A Dish That Serves No One

By Thom Wilson
Gamma World 1e
Beginning Characters

A settlement built upon the ruins of a military installation has recently come under bombardment from space junk falling from the sky. Almost daily, giant chunks of twisted and broken metal and parts of large vessels fall from the sky near or onto the settlement! Many people have been injured or have died. The village  elders do not want to leave as they have finally established a productive farm near a drinkable water supply. What is even more strange, however, is that a large object on the roof of a plateau building nearby has begun moving recently, often several times a day. Are these two things related? Is the impenetrable plateau structure the source of the falling debris?

This thirty page adventure presents a five-ish level complex with about seventy rooms. A simple map and straightforward exploration combine with a play style I find a bit off putting. It’s perhaps most reminiscent of exploring all of those empty rooms in Barrier Peaks … even though most of the rooms are not empty.

Gamma World is my favorite. You thought I had strong opinions on D&D? Ha! MA, 1e, 2e, 3e … all great. A glorious glorious mess. You’ve been warned.

We’ve got a village at the base of a mesa. Up top is a ancient complex that no one has explored. A couple of weeks ago the big circle thing on its roof started moving and now junk from the sky keeps falling on the village. Go investigate and make it stop. There’s always a bit of metagaming in tech adventures, the party figuring out what something is is fun … up to a point. And metagaming to get ahead IS a tried and true part of RPG’s. So, you need to get inside and stop the sat dish from recalling broken spaceships back to the site. This means working your way up through the mesa, all five levels of it.

This thing has the Loot table that I love so much, a few pages of random shit for the party to find when searching. I swear to god, a Gamma World adventure without one of those is not a Gamma World adventure. It should be mandatory in every adventure, it adds so much fun to the thing.

The map, also, has a few interesting things about it. There are a couple of stairwells and an elevator shaft (although, sadly, no mention of climbing the shaft, an obvious miss there …) that are arranged in such a way that there are a couple of sub-basement levels that are not obvious unless you are in the right location. That sort of hidden space, and the verticality of it, is quite the nice little feature. There’s also a couple of quite obvious secret doors in to the mesa. “Heres a big blank wall in the mesa. I wonder what could be there?” It’s a little too mechanistic for me; no real description of HOW the doors are hidden, or rubble piles or anything Just a blank mesa wall with a secret door in it. Meh. I should note, also, while on the map, tha the adventure starts slow, with few creatures, and a good looting will turn up many weapons to help with the upper levels of the complex. So, some pacing there.

The rest of this, though, is not to my liking. 

The agreed-upon-conventions are not quit ein place, in terms of style. We’ve got mentions of manned laser turrets in the village. The guards all walk around with slug throwers, and they do a “serum test” with you to see if you are lying/good people or not. Meh. I like my base Gamma World a little more primitive. You might be ok with it, and that’s fine. But, also, the read-aloud refers to thing like dimmed emergency lighting and terminals. Again, not quite the vibe I’m going for, although I do acknowledge the balance between mystery and just getting on with things.

The read-aloud is in italics, which is never a good thing for extended reading. EVen though it’s also in a shaded box. Why both? Just pick the shaded box. And it over-reveals, noting things in the read-aloud that are best saved for the back and forth between DM and players as they investigate. That’s a core feature of RPG’s and read-alouds that over-reveal destory this key aspect of the game.

We also get pretty minimal description here. Things like “Four beds with adjoining desks are found within” or, on a good day “Rusty metal stairs end in a large, open space that is completely dark. The area is well below the surface and is fairly chilly and damp.” Kind of cold. And not in a good way, I’d assert. They lack that vibe that I’m going for. ANY vibe.

There’s also some misses in the descriptions, with several trapdoors in the floor, in the upper levels, leading to the lower levels, that you explored first probably … only those hatches are not mentioned in the lower levels. And, there are choices to be made that are not quite kosher. At one point you can cut the power to the base. And if you do so then all of the space junk then falls on the village. But that seems like a valid solution, yeah? Cutting power? But, no, you have to get to the top level man room and use the terminal there. There’s no indication that cutting the power will fuck you over. It’s just one of those hidden choices that seems random, or like a good thing, that has catastrophic consequences. And, sure, you can do that. But, also, informed decisions are the best decisions. It makes the players feel like they have a horse in the race.

And, the entire thing just feels … empty. Kind of like those endless rooms on the first level of Barrier Peaks. Now, I don’t mean that’s what is going on. But that’s what it FEELS like. You’ve got each level shaped like a square with rooms along the outside walls, and then a small “center square” of rooms also. And you just go from door to door and open it and search an empty room and get some loot. And maybe make a save vs poison. Or maybe fight a plant/amoeba. It doesn’t feel so much like an exploration. There are no factions. It just feels like monotony. Room after room after room. Open door. Search room. Next room. Now, I realize that IS the main loop of many RPG’s. But, also, there are other things in other games. Some exploration of the complex layout. Factions. Tricks, traps, puzzles and so on. But no here. Just room after room. And, yes, there’s some loot in some of them. And sometimes a monster. And it doesn’t really have much rhyme or reason to it. Just room after room after room. Imagine a long hallway in an office building. And scattered along it are office doors on the right and left side. And behind each is an office. Essentially the same, but with some minor variation. Let’s say there are a hundred doors in that hallway. And some of the rooms might have a little loot. And some might have a surprise plant monster also or a slime that suddenly drops from an otherwise normal looking ceiling. And start exploring those offices, room after room after room. How do you decide which door to open? You don’t, really. You just pick one. And that’s what the vibe going on here. The endlessness of the Severance complex, without the subtext.

This is $3.50 at DriveThru. The preview is sox pages. So you get to see a little of the village but not the complex. It should have shown some of the complex also.


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2 Responses to A Dish That Serves No One

  1. Sevenbastard says:

    Wait we are getting Gama World reviews! Hot damn.

  2. Krumme Lanke says:

    I appreciate how the reviews around plus or minus this one aren’t just fantasy.

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