Originally posted here: https://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/
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.
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.