Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Re-imagining Gamma World

Yesterday, I posted a Pulp-o-mizer cover for Gamma World.  It got me thinking about the 1st Edition Gamma World box cover art, and how it is reminds me of a Pulp magazine cover in presentation.  Looking at it further, that evocative cover doesn't really present the contents or the setting of the rulebook inside the box.

The cover shows a group of humans wearing matching uniforms.  Most are armed with seemingly high-tech weapons and gear.  It gives the impression of a group of explorers that presumably could have landed in a spaceship and are surveying to ruins of a city.  None are wearing armor.  None are equipped with primitive weapons.  None are mutant humans or animals.

The implied setting is a future Earth destroyed hundreds of years before by some terrorist group calling itself  "The Apocalypse".  It was an Earth that had energy weapons, robots, and other wondrous technological marvels.  It always seemed to me that the designers of the game never really settled on a definite vision of the kinds of artifacts and time period in which Gamma World occurred.  Whereas the 1st Edition Gamma World boxed set presented a far future Earth with sci-fi inspired artifacts, many later supplementary products would show art-work of humans and mutants using 20th-Century 'Stop'-signs as shields, or Parking-meters as clubs or using gun-powder weapons.

Really?  You would think that in a world that had Mark V Blasters and Flit Cars, the last thing you would see is a Stop Sign or a Parking Meter.  Such things would have been relegated to obsolescence long ago.  It's just that sort of thing that makes it hard to suspend your disbelief.  The designers kept introducing 20th Century imagery into a world that was supposed to be in the 24th Century.

Oh, I suppose those humans on the box cover could all be Pure Strain Humans who are so well organized enough that they want to dress in matching uniforms and helmets.  And they all just got so lucky to have fully-functioning technological weapons and artifacts.  Maybe they are part of the Reconstructionists or Knights of Genetic Purity.  Maybe.

I think it would be a better premise to run Gamma World as a pulp science-fiction game.  The characters would not be native to the planet, maybe the survivors of a crashed space-ship.  Survivors that must now explore and learn to survive on a hostile world with radiation, mutants and crazy killer robots.  And just because our intrepid pulp-flavored PC's come from a technological society, doesn't mean they will be able to easily figure out the wondrous tech artifacts of Gamma World.  Think of how advanced the alien Krell technology was in the movie Forbidden Planet.  Even Dr. Morbius wasn't able to figure out (or even control) most of the Krell machines and he spent most of his lifetime studying them.

I think that would be much more fun than playing primitive screw-heads wearing chain-mail armor, carrying Stop-sign shields, wearing their 'No Nukes' T-shirts and armed with their laser pistol.  Or, I could be wrong.

9 comments:

  1. I think that idea definitely has some possibilities.

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  2. I always thought the cover illustration of 1st edition Gamma World looked much more like The Morrow Project, the premise of which is similar to what you described except the apocalypse happened in the 20th Century and the player characters were cryogenically frozen teams of scientists, soldiers, and scouts with secret advanced technology and a mission to rebuild civilization.

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    1. True, I remember The Morrow Project. I had a friend who bought Morrow Project when it first came out. I remember making a character and playing a short game of it. I recall character creation was a bit 'involved'. I don't hear many people talking about the game much, so I'm unsure if it was a commercial success or not.

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  3. I ran a GURPS-based post-apoc game based on Gamma World. I made the PCs unfrozen 21st century commandos, woken up far, far too late. It was a lot of fun because people could leverage their real-world knowledge to try to operate strange tech. Plus, since they knew it was Earth, we got to have that whole "You blew it up!" Heston moment, too, instead of "let's get off of this dump and explore the universe."

    Anyway I'd do that again in a heartbeat.

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  4. I totally agree! I was never a fan of modern stuff thrown into GW. Although I like Mad Max-styled apocalypses, I do not like to see it shoehorned in GW - they are not the same!

    When I introduce new players to GW, I like to have them start out as "Sleepers" from the past, or an off-world expedition who believe they crashed on an alien world, or even some Eloi who are forced to leave their isolated community (basically, the plot to Logan's Run). The characters have a fairly modern mindset, but the cultures they encounter are fairly strange, and the environment is quite alien. As they play, native mutants join them, and when the original characters die out, the players can play one of them. The point of this is to get the players accustomed to the world during gameplay (and with characters who would be just as awestruck as the players), without boring them with a lot of pregame exposition.

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    1. One of the things I'm pondering is how to handle a PC who wants to start play as a mutant. I guess it would depend on the presentation of the game. But it would be something I would want to avoid at the start because then we get back to the original problem of PC natives and having to develop deep background.

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  5. "that evocative cover doesn't really present the contents or the setting of the rulebook inside the box."

    I agree. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I saved money for several weeks in order to buy that Gamma World set, knowing nothing except what the cover looked like. Based on that cover, I imagined that the game consisted of human space travelers exploring a radioactive science-fantasy planet.

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  6. This is one of the reasons I liked Metamorphosis Alpha so much better.

    That, and post-apoc can be so depressing.

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    1. Yes, I think one of the nice points of MA is that if a PC dies, the player can roll up a new PC and it's another crew member waking up from a stasis tube. And solves the PC mutant problem, by having a crewman who becomes mutated while in cryrogenic sleep from exposure to low levels of radiation.

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