Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Tables and Tech Levels: More Gamma World Thoughts And Changes (Post: Apocalypse Part 2)


It's not game prep if you're not spending late nights staring at tables and making minor changes. Surely, you didn't think that I was done?

Alright, this is pretty much a direct continuation of the last post, so let's get right to business: Here's some more in-depth mechanical analysis, and discussion on what I (might) change and why. 

Talkin' about Classes

Wait, don't close the tab, I don't mean those classes again! I'm talking about Armor Class and Weapon Class.

The extremely patient human beings that got all the way through the last post will remember that I enjoyed the basic setup of the game's Armor-Weapon relationship, with each WC and AC having their own to-hit value. They might also remember that I had some issues with it. Since I'm oh so smart, let's see what I'm changing. 

 Armor Classifications 

Okay, so here's the thing about armor. This game has 10 AC scores, and the distribution on the armor table is kinda weird. First off, AC 1-2 is The Best Tier. It's where nothing but Powered Armor, Robots, and one particularly scary type of Giant Lizard live, and it is reasonable that these are the hardest things to damage in the game. No problems so far. 

3-6 is the "Wearing Armor" tier, containing almost the entire range of armors from leather (AC 6) to chainmail, ring mail, and platemail (all AC 4, obviously), with a special guest appearance by fan-favorite Studded Leather Armor (because we needed something to be AC 5). The remaining 7-9 range is populated entirely by "Furs or Heavy Skins" at AC 8, at least in terms of what's actually on the equipment table. Also on the table, 10 AC is the "You're Wearing Nothing, Humanoid" value for the unarmored. Finally, while it's not listed anywhere, I'm like 80% sure that "Heavy Clothing", which is described as the minimum protection that is more than nothing, and "The only armor that can be worn with other armor", would be AC 9. Feel free to disagree with me on this one. 

Now, there's some interesting stuff going on here. Stuff which won't be clear until you see the weapon table, but the same would have been true the other way and I had to choose something to talk about first. So you'll just have to take my word for it. 

The armor list is a bit sparse on natural armors, but clearly this guy's sick shoulder pads alone are good enough to convey a solid AC 5. I guess because they're fucking studded.

The most important thing to note is that, when looking at most to-hit tables and the bigger picture, leather armor isn't that terrible compared to the metal armors. As is tradition, against simple and martial weapons chainmail is about 10% better than good old boiled hides, which means travelling in lighter armors is not the worst idea in the world. When facing tech weapons, the difference doesn't really do anything for you: chainmail grants no extra protection against energy weapons, radiation, sonic blasts or fire. 

I think it's worthwhile to note, though, that the game's higher health values actually seriously impacts the value of armor here. In your oldeschoole dungeon crawling simulator, HP values tended to be low enough that the AC difference just didn't feel that huge; when I can take only 2-3 slaps with a broad axe before keeling over, my plate's piddly "one more swing out of ten will miss" improvement over chainmail doesn't feel like it's doing much. Statistically speaking, your unfortunate adventurer could go through multiple combats and get hit just as consistently as the skill monkey in leather armor over there, shooting into melee like a clown. This is why a lot of people describe the d20 as "swingy", and I get where they're coming from. 

On the other hand, if we're all starting off with an average HP pool of Eight Point Five Successful Axe Slaps, getting those few 5% to-hit increments will extend your combat lifetime by many rounds, on average. This also means that "instant death" weapons don't feel like a way to regulate ballooning HP, but rather to make you think about approaching different enemies in different ways. I'll expand on this in a bit, but for now just remember that some stuff cares more about HP, some stuff cares more about armor, and some cares about neither. 

So while it's not useful against all weapon types, better armor and a shield is definitely a welcome upgrade, especially in early/low-tech situations when facing off against club, crossbow and claw-using opponents. It still pales in comparison to ludicrous jump of true powered armors, which dramatically increase your 'ardness even before you factor in their forcefields - but you probably can't afford to replace the atomic power cells every dang day, so you're almost certainly gonna be left relying on your "mundane" protection for the most part.

I think the game is being very frank about what it wants its armors to be: Simple. Powered armors are the end-all and invariably the best protection you can get, with different power armors providing different utilities such as jump jets or built-in weaponry; and non-powered armors are just a linear series of upgrades to act as your "baseline" when you can't afford to be in the power suits. The sole functional difference between furs, leather armor and chainmail is that each is better than the last, but also more expensive. If this was a game of dungeon crawling procedure, one that cares about the minutia of walking ten feet at a time and the limitations on what you can wear based on your profession, then there would be more differentiation between armors. But they don't have that differentiation, because it's not important. Heavier armors don't lower your movement speed (some power armors actually increase your speed, even), because it shouldn't be a factor in your travel and action speeds - how much you carry is what matters, and that's why the game puts that in the rules, and tells you to not count armor (though you do count shields, but I guess those are held, not carried. Again, the point is the abstraction).

