Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Pharmaceuticals in Third Edition Gamma World

Keep in mind as we go through these rules that the third edition of Gamma World came out in 1986. That’s the same year that GURPS was released. So when Steve Jackson was launching a game line that would ultimately separate setting from system once and for all, TSR was still applying the Zebulon’s Guide approach of revamping to what was essentially a game design that was mired in a freewheeling seventies methodology. Traveller would not be revamped until 1987 and AD&D would not get the second edition treatment until 1989. And of course, first edition GURPS looks like a mere iteration of the Fantasy Trip when compared to recent material for that line. Taken all together, things were incredibly competitive in the rpg market of the eighties… but the top designs of the seventies held on for as long as they possibly could.

Now I say all of that because today’s chunk of rules are pretty nuts. It’s hard to believe that this could have been the hot new thing in the mid-eighties, but you have to understand that Gygax’s core books and adventures were pretty well considered state of the art to just about everyone except maybe the Space Gamer’s readership.

The medical equipment rules in third edition Gamma World can hurt you. This is a major piece of the setting and a major difference between this game and D&D… but these rules are tucked away in an odd corner of the 16 page reference book. (They really should have mentioned this stuff in the character type breakdowns in the main book, but there’s nothing there on this.) Just like Classic Traveller’s experience rules, they can easily be forgotten or overlooked. But even someone that wants to play “by the book” is going to have to take some time to decode some nigh-unto inscrutable rules:

  1. Determine the dose’s Intensity by rolling 1d10+10.
  2. Roll on the Action table at the med’s intensity level modified by the characters constitution modifier.
  3. Apply a color result shift downward a number of levels depending on how far away the character type is from Pure Strain Human. (See page 5 for a statement of the result factor rules.)
  4. If the action was successful, the drug takes effect!
  5. On a failure… take base poison damage equal to half of the Intensity. Reroll on the Act table at the drug’s intensity level to determine the result factor. On a red result, the character also makes a constitution check on the Critical Injury Table with results ranging from instant death up to reducing damage taken by half. (See page 26 for details.)

So are any of these drugs worth the risk…? Even a pure strain human is looking at around a one-in-three chance of taking poison damage here!

  • Accelera Dose — A pure strain human can heal between 10 points (for blue result) and 50 points (for red result) of damage. It’s probably only worth it if you think you can survive the poison damage you’d get on a failure! Wow… this ain’t no cure light wounds spell!
  • Anti-Radiation Serum — Which is worse… the radiation damage you are about to take… or the poison damage you might take…?
  • Cur-In Dose — Given the extremely high chances of poisoning yourself with the rest of this stuff, this drug could be the key to compensating for the system’s wonkiness: it cancels the effect of a drug or poison. Note that normally you can’t take more than one drug per ten minutes… but I would waive that rule if you’re using this. Otherwise, the sequence of play gets all out of joint.
  • Genetic BoosterThe missing biogenetic agent! Note that the rules here contradict the random duration of the standard mutation rules– here it always lasts just 1d6 hours.
  • Interra Shot — “Well… either they’re telling the truth, or else we just poisoned that NPC…! Does he look a bit pale to you…?”
  • Medi-Kit — Okay, now this one actually makes some sense! The artificial intelligence prevents you from poisoning anyone– even mutants. (This must be a post-apocalyptic product?) The only downside for mutants is less damage healed and greater chance of having to roll on the system shock table due to the greater likelihood of black results. Of course, after looking at the results on the system shock table, this can still turn out very, very bad.
  • Mind-Booster — Increase your Mental Strength by 3 for an hour. I’m not sure the chance of poisoning is worth the pitiful amount of effect that a mentalist humanoid is liable to get out of this…. (Plus one on some mutation rolls is about it, eh?)
  • Pain Reducer — Temporary extra hit-points! (But there’s a catch….)
  • Poison Antidote — Okay, this one is just too complicated to bother with seeing as we already have the Cur-In Dose. I can just barely wade through the text on this one.
  • Stim Dose — Increase your DX and PS by one for an hour with a few other catches. Again, the combat system is just not likely to be affected all that much by this.
  • Suggestion Change Drug — Heh heh. Charm Person rocks when it is translated into Gamma World like this. “Oops; we just poisoned that guy by accident!” Finally, these punishing rules produce a win-win scenario.
  • Sustenance Dose — Awesome. Even these lembas wafers have a decent chance of poisoning you!

Taking these rules pretty well as written, this makes the Pure Strain Human the “cleric” of the Gamma World game. But the twist here is… the medical stuff mostly only works on himself, thereby giving new meaning to the phrase, “physician, heal thyself.” This is a huge feature in the game and it gives a massive advantage to the all too uncommon non-mutant characters… but only if the Gamma Master actually stocks the setting with this stuff as loot and actually bothers to follow the rules. You could expect me to go to the trouble of doing that in my game, but I really don’t recall anyone in the eighties gaming that way.

These rules and items were pretty well ignored in my groups back in the day, though I suspect that if the earlier editions of the rules were simpler and more D&D-like– and if those games had included a sample adventure that had plenty of “meds” available in treasure hoards– then players of previous editions are much more likely to have been familiar with these items.

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