Radioactive Wonderland

Jared, Helma, Tazio, and I began making our characters after we “volunteered” Ross to be GM by stepping back simultaneously more quickly than he did. Then we met to finish them, e.g., mutating them by drawing cards, and to clarify any questions.

We are playing Gamma World, specifically the 7th edition of the game which uses a slightly simpler version of the D&D 4th edition concepts and rules. It provides another useful data point regarding randomized elements of game preparation, as we’ve discussed across several titles so far. In this case (meaning this game), it’s a matter of rolling two origins for your character, from a single list. Also, in this case (meaning us) we are using the Famine in Far-Go supplement as well, offering the chance to get both origins from the core book, both from the supplement, or one from each.

The characters include …

  • Geiger, a radioactive engineered human with glowing green hair who has apparently just clambered out of her people pod (Tazio)
  • Diskette, basically a cute humanoid displacer beast, I kid you not, via doppelganger + felinoid (Jared)
  • Layka, doppelganger (as well) + telekinetic, a creepy psychic person with cockroach feelers and way too good at technology (Helma)
  • Ockmah, seismic + exploding in a bravura optimized combo, a dull red statue/rock person with an extra arm

So, the fairly cartoony and combat-blasty content for this game has a lot of charm. The real question is whether it offers more than just set-’em-up fights to admire the blasts. I think it does, although requiring a little bit more input and a little bit less inspiration along those lines than I might like … but that may be just first impressions. Gamma World has traditionally offered just enough room for biting satire,as opposed to merely gaudy hijinks, and even a little somber brooding upon the past (meaning actually us). I think this thing might have it in there.

The embedded video is our preparation session, and it includes Tazio sketching and coloring too, for a first look at Geiger.


13 responses to “Radioactive Wonderland”

  1. Session 1!

    It's mainly about getting our system feet under us via an ambush-y combat attack, including a lot of "finding this detail" in this or that rule. It was just enough to see my initial thoughts of giving my naked rockman character a farmboy type personality get expressed. He came a lot closer to being obliterated than was comfortable, but that's a good discomfort because it let me know I liked him. I may play a bit less imperturbably presumably-impervious now that I know how non-impervious he is.

    Here's the direct link to the session inside the playlist.

    • I watched the prep and session one. Not a lot of comments yet, other than that I plan to follow along through the whole run and am looking forward to how play develops.

      The randomized inspiration coming together to create bold, cartoony, and fun characters is a good start.

  2. The trouble with “Volunteering”

    I'm not coming to this with a vast gamma world hinterland and so am struggling a little with hitting the "right" tone in terms of the content I'm bringing as prep.

    Gamma World has traditionally offered just enough room for biting satire,as opposed to merely gaudy hijinks, and even a little somber brooding upon the past (meaning actually us). I think this thing might have it in there.

    I'm also not sure that satire is my natural medium, and maybe this is additionally complicated by attemps to be satirical across borders – I'm not sure what satiric targets would be meaningful to all the people playing. I'd definitely be interested in anybodies thoughts about how best, as a group, to bring these flavours into play, rather than just inflicting my sense of humour on people. 

  3. biting – sure, satire ?

    Upon reading up on the game before I decided to sign up it was the "cartoony and combat-blasty content" together with the possibility to finally play a d20 system that made me hop on the wagon without second thoughts.
    I’m open for anything anybody will throw at me and do my best to hang on and learn as quick as possible. So far it has gone reasonably well, with a little help from my friends.
    When it comes to building up "biting satire", because it would look nice on this game – I see a couple of problems there, both our different cultural backgrounds, including what would be called satire in any of the places we come from and the fact that English isn’t the first language for some of us. I do not mean that we cannot express ourselves but that some details may get lost that are crucial. An example may explain what I mean. In the last session a group of supremacists thinking humans are the pinnacle of creation and mutants suck showed up to wreak havoc on a place we happened to be in. When Layka asked Ockmah if he thought they should “join the party” that had a deliberate double meaning on my part. The problem is that I suspect everybody assumed it was by accident and that was just a little witticism, far from being satire which I think is much more difficult to achieve.
    The little I’ve seen so far we will hit a satisfying level when we don’t force it and I look forward to a couple more sessions with this game and group.

    • I think I put a little too

      I think I put a little too much preferential pressure into the mix with my thoughts on satire. You're right that it's the kind of thing which is best treated as inspiration in the moment, without planning or deliberate messaging.

  4. Session 2!

    Helma, Tazio, and I continue as players with Ross at the GM dashboard. Here's the direct link to the session inside the playlist. It's a good look at feeling our way into the characters without being too sure.

    I'm running a little late in editing and posting, so as it happens, we played the next session just last night. With any luck it'll be available quickly, so that our cliff-hanger will be an easy continuation, and what I'm saying about character as playables states will become clearer when you see it progress.

  5. Sessions 3 and 4!

    Art by Tazio!

    Our intrepid mutant and whatever-that-is band of humble junk merchants find this market's guarantors of peace and openness to be, as my character put it, "plumb useless." So in session 3, we conclude our confrontation with the Knights of Genetic Purity, such as they are (marking zero check-boxes regarding their own title), and enter a new one with the Bonapartists who – as we see it – were supposed to be earning all the pay they got for keeping the place free of, for example, flame-thrower wielding yahoos such as the Knights of Genetic Purity.

