleplaying love of my life, is a humourous game, but many games can be not all that lighthearted. So it's refreshing to get my hands on a mainstream game that is high quality and hilarious to boot. D&D Gamma World is that game.

Gamma World has been around for aeons, first published by TSR in 1978 as a sci-fi alternative to Dungeons and Dragons. Now in its seventh iteration, Gamma World brings the bizarre post-apocalyptic world to a new legion of gamers, not least because it's directly tied to the 4th edition D&D rules. It's tradition in each new edition of Gamma World to change the origin story of why the world is now a nuked wasteland, and this is no different. Appealing to real-world events, this new edition tells the story of how the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva brought together hundreds of universes with their own timelines simultaneously. This would come to be known as The Big Mistake. In most of the timelines nuclear war had occurred, so when the merged realities finally stabilised what was left was a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of bizarre creatures and alien technology.

So what do you get for your hard-earned money? Gamma World comes in a nice box with some gorgeous artwork. Inside everything is compact; you get a 160 page rulebook, 2 beautiful double-sides maps, 2 card stock sheets of push-out monster tokens, 4 character sheets and 80 cards as well as an 8 card booster. The box could have probably been smaller, expecially because the rulebook is a very compact size, unlike the D&D core rules, but all in all it's nicely presented.

The game itself is powered by 4th edition D&D, so if you're already familiar with 4e rules then you can whizz through a fair chunk of the book. The main feature in Gamma World has to be character creation. Unlike 4e, rolling up a character here is fast and easy. There aren't pages of powers to pour over and you certainly don't have to plan your character's career path. Here you roll twice on an origin table to get your primary and secondary origins. You see, Gamma World isn't about fighters, clerics and wizards; it's all about the freaky mutants. You could end up being a cat person that fires electricity, a yeti who can use the force, or even a swarm of duplicting rats. Some people will be put off straight away by the silliness, but it's refreshing to see a modern RPG that just says "screw it, I'm going to have wacky fun".

One of the first things that a D&D 4e veteran will notice is the lack of powers for each character. Each origin has a power to begin with, so you will begin with two. However, this is where the cards come in. There are Alpha Mutation and Omega Tech cards in the 80 card deck. Alpha Mutations occur at the beginning of each encounter, when the player rolls a 1 and optionally after an extended rest. This requires drawing a card from the Alpha Mutation deck and 'readying it'. These are encounter powers that disappear once used. Having these random mutations, which could make you telepathic, able to manipulate gravity or maybe grow new arms, makes up for the lack of powers your characters have. What's more is that youcan choose to 'overcharge' the power by rolling a d20. A roll of 10 or more means that power has a more powerful effect, but 9 or less means an epic fail. So you could end up with four arms or none at all, depending on how you roll. Omega Tech is similarly drawn from the deck (either your contructed deck or the GM's) when the GM says so. Some of these are incredibly powerful, so you can see how deadly a game Gamma World is, especially as you don't get healing surges like in D&D 4e. If you are of the required level, you can salvage the weapon; meaning you can keep it but it has a weaker effect. Drawing mutation and tech cards lends some randomness to the game, since you don't know what may happen to you next. Players can build their own decks to suit their character, which at least puts a bit more strategy into a fairly chaotic game.

Don't expect long campaigns in Gamma World, as the level cap is 10 (although there are some home-rules for levels 11-20 on the interwebs) and levelling is quick as characters only need 1000xp for the majority of the levels. Also, you'll be dying quite a bit, I reckon, so it's a good job characters are quick to roll up.

The rules also include a pretty uninspiring adventure which is basically a series of encounters. My GM has chosen to skip running this and write his own, but let me know how you got on if you have played it. The book also contains some monster stat blocks with some nice looking art. You can even import D&D 4e monsters into your game, since they use exactly the same stats, which means that your Monster Manuals are now handy for two games.

D&D Gamma World is a balls-to-the-walls game that doesn't take itself too seriously. Being able to roll up characters quickly and randomly is great for the feel of the game, but it may put off those players who like optimisation. However, if you're looking for post-apocalyptic fun where anything is possible, you should really invest in this game. There are two expansions on the horison promising new adventures, monsters and, most importantly, origins. Apparently the game is selling well so hopefully there will be some official support by Wizards in the long run, but I wouldn't count on it. Either way, Gamma World will certianly be supported by eager fans.