Some Thoughts on Adapting Gamma World for Use with GURPS
by Ed Doench
One of the things that GURPS does not do well — or, at least, I have never been able to make work — is the Gamma World concept of “random mutation”. Gamma World is a rather “wild-and-wahoo” kind of setting, and trying to replicate the various mutations using GURPS will result in PCs with widely-varying character point totals. This can work, if that is what you want.
On the other tentacle, I tend to favor a more gritty, dirt-under-the-fingernails approach to the setting even when I am using the Gamma World rules. As a result, I find it to be a lot easier to adapt to my Gamma World campaign to GURPS. These notes, then, discuss my own individual approach to adapting Gamma World adventures to my vision of life after the Apocalypse (henceforth called the “Ruin” — my personal tribute to the old Aftermath! post-apocalyptic RPG).
The first four things you need to ask yourself are:
- “At what Tech Level was humanity when the Ruin occurred?” In my case, I generally set that at a mature or late TL9, on the cusp of TL10 with several examples of TL10 devices already in common use. This gives me equivalents to a number of items similar to those found in Gamma World, and even allows for some of the more bizarre items as experimental prototypes if I so desire to include them.
- “What caused the Ruin?” I like to use the aliens that were mentioned in the GW 3e modules. They are never actually described, so I really don’t have to flesh them out if I don’t want them onstage during the campaign. For my own purposes, I tend to use the Sathar from Star Frontiers as my go-to bad guys in most science fiction games.
- “How long has it been since the Ruin?” This actually tends to be a tough one, since you really want to balance having pre-Ruin technological items, concepts and ideas around without necessarily having the PCs being overly familiar with them. My rule of thumb tends to be around 200 years or so… roughly ten or twelve generations.
- “What is the current Tech Level?” That is going to depend upon how/where you start off your PCs. I generally prefer TL4; there are any number of TL5+ devices and principles available, but such has not yet disseminated enough to truly raise the Tech Level. (Remember that most societies are still going to be at TL 1-3.)
With those questions answered, we can begin to flesh out enough of the setting to make the adaptive process less painful. At this point, the following GURPS books are going to be your best friends:
- Characters and Campaigns (naturally)
- High Tech (most of the equipment the PCs deal with on a day-to-day basis is found here)
- Biotech (useful for creating “mutants”, be they humanoid or animal-based)
- Ultra-Tech (relics from TL 9 and 10 can be based off of items from here, and it has the builds for androids)
- Low Tech (good for getting ideas on the more primitive societies)
Other GURPS materials are nice to have, but not quite as useful to start. In fact, you can probably get away without Low Tech, although I personally have found myself referring not just to it but also to the three Low Tech Companion volumes on a semi-regular basis.
Now we get to the various races and creatures that inhabit the post-Ruin world. Gamma World races fall into five categories:
- Pure Strain Human — Essentially, these are normal humans. Although arguments can and have been made that they are actually the descendents of “genetically perfected” humans, I generally don’t bother giving them any special abilities; in the Gamma World game, they were the statistical baseline for all humanoids and other creatures, so I see no reason why they cannot fulfill that role in a GURPS adaptation.
- Humanoid — If you really want a human with special abilities, this is where you would find him. This is also the category for the various parahumans from Biotech. As I am particularly fond of Tekrats, I frequently make sure I have established a “colony” of them living amid the ruins of an old spaceport.
- Mutated Animal — Not just animals with extra abilities (many of which were probably gengineered that way prior to the Ruin). “Furries” are the descendents of humans that had themselves changed into humanoid tigers or rabbits or whatnot and then had the changes entered into their genetic codes. Otherwise normal-appearing animals with human-level intelligence are generally descended from ancestors who were “Uplifted” courtesy of a “Doolittle virus”.
- Mutated Plant — I don’t generally use them; in all the time I have played Gamma World (nearly 30 years), I have seen exactly three mutated plants as PCs, and one of them was mine. If you want a mutated plant as an NPC or monster — or even as a PC — it’s easy enough to write up the stats for one along the lines of a mutated animal.
- Androids/Cyborgs — These guys are going to be relatively uncommon, but I have included them just in case. I think I have seen one cyborg PC in the games I have run. The problem with cyborgs in even the most advanced Gamma World-ish societies is that they are going to give a steam punk feel to the setting. If that is what you are going for, great… but if I am going to run a GammaPunk game, I will do so deliberately.
