Gamma World: Alpha and Omega

A particularly interesting element of the Gamma World play experience is the influence of random elements—such as character origin, equipment, alpha mutations, and omega tech—on the overall shape of the story. Both the players and I, as gamemaster, had to adapt not only to the random outcomes of action checks, but also to the random capabilities of the characters; not just whether or not characters could accomplish something with their abilities, but what options they could even attempt at any given time.

Here are some examples that came up during our game:

  • The Lost Bot: When Mike’s hawkoid cyborg bit the dust during the fight with the obbs, he needed to come up with a new character right away. While I was finishing up the fight, I kept an ear out for what Mike was doing with character creation, since I’d have to introduce his new character somehow. As it happened, he generated a giant android with a battlesuit (omega tech) and the intro practically wrote itself: a war-robot, usleless to the obbs because it was non-biological, deactivated and buried under the fungus of their lair. I hadn’t planned for there to be a lost robot there, but circumstances put him there for the heroes to find.
  • Water, Water Everywhere: Sean’s character, Clan McDougal, a hive-mind of mutant bats, drew Aquatic as an alpha mutation. Initially, I’d planned for the whole adventure to take place in a dry Ancient sub-shuttle tunnel. Since I didn’t want to screw Sean with a totally useless ability, I made the tunnel partially flooded for the next encounter. It was no more than a meter or so deep, but enough for the swimming swarm to sneak past the blaash there while scouting ahead, catching them from both sides when the characters attacked.
  • That Healing Touch: The initial fight with the obbs looked bad from the moment Mike’s hawkoid bit the dust (and spawned another obb to fight). The characters took a lot of initial damage before they got the radiation resistant character out front. Fortune favored them, however, in an alpha shift where two of the characters got healing abilities. The sense of relief was palpable, and far more dramatic than a hero simply using an existing healing power. In many ways, the healing “gifts” they got felt more like “miracles” than cleric powers in D&D!
  • Git Yer Gun: I really like the ammo rule in Gamma World, which basically says guns are encounter abilities: you can use them once per encounter, if you are rationing your ammo. You can choose to use your gun as many times as you want during an encounter, but if it’s more than once, you run out of ammo when the encounter is over, and only get more when the GM says so. This offers a tantalizing idea for “hotshotting” encounter or daily abilities in D&D, where you get an additional use (or two) in a pinch at the cost of “crippling” the ability for a length of time greater than the usual recover rate. I especially like the elegance of it being the player’s choice whether to ration or just go in “guns blazing”. Much the same applies to consumable omega tech, which is only good once, or omega tech with salvage value.
  • Psiracy: At one point, Andy (playing the mind coercer) commented how it would have been cool to have a Psi mutation another player drew. “Psi specialists should be able to ‘borrow’ or ‘salvage’ psi powers from other characters” he said. Let’s just say I noted that for future consideration as a special ability.
  • The Power Not Taken: Along the same line, it was interesting to see some of the plot-elements-that-might-have-been in the form of alpha mutations players pulled, but didn’t get to use before there was another alpha shift and they had to discard them. Time Warp and Force Field Generation were two good examples. I would have liked to see them in action, but it didn’t happen. One player even raised the philosophical issue of whether or not those mutations ever “really” happened from the characters’ perspective. If it didn’t come into play, was it ever real?

Gamma World definitely highlighted for me the fun aspects of having some random elements going in during game play beyond just success-failure checks of some sort, things that introduced entirely new things into the environment for the players and I to riff off of in creating the story. In some regards, the alpha and omega tech decks of Gamma World can count things like the Whimsy Cards and Storypath Card decks as their ancestors as much as (if not more than) themed power decks from Magic: The Gathering.