Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Countdown to Armageddon

The Labyrinth Lord game is gradually reaching the point where it is almost self-perpetuating. With the amount of game prep slowly dwindling each week, I’m finding I have more time to dedicate to a “fall cleaning,” wiping out a laundry list of multi-tasking attempts that have inhibited me making advancements. Many things are still outstanding, but progress has been made and I feel like I’m gradually getting a handle on my life again. Maybe I can get back to writing posts of greater substance again soon.

As I mentioned some time back, it has become my intention to follow up the Labyrinth Lord campaign with a Gamma World game sometime next year. To that end I’ve had to make a decision regarding what edition I’ll be running before I can start the groundwork needed using Rob Conley’s step-by-step sandbox generation scheme. Normally, picking an edition of a game is not too large of a task. After all, even the oldest of rpgs has only four editions to choose from, right? If you follow the party line, that is.

Not so with good old Gamma World, for I own every edition of the game that’s currently available. For those of you ill-versed in Gamma World’s publishing history, that consists of roughly seven versions (with an eighth on the way). There’s the 1978 original by Ward and Jaquet, which was followed by a clarified second edition in 1983. Three years later saw a 3rd edition that made use of one of those universal colored result tables which had infected nearly every game TSR was putting out at that time. In 1992, a version that introduced character classes and 2nd edition D&D-esque rules was released (including what I believe was the first use of ascending armor class—that favorite old school beating horse—in a TSR game). In 2000, a Gamma World source book for the Alternity rules was released—one month after Wizards of the Coast announced it was killing the Alternity line. Gamma World would see two versions released in 2002. One was a d20 mini-game called “Omega World” that appeared in the pages of Dungeon/Polyhedron magazine in September. In November, Sword & Sorcery Studios released a d20 Modern version of the game. Next month, WotC will be releasing a version that looks to be based on the 4th Edition D&D rules with a collectable card element. As you can see, this gives me quite a selection to choose from.

In addition to official Gamma World editions, I also own two versions of Metamorphosis Alpha: the revised 1st edition PDF by WardCo and the 25th anniversary edition produced by Fast Forward Entertainment. And then there’s Mutant Future as well.

Luckily, despite the plethora (“It’s a sweater!”) of choices, for my purposes it actually just boils down to two: 1st or 2nd edition. The 3rd edition’s color chart wasn’t a favorite back in ’86 and Gamma World with classes just feels wrong to me, which removes 4th edition from the running. I’ve never played Alternity and I’m not about to start now, and my avoidance of d20 systems in whatever form easily dismisses Omega World and Sword & Sorcery’s take on the tile. Plus, I never really kindled to SSS’s version of Gamma Terra.

So with two editions in the running, what am I to do? Rather than pit them against one another in Thunderdome (which would be appropriate, but costly to construct and the attempt to get two inanimate books to fight might earn me a trip to the Shady Valley Asylum), I’m currently doing a point-by-point comparison of the rule systems to see where they diverge. This effort has been rather eye-opening and surprising.
I initially thought that I’d run 1st edition with a few elements of 2nd edition thrown it. I figured that by starting with the earliest true edition of Gamma World, I could go down my own path and “imagine the hell out of it” like we in the old school seem fond of doing. In truth, the differences between the two versions aren't all that many and the 2nd edition does do an excellent job of clarifying certain rules without altering them too much. It seems that it would be far easier to adopt the few rules from 1st edition that were cut from the 2nd rather than try things the other way around.

The only change that rankles me was the alteration to the reaction table between the two systems. The original edition uses what became the Moldvay 2d6 chart, which I can adjudicate in my sleep, while the 2nd edition uses a d20-based table. I considered swapping the two, but after breaking down the particulars and various modifiers, it’d be easier just to stick with the table as is in 2nd edition.

Amongst the discoveries I found in carefully re-reading the 2nd edition of Gamma World was the fact that I was incorrectly rolling random mutations back when I played this version in the ‘80s (it turns out you’re supposed to add your CON score to the d% roll when determining your initial Physical mutations and your INT score when rolling for Mental mutations, which is something we never did.) There’s also an extremely simple but effective rule for knocking out opponents, one that can easily be used in D&D if you’re tired of house ruling or using the tables in the DMG to adjudicate such matters. As much as I love the flow charts for figuring out artifacts from 1st edition, I will admit that from my own testing the 2nd edition version is simpler and cleaner (and possibly a bit more lethal).

Despite my decision to use the 2nd edition as the default rule system, you simply must expect that I’ll be bolting on what I consider the missing pieces to it. Combat fatigue, missing from 2nd edition will return, as will experience points. I intend to keep the Rank system of 2nd edition, but that will measure the PCs status and renown in the wasteland. Experience points will affect level and the associated bonuses gained randomly from advancing.