A few other concepts from the Gamma World game:
- Duralloy — The wonder metal of the pre-Ruin world, it could just as readily be transparent aluminum, orichalcum, mithral, or biphase carbide. I generally use the latter for most things, although there is also the occasional suit of chain armor made of mithral (actually yttrium silver) that has survived the Ruin.
- Domars — If Duralloy was the wonder metal of Gamma World, Domars were the standard currency. It was a great idea, but the Gamma World game was first published back in the days before ubiquitous debit cards. I decided that pre-Ruin society continued its increasingly cashless trend… with one obvious exception. That exception was the “Dollar Marker” — an all-but indestructible coin of dense plastic that, due to holographic designs imprinted in it, was next to impossible to counterfeit. “Dollar Markers” — which was soon verbally shortened to “Domars” were used by various casinos as chips, with varying values; they were supposedly only redeemable at the individual casino that issued them. Given the increasing number of casinos cropping up across the nation, and with each casino producing it’s own domars, they quickly became collectable items. When the Ruin wiped out the electronic banking industry, domars eventually became a default currency; one domar (of any color or design) was equivalent to $1.
- Hydrox — This was an extremely poisonous liquid first described in GW 4e as a fuel for vehicles. In my games, I changed it to a vicious gel that resembled thickened honey. If both seawater and electrical power are available, Hydrox can be produced at TL5… but it is extremely unstable and usually used in post-Ruin societies as explosive filler for grenades and explosive arrows. At TL9, however, Hydrox could be stabilized into a crystal form used as a core for power cells.
- Vibroblades — These are basically handheld laser torches from GURPS Ultra-Tech. Shortly after they (the torches) were developed, some science fiction enthusiasts figured out how to mount them into sword hilts and essentially creating crude light sabers. Tinkering eventually refined the devices into “laser swords”. “Plasma swords” derived from plasma torches also exist, but they are not nearly as (relatively) common as laser swords. (Note that neither weapon is capable of parrying.)
What follows next is a description of a Gamma World campaign I ran a couple of years ago using GURPS 4e.The Campaign
Set a couple of centuries after the Ruin, the initial campaign area was a region once called western Michigan and now known as the Andelcrag Shogunate — an area dominated by a pseudo Japanese culture descended from (among other things) the survivors of an anime/cosplay/furry convention being held in Muskegon at the time of the alien attack.
The starting PCs were as follows:
- Shelby (Human) — A fiery-haired (and fiery-tempered) jackleg mechanic from the ruins of Troyt (Detroit). Her primary weapon was a much-refurbished Mini-14 assault rifle.
- Ronin (Humanoid Tiger) — A mercenary swordsman from the Andelcrag Shogunate (western Michigan). His prized possession was a katana-hilted laser-sword that tradition claimed had been in his family since the Ruin.
- Drac (Humanoid) — A winged parahuman from a small colony of Camazots and Tek-Rats inhabiting the ruins of the Detroit Spaceport. Unable to do more than glide in Earth gravity, he fought with a matched pair of knives.
- Mudd (Human) — A mercenary from the Andelcrag Shogunate. His weapon was a pump-action shotgun.
The campaign began with the PCs meeting in the city of Muskon (Muskegon) and being hired to hunt down a ring of spies in the employ of pirates that have been preying upon merchant shipping.
- I based Muskon upon the city of Barnacus from the old AD&D adventure Barnacus: City in Peril (Dragon Magazine #80).
Success in this mission led to their recruitment as a search party for a missing and presumed dead Restorationist; the evidence they uncovered regarding this man’s disappearance brought them into conflict with a blue-skinned warlord called the Sapphire Shogun. (GWQ1 — Mutant Master
The disruption caused by the defeat of the Sapphire Shogun left the PCs in need of making themselves scarce around the Shogunate, and so — armed with letters of introduction by the Shogun — they were hired to escort a trade caravan from Troyt to Muskon and then across Lake Michigan to the Kingdom of Rockwall in southeastern Wisconsin. Once in Rockwall, the original PCs were joined by the following additions:
- Mallerus the Younger (Humanoid) — A human-appearing scout with night vision and extremely rapid healing and regenerative abilities. His weapon of choice was a bow with explosive-tipped arrows.
- Brother Aqua (Humanoid) — A telekinetic Selkie medic from the flooded lower levels of Old Chicago. He carried a crossbow and a rapier.
