So Gamma World has been released for a while now. I’m certain a lot of folks since it’s release have taken some time to put down the sword and shield, and taken a swing at wielding a vibroblade and suiting up in Mk. 2 power armor. Something I have come to realize playing Gamma World a bit, it’s a great way to get folks into RPGs and I think works wonders as a quick tutorial for 4E D&D mechanics as well. There are a couple of reasons why…
Few character generation choices – Just about every thing when making up a character is done randomly. You roll on a table and this is what you get. Instead of having to figure out what at will and encounter powers you want, the choice is made for you. Unsure about how to assign ability scores? No worries! You get a bonus to some and just roll for the others.
Best of all everyone else is going through the same process. So that new guy is not stuck thinking he made a bad choice (or feeling lost as a more ‘knowledgeable’ player picks them out). Also as many of the additional powers and gear are random items represented as cards that are drawn and discarded, at most the player just has to decide whether to use a power during a fight. Which leaves more time to dwell on the…
Simplified mechanics – The core of the 4E game is there, but the math and book keeping is easier. No need to write down how many arrows you fired, you either have ammunition or you go hog wild and run out after a fight. No healing surges to muck around with during a rest. You heal up to full hit points. The bonus for hitting and dealing damage with a weapon is easier to calculate. The framework for D&D rules are there, things are just more simple.
Easier setting to grasp – I really think with TV shows and with movies, sci-fi is a little more easier for people to pick up compared to fantasy. Gamma World is envisioned to be 150 years after a sudden blending of alternate realities from a scientific experiment that went awry in 2012. The world is wild and crazy with all sorts of mutated creatures and technology, but the backdrop is a run down civilization taken from the vista of someone’s home city that they currently see around them.
Likely you’d have to explain to a new player what a glaive is. You most likely wouldn’t have to do the same talking about an automatic rifle. I think even the most fantastic futuristic artifact might be easier for a person to understand compared to many fantasy-centric items. When the GM talks of a fur covered beast wielding a stop sign and a trashcan lid for a shield, they get it. This helps with getting the player more relaxed and open to trying more creative ideas and actions.
Creativity is encouraged – How exactly is a player a pyrotechnic rat swarm? With all the random chart rolling, I think Gamma World really ends up pushing players from the start to think about their character. I feel the player has ample opportunity to describe their looks and how they utilize their powers. Much of the mechanics for abilities and powers are handled through such an abstract way, it gives the player a lot of freedom to describe how these abilities look and feel in the world. This freedom to envision what their character looks and acts like is further reinforced by the game philosophy…
Things are fun and temporary – You want loot and high quality gear, but you only get to use it a few times before you have to junk it. You might have this great mutant power, but shortly you will get something else to replace it. The game is made to be zany fun with things constantly being in flux.
Also, you don’t need to be mired down in some elaborate quest to save a kingdom. The game seems to work best as a few short sessions with a lot of action. You aren’t after a pile of gold pieces and gems, or to stop a ritual from being cast by an evil cult. You are after some weird technology hidden away in some ruins (being represented by drawing a card from a deck).
Your character is assembled quickly and randomly. If you get wiped out simply pull out another sheet, roll a few dice, and keep playing. The lethality of the game reinforces how disposable your character is. You don’t have this pressure to work up some elaborate past for your character, mostly because the next fight might result in him being only a pile of ash. I think this all reinforces how much the game should be a lighthearted stab at adventure and having a good time. No need for the heavy campaign story, just sit down, roll some dice, and pray that leaky fusion rifle doesn’t obliterate your character when it’s fired.
So the next time someone wants to know more about D&D, and possibly thinking about sitting in on a session, consider making that first jump with Gamma World. As I mentioned I think it’s a great game all in one box. It has a frivolous theme and a lot of crazy random mechanics to illustrate how much fun RPGs can be. That idea of fun is something every new gamer should take away from their first sitting, and I think Gamma World does that very well.