So easy to get turned around, driving through downtown

I’m not saying it’s profound, but it’s not quite merely hijinks either. I was hoping to find some unnamed Venn overlap among the strange components, or possibly artifact, of Gamma World, and I think this session (#5) shows that we’re standing in it.

Some its components include how our characters talk to one another, in terms of what each regards as “normal” and finds not-quite-right in the other two; and how we as people talk to one another during play. These are two different things with a curious reinforcing effect between them. Granted, this is always the case for any good role-playing experience, but this time, the way they overlap or reinforce one another has a strange quality: aloof and witty, but also unconditionally buying into what the characters want or are like, their inner lives perhaps.

The obvious manifestation is that against all stereotypes of 4E characters being ciphers with movement rates and damage-dealing scores with abstract qualities and nothing else, each of our characters is uniquely liked by the other two players. To me, Geiger and Layka are not potato chips for the game to gobble down and replace with whoever each player has next on their stack – strangely, I care about them a lot as we’re playing. It’s evident that Ockmah is the same for Helma and Tazio, and at the risk of some sentimentality, it feels nice to play this way.

As people have seen from the beginning, Tazio prefers that his image is masked for the videos. Acknowledging that this is absolutely his right, with no argument or pushback from me about it, I ask you (the viewers) to understand that a lot of our play-experience in this game is defined by glances. In session 5, especially, there are a bunch of verbal interactions which only make their complete sense if you can see the way all the players look at one another, 1:1 in turn, during or just following the exchange. So you’re missing one of the corners of this interaction; you might see me or Helma smile or make some mugging-type facial expression, but you’re missing that Tazio gestured or made a face too, or that his expression prompted some verbal response which looks like it’s coming out of nowhere.

I have some more thoughts on whether degrees of unplanned satire or pathos lurk in our content, especially effective because they aren’t explicit or overly-discussed, but maybe that should wait. I’m also seeing some elements of 4E combat which are aiding our process (story, character, whatever you want to call it) and some which get a little laborious … although as it happens, the fact that I rolled absolute crap for damage three times in a row, actually added something to our fight,  by bringing out Layka’s protectiveness. This system differs from core 4E by eliminating Feats and adding more unpredictable damage outcomes, and I think those are both good features. The troublesome features require a bit more thought for me to articulate, and it may be a function of not clueing into certain tactics well enough yet.


11 responses to “So easy to get turned around, driving through downtown”

  1. Session 6!

    I've gone back and forth in my mind about the efficacy or general enjoyment of the "rests" concept. I first encountered it in playing D&D 4E but I don't know when it entered table-top role-playing hard – it's certainly part of the shared general vocabulary now, as in "extended rest," "campfire phase," and similar.

    After session 5, I definitely wanted to criticize the 4E standard concept of full hit point recovery after an extended rest. In Gamma World, especially, it lends itself to the "zany encounter of the week" feel, and I find I don't like it much … I'd like to validate the gritter side of this schizophrenic gritty/loony combination just a bit more, via injuries that stick around.

    However, setting aside the issue of full recovery, this session really validated the importance of the "rest" as an in-fiction phenomenon as opposed merely to a phase of play. As befits the real-life location of our GM, it includes possibly the most refreshing and reflective cup of tea in my role-playing experience.

    Here's the direct link into the playlist.

    • I feel D&D4 almost hit a

      I feel D&D4 almost hit a "kinda/sorta" sweet spot with the Healing Surge mechanics – it allowed play to happen on encounter-based balance, because you'd be able to get your full hit point total after even just a short rest. This worked very well because in turn it didn't dictate that play required an extensive number of encounters per day, in typical D&D fashion – you only had access to a finite pool of your total daily hit points on each encounter, and short term and long term resiliance were split and became almost a form of dial for adventure pacing.

      But then it sort of threw it all away because it did nothing with long rests and long term recovery. Healing Surges would have been the spot where you'd place the long term consequences, and they could have done so much with it, keeping the game playable but making the idea of wounds and consequences have a strong punch.
      Instead you get everything back every day, and that's a massive design flaw.

      As for the core point, I can only say I strongly agree. It is a huge moment for me and I think when I did my first consulting session and you asked me for one image that summarized my inspirations, one of those I provided was this:


      The adventuring rest is a moment when every wound gets tended to, when what happened is discussed, sung, interiorized, when decisions are made and friendships are broken. If there's some interesting mechanical interaction in how the game approaches it I'll gladly explore it, but it really is an in-fiction entity with its own life, for me.

    • I can see why they left

      I can see why they left healing surges out of Gamma World, its clearly partly due to the zany encounter of the week model of play but also, as you're saying Lorenzo, the healing surges / rests / leader role healing structure doesn't really quite work in 4E either so why not just simplify the rules so that what appears to happen in most actual play, everybody heals in full after a fight, just happens without pointless fiddly paperwork.

