I just got Gamma World and want to try it out with my D&D 4e (Essentials) players. Clearly to a great portion, a re-skin of 4e, but not completely. Obviously character generation is completely different.

So, what are the other major differences between D&D 4e/Essentials and Gamma World? I'm mostly looking for things that will trip-up a 4e DM.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ran one encounter and noticed that many things are unspecified or abstracted: For example, weapons are not specified, just abstract classes - it isn't made clear when to use "unarmed power attack". Or what exactly is a "light weapon". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 0:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ The answers so far are good, but don't feel complete. If someone wants to take the time to construct a complete answer, I'll green-check it and grant the bounty. I'd like this to become the go-to answer for this question on the internet (read: top Google result.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 22:12

4 Answers 4


Gamma World is a stripped-down subset of D&D 4e with a few tweaks and a few new add-ons. I grabbed the basic rulebook and came up with this list. There are more options in the two expansions, mainly Secret Societies and Vocations, and you can find other fan-generated house rules online.

Setting: It's post-apocalyptic, not fantasy. Anything goes. The Big Mistake has mashed all alternate realities into one broken mess of a world, so you can find anything you dream up somewhere out there in the wreckage. People made of rock, sentient rat swarms, and psychic powers are all commonplace here on Gamma Terra.

Character Generation: Randomly roll for 2 origins which fill the function of race and class. Mash them together however you see fit. You get primary stats, powers, skills, and special bonuses from each. Fill in an 18 and a 16 for your primary stats or a 20 if they're the same stat, then roll 3d6 for each non-primary stat. You also get training in an additional random skill.

Characters can progress from Level 1 to Level 10, not 30 as in 4e. There are no tiers, Paragon Paths, nor Epic Destinies.

Powers: There are no Daily powers in Gamma World. Every power is either At-Will or Encounter. Every origin has Novice, Utility, and Expert powers. You start with the Novice powers from both of your origins, giving you 2 At-Will powers. (EDIT: Some Novice powers are Encounter powers, but they're usually At-Will.) You gain other powers (almost always Encounter powers) as you level up: Utility powers at levels 3 and 7; Expert powers at levels 5 and 9. You get to choose which origin's power you take at the lower level, then get the other one at the higher level. Each origin also has a Critical benefit which give extra damage or effects on a critical hit. You earn Critical benefits at levels 2 and 6. Both effects trigger on a critical hit after you earn the second one at level 6.

The Cards: Gamma World has 2 types of cards which gives your character extra Encounter powers during play: Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech. They're presented as cards because they change so often and they're randomly awarded. The rules suggest that each player make their own Mutation and Tech decks to draw from during play, but using GM-controlled decks work just fine. Both Mutations and Tech grant your character additional Encounter powers, but one's intrinsic and the other is an item of some sort.

You start with one Alpha Mutation card at level 1, but get an additional card at levels 4 and 8. Whenever you roll a 1 on any roll you discard one Mutation card and draw a new one. After every encounter, you discard all of your Mutation cards and draw new ones. You can also Overcharge powers to increase their effectiveness, but you need to roll a save: failing the roll earns you a penalty instead.

Omega Tech cards are the equivalent of magic items. They persist, but after you use an item you roll a save to see if it resets for the next encounter or if it burns out. Once an Omega Tech item burns out, you can salvage it to get a fairly powerful piece of regular equipment. Salvage items have a level rating - if your character isn't at least that level, you can't salvage it and it's discarded.

Skills: There are only 10 skills. They're broader than 4e skills and invite GM and Player interpretation. For instance, Science covers all knowledge from meteorology to particle physics to geology to first aid checks to stabilize dying characters.

Combat: The combat rules are stripped-down 4e and covered in about 12 pages. You still have surprise, initiative, d20+attack mods vs. Fort/Ref/Will/AC defenses, and Standard/Move/Minor actions from 4e. The rules cover basic attacks, opportunity attacks, combat advantage, flanking, cover, concealment, move actions, forced movement, difficult terrain, and conditions. The rules don't cover charging, disarming, tripping, or grappling, so there's plenty of room for a GM to improvise or add rules straight from 4e.

There are new damage types as well, most notably Psychic and Radiation. Certain origins give resistances to certain damage types, but it seems like all the damage types are so common in the environment that you'll never be protected enough.

Hit Points and Rest: Gamma World still has a Bloodied score and when you go negative by that much, you're dead. It still has a death save. It does not have healing surges: you get a single Second Wind per encounter which restores your Bloodied score in hit points. A short rest restores all hit points and powers, so there's no reason to opt for an extended rest except it's required before leveling up.

Weapons and Armor: Gamma World gives you very broad categories of weapons and armor, and it lets you fill in the details. Weapons come in 6 categories: Heavy and Light varieties of Melee Weapon (baseball bat, lamp post, sharpened street sign), Ranged Weapon (rock, repeating crossbow, sharpened rebar), and Gun (derringer, minigun, plasma rifle). Melee weapons give slightly more damage if you use them 2-handed. Guns do more damage than Ranged Weapons, but require ammo which is very abstract. If you use a gun once in an encounter, you're conserving ammo and have some left. If you use it more than once, you're out at the end of the encounter and can't use your gun until you find or buy more.

