I’ve been running post-apocalypse campaigns since the 1980s, using a wide variety of game systems. Why so much love for these games, when he idea of the world undergoing a cataclysm that wipes out most of humanity is so utterly horrifying?
I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. But there is something compelling about imagining yourself trying to survive and find hope in a world at once familiar and radically different from our own.
Many post-apocalypse games have made their mark on the RPG world. Powered-armor-wearing-mutated-jackrabbit heroic explorers represents one pole, and count-your-shotgun-shells Mad Max-style survival represents another. But some of the most interesting and unique post-apocalypse games are those that put a whole new spin on the genre. Read more
You can find hundreds of podcasts covering all manner of tabletop RPG subjects, from how to optimize a Pathfinder character to storygame actual plays. But some of my favorite RPG inspiration comes from what I call RPG-adjacent podcasts.
Some of them touch on RPGs directly from time to time, but mostly I enjoy them because they help me see the world a bit differently, which is always helpful for a game master. I also get some of my best GM ideas by piecing together bits and pieces from these shows. Read more
A good game master welcomes the challenges that come with the role. A really good game master can even make money at it. Then there are game masters whose impact transcends the game entirely. This Three for Thursday examines game mastering as a craft, a vocation, and as a means of lifting spirits. Read more
Welcome to Three for Thursday!
Today we’ll take a look at the hobby’s flagship game through three different lenses.
Talk to enough Dungeons & Dragons players and you’ll realize that no one group plays it the same way. These stories explore playing the game under three very different sets of circumstances. Discover what it’s like to be someone else, at another table, playing a kind of D&D that may (or may not) differ from your own. Read more
The 100 is a post-apocalyptic TV show with an intriguing premise: Survivors of a global nuclear apocalypse have stayed alive in a space station for generations. They believe the planet below them to be uninhabitable until they send group of 100 juvenile delinquents to ground, who discover that they’re not alone.
The 100 invites criticism. Somehow humans stayed alive in space for generations without any muscle degradation or loss of bone mass. Finicky technology keeps working for decades without fail. Almost everyone is hawt. You get the idea.
But it’s also a show that provides lessons for running a campaign in a setting where scarcity pushes factions and individuals into repeated conflict. Five seasons in, here are a few of the things about the show that fascinate and inspire me as a GM: Read more
The other day I came across a post in which a tabletop RPG beginner was seriously stressed out about finding the right game. He had obviously read more than a few “this game is broken” comments and didn’t want to accidentally pick a “broken” game when introducing the concept of tabletop roleplaying to some classmates. His concern highlights a problem that pervades online discussion of tabletop RPGs, which is that we tend to confuse our quest for the ever-elusive “perfect” game with how people actually play games in the wild. Read more
I Am On a Curiosity Voyage
Wizards of the Coast (WotC) released the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons on a rolling schedule in 2014, starting with the beginner boxed set in June and culminating with the the Dungeon Master’s Guide in December. In the four and a half years since then 5th Edition has obviously put Dungeons & Dragons back at the top of tabletop roleplaying sales. It’s undoubtedly selling well, but how well?
I wanted to dig into this question a bit to satisfy my own curiosity. Note that I’m not an industry insider, and I only had access to publicly-available information. That said, I have wherever possible avoided anecdotal evidence in favor of hard numbers. Please also note that this is not an examination of the subjective qualities of the game itself. Whether 5th Edition D&D’s rules are wonderful or terrible in relation to its forbears is a question outside the scope of this inquiry. Read more
Today my barber told me the story of how he and his wife traveled across the country back in 1969. He recounted every city they went to, in sequence. He told me the names of the hotels they stayed in, and what specific part on their VW bus needed replacing when they swung up to Montreal.
I’ve been a steady client for years, and the precision of his memory astounds me. I can’t remember what I did last Friday, and he can recall what day of the week it was when he watched the moon landing on TV. His powers of recall are mind-boggling .
Degenesis: Rebirth is a visually astounding, sumptuous, two-volume, 704-page passion project — a richly-layered, horrific, intrigue-riddled, techno-mystical post-apocalypse Earth that feels like it was discovered rather than created. This is truly a game for players who enjoy being immersed in a deep, artfully-revealed setting. If you are looking for flashy system innovation you’ll have to look elsewhere, but the straightforward KatharSys mechanics incorporate some clever touches and are well-suited to the tone of the game. Read on for more details.
I’ve run several post-apocalypse campaigns over the years, using a variety of game systems:
- Gamma World — gonzo mutant jackrabbits and all
- Aftermath! — 20 years after a nuclear war, using my hometown as a setting
- Twilight: 2000 — the default WWIII-is-petering-out setting
- Basic Roleplaying — zombies take over America in multi-generational campaign
- Apocalypse World — small, isolated enclaves eke out a living, avoiding poisoned skies and other enclaves
- NEMESIS — WWIII-has-just-ended journey across the remains of America
- Mutant: Year Zero —the NEMESIS campaign extended forward by three generations
Along the way I’ve learned a few things about post-apocalypse settings and running campaigns in them. Much of that education has come the hard way, through trial and error, and I’m certainly still learning. As with any GM advice, your game is your game, and some or all of this may not make sense for you and your campaign. So take it as food for thought. With that in mind, whether you’re already game mastering a post-apocalypse campaign or are in the planning stages hopefully some of these suggestions will be helpful. Read more