Showing posts with label Gamma World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gamma World. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Retrospective: Wizards of the Coast's Gamma World

Gamma World for Alternity
Yesterday, I discussed the various editions of TSR's Gamma World. In 1997 Wizards of the Coast, flush full of cash from their runaway hit Magic: The Gathering, bought TSR and all their debt, becoming the owner of everything TSR had ever produced. This famously included Dungeons & Dragons, but also Gamma World. They would then produce some new editions of this game as well.

Each edition here uses a different set of rules, and are not exactly compatible with each other.

Fifth Edition (2000)

This edition of Gamma World was designed for the Sci-fi game Alternity. I'll have much more to say about that when I do my review and deep dive into Alternity later this month.

But like all the Alternity titles, this one is out of print and unavailable from DriveThruRPG. Thankfully, I still have my own copy.

This edition is notable for also (like the 3rd Edition) not being compatible with the then-current edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  This one appeared at the end of the AD&D 2nd edition era and right before the D&D 3.0 era. 

Gamma Worlds

Omega World
Omega World (2002)

This was an adaptation of the d20 rules to play a Gamma World-like mini-game. It appeared in Dungeon Magazine #94 and was a stand-alone affair. It is the odd child of the Gamma World family, and that is saying something, but it is a rather fun game in a tight little package.

This requires the D&D 3.0 game to play, not the d20 Modern Rules which would not be released for another month or so.

Sixth Edition (2003-2005)

Along with Ravenloft, Wizards of the Coast had Arthaus, an imprint of White Wolf, create the d20 Edition of Gamma World. This was a fairly robust edition with both a Player's Handbook and a Game Master's Guide. A Machines and Mutants book was also released, mimicking the classic three book format D&D has always used. 

That is not the only way it mimicked D&D. This version of Gamma World used the d20 Modern rules, making it to this point the most compatible with the then-current D&D (3.5). It also made it compatible with all of Wizard's of the Coast's d20 Future line, which included some materials from both Alternity and Star Frontiers. It was also compatible with WotC's d20 Star Wars.

The book titles are a little misleading. The Player's Handbook has the setting information. Character creation and most of the rules are still in the d20 Modern book, needed to play. The Game Master's Guide is less about running a Gamma World game and more about running any sort of RPG. The Machines and Mutants book, aka the Monster Manual, is pretty much what it says it is. 

Gamma World 6e Player's HandbookGamma World 6e Machines and MutantsGamma World 6e Game Master's Guide

Wizards of the Coast sought cohesion in the Alternity line, which they achieved by accident in the d20 era. This also means that the Omega World game is 100% (or 95-99%) compatible with this.

In truth, this is a solid edition that makes some solid attempts at updating the Gamma World mythology to better suit 21st-century technology and genetics. 

While it is not perfect, it is very playable and it was always in the back of my mind when I tried out various d20 sci-fi games.

Gamma World 7e
Seventh Edition (2010)

Gamma World came back again, and this time in-house at Wizards of the Coast. Gamma World 7th Edition was built on the same rules as D&D 4th Edition, and they are quite compatible in that respect. Gamma World characters tend to be more powerful and more random as befitting the nature of the genre. 

I know the least about this game. Though I did watch some people play it at Gen Con 2011 when it was released, and it looked fun, I'm not sure it felt like Gamma World to me. But I don't deny the people playing it had a good time. 

If Gamma World 6e was a serious grimdark post-apoc setting, then this one returned to its weird roots. I think this is one of the reasons I like 6e better than 7e. Also, I think the D&D4 rules, while I am fine with them for D&D4, don't click with me here.  The cards seemed a step too much for me.  Though I am equally certain I could mine this for ideas.


All editions though can be great fun, if you are willing to ignore the fact that levels of radiation talked about in these games would just kill everyone and not really make them mutants. But that is why they are Science Fantasy and not Science Fiction per se. None of that matters, though; the real reason here is to play a radioactive plant ape that speaks in a Cajun accent and swings a stop sign as a weapon.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Retrospective: TSR's Gamma World

Gamma World 2nd edition
A while back, I reviewed TSR's First Edition of the post-apocalyptic science fantasy RPG Gamma World

Since I am focusing this year on the 50th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, it is only fitting that I spend so much time with its sister game, Gamma World. There are currently seven editions of Gamma World, all following the same general theme: It is the 25th Century, and the Earth has been nearly destroyed by some global cataclysm. The nature of this cataclysm and the amount of humanity that survived changes from edition to edition. 

All editions of Gamma World are credited to James M. Ward and Gary Jaquet. It was based on Ward's earlier sci-fi game, Metamorphosis Alpha. MA would give us Gamma World and the AD&D adventure Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

The remnants of humanity and other beings now struggle to survive in a harsh and mutated world filled with bizarre creatures, dangerous mutants, and remnants of advanced technology. 

