Wednesday, April 3, 2024

On the Generation of Mutations

Continuing the discussion from last week on how the rules presented mutations and powers from Gamma World 1E to V&V 3E/1978 to 2017, I want to talk this week about how mutations/powers were generated in those systems over time (with a bonus rules system tossed in). 

In Gamma World 1E, the mutation generation system is as follows: you roll 1d4 for number of physical mutations, and 1d4 for number of mental mutations. Percentile dice are rolled once for each mutation on the appropriate table and recorded on the sheet. About 30% of the physical mutations table is defects, as is 20% of the mental mutations table; you could get no defects, or all defects depending on your rolls. If you are particularly unlucky on rolling your characteristics and mutations the GM might declare the character hopeless and you start over. All very early style design. EXCEPT....

This? This right here? this blew my mind. You still roll for number of mutations but the player gets to PICK which ones they want. And then based on the number of (presumably positive) mutatons taken the Referee adds defect mutations based on the numbers rolled - from no defects if you only have 3 mutations between physical and mental to 2 defects (one physical, one mental) if you have 3+ mutations in each type. This degree of player control of mutations was so unexpected based on Gamma World reputation for wahoo bananapants crazy. Of course it's also potentially adversarial in that the Referee isn't obligated to consult with the player at all in terms of defects selected, but it's also potentially collaborative in creating reasonable mutant genotypes rather than bizarre combinations. Highly recommended for someone like me who wants the idea of PCs being from stable mutant communities while not being limited to the animals/mutated human strains in the book. 

Now chronologically we jump to V&V First edition, where you start with a roll to determine your origin type 

Followed by rolls to determine how many powers you have based on your origin type and which table you roll them on.

Where each List is tailored with the powers that they felt most likely for heroes with each origin type - you can see that Designed and Sponsored share the same 40 random options... 

Because they get their powers through the same mechanisms, but the origin type is not just how you got your powers but the relationship to maintaining those powers/your place in society. 

Note that the pervasiveness of the Marvel Universe mutants is present in this game, even though it's not in the Marvel Universe. (More on this in another post.)

As with the 2E combat charts, there's a lot of implicit world building in 1E's tables: the powers you may get depend on the origins of the powers, and you're funneled into certain concepts. This isn't bad, per se, but it's got a lot of inherent restrictions, and the tables probably aren't robust enough. Here's the last little step: 

Note the strange division of authority. If you have 2+ powers, you have to drop one. If you only have 2, the player picks which one to drop. If you have 3+, the GM picks which one doesn't fit. I mean, why is this there? Why does the GM get to decide which power doesn't fit? It just seems so bizarre. 

As an aside the language in that last sentence is strange - how does the GM modify a non-combatant power into a weapon? What does that entail? My first thought is that you could take, for example, Invulnerability and make it a sword that grants that power, so the PC now has a sword to attack with that also has, I dunno, super-parrying or something. That is something I do regularly in 2E and a lot of other GMs/Players don't think of, but maybe my doing that is reading something into it. 

Thanks to a friend of the Blog I have had a chance to look at Golden Heroes, which the 1984 printing is apparently pretty close to the 1981 fan publication. Gold Heroes lets you roll 2d6 powers (!) and there is only one table to roll from but many of the powers have Grades, where if you roll it multiple times you get extra stuff. Alternately you can in the process decide to not roll but just spend a power roll upgrading something. You can also allocate rolls for "advantageous background" which is what lets you play a millionaire industrialist with a ton of government contacts, for example (that would be two advantageous backgrounds) or a head of state (another one), but you still have to roll for which one you want. 

This is an interesting gimmick, solving some of the issues of how wealthy/connected to make the super hero in a game without point systems. Easily my favorite bit out of Golden Heroes and maybe stealable for V&V. The player is then urged to develop the rationale for how all the rolled powers fit together - the origin story and core concept - and forfeit anything that doesn't fit. This is very open ended and very much in player control, which is great. There are also statements that if you want to make up a power that is not on the list you and the Scenario Supervisor (SS, unfortunate acronym) can work it out. 

