Gaming Philosophy is the way people play Mutant Future, and before it, Gamma World. Some players like to play in a gritty, realistic setting, while others like to play it in an off-beat, comic book fashion. This can also include where the campaign takes place, added genres, the presence of magic, and so on.
Wahoo vs. GrittyEdit
"If we had set the Final Wars in 1958 and set up Elvis as king of the United States and tossed out all the AIs but added in Russian bands preforming surf rock and the Underworld beneath a windmill farm and if we included an overt supernatural realm so that Death could appear looking like a long-lost member of Guns & Roses, then Gamma World would have been just like this movie. It's... well, 'gonzo' is an over-used word, but this is a gonzo movie."
- Gamma World 6th edition Player's Handbook, on Six-String Samurai (1998)
"Wahoo" is a term by James M. Ward, to describe the unusual style of Gamma World. It is a lighthearted distortion of reality to contrast the stark, hopeless nature of post-apocalyptic survival. Much of it plays out like like old B-movie sci-fi, comic books from the 1950s and '60s, or '80s cartoons. It this strange reality, you can start a car or read a newspaper that were out in the elements for over a hundred years; technology that defies scientific explanation for all-out magic-like effects; radioactive elements glow with a green aura that could burn you alive, if the levels are high enough; getting bit by radioactive mosquito could turn you into the world's lamest superhero/villain; protagonists are larger-than-life figures who can preform reckless, heroic actions that would get most people killed. Two good examples of this style are Thundarr the Barbarian and Kamandi. A common argument against this style is the notion that it is too silly to be taken seriously, or that the "cartoony" feel somehow diminishes the grittiness or lethality of the game. In truth, the game could be very "wahoo", and still remain stark. More over, this style is popular due to that the focus is on fun, without being bogged-down by the limits of hard reality.
Players that reject the "wahoo" style of gaming usually play a game that follows a hard-edged feel, like what you see in Mad Max. This is what TV Tropes & Idioms calls The Apunkalypse. This style of game tends to favor realism (to a point). Technology tends to be modern, with any advanced technology being what is possible, instead of being fantastic. Mutants tend to be deformed, bereft of any fantastic abilities, and radiation exposure causing symptoms of acute and chronic radiation syndrome. Health conditions like sustenance, hydration, body temperature, injuries, disease and personal moral become a greater focus of survival. The elements that most highlight this style of setting (which can easily fit in a "Wahoo" setting) are leather-clad bikers, custom battle-cars, and lots of barren, desert landscapes. PRGs that focus to this style are Aftermath, Twilight 2000, and White Wolf's 6th edition Gamma World.
Either way is good, as it's primarily a matter of taste.
Its not unusual for gamers to mix elements from other genres into their games. Elements from cyberpunk, steam-punk, high fantasy, sword & sorcery, sword & planet, gothic horror, westerns, and space operas are most commonly sampled. Thundarr the Barbarian is a fine example of mixing Mutant Future with sword & sorcery. Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa started off as a campaign that mixed Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with Gamma World. The game itself is a mix of sword & sorcery, gothic horror, and science fantasy.
Example Of GenreEdit
Hard/Low Fantasy: This is traditional fantasy that downplays or out-right rejects the magical elements of a setting. It might tries to rationalize the presence of "magic" as a form of highly advanced science. A good example of this, is the use of nano-machines as a placeholder for magic.
High Fantasy: This is traditional fantasy that highlights magic in all forms. This is a world with elves, unicorns, magically talking swords, and castles on the clouds. Morality is well defined, and the heroes usually hold the fate of the world in this hands. When used in a post-apocalyptic setting, it would not be unusual to find Paladins using magic lightsabers, cyborg chimerae ravaging the countryside, and magically-enhanced robot wizards.
