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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Machines & Mutants invade Gamma World

by Ken Newquist / February 9, 2004

After the apocalyptic wars that ended our bright and glorious age, hereto unknown species of creatures -- both organic and inorganic -- rose from the ruins and populated a landscape that came to be known as "Gamma World". The d20 sourcebook Machines and Mutants chronicles these monstrosities, offering game masters 130+ new critters with which to threaten and help their players.

The one of the main attractions of Gamma World has always been the sheer strangeness of the beings its creators called into existence. The Players Guide, which relaunched the Gamma World campaign setting based on d20 Modern's rule set, offered a smattering of this strangeness, but left the majority of it to Machines and Mutants. The book is filled with monsters, some updated from previous editions, others entirely new to this offering.

The book is divided into four sections: Made Life, which consists of genetically engineered or nanomodified mutant life forms, Machines, which include all manner of sentient and non-sentient mechanical creations, Natural Life, covering all the non-mutant lifeforms that have arisen in the Gamma Age, and finally Characters, a section providing rules for converting monsters into characters, additional feats, and new advanced classes.

An Exceptionally Useful Sourcebook

The Gamma World d20 Players Handbook didn't wow me -- it was adequate for the job at hand, namely updating the setting to the d20 Modern game mechanic, but I wanted more -- more mutations, more psionics, more cybernetics and more nanotech. Machines and Mutants goes a long way towards giving me what I wanted for Gamma World

But it does more than that -- it gives me an excellent sourcebook that I can use for nearly any science fiction RPG, from far future to near. In fact, while I don't have any intention of running Gamma World, I will be making heavy use of this book in my upcoming Stargate campaign. Just about every monster in the book could be used as the crux of adventure, or to provide interesting backdrop for one. The same goes for anyone running a Gamma World adventure.

There's the Braintaker, a bipedal nanotechnological/psionic creation whose body is covered with human heads -- and which survives by assimilating more. How disturbing would that be to run into off world? Want something a little more traditional? How about the Deathsires, massive, tank-like machines built by five warring AIs as part of their centuries-long competition. Looking for some pulp? Check out Doc Shadow, a nanotech-driven program from the Golden Age of Man that transforms unsuspecting individuals into crime fighters.

Any of these would make for a great one-shot adventure and they're representative of the monsters in the book. Sure, there are a few that tend toward the generic, but even relatively mundane creatures like catkin (genetically engineered smart cats) can be used to augment an otherwise straight-forward village. Now granted, this is the sort of thing that you'd expect from any monster book -- lots of fodder for your campaign, adventure hooks galore -- but M&M does it better than most.

In addition to expanding the monster menagerie, Mutants and Machines does a good job of expanding the possibilities of Gamma World. It introduces rules for converting just about any intelligent creature in the book into a character race and personality templates for robots. Also excellent are the climate templates for animals, which allow GMs to modify a creature based on the sort of environment it's living in -- temperate, artic, tropical. Again, it's easy to see how useful this sort of thing could be in any science fiction campaign where you need to create worlds from scratch. Coupled with Stargate's world generation tables, the campaign practically writes itself.

There was one thing that seemed out of place: the new advanced classes for player characters. The book presents six new classes, and while I appreciate the extra content, I would much rather it have presented new mutations or psionic powers. Now given the time it spends on teaching GMs to adapt monsters to playable character races, I'll reluctantly concede that the section kind of works ... but I'd still rather have more mutant goodness.

Final Analysis: As I read through this book, I found myself continuously thinking up new adventure ideas or entire story arcs that would take advantage of the monsters found within. This propensity for inspiring brainstorms makes it an excellent resource for GMs, and one that's well worth picking up.