Review: D&D Gamma World

In case you’ve been living in Vault 101 for the past 20 years and are unaware, Gamma World is a post-apocalyptic RPG put out by Wizards of the Coast.  The current version (officially named “D&D Gamma World”) comes in a pretty big box.  You’ll be able to easily find it due to the retina burning green of the box, which is a similar color to the old Pinnacle game Deadlands: Hell on Earth (another post-apocalyptic game..what is it with post-apocalyptic games and the Toxic Waste Green color?).

So, what’s in the box, you ask?  Well, Vault-Dweller, let’s look and see!  First of course, is the rule book for the game itself.  We’ll get into that little mutant in a moment.  Like the DM’s Kit, the rule book is packaged in a cardboard protector to keep it from sliding around in the box.

Also packed into the protector is a deck of card; Alpha Mutation and Omega Tech cards.  These are used to randomly determine what powerful mutations and technology your character has.  There’s also a booster pack of cards in the box.  Yes, that’s right, the Magic the Gathering model has been adopted here somewhat.   The deck, for me, is an issue.  Random Alpha Mutation powers have been hamfistedly hammered into the game world, since it’s the collapse of many realities into one and things are in a state of constant flux, but still I’m gonna go ahead and say it right now..I do not like the idea of your most powerful mutation being randomly determined each encounter.  As Mr. Horse from Ren & Stimpy might say, “No sir, I don’t like it.”

We also have two double-sided poster-sized 1-inch grid battle maps, which go along with the adventure in the Gamma World rule book.  They look pretty nice and makes me wonder if we’re going to get a D&D Gamma World Dungeon Tiles Set.

Also included are four full-color double-sided blank character sheets, enough to create 8 Gamma World characters.  They’re a bit too small for my taste, matching up with the 6×9 size of the rulebook.  I would have preferred the size of the sheets to be more traditional as they just look…tiny.

And lastly, we have two flats of die-cut monster and character tokens, similar to the ones in the DM’s Kit (yes, there are a lot of similarities between the D&D Gamma World box and the DM’s Kit).

As promised, I said I would discuss the rule book in a bit more detail.  Well, wastlander, here we are.  The general basis of the game world is that scientists at the Large Hadron Collider accidentally caused the Big Mistake and caused the mutliverse to condense down to one reality, many of which involved the world having a big nuclear war..which explains all the radioactivity.

The rule book is tiny, and I’m not referring to the 6×9 format, which I have actually grown to love.  No, the entire rulebook is 160 pages and that includes how to play the game, how to create characters, how to run the game, a bestiary of monsters and an adventure.  Granted, they saved some pages with the Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech being in card form rather than in the book itself, and the monster statblocks are very condensed, but still the book is so small that the game comes off feeling rather incomplete.  It uses the D&D 4e system, though only up through level 10 (and a level means something slightly different than it does in 4e), which only adds to the incomplete feeling.  And you’ll be levelling up faster, as far less XP is required.  Oh, and the artwork is a pretty good, although it leans more towards the “cartoony” side.

Though I’ve outlined some of the problems I’ve had with the game up in the paragraphs above, here’s where the real problem comes in, the dealbreaker for me.  The game is just goofy.  It’s so over-the-top silly that it just shatters my desire to run this as anything other than an occasional one-shot.  Don’t get me wrong, I can handle a little silly in my games but I like to keep it subtle and at about the level of Deadlands Hell on Earth (yes, I’m comparing the two again) or the Fallout series.   Gigantic sentient cockroaches with huge craniums carrying around carnival-style giant stuffed bunnies need not apply.  And, yes, that was the first character I rolled up.  Many of the monsters are just as silly.  Humanoid pigs, badgers and world-dominating bunnies?  Check.    I’ve never owned a version of Gamma World before this one, but I really hope they weren’t as goofy as this one.  Maybe I just don’t “get it?”  I guess I was hoping for more Fallout and less post-apocalyptic Toon.

