Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Electronic Gaming Tools: Play on Target Podcast Ep. 36

This week on Play of Target we look at electronics at the table. I start with a Luddite joke this session, but in reality I use much less tech at the table than I imagined ten+ years ago. As you'll hear in the episode, that's pretty much restricted to a machine playing ambient background music. On the other hand, I've also moved to gaming much more online- running and playing regularly. But even there I keep things pretty modest. I've seen GMs doing amazing dungeoneering tools with Roll20. OOH I pretty much stick to simple maps, tokens, an initiative tracker, and a dice roller. I'm torn between utility and the time necessary to get a handle on it. 

I also have to point out irony of connection/noise errors we had for this episode on Electronic Gaming Tools. 

Electronic Gaming Tools
Play on Target Episode Round Up

This year has seen the development of at least three board games using apps as a major component of the experience. Golem Arcana has a strange mix of the tactile awesomeness of a miniatures game with electronic tracking of the map, model statuses, and resolution. Its interesting, yet when I'm watching the demos, I'm not sure what those tools actually bring to the game. With a couple of exceptions, everything seems like it could be done just as easily without the apps. Perhaps you wouldn't have to flip through rules and notes as much? The app format has some costs as well. Golem Arcana uses abstracted zones rather than a measured map. I don't like the loss of terrain features that involves.

Fantasy Flight's X-Com tries to bring the experience of the video game to the tabletop. When I heard about this, I assumed it would be a co-op game where players moved their individual squad member and the app tracked line of sight and combat resolution. That seemed like a cool idea- I've always wanted to do an X-Com style game with Roll20. But the X-Com board game actually plays at the global level. Players have different roles have have to make timed decisions for the organization: allocate resources, launch interceptors, choose missions. That's less appealing to me, though it might be great. It reminds me of Space Alert, another timed game I thought I'd enjoy but ended up kind of hating. 

Alchemists offers a more conventional Euro game. The app in this helps track randomized hidden information. It contains a physical method for setting up and tracking that, but it requires a judge and a clunky cardboard matrix. The apps takes care of all of that. That's a pretty smart approach. The designers found a portion of the play experience which could be better served by an app. 

I think that's the real challenge facing these tools. They need to find some play element which obviously and incontrovertibly be awesome handled electronically. I suspect that's going to be an rpg designed with that in mind from the ground up. 

Electronic Gaming Tools
Play on Target Episode Round Up

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check it out. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at

Monday, November 24, 2014

History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Four: 1991-1993)

When I approach these lists I usually have a sense of the genre: the trappings, what belongs, what doesn’t. But as I research and make choices, the boundaries inevitably shift and change. I see how others define this and what they consider vital themes. Post-Apocalyptic has struck me particularly because I came in with a decidedly narrow concept. But I’ve seen a range of games described by designers and players as apocalyptic. And usually their choices make sense. So I need to disrupt the limits I set up in the first post in this series.

We can break up Post-Apocalyptic/Apocalyptic games based on three sets of identifiers. The first is the game’s relation to the apocalypse- i.e. how long ago it happened and how prominently that figures into the play. The second considers the main play features of the game: survival, building, exploration, etc. The third breaks these games down by the source of the apocalypse and its impact. This still leaves some fuzzy boundaries (AFMBE’s open approach makes it harder to read), but it may help reveal why gamers consider these games post-apocalyptic and how they play.

Here’s how I’d divide games based on when the apocalypse happened. I’ll stick with examples drawn from these lists so far.

Aftermath: Games set in during or in the immediate aftermath of the cataclysmic event. The survivors must figure out how to deal with this new world. Or they may also be able to fight against and turn back the apocalypse. While some time has passed, most characters went through the trauma of the event. (Freedom Fighters, Twilight 2000, Apocalypse)
Children of the Fire: At least a generation has passed since the devastation of the world. A new order has emerged, but there remain those who remember the old ways. Knowledge and technology has not faded, but communities may not be able to act on it. Emerging civilizations have come to accept the current status and work to carve out a role in this new world. (Car Wars, Future in Flames, Mutazoids).
Civilization in the Ruins: Decades, generation, centuries even have passed since the destruction of the world. New civilizations and orders have risen and fallen. Ruins remain, as well as artifacts of the past. The devastation has become a story, reworked and retold. But it remains a shadow hanging over everything. Things from the time before may still emerge and threaten. (Gamma World, The Morrow Project, RIFTS).
Forgotten Earth: Enough time has passed that the previous world has become myth and legend. Only the faintest traces and palimpsests remain. Elements of the previous world exist purely as touchstones for the players rather than the characters in the world. (Hawkmoon, La Terre Creuse, Synnibarr)

