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Gamma World First Edition
GW 1e rules cover.jpg
Rule Edition Used Gamma World First Edition
Author James M. Ward and Gary Jaquet
Illustrator Dave A. Trampier and David C. Sutherland III
Publication date 1978
Published by TSR
Publication Order
Preceded by
Followed by
Gamma World, Second Edition

Gamma World was the first in the long running Gamma World franchise. The setting was inspired by Brian Aldiss's Hothouse, Andre Norton's Star Man's Son (also published as Daybreak - 2250 A.D.), Sterling E. Lanier's Hiero's Journey, Ralph Bakshi's Wizards, and some comic books that was eluded to by the author(s) but never named. The original working title for the setting (before the rules were formed) was called Mutants! The rules were borrowed heavily from James M. Ward's earlier product, Metamorphosis Alpha.

The Setting[]

The setting takes place in 2471 AD, in an age called the Black Years. Long ago, in an age called the Shadow Years, the world was a high-tech utopia void of conflict, poverty, sickness and pollution. But idleness gave way to conflict, as people formed into zealous political movements. The end result was nothing short of Armageddon! In the present, the world is in a semi-barbaric state. The people of this world are primitive, xenophobic, amoral and superstitious. Most communities fear outsiders. They see the people of the Black Years as god-like people, their artifacts as magical (and often cursed) items, and their ruins are the source of great fear. Power comes form the point of a spear, but those with the right artifact is King!

The motivation for adventures were usually a quest to search old ruins to prove their strength. The overall motivation was to find the long lost weapon cache of the Apocalypse, with rumors and legends that inspires countless explorations.

Unlike many of the later editions, modern items like ballistic weapons, tanks, helicopters and the like are not present in this edition. This is mostly do to the futuristic background of the setting. Since this setting predates the Mad Max Post-Apocalypse craze of the 1980's, the setting plays out like a 1960's Post-Apocalypse akin to Planet of the Apes, Kamandi: Last Boy on Earth, and Mighty Sampson (the last two are comic books).

The Rules[]

The rules are largely inspired by first edition Metamorphosis Alpha (which was inspired by the Original Dungeons & Dragon rules), but with major changes.

You have the option of playing a Pure Strain Human (PSH), Humanoid, or Mutated Animal. Pure Strain Human are people uninfected by mutations. They may seem weak, but they have the advantage of higher Charisma and compatibility to artifacts. Humanoids are mutated people. They have mutations, but such mutations make them the source of fear and distrust in other (they might read your mind or attack you in some odd way), and reduce their compatibility to artifacts (you cannot put on power armour if your body is shaped weird, nor will a medical heal unusual biology). Mutated Animal may be intelligent animals or anthropomorphic. Greater liberty is left up to the player and referee (Game Master), as animals usually have their own innate abilities (like Increased Senses or Wings, for example), but they may be unable to talk and/or hold items. They are also incompatible to most forms of artifacts, as they would require veterinary aid, or deal with robots that see them as strange, unintelligent creatures that need dissecting - if not seen as pest that needs eradicating.

Your basic attributes are: Mental Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Charisma, Constitution and Physical Strength. They are rolled-up with 4d6, minus the lowest result, to yield a result of 3-18, but with a sightly higher average due to the extra dice.

Hit Points were generated by rolling a d6 for every point Constitution (giving the average HP of 35, regardless of type). As characters progress in level, they do not automatically gain more HP - the only way they can get more, is by boosting one's Constitution score.

Mutants characters may get mutations in the following manor 1) roll 1d4 for both mental and physical mutations, or 2) have the player choose the beneficial mutations, while the referee choose the defects.

Experience Points are rewarded in the same manner as D&D, in that they gain them by 1) defeating or subduing hostile beings or creatures (1xp per HP), 2) the gold value of treasure found, 3) a set value for figuring out the workings of artifacts, and 4) bonuses given-out by the referee for actions he or she feels are extraordinary. Like with D&D, if the Experience Points hits a threshold, the character gains a level - or "bonus" in this game. Gaining a bonus means raising a random attribute or combat ability (to-hit in physical combat or bonus damage for non-energy weapons) by one point.

Combat is similar to classic D&D, in that players use tables (called a "Matrix") factoring Hit Dice and Armour class, with variable dice types used for damage. Unlike D&D, weapon-based combat uses the attacker's Weapon Class (WC) verses the defender's Armour Class (AC). The matrix looks uneven as different types of weapons react differently to different forms of armour. Weapon damage dice is also based on small to man-sized opponents, and for large-sized opponents. Initiative is based on who has surprise or who is shooting at non-shooters, otherwise damage takes effect simultaneous, at the end of combat (unless someone died outright from a powerful attack). Movement and travel is given to the arbitration of the referee.

Saving throws are handled by three different matrices: the Mental Attack Matrix, the Poison Matrix, and the Radiation Matrix. The Mental Attack Matrix is simple, uniformed formula that compares the attacker's and defender's Mental Strength to get a to-hit number. The Poison and Radiation Matrices compares the Poison or Radiation Class to the victim's Constitution. With Poison, two even scores could result in one to three (d6) dice of damage, but in most cases, the victim will die outright or shrug-off the effects. Surviving radiation would mean taking zero to eight dice of damage with a chance of random mutation, but there is still a good chance of dieing outright. A mutation manifests after a week, with high (80%) chance of death.

Despite the high amount of Hit Points allowable by the rules, the game is still deadly. Even if the characters have powerful artifacts and mutations with lots of kills under their belt, there will always be the chance that they will encounter some deadly menace that could kill them outright, without a second thought! "Game-balance" is not a factor in this game. Surviving requires treating everyone and everything as a potential danger, and being resourceful enough to avoid trouble.


  • The Treasure List - a random chart made of common household items - has a number of Easter Eggs thrown in (there maybe more):
    • "Pleasure globe - excellent condition: when grasped firmly, gives holder pleasurable sensations." - A reference to the 1973 Woody Allen movie Sleeper.
    • "Rollerball trophy - fair condition" - A reference to the 1975 movie Rollerball.
    • "Tuba - unusable (mashed flat by a steamroller)" - A reference to the 1978 movie National Lampoon's Animal House.
    • "Small pewter belt buckle - with cryptic writing (TSR Hobbies)" - This was an actual bit of merchandising by TSR, Inc.