- This review is just for the RPG supplement content, not the wargame content. It seems like it might be a fine wargame, that just doesn't interest me personally at the moment and I didn't read it thoroughly.
- This review is of the pdf, purchased on drivethrurpg during the 2019 black friday / cyber monday sale.
- I have not read Gamma World 4e in a while, which I also purchased as a pdf on drivethrurpg at some point, but from what I vaguely remember it is more or less compatible with D&D 2e and by extension most OSR.
- I have not played this supplement nor any version of Gamma World, although I have incorporated some elements of Gamma World into my campaigns at various points, most notably in my first Phantasmos campaign. In other words, this review is not from in-use experience, just of the book and my impressions of how it might play.
What is Gamma World?
For those of you who don't know what Gamma World is, it's a post-apocalyptic (arguably post-post-apocalyptic) science fantasy setting, arguably THE post-apocalyptic science fantasy setting. It's usually tongue in cheek, with plenty of references to the real world. You have mutants of all kinds, uplifted animals and plants, robots, and high-tech humanoids. It's Weird & Wonderful and it's a shame that it's never come close to the same level of popularity as it's sibling D&D (it was originally created by TSR and is currently owned by Wizards of the Coast). It's inspirations can be felt all over the OSR though, and even videogames like Fallout or Borderlands.
Visuals, layout, and pdf quality
Sometimes the pdfs of these older games are really low quality scans. Granted I read it on my brand new microsoft surface pro 7 which I also bought for black friday because I'm that guy, but it ran well and looked good. The text has been parsed from the page and can be searched and copied, not sure about bookmarks and stuff since I don't really bother with that anyway (I have a onenote file where I keep all my bookmarks anyway).
The layout is nice. It's simple and a little dense, but that's pretty typical of books of its era, or so it seems to me. I was pleasantly impressed by the art. It's black and white and has that old school cartoony charm, but it's well done and the designs were more interesting than I expected. Even though Gamma World is in many ways the archetypal post-apocalyptic science fantasy, I do think it has a certain unique identity of its own, and it comes through in the Gamma Knights art.
Writing and Clarity
It's a bit dense and overwritten, sometimes obfuscating important information with needless detail or getting deep into minutia or blending discussion of mechanics and setting in ways that I personally dislike. That being said, I generally found it to be well written and relatively clear. Despite the mechanics being a bit more fiddly than I'd like, they do a good job of explaining how it all works and making it make intuitive sense. All of the parts of the power armors are explained, with light mechanical explanation, before really getting into the meat of things, which I think was smart. That being said, I would have preferred if they had included an even higher-level overview, very briefly explaining all the parts and how the power armors work in one concise section, maybe a few paragraphs at most.
The mechanics of the power armors are a little more fiddly than I'd like, but I'm intrigued. A lot of the faux-realism fiddlyness can be easily ignored, and most of the mechanical fiddlyness that is there seems logical and fun. While I generally prefer rules-light games that stay out of my way and don't pack all that my character can do in a tight build, I do like to "build" a mech, and it's a nice way to differentiate mechs / power armors from regular play.
They provide a reasonable number of pre-made power armors (Standard Armor Suits) which can be used as a good point of reference. They don't explicitly have a section for different power armor chassis which seems weird, but one can simple take the chassis of the pre-made power armors and re-spec the slots.
The power armors have a base AC and a number of slots, for head, left arm, right arm, front plate, back plate, left leg, and right leg. Certain mods (I don't think they ever provide a specific terminology for all gear so I'm calling them mods, but I could be misremembering) can only be placed in certain locations, and also any given mod must be able to fit within the entirety of that location (e.g. a mod that requires three slots can't be placed on the back plate if there are only two slots left). In addition, most mods require power, so the power armor must have quantum processing units (QPCs) to power those parts. A power armor doesn't need to have enough QPCs to power all their mods at once, they can switch them on and off. The slots system is exactly what I want from a mech supplement, and the power part at first seemed like the kind of thing I'd find annoying, but actually the impracticality of having all mods powered at once, and having to think about when to switch them on and off, actually seems like it could be fun and not just fiddlyness for the sake of fiddlyness.
While there are some useful tables in the back, and also for the mods for each section, there is annoyingly not a section where all the mods tables are collected together. Also, while the pre-made power armors include the location and power demand of each mod, they don't include the number of slots for each mod. Maybe it was a formatting thing that they couldn't fit it, but it's very annoying that it's not there. This issue with the tables is probably my single biggest issue with the book, but even so it's not too bad, it just could be better. Note that the tables at the front of the book are for the wargame, not the RPG (or at least, so I can tell...).
The mods are broken into sensors, which generally provide sensory and attack bonuses, defensive options which provide defensive bonuses and healing/repair, weapons (melee, ranged, missile, grenade), locomative assist options which give movement bonuses, and strength enhancements which provide unarmed damage bonuses and increased carrying capacity.
The mods are all surprisingly interesting, both in terms of flavor and mechanics. The autosurgeon defensive option seems to predict research in neuroimmunology that I don't think existed yet when this book was written. There are multiple kinds of force fields and they have various benefits and flaws and counterbalances that all seem tactically interesting and evoke a sense of being in a power armor. As do the mechanics for computer systems and computer-assisted actions. The weapons are also surprisingly interesting; the flavor text for the Mark XII Blaster elevates it to something more than just a generic scifi gun.
All of that being said, this all seems like the kind of thing that could just... not work. Like, it reads well on the page and sounds interesting, but in practice I could see it being really difficult to plan for as a GM, difficult to keep track of as a player, and slow down combat or any tactical maneuvering to a boring crawl, like the grating of rusting metal plates against each other. I don't think I can say for sure without trying. If nothing else, it's all inspiring.
So What Do I Think About Gamma Knights?
If nothing else, it was an entertaining and inspiring read, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in incorporating power armors into their OSR game. They suggest that power armors should be rare and limited within the Gamma World setting, but this begs to be at the center of a campaign. Given how powerful the power armors are, one could easily scale up these power armors into mechs, without even necessarily touching the mechanics, besides maybe just units of measurement for movements.
I am skeptical about whether or not some of the mechanics like the force fields or computers would actually be fun, but they're also some of the more interesting ideas. However, if nothing else, this book makes me want to play / run a Gamma Knights game, or at least make a power armor / mech OSR or TNT hack inspired by this, but stripped down. If you've played this or have read it and have thoughts of your own, please let me know! I hope this review inspires others to check it out and give it a shot, or make something like it.