Saturday night, I DM’ed for the first time in over 20 years. I have enjoyed a casual return to the hobby of pen-and-paper as a player via Adam‘s quasi-monthly game, and when he said he wanted a break between campaigns, I decided to try a one-shot. Mistakes were made, and we ended way too late, but I think everyone had fun.
I chose Wizard’s new release of Gamma World for the one shot. The rules are D&D 4e rules, with some modificatiosn to make it simpler to implement. This was helpful because my DM muscles are very rusty, and two of my players hadn’t played a PnP game in decades. Plus, the Gamma World campaign setting suits me: gonzo hyper-realism and campy sci-fi for humor. It was ideal because my two lapsed players, my wife Allison and our good friend Chris, are both scientists by trade, and like having fun. Rounding out our table was our friends Adam & Crystal, no strangers to either D&D or tabletop gaming.
My dreams of an awesome custom adventure died a painful death as I ran out of time. Luckily, I was able to get a copy of Robert J. Schwalb‘s Gamma World Game Day adventure, built for five 1st-level characters, and easily modified for our party of four:
- Flicker (Allison), a Pyrokinteic Speedster with a burNing aura who attacked with a speed limit sign and a thrown icicle (!) at range
- Scratch Furrington (Adam), a Felinoid Plant who weilded a lampost as a weapon and threw a bowling ball for ranged attacks
- Katherine (Crystal), a Doppelganger Giant who dispensd justice with thrown canned vegtetables and her minion twin
- Graviton (Chris), a Seismic Android with mighty earth-rattling stomps and a rifle that was a danger to his enemies and himself.
What worked well:
- Catchphrases. Allison rolled a Pyrokinetic Speedster named Flicker who used a Speed Limit sign as a two-handed heavy weapon. The first time she used it, I was really hoping she would give us a fun quip, and in the spur of the moment, I offered a +1 to any attack roll if they announced to the table me a catchphrase before rolling. A blanket +1 is going to heavily favor the players, but it’s all in the name of more fun for all. Adam siezed on this quickly and the results were flavorful and fun. I’m probably forgetting some great ones, but my favorites included:
- Katherine throwing her can of vegetables (Heavy Ranged weapon): “Eat your vegetables!”
- Scratch hurling his bowling ball at a flock of radioactive bloodbirds: “Here comes a 7-10 split!”
- Flicker weilding her Speed Limit sign: “License and Registration, please!”
- Half-HP monsters. After the first encounter went way too long, including a Level 4 Soldier that Just. Wouldn’t. Die. I considered skipping the second encounter, or turning the Rifle-weilding cockroaches into Minions. Instead, I remembered a tip from the adventure designer’s blog to halve Monster HP. The Mobs still hit hard, but die faster, and everyone wins. This sped up the subsequent encounters, which I think if more fun for everyone.
- Player creativity. Gamma World really inspires you to think differently. After roasting a Porker (half-pig humanoid), Allison’s character grabbed a lump of hot pig meat to throw at another monster. Great stuff, and that’s just one example.
- The card mechanic. Gamma world has added two decks of cards to represent “magic” items and powers. It works well. players enjoyed drawing the cards. While some of the Alpha Powers were meh, the Omega Tech (“magic” gear) were interesting and fun. Graviton critted (max damage) with a rifle that does 7d8 damage. that’s 56 damage to a character that only had 13 HP thanks to the half-HP modification.
- Rules changes on the fly. Beyond the catchphrases, I expanded the crit range after the first encounter and errata’ed Flicker’s meaningless aura. It was good to have that flexibility (frankly,. Gamma World encourages it).
What didn’t work so well:
- Character Creation took forever. Our first hour was just rolling characters. I had intended to do a solo dry run of character creation so that I was familiar with the process, but life got in the way last week. Creating four characters when most at the table were still learning the rules took a long, long time. I could have used the online random character creator, but I wanted the players to be invested in their characters. In retrospect, that was a mistake.
- The late hour. The last encounter wrapped up after 12:30, too late for everyone, really. The adventure was written with three encounters and a fourth of you players are moving too quickly. I really intended a hard stop at midnight, but the clock was behind me and I forgot. It’s bad when your players’ last thought of the night is, “OMG it’s so late”.
- Origin Powers. Hardly anyone used their
Alpha Mutation Deck cardsorigin powers and several complained that they just weren’t interesting or better than a melee or ranged basic attack. That’s bad, and something I’d look to fix through houserules in the future. (Edited because original post said it was the Alpha Mutation cards, which actually worked fine and were fun.)
- DM rustiness. I am a storyteller by heart. There’s a rythym to how I like to tell stories and jokes and it took a while to get back to that place.
- Hand-drawn vehicles. I am a piss-poor artist.
All in all, I think everyone had fun, despite the hour. I’d like to try again sometime. Gamma World is a fun game… great mechanics that encourage spontenaity and player interest. Where it’s lacking is good hooks for a new DM to create an overall story. That ill take some work, but I’ll be better next time.