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
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
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
Thinking About the Unthinkable
If a biological armageddon hits the United States, how do vaccines reach Americans quickly? In the event of a nuclear war, who gets the word out about who is in charge and what laws are being enacted?
If you’re planning backstory for a post-apocalypse campaign, these little details can add to the verisimilitude you’re trying to invoke. They’re even more useful if you’re planning a near-future apocalypse-in-progress campaign. For example, when the zombies take over, where’s the President of the United States hiding out? As the GM it’d be good to know, right? Read more
Maybe it was a zombie apocalypse. Perhaps an alien plague wiped out civilization. Or it something we engineered ourselves. Regardless, most of humanity is destroyed.
What happens to the buildings, bridges, and dams when we’re not there to look after them? How long will concrete and steel resist armies of vines and rust? Which animals will rule over the ruins we once called home?
And when humanity rises from the ashes, how will it climb slowly back up the technology ladder? What will humans need to know to protect themselves, grow crops, and reconquer nature? Where will we settle, and what hard-won knowledge will we recover first? Read more
Wreck Age is a post-apocalypse roleplaying game built around a miniatures skirmish combat system. The rules focus on the group rather than the individual, and resource management drives campaign play. The result is a refreshingly different post-apocalypse game.
2018-02-09: Note that this is a review of the 1st edition of the game. The 2nd edition has just been released.