      That said for our game I have given a bit of thought to both what might happen if you ran directly from one encounter into another and to what the implications of especially extended rests are. So, if the characters had hung around after barbequing those road hogs and this had for some reason lead to another fight with the approaching Bonapartists then they wouldn't for example have got to refresh their hit points before that encounter.

      In fact, I have provisionally split the end of encounter events in two, into those that have to happen, even if there is just a split second between encounters, and to those that only happen if there is a rest. So you always have to check if your Omega tech still has charge, which I suppose means you also get to use it in the next encounter if it does, but if you don't rest you don't have time to salvage expended tech and so it is lost. If you used ammo twice you are out of ammo and out of time to replace it unless you rest. You only refresh all your hit points with a rest. I'm going backward and forward on Alpha mutations though; my current thinking is you only mutate again, and so draw a new card and ready it, if you take a rest, although if you hadn't used your alpha power in the first encounter it would be available to use in a subsequent fight, but I can see the gonzo logic of Gamma World making the opposite approach work too.

      Regarding rests, and noting that short and long rests are almost identical in Gamma World, I am in my mind thinking of them as "long enough to be inconvenient" with the subset for a long rest of "really inconvenient". And I'm mainly defining that in relation to the activities of the various NPC factions. So, since the characters just took a long tea break and museum visit, I am eyeing up options for how that makes their lives "really inconvenient" next.  

  2. Session 7!

    Here it is! A couple of quick notes. At one point I describe a certain Swedish fictional person as a "comics character," which is technically true at this time, but he originated in a series of illustrated books, not comics. Also, we were very careful with grid mapping in this encounter, as each of us used a paper copy and tracked all characters' movements. I didn't include the graphics with the video which is unfortunate because it would have shown some very important decision-making for each of us, but it would also have been many hours of work for me. Here is the map we used, with its coordinates that you can see us referencing throughout the session.

    It also brings us to a finish line for our first big shared Quest, illustrating that using such things reduces the necessary encounters and fights per level considerably. I think I have not yet encountered a solid discussion of these mechanics, which are extremely straightforward and accessible.

    To summarize …

    • In experience points terms, completing a Minor Quest = defeating a foe; completing a Major Quest = defeating/overcoming an encounter
    • An encounter is defined as foes = player-characters in number or using metrics of equivalence (an elite foe = 2 ordinary ones, et cetera)
    • Quests may be offered by the GM in the form of what an NPC requests or commands, and may be rejected, or they may be announced at will by a given player
    • Multiple Quests "in progress" is perfectly OK
    • By definition a Quest requires things to do and achieve, you can't Quest to go buy boots or something

    The default 4E rules define a level as ten encounters, with the explicit option to cut that in half for five. I haven't examined the Gamma World rules carefully to see whether they favor either. Either way, the details of experience points and foes' "worth" effectively scale this relationship to equal throughout all the levels, so the point applies the same way throughout play. I hope you can see the effect: that when the player-characters engage hard with quests, they level up faster, with fewer confrontational events.

    Furthermore: in quests, their confrontations tend to be fictionally connected and relevant to the larger situation; the relevance I just mentioned is voluntary, since players may reject offered quests and may create their own; and different characters engage in the circumstances of a Major Quest for different reasons (this is encouraged by the text) and may further parse details differently via Minor Quests.

    As a side point which I like a lot, the 4E rules also rightly state that the precise experience points are unnecessary and you might as well just count encounters, with their subset metric of foes in order to determine whether an encounter is "double" or "half" or whatever, and not use the points at all. This brings the Quest rules into sharper focus because they are rated as "a level-equivalent foe" or "a level-equivalent encounter" anyway.

    I've been thinking a little about this game as fiction-making, for ourselves during play without reference to it as a prose summary or movie or any other audience-based media. Part of my fuel, player-side, is using the rules-options which illustrate – or better, discover – the personality range Ockmah may have. Sigificantly: these opportunities are conditional in a lot of ways, e.g., being bloodied adds an extra die to his Controlled Demolition ability's damage; e.g., which Alpha Mutation currently happens to be available; e.g., what level has been reached with its particular benefits and options. That's important because I can't control exactly what he does in response to things, i.e., my discovery of "who he is" is informed and shaped partly by the contingencies of the system in use.

    If you think of at least some of the level-increasing process as driven by Quests (doesn't have to be all of it), and if you think of new levels' features (as well as rotation of mutations and tech) as placing me as the player into a novel "play-options space" that at least partly affects where Ockmah's head must be at, at any given moment … then the result is apparently a very productive collision to produce the final, in-the-moment expression of what he wants or is even "like" as a person.


    • Regarding Experience points

      Regarding Experience points and levels in Gamma World – it basically works out at about five level equivalent encounters per level (1st to 2nd is 5 1st level encounters, 2nd to 3rd only 4 2nd level ones, but 3rd to 4th is 6 and 2/3rds of a 3rd level encounter). However, I think Gamma World is a fair bit more forgiving of a party taking on higher level foes, this last fight all the opponents apart from the flying M'Kay were 3rd or 4th level and the party was outnumbered. Therefore the encounter was worth slightly more than two 2nd level encounters, which is an example of why I'm counting actual XP rather than just numbers of fights.