Like Dungeons & Dragons, players take on the roles of adventurers exploring this radioactive wasteland. They can choose from various mutant characters with unique abilities, ranging from humanoid animals and plant people to cyborgs and psychic mutants. 

Characters adventure in abandoned, destroyed cities, looking for the remains of civilization or something to survive in the wasteland. 

In many, many ways, Gamma World IS Dungeons & Dragons. There is no magic, but there are high-tech, weird radiation and psychic powers. Making Gamma World into a D&D world is not a stretch. The 1st and 2nd edition rules are similar enough to Basic-era and AD&D 1st editions to make translations easy. In fact, the 1st edition of the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide has conversion guidelines. Gamma World 4th edition is also very close to AD&D 2nd edition to make translations there east too. Dragon Magazine #183 has a conversion guideline for Gamma Word 4th edition and AD&D 2nd edition.

First Edition (1978)

I reviewed this one in detail a while back. It is also the one I am most familiar with. 

Second Edition (1983)

This was one of the more popular versions of the game, coming out at the height of classic D&D's popularity. While I mentioned it is compatible with AD&D 1st edition, it has more in common with the Red Box D&D Basic that came out around the same time. It even came with the same sort of dice as the Basic sets. Considering that GW1 most closely resembles the Moldvay Basic set, this is not a surprise. 

Gamma World 2nd edition is compatible with GW 1st edition, and is generally the same rules expanded and cleared up. Even the adventures and products for this game kept the same numbering codes from 1st edition. 

This edition is expanded over GW1 and includes an introductory adventure. There are few more "monsters" in this one as well, but I'd need to set them side by side to figure out which ones are new.

Gamma World 3rd Edition
Third Edition (1986)

This version of Gamma World also expands on the earlier editions. Notable setting changes include doubling the number of humans that died in the apocalypse and the rules have changed. While characters are still generated the same way and all the stat blocks look similar there is an addition of an "Action Table" for rolling outcomes. The feel is similar to what we see in 1st Edition Chill from Pacesetter and TSR's own Marvel Super Heroes RPG's FASERIP system.  The system requires only a d6 and a d10. There are notes on how to use to generate other types of dice rolls. 

Unlike GW1 and GW2, this version was not as out of the box compatible with D&D to the same degree the others were. Characters, as did the monsters, still looked very similar, but the system was different enough to increase the incompatibility. 

The idea here was to streamline the game and make the action faster. Sadly, several errors in the game made this difficult. It did feature one of the first meta-plot arcs for Gamma World, but sadly was not finished in print.

Gamma World 4th edition
Fourth Edition (1992)

This edition of the game brought it back to its roots, so to speak. It is very compatible with the then-current AD&D 2nd Edition. There are some very interesting design choices here too including a good skill system and a very d20 like combat resolution system with "Ascending" armor classes. In some ways you could adapt this to AD&D for a near AD&D 2.5 edition that shows a good transition between AD&D 2nd ed and what will become D&D 3rd edition, but that is 8 years and a different company in the future.

Interestingly, this edition was also playtested over the GEnie BBS service way back before the internet became ubiquitous. 

The art in this edition features some of the best art from the "Four Horsemen of TSR," Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell, Larry Elmore, and Keith Parkinson.

Sadly, this was to be the last version of Gamma World to be produced by TSR. They announced they were going to switch gears and do a new version of Metamorphosis Alpha for their new Amazing Engine game line. 

The Fifth Edition, while published under the TSR name was really a Wizards of the Coast product and I'll discuss that one tomorrow.

Which one should you get?

All things being equal, I would go for the 4th edition rules myself. The 1st and 2nd have a great nostalgia factor for me, and while I have the 1st Edition, I likely go with the 2nd.

The 1st, 3rd, and 4th edition rules are all available as Print on Demand versions now. So that is also in their favor. I understand the 4th edition rules are very clean and a good print. I can vouch for the 1st edition rules myself. The 3rd has some issues, but I am also not a fan of the action table, so I am giving it a pass.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Review: Gamma World, 1st Edition (1978)

I had not planned this, but DriveThruRPG is having a Sci-Fi sale now.  I had mentioned that May had a 
"soft-theme" of Sci-Fi.  It is very likely I knew this in the back of my mind.  So while their sale is going on I want to look at various Sci-fi games in my life-long quest to find the perfect one for me. 

I am going to start with some that I have played and see where these reviews take me.

Gamma World 1st Ed
There is an important piece of my 40+ years of D&D anniversary that I have neglected and I thought I must rectify that as soon as I can.  

1981 was a banner year for D&D.  I FINALLY got my real copy of the game, the Moldvay D&D Basic Set which I have talked about ad nauseam here for years.  Within that "Gateway to Adventure" catalog there was another game that I knew a little about and would also soon be part of my ever-growing desire for a good sci-fi game.  That game was TSR's own Gamma World.

Over the next few years, I'd spend time with this game and other editions of it, but it was this first edition that really grabbed me like no other.

