Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Future is Then

I’ve been tinkering around with my idea for a Gamma World hex crawl game again in an attempt to downshift my brain away from the dungeon. Gamma World is a nice place to return to when the fantasy well starts to run dry and I need to relax and go a little “crazy go bananas” to compensate. I’m fairly certain that nothing will ever come of this setting but that doesn’t keep me from retreating there when I’m in need of sanctuary.

I’m still trying to hash out what the overall atmosphere of the hex crawl would be. Gamma World tends to have a gonzo reputation – one that’s hard to deny – but, with the right direction, it could be a gritty, merciless world just as easily. The more that I think about it, the more I realize that I’m biased toward the traditional gonzo method of play, largely due to the fact that I first was exposed to Gamma World in 1981.

One of the strengths of Gamma World is that it makes no apologies for being a product of its time period. I’m not speaking merely about the fact that it was written during a time when the long shadow of the Bomb still fell across the world. I’m instead referring to Gamma World’s tendency to embrace anachronisms as part of the overall game setting. Seeing how Gamma World was set almost 500 years in the future from the time it first appeared, it would have been all too easy to make that post-apocalyptic world totally alien from the time of its birth; to fill it completely with futuristic devices and make it unrecognizable to the players. Rather than go that path, Jim Ward and Gary Jaquet kept just enough of the then modern world to serve as touchstones for the players to identify with. A look at the Treasure List is the strongest indicator of this design plan. There we find such everyday devices as a manual typewriter, an office copying machine, a ballpoint pen, and a pencil sharpener. Even in 1978, it wouldn’t be difficult to guess that the world might see some improvement over these technologies in 500 years.

Honestly, I enjoy the fact that Gamma World is littered with anachronisms. It’s a facet of the game that’s just as important to the overall game world as death machines, life leech, and Mark V blasters. One of the reasons that the d20 version of Gamma World didn’t resonate as strongly with me was because there was an attempt to update the pre-apocalyptic world to conform to our advances in technology. This is a personal bias, one born from my brain firmly entrenching Gamma World in the late 1970s and early 80s, but I’m certain I’m not the only one with the mindset.

If I was to run Gamma World now, I would make an attempt to firmly ground the game in the time of its origin and to present an even greater retro-future world to explore. Some of the technologies found by the characters would be out of date even for the players, but indicative of the time period that spawned the game. Perhaps in some alternate history timeline, the 8-track tape remained the apex of music technology, synthetic materials became the preferred medium for manufactured clothing (making yexils everywhere happy), and Betamax proved to be the greatest advancement in audio/video recording. There’s a certain appeal to the mental image of a band of mutants roaming the wasteland in a custom ’77 Chevy G-Series (complete with airbrushed painting of a topless Valkyrie riding a saber-toothed bear on the side) while listening to Earth, Wind & Fire on 8-track that’s hard to deny.

And masers. One can’t forget masers…

20 comments:

Wayne Rossi said...

Totally agree with what you're saying here. People keep talking about GW's crazy-go-nuts gonzo feel as if it's a bug. It's a feature. Jim Ward designed the game, and has more than a bit of the weird and the campy humor in him.

Having said that, I recently read Hiero's Journey and would be interested in a post-apoc game that fit more into the serious, highly lethal world Lanier drew. But I don't think trying to make GW fit is quite the answer.

Timeshadows said...

100% agreement.


I want that '77 G. :D

Anonymous said...

I, too, dig the retro-futurism now implied by some of the settings created in the 80's. My personal preference is to play them without adding in technologies or even concepts not present when the setting was created.

I also want to point out "Encounter: Critical", which I saw as kind of a ode-game to the crazy-bananas feel of Gamma World and maybe some of the Palladium books. Good for a larf!

sirlarkins said...

I too am about ready to get back into my own post-apocalyptic sandbox schemes as an antidote for D&D overload.

Question: what resources are there by way of random tables in the vein of the DMG or the Ready Ref Sheets for use in such settings? I've never had a chance to look at the earlier editions of GW--did they have charts of that nature?

Christopher B said...

"...a band of mutants roaming the wasteland in a custom ’77 Chevy G-Series (complete with airbrushed painting of a topless Valkyrie riding a saber-toothed bear on the side) while listening to Earth, Wind & Fire on 8-track..."

