Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The earth is broken and I am out of glue

I have an affinity for post apocalyptic stories of a certain stripe.  Heroes struggling to survive in a world ripped apart by cataclysm or the folly of man is the sort of narrative that touches a nerve in me.  This disposition transcends medium as well.  My favorite book is I am Legend by Richard Matheson.  I am equally a fan of two of the three film adaptions of this work.  The creepy, low budget Italian version Last Man on Earth starred Vincent Price and was pretty good for what it was.  The 70s version The Omega Man departs radically from the original work, but has reserved a spot in my affection because a) I saw it well before I read the book and liked it for its own funky merits, b) the existence of this movie led me to seek out the book, and c) it had the decency to change the title when it took the basic premise of a work and then jacked it around significantly.  It is this last reason that I have a sincere problem with the actual titled adaption that starred Wil Smith a couple of years back.  I understand that some things get lost in the translation from page to film.  Changing every damn thing about the the premise, plot, location, and moral of a story and then calling it the original story is just low and dirty.

My love of the genre, however, transcends this one work. The Road Warrior movies also figure strongly in my story telling reserve.  A number of zombie movies, particularly Dawn of the Dead, overlap the PA genre. Usually it is the struggle-to-survive parts of those movies that I enjoy more than the actual walking dead parts.  Even the Resident Evil movies that I seem to like, even though I couldn't really tell you why I like them, have a strong survival element in them.

Aw, hell!  Everybody knows this is why I like the Resident Evil movies.

There are a number of good PA roleplaying games out there.  The original Gamma World had its merits.  Fantasy Games Unlimited's offerings were always too scarce and expensive for me to have ever gotten a copy of Aftermath! back when it was in print, although they are now readily available on DriveThruRPG.  More modern offerings include Fantasy Flights' Redline, the criminally little known Motocaust, the much better known Darwin's World, the WAY over the top Mutant Epoch,  and the quirky, but brilliant Other Dust (which I will likely make an entry about later in the month).  I reserve a spot of honor for nifty (and now  FREE!) Atomic Highway, the rules for the last PA game I ran, which also happened to be the first TPK I delivered in my adult game mastering experience. Steve Jackson Games even touched on the genre with the Y2K rulebook although much of that material seemed immediately outdated and quaint as soon as our computers did not implode at the turn of the millennium.  Mr. Jackson has reserved writing an actual GURPS Apocalypse sourcebook for himself.  Since he no longer actually produces more than the occasional bit of GURPS material, it seems likely that the apocalypse will actually occur before the SJG sourcebook will.

There are a lot of flavors of AP out there, from the brutal and gritty (Darwin's World) to the straight "everyone has four arms and laser eyes" gonzo (Mutant Epoch).  My favorite games in this realm, however, are scale back on the mutant animals and go for a more realistic (or at least less fantastic) experience.  One recent game world that really seems to strike balance I like is Broken Earth from Sneak Attack Press.  Broken Earth has been adapted to both Savage Worlds and Pathfinder, so there is a PA version for both the rules lite and the complex RPG enthusiast.  
Pathfinder cover art for Broken Earth.
 The setup is not astoundingly original. In the near future, the world powers collectively lose their minds and drop the bombs.  World civilization as we know it it over quite suddenly.  The present for the world is 2114.  The world population is now only a fraction of what it one was.  The remaining enclaves of people struggle to survive in a world where safety and security are the scarcest commodities of all. Technology is still around, but frequently there is no way to power it, few people who understand how it works, and even fewer that trust it.  This would make for a terrible world for most of us to live in, but it seems like the perfect place for Player Characters to run around in.

The science of the collapse, the authors admit would likely not hold up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.  It does, however, seem to have an internal consistency.  If you are willing to believe that a nuclear holocaust that could kill 99.9% of the human population could also leave enough of a world viable enough to support the remaining .1%, then the rest of the scientific improbabilities are really minor leaps of logic.  Certain humans have mutated into a new strain of existence. The unchanged humans dubbed those who mutated as Freaks, a name the changed have chosen to embrace.  In addition, some humans and freaks have developed psionic powers, mostly of the relatively mundane telepathy/telekinesis variety.  As a final wrinkle, while there are likely no humans still alive from the days of the apocalypse, a few experimental, synthetic life forms that resemble humans enough to pass among the population unnoticed are present in the setting with an unknown agenda.

Savage Worlds cover art for Broken Earth.
In the campaign I would like to run, the players begin as members of a small village near, but not a part of, several of the factions available in the game setting.  A sudden midnight attack leaves the players on the run, the whereabouts of loved ones in doubt, and the continuing existence of the community a doubtful proposition.  Can the players save their loved ones, or at least avenge their deaths?  If the community cannot be preserved, do the survivors relocate, seek admission into one of the other local communities, or strike out for Wrighttown, the closest thing to a city that remains in this shattered world, to seek their fortune?  Of course, the attackers may have designs on the players as well. 

Lastly, what is the source of that ever-present hum that only one of the PCs hears?  Could it be the source of the occasional violent outbursts that cause a lot of people to avoid that character?    

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