Sword & Sorcery: This is traditional fantasy that is generally humanocentric, with morally ambiguous anti-heroes, and make the magical elements vary strange and mysterious. This is generally tied with Dark Fantasy. The Hyborian Age of Conan of Cimmeria is the prime example of this genre. Sword & Sorcery fits quite well with post-apocalyptic fiction.
Gothic Horror/Dark Fantasy: This is a type of horror story in which humanity is threatened by forces beyond human understanding. This is best used in a post-apocalyptic fiction to highlight the stark nature of both genre.
Science Fantasy/Soft Science: This is sci-fi toned-down to more fantastic and unbelievable levels. Although scoffed at by more serious sci-fi fans, this escapist sub-genre makes for more fun and exciting role-playing adventures. This also make the game easier to run, as you don't have to think too hard on technical matters, nor explain how things work; without the boundaries of realistic science, anything becomes possible.
Hard Science: This is all about realism. Everything has a scientific explanation. A lot of older sci-fi engage in textbook science to save the day, but this is not real hard sci-fi, as its usually really basic "Science Fair" projects. The best "hard" sci-fi tries to go beyond what is truly possible with creative concepts designed to "hand wave" away glaring limitations with the use of Applied Phlebotinum (aka Handwavium). Minovsky Physics form Mobile Suit Gundam, is a great example of how one set of physics rules — the phlebotinum — to allow the physics-defying actions that occurs in giant-robot anime. This is best if you and your group are tech-heads or hard sci-fi junkies.
Cyberpunk or Biopunk: This is a near-future dystopian world of style-over-substance, and regular use of cybernetics. Biopunk take Cyberpunk even further with genetic manipulation, synthetic biology, and post-humanist exploration. When used in a post-apocalyptic setting, there would be an availability of cybernetic equipment, and specialists who know how to install them. The cybernetics might be self-adjusting, so anyone could install them. As noted in 6th edition Gamma World Player's Handbook, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (a 1988 black-and-white cult-film from Japan) is a good example of implementing (rather crude) cybernetics in a setting where proper surgery is not possible.
Nanopunk: is an emerging genre of speculative Sci-fi, still very much in its infancy in comparison to other genres like that of Cyberpunk or Steam-punk. This genre is similar to bio-punk, but describes the world where the use of biotechnologies are limited or prohibited, so only nanobots are widely use (while in biopunk bio- and nanotechnologies often coexist).
Unlike Cyberpunk, a low-life yet technologically advanced character, the personification of a Nanopunk can be set 'hard' or 'soft', depending on your views of the impact Nanotechnology will have on our future. An example of making cyberware out of "common household implements and materials stolen from factories". In a post-apocalyptic setting, the "Grey Goo" apocalypse works well with it because the nanobots could ruin the enviroment, and induce genetic damage and/or mutation simulator to comic book radiation. Generator Rex is a good example of how a "Gray Goo" scenario could destroy civilization, and turn people into monsters and/or nanite-using wizards.
Steam-punk: This is usually an alternative history, that focus on steam-powered technology in place of modern or fantastic technology. This works well in a post-apocalyptic setting as a way to fill the gap between archaic technology used by people of the post-apocalyptic age, and the overly complex technology from the past.
Sword & Planet/Planetary Romance: This is purely escapist fantasy on other worlds, or a social commentary of our own world through the exploration of an alien one. A Princess of Mars was about a larger-then-life earth-man sent into a world of warriors and nudists, while War of the Worlds was an exploration of how the proud English race deals with uncertainty and doom (and a jab at brutal British Imperialism).
Space Operas: This is adventures across space, with exploration of alien worlds and cultures, and epic space battles. Most people don't think of Space Operas mixing with post-apocalyptic fiction, as you can always escape a war-ravaged planet, but there have been a number of fiction - both literary and in gaming - where the known universe has been devastated by war or disaster.
Mystery: This may seem odd for a post-apocalyptic setting where day-to-day survival often overshadows the need for solving mysteries, but in a world that has left a lot secrets, solving these mysteries could spell continued struggle or a chance at a better future.
