Monday, November 14, 2005

Post Fudge

Ever get that feeling where nothing is going right and the only way things could get thing worse would be for there to be an apocalypse? Well, guess what? It's here - Fudge style. The world as you know it is gone, replaced with the shattered husk of it's former glory. The things you loved now compose the myths and fantasies of men. Electronics and chemical combustion are gone and the cities are uninhabitable or missing all together. The apocalypse has come. Are you ready for it?

"And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death..." -- Revelations 6:8

Introduction

The basic premise of a post-apocalyptic (here on PA) game is that civilization as we know it has fallen and the world is in chaos. Back in the 80's there seemed to be a good deal of PA roleplaying games (such as Gamma World) and movies (such as Mad Max). It was probably the scare of the Cold War and all those nuclear missiles that the Americans and Russians were building. The genre's popularity has decreased since then, and may not be for everyone, yet it still presents a game with many fun and interesting (and perhaps dark) adventures.

Tone of the Game

Post-apocalyptic games come in many shapes and sizes. In one commercial game the PCs are cute, mutated animals fighting an oppressive human nation. In another the PCs are hard-core military types trying to survive in the aftermath of WWIII. If the players come expecting a dark, violent world, and the GM presents them furry, lovable mutants, the players may be disappointed. The tone of the game decides much of how the game is conducted and should be addressed when designing a PA campaign (or any campaign for that matter). Often the tone is linked to the degree of realism.

On one extreme is a world similar to our own, but only with some details missing, many of which are superficial. The threat of extinction is largely missing from this type of game. PCs realize the world has changed, but don't feel the immediate threat to the remaining civilization. On the other extreme is a world where survival is an almost daily battle. Finding find food and water could be an imperative task. Terrible, violent actions are likely an everyday encounter in this predominantly anarchist world. PCs are often running and scared. Actually roleplaying the true horror of the apocalypse is not likely to be a fun game, so a happy medium between the two styles is likely.

How did it happen?

Perhaps the next subject to address when designing a post-apocalyptic world is: How did it happen? This has a great effect on what is left in the world and may effect how the story develops. For instance, in a world ruined by nukes, many areas may be uninhabitable. While a nuclear war is the typical method of destruction, other ways can make for an more interesting "not-traditional" game. The actual method of the destruction may or may not be of immediate concern for the players (they just know destruction happened), but it does help the GM define the world. Below are some sample ideas of how it all started.

Nuclear War

The old standby. In an alternative timeline the Russkies and US duked it out. Or terrorists were able to get some missiles and start WWIII. The effect is mass destruction of life, property, and land. Radiation can also linger for years in bombed areas. In a more fanciful game, the radiation could lead to mutations of all sorts.

World War

A variant of the nuclear war. Worldwide war occurs and destruction is rampant, but without the deadly use of nuclear weapons. The United States is invaded by China leaving the government in shambles. Or civil war erupts in the aftermath of the world war and the PCs' country is torn into several smaller countries.

Biological Disaster

A new plague has hit humanity, whether by design or accident. Mass human life loss occurred, but material goods were basically left intact. Perhaps the PCs have immunity to the new disease.

Ecological Disaster

Pollution is left unchecked, until finally humans are driven almost to destruction. Humans are forced to build protective cities from the deadly chemicals in the environment. Or global warming slowly kills off a large portion of the world's plants, which cuts off the supply of oxygen, which kills off a large portion of the animals. One possibility is to run the game many years after the pollution when life is starting to rebuild.

Alien Invasion

Alien forces invaded Earth. An all-out war occurred, leaving many dead and much of the world in ruins. Maybe the alien forces only came for resources and then left. Or perhaps they have established a colony on earth and still have task masters running the planet. They may have brought technology with them that the PCs could have access to. One popular roleplaying game uses the premise that dimensional-traveling creatures have caused the holocaust.

Technology Gone Awry

A particular technology was developed, but eventually turned on humanity. A robotic army as in Terminator is a good example of this. Another example is the nano threat. Nanobots became self-replicating and in the process ate at many of the world's resources, creating similar situations as the 'Ecological Disaster' category.

Apathy and Decay

People became apathetic and lazy, eventually forgetting how to manage the technologies they designed. Maybe television left the masses in a state of contentment and general indifference. With constant entertainment, why progress?

Other ideas

There are many other ways that the fall could have happened- too many to list. A few include economic disaster, energy resource loss, or natural disaster (i.e. earthquakes).