To keep this list easy to read I’ve tightened the years covered. As we get closer to the present the lists expand and contract weirdly. I include mostly core books, but also significant setting or sourcebooks. I consolidate “spin-off” supplements into a single entry. For example you may see at the end of this list isolated modules for a line using post-apocalyptic elements. Given the number of great things published I haven't included everything I want. I try to list revised editions which significantly change a line or present a milestone. Generally I only include published material- print or electronic. I skip freebie or self-published games. I'm sure I've left something off without adequate reason; feel free to add a comment about a line I missed (if published from 1991 to 1993). I've arranged these by year and then alphabetically within that year. If you'd like to support this project, please check out my Patreon page.

1. AfterWars (1991)
At first this looks like a classic post-apocalyptic game featuring a devastated earth, mutant wastelands, and battles against deadly gangs to survive. It posits an alternate earth where Gorbachav’s failure leads to a nuclear war between the US and USSR. But AfterWars offers a twist in the form of "Universe Joints." These features apparently lead to alternate dimensions. It reminds me a little of the French Game Athanor. I don't know much beyond that. I feel a little stupid because I remember Afterwars at the game shop for years, but I'm not sure I even flipped through it. How do these other dimensions work? If the world's so awful, what's keeping the players from resettling a better parallel dimensions? I haven’t uncovered enough about the set up to comment. Afterwars apparently has a simply system, with a strong military emphasis like so many of these post-apocalyptic games.

2. WarpWorld (1991)
The RPG industry has several quiet and unheralded masters. Greg Porter is one of them. His system designs have evolved, from TimeLords to CORPS to EABA. He's been involved with gaming for many decades, developing a devoted following and creating solid games. They don’t break the gaming world open and they're retro in many ways. But they're smartly designed and cleanly laid out. Through all of the ups and downs of the industry, BTRC has continued on.

WarpWorld's interesting- and the cover has a Thundarr vibe to it. It offers a post-ruin society, but with a twist. At the beginning of the 21st Century Old Gods and Elder Beings return to our universe. This changes the very fabric of existence, bringing back magic and disrupting high technology. Humanity's development is forced back about a hundred years. They must uncover new principles and integrate science with new fantastic ways. There's a hint of Shadowrun here, but taken in another direction. But instead of adapting and blending with the tech, the world shift destroys it. WarpWorld includes two versions of the setting: one in the immediate aftermath and another 300 years later. It’s an interesting game and potentially useful as a sourcebook for this campaign type. My only real critique is that the name WarpWorld has more of a sci-fi ring to it.

3. The World of Synnibarr (1991, rev 1993)
Synnibarr stands for several rpg archetypes. It fits squarely into the Forgotten Earth sub-genre mentioned above. Last list I mentioned Rifts and how crazy that could be. Synnibarr is much worse and much more over the top. It makes Rifts look as restrained and crafted as Kagematsu. Synnibarr offers an insane, kitchen-sink, multi-genre rpg set on a hollowed-out Mars 50,000 years in the future. Earth has been destroyed and even within this planetary spaceship a series of disasters have wrecked civilization. (Yo dawg, I hear you like apocalypses so I put an apocalypse inside your apocalypse).

I looked through Synnibarr several times at the store. Some describe it as a fantasy heartbreaker. That may be true. I don't think I can do justice to the mechanics. But responses to the actual material have been divided. Darren MacLennan's RPGNet review ends with the phrase "May God Have Mercy on My Soul". On the other hand, Roger Mier presents a more balanced assessment. Synnibarr has an extensive entry on TV Tropes and has been the subject of a Something Awful excoriation. Yet SA turned around and helped support a more recent Kickstarter to bring back Synnibarr. So, perhaps more than any other game I'm presenting on this list, YRMV.

Additional Note: I've been thinking about Synnibarr since I did my first draft. Mechanically, it’s a goofy game with strange options and a desperately stitched-together feel. But it also feels like so many early homebrews I played or heard about in the 1980's. I recognize the impulse to put in everything you can and come up with awesomely cool names, crazy sets of choices, and a deep setting backstory filled with weird elements in it. More than anything else Synnibarr feels like a naked translation of someone's earliest campaign setting. And I think you have to at least admire the ambition there: to write all of that up and publish a massive volume like this? That's energy and drive.

