Weaponizers, After Man and Fallout 3… I’ve been in a post-apocalyptic orgy of destruction for the last while. Mutants, scrounged hardware, custom vehicles and weapons, damaged military cyborgs, the mix of high tech and low culture.
Adventures in post-apocalyptic settings remain one of my favourite “dream games” that rarely actually play out as well around the table as they do in my head.
Right now, however, I’m running a gritty Gamma World game that has most of what I want from the genre, and my players are playing along pretty well. But don’t let my love of Gamma World distract you, there are a lot of options for post-apocalyptic games right now – and here are my top 5 picks (aside from Gamma World)
Twilight: 2000 (GDW)
This is, in my opinion, the post-apocalyptic miltitary simulation. Especially in the first edition this is a game about taking a small team of surviving US (and allied) soldiers stuck behind enemy lines in the last days of World War III and trying to figure out how to survive, and when that is working, what to do next. The game is the essential sandbox setting – here’s a map of Poland, here’s where a bunch of the major Warsaw Pact forces are, what do you do? The game doesn’t assume the players are going to keep up the good fight or even “do the right thing”. They may set themselves up as warlords, marauders, guerrilla fighters, or just keep on keeping on, trying to find their way home. Game play is fairly simple with a combat system that feels detailed while still playing through fairly quickly for it’s age. The first edition is almost a book-keeping game, but I love it nonetheless.
Living Steel (Leading Edge Games)
A first look at this game and it seems like another military sim (quite understandable since it shares a system with the incredibly detailed Phoenix Command). However this is a game about rebuilding a whole planet after an apocalyptic alien invasion gone wrong. The aliens “won”, but have been stranded and lost and underequipped and now the players arrive as the last remnants of an older human civilization with the chance to start again without the mistakes of the heavily caste-based system of the Empire. The game assumes that players will have more than one character each – one combat character who wears power armor and handles frontline combat (the Living Steel), and one or two characters who will operate as the rebuilding / recivilizing team. The first adventure for the game, KViSR ROCKS is an awesome post-apocalyptic urban adventure that makes the whole game worth learning in all it’s intricate details.
octaNe (Momento Mori Theatrics)
At the other end of the scale from Living Steel, octaNe uses a very dramatic system based on exciting game play and plot instead of simulationist rules. If anything, this was my first exposure to “narrative” gaming – if you roll well, you get to describe the results of the action, if you suck the GM gets to describe the results. octaNe, like many post-apocalyptic games, is very tongue-in-cheek, or just plain cheeky. This game is set in the American West after the apocalypse, with emphasis on hotrods, elvis, bad-guys with mohawks and mad max on cocaine. It’s about the genre schticks and to hell with the rest. Have I mentioned that you should be playing more Jared Sorensen games?
Dark Sun (TSR)
Not all post-apocalyptic settings have to be science fiction. Dark Sun was one of the hottest second edition Dungeons & Dragons settings released. After magic has shredded the ecosystem of the world and society has collapsed, the dragon-kings have forged a new civilization based around a variety of city-states throughout the post-apocalyptic deserts. Wizards are distrusted, hated or even slain on sight; the “best” clerics are granted spells from the dragon kings (tyrants of the cities) instead of gods; arcane magic destroys all plant life when cast; and the halflings are cannibals. This is D&D, but not like it was played back in the dungeons.
After the Bomb (Palladium)
One thing this list is lacking that Gamma World gives in spades is mutants. After the bomb covers this angle with room to spare – while avoiding the bizarre mutations that make Gamma World somewhat difficult to take seriously. After the bomb is the post-apocalyptic setting from the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG, now re-done as a full game of it’s own. This is a world where just about everyone is a walking, talking, mutated animal. From ferrets with custom hot rods to aligator badlands barbarians, this game has them all. Character creation tends to be long (as this is a Rifts-era game with many of hte physical skills in turn modifying the character’s physical stats), but you are given a fair amount of leeway in designing your mutant animal after rolling up the base stock from a variety of tables – each mutant species having access to specific powers unique to it using a point-based system of Bio-Energy to “pay” for the mutations. The game system itself works well, although characters tend to have a lot of SDC, thus making them pretty resistant to damage.
But wait! There’s more!
A big fan of Gamma World too? Then check these babies out!
Omega World (WotC)
Take Gamma World, drop any chance of a serious game, add the d20 system, have Jonathan Tweet write it as a mini-game, and publish it in Polyhedron. This is the most extreme of the Wild and Wahoo theme of Gamma World. This is beer and pretzels roleplaying after the end of the world. Let’s hope the giant mutant ladybugs don’t eat you! Probably the cleanest and smoothest d20 minigame out there. And a worthy inheritor of the Gamma World title.
Mutant Future (Goblinoid Games)
An offshoot of the retro clone movement. Take Moldvay Basic and make it feel like classic Gamma World with mutations and robots and all that goodness. Mutant Future is even more compatible with D&D than Gamma World was, and play is rock-solid. Definitely worth checking out. And you can download it for free from the Goblinoid Games website!
Darwin’s World (RPGObjects)
This is really the d20 inheritor of all things Gamma World. I have multiple editions, but the huge hardcover second edition is one of my favourite d20 games. It is the serious side of Gamma World (the opposite of Omega World), crafted with love and attention. As you read through the various editions it is obvious that this game is both a labour of love, and a truly powerful game of post-apocalyptic survival.
What are your favourite post-apocalyptic adventures?