Comicbook/Cartoon/Superhero Fantasy: This is about fantastic science, and larger-then-life superheroes. The best sources of inspiration for games like Mutant Future and Gamma World comes from the strange and adventurous worlds of comic books and cartoons.
Westerns: This is about taming a wild and savage frontier, with settlers, nomadic cattlemen, bounty hunters, savages, and outlaws. You don't need cowboy hats and 6-shooters to make it a Western -- you only need to maintain that pioneer spirit!
Wuxia: This is over-the-top martial arts action set in a oriental setting. When used in a post-apocalyptic setting, there would be a greater emphasis on Kung-fu fighting, fancy sword play, then on gunfights. When guns are used, then there would likely be "gun-fu" techniques, and maybe some Matrix-styled bullet-time action. Probably the most famous example of post-apocalyptic wuxia is the anime and manga series Fist of the North Star. Another example is a music video by Muse - Knights of Cydonia - which is a faux '80s movie trailer, that is a campy mix of post-apocalypses, western and wuxia.
Comedy: This is a setting set on funny. This could range from out-right silly, to dark humor, to parades. This can be as simple as turning iconic cartoon characters into off-colored mutant versions of themselves. The possibilities are endless.
Erotic (spicy/saucy): This is a setting with a focus on sexual (or sensual) elements. This is not necessarily about porn or role-playing sex, as it can easily deal with prostitutes, over-the-top perverts, casual nudity or disintegrating clothing, kinky humor, and so on. Although avoided by many gamers, this is not a bad thing if its handled maturely and with a group that is comfortable with such things. An example of an erotic post-apocalyptic setting can be found in the Axa comics.
One of the major considerations of a post-apocalyptic setting, is how it all ended. There are different ways to take advanced civilizations to barbaric states overnight. Not to mention all the ways you can devastate a planet! Such scenarios can easily be mixed.
Nuclear (Chemical and Biological) WarfareEdit
Perhaps the most common scenario - a war that no one could win! Weapons that not only left whole cities in ruins, but also spread harmful mutagenic agents into the environment. In a "Wahoo" setting, radiation could induce mutations, like what you would see in an old B-movie. In more serious settings, nanites and retroviruses take the place of B-movie radiation, with radiation being treated more realistically.
Example: Damnation Alley, Planet of the Apes, Steel Dawn, Cherry 2000, (countless other works)
Something fell out of the sky, and the whole world felt it! Usually this is a dinosaur-killer sized rock that hit the planet, or a shower of large rocks that devastated the earth. Such a scenario would not likely have any mutagenic elements, unless the rocks are radioactive, or had a non-terrestrial hitchhiker (an alien virus, or The Colours Out of Space).
Example: Night of the Comet
Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, sinking continents! This scenario would not likely have any mutagenic elements, but could easily change the map in drastic ways. With advanced technology, such disasters could be man-made.
Example: The Day After Tomorrow, Thundarr the Barbarian, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Waterworld
Be it by a natural occurrence, or a man-made biological weapon that was unleashed upon the world, some sort of plague nearly killed humanity and/or the environment. This is also a good device for other effects of the apocalypse - like a Zombie Apocalypse, or a mutagenic virus. This is best when used with other apocalyptic events. This is also a given for Biblical Armageddon (see below).
Example: I am Legend, Night of the Living Dead franchise, 28 [Days/Weeks] Later, The Omega Man, Resident Evil franchise, Jeremiah, Twelve Monkeys, The Stand
Civilization has gotten so corrupted, decadent, hedonistic, and/or, totally warlike, that humanity was reduced to a state of barbarism. This scenario by itself would not likely have an impact on the environment - in fact, the environment would likely benefit from a civilization that became indifferent to everything!