See, now it's mental images like this that make me want to sit down and play some old school, damn-the-anachronisms Gamma World right now.

Amityville Mike said...

But I don't think trying to make GW fit is quite the answer.

I agree. I've tried to monkey with GW to make it into a more traditional post-apocalyptic game setting and, while it can be done, I think you lose a lot in doing so. If I was going to run something more akin to the Hiero novels, I'd probably go with GURPS plus a whole bunch of sourcebooks to flesh it out.

Amityville Mike said...

I want that '77 G. :D

It's a pretty sweet ride to rule the wastelands with.

Amityville Mike said...

I also want to point out "Encounter: Critical", which I saw as kind of a ode-game to the crazy-bananas feel of Gamma World and maybe some of the Palladium booksThat was pretty much my take on EC when I first read it. And while I think EC is a pretty good gonzo game, GW has the advantage of actually being written in the time of gonzo games and not an homage to them. I think you can go really crazy with EC but I'm always going to choose GW given the option.

Chris T said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amityville Mike said...

Question: what resources are there by way of random tables in the vein of the DMG or the Ready Ref Sheets for use in such settings?

1E GW is pretty light on random tables for the ref. Outside of a set to randomly determine artifacts, a couple of random wildrness encounter charts, and the Treasure List (consisting of non-artifact items), there's not much else. Even things like stocking ruins and determining what loot the monsters might have is left entirely up to the GM rather than a set of tables.

I don't remember if 2E has anything along those lines and there are a few Dragon articles that introduce some random charts for the ref, but mostly GW is ref's-fiat to determine what's where and when it happens. If I ever get a chance, I'm going to set up a bunch of Wilderlands-type tables for hex-crawling but that has a slim chance of happening in the far foreseeable future.

Amityville Mike said...

See, now it's mental images like this that make me want to sit down and play some old school, damn-the-anachronisms Gamma World right now.

I told you that mental picture's got some pull to it!

Chris T said...

sirlarkins, on the right hand side of this blog is a list of GW tables and stuff created and collated by Kellri.

BigFella said...

2E had a treasure table, but it was stocked with a lot of weird futuristic doodads that were up to the GM to define. Stuff like "Half Ton Magnyl Chorts" or "Portable Gremlin". 1st ED had some great stuff in the treasure table, like the flattened tuba and the bag of polyhedral dice.

You could just get a Sears Catalog and random roll for the page number to flip to. I bet you could dig up a 70's era one for extra verisimilitude.

The beauty of Gamma World is you could set the date of the apocalypse whenever. Heck, look at "Fallout" or "Six String Samurai" where they set the big one in the 1950's. It definitely alters the flavor of the campaign based on what artifacts the characters are dredging up...

noburo said...

Hey, I remember that tuba! And wasn't there a sealed set of AD&D rulebooks on the treasure charts as well?

In my first (and only) GW 1e campaign (back in '88 or so), one of the characters was a walking shrub... and another was a telepathic fungal growth on the shrub's branches. We figured they had a symbiotic relationship of some sort. And they went blasting monsters.

Chris K said...

Re: random tables

Don't forget the Dragon magazine table of random mutations, featuring the astonishing 6 meter prehensile tongue.

Lord Kilgore said...

I never actually played GW, and I'll totally admit that part of the reason was that at the time I thought it was sort of cheesy for all of these "cool gonzo" reasons everyone is talking about. I wanted something more serious.

Now, looking back, I have no idea why. This all sound like so much fun.

kelvingreen said...

Yep, sounds brilliant. I know of Mutant Future, but is there no retro-clone for 1e Gamma World?

Andreas Davour said...

In my first (and only) GW 1e campaign (back in '88 or so), one of the characters was a walking shrub... and another was a telepathic fungal growth on the shrub's branches. We figured they had a symbiotic relationship of some sort. And they went blasting monsters.
Awesome! :) what is there not to love about that?

Vanadorn said...

Star Frontiers. Alpha Dawn.

Conan the RPG

and Boot Hill.


If you are going to flesh out the TSR late 70's/early 80's aternate games. I could go for some Alpha Dawn playing soon with the adventuring ameoba people. And the things with the flaps between their arms.

Just Duckie said...

"Star Frontiers. Alpha Dawn.

Conan the RPG

and Boot Hill."
man, Star Frontiers takes me back!