Radiation and Biogenics must be pretty central features of the game. Every single character type spells out how they react to them:
- Pure Strain Humans are “not mutated by radiation, but they may suffer temporary mutation from biogenetic agents.”
- Humanoids and Mutant Animals “may mutate further if exposed to radiation, but are only burned by biogenetic agents.
- Mutated plants “may mutate when exposed to either radiation or biogenetic agents.”
This appears to be just some sort of chrome to make the different character types useful in different situations, but in the case of mutant plants, their ability to mutate with both appears to be some sort of balancing feature to bring them in line with the other three types. If your campaign is devoid of radiation and biogenetics… then mutant plants will be hurt the most.
My group did in fact ignore this stuff back in the day. The rules for handling this stuff are buried on odd places. The hazards section lists them as dangers alongside poison and traps. If you’re playing a game derived from D&D and you’ve got something in it that’s on par with poison and traps… then it is probably really important! There’s one more reason to look into this stuff….
The “rules supplement” lists radiation as a hazard of Deathland travel. Its suggested intensity is 3d6 with a base damage at half of that. Flipping over to the damage type section (a set of rules that were impossibly complicated to my teenaged self), we see that the radiation entry is starred as being one of he more common types. It’s not entirely clear here, but I presume a character gets a constitution check to avoid the damage and/or the special effect. With a typical constitution of 15, you’d have a 61% chance to do that.
In contrast to this, biogenetic agents are pretty well only covered in the damage type section. I’ve flipped through all of the booklets of this set and I never came across a single example indicating either what they are or how they should be run in the game. Just like radiation damage, it is also marked as being one of the more common damage types. Based on what it says here, the Gamma Master just makes up a number for the Intensity score… and base damage should be half that. (What’s the intensity score for…? It is not clear with just a cursory look through the rules. I presume it affects how you roll for encounters or something, but I just can’t find the rule and/or charts for that on the spur of the moment. This is one more reason why we never played by these rules when we were kids. Doh!)
Okay, so it’s a little sketchy… but some way, somehow… you get to ask the players to roll for mutation in this game. When this happens, break out the rainbow chart again. First you roll for the mutation. Some of these results are minor or annoying; the good ones are Yellow and Green which give you brand new mutations. Those two results together have a 35% of occurring if your constitution is 15… with the odds getting better for higher numbers. The next roll you make is for duration. Here a white result means that the mutation lasts for a few days– and a black result indicates it’s permanent! For constitution 15, that will be a 36% chance for white and a 3% chance for black… but with the odds going down the higher the stat is. Yeah, the rainbow chart is pretty freaky. You don’t want the white and black result if it was something bad… so I guess it’s better overall if you have the higher constitution even though you have a smaller chance of getting a permanent mutation in the deal.
The thing that really hurts this aspect of the game is the spotty way in which it is dealt with in the rules. Role playing is fairly robust due to the fact that it is refereed. An ambiguous rule is not that big of a problem as long as you can depend on the Gamma Master to make judgement calls. If the rule is complex and requires you to look in four separate sections of the rule book to maybe understand 80% of the mechanics you need to apply it, then you can expect most tables to ignore the rule and system altogether. A strong referee could still make it work if he is willing to reverse engineer the implied game system and/or the intent of the designer. Nevertheless… with biogenetic agents (if not radiation), we have next to nothing as far as setting information goes. Without some clear examples, it’s just not clear how to incorporate this into your campaign!
Again, I may have missed something in my reading of the rules, but this is a critical failure as far as game design and rule writing goes. I’m a fan of this game and I want to make it work… but I hate it when I get put in the position where I have to research this stuff out in order to feel like I’m running the game faithfully. As we continue the series, I’ll be on the lookout for any place where this gets addressed. So don’t give up hope, yet. After all, you still might get a Green+Black result on your mutation check and end up with a permanent mental mutation!
Update: I found it! The biogenetic agent example is tucked away on page 15 of the reference booklet– a page of rules I have completely ignored for almost thirty years…! Doh!