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[WIR] Gamma World, first edition (1978)

s/LaSH

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I assume a turbine vehicle is basically the Batmobile, if that helps. I know some models of Batmobile used atomic turbines, but apparently the Gamma World timeline has lost that particular branch of compact Wayne Enterprises engineering know-how.

Yes, this means the Batmobile is an outdated piece of cr- uh, classic car by the time of the Apocalypse. But having seen some of the things that you can scavenge in this setting, it would fit right in with the consumer aesthetic, which has a certain American Rococo flair to it...
 

DJChallix

Gygaxian Gen-Xer
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PART 44: PLAY OF THE GAME (Miscellaneous Energy Devices)

Yes my dear friends, we are still in “Play of the Game,” the section of the GAMMA WORLD rulebook which never ends, and lies before us like an endless radioactive wasteland. But still we carry on. So strap on your plastic armor and grab your black ray gun and stop-sign shield and let's continue.

The next sub-heading here is “Miscellaneous Energy Devices”, of which there are twelve, one of which probably-sort-of doesn’t belong (as we’ll see).

The devices, following the long-standing old school practice of not listing things in alphabetical order but rather authorial whim, are listed in the rulebook as:

Portent
Energy Cloak
Control Baton
Communications Sender
Medi-Kit
Anti-Grav Sled
Ultra-Violet & Infra-Red Goggles
Chemical Energy Cell
Solar Energy Cell
Hydrogen Energy Cell
Atomic Energy Cell
Energy Cell Charger

In my opinion, the medi-kit doesn’t quite belong here, since the next section, as we’ll see, is “Medical Supplies and Equipment.” But that’s a minor quibble. So let’s tackle the list, starting with the first four items.

Portent
A unit the size of a backpack which generates a protective energy shield large enough to protect four men (i.e. average-sized humanoid types) from the elements. So basically it’s a force-field tent. I’m not sure why they call it a “portent”; I can’t figure out if that’s some attempt at a pun or simply a combination of “portable” and “tent”, since an actual portent is an ominous warning of danger and that doesn’t seem to apply here (maybe it's an ominous sign of inclement weather if you have to use this thing?). But maybe I’m overthinking it. If someone shoots a weapon (or throws a rock) at your energized portent, it will absorb 5 points of damage and then short-circuit. Thanks, portent—obviously not intended as a defensive force shield for combat use. The portent is powered by two solar cells with enough charge for 24 hours. This device is one of those things that is really cool when we see them in movies (whoa, check it out—even though it’s a subzero blizzard on the mysterious planet, the away team is snug and safe in their energized portent!) but in my experience isn’t often used in RPGs. But if you make use of adverse weather conditions (and since GAMMA WORLD is heavily wilderness exploration-based, you probably should) this thing could definitely come in handy.

Okay, that commentary was twice as long as the actual entry for “portent” in the rulebook. I’m reminded of the quirky, socially-awkward character Liberty Bell in THE PAPER CHASE, who wrote summary notes of his law textbook that ended up being twice as long as the textbook itself. And Bell was monomaniacal enough to think that he was going to publish those notes. Lol.

Energy Cloak
This cloak is intended for use at social functions. It’s essentially a cloak and cowl, like a rain slicker, but when you turn it on, it is “a blaze of scintillating colors.” And right now I’m thinking two things: (a) Yep, that’s about as 70s as you can get, and (b) Go go go Joseph, you know what they say . . .

So here you are with a psychedelic rave/disco cloak (I’m getting a headache just imagining an entire roomful of these things in action) but in addition to looking really hip and mod, the cloak will give you an additional benefit: it reflects laser beams. Like, completely reflects all laser beams, all of the time, no matter what. The funny part is that this is described in the text as “an unexpected side-effect”. I’m trying to imagine some designer at Abercrombie & Fitch telling his supervisor, “Hey, guess what? That new fabric we cooked up in the lab is not only really soft, comfortable, and fade-resistant, but, uh, it’s also completely bullet-proof. It's the damnedest thing." Ain't science-fantasy awesome?