    We've shaken into character-driven play now, beginning with some talk of the 4E quest rules which are reiterated in the Gamma World rulebook. Tazio formalized Geiger's desire to make sense (unlock the mysteries!) of the coloring book she'd found, so we are on an apparently epic quest to seek the scientific mice depicted therein; and my minor-quest desire to understand why the Bonapartist apes were attacking arrivals to the market they were supposed to be protecting is exactly what got us into trouble with the road hogs.

    The focus on characterization and motives jumped up an unexpected notch with customizing the alpha mutation cards into personal decks. In this game, you frequently change out mutations, and if you use all and sundry cards (which is an option), the result is extremely Looney Tunes. Fun to watch but kinda stupid eventually, and the occasional repetition for one character or among more than one is disappointing, as in, "Aw, we saw that one before." Whereas if you customize the deck, e.g. here's mine for Ockmah, an  Exploding Seismic:

    • Extra Arms (2), Huge Arms, Gigantism, Hands of Power, Strong as Stone (2), Density, Explode! (2)

    … then you get a very nice array which, in play, perfectly reverses repetition into "my guy," with the randomness serving a purpose beyond mere silliness. The other players saw me do this once and instantly raced off to build their own decks, after having leaned away from the idea until that point.

    Here's the direct link for session 3 into the playlist, which is then followed by session 4 and a brief reflection.

  6. The joys of making characters

    Watching through the prep session was deeply nostalgic because it reminded me of how much fun we had making characters in D&4E. At some point we had a lot of books and magazines and people would come up with the weirdest, most fantastical concepts – elven archers channelling spirits through their arrows, animated constructs with magical powers acting as law enforcers, shapeshifting warriors possessed by demons, rogueish thieves-for-hire only partially existing on the prime material plane, psionic insectoids and so on. 

    We would sit down and have entire sessions going through books, rolling dice and brainstorming characters. A lot of people would chalk this down to "powergaming" or "hunting for the right feat" but the truth was that there was always a search for that one way where all the mechanics would come together into something you'd want to play. Ron's "I'm basically a living granade" comment sums it up perfectly.

    There's more than a few traps in the process but I've always found this type of investment in character creation to be successfull. I'm very fond of systems that let you make a character in 3 minutes and find out who he is in play, but this process of putting together mechanical things and then melding them together in something playable is probably my favourite, because you're guaranteed (at least when the various perks and abilities are as impactful as 4E's) that those concepts will come out in play and not stay on paper. It definitely beats the "start from backstory" approach that I often have to fight with when people come up with characters in other editions of D&D.

  7. How does Gamma World persist?

    Gamma World's attitude about the end of industrial civilzation is so intensely mid-to-late 70's.  You've got post-apocalyptic Sword & Sorcery novels, Planet of the Apes, Kamandi comics, Bakshi's "Wizards" and the work of Vaughn Bode, and an ironic recyling of the Fully Automated Future that would have saturated the designers' childhoods in the early post-war period.  

    It's SUCH a specific cultural moment.  And yet this game has been in print, one way or another, for my entire life. 

    I've never heard of any long-running Gamma World groups.  You don't see game designers saying, "Well, I was inspired by this clever mechanic in Gamma World."  I'm not sure how many other games use a similarly discordant setting–the computer game Fallout 2 (and maybe later entries) nudged around the periphery here but were still pretty serious.  Most importantly, to the extent Gamma World is satire, it seems extraordinarily weak stuff.  If the design is about something, it sure isn't apparent.

    It really speaks to the power of corporate IP maintenance.  At some point in the late 1980's, D&D stopped being about playing a game to approximate heroic fantasy fiction.  It began to feed on itself, becoming this alimentary ouroborous where you play D&D because it's D&D.  But at least D&D was, for a brief time, really popular and remains the subject of huge nostalgia.  I can't believe many people are nostalgic for Gamma World, and yet, here we are.

    (Also, as long as we're talking TSR games circa 1982, I wonder what happened to Star Frontiers that they don't keep trying to repackage that?  I assume there's a rights issue, but I don't know that.)

    • I agree in all particulars,

      I agree in all particulars, especially the questions.

    • “Gamma World’s attitude about the end of industrial civilzation is so intensely mid-to-late 70’s….

      It’s SUCH a specific cultural moment.”

      I don’t know much about prior editions, other than that their inspirational material (irradiated wasteland due to nuclear war) leaves me cold, probably for the reasons you mentioned.

      But this version is to my eye is entirely different. As soon as you say the world is this gonzo cartoony-blasty place because the Large Hadron Collider accidentally mashed up infinite realities, for me we’re getting to some very powerful inspiration speaking to our current cultural moment (specifically 2010 or so and beyond).

    • Thanks for the link, Tommi. A good look at the way older GW did it, but as far as I can tell 7e is a different beast altogether in terms of the inspirational material–while maintaining some connections to older material.

      Although I think perhaps 7e, in its supplements, didn’t take its own inspiration 100% seriously, preferring to fall back on mostalgia and replicate older adventures (to James’s point: who has the nostalgia for this? Perhaps why the line was axed quickly).

      In the supplemental adventures you go to North Dakota, Illinois, and Wisconsin (okay, and the Moon). They’re gonzified but to my mind, while these sorts of locations would be fine to have as part of a situation, they are much more interesting when we think of them as alt-reality mashups where Fargo is an island and parts of Milwaukee are scattered across the moon. Or whatever.

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