This Saturday, I will finally be running a game of the new Gamma World RPG (technically the 7th edition of the game, I believe). Now, a lot has been made of this latest iteration of the very popular role-playing game, from its embrace of the nascent silliness of the setting to the trading card aspect of the game.
One of the most common misconceptions is that you need to use the random card mechanic and buy lots of booster packs and have all the players make their own pimped out decks in order to play the game. Unlike anyone else I've heard talk about this game, I'll tell you right up front that idea is bullshit. Of course, WotC would like you to spend money on tons of booster packs, but you don't need them. Of course they suggest players building their own decks, or at least randomly drawing from the GM's deck, but you don't need to.
That's not to say that I don't enjoy the cards in the game. On the contrary: I actually think that they should have included cards for other things - like character Origins. What I really do hate, though, is the insertion of a rarity mechanic into the cards. Perhaps I'll get into that another time. For now, I want to focus on how to make Gamma World a more "stable" and traditional RPG, focusing on the use of the cards - especially the Alpha Mutation cards.
Here are my house rules on Alpha Mutations:
1 - Players do not use their own customized decks. Everything is run with one Game Master deck. First, split up your Alpha Mutation deck into three separate decks, one for each of the Mutant Type keywords: Bio, Dark, and Psi. Whenever a character receives an Alpha Mutation card, roll 1d6. On a 1-4, he draws from the deck associated with his primary Origin. On a 5-6, he draws from the deck associated with his secondary Origin. If both Origins have the same Mutant Type, you can forgo rolling the die and just draw from that deck (DUH!).
2 - Players do not draw new Alpha Mutation cards after each encounter. Powers from Alpha Mutations may be used again after a short rest.
3 - Alpha Flux: Whenever a natural 1 is rolled during an encounter on any d20 roll, and Alpha Flux occurs. Immediately after the action that caused the Alpha Flux is resolved, the character's turn ends. He then chooses one of his readied Alpha Mutation cards, sets it aside, and draws a new Alpha Mutation card in its place. This follows the standard rules for drawing an Alpha Mutation card. The character's previous card is then placed back into the proper deck. A character can avoid discarding and drawing, if he so chooses, but becomes stunned until the end of his next turn.
So, there they are. Makes for a bit of a more traditional sort of character, instead of one who is constantly developing new and often inappropriate new mutations. Though I suggest using the cards to keep track of Alpha Mutations (mostly eliminating redundant Alpha Mutations in the party), you could also have players write down their Alpha Mutations and return them to the deck, giving other characters a chance to gain the same mutation.
But, what about the Omega Tech cards? I suggest also using one Game Master deck instead of letting build their own deck of desired items. If they really want something, have them tell you, and if you're feeling generous, maybe they'll get it. I plan on drawing randomly from the deck whenever it is called for, but if I feel the item is too powerful or something that I don't want the party to have, I'll just a draw a different card in its place.
So, don't feel that you need to use the card mechanics for Gamma World as they are presented in the book. If you want, you can even go so far as to turn it into a standard RPG and let the characters choose their Origins (in which case, you might see a lot of Radioactive Androids and Giant Yetis) and Alpha Mutations and choose what pieces of Omega Tech they will find. In this case, the cards are just a different way to keep track of the information.
I will post a summary of the Gamma World game at some point after this Saturday.