Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Gamma World in Roll20

While poking around Roll20 to see what it can do, I noticed that among the many games with some form of character sheet support that there was one in particular of note: classic 1st edition Gamma World has a Roll20 character sheet someone devised. Even better, it's a nice character sheet, with hot buttons for figuring out artifacts, rolling for mutations, fun stuff like that. I think it could use some hot buttons for die rolls, but all told....it got me thinking.

Over the last two months, one of the first things I did with Roll20 was create a test environment "home game" to experiment with features. Early on I had my wife and son log on to help me figure out audio, character sheets, stuff like that. I used D&D 5E for this and was fairly impressed with the charactermancer (Roll20's official name for the D&D PC sheet) and the free OGL-tied content on offer. Although we have not as yet advanced with that for a real game, it laid the groundwork for the ongoing weekly Pathfinder and Cypher System games I am running.

Lately my son has expressed an interest in playing so I decided to revisit the idea. Here's how the train of thought on my end went:

1. I can run D&D 5E. But, I don't have the D&D books unlocked and they are kind of expensive purchases for what could be a one-off or possibly very short run on Roll20 if we can all game in person. Also, why doesn't Roll20 have the Dungeon Master's Guide as a compendium option? What madness is that???

2. Also....I am really enmeshed in Pathfinder 2nd edition, maybe I could try that? Even better, I could try running Pathfinder 2E with the Gamemastery Guide's optional Proficiencies without Levels rules, which would dramatically flatten the math for my son on most rolls.

3. Okay, so Pathfinder 2E character sheets are INSANE and I am impressed my players have figured them out. I get it....it's very thorough and works well....but it takes a lot of effort for the initial setup and I don't have that kind of time. If I don't have that kind of time then my son will not benefit from this at all. Plus, it looks like the proficiency+level is baked in to the sheet in such a manner I'd have to edit the code to remove it and I haven't got time to figure out how to do that.

4. So if D&D 5E will work but maybe not optimally, and Pathfinder 2E is too painful to set up for a young new gamer (note: doing this in paper and person would be much easier as I see it, but my son is enamored with the "video game" element of Roll20 so I'm leaning in to that) then what other options are there? Cypher System is an obvious choice, but I feel like exploring other options.

....and that's how I discovered that Gamma World and many other OSR titles have various levels of representation on the Roll20 Charactermancer. Gamma World in particular stuck out because it's the game that got me into RPGs in the first place. Although my father purchased the D&D Basic set for me a few weeks prior, I picked up Gamma World myself at around age 10 and proceeded to run it for my sister and some friends (we were all kids traveling around with our artist parents). For various reasons it resonated well; I think it helped a lot that I had just finished reading Starship and Hothouse by Brian Aldiss, as well as Piers Anthony's Battle Circle series, so I had a firm literary foundation for what Gamma World was about. Within hours of getting the boxed set I had found a map of the Hilton Hotel we were staying at on one of my parents' many art show events in Albuquerque and I was running a post-apocalyptic exploration of the region. That first group ended in a TPK when they wandered afar and found a nuclear missile silo which they promptly detonated. It was the time of the Cold War and I was regularly obsessed with the persistent risk of the end of the world; Gamma World fit well with these worries I had as a kid.

So here I am now, with Gamma World's reprint in my hands from Drivethrurpg, contemplating a game for the family. My son is the same age my sister was back then, and his interest in the thematics seems to be obsessively strong; he's not nearly as interested in fantasy as a genre so much as post-apocalyptic sci-fi and superheroes (not just any superheroes, either; he's primarily about the Flash, Venom and Spider-Man). So a game set in the apocalyptic wasteland featuring mutants might be right up his alley. Bonus since we're in the thick of an ongoing pandemic that is just deadly enough to disrupt the planet while not being deadly enough for us to feel like it's a genuine existential threat (yet; TBD).

Anyway....another perk is that there are a fair number of map packs out there for modern and apocalyptic settings, and scouring the internet brought be a veritable trove of wasteland and Gamma World specific images to be used as props in a Roll20 game. This aspect of Roll20 is great, really....when I do go back to tabletop gaming, I will miss the ability to quickly share images and maps with the players; I may be temped to continue using it even if we are all in person just for that purpose, to be honest. Heck, if the pandemic continues long enough I could, gee, maybe even get used to Roll20 as the norm or something. Maybe. But....man, I miss sitting at a table with live humans and rolling dice!

Anyway....the environment for the first game is fully prepped and ready. I'm setting it in New Mexico (easy fit, and a tradition) and will integrate the Albuquerque Starport module from the GM Screen. I may approach my regulars and see if any want to play, too. At least one of my friends may have to be reassured that I will houserule some less onerous poison damage tables into play....he was famous back in the day for immediately dying due to intense lethal poison/toxin exposure....!


  1. If you have any books on D&D Beyond there is an extension for Chrome and Firefox called Beyond20 that allows the Monster Stat Blocks and Character sheets on D&DB to roll dice and post into Roll20. Its AMAZING.

    1. I had no idea....I will need to check it out!

  2. Gamma World first edition was the first RPG I ever ran.

    1. I thought of you while re-reading the book when I came to the brutorz entry!