This article is a comparison of the old and new Gamma World adventure module “Famine in Far-Go.” As such, it contains plenty of spoilers. You have been warned.
I’ll get it out of the way right at the start: there’s no UFO in the old Famine in Far-Go module. There is merely a meteor crash. It stings, I know, but there is a giant, angry, sentient tree (old-school solo?) and a buried 1995 model Lincoln Continental Mark IX to soothe the disappointment.
The Plot of the two modules is similar, but not identical. In both modules, there was a recent “something” that fell from the sky, and Arx Skystone suspects the “something” to be (and actually is) the source of Far-Go’s food shortage. Also in both modules, the characters encounter Arx Skystone early on, and he sets the hook for the adventure. On the other hand, in the original module, eating the wrong berries can really mess you up. Oh, and unless you were paying really close attention to the story setup about Far-Go’s culture, you have no idea which berries to eat. Allow me to explain.
The original Famine in Far-Go module (OFG) assumes that each of the characters are underage members of Far-Go society. It begins with Arx Skystone gathering the party in his abode, and sending them off on their “Rite of Adulthood.” This is both the mechanism for getting the party together, and sending them off on adventure.
If you skimmed over the Rite of Passage section in the new Far-Go module (NFG), check it out on page 94; it’s under the “Forest of Knowlege” heading. Basically, the rite consists of the high priest sending underage kids into the forest to eat strangely colored berries. They’re supposed to “have a vision” from eating the berries, and then return to town, adults. Here’s the problem: NFG spells out for the players exactly which berries should be eaten. When I first read through OFG, I found no hint as to which berries characters should eat. In fact, the correct color varied based upon how human you were. I did eventually find the hint, tucked away in some Far-Go setup fluff, but I could see that it would be way too easy to miss.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In OFG, as the party ventures out of town towards the Forest of Knowlege to eat their berries and complete their adulthood ritual, there are no less than six small “random” encounters along the way. There really isn’t a story purpose to them, other than the addition of color and to reinforce that the world is a dangerous place. I won’t dwell too long here, except to say that the PCs pick up a few items along the way.
From there, they eat their berries and have visions of a chicken factory, and a strong feeling that going there will ease Far-Go’s recent shortage of food. When they wake up, however, the party is no longer in the forest. While they were asleep, they were kidnapped by some passing badders, and find themselves in the badders’ warren, awaiting the return of the chief. Stripped of all their belongings, this twist forces the party to do some creative thinking and lots of sneaking around to escape. This is a really fun section of the module, though due to its complete and utter irrelevance to the larger plot, I won’t go any deeper than that.
If “having a dream about a chicken factory” as a plot hook is vague and weird (especially since the strength of the vision is based upon how many of the right berries you ate) try this on for size: after escaping from the badder warren, the characters happen upon a tree that’s fallen across the Great Oad… and it’s pointing in a direction!! You get a REALLY strong feeling you should go IN THAT DIRECTION!! No, seriously – here’s the text from OFG: Having headed up the Great Oad past the hilly section, the characters notice just ahead a fallen tree that apparently was struck by lightning. Oddly enough its trunk seems to be pointing to the west-northwest (ed note: ?? what? why is that odd?)…All characters that ate 5 or more correct berries of truth…during the Rite of Adulthood will know this is a sign linked to their ritual dreams. These group members will each feel a strong urge to begin walking in the direction that the tree’s trunk is pointing…every one of the affected characters will choose to travel in this [direction], and none of the other remaining party members will be able to convince them not to go in this direction.
So from there, the characters go to the chicken factory, which is laid out in quite a bit of detail. Eleven pages of the OFG module are dedicated to the chicken factory, and in a sense, it is the central location of the module. As a comparison, the final encounter at the crash site takes up a few paragraphs. The purpose of the chicken factory is to point the party to the crash site, though (like in NFG), in order to gain that information, the characters have to get inside the factory, and interact with the AI computer running the place. Which might be easy, were there not large, aggressive, intelligent chickens running around. Hey, I’d be angry too.
The party heads out from there to collect the meteorite at the AI’s urging (because the meteorite radiation is affecting the factory’s crops, and subsequently, the computer’s ability to keep feeding the chickens). Once at the crash site, they are attacked by a Tarn Zeb (the only one in existence!), which is a giant, sentient, purple tree created by the radiation of the meteorite. They defeat the tree, and collect the meteorite pieces, and bring them to the factory to be used as nuclear fuel. The end.
At this point, I will say that OFG has a very linear plot, while NFG is decidedly non-linear. While NFG has a set number of encounters, characters can take them in pretty much any order. As a matter of fact, right out of the gate, Arx Skystone hands the PCs no less than three good leads, one of which is the crash site (OFG’s final encounter). OFG more or less forces the characters to the Forest of Knowledge, then the Badder warren, then the chicken factory, and finally to the crash site. There really isn’t a way to take them in another order. Which is better? I suppose it depends a bit upon preference, though giving players directional choices is always a good thing. It gives the sense of an open story and character choice, even if the encounters are already written out.
Here’s a deep thought for you, though: there is quite a bit of “freeform” exploration possible within OFG because, while OFG’s plot is quite linear and fixed, each stop along the way is not. For example, the chicken factory is a “stop” in the “railroad” of the plot – it happens at a fixed point, and you can’t go there before you make some other stops. However, once you arrive, the players are meant to explore the factory in whatever way they choose. Same thing with the badder warren. NFG, on the other hand, gives plot choices, but removes the location exploration aspect of the module. You can make the chicken factory your very first stop, if you so choose, but there is no built in exploration of the location possible. Gaining entry and subsequent access to the AI computer is reduced to a skill challenge and three encounters with no map of the grounds. Compare that to OFG’s eleven pages of 8 point font and a full page map to boot. Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m highlighting differences here, not saying one is better. Merely that the new module allows story exploration, while the old one allows location exploration.
I’ll leave you with this. In my Legion of Gold comparison, I noted that I really enjoyed the subtle nods by the authors to the original module. These are things you would totally glaze over if you hadn’t read the original. NFG also has its share. My favorite, however, is this line from Part 6 – Forest of Knowledge (p. 115): …their journey to the klickies’ lair eventually leads the characters into the Forest of Knowledge…. The klickies have holed up in a burrow they recently wrested from a badder gang. Well, it’s good to know that those badders won’t be abducting any more kids on their rite of passage…