- Eleven-Bravo-Nine (Cyborg) — An amnesiac cyborg soldier who had woken up in a battlefield trench between Rockwall and Galandor, buried under the bodies of soldiers from both sides. He salvaged what equipment he could from the bodies and then, without knowing which side he had been fighting for, randomly wandered north into Rockwall. Although he had a built-in electrolaser pistol, his primary weapon was a reproduction M1 Garand rifle with a bayonet.
They had several adventures in Rockwall, ranging from searching for missing children to discovering an underwater pirate base to getting caught up in the kingdom’s war with the Empire of Galandor to the south. On two occasions, they were sent deep within Imperial territory on missions — the first to a domed Ancient amusement park in order to either seek an alliance with the Caretaker or to request that he at least remain neutral in the war (elements of GW7 — Beta Principal
), and the second to a pre-Ruin research arboretum to acquire a supply of a mutant wonder-fruit with healing properties. (Midnight in the Mystery Garden
) Following these missions, they were involved in tracking down and stamping out an incursion by the mysterious Crimson Legion. (GW1 — Legion of Gold
The adventures of the PCs brought them to the attention of the Wizard of the Rock, a reclusive figure who protected the western border of the Kingdom. Their successes disposed him well enough toward them that he hired the PCs to investigate a mysterious riverboat that plied the Mississippi River and kidnapped travelers. (Dark Freighter
By the time the PCs had solved the mystery of the riverboat, they were near the ruins of Minneapolis. One of the prisoners that they had rescued was a Furry from the ruins of the old Minnesota Zoo and the enclave of Furries and Uplifts that dwelt within. The Zoo was in danger from Hu Lin, a Humanoid Tiger mercenary general who had been banished some time ago from the Zoo and had since raised an army in order to conquer it. The scout was sent to find help. (GWQ2 — All Animals Are Equal
) Thanks to the PCs’ help, the Zoo was able to fend off Hu Lin’s invasion attempt; however, the Tigeroid managed to escape to the west during the final battle.
- General Hu Lin was based upon a miniature I had that I wanted to use. I based him off of General Timon from GW6 — Alpha Factor, but made him a humanoid tiger and gave him a Samurai image rather than a Prussian one. I also changed this vibroblade swagger-stick into a plasma sword “katana”. Since both Hu Lin and Ronin were Tigeroids with Samurai imagery, I made the NPC an enemy of Ronin’s family, giving him a reason to fight against the general.
Following the PCs’ adventures within the Zoo, and with Ronin eager to bring Hu Lin to justice, the PCs headed west along old Interstate 94. Eventually, they reached the farming communities that had sprung up around the ruins of the Fargo Airport and learned of the troubles that the region was suffering. Resolving those troubles took them south near Wahpeton, North Dakota where they encountered an automated poultry processing facility, a subterranean warren of forest-dwelling Rabbitoids, and a radioactive meteorite. (GW2 — Famine in Far-Go
) They also discovered a portion of an Ancient underground bullet train system. (Dragon Magazine #52 — Cavern of the Sub-Train
Upon emerging from the bullet train tunnel outside of the city of Bismarck, the PCs became embroiled in a power struggle between their old foe Hu Lin — now calling himself Shere Khan (General Tiger) and controlling the south-eastern portion of the city with his headquarters in the old North Dakota State Penitentiary — and the community of Haven, which occupied the old University of North Dakota — Bismarck campus on the north-western side of the city. The PCs were recruited by the leaders of Haven to investigate an Ancient tower to the north, on the site of the old Minot Air Force Station. The tower was believed to hold the resources necessary for one faction to ultimately prevail over the other, and could allow the Havenites to drive Shere Khan from the immediate area, if not the region. (GW6 — Alpha Factor
- I placed the Mindkeep facility on “Radar Hill”, the site of the old Minot Air Force Station south of Minot, North Dakota. In order to reach it, it was necessary for the PCs to traverse along at least the fringes of the “Nukewaste” — the missile fields of north-central North Dakota that were hammered in the alien attack.
- For additional fun, I inserted a location set in the middle of the Nukewaste. A weapon-maker named “Dvalin the Lame” had taken up residence within the old North Dakota National Guard facility at Camp Grafton (near Devils Lake) and was manufacturing assorted firearms that were being traded to surrounding communities in exchange for food and other materials. The Havenites knew that Shere Khan was sending a detachment to seize the weapon maker and his facility, and asked the PCs to see if they could get there first and help protect it against Shere Khan’s forces.
