In the Basic Rule Book for Gamma World 2e on page 6 it says the following about Dexterity:

DEXTERITY: A character's Dexterity Score is a measure of the speed at which he functions, his reaction time and his agility. The Dexterity Score:

  • modifies the chance of the characters being surprised.

Which is fine, but I can not see any other reference to DX modifying the surprise roll, or how the mechanic actually may work. Am I missing it? I know these older games sometimes stuck rules in the oddest of places. Or is this a misprint, or a holdover from 1e? Would there be an errata doc for something this old?

Note: TSR did do an errata for GW 3e, but that was a hot mess in the initial printing.

How To Check For Surprise

A Surprise Check consists of a 1d6 die roll. Characters are normally surprised on a roll of 1 or 2. Any other result has no effect. Two parties can simultaneously surprise each other (if both get 1 or 2 on their check). In some cases, there will be a greater or lesser chance of surprise. For example, characters negotiating with a potentially hostile NPC party might have a smaller chance of being surprised if the NPC's break off negotiations and attack. In this case, they might be surprised on a roll of 1 (not 1 or 2). On the other hand, a party moving Fast should have a greater chance of being surprised (on a 1, 2, 3 instead of 1 or 2).

I have CTL-F'd through the PDF, looking for Dexterity, DX and Surprise, but I cannot seem to find any reference other than the one quoted above.

I can come up with a good house rule. I am just wondering if anyone has

a) RAW on how to change surprise based on DX, in GW 2e. b) If not what is the RAI (if that can even be determined in this case).

NOTE: Personally I am leaning to not including it. DX can get crazy high in GW, and the die used to determine surprise is a d6. It seems weird to let the bonus be 1.5x the max die roll. But then again, look at how they do initiative.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ RE: "But then again, look at how they do initiative." Where is initiative? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 11:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Page 26 Under the heading Step 4 (of the Action Turn started on pg 25). Anyway - it uses a d6 modified by 1 point for each point of DX above 15 (no cap) to determine a group initiative. \$\endgroup\$
    – JWT
    Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 17:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. I'll adjust my answer when I get a chance. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 18:56

1 Answer 1


Dexterity seems to have no official relationship to surprise in Gamma World, Second Edition

I reread Gamma World, Second Edition (1983) (hereafter GW2E). No, really. Here's GW2Esans dice and crayon (for coloring in the numbers on those dice)—on my table:

Gamma World 2e, everybody!

(My terrible photography skills on full display, obviously.) This means that I, too, read the same things you did on Dexterity (Gamma World Basic Rules Booklet 6) and on Surprise (27) and even plumbed the Gamma World Adventure Booklet just in case (because preteen me didn't realize when he initially got the game that without the Adventure Booklet the game is unplayable). I reached the same conclusion as you: GW2E mentions surprise in its description of Dexterity yet doesn't mention Dexterity in its description of surprise.

I also checked the Dragondex for articles on GW2E, and while there were quite a few, the one that I thought might be helpful was helpful only by its omission of information. That is, James M. Ward (the first design credit on GW2E) and Harold Johnson's article "Gamma III: Campaign Conversions for the Third Edition Gamma World Game" (Dragon #117 76–80) on Surprise says

Surprise is no longer determined by the roll of a six-sided dice [sic]. Instead, the character most likely to first notice a startling situation (or member with the highest Dexterity score) must make an Intelligence Check vs. the GM-assigned difficulty of discovering the hidden item and reacting in time. (80)

To this reader, that very brief summary of how to determine surprise in GW2E—when compared to how surprise is (will be?) determined in third edition—makes it sound like even the game's designer didn't use a character's Dexterity attribute to adjust chances of surprise.

Borrowing from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

While it's far from impossible for GW2E to be a player's first role-playing game, it's also extremely likely a player came to GW2E from AD&D wherein, like in GW2E, sides in a conflict determine surprise using different 1d6 rolls with a low roll indicating a side is surprised.

This reader suspects—but can't confirm—that something like Dexterity Reaction in Surprise (Dungeon Master's Guide (1979) 62) was considered for inclusion in GW2E yet later outright cut or, more probably, mercifully simplified to what it is in the present text.

