Gamma World’s evocative cover art of 4 explorers crossing alien terrain, spotting the jagged remnants of ruined skyscrapers of an Ancient city. From the beginning, the original Gamma World grabs you, and doesn’t let go.

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The classic Gamma World box set includes a 56-page rulebook, and a fold-out map of post-holocaust North America.
Gamma World 1st edition [BOX SET]
1978, 1981 … James M. Ward & Gary Jaquet … TSR 3002 … ISBN 0394518799

Gamma World 1st edition detailed at my reference site

I go into the three printings of 1e, plus the subsequent editions, and the adventure modules.

Gamma World items available in the shop

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Old school Gamma World is highly collectible, and expensive. If you’re just looking to play and enjoy, DTRPG has you covered.


The Rulebook

Gamma World 1st rulebook

Cover and title page art by the legendary David A. Trampier.

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The original, detailed, cause of the apocalypse would only be found in the 1st edition.

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The rules immediately set the game apart from the typical fantasy RPGs of the time: Mutations and Technology. And these areas are richly detailed. Though characters begin play without technology, the unspoken assumption is that the PCs would quickly acquire ancient artifacts.

Though Humanoids and Mutated Animals start out with the physical and mental powers to survive in a dangerous environment, Pure Strain Humans can only rely on anemic primitive weapons, and the promise of great things in the future if they survive, since they are most able to utilize ancient artifacts. (This reminds me of AD&D magic users: Start out weak, but amass power as they gain levels.)

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The rules and background, even if a bit thin by modern standards, are enough to play. The setting is so rich and exotic, it would take a pretty dull referee to not be able to use this set as a launchboard for their own imagination.

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Cryptic Alliances are an important part of Gamma World, factions based on characteristics or common beliefs. They can be allies, adversaries, or something in between.

See also: Aliens and the Cryptic Alliances (GAMMA WORLD)

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Discovering an ancient piece of tech is only the beginning. Discerning the artifact’s function uses flow charts that are a minigame unto themselves.

The Map

Gamma World 1e 3p map

The large hex map in the original GW set, with its not-quite-familiar continental outlines, has never been matched in its simple beauty in any of the later editions of Gamma World. Depicting oceans, lakes, mountains, and ancient cities (some underwater!) – yet no labels – the map practically begs the referee to puzzle out what the cities are, and to fill in their own details.

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A section of the map from my personal set. I labelled the cities decades ago.

See also: A Gamma World map colored by a prior owner. Very cool.

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Dragon Magazine, issue 25 (May 1979), had an article by GW creator James Ward: A Part of Gamma World Revisited. There is a key to the cities on the big map, plus notes on the geographical locations and leadership of the Cryptic Alliances.
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The Great Lakes
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Mississippi Delta
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Pacific Northwest

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See also: GAMMA WORLD 2nd edition (1983-84): 1st ed gets a revision

Aftermath RPG box set – early Phoenix Games edition

GATEWAY TO ADVENTURE: TSR’s Classic Games Catalog (1980 & 1981), plus Rare Black Cover