I ran the second session of my Gamma World mini-campaign for my group about a week ago, and things went well.
Brief synopsis of the session – the group bypassed the big metal hazard door very quickly (because oh yeah there’s an ectoplasmic in the group, derp), and followed a monorail track to find the lobby of a fancy, high-tech office building. Inside, they encountered a disinterested hoop receptionist.
This is a hoop. Imagine him in a business suit made of black plastic bin liners, and playing a solo game of telekinetic Jenga. Ah, Gamma World.
So the players were jazzed about this, because, gasp! Interaction! A chance to find out information and learn something about this strange new place!
Well, to their credit, they showed immense restraint and found out the hoop’s name was Xang Xang and the building was called Bao Fang Industries before they pulled a gun on him, because… lulz?
Xang Xang hit the security button and summoned a group of 50s B-movies style security robots (think Robby the Robot). The robots surrounded the players and demanded their surrender. While I described this, I started getting dice ready for the throwdown that my impulsive, bash-happy group would inevitably start. After all, they attacked those mutant hobos in the tunnel with no provocation, right?
Naturally, my players did the one thing I didn’t expect, and which totally turned my (admittedly vaguely formed) plot on its head; they did what they are asked, and instantly lay down their weapons and surrendered.
I honestly had not even considered that as an outcome. And trust me, you wouldn’t either if you knew my group; these are people who probably even aren’t aware there are “nice guy” options in moral-choice games like Fable 2 or Mass Effect. When these guys play games, they’re of the firm belief that a steel-toed boot to the crotch in an acceptable way of saying “good morning” to an NPC.
A few minutes later, the players are trapped in a prison cube made of pure GM-pulled-it-out-of-his-ass-so-its-indestructible-anium. After a few minutes of frustrated inaction, I had to invoke the forbidden gods of both Deus Ex Machina and Railroading and have the players be rescued by Xang Xang’s younger brother Xing Xing who snuck into their cell, broke them out, and led them to the exit.
This led up to the main encounter of the night, a fight on a giant moving conveyor belt on a factory floor, straight out of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. I’ve always wanted to run a conveyor belt fight like this, but looking back on it, I messed it up.
The setup was that the players and Xing Xing were crossing a gantry above the conveyor belt which gets shot out beneath them by security robots, so that they fall onto the conveyor belt. So far, so good. But my crippling mistake was that I gave the players no incentive to stay on the conveyor belt. Instead they jumped off asap to take cover because they were getting shot at by security robots! The encounter then basically ended up being like a cover-based shooter, except much more boring because my players don’t have much in the way of ranged attacks; everyone has a simple ranged weapon like a crossbow or gun, but nothing flashy like a mutant power or big Omega Tech gun. In the end, I had to play the security robots as illogical and dumb and have them walk up to the players so that they could get bashed in melee.
My players still had fun with it (mostly because they got shiny new Omega Tech afterwards), but I felt like they could’ve had more fun. In hindsight, I should’ve made the conveyor much harder to escape, and enemies that were on the belt with the players and grappled with them in close combat to keep them on the belt so that there could’ve been a daring last-second escape before the player falls into the grinder or furnace or whatever.
So, contingency plans; have them. I had to pull a lot of stuff out of thin air to get my players to the conveyor belt fight, and it was awkward and clumsy. It wasn’t the worst time I’ve had to hit the GM Panic Button; the worst time was when I had to have the big bad boss of the campaign display sudden omniescence and telekinetic powers to disassemble the shotgun of a player on the other side of the city before they shot themselves in the head, “because it’ll only be 2d6 damage, lol”. It’ll take a lot to top that.
A few things did go well though; I printed off a list of actions so that players were aware of what their options were on their turn, and all of them are getting more into the story of the game and developing character personalities. The ectoplasmic lesbian android (one of those three descriptors is sadly not a Gamma World origin) continues to hug people with her crushing robot claws of death because she has abandonment issues and misses her robot wife. The prescient plaguebearer risked his life to save Xing Xing from being shot on the conveyor belt, which was an interesting development as we’d established that the character was a weird smelly hermit and didn’t really like other people. Maybe his powers of prescience have let him know that the young hoop will be important in the future?
We’ll see in part 3…