Ronin Round Table: My First Mutants by Steve Kenson

My first experience with mutants in an RPG wasn’t a superhero game (except by the broadest possible stretch of the term). No, my first gaming mutants were the inhabitants of the ruins of TSR’s Gamma World. I happened upon the grey boxed set of the first edition of the game in a local Hallmark store (of all places) when I was in middle school. Fascinated by the cover illustration of explorers at an ancient ruin and the map on the back of post-Apocalypse North America, I was hooked. I was already a fan of post-apocalyptic novels like Andre Norton’s Star Man’s Son and Sterling Lainer’s Hiero’s Journey, so I grasped the concepts of Gamma World right off. The intro text about the Apocalypse (the mysterious organization that brought about the end of the world) sent chills down my pre-teen spine: "We have the power… the choice is yours!"

It wasn’t long before I convinced some classmates and friends to play with me (by which I meant they would play and I would be the Game Master. Some patterns start at a young age…). Soon we were gleefully rolling up mutants; it was always mutants. Nobody wanted to play a pure strain human. They were boring. Mutants got to roll on all of the cool mutation tables! You could have life-leech! Or a dual brain! Or throw heat rays from your hands! Being a "pure" human just couldn’t compare.

Our mutants romped and rampaged through the Gamma World landscape, going through the available modules (Legion of Gold, then Famine in Far-Go and Albuquerque Starport) along with some home-brew until we ran out of stuff. Fortunately, by then I had expanded my horizons to include Dungeons & Dragons and took the crossover guidelines in the Dungeon Master’s Guide to heart: a dimensional doorway later, and our mutants were romping and rampaging through Greyhawk and the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. Yes, it was an unabashedly "Monty Haul" campaign, with crystal-skinned mutants dual-wielding force swords and magical tridents, but we had a blast. In later D&D games, some of those old Gamma World characters were actually promoted to demi-godhood and the objects of obscure cults.

I’ve managed to play every edition of Gamma World since then for at least one session. (Unfortunately, a few of those games, like the fourth edition and the Alternity edition, only lasted for one session.) And, yes, that includes Metamorphosis Alpha (which I managed to find used, one of my prize game-finds at the time), Omega World, and even Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Working on an edition of Gamma World is still on my "bucket-list" although, as the number of editions proliferates, it seems to become less likely.

So, needless to say, years down the road when Chris Pramas suggested calling the new superhero RPG I was designing "Mutants & Masterminds" I thought it was a terrific idea!

One thing I took away from my Gamma World experience was just how fun just randomly "rolling up" a character can be. It was a pastime unto itself when I first got the game. A random and unexpected set of options can really stimulate the imagination when it comes to create unique characters you might not have thought of just sitting down to a blank sheet of paper. While Mutants & Masterminds takes more of a "building" approach, I was thrilled when Jon Leitheusser and Leon Chang brought random character creation into the game with the masterful set of tables in the M&M Gamemaster’s Kit for the third edition. (I think my early Gamma World experiences also left me with a fondness for genre mash-ups like Shadowrun and Torg, but that’s neither here nor there.)

So don’t forget to give the mutant freaks a show of appreciation from time to time. If it weren’t for them, and hours of rolling to get the choicest possible sets of mutations, games like Mutants & Masterminds might not even exist!

(Speaking of the Gamma World legacy, check out the super-cool seventh edition from Wizards of the Coast and consider supporting the new edition of Metamorphosis Alpha from Gamma World co-creator Jim Ward on Kickstarter.

— Steve Kenson