I am going to review Gamma World here and talk a little about what I did with it and what I will do in the future.  For this, I am considering my original Gamma World book (the box and dice are long gone), the Print on Demand version, and PDFs from DriveThruRPG.

Gamma World (1978, 1981)

Living thru the Nuclear Scare was an interesting time.  I vividly recall having conversations with kids my own age about how they saw no future because the Russians were growing to blow us all up any day.  Regan was president and I was convinced he was going to do something stupid to get us all nuked. Instead, he just destroyed the middle-class.  But the threat was there all the time.  The news, the movies, even all the music videos, to quote Frank Zappa, used all the same cheesy atom bomb explosions.  Yup we were going to all die and the world become a nuclear wasteland where people drove around Mad-Max style in supercars and fought for the remaining resources. 

I suppose then given that environment a game like Gamma World was inevitable.  Gamma World was our world, but very different. It is always interesting to read an older game describe how the world of their future and our present would turn out.  Gamma World paints a nice picture of the early 21st century as a time when we stopped polluting the Earth and taking resources from it.  Science Fiction indeed.  With that, let's delve into this book.

Gamma World original print vs new PoD


There is a lot of interesting thing going on here. We know this is a (maybe even THE) Post-Apocalyptic game.  This said apocalypse began in 2309 going to 2322.  We get some world-building here with various wars leading up to the attack against a group known as The Apocalypse by what remained of the various governments and groups and The Apocalypse fought back. While it is not said to be a nuclear disaster, that is certainly how it feels.  We know that due to this event that some life-forms were completely wiped out and others were mutated into new and strange forms. It is stated that many of the weapons were biological in nature too.  So we have a heady stew of alchemical death raining from the skies.  The year is now 2471 (450 years from now). There are humans and other things here and that is where our adventures begin.  I can't help but draw parallels between this and the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV series which came out at the same time.  Gamma World predates the TV show, but not Buck Rogers. The TV series takes place in 2491, so 20 years after GW. With TSR's later dangerous flirtation with Buck Rogers, I wonder if any attempt was made to bring the two lines together?  I certainly would have tried if I had been into GW as much as I was into D&D.

How to Use This Book & Designing Gamma World

An overview of what this book is about and how to use it.  If you ever played an RPG then you know what is here. If you ever played AD&D then you might even have this section memorized. Gamma World uses the same dice as D&D.

The designing part covers what you are likely to encounter in a typical Gamma World setting. It is a broad overview meant only to introduce the players. Details will come later.

Creating Characters

If you can create a D&D character then you can create a Gamma World character; they are largely the same and makes you wonder why there was no unified game system used at TSR.  Well...I have my guesses. You have three "races" Pure Strain Humans, Humanoids, and Mutated Animals. Your attributes are Mental Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Charisma, Constitution, and Physical Strength.  I am sure these are recognizable. Pure Strain Humans are just that, but Humanoids and Mutated Animals can have mutations. These are rolled randomly of course and some are beneficial others are defects. You can have a physical and/or a mental mutation.  Mental ones can even include psionic abilities. Plants can also have mutations.  This covers quite a bit of the book, but that is not really a surprise I suppose.

Since the tables in the game are based on various ability scores they are more important in normal play than they are in (A)D&D.  Levels and experience points use does not even come up until page 42.

Play of the Game

This covers the rules of the Gamma World game. We start out with what happened a lot in GW; moving from place to place and searching for things.  Combat is the next section with weapons from clubs all the way to fusion rifles. We get some combat matrices that look like they were cribbed from D&D Basic. This is a good thing.  There is even something here that I always an improvement, the Mental Attack Matrix. I mean this could have, should have, been ported back to AD&D and been better than the psionics system used there.


Gamma World is a Gygaxian fun-house dungeon writ large.  That doesn't mean everything you encounter will try to kill you, but that is a good assumption.  The creatures are not as evocative as say the creatures from the Monster Manual but they are compatible with each other so if your really want an orc in Gamma World game it is easy.

Also presented are various alliances. These are the groups, factions and tribes you can encounter. Only a few are presented here and the Game Master is encouraged to make more.

Artifacts and Equipment

Maybe more so than D&D there is a good reason for all these "treasures" to be laying around.  But there is always the chance that something will fail. Gamma World takes the device flow charts from Expedition to Barrier Peaks (it's "cousin" adventure in AD&D) and dials it up to 11. 

This section also covers trade, the value of goods, and robots. I wonder how many Gamma World games changed the importance of robots after the Terminator movies came out?

The last few pages cover an example of play and there are some charts (random encounters) and hex grids that can be removed for use.  They look right at home next to my D&D charts of the same period.

Print on Demand

The Print on Demand version might be one of the best ones yet.  Yes, the maps from the box set have to be printed out, but that is not a big deal.  The new PoD is clear and easy to read.

Nothing is lost in the translation.  Plus the new pod uses the box art for the front and back covers so everything is here.  All that is missing is dice.