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Game Rules — Fundamentals | Pard’s Wares

The campaign of Mutt d20/Gamma World will end up something like episodes of the TV show Quantum Leap. The PCs will eventually find themselves skipping between worlds, alternate realities, &/or planes of existence, but for now…
Gw westwasteland storefronts plant convered
We begin thus: while not desolate, the Wasteland as it is commonly referred to, is a dangerous and untamed wilderness. You come from a small village of a few hundred. You know the area around your village, but little of the world beyond. Your people manage to scrape out a living through meager agriculture and occasional trade with nomads. However, this is not enough of a life for you and your friends.

You’ve heard stories, myths and legends from the village elders of a Golden Age… of the Ancients that ended centuries ago. It was a miraculous age of wonder, destroyed suddenly in horrific fire. Why it ended that way or how that fire was unleashed, no one alive knows. But relics and artifacts yet remain from that distant age, relics of incredible power.

You know how to shoot a gun and don armor. Illiteracy is nearly universal. The common language spoken by most is a bastardized version of the Ancient’s language. They generally know north, south, east and west. The Earth is flat. The Ancients lived in a golden age that was destroyed by a great cataclysm of some sort. Most folks have little knowledge of the wasteland beyond a dozen to twenty miles outside their village.

The Wasteland is an uncivilized wilderness, with a few scattered villages and towns, like islands on the ocean. Not all of the wasteland is a desert. Much of it is vast untamed forest or jungle or prairie-land or scrub-brush. No matter the terrain- radioactivity inundates many areas, most often the ruins of the Ancients. Radioactive or not, the Wasteland teems with weird, mutated life… most of it hostile, and hungry. Traveling through the wasteland is always a risky prospect. Attacks by slavers, raiders and the voracious wildlife are quite common.

The intent of this game system is to recapture the feel of old school role-playing using a lighter set of rules in synch with d20 Open License ‘Core’ rules. At the same time, I’m trying to replicate some of the ideas and innovations that have been introduced to the RPG world since the days of Red Box Basic D&D, Gamma World, Traveller, and Champions sets. Players should be able to understand the entire game in less than an hour, and sit down to create characters in 30 minutes or less.


  • View the entire area you’ve mapped out as the battleground; don’t plan on taking on monsters in a single room. They may try to outflank you by running down corridors.
  • Establish rendezvous points where the party can fall back to a secure defensive position.
  • Scout ahead, and try to avoid wandering critters, which don’t carry much loot.
  • You’re on a mission to find loot-rich areas. Trying to kill every critter you meet will weaken the party before you find the rich critters.
  • Don’t assume you can defeat each and every critter you encounter. This isn’t a “balanced” world. Sometimes you eat the bear; sometimes, the bear eats you.
  • Keep some sort of map, even if it’s just a flow chart. If you get lost, you can end up in real trouble – especially in a place where wandering critters are apt to show up.
  • Ask lots of questions about what you see. Look up. Ask about unusual stonework or masonry. Test floors before stepping.
  • Hire some cannon fodder. Don’t let the cannon fodder start to view you as a weak source of treasure.
  • Check in with the grizzled one-armed guy in the bar before each foray; he may have suddenly remembered more details about an area.

Old-style games have a human-sized scale, not a super-powered scale. At first level, adventurers are barely more capable than a regular person. They live by their wits. Even as characters rise to the heights of power, they aren’t picking up super-abilities or high ability scores. Truly high-level characters have precious items accumulated over a career of adventuring; they usually have some measure of political power, at least a stronghold. They are deadly when facing normal opponents … but they aren’t invincible. Old school gaming is the fantasy of taking a guy without tremendous powers – a guy much like yourself but somewhat stronger, or with slight magic powers – and becoming a king or a feared sorcerer over time. It’s not about a guy who can, at the start of the game, take on ten club-wielding peasants at once. It’s got a real-world, gritty starting point. And your character isn’t personally ever going to become stronger than a dragon. At higher levels, he may be able to kill a dragon with his sword or with spells, but never by grabbing its throat and strangling it in a one-on-one test of strength.

To make a comic-book analogy, characters don’t become Superman; they become Batman.

And they don’t start as Batman – Batman is the pinnacle. He’s a bit faster than normal, a bit stronger than normal, he’s got a lot of cash, a Bat Cave, a butler, a henchman (Robin) and cool gadgets. But he can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. If you don’t get a feeling of achievement with Batman instead of Superman as the goal, the old school gaming style probably isn’t right for your vision of what makes good and exciting fantasy. Old school gaming is about the triumph of the little guy into an epic hero, not the development of an epic hero into a superhuman being. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, it’s just that old-style fantasy matches up with the former.

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