Chainmail exists so that you have something to progress to after studded leather, an extra step of protection to invest in before you've reached the point of decking your party out in plates, plastic, and ancient riot gear, with the occasional power armor outing. And, on a larger level, you need to remember that this is a game where your society matters. You're not a group of lone wolf Bugbear Robbers, dipping into town only to drop off your latest haul and convert it into XP before heading out into the woods to murder the next closest loot-holding creatures within your weight class; you are Members Of A Community, which means that there people you might be looking out for, and maybe even financially supporting. People you might want to, at some point, gather up and bring along to deal with a threat that a couple of guys simply can't - and those people will need weapons and armor too. And all of a sudden, the price difference between leather and chainmail seems a lot bigger when you have to buy 30 sets.

Okay, so what are you changing?

Not much. 

I'm pretty much okay with the armors staying where they already are. The only thing I've "moved" is Plate down to AC 3; this is mostly an aesthetic thing, because I love the visual of a dude in plate mail and a dude in repurosed riot gear being equally matched in a swordfight. Also I'm keeping Studded Leather, because I think it's important to remember our roots, and because it's a shorthand for stuff like "gambeson" or "brigandine" or whatever it is people get very annoyed by the lack of. Here's your non-specific middle-weight armor, dorks - enjoy it! 

The big, obvious change is that I dramatically altered the prices. Even if the book's numbers are meant as baseline, "factory" prices; for all my high-minded "it's about the large scale pricing" thinking, I just can't abide a typical PC starting with enough cash to equip themselves, and a few other party members, with the best armor available right off the bat. For this reason, I'm also changing the Starting PC's Budget to 4d6 gp (rather than 4d4 x 10), since starting at low-tech and working their way up is encouraged by the book. I also rejiggered some of the reputation point values, because plate being worth a rank while the superior plastic armor is not is just silly. Of course, my prices are baseline as well, just the other way around - a few nameless clods wandering into town and buying heavy armor for themselves are gonna have to pay a lot more than, say, a well-reputed hero of a formidable faction, arming their freedom fighters for a battle against a common foe.

I might remove Studded, frankly. As much as I love being mildely innacruate, I also like having slightly fewer armors with bigger jumps in quality, and furs/leather/chain can really just be seen as broad categories for light/medium/heavy. I've yet to fully decide, but it's an easy change either way.

But it's hard to really talk about armor without getting into weapons. 

Getting Into Weapons

Okay, here's the Weapon Class table from the rulebook. 

Because it's kinda difficult to read this by itself, I went through the process of sorting all the WCs by what they represent. Conveniently, there's actually a (mostly) logical distribution here - these Weapon Classes actually represent Classes of Weapon! Let's run them down, with commentary.

WC 1:  Basic caveman-tier weapons: Spear, Club/Mace, Hammer. Also, Lance. 

-Near-Standard progression (starting at a nice 9, linearly increases with AC, but makes a 2-point jump against AC 1) across whole AC range. Not a lot to say here.

WC 2: Medieval non-sword weapons: Axe, Morning Star, Dagger apparently.

- Up to AC 4, better than WC 1 by 1. AC 3 and up, advantage is gone; actually worse against AC 2. So, basically better against TL I armors.

- I thought that this was meant to represent "heavier" weapons at first, but that wasn't really the case. See WC 3.

WC 3: Swords: Long Sword, Two-Handed Sword, also Polearm (sword on a stick)

- Identical to WC 1, except with a +1 to-hit against AC 1. In other words, a consistent and standard progression. Let's call this The Baseline.

- WC 1 & 3 weapons are basically the only ones with /D (Double damage against larger targets). Blades are better against beasts, thumpers are better against dudes in armor. (Although the WC 2 Flail also has /D, but only deals 1d6, so iunno, you tell me.)

- Honestly, does this need to be a separate WC from 1? If you're swinging a spear at a tank or godzilla, you've already made some big mistakes without needing that extra 5% off. 

WC 4: Low-tier tech melee: Paralysis Rod, Vibrodagger. 

- Not much of a curve: Basically needs a 12 against everything but AC 1 & 2.  

- Vibrodagger cares not for armor, unless it's power armor. 