4. Gamma World (1992)
There's an interesting move in the early '90s with several companies shifting (some might say flailing) through iterations to develop a workable and semi-universal house system. You can read GDW's changes with Twilight 2K 2.2, Traveller THE, and Rolemaster Standard System in this light. GURPS, Storyteller, and Hero had all demonstrated that lines could have synergies or support multiple game settings. TSR would first try to bring everything in line with a new version of AD&D before banking on Amazing Engine. There's some irony that WotC's d20 would fulfill some of those ambitions much later.

The fourth stab at Gamma World ditched the color-coded chart system of the third edition. The original source of that system, Marvel Super Heroes was seeing its last releases at this point. GW 4e tried to bring the game in line with the newly revised AD&D 2e mechanics. Striking there's also a move to move of a scavenger, early GW aesthetic in the artwork. Third edition had focused on a certain kind of techwank, especially with the covers. There's some of that here. For example the Gamma Knights boxed set focuses on battle armor (and is as much a board game as an rpg supplement). This edition gets some love on the boards today- with many feeling it brought the game back to its roots. Gamma World 4th got five supplements, a mix of adventures and sourcebooks. However by Gen Con 1993, they announced that there would be no further development of the line. And so Gamma World dropped off screen again.

5. KinRise (1992)
Nightlife's an overlooked horror game. It anticipates the modern "monsters as heroes" genre as a dedicated rpg, arriving the year before Vampire the Masquerade. But Stellar Games never managed to grab market share. They offered a more humorous take and lacked the graphic design chops to build an approachable image. White Wolf knew how to focus and create a brand. Instead Nightlife generated goofy experiments like Kinlife. Here the warring tribes of monsters have to survive after a nuclear apocalypse.

The setting material drops the players straight into the craziness. When sweep from fiction to history and then by page twelve we're into a Radiation Effects table. I love how handwaving and nuts this is- we're not going to explain what we're doing; have some more rules. That's not to say the material isn't interesting. If offers a solid consideration of the resource crunch these monsters now live under. Their "Herds" have been decimated and scattered into isolated, xenophobic enclaves, making survival and quiet hunting more dangerous. KinRise also offers striking factions, a neat take on how these monsters evolve, and several new mechanics for the game. It may be a niche, but for GMs wanting to run a post-apocalypse with classic monsters, KinRise offers an awesome resource. Even the much later Mirrors doesn't offer the same level of zany concepts.

The second edition of Mutazoids seems to be more an expansion than a significant revision. It seems to expand the setting more and offer a starting scenario. As I mentioned for the first edition, this game has a changed rather than fully devastated earth. An artificial plague kills off much of humanity, but more importantly causes genetic changes for children of the survivors. This results in beings with slight deformities (Acceptables), highly potent transformed beings (Mutazoids), and humans with hidden talents (Supers). Fear of the plague and these mutants has allowed the rise of a fascist, dystopian government. You don't play as these mutants, but instead as Enforcers- agents of the government attempting to contain the threat and maintain the power of the Second Republic. Whit Publications supported this with a single sourcebook, Mutazoids City Source Book, complete with typo-filled jacket copy.

7. Mutant R.Y.M.D (1992)
Sort of a sequel to New Mutant (as seen on the last list). This evolves the Swedish pseudo-post-apocalyptic setting further. Earth's Mega-Corporations have spread into space. But when they reach a mysterious 10th planet, Nero, they unleash an ancient supernatural evil. So suddenly we have elder horrors in space- complete with some monsters and elements borrowed from Kult. This version of Mutant lasted briefly before being shut down. I'm uncertain if the switch was to retool things further or instead start with a clean slate. Target Games came back almost immediately with Mutant Chronicles, as you'll see below.

8. Sun and Storm (1992)
This one's hard to find much about. Sun and Storm appears to be a fantasy setting with a broken world backdrop. That also includes lost technology. There's mention of technomantic devices, and a Wyrmship Technical Manual. It seems to fall into the Forgotten Earth sub-genre Tim Kirk's capsule review on mentions, "While covered only briefly it’s an interestingly different approach to Fantasy, Dragon's created the Universe, Storm Dragon's are twisted and evil and Sun Dragons good and light, or something like that, what is really interesting is when it gets to the point that the world was once a beautiful paradise of technowizardy until Hectizor arrived killed cities, and animated the corpses of the dead as Kreidempek Shock troops and sent them out to destroy more cities and so on....but who's Hectizor?

Well he’s a Stormwyrm, evil and malevolent and trying to destroy the beauty created by Saurileth named Merdesaur, and ye sguess what that the PC's homeworld. While it is suggested that Space Travel is possible it is covered in the game though they mention Wyrmships which are ships of technomagical power created in the image of the Wyrms."

