January 26, 2008

The World After

Recent conversations with Mike (check out his blog—far better than mine—here) have gotten me thinking about the Gamma World game. I was always basically a “D&D player”; I experimented a bit with other systems—Mythus, TORG, etc.—and I own a few systems that seem cool but I’ve never actually played—Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia, and Vampire come to mind—but I always came back to the gold standard, flaws and all.

The one system that pulled me away for a time was Gamma World, the first edition with the grey book. True, the rules were basically D&D rules, and perhaps that made it more approachable, but it was also the subject matter. I’ve always found end of the world type scenarios fascinating, and GW had all the right elements: cool tables full of superhero power-like mutations, weird and malfunctioning robots and androids (Westworld is one of my favorite films of all time), secret societies with hidden agendas, and a campaign milieu that allowed for a broad variety of encounters.

My friends and I played eagerly, especially when we needed a break from wizards and dragons, and I still remember our adventures set around the starting city of Horn. We battled badders and arks (mutated, intelligent badger-men and dog-men), destroyed killer androids, puzzled over ancient artifacts, and lived in terror of the mighty Death Machine. It was great fun.

Last week I took advantage of a stop made at my folks house to raid my old closet. This meant laying on my belly in the dust, pushing up layers of boxes and reaching and straining for that most-buried box that still held some old modules. It took about 20 minutes of struggle and some scraped knuckles, but buried amid old Dragon magazines and convention brochures I hit pay dirt—the Gamma World motherlode. I unearthed the Gamma World second edition boxed set (I never played past the 3rd) and several modules … Famine in Far-go, The Cleansing War of Garik Blackhand, The Mind Masters, and Alpha Factor.

Flipping through the old books was like a trip down memory lane, and it opened my mind to new possibilities. Slaying dragons is awesome (especially a young white my duskblade helped fell the other day), but mutants and androids are a cool chance of pace.

January 15, 2008


Recently I’ve thought a lot about RPG reboots. Perhaps it’s the New Year and all (and I wish a good 2008 to my readers—both of you!—by the way).

Occasionally it’s time for a RPG reboot, and often it can be a good thing. Many years ago I ran a regular campaign, almost certainly the best I’ve ever run as a DM. I had four players and we met every two weeks like clockwork. This went on for nearly three years. We were playing in the venerable World of Greyhawk and their PCs busily explored the Wild Coast in search of adventure. The PCs (a human fighter, half-elf thief, cleric, and drow mage/thief, if I recall correctly) used the town of Fax as home base, and they got involved in all manner of trouble. They worked their way through such famous modules as the entire Slavers series as well as many home-brewed adventures, all of which I stitched together into a giant tapestry of NPCs and subplots. They barely had finished an adventure when I laid down the clues for several more. Sometimes a previous bad guy would show up for revenge just when they were hot on the trail of the latest one.

It was a hell of a lot of fun.

Then one fateful day trouble struck. It was the dreaded TPK. No one did anything wrong, except they rolled really bad, and I rolled good (or high at least), and they just wouldn't quit, and one by one the PCs went down.

They were near the climax of a long-running adventure. The villain—truly the best sort, a minor cult cleric who escaped them once by dumb luck and then continually returned to cause them grief, returning ever-stronger each time—was before them, all his avenues of escape lost, and they vowed to “get him his time!” one way or the other. This fellow, one Selyular (but forever just known to this day as “the evil cleric”), had killed their key allies, eluded them several times (fairly), and once even threw them all, sans equipment, into a carrion crawler-infested cave system to die. It was their time now, and they weren’t going to pass it up. But as I said, fate intervened.

After the smoke cleared, we all discussed the situation. They had reached a hard-earned average of 4th or 5th level (this was the 2e era), and no one really wanted to roll up new characters. They wanted to “finish the story, dammit!

Given their rather thief-like outlook, strong guild affiliation, and general nature, I decided that Olidammara (laughing scoundrel that he was) took pity on these poor mortals and decided to raise them, en masse, for another shot at life. (In those days I didn’t think or worry about what the death god might have said about that…) This was deus ex machina at it’s worst no doubt, but the players ran with it. There were penalties, of course. They lost experience, magic, and returned with but 1 hp each. Worship of Olidammara (spell that backwards!) was near mandatory, and the party cleric immediately went from worshipping Pholtus to worshipping the Laughing Rogue, with an appropriate if hasty change in abilities and spheres.

In the end, they tracked the evil cleric back to the cult’s big hideout, sacked the place, and chased the cleric and his strongest henchman on horseback until in a field just south of Elredd they personally sent him to his maker. The reboot allowed them to play the adventure they wanted, with the characters they wanted, and it ended up increasing the challenge. It seemed a good alternative to simply letting a multi-sided piece of plastic flop the wrong way and ruin it all. Later many creative PC decisions flowed from the reboot as well. It worked.

Recently I’ve seen creative frictions hamper game play among my older co-players, and I’ve also happily had the chance to roll the dice with some new faces, and I’ve also considered the rebooting factor of new groups and fresh blood, and the welcome breath of fresh air they breathe through the hair of even the most jaded gamer.

Used sparingly, RPG reboots (of all kinds) aren’t always a bad thing.
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