The original version of Gamma World, along with a few of its spiritual successors, had a basic premise that player character adventurers weren’t familiar with most of the artifacts they would find in and amongst the Great Ruins of the Ancients. Something as simple as a toaster oven could lead to hours of speculation, button pushing, testing and guesswork. To reflect this search for knowledge, James Ward and Gary Jaquet (the designers) built a flowchart that the players would move along as their characters poked and prodded found artifacts. Sometimes, the characters would figure out what the ancient item was supposed to be used for, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes the really got it backwards to often hilarious effect.
The Mutant Epoch, on the other hand, seems to portray a world in which most of the peoples of the world understand enough of the basic knowledge of the ancients that most old artifacts are used and are familiar. Guns, vehicles, robots, electronics… the only issue about using them is whether or not you have any power cells available.
Luckily, there’s already a great mechanic built inside of TME for figuring out artifacts: The Hazard Table! It uses a percentage chance found by cross referencing a difficulty with a statistic rating. Ranking artifacts by difficulty (Class A being the easiest to figure out, and Class M would be used for the most complex artifacts available) and comparing it to the characters Intelligence or Perception would give a base percentile to figure out at least one element of the device. More complex items would have significantly more elements than simple devices.
Each attempt at trying to decipher one of the elements of each device should take anywhere from 1 hour to half a day, depending on the item and the GM’s goodwill. If a roll is successful, the next attempt will be at one category to the left, closer towards column A. A failure means the next roll would move one category to the right, closer to column N. To understand an artifact, a player would need at least one successful roll for each element.
The adventuring group, while scrabbling through the ruins, find a portable air conditioner. I’ve decided that the artifact difficulty level for this item is E4. I use this because the item has four basic elements that have to be understood: the air intake, the power switch, the cooling level, and the power cable. With an Intelligence rating of 30 (a bit on the high average side), the first roll has to be a 42 or less. The first roll turns out to be too high. The character is stumped for now, so turns her attention to a different part of the item. The next roll has to be a 32 or lower, which she luckily rolls. She’s figured out at least one of the parts… or at least has a general idea of what it may be for.
That’s one of the four required successes down. The next roll is back up to 42, and another lucky roll gets her a bit more information. She thinks she is beginning to understand what the item is for. The next roll goes up to category D, so she needs a 52. As she understands more, her chances get better. A good roll puts her at 3 out of 4, and her next roll goes to category C, which means she needs a 58. If she fails this roll, it goes back down to 52, and it’ll be the second failure. If she gets four failures before four successes, it means that at least for now she’s just not sure what this item is or what it’s used for. When she levels up, or if her Intelligence rating changes, she can try again.
Of course, all of this depends on one thing. The GM has to know or be able to make it up on the fly, what the difficulty level and number of successes required for any random item found in the rubble. That’s a big part, and it won’t be easy, but don’t worry if your judgement is a bit off here or there. It’s all just for fun anyway, right?