- Paralysis rod, according to the book, only works on exposed skin, so it being here is a little weird - obviously non-armored monsters can have higher ACs too, but where does that leave us for armored enemies? Does it just not work, or is it a case-by-case basis? (Uh oh, these guys are actually fully covered  by their armor, so your rod ain't doin' nothin').  

WC 5: High-tier tech melee: Energy Mace, Vibroblade. 

- WC 4 with a +2.

- Your armor is a joke to us. This Mace Kills Badders.  

- None of the listed WC 4 or 5 weapons can harm targets with forcefields. Energy weapons have their own mini-forcefields, so presumably they just bounce off other forcefields, otherwise cutting through basically anything. This is very important, for reasons to be explained. 

WC 6: The Stun Whip: The Stun Whip. The Stun Whip. Maybe also regular whips? 

- 13 against AC 8, and rapidly worse from there, although overtaking regular weapons vs. plate and power armor. Very accurate versus unarmored targets, needs 15 against basically any "real" armor.

- The Stun Whip's knockout is much shorter than a paralysis rod, but it apparently isn't blocked by armor, which is brutal. This makes it the mother of non-lethal melee, especially if you get surprise on your enemies and get those sweet, sweet guaranteed hits.

- Also has very a fun rock-paper-scissors factor: You might be able to survive an energy mace hit, but you can't survive two. Can you hit me once with your less-accurate-but-more-immediate temporary stun weapon before I murder you with my more-accurate-but-potentially-survivable permanent life remover? 

WC 7: Robotic Tentacles. 

- It's WC 3, with a +4 across the board. 

- No fancy effects, robots are just really good at slapping around puny humanoids. (Also, bad at smacking big things, with a big fat /H (half damage against larger targets) on their damage dice.)

- If necessary, this could be considered a general "Small caliber crowd control" class. Accurate, effective, but not very useful against larger targets. Ancient riot weapons, perhaps? 

If you're wondering where the "natural" weapons are, they don't have WC, their to-hit is just based off HD. Makes sense to me.

WC 8: Stuff you can throw: All The Grenades, also Javelins, and the SDP (the smallest detonation pack). 

- It's WC 3. It's literally just WC 3. 1:1. Is it because 3 looks like 8? 

- Will use WC 8 as baseline for ranged weapons, because I think it's funny.

WC 9: Primitive Projectile Weapons: Blowgun, Sling, Shortbow, Crossbow, also Musket. 

- WC 8 +1, except against AC 1. The Powered Assault Armor snorts derisively at your early black powder weaponry.

- What are these damage codes. Javelins, Crossbow, Shortbow and Musket all deal 1d6, but only the crossbow has /H? I guess I can understand the "damage tradeoff" logic here, but I'm not a fan; and seriously, what did crossbows do to deserve this?  

- Hilariously, sling stones and bullets are both 1d4, but the difference is that bullets have /D. Thanks a lot, The Bible.

WC 10: The Guns. Slug Thrower Pistols, specifically.  

- WC 8 +2. Guns are accurate, who knew? 

- There's 3 kinds of slug thrower. A deals 1d6 and is the lightest, the other two deal 2d6, with B being lighter and C having longer range. All guns (including later WCs) can autofire, doing two shots per attack; so these already hilariously outclass the WC 9 weapons. 

- Interesting that the book has no slug-throwing rifles, or shotguns for that matter! I guess it doesn't quite fit the aesthetic as much. Still, easy enough to add in. 

WC 11: It's The Needler, Baby.

- Better than WC 8 against lightly armored targets, similar against medium, and worse against heavy. Makes sense, it's a "skin contact is all you need for effect" kind of weapon.

- The needler can have tranq rounds or poison rounds, and it is a rare example of a weapon that inflicts poisons with a static strength. Normally, poisons have strengths like "3d6", rolling on the Poison table to see how intense it is - basically a reverse saving throw where you see how strong a given dose is, and then reference that with your constitution to see if it affects you. Lethal needler ammo comes with Intensity 17 poison, meaning that getting hit by one is Instant Fucking Death unless you have 18+ constitution, in which case it's a mere 4d6 damage. 

WC 12: The Stun Guns (Pistol, Rifle) 

- Even more extreme version of WC 11: Extremely accurate against unarmored targets (5 against AC 10, making it tied for Easiest Shot In The Game with robotic tentacles), rapidly becomes a 15 against anything armored (AC 6 or higher). Presumably operating on the same tech as the Stun Whip.

- The Pistol is mostly the better weapon out of these two, since both knock out immediately and the pistol has better battery economy. The rifle does have thrice the range, though, so it's much more ideal for outdoor engagements, if that comes up. 