So I suspect this is a kitchen-sink heartbreaker which uses post-apocalyptic elements purely as trappings.

9. Wizards (1992)
The year Whit Publications released Mutazoids 2e, it launched a licenses it clearly thought would take the gaming world by storm (as well as a WWF rpg). Ralph Bakshi's Wizards remains a striking and important film for those raised in the 1970's: mad, psychedelic, and a weird mix of fantasy with post-apocalypse no one else has captured. It is part comedy, part sexy-times fairies, part legendary quest, part undead armored Nazis from the future. I never did more than flip through the main book, but online commenters regard it as a decent, if workmanlike adaptation of the material. Digital Orc has an overview on his blog.

Whit supported this line with several publications within a year or so. Players got the obligatory character sheets and GM screen supplements, but also Montagar and Scortch. Both are detailed 80-page regional sourcebooks. I'm surprised to see Whit published that much for the line. I recall the core book sitting on the shelf at the local store and then vanishing, never restocked. I heard and saw almost nothing about it in the years which followed. I'd assumed it was a flash in the pan like so many others.

Wizards the film influenced a lot of early role-playing. You can see some of that in Gamma World. The movie itself came out in '77, but had a cult following through VHS tapes and cable presentation. The designers clearly felt that was enough to sustain an rpg fifteen years later. But I have a theory- and I may be wrong. Wizards was wild and crazy and it inspired people. In the early 1980's I saw at least three distinct homebrew campaigns lifting elements from Wizards, Heavy Metal, and other sources (in one case Gor, ugh). Gamers had already begun to shape multi-genre, weird apocalypse games with these elements and ideas. It isn't a reach from there to Rifts or Synnibarr. So by 1992, games had already assimilated these concepts, rendering this less interesting. Or it could be distribution problems or rise of White Wolf...not sure.

Acorner case for this list, but an interesting example of throwing down an apocalypse to remix a setting. By 1992, Basic D&D and the Gazetteers for the Known World covered a lot of ground. Yet plans were still on the books for products to expand and extend the setting and the line. Then Wrath of the Immortals hit, smashing the world with seevral cataclysms including a massive asteroid strike, destruction of a continent, spread of elemental plagues, and so on. It allowed players to participate in these world-shaking events, but only at the highest Immortal level. But most groups looked to it more as setting material. Wrath of the Immortals felt like split between metaplot goofiness and an attempt to bring new ideas to the line. However the different messages out of TSR at the time suggest incoherence rather than a solid game plan.

I've covered the Gazetteer line before- and I love many of them. Rather than revitalizing the line, Wrath of the Immortals stuck a dagger in it. It signaled a transition to AD&D 2e and away from the Dungeons& Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. More importantly changes created by this cataclysmic event didn't resonate or grab players. Those who had bought all of the previous material felt alienated. I deliberately haven't reviewed products like Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure and Glantri Kingdom of Magic because they disappointed me so much. They took solid earlier ideas and ran them through a shredder. I'm sure my reaction comes from attachment to the originals rather than any objective reading. In terms of post-apocalyptic elements, it is worth nothing that the Known World builds on Blackmoor's original "spaceship engine blows up and changes the world." Wrath of the Immortals has some links to that, particularly in revelations about magic and radiation.

11. Apocalypse (1993)
Before Mayfair emigrated to Catan, they made awesome rpg products (and non-awesome ones to be sure). Their Role Aids line landed them in hot water with TSR several times. That's too bad since the line produced some great stuff like Arch Magic, Demons, and The Keep (ok, maybe not that last one). Apocalypse is a boxed set describing how to destroy your fantasy setting. Written by Jonathan Tweet, it offers a toolkit for apocalypses and a fully developed apocalyptic campaign. The latter's quite well done- although marred by Mayfair's odd layout and text design choices. The toolkit is particularly awesome and talk about setting up, playing out, and resolving various apocalyptic scenarios. Post-apocalyptic fantasy GMs will find this immensely useful. The book also includes a substantive section on how to run games in the wake of your cataclysm. While unavailable as a pdf, you can often find copies of this in good shape online or at conventions. Highly recommended.

