Gamma World and Group Creativity

This was an entry I was thinking about writing years ago when I first played the most recent version of Gamma World with some friends during a few off-nights in our 4e D&D campaign.

We had had one session which involved character creation and a short part of the intro adventure the comes with the boxed set. We had a lot of fun as all the players looked at what traits they had received and tried to make some sense of them. I had a lot of fun and I think everyone else did but I didn’t think too terribly much on why.

This was also the session that spawned the infamous inside joke wherein every time you say “Gamma World” you need to follow it up with “Lisa Needs Braces.” This mostly doesn’t make any sense, but it references the classic Simpsons episode Last Exit to Springfield in which the phrase “Dental plan! Lisa needs braces!” is repeated over and over (sorry about the repetitive clip, there doesn’t seem to be a simple clip of the actual sequence from the episode available). For some reason at some point one of us started saying “Gamma World! Lisa needs braces!” and it just sort of stuck because we’re all Simpsons nerds like that.

A few weeks later we had another session and had an out of town friend in as a guest player. We quickly rolled up a character for him and threw in a few options from a (then) upcoming expansion. I don’t quite recall exactly what he rolled up but he did get the “time traveler” origin as one of his two. We figured this was perfect for dropping him into an ongoing scene. He had some sort of time traveling accident and just dropped right into the scene. Someone asked about his time machine and we placed a small beer bottle (I think it was an empty Red Stripe) and said that that was about where it was. Then it struck me that that’s actually what it should be. So we decided that his time machine was actually a huge bottle that had just dropped out of the sky suddenly. We talked a bit more and decided that it was not just a giant bottle but it was a giant bottle with a ship inside of it, which just seemed like a fun weird sort of thing to be a time machine. The session went on from there and it was generally a situation where everyone’s creative juices were flowing. It was a lot of fun.

Thinking and talking about it afterward my friend and I were commenting on how much we enjoyed the way the game encourages you to make up so much about your characters and the world and how much fun that is. He even commented on how much he enjoyed Gamma World even though he’s generally kind of luke-warm on 4E D&D.

On my way home I was thinking about all of the different ways that Gamma World encourages you as a GM and the group to get really creative. First you get a couple of origins, that may not seem to have much of anything to do with one another and you have to try to come up with how this makes a coherent character. Then there’s the way weapons are handled. You get broad categories, with general stats for damage and accuracy and such, but you fill in the blanks on what they actually are. So a heavy melee weapon might be a parking meter, or chair, or a war hammer you found in a museum or that your tribe created. I think once you get into that mode of thinking everyone starts to come up with a lot of ideas they might not otherwise, and people start thinking very creatively. Most of the “treasure” in the game is just random junk pulled from a chart (I like to use the Junk-u-lator), but once everyone is thinking creatively it’s easy to start to come up with innovative ways to use these things.

On my way home that night it also struck me that the fiction of the game (at least as presented in the boxed set, you’re obviously free to alter as you will) also encourages this sort of collaborative creativity and thinking. In the most recent version of the game it’s not a nuclear war that creates the insane world you play in it’s a mistake at the Large Hadron Collider that causes a bunch of different realities to collapse in on one another and create a “consensus” reality that alters and changes frequently. Not only does this explain the random mutations that happen in the game (via a card mechanic that I actually rather like) but it also implies that reality in this world is basically whatever everyone agrees it is.

This feels like a nod to the way you’re likely to end up playing the game too: The game world is whatever everyone at the table agrees it is. There may be a number of competing ideas thrown out by the group, but the group (and the GM of course) decides which to use, and how to combine them.

Both mechanically and in terms of the implied fiction of the game it feels like Gamma World really encourages group story telling and creativity. Does that make it a sort of story game? I’m not sure, but I think that’s a big part of why I like it so much.

Well, that and the mutant bugs and killer robots.

Thanks for reading!

-The Duke of Brandonshire


Stephen B @DrOct