Technology

Loss of technology will likely play a big part of your game. People may have turned to simple tools to survive. Animal-driven farming may be the norm. On the other hand, remnants of technology may still exist as some still know the 'forbidden' arts or have access to gun powder or combustion engines. Finding lost wonders is a popular adventure in a PA world. Keeping track of the available technology is important since it distinguishes a PA game from other games. The technology is there or was once there, but must be rediscovered or forgotten.

One idea is to come up with a simple tech level rating, perhaps between 1 and 6, with 1 being the Stone Age and 6 a futuristic world with laser weapons and the like. This helps distinguish parts of the world from each other. Illiterate nomadic tribes that hunt with spears may be at tech level 1, while those living in the lost city of Denver with their bicycle factory may be tech level 4.

For some this may be too much work and not needed. If everyone has the same general technology level, then there is no need to distinguish technology levels. If the PCs don't venture outside their own tribal lands, then there's no need to establish that a neighboring community has a refinery to make gasoline. In any case, knowing what is and isn't available helps shape the GM's and PCs' perception of the world and certainly adds flavor to the game.

Skills

Skills are the basis for just about every game and are useful to distinguish characters from each other. In a fallen world, certain skills may be more useful than others. Knowledge of astrophysics may be interesting, but finding fishing ability could be more vital. There may not even be anyone to teach astrophysics. Many skills from a modern setting could be available, but the GM may feel the need to limit available skills or develop new ones. For example, new skills such as History or Use Unknown Device may be very important to the campaign.

Without the benefits of mass education, learning could be seriously hindered. Lack of free time could also be a problem; if the day is filled with farming chores, time to study is limited. One way to handle the educational loss in a PA world is to increase the difficulty to learn certain skills. Taking the Reading skill may take twice as many points/slots as a Brawling skill. Or in Fudge terms, the Reading skill may be Hard, while Brawling may be Easy. Another way to model the decreased time available for learning is to decrease the number of available skills. For example, instead of a Five Point Fudge game, give the characters four or three points.

Character Types

Below is a list of sample character types. The great thing about Fudge is that anything can go, so imagination is the only limit.

  • Mutant -- your newfound abilities have led to being hunted by others.
  • Lawman -- one of the few still trying to keep a sense of order in the community.
  • Mechanic -- you fix whatever is left that you can find.
  • Explorer -- the unknown world beckons you.
  • Escaped Slave - you survive by laying low and avoiding trouble.
  • Ex-Gladiator -- a physical giant once forced to fight.
  • Scientist -- your hope is to bring back the forgotten knowledge.

Adventure Ideas

Many of the basic plots/ideas for a typical roleplaying game could be incorporated into a PA scenario. Again, imagination is the only limit here.

Sample Plots

  • PCs are sent to explore an area with rumored treasures.
  • People in the community are disappearing. Mutants are behind the kidnappings.
  • A gang of thugs has declared war on the PCs' tribe.
  • Slavers are moving into the territory and the PCs are asked to stop them.
  • A hostile nation has found new energy source and must be stopped from using it.
  • Rumors exist of a utopian society and the PCs are trying to find it.

Twists and Turns

While the typical PA storyline pertains to a future Earth, there are many other ways to incorporate the PA ideas discussed into a game. Probably the simplest idea is to base the game on another world than Earth. Maybe the PCs are space-faring nomads and become trapped on a destroyed planet, either temporarily or permanently.

PA fantasy is variation. Rather than science being the driving force for the destruction, magic may have led to the downfall. The Fifth Age of your favorite fantasy world could be the fall of that world. An Earth-based game with magic causing the annihilation would present an interesting variation. Another idea that could be fairly easily incorporated into an existing game is a selective apocalypse. Maybe only certain parts of the world have been destroyed, while others are left more or less intact. The PCs may travel to these shattered parts and have some adventures there.

Conclusions

The suggestions here have provided a framework for setting up a PA game. There are still questions to answer, but filling in all the details is beyond the scope of this article. So what's the next step? Go watch your favorite PA movie, call your friends over, and then start Fudging it.

Resources

  • Gamma World (RPG)
  • Darwin's World (RPG)
  • Twilight 2000 (RPG)
  • After the Bomb (RPG)
  • Rifts (RPG)
  • Red Dawn (movie)
  • Mad Max, et al (movie)
  • Post-Apocalyptic at Wikipedia