Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Other RPGs: Gamma World - Module GW2: Famine in Far-Go

I was recently re-reading the old Gamma World module GW: Famine in Fargo, mainly because I don't think I've actually looked at this module in probably 15 years at least.  Although I love Gamma World, I haven't actually played the game in over 23 years or so.  The last time I remember actually sitting down to play it was in my friend's cabin in Utah when he and his family took me on a weekend vacation to snowmobile and hang out.  I brought along my 2nd Edition Gamma World rulebook, a notebook of ideas, and two modules (Famine in Fargo, and the Rite of Passage adventure included in the 2nd Edition Adventure Book from the boxed set). 

We started our game late at night after a long day of snowmobiling and playing in the snow and stuff, so we were both really tired, and there was only one player - my friend, Mike, who honestly wasn't all that into role-playing. He wasn't part of our "game group" at school, but was a guy I had met a few years earlier and who had a ton of Legos so I used to go over to his house a lot to hang out.  My mom also got along with his mom really well, which meant that we were sort of "forced" to hang out a lot on weekend trips and stuff.  I remember when my mom said, "Michael's family invited you to spend the weekend at their cabin" I was really disappointed because, really, I didn't want to go.  This guy wasn't a close friend, and I didn't really know his family all that well.  And, they were really, super hard-core... religious.  We'll leave it at that.

So, I was told that I was going to hang out with them this weekend, and I brought my Gamma World stuff to make life tolerable for the next two and half days. 

We didn't get that far into Rite of Passage.  Mike was playing, if I remember correctly, a mutated buffalo-man that walked on two legs and had opposable thumbs and all that stuff.  It seems like most of the mutated animals we played back then all were basically animal-men hybrids, kind of like something out of the Island of Dr. Moreau.  You can see my picture of a Gamma World NPC I created back then that was based on a "panther" (yes, Cal, I know). 

This was one of my first times refereeing a game, and the first time for Gamma World specifically, and I was really excited because I totally dug the game.  I never really saw it as "silly" like some people did, which might also explain why I ended up choosing to play Rite of Passage instead of Famine in Fargo.  See, I had actually never read Famine in Fargo before I brought it with me.  I had just skimmed through it.  I chose it over Legion of Gold because Legion was written by Gary Gygax, and that was a signal to me that I wasn't experienced enough to referee it.  The fact that I hadn't even read Famine before thinking I might try to referee it "on the fly" is probably a good indication that I wasn't quite ready to run my own games. 

Anyway, as soon as I saw the pictures of all of the mutant chickens wearing military hats and wife-beater tank-tops... well, I was turned off.  I put it down and didn't really look at it again until a few days ago. 

I was really shocked by what I found.  While there are some really fun little "gems" inside, like finding a copy of The Best of DRAGON, Vol 53 sitting on a chair in one room, and "an old, thin, damaged plastifax book from the Ancients.  The cover of the book is torn and the only word that remains of the title is 'GAMMA.' "

So, those are funny and kind of "break the fourth wall", but they could be a neat little addition to an encounter to help break some tension.

However, what really turned me off was this part of the module, found on Page 9 in the section entitled "TAKEN PRISONER."

GM Note: While the entire group is asleep, after completing the ritual, a party of Badders discovers them and takes the characters prisoner to their underground lair
Um... what?  Really?  So, the characters as assumed to be dumb enough to not have posted guards while they slept?  And, they don't have any chance to wake up at all while being taken captive?  The way the module is written, there is absolutely no chance for the characters to have any impact on this "scene."  They are taken captive by the Badders and later expected to fight their way out.  The module doesn't really continue if you don't do this, although I guess you could in theory by-pass the entire scene and skip to the Automated Chicken Processing Factory.

However, the module is full of things like this.  Another quote from the module:
GM Note: Do not allow the players enter the Forest if it is afternoon or evening, as this violates the ritual. If any of them insist on going into the Forest other than in the morning then have a deadly foe (such as a large group of Hoops) waiting for them just inside the Forest entrance.  Hopefully this will let them know that they should wait for the morning to come before journeying into the woods.
 I really can't stand that kind of "adventure."  I hear people complain that the Dragonlance modules are railroads, and I totally agree with that assessment.  But, Famine in Fargo is just as guilty, in my opinion.  This is what happens when a referee lets his "story" get in the way of the players controlling the action.

I think James Maliszewski said it best in a post he wrote a long time ago (I can't find it on his blog now) - but the gist of it was something along the lines of "if the referee can tell you how the encounter is going to end before it happens", then that's not a role-playing game.  I can tell you from a player's perspective that nothing is more frustrating when playing an RPG than if you think your character's actions have no effect on the game being played.  What's the fun in that?

As a referee, if you're more concerned with "telling your story", then you should be writing a novel, not trying to run an RPG. 

I know that this topic has been covered ad infinitum by the OSR community over the years, but having just read this module, it brought it all back to me. 

Have any of you ever played in a railroaded-type game?  What was your experience like?  Have you ever run a game like that?


  1. I did play in one pulp-type game where we scuppered the pre-written plot by doing away with a bunch of villains who should have overpowered our characters; for some reason we blasted through them, so the GM threw more of the bad guys at us, and we did them in too, so in the end he just bought us off with action points to let the plot go ahead as written.

    In fairness though, the GM fell ill during the game and was trying his best to hold on until the end, so he can't really be blamed.

  2. Nice post and a fond memory, I'm sure. Despite your reluctance to go and a superficial friendship, I think its cool you gave the module a go. Agreed, by the way, on your storytelling comment regarding railroads.

  3. I have occasionally found myself supplying both sides of a conversation, when dealing with players. There's no way they are going to remember to search bones and things like that, unless you drop hints of some kind. My mother was listening in once, and she said that I acted surprised during a conversation that I, myself, had engineered (something I rolled for an NPC surprised me). It made me look at what we were doing. Any time we have to push the play,we negate all the game-breaking antics that and ingenuity of the players. That robs us all of the fun. The sneaking. Crawling up the side of the ravine, and taking a short cut. Blowing stuff up. We miss those things, when we supply both sides of the game.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! I get where you're coming from, and I think a little reminding and even gentle prodding from time-to-time is fine and part of the process of playing RPGs. What I objected to in this case was the clearly written instructions that instructed the GM not to let the players do things essentially because "the module won't work if you let them." If the characters post a guard and aren't caught by surprise and captured by the Badders, then the encounter "doesn't work." That's a poorly written encounter and it relies on DM fiat to basically say "you can't do that."


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