This is the introduction to the original Gamma World setting by Tom Wham and Timothy Jones. It was released by TSR in 1978 .
Man, from Australopithecus africanus and homo erectus erectus to homo sapiens recens, may have existed on earth for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of years. During this time, one skill, one particular talent has set him apart from every other creature — his ability to conceive and create tools. Indeed, man has been defined as the "tool-making animal." From chipped rocks and polished bones to neutron bombs and computers, man has constantly been redesigning, improving, and refining his tools to meet his ever-changing needs. Some have been toys for children. Some have improved his life style. Others have been necessary for his survival. A few have nearly caused his extinction.
Early in the 24th century, mankind's existence was unparalleled. The rape of the earth's beauty and resources in the late 20th and early 21st centuries had been halted and reversed, due to man's tools. Man had reached for the stars and attained them, with the help of his tools. Yet, in spite of these tools (or perhaps because of them), the idyllic life of the 24th century came to an abrupt end.
Having conquered the rigors of simple survival, man was able to turn his energies to more esoteric considerations – theology, political ideology, social and cultural identification, and development of self-awareness. These pursuits were not harmful in themselves, but it soon became fashionable to identify with and support various leagues, organizations, and so-called "special interest groups." With the passage of time, nearly all the groups became polarized, each expressing and impressing its views to a degree that bordered on fanaticism. Demonstrations, protests, and debates became the order of the day. Gradually enthusiasm changed to mania, then to hatred of those who held opposing views. Outbreaks of violence became more frequent, and terrorists spread their views with guns and bombs.
Reconstruction of the events from 2309 to 2322 has been difficult due to the lack of intact records, but historians now generally mark September 16, 2309 as the beginning of the period now commonly known as the Shadow Years. On that day, some 5000 members of the League of Free Men were staging a demonstration for the purpose of promoting their concepts of a united world government. At the height of their demonstration, a small neutron bomb was detonated in their midst, killing most of the demonstrators. Rumors held opponents of world government, a group known as the Autonomists, responsible for the terrorism, but no guilt was ever proved.
The League of Free Men made no formal accusations, but three months later, on December 23, several hundred known Autonomists were assassinated in separate locations. In addition, the three main offices of the Autonomists were the targets of the release of a newly developed nerve gas. The nerve gas was responsible for approximately 3000 deaths, the majority of which were Autonomist office personnel, but many of those killed had no connection with the Autonomists. Blame for the killings was placed on the League, but there was no proof. The failure of official investigations to convict the perpetrators of these mass murders created a wave of vigilante actions; retaliation followed retaliation. The problem was compounded as the terrorism spread across national boundaries, engulfing the world with bloodshed.
As the vigilante actions continued, various governments attempted to prohibit and disband suspected terrorist organizations, but these attempts only drove the groups further underground and polarized their supporters. This led many countries to declare martial law in a last desperate effort to control their populations, but the warring groups had grown too powerful. They had too many resources (both economic and political) upon which to draw. Although there are no records to substantiate the accusations that governments gave covert aid to certain groups in order to change the balance of power, circumstantial evidence seems to indicate that this did occur.
In the final months of the Shadow Years, a new organization calling itself The Apocalypse, announced its existence with the now famous Ultimatum:
Peoples of the world — you appear bent upon the destruction of a civilization that has taken centuries to build, and the extinction of life on earth.
If that is your will…so be it!
We, The Apocalypse, demand an immediate cessation of this insane violence, or we will end it for you … with a force you cannot conceive.
We have the power!
The choice is yours!
The exact identity of The Apocalypse was, and still is, unknown. Some have theorized that the group was composed of scientists. Some believe it was a special military group. Whatever its constituency, few believed the ultimatum when it was issued, and the fighting continued. Five days later, on April 17, at exactly 1200 GMT, the capital city of every nation in the world was turned into a crater of radioactive slag.
The Apocalypse spoke to the world one more time:
People of the world, you have been warned.
We have the power!
The choice is yours!
Again, due to lack of records, it is not known how the location of The Apocalypse base was discovered, or who initiated the attack. Some evidence indicates the action was a joint effort by nearly all — united for the surviving terrorist factions and vigilante groups the first time in the Shadow Years. In the end, though, a massive attack was mounted against The Apocalypse base. In turn, The Apocalypse retaliated with a fury never before witnessed on the face of the earth. Oceans boiled, continents buckled, the skies blazed with the light of unbelievable energies.
Suddenly it was all over.
The civilization of man had been slashed, burned, crushed, and scattered to the four winds. Whether The Apocalypse had intended to completely destroy all life on the planet and had failed, or if they simply had not had enough power, is debatable. Some scholars contend that The Apocalypse voluntarily stopped their promised destruction when they witnessed the horror they had unleashed and then destroyed themselves. At the time, and even now, the question is moot.
What did matter was that man survived. The Black Years that followed the Shadow Years were spent struggling to survive in a suddenly savage and vastly changed world. The process was a painful one, filled with nearly as much terror and violence as the Shadow Years.
The devastation wrought by The Apocalypse had changed the very fabric of life on earth. The weapons and devices they used had completely obliterated some forms of life. Others were mutated to the point where they could not be recognized as what they had once been. Man was not immune to these changes.
Through it all, the death, the pain, the horror, and facing the prospect of an unknown future, man searched for his lost knowledge, and struggled to regain his tools to rebuild a self-destroyed civilization.
During the Black Years, those who held the tools, held the power.
The year is now 2471. It is nearly impossible to describe the vast changes that have occurred since the devastation of the Shadow Years.
The weapons which had wrought the destruction were many and varied. Targets were seared by lasers, blasted by fusion devices, and razed by new and unfathomable energies developed in the final months of the conflict. Only the most highly fortified areas (military headquarters, spaceports, and the like) remained even partially intact. Neutron bombs, unhindered by most forms of shielding, decimated those who remained within even these strongholds, leaving concrete and metal tombs housing incredibly complex equipment, now stilled for lack of human guidance.
Many of the weapons used by The Apocalypse were of a biogenetic nature and nearly all life forms suffered some kind of mutation. Perhaps the most prevalent and startling change was the development of latent mental abilities (psionics) in nearly all organic life, including man. This power could range from simple emotional empathy to the ability to control, even kill, other beings with mental force.
The ecological balance of nature was shattered as violently and suddenly as man's civilization. The sudden extinction of some life forms and the mutation of most others, coupled with the lack of man's intervention and attention (except to his own survival needs), generated a near world-wide wilderness inhabited by savage creatures, who, like man, were struggling to survive.
The loss of so much of man's knowledge and records has shrouded the world in ignorance and superstition. Areas containing ruins of man's once great civilization are often looked upon as taboo "Death Lands" — and the men and women who once lived there are referred to as the "Ancients," usually with quasi-religious overtones. Artifacts from the past may be simple curiosities or objects of terror.
The pockets of humanity that have survived are few, scattered throughout a world where a moment's lack of caution may mean instant and painful death. Men are highly suspicious of strangers, jealous of each other's possessions, and clandestine organizations know as cryptic alliances, plot and scheme against each other. The smallest hint of the location of The Apocalypse base, lost now for decades, creates intensive rival searches, for it is rumored that therein lies power – power to survive, power to control…
It is now the Black Years. This is the bizarre and everchanging world that you, the player character, are about to enter.