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Gamma World

Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (1978). Tactical Studies Rules (TSR). Designed by James Ward, Gary Jaquet.

The original edition of Gamma World is an atomic age fantasy set in the eponymous "third age" of the Earth, a Post-Holocaust world full of psychic Mutants, forgotten super-technologies and devastated Cities. The background is Science Fantasy rather than realistic science fiction, influenced by such novels as Andre Norton's Star Man's Son, 2250 A.D. (1952) and Sterling E Lanier's Hiero's Journey (1973). Exotic mutations abound; characters can become mutated simply by entering radioactive areas, acquiring talents similar to those seen in the X-Men Comics, from the Psionic power to disrupt molecular structures to the ability to sprout razor-sharp leaves. The gameplay is full of moments of quirky humour and bizarre combat as characters make use of a huge range of curious abilities and struggle with malfunctioning ancient Robots and poorly understood pre-disaster artefacts.

The second edition (1983 TSR) designed by James Ward, Gary Jaquet, David Ritchie as well as the third (1985 TSR) designed by James Ward and fourth (1992 TSR) designed by Bruce Nesmith, James Ward expand on this setting; the fourth is perhaps the most complete and flamboyant. A fifth edition (2000 Wizards of the Coast [WOTC]) designed by Andy Collins, Jeff Grubb is a supplement for Alternity (1988), in contrast to the earlier versions, which included their own unique rules systems. Subsequent iterations have attempted to update the setting to make it more relevant to contemporary fears. Thus the d20 based sixth edition (2002 Sword and Sorcery Studios) designed by Bruce Baugh adopts a much more serious and realistic tone than that of previous versions to depict a milieu devastated by an out of control technological Singularity, perhaps in the process losing some of the game's essential style. A different approach is taken in the seventh edition (2010 WOTC) designed by Richard Baker, Bruce Cordell, which employs an adapted version of the mechanics from the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons (see Role Playing Games) to present a world in which a disastrous Physics experiment has collapsed multiple Parallel Worlds into one, leaving an impacted continuum many of whose constituent cosms have been ravaged by nuclear war. The resulting game is similar in tone to the original, though rather more complex.

Historically, Gamma World may have been the first Role Playing Game to include semi-secret societies ("Cryptic Alliances") to which characters belong and which supply player motivation through their hidden agendas, a concept which is important in such later games as Paranoia (1984) and Trinity (1997). It is still perhaps the only game in which a player can adopt the persona of a walking, telepathic rose bush carrying a Blaster pistol and confront a platoon of heavily armed giant rabbits.

Related works: Early editions of Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha share the same Future History. Gammarauders (1987 TSR) designed by Allen Varney is a less than entirely serious Board Game set in the Gamma World milieu, in which players control Cryptic Alliances which use gigantic mutated "bioborgs", from Teleporturtles to Penguinoids, to destroy each others' fortresses. Revenge of the Factoids (1989 TSR) designed by Douglas Niles is an expansion for Gammarauders. Gamma Knights (1992 TSR) designed by Steve Winter, Slade Henson is a tactical combat Wargame associated with the fourth edition; players adopt the roles of pseudo-chivalric knights wearing pre-Holocaust Powered Armour. The game's emphasis on stealth over violence is interesting, though its rules are somewhat inconsistent.

A ten-issue Comics series, Gammarauders (1989), was spun off from the eponymous game, and included a miniature RPG for the setting. Four Endless Quest Gamebooks were released for Gamma World: Light on Quests Mountain (1983), by Mary Kirchoff and James Ward; Mystery of the Ancients (1985), by Morris Simon; American Knights (1995), by Nick Pollotta, and The 24-Hour War (1995), also by Pollotta. Red Sails in the Fallout (2011), by Paul Kidd, and Sooner Dead (2011), by Mel Odom, are both Ties to the seventh edition; the former is perhaps more evocative of the setting. [NT]

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