When they got there, however, they learned the same truth that Shere Khan had… the information regarding the weapon maker was a bit incorrect. Both groups had assumed from the name that they would be dealing with a crippled dwarf/midget/little person with a penchant for Norse mythology. About the only parts they got correct were “crippled” and “Norse mythology”… Dvalin the Lame turned out to be a Vulcan-variant Mark V Ogre (from GURPS Ogre) that had been transported to Camp Grafton at some point to have its treads replaced, but the humans stationed there had been redeployed before that could take place. Dvalin had been running things ever since; it may not have been able to move, but the weapon systems worked just fine. And the survivors from the local Turtle Mountain Sioux reservation made great light infantry skirmishers. (They just couldn’t replace Dvalin’s tracks either.)
- Haven was changed a bit and fleshed out into a community formed by a merger between remaining students and faculty of the University of North Dakota — Bismarck (which is what I decided that the current Bismarck State College had “grown up” to become) and the surviving members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who had sought refuge at the nearby local Stake Center and Temple.
- The village of Oskar — which was run by Shere Khan — was on the location of the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck, on the other corner of the city from Haven. Since southwest Bismarck, where the Penitentiary is located, is an industrial area, Shere Khan had plenty of machinery at his disposal… he just lacked the trained manpower to make optimal use of it. Most of his followers were humans who had been living in the area, although there are a handful of Uplifted animals (mainly bears and racoons) and a scattering of Furries that had either escaped Minnesota with him or else had been recruited along the way.
- The attack that created the Nukewaste struck near Garrison Dam, which managed to survive more or less intact. Over the years, a survivor community turned the emergency spillway into a simple gravity-fed lock system, allowing some small amounts of river traffic and trade to flow along the Missouri River. Shere Khan had planned to send troops to seize it, but was driven from the region before he could do so.
Information found within the tower led the PCs to an Ancient subterranean facility beneath Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. Shere Khan was up to his usual tricks, this time having reestablished himself in the ruins of Pierre, South Dakota and trying to make an alliance with a Viking-like colony salvaging the ruins of Rapid City. (GW8 — Gamma Base
Following the PCs return from South Dakota, they were sent to make contact and a possible alliance with the Messiah-like leader of the Western Lands in what used to be Montana. If possible, the PCs were also to make an alliance with the city of Dahler, which has grown up on the ruins of Great Falls. (GW9 — Delta Fragment
- The “Messiah-like figure” was, in fact, Oscar North from Delta Fragment. I changed him to a human who rode an enormous uplifted saber-toothed tiger. He wasn’t trying to be a Messiah… all he wanted was for the mountain peoples to live in peace.
- One of the changes that I made was to place the city of Dollar (from Delta Fragment) on the site of Great Falls, Montana. I changed the spelling of the name to “Dahler” and had the town descended from an enclave founded by a couple dozen military survivors and assorted dependents from the ruins of Malmstrom AFB led by a “Colonel Jedediah Dahler”. I don’t remember much more than that, since most of my notes — including the “Dollar” section from my copy of Delta Fragment — have long ago disappeared.
From Dahler, the PCs heard rumors of a canyon where could be found creatures monstrous even by post-Ruin standards. They investigated, and discovered the mostly-buried remains of a crashed spaceship of unknown origin. Naturally, they went inside to explore…
…and that’s where their luck finally ran out, as only three of the seven adventurers (Shelby, Ronin and Mudd) survived to make it back to Dahler. (Actually, only Shelby and Ronin survived… they didn’t know that Mudd had actually been killed and replaced by a shapeshifter.)
- In 1865, there was a report of a UFO crash-landing some 100 miles upriver from Great Falls. I used this event as a springboard for sneaking the old AD&D module “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks” adventure into the campaign. I had to modify things quite a bit, both in the module’s “dungeon matrix” (how long has it been since anyone has heard that phrase?!) and in the module’s back history … and, just for giggles and grins, I laced the adventure with a touch of horror.
- Incidentally, a fragment of the spaceship’s antimatter drive core would fall out of orbit and into the Earth’s atmosphere some 43 years after the crash, causing the Tunguska Event of 1908.
Unfortunately, we never got to play beyond that point; real-world responsibilities forced the campaign to a halt. The next part of the campaign, however, once the alliance between Haven and the city of Dahler was made, the PCs were to be sent down into the frozen wasteland around the ruins of Cheyenne, Wyoming on a desperate mission to stop an alliance between Shere Khan and a mysterious figure known only as “The Creator”. (GW10 — Epsilon Cyborgs
) During this mission, they would have stumbled across the remains of the Cheyenne Aerodrome, which included a small spaceport (GWAC1 — The Albuquerque Starport