WC 13: The Laser Guns (Pistol, Rifle)

- Hits on a static 8+ against anything that isn't power armor, which needs 12/13. How very Traveller of them.

- Speaking of Being Traveller, they even implemented Reflec: AC 2 armor negates the first hit from a laser weapon in each combat, and AC 1 armor deflects the first two hits.

- More accurate than blasters, but slightly less damaging. It's nice to have options. 

WC 14: The Blaster Guns (Mark V Blaster, Mark VII Rifle)

- Similar progression to WC 10, but better against armor and even better against heavy armor (+2 against AC 4 and higher)  

- The highest listed damage that doesn't involve explosions. Considering they're guns, and can thus be autofired, these are the deadliest weapons that don't just outright kill on hit. 

- So, weird bit: the book says that these shoot "A Sonic Blast that blows a 10-centimeter hole in anything protected by a Force Field". At first I thought "Oh, this instagibs people with forcefields, that's a weird interaction". Upon closer inspection, however, every other instance of "Sonic Blasts" in the book says that they specifically don't work through forcefields, so I'm pretty sure that the description there is just missing a "not". It also means that this is yet another weapon that has no effect on forcefields.  

Now that you know the gun types, your homework is to figure out what type of gun this guy is shooting.

WC 15: Instant Fucking Death (The Black Ray Pistol)

- 08 against no armor, 13 against any armor, 14 against AC 1. The Vibrodagger of guns.

- Thankfully one of the rarest things in the game, because it's the finger of death: you get shot, you die. It has no effect against inorganic matter and - you guessed it - forcefields. These forcefield things seem real important, I sure hope the book describes them later. 

WC 16: The Bombs, the Missiles, the Nukes, and also the Fusion Rifle. 

- Essentially needs a 11 against everything but AC 4, for which they need a whopping 18. This will be addressed.

- This basically covers everything that explodes in a blast too big for you to really "miss" an attack with. Which, yeah, it's pretty hard to duck a bomb or a missile.

- The Fusion Rifle shoots 2 max-intensity radiation blasts, fixed strength like the Needler. Also like the Needler, this is Instant Fucking Death - unless you have an extremely high constitution, in which case getting shot with a Fusion Rifle will zap Pure Strain Humans for up to 16d6 damage, and grant mutants a hilarious 0-2 new mutations per shot. 

Weapon Class Conclusions 

So I came into this planning to do some big cuts. But having actually laid them out like this, I can see that there isn't as much unnecessary overlap as I expected there to be. 

The easy removal here is WC 1, since it's just WC 3 but 1 worse against AC 1. In my hubris, I'm giving a break to the brave souls who decide that they can beat a combine harvester to death with a rock. The other, easier removal is WC 8, because it doesn't even have that 1 point of difference. So that brings us down to 14 WCs. Can we go further? 

A lot of WCs are essentially just "It's X, but with a +Y", and that could honestly be easily changed: You could remove the increased tiers, and then give weapons codes like "WC4+2", indicating that the equipment is WC4 but with a +2... but I don't like that. I have a GM screen and the table will be printed up on the inside of it, so having a bit more Technically Unnecessary Stuff is okay with me if it helps categorize things easily. So there's not much I'd do differently here, but I do want to clean it up a little

So here's what I ended up with. 

The changes I've made are pretty clear from the image: the old WC 1 and WC 8 are gone and rolled into WC 1, with "primitive" melee now being classified into "Light" and "Heavy" simple weapons, according to the pattern that most other weapons work by: WC 2 is slightly better against most primitive armor and forcefields, and slightly worse against unarmored targets and power armors. The other major change is that explosives (now WC 14) are now no less effective against chainmail; the * there means that forcefields will receive a +5 to not getting blown up. I'm not the happiest to have to include this kind of asterisk-based solution, but it's a single specific and important exception, so this was the cleanest way to do it.  

You can see that there are some pretty clear, pretty flexible categories that are easy to add more equipment to if you wanted to - if my players wanted a Greataxe, for example, I already know it's WC 2. These categories all interact meaningfully enough with the different armor classes, and will affect monsters of certain ACs appropriately. I do have a perverse urge to go in there and start doing things like justifying certain weapons being weaker against leather than they are against chain and the like, but I'm not going to do that, because I want to maintain the simplicity of interaction: "better" armors are still usually better, with distinctions mostly from tech tiers rather than price tiers, and weapons have pretty straight forward effects that occasionally interact with certain ACs in a certain way This is, really, all I need weapons to do.  

But what do the weapons do?

Weapon Table Changes

Well, the table I ended up doing isn't that different from the book, the main change being the weapon class alterations, and some sweeping price changes (which are not strictly final but feel okay for now). 

