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…