[Campaign Design] Planning the Apocalypse

Posted: January 13, 2014 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Campaign Design, Degenesis, Roleplaying Games, Savage Worlds

After giving it some thought over the weekend and talking it over with Silver Countess and Hikkikomori, I’ve been looking at the idea of running a post-apocalypse game as an option.

I’ve mentioned earlier that I’ve been on a Fallout binge, so the idea of Post-Apocalypse gaming is on top of mind as of late. However, this is a fairly new genre for me to actually run, and there’s a lot of thinking required in terms of running a game set in this genre.

I need to start hammering out the specifics of the setting if I want to come up with a campaign starting with the basics:

What was the Apocalypse?

Seems like a fairly simple question. There’s a whole lot of different Post-Apocalypse scenarios out there: Disease, Nuclear War, zombies, Economic Collapse, Climate Change, solar Flares. The big problem is picking one and extrapolating from there.

I’m a fan of Fallout, but I’m not sure I want to use that setting. For one thing, it’s easy enough to metagame for those familiar with the setting, and those who don’t are left in the dark.

That leaves us with having to put a setting together from scratch. Thankfully other movies and games have given their ideas for the apocalypse, and I’m honestly tempted to take a page from Tom Clancy’s: The Division and go for a Disease that leads to societal collapse without leaving too many ruins. The downside to that is that it’s technically a “soft” apocalypse, and given enough years after, mankind will right itself again.

The advantage of doomsday scenarios like Climate Change and Nuclear Wasteland on the other hand has long-lasting effects that could very well do a harsher reboot on society, leaving mankind to work his way up the Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs again.

Tech Levels

Some post-apocalypse settings assume that the apocalypse happened when humanity was a little more technologically advanced. This means that the technology that could be salvaged in the post-apocalypse was somewhat more futuristic than what we have right now. From power armor to lasers, these could be barely functioning to brand new and hidden away in caches around the world.

How has the world changed?

Aside from the human factor, which we’ll get to later, the other question is to work with what else has changed given the shift in the environment. Darwin’s theory of evolution would imply that only those best suited for, or able to adapt to the new harsh conditions would thrive, leaving strange new creatures, or evolved forms of wildlife that could do well in the wasteland. Mankind could be affected as well. Mild to moderate mutations could be a normal state for humanity.

Where does this take place?

This is the tough part for me. I’m not that keen on locations so I’m bound to make a lot of mistakes here. That said I could just cheat and run it set in a post-apocalypse Manila.

How far has society recovered?

This is the fun part. With the loss of modern society, the world is now goverened in smaller groups of humanity. Raiders, cities, towns and farming commmunities come out of nowhere. I’ll have to work on it, but I think there’s something there.

Where do the characters come in?

Unlike most settings the player characters in Post Apocalypse games tend to not be movers and shakers. With everyone focused on surviving from day to day, it’s good enough to live long enough to have a roof over your head and food to last you till tomorrow. I’m hoping to change that though as I’ve always been a little more optimistic than I give myself credit for.

So what now?

Now I have to start making decisions and lock down on the setting. I normally go for more social games, so having a post-apocalypse game will be challenging as we’re going back to basics. Hopefully it won’t devolve to a re-skinned D&D with guns and dirt.

Research Material

Right now I’m going through all the post apocalypse settings I’ve got in my library including:

  • Degenesis
  • Wreck Age
  • Atomic Highway
  • Other Dust
  • Hell on Earth Reloaded!

Any other recommendations?

  1. dbro36 says:

    Yes, I do have a recommendation, actually. I don’t have the book myself but have heard good things about it. Stalker! The setting is a bit different from what you’ve described, but I personally think it’s great. I’ve actually played the PC game S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and while slightly different from the RPG (which is based off of the book (Roadside Picnic) more than the game is), the setting is just… amazing.

    You can find the book for free online, it’s originally a Russian novel. There’s also a really old movie (also called Stalker) which is a cult classic, though a bit too old school for me.

    You should give it a looksee, to see if you like it. Oh and the system is diceless.

  2. Lofwyr says:

    Another recommendation:

    Apocalypse World: http://apocalypse-world.com/

    Even if you don’t want to actually run it, it provides tons of good information on how to run a post-apoc game and how to design the adversaries and/or player characters.

    As a “supernatural-all-purpose-gift-shop” I allways recommend Rifts and Rifts Chaos Earth. Just don’t use their rules.

    On the book side of things:
    – Metro 2033
    – Stalker
    – Word War Z
    – The Dark Tower
    – The Stand
    are great inspirations.

  3. k1r1el says:

    Hmm… Post-Apocalyptic RPGs… My only experience is Twilight 2013, set after a “Nuclear World War III” and well… it is very heavy on the math. IIRC it covers a lot of things like carrying capacity, health, starvation, aside form skills, weapons, etc.

    Of course, there’s the WoD to fall back into.

  4. dither001 says:

    Love me some PA fiction. If you haven’t already, check out Escape from New York. Also, 28 Days Later, Doomsday, and the Resident Evil films are all disease-related apocalypse films.

    Lots of gorn, of course — 2/3 are zombie apocalypse films. If you haven’t seen them, I would also recommend the classic Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Go ahead and skip the original Mad Max, it’s pretty boring. Not sure about Steel Dawn though.


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