Wednesday, April 20, 2011

T is for: Thunderblade!

Gamma World was one of my favorite games in the 80's and my favorite character was Conan Thunderblade, a mighty-thewed humanoid (2E talk for a mutated human) who was the mightiest mutant ever! I can't find my 2nd edition character sheets (pretty sure I still have them) but I have found my GW3E sheets for them and I will space them out through the post.

We started playing it with GW 2nd edition. I knew about the 1st edition and had seen it on shelves and read articles for it in Dragon and I thought it looked pretty cool but never had a chance to play it. Then in 1983 the second edition came out with another cool cover and a friend of mine bought it and once we started playing it became a regular part of the rotation.

GW was incredibly cool for several reasons, among them no classes and no levels. You decided between Pure Strain Human, Humanoid (mutated human), or Mutated Animal and each had its own advantages and disadvantages. I preferred the mutant types because you got to roll for mutations and that's where a lot of the fun of the game was. I rolled up a few PSH's during the game but they were nowhere near as memorable as the mutants. With no levels you had maximum hit points at the start, 1d6 (or 1d8 for PSH) per point of Constitution. This was a huge change from the 4 hp M-U's and 8 hp Fighters of early D&D adventuring - you could actually take some damage and still live! You could even take enough damage to run away if you were losing! The world was still very dangerous and there were many ways for characters to die that did not involve hit points but it made a huge difference in attitude when starting out as we were no longer some pathetic band of weak rookies - we were bad-aces! We might only have swords and crossbows and chainmail but we could blast things or turn invisible or fly as well - it was almost a supers game with some of the powers available. Heck with Ninja Turtles, I had characters who could disintigrate something by touch once per day!

My first character was a mutated lion named Roard who ran around in plate mail with a two-handed sword for a very long time, later adding a Fusion Rifle as his signature weapon. He was joined by a mutated hawk named Thorondor and a mutated wolf named Redfang who was immune to radiation and a mutated lizard named Shadowhiss who fought with claws and (somewhat later) an .88 Magnum (thank you Johnny Dangerously). They were all fun and had their own cool adventures, including one where my hawkoid dropped my wolf and a neutron bomb into a castle-like outpost of the knights of genetic purity. Hawk flies off, wolf pulls out the bomb in the middle of the courtyard, then he detonates it right there, counting on his energy reflection power to shield him (it did) and effectively wiping out a group which had been a serious thorn in our side. He then opened up the gate and walked home. Like I said it was a great game.

The greatest character of all of them though was Thunderblade. He was a Humanoid. Stat generation in that edition was 4d6 drop the lowest (except Pure Strain Humans got to keep the extra die on Int, Con, and Charisma) and I rolled an 18 Strength, a 15 Dexterity, and a 16 Constitution - he's clearly a beast, physically. Then while rolling up mutations he picked up Heightened Physical Attribute and rolled Strength. Maximum Physical Strength in that game was 21 so despite rolling a 6 for it he maxed it out and had a 21 PS - he was the strongest mutant of all! You start off at a medieval level of technology (at best) so I decided he would use a two-handed sword and dubbed him Conan Thunderblade. It's a little cheesy, yes, but remember this is a post-apocalyptic game so there could be some knowledge of older culture and media and I figured he probably looked like those old pictures so that's what he was called.

Now we often ran multiple characters in our parties back then. Some of it was because Gamma World could be a lethal game, some of it was because we ran D&D like that, and some of it was because we had fewer players in our GW sessions, usually 2-4 instead of 4-6 for D&D. From the moment he was created, if I was playing then Thunderblade was almost always in the party and was often the leader. We explored the introductory adventure about the rite of passage, we explored the chicken factory from GW2, and we explored many homebrew ruins and installations but we spent a great deal of time in the Barony of Horn fighting the Legion of Gold. That adventure, easily GW's "Keep on the Borderlands" in terms of inspiration and scope, turned into the core of our ongoing campaign and to this day is that DM's main campaign area for GW simply because he spent so much time detailing it for us! Towns, villages, NPC's, tribes, wandering monsters - all of that was fleshed out or created outright for our party. It was probably a more cohesive, coherent campaign than our D&D adventures were at the time, largely because it was run by one DM in one geographic region, unlike our D&D games. Conan led the fight against the legion eventually discovering his two signature weapons - His vibroblade - think lightsaber (not chainsaw - in GW vibro weapons are energy force weapons) and his heavy machine gun, usually fired from the hip Rambo-style with belts of ammo crossed on his chest like a good old action hero. He usually opened a fight by blasting away with his big gun before setting it down (gently) and activating his vibro blade and charging in like Thundarr.

