Monday, November 29, 2010

My trip to Gamma Terra...

Following is a repost from Exonauts, October 25, 2010.

Here's a pic I took of the event poster, in where else? The bathroom (no lie).
Saturday, I attended the Gamma World release event at the Source Comics and Games (my FLGS) here in the Twin Cities. It's been about a year since I've played D&D 4E, and I have to say I felt really rusty. In fact, I'm sure I annoyed some of the other players, but in my defense I played the "newb" at the table so I ended up with several people helping me along with some of the crunch.

The Source held two sessions (11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.) each running about four hours. Since I'd been offered tickets to go see the Gopher game in the morning (they lost--surprise!) I went to the latter. After signing up, I was placed at a table with four other players (three of whom who were pals) and another fellow. They all seemed like nice guys, the three who knew each other seemed to be regular--or at least non-novice-- 4E players and had things down pat. We all began as 1st Level PCs. Our little A-Team of mutants consisted of:
  • Chitter-Chitter: a rat swarm in humanoid form that had psionic powers and wielded the Skillet of Justice™
  • Catnip: a feline plant who later acquired a Heavy-lift Harness (think Ripley in Aliens)
  • Frank: I misheard his origin, but I think he was an enhanced human of some kind with a hoverboard and and fantastically high mechanics skill
  • Kenshiro: again, chargen was somewhat chaotic, but I think he was made out of rock or metal, he swung a brick flail
  • Zeke the Beak: a giant hawkoid who swung a full-sized mailbox and a harpoon gun, and donned armor made of salvaged ironing boards
I played Zeke. Here's a rendering:
Zeke's stats (with modifiers:
STR: 18 (+4)
DEX: 14 (+2)
CON: 16 (+3)
WIS: 16 (+3)
INT: 10 (n/a)
CHA: 7 (-2)
HP: 28 / Bloodied: 14
Zeke had a Nature skill with a +4, which came in completely useless as he had a habit of rolling natural 1's. Oh, and being a hawkoid, he could of course fly his speed (6).

AC: 18
Fortitude: 14
Reflex: 13
Will: 14

The demo module, "Trouble in Freesboro" has five encounters. *Spoiler!* We started outside on a lonely highway and came across some porkers (humanoid pigs) and a swarm of radioactive birds which proved down-right tough to kill. That encounter lasted forever. Later we sauntered over to a research lab where we fought some bots on a rooftop and made our way into the main event (thus skipping two encounters).

There has already been plenty of reviews of the material included in the new set, unboxing videos, and plenty of discussion, so I won't rehash, but I will tell you my initial impressions. For ease, I'll just bullet:
  • First off, we'd all purchased our own booster cards as required by WotC and the store, though the GM was a swell guy and I want to say he'd have been lenient and let us share or borrow a few from his deck.
  • As we all know, 4E is heavy on the crunch, and that's not diluted in Gamma World, however it does play a bit faster and looser. For instance, stats on single and two-handed weapons are listed without going into every permutation thereof, my two-handed mailbox was just as as deadly as say a two-handed parking meter.
  • I'll admit, I'm an idiot sometimes, but I was annoyed that the character sheet and stat blocks for powers (in the manual) are an overcrowded nightmare. Half the time I couldn't tell what I was looking at, let along what blank I had to fill in. Being an idiot in a rush to complete his character didn't help.
  • We did roll quite a few skills that (if it were an OSR game) we likely didn't need to roll for. Frank's mechanic skill (padded through bonuses and some equipment he'd acquired) often ended up in the 30+ range. Yet the GM had him roll his mechanics skill at least three times--twice to defeat door locks.  After a while the GM did relent, again, in the interest of moving things along. I wish this were less a GM-style issue, and more encouraged by the rules themselves.
  • Damage in GW is insanely brutal, with many rounds running like a live-action cartoon of carnage. While fun, we  were warned early and often that we may have to roll up new PCs.
  • The prospect of chargen during the game seems ridiculous to me since it took so long in the first place. The GM had his hands full with the five of us rolling up shiny new PCs. Even with 4E players using a photo copy of the armor and origin tables, it took nearly 40 min. While it would go much faster once you knew what you were doing, each origin has it's own inherited powers so you'd better be familiar with the book if you want it go faster. I had my own solution.*
  •  Apart from these, I'm actually a big fan of the random booster cards. They were definitely the stars of the show and made for an exciting game overall. Early previews of the game had criticized it with more power-boosting/munchkining, but since the game's main strength is its outlandishness (and frankly, it's point) I see this as a benefit.
  • Alpha mutations make up not only your origin, but play a big part from encounter to encounter.  
  • Omega tech is likely far too powerful for OSR tastes, being plentiful in the way of a deck each player can collect, and having the ability to be "overcharged" to enhance performance, but often limits it to single or limited use.
  • All in all I had a lot of fun and I'd play again, though it's quite apparent that so much of the game is sucked up checking rules. This seems like it would be the case for anyone (GM or PCs) learning a new game though, so might not be a big issue in the long run.
Adventure-wise, I don't even know that it would be worth while to recap the whole debacle because it was insane!  Here I thought my giant birdman slapping people around with a mailbox would be the life of the party--but the scene stealer was Catnip climbing up the side of the lab building in the load harness by punching holes in the exterior wall. Even better was his descent down a stairwell that, uh, didn't go so well for the stairs.While we ended up with Catnip and Kenshiro down to 1 and 2 HP respectively, our claim to fame was becoming one of the few groups that day to have all PCs make it the end alive. Quite the feat when you figure that despite the harsh combat, the GM didn't pull any punches.

While all four of the guys playing were great roleplayers, Frank's player sort of became the default "leader" tracking initiative, helping move things along, and knew his rules (even helping the GM) and this made for a better, smoother game experience.

In the end, Zeke flew away with:
  • 420 XP
  • A downed robot's head, which he sported as a hat
  • A kalidoscope that which he eventually traded with Chitter-Chitter for a pair of swim goggles
The Source received a few extra copies of the module and by the end of the night they gave a few to interested parties, such as myself, which was much appreciated! I'd ordered the game online and it arrived at home the day I played (fate!) so I was pleased as punch to dig into the material.
While it would have been nice to have them included in the box, I had the chance to pick out my own set of "irradiated die", pictured above with the Freesboro module.
In any case, I think any group could improve on some of the crunchiness. *To save time I snapped a photos of the powers for my giant (origin 1) hawkoid (origin 2) powers on my smartphone rather than write them all out in a mad dash (which I tried and ended up not being able to read my own scribbles). It was a handy workaround for looking up powers on the fly.
Zeke's favorite tactic was to "deliver the mail" using Brickbat.
Zeke was careful not to use the shriek too often since his buddies were often too close to enemies in combat.
If you've got any curiosity in checking out a 4E game, GW would be a great place to start. I'll reiterate what I've read from others that I can see it as a nice interim game between regular campaign sessions. Just be sure to roll up plenty of PCs beforehand--hell, that's half the fun!

A list of the booster cards Alpha (mutation) and Omega (technology)
Overviews of origins and character generation
Overview of gear

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