Our most recent episode 'Defining your setting for Post Apocalyptic Roleplaying' (releasing on Monday if you missed the live show) was a blast. See what i did there, I did a pun, Brian would be proud. The end of the world has fairly consistently produced some of the best fiction, movies and games I've enjoyed. Whether its the slow moving end of the world found with The Walking Dead or any of the Romero movies or its the immediacy of something like the a Nuclear conflict i.e. Fallout the end of days and what comes after provide some of the richest opportunities for telling stories large and small.
In the episode we discuss a few of the most important questions we think you should ask yourself as you establish your setting and I'm going to go over them again here on the blog. Before we get too far in let me say this, my bias is going to be towards a modern or near modern real world setting, relatively close to the event, probably involving some type of conflict and with a dose of gritty semi-realism thrown in. So that's what we'll tackle this time. My interests lie in Horror, and that means the horror of an existence in a world ending as well. I'm not necessarily good at this and it may be that i'm just going to be repeating things I said in the episode... but here we go. Follow me now on a rambling journey that will probably lead no where, and will most likely be a series.
HOW did your world end?
The apocalypse has many faces. Was it economic? Did a Trade based conflict escalate to the point of collapsing your world's financial infrastructure? No? Maybe it was Environmental. Did the civilizations of the world you're creating use up resources, pollute and manipulate the environment? Did the weather become so unpredictable and intense that infrastructure collapsed? Not doing it for you? Maybe it was a good old fashioned war. Either the lasting, almost tidal flow of a global conflict or the nuclear variety. If none of these did it for you, how about something supernatural or science based? Good old fashion zombies or some type of ever evolving and seemingly indestructible robots. Oh oh! Maybe the grey goo! Self-replicating nano-bots with no guidance on when to stop breaking things down and replicating. Even the rapture or traditional apocalypse!
Answering this first question is your first step towards making something great. Mix and match to awesome effect. Maybe the world in which you are setting your campaign is close to the modern day, and everything about trade and society is based off of the reliance on a swiftly flowing and constant logistical system. Maybe that collapses, money becomes devalued in the ensuing chaos and in a bid to gain control various factions and governments decide to get a bit of the old despotism going. Maybe locked up in a lab somewhere was your equivalent to the zombie virus and it seemed like a good option to 'reboot' the system as it were if such a thing were to be released.
If it's nuclear war you fancy, maybe your world's friendly super powers decided to extend a global conflict into a nice end of days phase. Planting giant mushrooms of the fiery and destructive variety all over your metropolises and bucolic countrysides. Perhaps this leads to a late rapture or early nirvana to which your party was not invited. As various folk of faith shuffle off to meet their own versions of the 'end of days' it isn't just the ensuing nuclear winter that is threatening to come on strong, nor the radiation and raiders, but demons too! How exciting that could be for your somewhat unsuspecting band of misfits!
The How's addressed, lets talk about the WHEN. Depending on how well this is received I might write again on the different when's to consider. This time i'll focus on the Now/Recent.
Deciding the When is going to open up all sorts of fun things for you to throw at your friends. If its' recent, think about all the things you take for granted. Food, Clean water, medicine, electricity, transportation, convenience. All gone. Bye Bye. No more Amazon, No more grocery store, no more 7-11 or Jack in the Box or Game-Stop (Thank your gods as they'd probably rip you off anyway. Offering to take on all of your unused gear while devaluing it about 300%...like maybe half a can of questionable beans). Think about all those things you probably don't know how to do that well, if at all. Be honest with yourself. When was the last time you tended a vegetable garden or grew potatoes? Do you hunt? Fish? You can probably change the tires and the oil on your car, but could you reasonably repair something if it broke? A timing belt or any number of those hoses and components under the hood. Done any electrical work? Carpentry? Plumbing? How about first aid? Plenty of people probably said some type of yes to those questions. A few of you might be thinking about taking a class or two, picking up a book or asking a friend to run you through a thing. That's fine. It doesn't make you in any way inferior to anyone else and its a great mindset to have when building your NPCs and the world itself. Value has a different meaning in the world you'll be playing in. People with skills have a different type of standing as well. Think about these things as establishing new professions. For example: Mike is a car guy, was always good with his hands and loved to tinker. Mike is infinitely more valuable in a world without services than Fred, because Fred was an office drone. His hobby was Netflix because when he got home his brain was sludge. He lived for the weekend when he could hit the bars and try to forget about the upcoming Monday. Mike became the go to member of a community of survivors as the fixer of things because Mike knew (somewhat) what he was doing. Fred watches the walls and does what he can. Both earn their keep but Mike probably has more of a voice in any decisions made.
Food takes time to grow, so you'll be talking about ever dwindling resources and where to find them. The places the grocery stores and restaurants get their food from (distribution centers) will be somewhat overlooked, but stores themselves will be picked clean in good order. Medicine becomes nearly invaluable. Not just antibiotics but other things people need to live like inhalers, insulin, and epinephrine pens. Allergy medications, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics all the things! No one will be making them anymore. Medical labs and distributors are probably better off than pharmacies and hospitals for scavenging... but then you run in to the issue of a lack of refrigeration in some cases. Power generation and delivery are also probably gone or exceedingly limited. These are great opportunities for you to give your party purpose. Find those supplies of food and medicine. Negotiate and deal with the threats and groups that they encounter.
Something else to keep in mind for the NOW time frame is this; Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) sounds scary as hell, but in all reality its just not that likely. Limited nuclear engagement is a more likely scenario. first strikes and retaliatory strikes designed to achieve strategic and tactical goals, not end the world. Meaning that though losses were most likely very heavy and the world as we know it is over, the war is still on. If you'd like something to reference do some research in to the European Theater in the cold war. Some of the plans drawn-up and likely scenarios considered thought of nuclear weapons as a means of battlefield manipulation and application. For example the many thoughts put into destroying the tide of Russian tanks coming through the Fulda Gap with atomic mortars, Davy Crockett and my personal favorite the nuclear backpack or (SADM) were to be used in a constantly moving conflict. Think about that a moment. An unlucky dude in the sixties had to have one of those strapped to his back knowing that he would not be able to escape the blast area prior to detonation while facing down Russian armor with a small group of his inadequately equipped battle buddies. I'd hate to be that guy. And I'm willing to bet your players would too! Use the continuing conflict of your world as a means of providing obstacles and pressuring movement in the story itself because those tiny fiery mushrooms and tanks keep on getting closer. Think of all of those super cinematic descriptions you can make to drive everything home!
I'm going to stop here for now and pick this up again in the next few days. In the meantime, if you've read this let me know what you're thoughts are. Not just on this piece, but on the topics here in. Did i get something wrong? let me know! Want me to spout my opinion on something specific? Also let me know! either on Twitter (@Jthuluphoto) ,on our discord or in the comments on this very post.