Friday, January 20, 2012

Gamma-rized Redux

So, there is one RPG that I've been wanting to get for a while: Gamma World. Two things have been standing in my way. First, it isn't available in PDF (and, honestly, wouldn't work in PDF), which makes it awkward. Second, the $40 price tag is just beyond my "pocket money" limit, and I've had other things to spend that kind of money on lately.

This past weekend, I finally had a bit of extra cash (thank you Xmas bonus!) and a trip to the FLGS (Victory Comics, for the record). So I picked it up, and have been reading it. Time for a bit of review.

Now, I did a review when the game first came out, based on playing it rather than reading it (I know, how bizarre!). I also had a lot of thoughts about converting GW to run Rifts (Why is that on LiveJournal instead of here? Why does it then dead-link to my old blog? These are mysteries for another day.) but I wanted to put that on hold until I actually had the GW rules. I've played the game a few times now, but have never actually looked in the rulebook before.

I have to say, I was mightily displeased. Don't get me wrong, the system is still as fantastic as it ever was. But the writing in the book is, well, not good. The tone is inconsistent, and the writers clearly had a fight with marketing over who their target audience was. The meat of the rules assumes that you already have some idea how RPGs work. But they are bracketed by paragraphs that try to introduce basic RPG concepts and treat the reader like a complete novice.

More importantly, though, the editing is atrocious. Not the nit-picky grammar and spelling part, but rather the organization of the rules. Let's start with "What is Roleplaying?", jump straight into combat, and explain about half of how to read power descriptions. Then we'll give you the classes. After that, we'll cover the basic statistics of the game, and the rules that aren't combat. Oops, now it's time to insert gear. We'll end with the GM section, which explains all the other rules you need to understand the power descriptions. Seriously? I've read first drafts of homebrews that flowed better than this.

Oh, it also doesn't help that the illustrations don't have any kind of legends, and aren't tied to actual example text. On p.19, I still don't see why the guy on the right has cover. On p.21, I have to assume that the big guy is moving slowly due to terrain, but that is purely a guess (and doesn't exactly fit the mechanics). I am baffled.

As a question to the layout snobs out there, is all that white space a good thing? I recognize that it helps to combat the "wall of text" effect that you get with a lot of rulebooks. But, it ends up feeling really wasteful to me. I'll chalk it up to a taste thing, and not ding them on it. I'll also just toss out there that, since this is a box set anyway, I think they would have done better to split the adventure out into a separate book of its own.

I am so incredibly grateful that I got to play this game before reading it. If I'd tried to jump in based solely on the rulebook, I probably would have given it up as a bad job.

And yet, despite all this kvetching, I 100% stand behind my original review. Gamma World is an awesome game. It is easy to learn, easy to create characters, and easy to play. It puts a huge emphasis on fun above and beyond anything else. If you doubt me, give a listen to the "Get Rich or Die Tryin" actual play podcast from the guys at Flagons and Dragons. It's a Gamma World podcast that gives a great sense of the game, is fun to listen to (it's the only AP I listen to regularly), and has some nice tips for making the game more campaign-friendly.

I think it's time to break out those Gamma Rifts notes again...

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