    • That’s important because I

      That's important because I can't control exactly what he does in response to things, i.e., my discovery of "who he is" is informed and shaped partly by the contingencies of the system in use.

      Thinking about this I'm looking over your characters' range of (mostly terrible) skill bonuses and feeling bad about how the system is fighting your characters' attempts to be merciful / kind / not murderhobos. So much so that I'm seriously thinking about using the optional vocation rules from the Legion of Gold expansion – which let you get an extra option (a feat!)  at 4th level, many of which are bonuses to certain skill checks. 

    • I really don’t mind the

      I really don't mind the failed rolls! We succeed sometimes, and for some reason, the proportion of success/fail is very satisfying. The reason may have to do with how our characters apparently appreciate one another's attempts, i.e., what they're trying to do, regardless of success. It may also be related to how failure seems to be a feature of the environment, or "world feel," that no one really manages to do or succeed at very much, and I like the idea of us in that world.

    • I also have no problem with a

      I also have no problem with a healthy dose of failure, but I did wonder if it would be interesting for the players to have a bit more of an option to inject their sense of who their charactrs are, or could be, via the skills they have, in a similar way to how the alpha mutation decks do, perhaps mainly, in the realm of fighting. On the other hand there are some Omega tech options that open up that space, giving skill boosts etc, so maybe chance can work its magic in this space too.

    • Ross, please don’t rub the

      Ross, please don't rub the balance we have. As far as I'm concerned this is developing in a very satisfactory way. The failures and sucesses, the Alpha mutations and Omega tech the characters aquire, together with the skills they may or may not have make a nice whole and so far I did not see any sign that they don't fit with who our characters are in my eyes. Layka is a grumpy, not to successful inventor and tinkerer that would rather be in her workshop / junkyard than anyway else but is forced to venture out by the need to find appropriate parts for her projects. She wouldn't admit it but obviously has some big sister feels for those who happen to drift through her gates and stay.  All of that is heavily informed by her stats and I really like her that way – so, no need for extra improvements.

  3. Session 8!

    Our quest for the mysterious scientific mice continues, and it seems we have found a fine safe haven, including a wondrous trove of tech. From there, Ross did … and … well, it is just nuts. "Dogs Playing Poker" figures into the situation in hilarious and horrifying fashion, for once Ockmah isn't the only naked person, and a combat covers two floors and a staircase. I say with pride that I include the right map for each moment of play throughout the editing, so you can follow whose doppelganger is where among other details of fight choreography.

    I think we've found "our" Gamma World. It may not be very deep but it is deep enough to feel good. Here's the session link inside the playlist.

  4. Session 9!

    … which suffered from recording death. You might have noticed I've been struggling with this for the past couple of months. I think the problem has now been located and I'm off to the shop tomorrow to get it fixed.

    Anyway, this session was a rousing combat in the Archivist's Tower, starting with the discovery that said archivist wasn't the kindly aged gender-neutral friendly fellow at all, but actually a bulging-brained illusion-casting malevolent mutant person. Wait – technically, this started with Layka slashing and practically berserking her way around the third floor culminating in said mutant's demise while Ockmah wanted to know why everyone was being so danged violent all of a sudden, especially while he was trying to be art. And while the killer-borg Sven guy and Geiger mixed it up on the stairs, neither quite managing to get up there and the latter receiving quite a beating from the game's expy of a terminator.

    Lots of details ensued – Ockmah being wrongly convinced he knew how to turn off the machine imprisoning Diskette, for example – but since all these damned robots started attacking, including the tripods bashing in the windows and squeezing in with their tentacles, it turned into a startlingly brutal fight. Layka was the standout: after slicing and dicing the mutant person, she blew Sven out the window, she toppled a couple of tripods, and all sorts of heinous actions. Geiger managed a number of good moves too but had to play it more cautiously as she was pretty hurt. I can't remember which of the two managed to topple the robot dominoes down the stairs, but that helped a lot after Ockmah finally grabbed a clue and realized the best way out was down, using attacks like Seismic Stomp simply to collapse the floor and then use his insane Athletics to land below and to protect Diskette (who slept through the whole thing). We used our maps carefully to dodge the robots, who had definitely not expected our unorthodox descent, and navigated to an important ladder and an important off-switch regarding robots, to get out of there intact.

    The tower started collapsing, of course, with somewhat more justification in this case for doing so than it typically has in theses stories. So we gathered up our mutant animal buddy from the workshop and scrounged a bit of tech on the way out (we imagined it was necessary practically to carry Layka out bodily as she kept trying for one more thing).

    But our quest continues! We did locate the likely lair of the science mice, and secret wisdom of Geiger's coloring book will soon be revealed!

    Plus, we have at last count two punching bags, a tennis racket, a dubiously functional electric blanket, a pair of spectacles, and one or two other old-type items doubtless full of insight for us too.

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