If this is too tiny for you, I've got a PDF of all the tables at the bottom of the post.

The book's given prices aren't terrible, but I do think some stuff is bizarre. Grenades are a great example: Energy grenades, an admittedly powerful weapon with some limitations (fun fact, they actually deal half damage against AC 8-9), cost the exact same amount as the horrifying Photon Grenade, which inflicts Instant Fucking Death without even needing a to-hit roll. So, yeah, those cost * now, sorry power gamers. You'll just have to find them in ancient war crime stashes like everyone else. I'll talk about money in a moment as well, because I just love shunting lines of thought a few paragraphs down.

Speaking of changes to How Killing Is (I'll get to this in a moment, too), I'm probably also gonna reduce the lethality on the Needler a little, or make it roll 3d6 for intensity like other things do - It makes more sense to me than making it ridiculously expensive would, and something just rubs me wrong about Ancient Kill Needles remaining near-completely potent for their whole lifetime, unlike every other chemical in the game. Plus, players like rolling damage! If they don't want to roll, they better find the paralyzer ammo. 

I'm also swapping around the whip and the prod in terms of what's purchasable and what's *. If I'm right about the whip working through armor, then it's just... plain better than the prod. Plus the whip is apparently TL II? Is having universal battery support just so powerful that the prod had to become illegal? Maybe the tech behind whips just that much simpler than a plain old stick. Is a stun whip just a length of stripped power cord you zap people with? It'd explain why it's so cheap. Anyway. 

I also made lances not suck, because what the hell is the point of going through the hassle of using a lance if it does the same damage as a short sword? Like, yeah, you know what, I say that a lance is gonna severely wound whoever or whatever you nail with it, especially since it's probably going to break off in whatever you impale it with. 

Cells, in a table? 

I talked before about how I think how cells being batteries you can choose to commit to specific pieces of gear is a really interesting gameplay angle, and I still think it is! To get a feeling for how they're distributed, I put together a little table for reference. 

Some stuff is open to interpretation here, like how the Bubble Car's solar cells are probably not the same solar cells you put in your flashlight.

So, it's looking like Chemical and Hydrogen cells are the most dominant kind, which makes sense. Solar cells are primarily the domain of survival and luxury equipment (and, interestingly, part of the non-lethal weapons), while the Atomic is where industrial equipment, powered armor, and advanced¹ cars live. This table isn't the most useful in gameplay, but having it in front of me gives me a good guideline for what powered equipment I design might run off. 

[1]: There are also liquid combustion vehicles, such as "ordinary" civilian ground cars and the classic Military Ground Cars (MGC's), which are actually all alcohol-powered. What an optimistic post-future!

I'm a little curious as to how the Chem/Hydro battery distribution was decided; Hydrogen seems to be the battery of most guns and tech weapons... but also the Best Gun and Best Tech Weapon are chemical. What does it mean that hydrogen seems to be power the most advanced of the advanced tech and is pretty much exclusively made for it, but the Incredibly Deadly Person Deleter gun runs off of AAs? 

It also made me realize that the Black Ray Pistol is terrifyingly easy to recharge for four more shots, considering that (while it's relatively inaccurate) it's a gun that hits for Instant Fucking Death damage. Which, hey, that's starting to look like a running theme, right? Let's discuss!

Instant Fucking Death (IFD) and High-Level Combat: An Analysis 

Looking at the table, I count 4 weapons that kill outright, 2 weapons that are "soft" death (you can theoretically survive a Lethal Needler or a Fusion Rifle shot, if you have maximum CON and also ideally are a mutant), and also 4 different categories of weapon that are Instant Fucking Knockout. This is on top of weapons that have such high damage output that they're gonna atomize anyone they hit (If you can take a Fisson Bomb blast and live, I'm awarding you an automatic RANK). This seems strange, no? Are the developers trying to compensate for the fact that they gave certain enemies, especially military robots, such high health pools? 

Well in the case of bombs - yes, probably! Most robots are extremely durable and are pretty impractical to take out with anything that isn't heavy explosives. Even lower-level security copbots can subjugate a small warband of low-tech combatants, and actual military bots are essentially impossible to fight directly. 

If you can see one of these, it's already too late, just start rolling a new character. I did the math, this thing will kill a minimum of 50 visible characters per turn - assuming that they're all spread out enough that it can't use its many explosives more effectively. On the bright side, they're so rare that they pretty much exclusively show up if the GM decides that it's time to end the campaign, or make sure that you understand that you can't just walk to a location.