I’ll be cherry-picking from the other versions as well. One of the things that I did enjoy from the 3rd edition was that mutated plants became an official character choice. I intended to reintroduce them, but wasn’t looking forward to trying to convert them from the CSR table to standard rules. They appear in 4th edition which makes them closer to the base line, but there’s still too much extra information for my taste. Thankfully, Mutant Future has a version that works almost perfectly with 2nd edition, as well as providing rules for android PCs that will also be stolen. I prefer 4th edition’s increased number of Tech Levels (from 0-VI over I-III in 2nd edition) so I’ll be using that method of grading technology and settlements’ knowledge and possession of such. The Alternity version has some nice maps of settlements and encounter sites that I’ll be taking, and I’m sure I find something from Sword & Sorcery Studios splat books to steal (maybe that Maliszewski character has got something useful to contribute in Out of the Vaults). I will most certainly be utilizing every random post-apocalyptic “treasure” table from all the editions.

I actually very excited about this prospect. I’ve had a half-baked scheme for years about dismantling Gamma World’s various versions to build my own comprehensive homebrewed mutation and now it seems like it will finally come true. To document both this process and my building of a radioactive sandbox to play in next year, I intend to do occasional posts regarding Gamma World. Not only will I cover my efforts to follow Rob’s step-by-step sandbox creation method, leaving out certain information to avoid spoiling the campaign, but I’ll be looking at various sources of inspiration and may even give a complete cover-to-cover break down of 1st and 2nd edition Gamma World for those of you wishing to know the strength, weaknesses, and differences of both systems. All of these posts will appear under the header of “Countdown to Armageddon” (ain’t I a wit?). Look for more in the near future starting with a re-evaluation of The Godfather of post-apocalyptic movies, The Road Warrior (or Mad Max 2 for you non-Americans).


Fenway5 said...

You can check out my post-apoc game and download the player book free at http://collapserpg.blogspot.com/

Jay said...

I pre-ordered the latest 4E version because I really think the current powers-based system would work well with the setting. I think it would work well for a supers game too.

All that said, your post was very enlightening and helped sort out the edition confusion I've long had about GW and now I feel like I should track down 1st and 2nd editions.

Scott said...

After having perused the excellent Stonehell, I almost wish you'd do something similar with the Starship Warden. I think it lends itself well to variations on the 1-page dungeon and wilderness templates. If you don't, I might.

Risus Monkey said...

Awesome. I'm currently in a bit of a post-apocalyptic mood and I've got an itch to run something similar.

Vanadorn said...

Tell me when - I'd like to play.

'Nuff said.


Michael Curtis said...

After having perused the excellent Stonehell, I almost wish you'd do something similar with the Starship Warden. I think it lends itself well to variations on the 1-page dungeon and wilderness templates. If you don't, I might.

You see, you really shouldn't suggest such things to me because then I almost feel obligated to do them. Especially since it's such a goof suggestion.

However, I think I'd feel a little like a fraud if I were to take on Starship Warden, for I've never actually played a game of M.A. Read, yes. Played, no. I think I'd feel better leaving such a Herculean task to someone with a better pedigree.

With that said, you suggestion does stike me as something that could be applied to a ruined city rather than a starship. I've had an itch to populate the Forgotten City from the Dwellers of the Forbidden CIty module by using numerous one-page write-ups. I'm sure I could apply the same technique to a post-apocalyptic ruin. Consider that officially on the list of projects that bear further thought.

Michael Curtis said...

Tell me when - I'd like to play.

Unless things take a sudden turn for the worst in the Labyrinth Lord campaign, I predict that Gamma World will begin around this time next year.

Lord Bodacious said...

We're kicking off a big, kooky, Multi-DM Gamma World Jammalamma here in New York, first game is tomorrow!

I'll let you know if/when we get some decent play reports, tweak threads going. Would love to get your insight, and will surely keeping an eye on your thoughts here.

Brunomac said...

I still have fond memories of GW in the ancient past. Not having a copy these days, I tried a few Mutant Future sessions. They came off a bit more silly than I would have liked, but that might have more to do with me than not having a copy of GW. I'm going to run the next session of that serious as a heart attack. In other words, I'm not going to run it as a GM who is "in on the joke."

Brutorz Bill said...

Love Gamma World (like my handle doesn't tell you that already), looking forward to your campaign notes. Stonehell is great, would love to see you do something similar for Gamma World, not the Starship Warden per se, but a ruined city or vault would Rock!!

Adam Thornton said...

Well, what the hell are you waiting for?

Jim Ward's running Metamorphosis Alpha at Garycon, you know.

I played in it last year.


It was an exciting and humbling experience. He looks and sounds so sincerely sad when he kills you horribly.

Greg said...

I too am planning a Gamma World game using 1st and 2nd Edition. As I'm currently awaiting my 1st Edition rulebook to come via Ebay, I found your post informative. I'm going with 1st/2nd Edition and adding a few quirks like a magic system. More Fantasy in flavor than Science, but has that weird element to it, borrowing from HP Lovecraft. I just started a blog about it, you are more than welcome to drop by and visit. :)