Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Reading Third Edition Gamma World… The Action Table

The reason that so few people like this particular iteration of the game is because it is a mid-eighties TSR revamp.That means that just like Star Frontiers, the rules all got totally retooled to be even better with the use of a colorful Marvel Superheroes style action resolution chart.

Now, this is something the comes under a lot of criticism out here in the old gaming dude rpg kibitzing scene. But I’m going to break from the herd here to explain four reasons why this system was freaking awesome:

  1. Chance to get double damage with a Green result.
  2. Chance to get triple damage with a Yellow result.
  3. Chance to get quadruple damage with a Orange result.
  4. Chance to get quintuple damage with a Red result.

You want to have wahoo! adventures in a zany post-apocalyptic setting? Great! Then might I suggest creating a wahoo! system…? I mean why not, really? Well, there’s lots of reasons why not. And honestly, they’re all starting to stick in my craw.

There’s two dominant takes on this, I guess: Old School and New Wave. The Old School guys believe that original D&D is pretty much the last word on role playing– everything since then is no more than commentary. If these guys get into Gamma World at all, it is either going to be the earlier, more D&D-like iterations or else they will make a “new” clone that is fundamentally compatible with an existing clone franchise. The New Wave guys will clamor for a universal mechanic and streamlining play by doing stuff like getting rid of damage rolls. When it’s pointed out that this version of Gamma World does exactly that, they will laugh in your face because everybody knows that no one should ever have to consult a chart while playing a game because charts slow down gameplay. (Would you be able to show your face at the next Eurogame meetup if people like that knew you were using charts on the side? I think not!)

I think both these camps are missing out– and frankly, there’s a great deal of irony involved when people criticize a game for being the result of a fad when they themselves are caught up in a fad. But never mind that. The petty wranglings of gaming pundits matter nothing in these dark times– far better for us if we invest in making nice with the cryptic alliance of our choice! The ultimate question in all these things is of course whether or not we in fact bring the wahoo! to our players. Think on these things, my brethren. Heed them well. But know this: no other system will give you the feeling of rolling a red result in Gamma World Third Edition. It is that awesome.

The rules for the chart were something that James Ward and Harold Johnson felt needed additional clarification. In the euphemistically titled “Rules Supplement,” they take pains to differentiate between result factor bonuses and result factor shifts. A +1 RF will raise the result factor by one– even for a x0 white result. It does not change the color of the actual result, just the multiplier. Only the result factor shift changes the actual color result. (And note that the technology penalties function as a result shift downward… except that blue results are NOT shifted down to a white.)

One of the nice things about the system is how it incorporates degrees of success into the ability saves. If you hit someone with a particular colored result and get a special effect, your opponent’s save must equal or beat that color. As if there wasn’t enough wahoo! in this system already!

The designers go to great lengths to make rules for automatic actions, both in the main rules and in the errata– er, I mean the Rules Supplement. You know, if there’s anything that keeps a game session moving, it’s the fact that the gamma master can just say, “it worked” to whatever it is that the players have proposed. But the designers are clear that in some cases, an automatic action is not automatic. You roll against the ability and then fail only on a black result. If the actual multiplier matters, consider it to be +1RF with white being a x1 sucess. (Note, however, that their explanation for why you do these things is more confusing that the actual rules for this.)

The biggest problem with this system is that the more usual column shift bonuses don’t do all that much to affect your odds while the result factor bonuses and shifts are overpoweringly epic, upstaging everything else in the game. The (optional) skills system highlights this with skill level being a mere column shift bonus for non-combat skills. There’s just not a lot of reason there to invest in going from skill level one to skill level five. Combat skills are another matter– those give a bonus to both base damage and attack rank, so getting to skill level five in one of those can bring the wahoo! every time. Instead of declaring the game system to be broken due to this imbalance, I prefer to see it as a touchstone for how the designers intend you to run the game.


4 responses to “Reading Third Edition Gamma World… The Action Table

  1. RogerBW April 16, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Another problem is that every time someone does something you have to look up the chart. And it’s not a small chart like the one in Torg where you can print it at the bottom of the character sheet, it’s a whole piece of paper that every player has to shuffle around.

    • jeffro April 16, 2013 at 7:32 am

      Say what you want, but Third Edition Gamma World’s red result is the eleven on the amplifier of adventure gaming. ;)

    • Jason Packer April 16, 2013 at 9:58 am

      There’s naught wrong with charts!

      Did you people never enjoy the fantastic charts that make up the combat system in Rolemaster or MERP? Far from being a problem in play, they were a looked forward to – everyone wanted to see their enemy roll on the fumble table just in case they got the “trip on an invisible turtle” result. Heck, even the most current edition of Rolemaster has a critical option that involves your whole side’s morale improving due to a hit to the enemy’s groin!

      • RogerBW April 16, 2013 at 10:44 am

        It’s a matter of how my tastes have changed, I think. As a Rolemaster GM I didn’t mind the tables, but I did most of the lookups myself… and they weren’t needed for every single skill roll, only the ones in combat. These days (and since I tend to run relatively combat-light games now) I have a lower tolerance for things that slow the game down; they have to have a reason, something they specifically add to the game in return for the extra time cost.

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