Gamma Planet: Planning a Playground

So, the tabletop RPG group I’m running? We play Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but as I’ve mentioned before, D&D isn’t the only game I’ve loved. As I’ve mentioned before, one of my oldest RPG loves was the postapocalyptic RPG Gamma World:


Back in junior high school, I was rather unaware of the mess that this edition actually was1, and I gleefully ran a campaign using these rules with a group that transcended school cliques in a way that makes it hard for me to totally reject and mock that final scene of the series Freaks and Geeks. One of the hockey-playing tough-guys in my class ran “Sheesh,” the pregen sentient plant, for a number of weeks’ worth of wilderness exploration adventures.




This year, I’ve slowly been picking up past editions of the game, and thinking over getting some of the retroclones like Mutant Crawl Classics one coming out next year, and of course the widely-embraced Mutant Future.

Why? Maybe it’s the build up to the recent US election, but I’ve had the postapocalyptic setting on my mind. While I’m not sure what system I’d like to use, I’d absolutely love to run a futuristic, post-cataclysm RPG… except I’d like to set it in Northeast Asia, starting—of course—on the southeastern tip of what’s left of the Korean peninsula. (Optimally, I’ll get to run it before we actually leave Korea, so my players get all the local references and in-j0kes!)


A couple of things have gotten me thinking about this:

  1. Finally getting around to watching Mad Mad: Fury Road, which was a much better film than I expected!
  2. A bunch of design problems I set for myself when thinking about post-apocalyptic RPG settings.
  3. Wondering how a Mad Max narrative—and the standard trappings of a Gamma World setting—might work out in an East Asian setting.
  4. The excitement and glee I felt browsing around on the incredible Gamma World War! blog, which is an incredible resource and inspiration.

But I’ll try lay out my design goals for the campaign setting, and maybe that’ll make it a bit clearer what I’m up to.

Design Goals:

  • doing for Northeast Asia (and, ultimately, other corners of the planet) what Gamma World did for the United States
  • ultimately open up adventures offworld, as well as all around post-apocalyptic Earth
  • tackle naval/aquatic post-apocalyptic worldbuilding (yeah, a Waterworld-type setting)
  • expand options for robotic/A.I. PCs
  • rendering wilderness survival (and the threats of disease, starvation, and death by hostile environment) more vivid, though still not central to play and rules-wise streamlined and simplified
  • exploring different modes of wild-and-wahoo, including black comedy and surreal humor (as mentioned above) but also the dark and distressing
  • integrating more riffs from modern SF, while not glomming onto the “nanotech” approach used in the ill-fated Gamma World 6th Edition (the White Wolf/Arthaus version of the game): in this world, nanotech never gets out of the tanks—at least not on Earth—but lots of other SF tropes show up
  • make travel an important part of the game: hexcrawling, but also vehicle combat (yes, because Mad Max: Fury Road was pretty damned cool), high-speed transit, and potentially space travel too 2


On that second-to-last point:

SF and Gamma World Riffs to Include:

  • A long buildup of tech and scientific learning before the Cataclysm, which strikes ~2300 or so; game is set about a century and a half later.
  • prior to the Cataclysm, a lot of shiny technological innovations and speculative tropes from more recent (1990s-2000s) SF come to pass:
    • mind-uploading (unlikely though it may seem to some right now), including both pure AIs and uploaded personalities interacting with the world via sense-embedded robotic bodies: the most active hotbed of uploading is in Japan, in response to geological upheavals
    • voluntary cladistic splintering of the human species (again, see Diaspora) as a source of Moreauvian animorphic player characters
    • various “Cryptic Alliance” type factions: Ideology Factions with their own goals, rivalries, agendas, and flaws, fighting over the ruins of the wold and, of course, over the future
    • biological agent released into the wild allows human or even suprahuman intelligence in both humans and animals
    • extreme genetic experimentation on plants—think, the anti-Monsanto activist’s worst nightmare come true; plant semisentience or even symbiotic sentience arises
    • Mars and the moons of Jupiter colonized by the Chinese and their (regional and global) allies/underlings, sometime before the Cataclysm—and the colonies survived in… sort of.
    • The Gobi Desert contains various massive pre-Martian colonization test-hab environments—some still containing “human” (mutant, etc.) populations
    • rising sea levels go beyond expected levels—approximately 200m rise; the extra water seems to have come from massive deposits of hydrous ringwoodite down in the transition zone, deep inside the Earth
    • a partial, semi-failed alien invasion of some sort. Not a clean, godlike invasion like in Robert Silverberg’s The Alien Years or, you know, countless other alien invasion stories, but rather something more guerrilla and messy, with regions under the control of different alien factions, and others just left as wilderness or wasteland
    • distant factions of godlike aliens (or possibly godlike descendants retrotemporally communicating with the past) who are interested in humanity, but also deeply dismayed at how things have turned out—think of Stephen Baxterian deep future descendants, more than the future-us hinted at in Interstellar