When we eventually defeated the legion we took over the main base, expanded it, and even reactivated much of the ancient technology using some of the sleeping scientists rescued from the aquabase. Oh look, I have our old map...

We ended up making an epic run down to Shreveport Louisiana because it was one of the few towns on the big map of post-nuking America that wasn't radioactive. We loaded up flatbed hovertrucks with durasteel plates (Shreveport had a foundry of some kind) and hauled them back across country to use inside our base. I think we did some groundbreaking work in post-apocalyptic economics and interstate trade that has been sadly lost to time. We traded everything from trinkets and gear to ancient currency to energy cells to giant insect husks - know your market!

When 3rd edition was released in 1986 the rules changed dramatically. We converted our existing characters and continued as before. We made some adjustments as mechanically not every character was as strong under the new rules as the old, but we did our best to even things out, even grandfathering in old mutations that were no longer listed in the new version. It worked and we were happy.

Eventually though we saw an opportunity to bring in some new players and so we semi-retired the original group. We had been thinking of them as our "High level" group so now it was time to make some new ones to run alongside new players. I converted "Shadowhiss" the mutated lizard over to 3E as he had been left gathering dust with the new edition. He kept the magnum. I also rolled up "Elric MacArthur" as a new humanoid. He had the military genius mutation and the albino mutation - obviously!  I don't have as many memories of this latter phase but I know there were some expeditions out onto the Great Lakes. During one adventure involving a submarine, someone else's lizardguy infiltrated the sub while it was surfaced, got into the engine room and started smashing stuff. When he took a laser torch to one particular part he got a big surprise as it turned out to be a nuclear sub and he got hit with a bunch of radiation as he breached the reactor. As it turned out he was OK - he got a "Mutation" result on his roll and then got something that made him double in size. So the now 12-foot lizardman had to try and squeeze out of a submarine (remember - watertight doors) and in the end Shadowhiss had to cut him out of the thing with his vibroblade, ruining the sub and annoying the rest of the party who had wanted it intact! We had some wild adventures back then.

In 1992 Gamma World 4th edition was released and it was good. It was another big change though, adding a class system and a bunch of new stats to the game. It looks now like an early forerunner of the system found in Alternity and the one later used in D&D 3E and we liked it but it was different enough that we didn't really translate any characters over. We rolled up a new batch and started in a whole new region but we never put together a sustained campaign using it and despite probably being the most solid version mechanically it was the one we played the least.

There was a 5th edition (Alternity) and a 6th edition (d20 Modern) plus Omega World (Dungeon magazine mini-game) plus now there is a new 4E based 7th edition but I have not actually rolled up a character and played any of those, even though I own most of them. By the time they came out GW had lost a lot of traction and the players we were playing with were not the same as those early days so they had no attachment.

I hear good things about the new version so maybe I will pick it up and try to run it with the Apprentices this summer and see if the legend can continue. I probably won't bring Conan Thunderblade in as a statted-up character but he might make an appearance as an aging ruler of a small area near the Great Lakes, a strong ally of the Barony of Horn, who just happens to have a mission perfect for a new group of young adventurers. Maybe there's more trouble at the old chicken factory, and it's time for a new generation to set it right once again.

1 comment:

Martin R. Thomas said...

Thanks for sharing this! I, too, have very fond memories of playing GW 1st and 2nd Edition. I never played any of the later editions, although I think I have the d20 version around somewhere.

You might get a kick reading some of my old Gamma World Encounter Tables I've been posting - basically, the rulebook I got from a friend had pages missing, so I had to create my own Encounters for #1 - #29 on the first table in the original rulebook. I've been posting about five of them per post over the past couple of weeks.

Here's the latest post, which also has links to the earlier posts: