Field Report: Gamma Rifts

I’ve written a lot about my love/hate relationship with Rifts, so I won’t beat that horse anymore, suffice to say I’m one of the legions who love the setting and hate the system.  Currently, I am using the latest edition of the Gamma World game to run a campaign set in the world of Rifts (the basic modifications to the rules are here, and a set 30 of Rifts flavoured Omega Tech cards are here).  That campaign is well underway, and I thought I would share some of the tabletop experiences as an example of how a Gamma Rifts game can work.
After a couple of sessions we’ve played through ninety percent of a Rifts modified version of the introductory adventure, Steading of the Iron King (my next post will cover the modifications I made to the adventure as well as some of the handouts I used for it).

The Good

I’m very pleased with the game so far.  The looser, more streamlined rules have been fun.  While the abstract nature of the rules governing weapons and armour might be off-putting to Rifts purists (a baseball bat with a nail in it does the same damage as a vibro-knife), I haven’t missed a dozen books worth of guns or keeping track of all that ammunition (another aspect of Gamma World that has been taken to the abstract level).  In fact, freed from the restrictions of a highly detailed equipment list, everyone had a ball making up their own weapons and armour during the character creation process (more on that later).  It might be a less realistic approach to weapon damage, but it does a far better job than Rifts ever did of allowing for the broad range of character types drawn from the multitude of sources that inspire a kitchen sink science fantasy game (and have them still be useful to the party and fun to play that is).
The Rifts set of Omega Tech cards printed up beautifully (better than I thought they would actually), for the price of less than 2 WOTC booster packs at Kinkos, and mesh nicely with the cards contained in the boxed set.  The mix of the Gamma World and my own splugorth, techno-wizard and magic items did a good job of reinforcing the nature and feel of the setting.
Most importantly, the feel of the game at the table captured the best elements of Rifts – quirky, bizarre characters having madcap adventures in a dangerous and deadly serious world that is often contradictorily ridiculous and funny.

The Bad

While Gamma World does a great job of recreating what I call the ‘street level’ of Rifts (city rats, cyborgs, juicers, ley-line walkers and mind melters), it isn’t that great at emulating the epic side of Palladium’s signature game (mega damage, pistols that can put a hole in a mountain, easy access to long range nuclear missiles, and characters that can fly at Mach 2 at first level).  This wasn’t a big deal for me, as those were aspects of the game I never really felt were integral to the setting, but others may feel differently (I had long toyed with the idea of running Rifts using the notes in the Rifts Conversion Book to convert everything to SDC as a way of dealing with the game’s problems – so that gives you an idea of where I’m coming from).
Finally, if you hate 4e D&D (which provides the core ‘engine’ of Gamma World), you’re going to hate using Gamma World in any setting.  The abstract level of many of the rules (equipment, ammunition, healing outside of combat, and the Alpha and Omega cards) can be a turn-off to players with a more simulationist bent.

The Party

The best way to demonstrate how a Gamma Rifts game actually plays out is to take a look at the party of adventurers my players put together for our campaign (check out their portraits at the end of the post).  Character creation in Gamma World is fun, and the addition of figuring out how the two origins worked with the character’s power source (tech, magic or mutant), only added to the process.
My players rolled their origins but chose their power source based on suggestions from me and the other players of how such a character might be envisioned (for example he Wheeled origin and the tech power source might produce a tracked cyborg like the ones in the Russia worldbook, while the mutant or magic power source with the same origin could be interpreted as some kind of centaur creature).  Often, the ideas that were generated during character creation were also informed by the random skill bonus each Gamma World character receives.
We are still getting used to interpreting the Alpha cards according to power source and not just as a mutation (spells for magic, and gadgets for tech characters), but I think that will get easier with a little nudging from me and the inclusion of more game elements that are affected by power source differently (things like gamma terrain, hazards, and monster powers).
Once the rolling was finished, I asked each of my players to describe themselves, their armour and weapons, and come up with a reason why they were members of a band of mercenaries working for the city of Lazlo (the set-up of the first adventure that I’ll detail next post).  It wasn’t far into the first session that my friends dubbed their party ‘the Misfits’, and besides being an unforeseen Jem reference (which is cool in itself), describes them pretty well.

Lazarus Project Subject E (Laz-E to his friends, for his slow movement rate), is a dead man with no memory of his former life, resurrected and powered by a large graviton reactor in his chest.  He wears armour made from the cast off junk he found in the destroyed lab where he was ‘born’ and wields an old parking meter in combat that occasionally spits out strange coins.  He joined up with the Misfits by accident, hoping one day to uncover the mystery of his origin.  [Re-animated/Gravity Controller with the Tech power source wearing heavy armour and using a heavy 2-handed melee weapon]

Willow is the spirit of a Dryad who survived the destruction of her bonded tree, constantly weeping a slow trickle of tear-sap from haunted eyes.  She wears the bark of her former home as armour and wields a greatclub made from the tree’s thickest branch.  She joined the Misfits as part of her crusade against the Coalition, whose engines of war destroyed her grove.  [Yeti/Ectoplasmic with the Magic power source wearing heavy armour and using a heavy 2-handed melee weapon – there was already an actual Yeti in the party so the Yeti origin’s bonus to Nature, combined with another bonus to Nature through the random skill bonus roll, led to the interpretation of the character as a nature spirit, the Yeti’s claws becoming thorny branches]

Big Claw is a Yeti fire warlock.  She wears armour made from cast off metal scraps, uses a manhole cover as a shield, and wields a magic sword made from the unmeltable ice of the North Pole.  She joined the Misfits to aid in her search of the southlands for a piece of ‘hairless ape magic’ (technology) that can reunite her with her northern tribe, and bypass her enemies in the Coalition state of Iron Heart.  [Yeti/Pyrokinetic with the Magic power source wearing heavy armour, shield, and using a heavy 1-handed melee weapon]

The Master looks human, but insists he is a ‘time lord’, and constantly reminds others of their species’ inferior status.  He wears a personal force field projector on his back and wields a handheld disruptor.  He joined the Misfits hoping the techno-wizards of Lazlo would aid him in repairing his destroyed transport, which he calls a TARDIS (and the Misfits keep him around because he’s a mechanical genius).  [Electrokinetic/Temporal with the Tech power source wearing heavy armour and using a light 1-handed gun – the Master’s personality is the direct result of his abysmal Charisma score]

Paranoia is a risk averse Mind Melter whose psychokinetic abilities are so strong she can rip other versions of herself from parallel dimensions into her own reality (usually to die horribly in her place).  She wears a jacket of red dragon scales as armour, uses a large dragon scale as a shield, and wields a baseball bat with a nail though it.  She was born in Lazlo, so helping with the war effort comes naturally… joining the Misfits means she doesn’t have to follow orders or stick around if the Coalition war machine comes calling.  [Telekinetic/Doppelganger with the Mutant power source wearing light armour, shield, and using a light 1-handed melee weapon]


Just a quick note about the illustration.  This is how I picture the Misfits in my mind when we play – I’m sure my players see themselves differently in the game world (after all I’m only working with a brief description – they’ve got the whole mental picture), but I tried my best …  Finding good reference material for a female yeti is very difficult (in the end I went with Marvel’s Snowbird in Sasquatch form).
Back in high school, when my friends and I ended our epic 2e Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, we commissioned an artist at Toronto’s Pandemonium convention to sketch a portrait of our party.  I can’t remember the name of the artist (and I don’t have a copy of the picture), but I have newfound respect for his talents – even more so that he was able to get it right.

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