That may sound like a very rough sketch, and it is, but hat’s because it’s a preliminary post. I’ve got plenty more lined up, including a rough sketch of three different degrees of focus on the setting: the Korean/Northeast Asian setting, the planetwide one, and the solar system—each with some ways of how to get characters from one platform to the next if that’s where the players want to go. I’ve also got a draft of an “Appendix G” (along the same lines as Appendix N, but inspired by the wonderful Gamma World War! blog I mentioned above. I’ve got a hexmap in the works, based on the above map, too… and plenty more!

And before I go any further, I should reiterate: the main inspiration for me to blog this comes from the blog Gamma World War!, an astonishing web resource for anyone interested in remixing and expanding the tradtional Gamma World game setting. It was, for example, the inspiration for my deciding to integrate an alien invasion into my own GW setting.

  1. I actually struggled to make sense of it, reading through it again for the first time in years back in September

  2. At the moment, I have a strong feeling I’ll be using the rules from the Car Wars Compendium 2.5 to supplement Car Wars Fifth Edition for vehicle rules… because I’ll probably need the Boat Wars rules for all aquatic conflicts—but there are other systems I’m eyeing too, including the Car Wars 6th edition game that’s due out next year.

7 thoughts on “Gamma Planet: Planning a Playground

  1. I’m sure you’ve looked at Apocalypse World and Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. Very different than Gamma World but with some neat ideas to steal.

  2. I have looked a little at Apocalypse World, but only briefly and not deeply enough—as a source of ideas, it’s probably great, but I doubt my current group would be up for adapting to those mechanics, somehow!

    But I hadn’t even heard of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins before you posted your comment, though. I’ll have to look into it. Thanks for the recommendations!

    1. Yeah, it seems like a good way to throw in some WTF? tech, but also introducing some unusual NPCs who befuddle the whole dichotomy between allies and antagonists/monsters. I’m thinking more than one species would have come to the planet. Maybe they differ in attitudes towards humans.

      The Alison Sinclair book I’m slowly reading now (Cavalcade) is really illustrative in terms of the “baffling aliens” trope, and I need to go back and read Patricia Anthony’s Cold Allies, which I seem to recall also did something fascinating with that (as did some of her short stories, and, I’ve heard, her novel set in Brazil titled Cradle of Splendor). Anthony’s Brother Termite, meanwhile, goes a great job of rendering comprehensible aliens who are still alien. I’m sure the new film treatment of Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life” (titled Arrival) will also be good fodder: in game terms, it’s a bit like if you learn the alien language, you sort of lose SAN (in Call of Cthulhu terms) but gain a superpower in that your consciousness becomes able to slide back and forth along the time axis… within your lifetime, anyway.

      With Chiang’s story in mind, it’d be fun to do timeline-hopping-consciousness in PCs, though that’s really murder on the GM in terms of game prep. Then again, it’s only within their own lifetimes, so it might not be SO bad. Does make it harder in terms of suspense re: the risks they’re taking: if a PC knows they’re not going to die in a scene, it changes how they play it. Maybe not for the worse, though. Hmmm. I ned to think about that.

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