But there's a little more going on here. First off, all of these are pretty damn rare and extremely unlikely to be seen in high amounts - with the exception of the photon grenade, a bizarre exception which I ranked up to Rare Artifact tier, because I just don't see how "pay 200 gold per use to have a guaranteed removal of all life from an area" fits into the rest of the system. But that aside, most of these are less silly than they may seem. 

 While the game doesn't shy away from the fact that you can get unceremoniously chumped, it also provides a couple of safeties to prevent things from getting too brutal, and keep the IFD weapons in check. First off, they pretty much all have a worse to-hit than the stuff that actually rolls for damage. With a baseline 13 to hit, the BRP is quite capable of erasing your stat block, but with a range of 30 it's outclassed by everything that isn't a thrown weapon. If you do make the mistake of getting close to one, at the very least get into cover to give the other guy a -3 to the roll. Think up some other situational modifiers, like smoke bombs or other such chicanery, and you can dramatically reduce the chance of getting hit... but of course, the chance is always there. Getting shot with this thing will never not be a sphincter-tightening experience, but if you find yourself down the sights of such a gun, it's on you to do whatever you can to avoid that roll, or reduce it as much as you can. 

The other IFD weapons are similar - Bombs must be placed and missiles must be launched, so in a direct fight they don't come into play. And finally, the Torc grenade and Photon grenade, as well as many other Instant Fucking X weapons, are completely ineffectual against Forcefields. These shimmering protective barriers are the final word in personal defense, providing you with a rapidly-regenerating second health bar, one that keeps you safe from immediate disintegration should you find yourself facing enemies who can pull such stunts. They're also kinda terribly explained in the book, which sucks for something so crucial to the game. 

Taking out someone with a force field is a significant challenge, because you first need to use weapons that aren't just deflected by the forcefield - most likely laser guns and kinetic weapons - and focus enough fire into them in a single round to overload them. Does this sound like too much? It isn't. With a universal AC of 4 (according to me) and an average of 30 HP, a couple of goons focusing fire from their slug pistols have a solid chance of taking your field out - or, alternatively, a pair of well-placed shots from a laser gun, or about 6 strong goons wailing on you with axes and rocks. The highest-tier power armors come packing 50 HP fields, but that just means you need a second laser, two-three more sluggers, or maybe a ballista. The point is, while they're extremely potent, force fields are not damage immunity, just a powerful-but-surpassable layer of protection, which sees the "I ignore your HP" nature of IFD weapons and answers with "Here's a second HP you can't ignore". 

Here's another table.

The rules of forcefields seem to be mostly consistent: They block most rays, sonic blasts and energy discharges, absorb (but can be overwhelmed by) by kinetic weapons and blasts; and can partially block radiation but only so much. Good news, kids - the classic "Hide a ballista in the bushes" dragon killing trick is alive and well!

With all this, combat at a higher tech level comes together, even makes sense. And, without any help from me, it doesn't even remove itself from the rest of the game; between battery lifetimes, ammo limitations, and the simple mechanics of being outnumbered, the scaling never gets too crazy. If your group of enterprising T1 hopefuls want to take out some badass clanking through the forest decked out in the best T3 gear he can get his hands on, you absolutely can do it. You're gonna need numbers, you're gonna need the element of surprise, ideally you want to find a way to drop a ceiling on the other guy's head, and you're basically guaranteed to take some losses in the attempt. But if you pull it off, your no-name little party in the middle of Nowhereham Forest just got itself some serious kit - even if the force field circuits on the power armor are fused, the black ray pistol is out of juice, and the dead guy's glowcube got vaporized in a torc explosion. Now you just need to get your hands on some atomic cells, and you're ready to get rid of that local tyrant...

Tech Levels and Society 

Alright, let's talk about tech levels, which were a journey all by themselves. Who's up for another table? 

Tech levels really threw me off initially. The way they're currently arranged, the 3 TLs cover three broad "tiers" of human technological history: TL I is the prehistoric, pre-metal caveman stuff, and TL III covers all the zaniest and most potent sci-fi stuff; this leaves TL II to cover, seemingly, Most Things. From swords to muskets to pistols to energy-based melee weapons, this broad category contains what would normally be enough to populate an extra 3 tiers worth of differentiation. And that's just bad form, isn't it? 

Having this many tables lets me get out of having to find good art for the post. Yes, making tables is easier than finding good art.

