I didn’t have a particular adventure module in mind when I sat down to run first edition Gamma World. I didn’t have a developed campaign setting. I didn’t really have anything in mind other than that I wanted to see what happened when you took the game as is and then ran it according to the general pointers that are given in this first incarnation of a venerable gaming franchise.
I started with a town that could serve has the spawning point for a reasonably large number of player characters. I added a few encounter situations placed 1d6 days travel away from that town. I let the characters do whatever they wanted and let the 250 encounters of the Monster & Treasure listing do the rest. That’s basically nothing in terms of adventure design… and yet somehow that managed to sustain four game sessions averaging about two and a half hours a piece.
Now… I thought about working on the campaign between sessions. Generally “prep” constituted doing the booking keeping and taking notes on everything that happened in play. One thing was clear in the actual play: the group that showed up would reliably want to go somewhere that I had zero material for. Furthermore, if I threw something at them, they would often do something I honestly couldn’t have imagined them doing. Depending on how you look at it, this either makes getting ready for a game session incredibly simple or utterly impossible.
But then I look at the threads we have and I have to wonder if the game is actually better than what I could have planned to begin with:
There’s also rumors of a group of cyclops people in the mountains to the north that we know absolutely nothing about at this point. I can tell you the obvious thing about what they have to be from a gaming standpoint: they will be different from the rest of the groups introduced so far, they will present things that the campaign has not dealt with so far which feel like a bit of an omission, and they will be rigged to function well with the emerging dynamic the players bring to the table.
I have to say, though, these fundamentals components of the campaign are unlike anything I’ve seen in other role-playing games. In the first place, there is no “old man in a tavern” at the players’ town handing out missions to them. There are no obvious dungeons in the vicinity for the players to just go to work on, either. A space rpg provides a much closer model for what has emerged here. These relatively small groups or factions near to the players’ town are very much like a world in the Traveller game. Players even travel from one to the other to conduct trade! On the other hand, there are no obvious patrons hanging out at these places waiting to hand the players a self-contained adventure scenario just for showing up.
Each of these six campaign map locations constitute full fledged factions in their own right. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, their own goals, their own relationships with each of the other surrounding groups. And note that they could each serve as their own campaign premise for spin-off campaigns! To develop the next stage of detail of the campaign map, I only have to revisit each of these situations, visualize what’s going on from their perspective, and add the five or six odd things that surround them and that define Gamma World for them.
Gamma World is not about the usual things that role-playing games focus on. In fact, it takes something that’s secondary or tertiary in other games and it makes it the main thing. When you run a dungeon-focused game, you may have a general notion of the campaign state and how it changes each time the players return to town. This sort of thing tends to develop so slowly from session to session that it is often dispensed with entirely.
In contrast, Gamma World campaign has much more in common with the faction dynamics of a dungeon… but without the walls and the levels! A Gamma World campaign is like a set of Traveller worlds. placed right up next to each other… but anyone from any of the worlds can go to any other… and they don’t need a spaceship to do it! The many mutant types combined with the various cryptic alliances means that there is all kinds of wildly different creatures right next to each other and all up to something wildly different from everybody else.
Taking that gaming premise and running with it results in an entirely different sort of gaming experience that’s liable to be light years away from what you might otherwise impose on the rules set.