In the most recent Digital & Dice Podcast, we went over various apocalyptic topics. The discussion mostly focused on potential causes of apocalypse, what life might be like after, and how this all ties in to create a campaign setting. While this provides a wonderful primer as to what to consider when planning for a setting that takes place in the apocalypse, we can go further if we want to talk about the plot of the campaign that would take place in such a setting.
The most obvious sort of goal for anyone in the apocalypse is survival. When the world falls apart, just getting by day-to-day is going to be the biggest issue. If the GM is so inclined, this can be the premise of the whole campaign. There may not be any giant dragons to fight or cities to save, but the struggle for stable food and shelter can still make for an interesting narrative, especially for groups that favor a more gritty style of game. This sort of idea lends itself particularly well to a sandbox type game, where there simply is no larger plot beyond the daily struggle for bread, water, and bullets.
But a pure-survival narrative can work in a more structured game as well. Perhaps, one or more of your players have some sort of terminal disease that needs to be cured, and they have heard rumors of a cure existing in an old-world facility somewhere. Cue the journey to this location and trying to hunt down the medicine in question, which may or may not have been looted already, if it even existed at all. In this way, the very survival of the players depends on their seeking out this cure. This works especially well in post-apocalyptic settings where the world may have been devastated by some pandemic or plague, though this works just as easily with radiation sickness or even a magical curse in more fantastical settings.
We could also extrapolate the idea of survival to something beyond the self. Namely, the survival of entire organizations or towns. The “Fallout” game series is pretty much always about this. As Preston Garvey is always so fond of reminding us, another settlement always needs our help. A simple plot that could develop in a post-apocalyptic setting could be to ensure that a particular location or group of people survives and thrives. If a fledgling town falls under attack by raiders, or finds that their water supply has dried up, a group of brave heroes might be called on to solve the problem and save the day. As people band together in the apocalypse trying to rebuild civilization in some form, this is bound to happen.
This plot structure has the added benefit of getting the players attached to the location and the people they are trying to help. Through their efforts, they can make sure that the really cool bartender survives the zombies horde the shambles into town one day, or make sure the sweet little child doesn’t go hungry this week. The players get to see the results of their actions rather than simply hear about it. And they’ll grow to love the little town that they saved from the brink of destruction and shaped into a budding metropolis.
Another potential plotline is to reverse the apocalypse. While the apocalypse may not always be something that can be reversed, in some instances this may be possible. One interesting idea is to have the apocalypse occur partway through a regular campaign. The party will have known what life was like before, and they see this gradual apocalypse rapidly taking shape. They are aware that the lich has raised undead in the southern half of the country and that the undead army has blighted the countryside and will sweep into the capital within a few days. Given the rate at which the total devastation is occurring, the world is doomed within the week. There’s no way to stop the loss of life and land that has already occurred, but maybe with a little luck they can kill the lich and prevent a total collapse.
One variation on this idea is that maybe the cause of the apocalypse can be put “back in the box.” I think this has a lot of potential for a demonic invasion or Cthulhu End Times scenario, where the players might undertake some great ritual to send the horrific demonic or otherworldy things back from whence they came. Naturally, this would require learning how to cast the spell, gathering all of the components, being at the right place at the right time, and overcoming those who might wish to prevent the players from doing this. In short, you have all of the makings of a campaign.
These are just a few ideas as to what a campaign might entail in a post-apocalyptic setting. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and certain plotlines are better served in association with particular apocalypse causes. As our Podcast mentioned, the cause of the apocalypse is always a great place to start when thinking about a post-apocalyptic setting. Decide on that, and then you should be able to figure out how to deal with events after the end.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For those who are interested in reading further, I suggest checking out the article “The World is Dead” on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.