Nonetheless, if a GM's determined to have GW2E characters' Dexterity attributes influence the chance of surprise, a GM could do worse than incorporate Dexterity Table I's Reaction/Attacking Adjustment (Player's Handbook (1978) 11) into his GW2E game, adjusting a surprise roll's result for individual characters on a side based on those characters' Dexterity attributes (i.e. Dexterity 3 is −3, 4 is −2, 5 is −1, 16 is +1, 17 is +2, and 18 is +3). This will, of course, sometimes leave some members on a side surprised while others are not, and such granularity isn't for every group. Also, let me be clear: I haven't playtested this house rule for fun or balance.

(I should also note here the presence in the Dungeon Master's Guide (1979) of the section Mutants & Magic (113–14), a description of how to convert GW1E characters to AD&D that says that Dexterity should be used "as shown" when going back and forth between systems, strongly implying that at least GW1E characters use Dexterity for the same things in AD&D that they do in GW1E and vice versa.)

What I couldn't do that someone did

I couldn't check first edition Gamma World to see how surprise is determined in that game; I don't own it and, given the price, don't plan to. However, the Grognardia blog post "Gamma World, Cover to Cover (Part VI)"—part of series of 12 posts reading and discussing GW1E—says, "Initiative is subsequently determined by a 1D6 roll, modified by high Dexterity." A comment by user Zenopus Archives takes issue with this idea, saying

It's not very clear, but I believe the d6 role only determines first strike on the first round of combat if one side is surprised. If neither party is surprised, it seems that the highest dexterity is used to determine first strike. This is buried on page 7 in the section titled "Dexterity": "For example, when a being with a dexterity rating of 16 encounters a being with a dexterity of 10, the being with the dexterity of 16 will have first choice of actions—in combat situations, have first strike, and so forth." The section on surprise refers back to this section.

This is interesting for two reasons. First, so far as I can tell, GW2E mentions initiative only in Part V: Example of Play:

GM: "Hold it! Make an Initiative roll!" He rolls a d6 with a "6" result.
Cleve: Rolls 1. "1." "Oh no!"

(Preserved as best I could from the 1983 original except reading the section's introduction is necessary to know the player's name is Cleve.1) Second, the modifiers that Zenopus Archives mentions in the blog post comment are identical not only to the aforementioned AD&D Dexterity Table I Reaction/Attacking Adjustment column from the Player's Handbook but also identical to those from the GW2E section on Combat Modifiers (Gamma World Basic Rules Booklet 32).

In other words, so far as I can tell, GW2E omits any formal information about both initiative and how the Dexterity attribute affects surprise… an absence, I'll note, that never stopped preteen me from playing the heck out of Gamma World.

What you can still do

I didn't reach out to Jim Ward—like attempting to contact him through his Facebook page—in an effort to get an answer to this question. These steps must be taken by someone more ambitious than I.2

1 Cleve is, at the time of this writing, the 4,960th most popular name in the US, behind Heena yet ahead of Yancey. I don't know how popular it was in 1983.
2 If you do, could you find out if he had, like, a friend named Cleve?

  • \$\begingroup\$ On init in 1e vs 2e. In 1e it is really clear (to me at least) who goes first. The group with the member who has the highest DX. In 2e it for sure references a d6 roll for init., as well as adding in a DX bonus or penalty (DX-15 or DX -6 capped at +3/-3). As per the style at the time, bits and bobs of this rule is plastered throughout the rule book. Still, this is one of the areas where 1e and 2e clearly diverge. If I were to alter surprise based on DX, I'd follow the Init rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – JWT
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 15:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, Cleve's last name is Asunder. \$\endgroup\$
    – JWT
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 15:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your mention of the Dragondex made me think of the errata articles that cropped up in Polyhedron. They covered Gangbusters, Star Frontiers, etc. - and often time GW. I will check that tonight. \$\endgroup\$
    – JWT
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 15:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JWT I hope Polyhedron yields results. That's a source that I totally lack—and long for—access. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 16:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ No love in the Polyhedron columns (a sage advice type column, on non-D&D games, written by Drawmij himself, called Dispel Confusion BTW). Most of the questions were player's complaining about a GM ruling followed by James Ward telling them to suck it up. There were almost no questions devoted to game crunch. \$\endgroup\$
    – JWT
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 14:34

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