Armor comes in Heavy and Light varieties, plus Shield. Light gives +3 AC and lets you add your Int or Dex bonus to AC, Heavy gives +7 AC but lowers your move by 1, and a Shield gives +1 AC and restricts you to one-handed weapons.

Monsters: The monster stat blocks in Gamma World are almost exactly the same as 4e, and I've heard of people using 4e monsters in Gamma World with no modifications at all.

Attitude: The rules encourage you to go over the top whenever possible. It's a light-hearted but nihilistic game at heart - "...your character dies. Too bad, so sad." Character creation is so fast that it dares you to kill off the PCs because they'll roll up new characters in the time it takes the rest of the party to finish the encounter. And did I mention you're standing in a radioactive pool right now? Take ongoing 10 radiation damage, save ends.

It's a minimalist system which invites interpretation and improvisation from GMs and players alike. Compared to 4e, Gamma World gives you a sketch of a character's capabilities and dares you to try to break things.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1: Very thorough! 1) I think the setting is called Gamma Terra, not Terra Nova (unless I missed it, or the adventure is located in a post-apocalyptic Canadian island) 2) A few Novice powers are Encounter instead of At-Will (although some groups house rule for making them all At-Wills). 3) Overcharge has a 55% of success (10+ on a d20) and your primary origin gives you a bonus on some kind of Alpha Mutation Overcharge rolls. 4) Disarming and tripping is not covered in D&D 4.0 neither. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 7:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! Typing madly after midnight spawns errors, so thanks for catching and clarifying those points. Also Secret Societies as detailed in Famine in Far-Go are officially called Cryptic Alliances. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.W.Wombat
    Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 12:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I edited the answer to include your clarifications, except point 4 for which I have neither the mental fortitude nor my 4e books to tackle at the moment. grin \$\endgroup\$
    – T.W.Wombat
    Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 12:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good! ^^ Just another couple of things that came to my mind right now: the random "training" in one skill, and the fact that there is no economics except barter (which, along side the random junk tables, I really adore). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ +50 +check. Thanks for the awesome detailed answer. It goes along well with the others... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 18:39

A few more things to add to what's already been said. You need to have a good feel for your group. Gamma World may not be a good fit for everyone.

For example, it's much more random, and not just for initial character creations. Alpha Mutations happen at least every encounter, so players who like planning things out or like having control over their character may get less enjoyment.

Character death is also much more frequent, at least in my experience, so if you have players who don't deal with it well, they may have a hard time. On the other hand, it may be a good way to desensitize them to character death.

Overcharging brings another factor of randomness. When I was GMing our regular D&D group through the starter set adventure, a PC threw an overcharge concussion grenade (this is form memory, so I may have the name wrong) and ended up knocking most of the party unconscious; which in itself would not be a big deal, but one of the PCs kept failing saving through an was taking a cat nap (he was a Felinoid) for four rounds, missing half of the fight.

It's been said before that Gamma World it good for relatively short adventures, but not for campaigns with long, overarching stories. I would agree, mostly because keeping the party motivation going when you're rotating through PCs may not be easy.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Some fantastic points! And you are right, death happens more frequently and a lot of that is due to a lack of healing/healing surges.. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 2:21

Mechanically Some what...

As you said character creation is a little different as it's completely random, though it wouldn't break anything to allow your players to choose what they wanted. I suggest against that at least initially as the random aspect is part of the fun. ("What do I do with a Felinoid and a Swarm? Swarm of Kittens or a Cat made out of a Swarm or something??) HP and the like are set aside for the two respective halves of a character (think of the 4E hybrid rules and you are around the same ballpark.) The weapons have also changed in that anything can be used as a weapon. You decide if it's a regular sized melee or a two-hander, etc. Alien Tech and Old World Tech exists for the taking as well as mutations and the like. One thing that tripped me up a bit was that ammo is treated very abstractly, you either have it or don't. (Use it once in a battle and your stores are unaffected, use it more than that and you don't have any when the battle is over.)

Fluff-wise? Quite a bit!

As you know, it's essentially a post-apocalyptic re-skin of 4E with some minor mechanical changes primarily in character creation. There are robots and giant mutant bunny rabits, alien tech and old world nick-nacks. It's also completely open to anything you want to do with it. The rule book even mentions that 4E characters could survive in Gamma World just fine, but that their Gamma World counter-parts would be a slight bit more powerful in comparison.

Stuff a DM should know:

Gamma World plays like your typical 4E session in that you use battle maps, minis, the same seven dice, and weird monsters that run the gamut from robots to rabbits and everything in between. The monsters themselves follow the MM3 monster math so they are fairly well done and balanced (and completely interchangeable with 4E!) Play is essentially the same as 4E with the exception that instead of going from level 1 to 30, Gamma World only takes you to level 10.

A last bit of advice would be to remember the rules of 4E when you play (with some minor exceptions like ammo) and ignore everything else. Treat it like a different game because that's what it is in the end!


I ran a couple of quick sessions, and rules-wise, the big differences for me were -

  • No healing surges
  • Second wind restores half of your hit points.
  • Short rest restores all of your hit points.
  • Guns are available, but run out of ammo if used more than once per encounter.
  • Character levels go from 1 to 10.
  • Skill and attack bonuses use your full level, not half your level.

Character creation is also very different, such that you would find it hard to use characters designed for one system in the other. However, the overall concepts are the same.


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