I could not get it through my head what the creators were doing. What do you mean, a sword is the same tech level as a gun?? Why is it so compressed? It just appears so arbitrary. So, the plan was immediately hatched to differentiate this stuff more meaningfully. The first idea was to just shove the pre-industrial stuff all into TL I, to make TL II cover mostly "modern" stuff, while moving some sci-fi stuff like vibroblades to TL III - surely a weapon that powerful would not be of the same level as a dang pike? Plan B, a bit more ambitiously, was to just introduce TLs IV and V, to allow an even more precise spread of pre-metal > metal ages > gunpowder & industrial > post-industrial & modern > sci-fi. 

...but I didn't do any of that. 

During a conversation with a good friend who I don't talk to nearly often enough (hey how ya doin'), I came upon the realization that I had the tech levels all wrong. I was thinking about them in terms of Traveller's tech levels: broad classifications of how "advanced" a given civilization or piece of tech is, based on an arbitrary scale of tiers. This is because I am a fool. What Gamma World is actually doing with tech levels is, it is telling us what the three (broad) levels of equipment availability are in The Gamma World.

I'm almost ashamed to say that this blew my mind when I first realized it. The conclusion is not that making Swords requires the same level of techno-progress that making Vibroblades does, it's that both can be expected in a given TL II society. That doesn't mean that vibroblades are as common as swords - there's a reason one costs 20 times what the other does - it means that for citizens of a feudal TLII society, it's not outlandish to see a group of soldiers going down the street, wearing chainmail and armed with halberds, while the noble-born knight leading them wears decorated plastic-and-chain armor with a gun on his belt. 

Here's an excerpt, sitting very obviously in the equipment section (in a very difficult-to-screengrab way, so I'm copying the text), which in retrospect does kinda spell out the TL thing:

Before your characters go adventuring, they must equip themselves to deal with the dangers they will face. All adventures start at a BASE where the PC's can buy equipment, retain hirelings, acquire information and organize their party. What equipment is available to them, how easy they can get any desired information and what hirelings can be retained will depend in part on the TECH LEVEL of the Base. There are 3 Tech Levels in the game: 

TECH LEVEL I: These are primitive (usually tribal) societies one step removed from foraging and gathering. Tech Level I Bases include small stationary villages and nomad camps of 30 to 300 people. Almost 50% of the population will be found in Tech Level I societies. 

TECH LEVEL II: These are pre-industrial (usually feudal) societies whose wealth is rooted in land, crops, livestock and slaves. These Bases include small fortified hearthsteads of 20 to 50 people, villages of 50 to 500 people and a very few small city-states of 1000 to 5000 people. About 45% of the population live in Tech Level II societies. 

TECH LEVEL III: These are industrialized enclaves of the Cryptic Alliances (see PART IV) or large city-states. Tech Level III Bases include perhaps three dozen city-states with 3000 to 30,000 people and an unknown number of hidden settlements of 50 to 500 people. Only 5% of the population live in Tech Level III societies. Since such Bases will usually be hidden in some way, few adventures will start in them.

So, this is pretty great. It informs us about what to expect from the setting, the three "levels of play" if you will: The loosely organized TL I masses living in the untamed parts of the land, the more structured and oft-feudal medieval-but-with-mutants-and-laser-guns TL II, and the rare and reclusive TL III where small enclaves have found ways to continue living with the capabilities and comforts of ancient technology. This is not just good worldbuilding, it's also very indicative of what the kids call Genre - All three of these things are the quintessential backdrop components of post-post-apocalypse adventure. Can you not just see your plucky heroes, boots and swords firmly at their side being sent on a quest from their kingdom; through the rugged mountains of the Lizard People, to visit the ancient remains of a great city, near which they discover a hidden society with a dark secret? It downright makes you excited to play a game. 

Of course, this also raises some interesting questions. Do the TL I folk, our typical starting-point adventurers, know about TL II tech? They probably do, since they likely had at least some contact with it, or have seen some a few times in their life - a sword is clearly a sword, at the end of the day, and a crossbow is just a high-maintenance bow with extra steps. But would they be identify-on-sight familiar TL III tech? Almost certainly not - which is why we have the identification minigame! See how it all comes together? 

More Tech, More Money

There's one more important component here, which is what the hell is the scale of wealth in this game? How much "budget" does a regular person have, and how much does it vary per tech level? Well, this is a little tricky, but the book does have two entire sentences to help us with this: 

There is, of course, also an aside about the economy, and how bringing in too much money into a settlement's ecosystem will make prices jump up. What was it with TSR games and emulating inflation? Did their GMs just love handing out entirely too much cash?

So, this one is a bit arguable, but there's basically two ways to read this: The average TL I settlement has, per citizen, about 100 GP in loose change lying around, in addition to anything else they own; or, the average TL I settlement has about 100 GP of value in it, with that total including the liquid cash supply. The latter is, I feel, more on point, so that's what I'm gonna be working from.