But then the SS is meant to come in and insert weaknesses and limitations into your rationalized powers. This power requires a device, this device is charged this way, these powers can't do X things because of your rationale. It's presented as adversarial and controlling in the dozen examples the book gives, with the player having no control over the changes the SS is making to their character. It's deeply strange, and very freeform, and I can see it going very wrong. But it's also of a piece with V&V 

Moving on to V&V 2E, we have the following: you roll 1d6+2 for number of powers. You can roll on any of 5 tables - Powers, Devices, Magic/Psionic Items, Skills, and Magic/Psionics - swapping tables however you wish on each roll, and then roll 1 time on the Weakness table. You can also skip rolling all together and just write down the powers you want, or pick the ones you know you want and then drop others. Once you've rolled your 3-8 powers (plus any secondary effects they may have, like how good the Heightened Strength is or what your Animal/Plant Powers are), you pick one power to drop. You can also drop your weakness if you're willing to drop another power. You can also work with the GM to modify or tweak any of your powers, decreasing one to increase another, making one a subset of another, or just boosting the ability of your small number of powers to make you more capable compared to PCs on the team who rolled a high number. 

It's all very player controlled, open ended, and pretty much guaranteed to spark ideas while giving you the character you want to play. The GM does have some input to make sure you're not going nuts with the rules, but the combination of randomness and player control make it my favorite of the ones we've seen here. Also notice how the origin type concept is gone from 1E: there's no more implicit worldbuilding in the design. Now, this also means there's no guardrails to help players build consistent characters to steer them towards ideas like the Charismatic Involvement hero (much much more on that later), which can be a problem for some players. 

Last up is Gamma World 4E, which has significantly edited the process. There's no mechanism for the players to select their mutations with the GM determining their defects

Everyone has 5 mutations, which are randomly split between Physical and Mental with a d6 roll 

And then rolled randomly, with high rolls meaning chances for multiple powers or picking a power. So you have somewhere between 2 Defects and 3 Mutations, to 6-7 Mutations. There's no space for GM intervention other than declaring a character hopeless, but there's also no place for player control. The dice rule all.

EXCEPT: Each mutated animal and plant gets mutations based on their player selected base stock. There are some balancing aspects to it, but but it's a player controlled way to get a set of controlled 'mutations' - all Octopi start with chameleon power and extra limbs and gills - and it's a pretty slick implementation for players to feel that their choice of animal or plant stock matters (in 1E it's all up to GM and players deciding what the character has). And they can gain another mutation if they decide to have no human features (including speech). So mutated animals get perhaps an overly generous deal.

This has been interesting to me at least. I obviously like V&V 2E best for this in terms of its player control and general design, but each of the systems has their charms and drives certain things about the games. 

1 comment:

  1. Agreed looking this over that V&V 2e (which coindicanetlaly was the only one I played of the lot back in the day) is the best of the lot -- the option to have (nearly) Complete Player Control, and the emergent narrative of rolling random powers and then figuring out how they fit together (and also rolling one at a time and maybe changing your character concept between them, with options to work with the GM to customize the rules for your powers to make them fit your concept or the power level of the game better) just make for a great picture.

    Re 1e, I think the intent is that the GM not literally turn the power into a "weapon" -- but to grant the PC an attack power thematically linked to the power -- so "plant powers" might grant some kind of plant-based attack, while Flight might come with a ramming force-field (and...that's how you get Cannonball).

    Re Advantageous Background: The one wrinkle I see with working that table or one like it into V&V and a source of "non-power" powers is that it needs some mechanical weight. For V&V 2e, the most obvious interaction would be with the inventing rules -- most of the advantageous backgrounds suggest some extra way to spend inventing points (or generate inventing points) such as to invent devices that eventually add up to the equivalent of a full power (something inventing can do anyway if you keep stacking the same invention) in theme with the background -- a wealthy inheritance might invent a super-car, a brilliant chemical scientist has justification to invent (or even start with) web fluid, and so on.