The energy cloak is powered by a chemical energy cell with a mere 12 hour battery life, which is a real bummer if you want to wear the cloak in a non-stop, psychedelic, 48-hour, marathon disco orgy. Ahem.

Control Baton
The description of this item begins with this cryptic phrase: “A 4th or 5th stage military command item (see I.D. DEVICES).” Hmm. We’ll wait until we get to I.D. Devices (it’s coming up on the next page) to worry about what that means. The authors go on to tell us that the control baton can activate or deactivate any powered suit of armor with a single touch. (We don’t have combat mechanics for how this would work, but I would treat the baton as a club—WC1—and would require the baton-wielder to succeed at an attack vs. AC10. Thus the baton would touch, and deactivate, any powered armor on a roll of 9 or more). Like a touch-EMP that shuts down Iron Man's suit. Very cool.

Equally nifty is the directional antennae (remember those awesome chrome-coloured antennae you had to manually extend just to get a signal?), which will allow the baton to lead its wielder to any power armor suit in a 1km radius. And perhaps best of all, the baton also “identifies the user to any robotic unit as command personnel, allowing the user to command units at a specific location such as a military base or government building.” A control baton should be at the top of every Pure Strain Human PC’s wish list.

Communications Sender
I’ll quote this very brief description in full: “These are short range two-way radios or TVs with ranges up to 100 kilometers. They are powered by chemical and solar energy cells. Hundreds of varieties, military and civilian, can still be found.” Not much to say other than that I'm getting a delightful Radio-Shack vibe from the "two-way radio or TVs" phrase.


See you soon, fellow explorers.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
I generally like the idea behind Gamma World names, more than I like the specific implementations. Decades later, I still can't keep half the critters straight. But portent is just downright terrible. At the very least, and this is the absolute baseline minimum standard, your faux names shouldn't collide with the namespace of a familiar word and 100% overlap it. It just confuses the hell out of everyone.
 

MrJupiter

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I love the visual of seeing a PC wearing powered-armored, and feeling all nigh-invincible, encountering their first NPC armed with only one of those Control Batons. It seems to me that this little piece of tech would become standard issue equipment for soldiers in the modern battlefield. I wonder why it would work on powered armor yet not a mention as to how it would affect robots?
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
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Probably because the command baton isn't weapons tech, it's security tech. You can only use it against your own, not enemy armor. Which you don't see scattered around Gamma World because the Apocalypse was fought with WMD not infantry. They'd be very limited, because they're used only when someone went rogue or was compromised by an AI virus. The reason they don't work against robots might be because robots weren't considered a security risk. They always did what they were told. At the time.
 

s/LaSH

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"I've never seen armour like this before. It looks pretty normal, but... here, the shoulder articulation is only two pieces, not three. You'll hit a movement lock if you try to raise your arm directly above your head. And there's something deeply wrong with the onboard OS."

"It's not buggy. It's just in Tamil."

"Huh?"

"Well, half in Tamil. The Chennai Defense Manufacturing Collective used a heck of a lot of loanwords when they put this baby together."

"Why do you have a Tamil assault armour?"

"Because I can read about three-quarters of the menus, and because it's totally immune to North American command overrides."

"No, I mean, you're a three-foot-tall talking duck. You can't wear power armour."

"It's not to use. God. Have you never heard of collecting?"
 

MrJupiter

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Probably because the command baton isn't weapons tech, it's security tech. You can only use it against your own, not enemy armor. Which you don't see scattered around Gamma World because the Apocalypse was fought with WMD not infantry. They'd be very limited, because they're used only when someone went rogue or was compromised by an AI virus. The reason they don't work against robots might be because robots weren't considered a security risk. They always did what they were told. At the time.
Now that just seems so logical now. Thanks
 

DavetheLost

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I remember a story or something that featured a control baton that allowed the user to give orders to robots. If you have the right color band you don't need a control rad to order robots about.
 

DJChallix

Gygaxian Gen-Xer
Validated User
PART 45: PLAY OF THE GAME (Miscellaneous Energy Devices)

I apologize for the delay; things have been really hard for me lately. A very short entry for today, because real life sucks. Thank goodness we have role-playing games. Sigh.

