Regular readers know that our group is in the midst of a Swords and Wizardry game. We took a break from that this Saturday to brew, hold babies, and (yes) play games.
- that brewing and/or babies would cause many interruptions
- we had an RPG virgin (but still a board game geek) joining us
- we had a gamer who relished the tactical/combat aspect of RPGs
we agreed that a combat-driven game with minis and fast character generation and an easy set of rules would fit the day. Gamma World 4E fit the bill perfectly.
With an odd variety of distractions, a diversity in player style and experience, and the OSR experience of Swords and Wizardry fresh on my mind, I changed my GMing styles in several ways. While I don’t know if the players enjoyed the game, I know I enjoyed running it, and 16.666% satisfaction is good enough for me. Here are some tips for running a 4E-style game based on the changes I made.
2d4 Tips for GMing a Better 4E-style Game
1. Don’t look at the rules: Rules-lawyering kills games. The players possessed enough experience to remember most 4E rules… but status effects? Forget that noise–it’s tedious to wait for a rules reference every time someone is dazed, slowed, stunned, or gassy. So instead, I just applied my best memory/guess as to what a status effect should do, and I ran with it.
Intellectually, I know how that should create balance issues. But you know what? It didn’t. It just worked. No one complained, the game went faster, and I didn’t look at the rule book once. The same was true for other rule scenarios–I simply adjudicated on the fly. (No one complained).
Speaking of balance…
2. Forget balance: 4E is too balanced–every race and class could almost be replaced with “Gray Skinned Genderless Specialist” who gets +X to attack, does Y damage, and has Z (for zero) personality. Bringing in some of the inherent character imbalance from OSR games makes play more interesting.
Although character creation was roughly balanced, I didn’t worry about balancing actions in the game. So, when “George the Bush,” our radioactive algae-man in a space suit, wanted to lumber through a barricaded hallway, I asked for a strength check to smash the barricade and called it a standard action. Why? It fit his character: physically strong, too single-minded for fear, and ever moving forward without interest or emotion. Would I have allowed another character to do the same thing? No–not in the same way. Is that fair? Who cares, as long as people are having fun.
3. Emphasize combat: In the spirit of doing what a system does well, rather than trying to make it do things it wasn’t intended to do, I ran this game like a dungeon delve–moving from one encounter to the next with some simple filler description in between. Role playing was something that happened while people fought. (Role-vs-roll haters, don’t hate–there is plenty of room for roles to shine through in the midst of a fight!)
4. Make non-combat actions effective: When someone asks to do something reasonable that the rules don’t cover, make sure that saying “yes” doesn’t penalize them. For instance, Dr. Sunshine, the radioactive cockroach with a 3 intelligence, wanted to use a skill to force a door open. Sure–why not? The rules didn’t cover it, so I made sure he got a benefit from it (besides “the door opens”).
The benefit was supposed to be a tactical advantage–but because “things fall apart,” it turned into a free attack of opportunity. In either case–the hero got to be a hero, instead of a guy who opens a door.
5. Make stuff up on the way: Any 4E Gamma World players out there notice that there are a lot of tunnels on the included maps that don’t go anywhere, as far as the area descriptions are concerned? Or that there is a big mechanical door shown clearly on one of the fold-out maps, but not described in the rules?
My first reaction to these was to say “Ignore it.” Then I realized it would be more fun if some of the random tunnels interconnected, so I made up on the spot that the tunnels were connected by “badder” warrens, and that 4 squares of movement could be used to squeeze through them. Similarly, as seen in point 4, I figured out a way to let players open the door that originally served only an aesthetic purpose.
6. Re-skin on the fly: The “badders” in the included module have crossbows and maces. WTF? This is supposed to be a laser-pistol wielding, radition-grenade throwing sci fi setting, it’s not D&D! So, the crossbows got replaced with pistols, and the maces became pistol whips. Which got chuckles out of the players–so bonus points there!
After combat, when one of the players said she wanted to search for ammo… well, I said guns, didn’t I? I’d rather give players a little extra ammo and preserve the feel of the game.
7. Throw out what doesn’t work: Most of Gamma World does better what D&D 4E does well. Skills aren’t one of those things. Skills are already a proud nail of D&D 4E (that sounds like a future post!), and what with the wild ability score distribution of Gamma World, they just don’t make sense. So, I simply let characters take a bonus on their “class skills,” and replaced other skill rolls with D&D 1E-style ability checks, adjusting the DC on the fly to numbers that “felt” right.
Got other tips for making 4E-based games more fun? Have you tried any of these tips in your games and want to share your experiences? Do you think I’m wrong about something, and need me to tell you why I’m right? Tell us about it in the comments!