Character creation is quite random, with you rolling twice on the origin table to determine what exactly you are, taking an 18 in the first mutation’s chosen stat and a 16 in the second mutation’s stat and then rolling 3d6 for each ability score other than that.  Loot can also be determined randomly, and of course there’s the whole Alpha Mutation and Omega Tech random card draw I discussed above.  I would be OK with this if the chart wasn’t full of ridiculously goofy origins which lead to some truly stupid sounding combinations.  And, yes, I know you could just pick two origins if the GM allowed it, but that kinda defeats the purpose doesn’t it?

Weapons are very generic; basically you have melee (heavy or light) and ranged (heavy or light).  So a giant steel-ingot filled stuffed rabbit does the same damage as a sledgehammer the size of a small house.  I actually don’t have much problem with this.  Oh, and armor is treated similarly.

There are a pretty decent selection of monsters in the book, as well as a decently written adventure.  Technically, the monsters could be dragged over to 4e (and characters could be dragged into Gamma World) as it uses an extremely similar system though I’m not sure why you’d want to.   And trust me, they make sure you know that too, starting with the branding that this is a D&D game.

So, overall, I was not impressed by the game.  The rulebook is too short, there are too few levels for PCs, the XP rate is too fast, the random Alpha Mutations each encounter irk me and the game is just far, far too goofy.  Gamma World might be great for a palate-cleansing one shot or series of one shots, but I just can’t see it as a long term game I’d want to play an entire campaign in.

[tags]Gamma World,D&D,d20,gaming,review,Role Playing Games,rpg,science fiction[/tags]

8 thoughts on “Review: D&D Gamma World

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  1. Not to sound too much like an ad here, but check out Atomic Highway. I ran a playtest review for Gamers Haven if you’re curious to hear what a session sounds like. Default AH is much more fallout than gammaworld (actually, it’s much more Road Warrior than it is anything else).

    You can add mutations if you want them, which will add a certain level of goofiness.

    Overall I was really happy with Atomic Highway, and like you I prefer my post apocalyptic settings to be more Fallout / Hell on Earth than slapstick.


  2. Erik,

    I actually have been looking at Atomic Highway as an alternative for post-apoc gaming, I just haven’t gotten around to purchasing it yet, but yeah, the preview material does seem to have more of the feel that I like.


  3. Good, honest review. I was on the fence about this one, so it’s good to hear this side of things. Have you tried Apocalypse World? It sounds exactly like what you’re looking for. You’d be very easily able to use it to play Fallout, with few to no tweaks at all.

    I haven’t been able to play or run it yet, but it reads really well and lots of people are hacking it already into other genres too. I haven’t been this excited about a game in a long while.


  4. I actually like Gamma World quite a bit – but I’ve house-ruled a lot a changes to make it more Fallout than cartoon as well.

    Firstly, players choose their primary and secondary origins and aren’t bound to use the physical descriptions (cockroach doesn’t mean you look like one but are “as tough as a…” for example)

    I use Alpha Mutation cards as D&D feats… The players get to choose 1 to 3 of them depending on level and the card ability is the same but the exact nature of the mutation is less “goofy”… and they have the option to re-train these feats every time they advance in level.

    Monsters by and large are less mutated humanoid animal and more human raider types (Badders, Hoops, porkers, etc are just different types of human raiders).

    Those three changes alone make the game world MUCH more playable! A little goofy can be fun, but this edition of GW is quite over the top for my taste… but easily house-ruled! =)


  5. The whole “review” is just a biased rant based on no knowledge whatsoever about MtG and the new Gamma Worlds rules itself. Did you actually read and GRASP the rules and what they say about about the usage of the cards?

    Uhm, you know nothing about Gamma World yourself but dare to slander this version just because you dislike the idea of random-chart-rolling being distributed by means of a customizable card deck?


    “I’ve never owned a version of Gamma World before this one, but I really hope they weren’t as goofy as this one. Maybe i just don’t get it:”

    Yeah, you don’t, not by far.

    Go read about what GW is about on the page of someone who actually KNOWS wtf he is talking about instead of a darn grognard who just rambles and rants about a game whose rulebook, i’d bet, problably didn’t even bother to read.

    Oh, and stop the hate on DL:HoE because it makes you look even more stupid.

