Dark Sun, Dungeons & Dragons, Gamma World, Lists, Living Steel, Mutant Future, octaNe, Omega World, Post Apocalyptic, RPG, TMNT, Twilight: 2000
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?
Aftermath ftw. Seriously. Love that game.
Extremely difficult to find a hard copy of it though. I’ve only managed to get my grubby paws on a campaign book for it.
I put Aftermath! on my top 5 FGU classics list, but the current Aftermath! campaign I’m playing in has reminded me how I’m not really a fan of the mechanics – especially for combat.
It might be the programmer in me showing, but the mechanics haven’t really thrown a wrench in my enjoyment of the game.
Though I wouldn’t play it exclusively; it’s more of a break from the sometimes “over” simplification in other games.
Thanks for sharing, really a nice article and I think I’ll have a deeper look into a few of them.
Maybe noteworthy -> Dark Sun did not cease to exist as setting with 2nd edition. It just went kinda open source (or community source) and can be found at http://www.athas.org/
Markus / Lemming
The Last Rogue said:
Good Stuff. I have been really thinking hard about looking at some different RPGs and this helps widen that already wide field.
Oh, and DARK SUN ROCKS!
Paranoia for me, but yeah, not sure it should count 😉
For the truly hopeless, I’m getting into GURPS Reign of Steel.
And one I’ve always wanted to have up there is Price of Freedom (I think that’s the title, the West End Games RPG where the Russians have won).
I’ll try to check out your suggestions (the only ones I’ve experienced are Tw2000, gamma world and Dark Sun), but I’ve never REALLY found a true postapocalyptic game I’ve loved.
I don’t have the West End Games one, it was one I was interested in as a teen, but never picked up.
Paranoia is a game I love but it is so hard to get a group together who all understand the concept of the game and how it should be played, let alone who are willing to play it that way.
Oh and I’ve run GURPS Autoduel, which was a lot of fun. So maybe that’s the best it’s been for me.
Hey now! That’s one I missed completely. I thought of Car Wars when I was making the list, but since it really doesn’t qualify as much of an RPG according to most (being far more interested in tactical vehicular combat) I didn’t put it on the list. GURPS Autoduel was the Car Wars universe, but far more character-oriented.
Paranoia: I’ve had success with non-RPGers most of all! Understanding the concept is way above your clearance level, citizen.
Autoduel: I actually used Car Wars whenever the characters went to an arena (but not for highway combat).
If you can stomach d20, then you should definitely check out Darwins World. Its got the whole Fallout vibe going on, and that’s a very good thing.
I can stomach d20 in spades. And Darwin’s World was my number 1 runner-up for the top 5 list. Particularly the second edition massive hardcover based on the d20 modern rules set. An excellent game and definitely heads above the official d20 remake of Gamma World. Probably the hardest thing about top 5 lists is what I have to cut to make the list – I try to cover multiple themes and concepts. Darwin’s World is going on my next “5 games from the d20 bubble” list. Rock-solid game with a lot of Gamma World feel – I was going to mention it in the addendum about Gamma World like games and forgot in the end… Fixed now.
How did the Morrow Project get overlooked in this article?
The ICBM scatter/strike chart alone made this a great game!
The Morrow Project is certainly worthwhile. Car Wars/Autoduel is pretty good for all your Mad Max urges. Some editions of BattleTech end up pretty post-apocalypsy, along with some versions of Traveller (World-Tamers Handbook is excellent for this, by the by.)
tony dowler said:
I confess that Fallout 3 gave me the Post Apocalyptic bug as well. Car Wars is my game of choice. It’s weird how some people remember Car Wars as an RPG, and some as basically a board game. It’s sort of weirdly both.
Twilight 2000 has always been my favourite post-apoc setting but the new Alpha Omega game has kinda of caught my attention as well. Looking foreward to running that and getting the new Twilight 2013 game.
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Nice list. 🙂
May I suggest:
* Definitely missing The Morrow Project, as others have pointed out.
* Palladium’s The Mechanoids is also a post-invasion aftermath game, and much simpler to run than Living Steel (and clearly an influence on LS, as was The Morrow Project).