Example: Mad Max (before Thunderdome)
Man-made pollution got so bad, it's slowly killing us! Toxic waste, smog, global warming, rising sea-levels - where is Captain Planet when you need him?!? This could be a world that is changed with wastelands of ruins, garbage and toxic waste, to a toxic water world.
Example: Mindwarp, Omega Cop
Aliens came to our world, and they did not come in peace! This is like a human war, but with a lot of alien technology. This scenario could be the best way to introduce advanced technology to a modern world.
Example: Battlefield Earth, War of the Worlds, (countless other works)
We built them for our needs, and now they are hell-bent on destroying us! This could be from some convoluted leap of logic to save humanity or the Earth, or an outright desire to exterminate the human race! In this world, humans who are subjects of the machine lords are but slaves, while those who are not live a marginal existence as savages or guerrilla fighters, who constantly hunted down by hunter-killer and hunter-capture robots. A strange twist to this is The Days of Future Past scenario from the X-Men comic, in which giant androids - The Sentinels - who were made to deal with the mutant threat, end-up taking over the world.
Example: The Terminator, Magnus: Robot Fighter, I-Robot, The Matrix Trilogy, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
Take Your Stinkin' Paws Off Me You Damn Dirty [Animal]!Edit
An alternate to the cybernetic revolt is a revolt by man-made creatures, like genetically-engineered primates (this is not limited to primates, as any type of man-made creature may be used). In this setting, humanity is a struggling minority - ether as disorganized savages or an active resistance to the new lords of the earth. Naturally, most people would think of the classic movie Planet of the Apes, which was also a commentary on bigotry and a twist on the Monkey Trial (who knew? XP).
Example: Planet of the Apes, Kamandi
Gray Goo ScenarioEdit
This is the effect of countless self-replicating nanites that was built to make the world better, but gone out of control and threaten the world by converting everything into lifeless, inert matter. The effect of this is whole landscapes melting into gray soup, and even people being consumed by this high-tech cancer. This scenario need not be so absolute, as the nanites could just cause random mutations and geological alterations. If someone finds a way to control them, then they could have a way to manipulate the world around them.
Example: Bloom, Plague Year
Someone played the "Get out of Hell Free Card," and the whole world has quite literally gone to Hell in a handbasket! This scenario is as much fantasy as it is sci-fi, as it has the forces of Heaven (with angels, saints, and paladins) and the legions of Hell (with demons, devils, and cultists) using the earth as a battlefield. This setting would likely have magic in the form of divine intervention or demonic powers. A system of moral-alignment would be a key rule in this setting. The base of this alignment would usually be about the modern sense of compassion vs cruelty, or a more ridged sense of biblical-virtues vs the seven deadly sins. That is, a "good" person in the former can still be a hedonist, but in the later, that person would automatically become a corrupt and wicked sinner.
Example: Legion, Left Behind, The Stand, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight
The Star-Gods Have Returned!Edit
An alternative to an alien invasion and biblical armageddon is the appearance of otherworldly beings who are beyond our understanding. This could be the awakening of Cthulhu, or even the appearance of Galactus or the Fourth Celestial Host. In the case of a Lovecraftian invasion, rules for sanity loss and psychology plays a major role in the setting.
Example: Anything by H.P. Lovecraft, or any of the works of Jack Kirby with space gods.
Other than post-atomic, this is also another popular genre. This could be a serious survivalist fiction, or a spoof of the entire genre. In this scenario, the world has been over taken by the undead. They could be mindless zombies (Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later), or highly aggressive vampires or mutants (I am Legend, The Omega Man). The survivors usually work or travel by day, and hide out during the night.
(see Zombie Apocalypse)
Example: I am Legend, Night of the Living Dead franchise, Night of the Comet, 28 [Days/Weeks] Later, The Omega Man, Resident Evil franchise, (countless other works)
This is a far future scenario, where the earth (or even the universe) is dying out. Unlike the other scenarios, the planet is not dying from man-made disasters, but the planet (and all life on it) is just dying of old age. On a galactic level, the laws of the universe are collapsing to cosmic entropy. This is a bleak future, where the survivors live on what little life they can muster. What civilization is left, can only sustain on life support. If at all, using what science is available to force futility or longevity to breeding age, to keep life sustaining. The breakdown of life could be a man-made disaster, as the result of extensive genetic engineering.