The next entry in this section of the rules is the medi-kit, which is not only one of the most important items for PCs (imagine healing potions in D&D if there was no healing magic) but also one of the most intriguing entries thus far in the book.

Medi-kit
Almost certainly inspired by STAR TREK to some extent, the medi-kit is a portable unit able to be hung on a belt. It allows anyone, even a person with no medical knowledge, to “give himself or others major first-aid and medical treatment.” How does it do this, you ask? Easy: “A small but sophisticated computer, coupled with several microwave sensors, analyzes and treats all manner of medical problems.”

Needless to say, whether “all manner of medical problems” ranges from broken limbs to schizophrenia or Multiple Sclerosis to erectile dysfunction is very much outside the scope of these rules. But at the very least, you might think it would include, say, recovery of lost hit points, yes? Oh, stop for a second with your gamist nonsense and keep reading this wonderful passage:

“To use the medi-kit, merely place the device over the wounded area, touching the flesh. The unit will take a blood sample, inject any antidotes, antibiotics, or antitoxins necessary (and contained in the kit), suture any wounds, give verbal instructions on how to perform any operations beyond its capabilities (such as setting broken bones), and finally spray on an antiseptic dressing that promotes healing.”

Damn, that is some GURPS-level detail! So how many hit points does it restore? Uh, we don’t know. It, like, doesn’t mention hit points at all. Not even once. It’s as if the authors were so taken with the beauty of their detailed description (and it is indeed pretty fantastic) that they forgot to include any game mechanics. Let’s face it, this whole “placing it over the injured area” and “spraying on antiseptic dressing” and whatnot is pretty much just flavor text in a system with damage as abstract as GAMMA WORLD. Not that I’m complaining—I love this entry. But it doesn’t mention what the effects of the medi-kit actually are. A few questions I have: (1) Does it restore all hit points, or just some? If so, how many? (2) Does it save someone from death by poison? After all, there’s the whole “antitoxin” reference—even with my useless arts degree and having wasted half my life as an English teacher (God help me) even I know that antitoxin has something to do with helping fight poison.

We do have some game mechanics regarding usage (4 treatments therein for “any given problem”—a phrase which probably raises as many questions as it answers, but at least we know this thing doesn’t have unlimited uses) and power (chemical energy cell). We also have a nice hint to the referee to be generous with these things: “The medi-kit was very common and any military installation of the Ancients is likely to have a large supply of them.” That’s cool. I have doled these things out in past campaigns like healing potions, but only when PCs manage to infiltrate a research base or underground military bunker, etc.

One final detail. The authors close this intriguing (and maddeningly incomplete) description with this statement: “Keep in mind the fact that medi-kits were designed and programmed by and for human beings. The farther away from Pure Strain Human stock the patient, the less likely his chances of successful treatment by a medi-kit.” Makes sense—but once again, no mechanics are given.

My old copy of GAMMA WORLD has my house rules for this device scribbled in the margins. I don’t have that copy handy (it’s upstairs somewhere and I’m in bed feeling sad with the dog cuddled up beside me and I don’t really want to move), but my house rules were something like “heals 5d8 hp per use, can be used once per day on the same person, 4 uses maximum”. I also had percentage chances of effectiveness in treating humanoid mutants and Mutated Animals (I think it was 50% for humanoids and 30% for mutant animals, or something like that) along with a chance that the device could actually cause harm to non-PSH types (5% or something). At any rate, my house rules don’t really matter; the point is that some form of house ruling is needed here. Add to that the fact that the medi-kit probably should be listed in the next section of the book anyway (“Medical Supplies and Equipment”) and you have a fantastic device with a superbly cool description that needed some serious editing.

Which pretty much describes a good portion of any 1970s RPG rulebook.


More to come, as soon as life stops sucking.
 

Dr. Jerry Hathaway

I want five megawatts by mid-May
Validated User
Unless it’s a “dirty bomb”, which does 300 hp of damage. The authors don’t explain what a dirty bomb is (or what they think it is), just that it does more damage.
It's a conventional weapon that intentionally spreads radiological material. So it's not really being used properly here - the implication is that it's a stronger variation of a nuke, but it's really a different animal altogether.
 
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