* Privateer Press’ Iron Kingdoms has semi-officially confessed to having it origins in Gamma World.
* ENOCH is a really groovy (& free) indie Post-Apocalypse game with clever adaptation of the Legions of Steel minis combat game + Alternity Gamma World (5th edition if you will).
Yeah, while I own the Morrow Project, I have never actually played it, so it didn’t make my list. It gets a lot of kudos from most of the same people who are into Aftermath! (including my aftermath group).
The Mechanoids was pretty cool, agreed, but I wouldn’t rank it higher than any of the ones I listed. Living Steel really lives by the strength of the first module published for it which was truly remarkable.
Never heard of ENOCH. I’ll go check it out. Thanks!
Fair enough. 🙂
Wasteworld is a very good post-apocalyptic RPG. You can order the books from Amazon, but there aren’t that many source books. Very customizable, fast and brutal play, one die required. I recommend it!
Thanks for bringing it up. I have a copy somewhere in my collection (probably in storage). Picked it up when it was new and was left with the gut feeling that it was somewhat incomplete and really needed to supplements to be “finished”. I’ll have to pull it out and read it again.
Decent list. I’d also recommend the fallout PnP game. Pretty decent game that is. http://falloutpnp.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page
Wow, a PA game I hadn’t heard of, octaNe. 🙂 Thanks.
Eli Reva said:
Cheers for the useful article. I had fun reading it. I always love looking at this blog.
I cannot believe anyone isn’t talking about Pinnacle’s HELL ON EARTH. This beautifully mixes the Deadlands weird west genre with the Post Apocalyptic, turning it into the Wasted West.
In it, not only is there a nuclear exchange, but the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse sweep outta hell and cut a swath across civilization. Mutants are called Doomsayers and have their own brand of magic. Junkers rebuild lost bits of technology with the help of a mysterious fuel called ghost rock. Sykers use psionics just like they did for their governments in the Faraway war. The Knights Templar have been reborn. Librarians know the value of information and strive to protect it in their data recorders.
All that plus whatever you can dream up at character creation. There are rules for Road Warriors, Cyborgs, Martial Artists, and more.
I personally CANNOT wait for the Savage Worlds edition of this brilliant saga. It is due to come out this year.
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Atomic Highway is very good
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tim h said:
I’d like to add Apocalypse World to this list, summarizing it as a crazy “indy” game, and “Morrow Project” which is as old school as it gets.
I’ll add my vote for the Morrow Project, and contribute the suggestion that you might want to check out the post-apocalyptic, high fantasy Desolation by Greymalkin Games, licensing the Ubiquity roleplaying system. In many ways it is like a fantasy version of Twilight 2000, with the apocalypse itself being recent, up close, and personal, but without the conceit of all the PCs being soldiers in a conflict gone too far.
I recently read The Mutant Epoch. It is an outstanding PA game. I did a review on my YouTube channel if you are interested.
Atomic Highway and desolation.Nuff said
No Dark Earth.
No Tribe 8.
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Atomic Highway is a must have. It’s a very cool game indeed. Very fast, fun and furious game mechanics (and no, it is not powered with Savage Worlds engine). 😉
AH is a light-rules, cinematic-oriented, fast-paced post-apocalyptic game with lots of options. It got everything needed in a PA RPG : scavenging rules. Dogfight rules. Car chase rules. Mutation rules.
Also, the game is very well written (IMHO) and designed for beginner GM, with lot of advices and explanations
Last but not least, the rulebook is now available for FREE (here: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?manufacturers_id=3009&products_id=70124&affiliate_id=10761)
Aftermath. Plays well, but the mix of rules suck. If you can get around the fact that different actions use different rules, the play is very good and has a more “realistic” feel that many other systems. Oh, and the rule organization leaves a lot to be desired. High learning curve but I would encourage you to stick with it.
Gotta go with Mutant Future. I got Basic D&D/LL down cold and it’s an easy transition for my players, Plus, I got all kinds of GW stuff I can mine for the campaign (I also recommend Tim Snider’s MutantAfterworld stuff – you can find most of it at DriveThruRPG or at his blog – http//:savageafterworld.blogspot.com)