Example: The Dying Earth saga, The Barsoom Saga, Dark Sun
Time and PlaceEdit
Another major consideration is when and where the setting takes place. Usually settings take place on earth, some time in a bombed-out future. Gamma World takes place on earth, 500 years in the future. Metamorphosis Alpha also takes place 500 years in the future, but it takes place on board a Generation Ship called The Warden. Both settings are considered to take place in the same universe.
Long Ago, in a Forgotten EraEdit
There was once a great civilization, but it fell, and its a long forgotten legend. Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu, Xanadu, Shambhala, Avalon: History is full of legendary civilizations, with obscure references to strange forms of technology or magic. Such civilizations might have been made-up of prehistoric humans, a space colony with aliens, or even humanity's progenitors. The artifacts found on such a world would likely be alien in nature, even if man-made, they might work like magic items found in most fantasy settings.
Example: The Green-Stone Cities in Conan, The Thongor Saga, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Stargate, West of Eden, Fire and Ice
Near Future, on EarthEdit
This one is best for character exploration. Something happened that caused modern civilization (or any time within the past 50 years) to collapse. The survivors are much like us — being modern people. The events would push the morally complacent and generally idle survivors into desperate, life-or-death situations. In most cases, only modern technology would be available.
Example: The Postman, The Stand
Far Future, on EarthEdit
This one is best for altering the world from what can be recognized. A lot can happen in a few centuries: Civilizations can change, maps can be altered, and the modern world can be a nearly forgotten era. Characters born of this era are likely going to have a working knowledge of the area they came from. For Sleepers (people suspended in time, for whatever reason), they would have to learn the new world from scratch. There maybe all sorts of remnants of our modern era (like at the end of Planet of the Apes), but to the locals, they would just be strange, long-standing artifacts of a time they no longer understand, and might even be seen as relics of unearthly beings.
Example: Gamma World, Planet of the Apes, The Time Machine, Armageddon 2419 A.D., Davy, Daybreak - 2250 A.D. (aka Star Man's Son), Fallout series
The Lost ColonyEdit
This could be an alien outpost, a colony ship, or a colonized world. In this setting, the colony is trying to build a new homeworld, when something caused them to forget who they are. Chaos erupts and in the fight for survival, all knowledge is ether lost or is distorted to mythology. In the case of Metamorphosis Alpha, the ship flew through an invisible radioactive nebula that killed and mutated most of the live aboard the ship. In the case of Tékumel: The World of the Petal Throne, the planet was a resort planet that became trapped in a dimensional bubble, forever isolated from the cosmic civilization terraformed it.
Another World, Another TimeEdit
Apocalypses can happen anywhere and anyplace — even on alien worlds! In this, an alien civilization — even a far-off human colony — collapsed, leaving the world in a barbaric state. This world would be far removed from our own world. This is a common theme on Star Trek, as the Enterprise crew sometimes find themselves on a world where it's inhabitants died from some war or disaster.
Example: Foundation Trilogy, The Last Planet (aka Star Rangers), The Comic Computer (aka Junkyard Planet), Geoffry McKinney's Carcosa (this has much in common with Long Ago, in a Forgotten Era)
Much like above, but on a grand scale! In this scenario, whole systems (if not galaxies) fought a war that devastated whole planets! Or it could have been a disaster that effected galactic-spanning civilizations. In the ruins, characters could find old vessels or portals to take them to other worlds. "Space Vikings" (backwater savages who learned how to repair and fly old spaceships) might be a major focus.
Example: Stars Without Numbers, early Masters of the Universe mini-comics