I need your gamer knowledge!

Started by Marshall Burns, January 06, 2009, 08:11:43 PM

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Marshall Burns

Hey everyone, I need you to help me with some research.  I need to know about all the RPGs out there with post-apocalyptic themes, and I need to know as much about them as I can.

I need to know this because I have this idea, really for a publicity stunt, for the Rustbelt, where I'm gonna say that it's the "first post-apocalyptic roleplaying game ever."  I'm gonna qualify this by saying that I think that the whole postapocalypso genre is centered around the horrible things people have to do to get by in that environment (thus providing a metaphor for the horrible things that we do in real life to get by), which is what The Rustbelt is about, and that all other "post-apocalyptic" RPGs are really just action-adventure RPGs with RoadWarrior makeup.

But, I don't have enough data to know if that's actually true.  So, help me out!
Gimme titles so I can read up on 'em.  If you have the time and the energy, feel free to brief me on the games themselves, so I don't have to do as much reading.


Eero Tuovinen

Post-apocalyptic games are quite big in Finland, and Europe on general. It seems that there are many countries in which the games people are fond of are some combination of punk, destroyed society and grim realism. There are games in the bunch where it'd be horribly unfair to characterize the game as mere action adventure, even when they are not quite "about" the thing you identify as the core of the genre.

That being said, riddle me this: is Roadside Picnic a post-apocalyptic setting? The recent Finnish rpg Stalker certainly makes a big, big deal of the game being situated on the fringes and in the slums of normal society, which makes the game feel very post-apocalyptic even when the apocalypse in question only affected some 5% of Earth's population directly, while the rest continue with their lives without are care in the world.

Another riddle: is The Shadow of Yesterday a post-apocalyptic setting? The centerpiece of the setting is the conceit that a huge asteroid struck a fantasy world and shattered civilization. The game itself is set in the shattered remains of the world, but seems remarkably uplifting in that context - the message seems to be that destruction paves way for new things more than anything else.

Another Finnish title from the same designer as Stalker, Taiga (available in English, interestingly enough), gets perilously close to what you propose as the essence of postapocalypticism - it's clearly post-apocalyptic, what with devolved nomadic society, failed states all over the place and all that. Where you might find a flaw is in the focus of the game, as it's basically setting-based simulationism; the game has quite a lot of flavour centered around the horrible things you have to do, but it's presented as a fait accompli that the players experience, not any sort of creative challenge. The designer himself probably wouldn't pinpoint "horrible deeds" as the central idea of his game.

Apart from this sort of quibbling I can't name any post-apocalyptic games that had the sort of clear focus you require. But then, perhaps you might consider doing this publicity stunt of yours in a different way - why not publicize your claim in a slightly different form and put out a call for people to send you post-apocalyptic games? Promise them that everybody who sends you a post-apocalyptic game you don't already have gets Rustbelt in exchange as thanks for helping with your research. This way you can slip the notion of Rustbelt as the ultimate post-apocalyptic game in there naturally and without getting conceited about what is or isn't post-apocalyptic. Seems to me that making this sort of claim and trying to define the genre in the same sentence just opens the door for lots of arguments about what is or isn't post-apocalyptic.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Marshall Burns

Well, my basic plan was to cause a shitstorm in a well-populated forum somewhere, like RPGnet or something.  'Cause I've noticed shitstorms about games there, and you end up with very polarized folks biting at each other's necks (if I'm lucky I'd get one camp on my side), and then you get all the folks who are quietly reading the thing, and thinking for themselves, and they're the folks whose attention I'd like to get.

However, that Taiga seems to actually meet my criteria of postapocalypso (and I suspect this Stalker thing might also).  It's not necessarily that the game is all about "horrible deeds," it's that they are the starting point.  Whether they're thematic decision points or "just the way things are" is irrelevant to me.

And I gotta say that "send me a postapocalypso RPG, I'll send you Rustbelt" does have a certain appeal to it...


Well, there is Twilight: 2000/2013, which is post-apocalyptic, but no Road Warrior makeup. As I recall, it's basically "You're in the Army now! There is no Army anymore. YOU are the Army. Shit."

Now where's my free Rustbelt?!
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Marshall Burns

Oh jeez, I unfortunately read their description of their game "The Swing," and due to the following words:

QuoteThe freeform Magick system was based on the Thelemic principles of WILL and Love,

I am now gagging uncontrollably.  Thelema?  Honestly?!?  Seriously, I can't think of a worse thing to base a game's magic system on, and don't even get me started on the merits of Thelema as occult philosophy.

But that's entirely off topic.

Eero Tuovinen

That is off-topic, yes. I also have the honor of having retailed Swing. It's one weird game, perhaps the "worst" (in the sense of me having difficulty finding redeeming reasons for anybody to buy it) we've ever retailed in our quest to bring indie games to Finland. Surprisingly enough the game apparently has something to it, considering that it sold out much faster than many rather good games - perhaps my choice to characterize it as "Mage with lots of attention to realism" has something to do with it.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Marshall Burns

Oh, and on the topic of TSOY:
It doesn't feel postapocalyptic to me.  Probably because there's a future for it that might even be nice.  In Rustbelt, Mad Max, Waterworld, the future only holds the promise of more and more shit, getting shittier and shittier.  Besides, in TSOY there wasn't really an apocalypse, anyway; just a cataclysm.

Although I gotta say that, for reasons I don't understand, the idea of "there was no moon before, now there is one" resonates powerfully with me.

Jason Morningstar

The Morrow Project (Do look at this one, it is ostensibly all about reconstruction and quite interesting in many ways)

Aftermath! of course

Palladium's Dead Reign and the TMNT stuff, which is all post-apoc (After the Bomb, etc)

Darcy Burgess

Hey Marshall,

There's Tribe 8, where the apocalypse came from within our souls and was made manifest as visceral, angelic creatures who have enslaved humanity.

Hunh.  Looks like there was a second edition that expanded the mythos & the geography.

Go Shitstorm!
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.


Sweden has various editions of Mutant. It's either about dungeon crawling and the rules are BRP getting less and less useful with each edition. The setting is quite awesome though mixing Disney, 18th century imperial Sweden and the socialist struggle of late 19th early 20th century with mutated animals being the niggers proletarians of the post apocalyptic society.

However: where does the Rustbelt system encourage doing horrible things? It basically makes you fight for what you believe, take drugs and get hurt alot.

Marshall Burns

Don't read "do horrible things" as "commit atrocities."  Which happens, sure, but it's just one of many shades of horrible.

I'm talking about sacrifices and compromises; on the spiritual plane with the atrocities (which the System does encourage through the GM, whose authority is a derived state of the rules' authority), on the physical plane with the injuries, and on the smaller, mostly-Color plane of going without changes of clothes, drinking rusty water, working back-breaking hours of menial labor for a pittance, etc.


How about calling it "the worlds first post-apocalyptic survival rpg"?

It's not about rebuilding, it's about running down.

But then worlds first is something people will quibble anyway, so how about answer that streight off in the obligatory "what is an rpg" section. In fact that would allow you to imply the structure of the rpg as expressed in your game without having to define rpgs for everyone, you'd just spell out what made your game different while implying it's similarity. Hopefully you could induce enough culture shock in the traditionalist while still keeping the interesting core inviting for everyone.