    Why did you actually buy a game whose contents you knew about before buying it?


  6. Sean,

    Those seem like very good house rules!


    Let’s take this a point at a time, shall we?

    I’ve been playing Magic the Gathering since it was first released. I’m well-versed in the mechanics all the way up to 10th edition. What I said was that the Magic the Gathering model has been adopted for use with Gamma World, by which I mean, specifically, “Booster Packs.”

    Did I read the Gamma World rule book? Yes. Several times as a matter of fact. I created a half-dozen characters as well. Oh. And also worked up an adventure for a one-shot attempt at running the game that didn’t happen. I grasp what the rules say about the usage of the cards, I just don’t think it’s a very good mechanic, especially not at the beginning of each encounter. It takes, in large measure, the ability of the player to pick and choose what he’d like to play on a constant basis with regards to his most powerful mutation. For the record, I’m not a huge fan of randomness in character generation overall as it takes away choices that, as a GM, I feel should be in the hands of the players.

    And I think that is the first time I’ve ever been called a grognard, which amuses me considering I’m normally the first in my group to adopt new systems and new editions of current systems. There are, in fact, only a couple of times where I have preferred an older grognardy system to a new, shiny version of a game (Warhammer Fantasy RPG, I’m looking at you!).

    And, if you fire up your Reading Comprehensionometer, you will notice that I made two references to Deadlands Hell On Earth; the first was that post apocalyptic games apparently love eye-burning toxic waste green in their color schemes, which is not actually a dis but rather an observation, and that I was hoping for more of a Deadlands Hell on Earth or Fallout 3 experience, which is to say “humor is there, but it’s not all up in your grill.” Fact is, I love Deadlands Hell on Earth (Classic, not the piece of crap d20 version that was released) and ran it for a very long time back in the day. You’ll not be getting any Deadlands Hell On Earth hatred coming from here.

    As for why I actually bought whose contents I knew about before buying it, mainly so that I could form an educated and objective opinion about the product outside of the hype that was being spewed by Wizards of the Coast and the Gamma World fanboys. That and I like buying RPGs.

    I’m sorry that my opinion of the game runs so counter to your own, but there’s enough room in the dice bag for all shapes and sizes of dice, yes?


  7. As a person who has run every version of Gamma World except the D20 version (which was way, way WAY off the “Gamma World” flavor, I can say I somewhat agree with this review.

    The problem the review author has with ” Humanoid pigs, badgers and world-dominating bunnies? ” just shows a basic lack of understanding with the Gamma World genre. In the previous versions, any of those could have been a player race, and all 3 were major portions of some of the campaigns I ran. So the author is missing the basic point of the game. This game has some of the highlights of the previous versions, including mutants of various types. I just miss the old school days, when the bunnies could turn things they touched into rubber. Now THAT was fun! Made players with power armor very, VERY fearful of fighting them!

    That being said, I agree with the whole shoehorning of purchasable cards into the game. I understand that the game manufacturer needs an ongoing revenue stream, but that’s just a pathetic way to do it. Come out with additions to the game if you want my money, not cards.

    I use a similar house rule as Sean stated. I allow each player to pick both origins, and they get two alpha cards as their primary powers. For each origin they choose to roll, they get an extra alpha mutation. As to the origin “flavor”, I leave that up to the player. Since I run a serious game, but one that does include mutated animals and plants, its up to the player if that “Speedster Rat Swarm” is really a bunch of fast rats, or a really fast super agile feral human who moves in such a bizarre way he has swarm-like functionality.

    Omega tech is handled more like the game itself, the player has a stack of them, but only one works at a time, more as you go up in levels or have a high science skill.

    The whole “collapsed time lines” thing, IMO, is just drivel. I understand they needed a way to get all sorts of different types of cards in the game, and ways to constantly change characters. But saying, “Hey! I suddenly lost my wings but now have gills because the world is constantly fluxing!” is just ridiculous. I didn’t like the chaos of it, and neither did my players. So it got changed, and everyone likes it better now.

    So all in all, an OK addition to the GW stable with a little home modding and tweaking. Take care, and keep your blaster pistol handy!


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