That means that in a TL I village with 50 people living in it, you can expect to find 5000 (50 x 100) GP worth of stuff total. They do probably have a treasure stash of gold coins, somewhere; but also, they have equipment, tools, materials, trade goods and real estate that all add up to about 5k in value. This information is useful for us, because it also helps us understand how well these people can defend themselves from the likes of you.

Y'see, our village has 100 gp per person, which might seem like a lot, but that doesn't mean that they can easily afford to outfit each villager in studded armor, with a shortsword, shield and bow, with some cash to spare for oil flasks and a few hand grenades imported from the nearby arms-dealing TL II kingdom. Unlike our typical blood-soaked adventurer, the homesteader types like to invest in non-violent things like permanent food sources, tools and work supplies, local businesses, and the occasional (usually non-violent) festival. This might of course vary depending on how dangerous the surroundings are, with a rough wasteland nomad community probably putting more of their cash towards defense than a secluded forest village that only really needs to deal with the occasional wild animal attack (though I imagine that gets trickier when the wild animals can shoot laser beams from their eyes, but these folks are tough). 

Even if only about a quarter of your population is in fighting form (I forget if this was mentioned in the book, don't quote me on it, but 10% to 35% sounds about right for the fighting force of an independent village (with variation depending on environment, culture, situation, and species of course (all Badders in a settlement will fight you. All of them))), the village accountant will probably be more concerned in being prepared for the possibility of a drought. So the dozen-strong defense force might all have leather armor and spears, because those are "cheap" enough to be negligible; they might have a few bows lent by the hunters; and if they're doing pretty well, or got lucky with nearby ruins, they might also have a slug thrower somewhere. 

Basically every intelligent mutant species in the book has a listed default TL, but also the odds of given members having higher-TL stuff. Some are better at it than others -  it's basically a given that Dabbers will have at least a few pieces of TL III kit.

This ratio would be much different for TL II societies, which tend to have many more citizens and double the "value" for each of them. Since there's (typically) a central authority that levies taxes and that has a higher interest in defending (and expanding) its territories, your Friendly Local Greater Sovereign would invest a lot more into decking out their troops. You can safely assume that the standing army will be provided with metal weaponry, ranged support, whichever AC 4 armor they find the most aesthetically pleasing, and a healthy dollop of whatever thematically-appropriate tech this particular realm has - whether that's muskets and cannons, grenades and pistols, or vibroweapons and stun whips. 

Of course, TL III societies are the wild card here, and I don't even want to put down basic assumptions for those. They could be an advanced city-state that's trying to maintain the fragile peace between the feuding kingdoms around it, or a pacifist mutant community living in harmony with their farming robots, or a cryptic techno-cult decked out in the sweetest gear available looking for a way to reboot the Great Computer in the Sky. There isn't really a wrong answer, here; the only unifying feature of all of these is that they're relatively rare, and that they have much easier access to The Serious Tech. You have my permission to go nuts with them, because these are the communities that players will turn their gaze on once they feel confident about punching above their weight class. And they probably wouldn't be the first ones, either, so these people have at least some experience protecting themselves against ambitious marauders trying to get their hands on some Magic Wipeout Grenades. 

Final Thoughts

I still haven't, after two big outings, managed to describe everything I love about this book. For example, I didn't even mention Lexicons, basically a type of big dumb tourist phrase book that you can buy, which lets you speak the low-level versions of several other languages of nearby creatures and settlements - with all the potential drawbacks and complications this poor understanding creates, meaning that actually learning a language yourself is not just replaced by Having A Book... but I think I've said enough, for now. It's highly likely I'll revisit the topic in the future.

This is a more indulgent transmission than usual, because it was as much for clearing up my own thoughts on the system as it was for helping others. Ideally though, with these relatively minor changes, I've put the finishing touches on the "rules and assumptions" part of things, and can finally get to finishing up the underrated "having a dang setting to play in" step. And while I'm overall happy with my decisions, I'm still likely to tune stuff a bit more before I throw it at my players - maybe change the standard prices of armor and weapons a bit more, maybe tune stats a bit more, that kind of thing. 

And, of course, if you end up running GW2e yourself, you'll almost certainly make your own changes too. Like I've said before, this book doesn't hide the fact that it's a toolbox for emulating a specific type of fantasy, not a strict guide. And if you ever end up doing so, and doubtlessly end up making changes that conflict with my own, remember: that just means I've won, because I made you play a game I like and engage with it enough to make it your own. Have fun. 

Oh, and go here if you want a PDF with all those tables. Maybe even more, who knows?

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