Thursday, October 21, 2010

Initial Reading of D&D Gamma World Part II

I’ve had the time to finish the D&D Gamma World rulebook and give the included cards a once-over now, so here are the final bullets points about the boxed set that I think traditional gamers would want to know. As the second half of the book is devoted to only three chapters, this entry will be shorter than yesterday’s.

Much of the information contained in these chapters involves 4th edition game mechanics and I don’t have the experience to go into particulars about such things. You’ve undoubtedly either read more on that subject or experienced it first hand—whatever I would add to the discussion would be well-trod ground. I do need to clarify a statement I made yesterday, however. I mentioned that it is my belief that the rules included in D&D Gamma World are a “lite” version. Some folks may have misconstrued that this meant it was a pared down version that would be simpler to run. It’s not. All the mechanics and condition modifiers you expect from 4th edition (move action, slide, push, encounter power, burst, blast, prone, bloodied, melee 1, etc.) are there. If you’re looking for a streamlined set of rules similar to older versions of D&D, you’ll be disappointed. My suspicion that they are a “lite” version was based on the fact that at least one movement condition (charging) is mentioned twice in the rules but no definition of what it means in game terms is provided, something I assume was left out as they were trimming the 4E rules down enough to fit on 13 pages of single column text. With that clarified, let’s move on to the rest of the rulebook’s contents.

* A chapter intended for the Game Master covers the basics of running and creating adventures. A few locations are presented (no more than a few sentences for each); rules about terrain and hazards encountered in Gamma Terra are provided; the concept of experience point budgets for use in creating encounters is explained; conditions such as Blinded, Slowed, Restrained, Stunned, etc. are described; and some general but brief advice to the GM is touched upon. Most of this is probably familiar ground if you’ve read or played 4th edition D&D.

* One chapter is dedicated to monsters, providing instructions on how to read their stats and use them in encounters. The abridged monster catalogue which follows features some of the classic Gamma World mutants in 4th edition format. Most monsters, as is typical in 4th edition, have two variants of different toughness for use against the PCs. The conversions of these monsters to 4th edition is more in spirit than actuality, but this is likely due to the difficulty in making straight adaptations of some of their powers to 4th edition mechanics. The hoop’s ability to turn metal into rubber is a notable case of this: its transmutation power now prevents the target from making a weapon attack until it makes a saving throw. Failed saving throws have a change of destroying Omega tech.

* For the record, the following mutants appear in the rulebook: Arn, Android, Blight, Badder, Blaash, Blood Bird, Dabber, Fen, Gren, Hoop, Horl Choo, Kai Lin, Menarl, Obb, Orlen, Parn, Porker^, Robot (Guardbot)^, Robot, Eradicator MK 3^, Sep, Serf, Sleeth, Soul Besh, Terl, and Yexil. ^ denotes a new monster. I suspect that the two expansion sets will include more classic mutants updated to 4th edition.

* The book concludes with an introductory adventure for five 1st level characters. Entitled “Steading of the Iron King,” the adventure takes the party to a badder fortress to find out why robots are emerging from it and blowing up just outside of town on a regular basis. The adventure features 8 encounters, all of which are combat encounters that take place at one of the locations provided on the two double-sided battle mats provided with the game.

* The Alpha Mutation and Omega Tech cards contain a mix of classic powers or items and new creations. Most but not all are combat-related. Each contains all the information needed to adjudicate the power or item in play, as well as serving as an indicator as to whether or not you’ve used that card (a la M:tG, cards to “tapped” or turned sideways upon use). It is effectively a part of your character sheet.

* In the comments to yesterday’s post, it was asked whether or not the cards could be replaced by a random table. The answer is yes, but it would be too much work with minimal pay-off. Making that change would mean that you would have to consult a master reference sheet (which you would have to make yourself, as all the mutations’/items’ powers are listed solely on the cards themselves and not in the rulebook) and copy the information down onto your character sheet. But if you’re playing by the rules as written, this information would be constantly changing, meaning you’d be doing a lot of erasing. The game is designed to utilize the card system and encourage deck building by the players and game master. The option is given that, instead of each player having his or her own deck, everyone draws from the game master’s deck. This is why I stated that a creative, home-brewing game master could get along fine without ever buying more cards: a stack of index cards, a pen, and some good ideas would save him money and consistently surprise the players.

That concludes my impressions of D&D Gamma World based entirely upon the read-through alone. I’ve already developed an overall opinion of the game but I’ll wait until I play a bit before putting it down in writing. I will state that I was more impressed with the game itself than I expected I’d be and that there are several neat ideas here. I’m a sucker for unusual or innovative game features and their presence here softened my attitude towards this edition of Gamma World. Look for a final round up in the weeks to come depending on when my home group gets a chance to take this out for a post-apocalyptic romp.


Anonymous said...

Nice review! I'm going to head out to buy this game now. Looks like a blast!

Anonymous said...

I can understand there being a negative opinion of the collectible aspect, but what, really, is wrong with having powers on cards rather than on a list or in a book? Cards sound to me like they wold be the most convenient way to handle this part of the game, and I don't see why it should be done in another way. Purely tradition?

BigFella said...


I'm a little proud of my Gamma grognardness in that I can read that list of included mutant monsters and call the images of most of the classics to mind without having to look 'em up.

The card mechanic doesn't bother me in and of itself. I've been pondering a deck based version of the mutation tables for a while. I like the metaphor of it, playing with the cards you're dealt.

I have more of an issue with the whole randomly changing character abilities from encounter to encounter. I almost think it's a deal breaker.

I guess it's from me still thinking of RPG characters as literary characters, as opposed to video game characters. A character in a book may undergo changes, but rarely from paragraph to paragraph. On the other hand Mario, for example, can go from a mushroom crushing giant to a guy who throws fireballs to a glass jawed dwarf to a flying raccoon from powerup to powerup. Perfectly valid as a play style, I suppose, but not my bag.

I think I'm also experiencing a bit of lingering dislike of CCG's influencing my perceptions. Seeing the phrase "deck building" in relation to a tabletop RPG's like pouring a dollop of chocolate sauce into a nice tall glass of orange juice for me.

JB said...

Wow. I guess I'm just a jerk, but I read what the game has to offer (thanks for the thoughtful review), and it looks like a big pile of shit to me.

But already gave 'em your money so I won't harp on it. I would be interested in an "actual play" review. I suppose that would really show how playable or "fun" the game is.

JB said...

Hmmm...I didn't really mean to put " " around fun. I AM interested in knowing if playing D&D GW results in a fun gaming experience!
: )

pseckler said...

I put together a house rule on when and why Alpha Mutations change. I agree that it doesn't really make sense to have them flux every encounter. To break it down: in my version "there's no set schedule.." If the characters run across an area where alien mutagens or a clutch of xenomorphic larva happen to be thriving- they might experience an Alpha Flux at that time. It also works well with existing D&D monsters (so far I've run encounters that included hyena, giant spiders, rats, a tangler beetle, a storm shard, and zombies).

thekelvingreen said...

Hmmmm... the first part of your review had me intrigued, but it looks like much of the combat bias from D&D4 has made it into the game, so perhaps I'm not so interested after all.