I have to lump this in with a retcon for a previous list, Buck Rogers XXVc (1990). I grew up with the Buck Rogers movie and TV show as major, terrible influences. Even as a kid I knew they weren't good. But I looked forward to the Space Nosferatu episode and the one which looked like they would reference Star Wars but instead had Chris Sarandon revealing his dark secret: a detachable head. The movie has Rogers going into the nuclear wasteland ruins of Old Chicago in a particularly harrowing scene. But post-apocalypse plot vanishes after that. I'd written that off as an oddity. But after asking around it turns out those post-apocalyptic elements frame the original stories and setting. You wouldn't know that from Buck Rogers XXVc which emphasizes space battles, high tech equipment, and a clean design that only slightly harken back to the originals. It mentions a devastated and recovering earth, but that's second fiddle to SPACE!

When this version of BR didn't do well enough, TSR went back to the well with High Adventure Cliffhangers. It looks cool and definitely wants to buy into the original pulp look and feel. The game's more streamlined. Where the original borrowed from AD&D, this one aims for a lighter approach. It returns to the original Buck Rogers premise. Instead of an interplanetary Martian enemy, we have the Han Empire. America has been destroyed and various gangs battle over it. From Asia, The Han have emerged to seize control. There's more than a little Yellow Peril on display here, but I'm unsure how much of that made its way into the RPG. TSR only published the core set and a single supplement. War Against the Han. I like the idea of a pulp post-apocalypse game- with unrealistic depictions of radiation and a 1930's look to everything. That might be a setting worth exploring, especially if you flipped around some of the colonial and potentially racist elements.

The elephant in the room when talking about Buck Rogers is Lorraine Williams. Williams took over TSR in 1986. You can see some discussion of that in "The Ambush at Sheridan Springs" and in Designers & Dragons overview of the company. The important thing to recognize is that Williams personally had the rights to Buck Rogers. That may explain the hype for the setting across TSR in the early 1990's, including both board and role-playing games. She pushed the company to publish these products and TSR in turn paid her family royalties.

13. Mutant Chronicles (1993)
I'm really curious about what pushed Target games to kill off Mutant RYMD and immediately republished with this new version, Mutant Chronicles? Did they want to remove associations with the old Mutant line? Was there some kind of designer or internal struggle at the company? Or did they realize that this property could be both an ass-kicking, testosterone powered rpg and a potential threat to the rising dominance of GW with Warhammer 40K? Regardless of the reasoning, Mutant Chronicles spawned a strong line: card games, miniatures, video games, multiple editions of the rpg, and even a Ron Perlman film.

Mutant Chronicles has a wild and distinctive art style, though you can clearly see the influence of Games Workshop on presentation and design. MC takes the basics from Mutant RYMD but refines and develops them. In this bleak future techno-fantasy, a dread supernatural force known as the Dark Legion has been unleashed. The solar system has been devastated in the battle with these corrupting, undead and demonic legions. Humanity itself has been splintered into distinct factions- each with their own agendas and secrets. While it might look as over-the-top as Rifts, Mutant Chronicles has a strong central setting and premise. It is a gonzo military rpg. While other missions are possible, the presumption is a team of hardened heroes waging war on corruption (either human or Necrophage).

Mutant Chronicles would be Target Games' second game quickly translated into English. The first was Kult and you can see some of those influences here. They published several full color sourcebooks for Mutant Chronicles, many of them splatbooks for the different factions. I owned almost all of these, inherited from my late friend Barry. He loved the setting but like me, found the actual mechanics more than blah. Target produced a 2nd edtion of the game in '97 but did little to support it. Instead the rpg portion dried up and the setting moved on weakly in other fields.

I'm a big hypocrite. Above I condemned TSR for their setting-smashing with Wrath of the Immortals. Now I'm about to talk admiring about GDW's bravery in changing up Traveller. The New Era threw away most of the world and setting building of the previous decade and a half. For many reasons interstellar society and trade has collapsed, leaving multiple worlds in ruins and creating chaos. Most importantly "The Virus" pushed this collapse. A free-floating consciousness which infected and moved through electronics, The Virus took over infrastructure in many places. Infected "Vampire" fleets and automated cities killed their inhabitants. The shift opened up several new play modes for Traveller veterans and raised the stakes for survival and exploration. One of the striking themes present is the fragility of human survival in space.

Traveller: The New Era polarized the community. Many resented the destruction of the established setting. Multiple companies had spent years developing various sectors and concepts. Now players found that material invalidated. Others found the shift refreshing, allowing them to reuse older supplements in new ways. They also appreciated the integration of grittier and more modern sci-fi concepts into the Traveller universe. Certainly the shadow of Cyberpunk hangs heavy over the new version. GDW also took the opportunity to rework the mechanics, making TNE a house system and reworking Twilight 2000 into v2.2 to bring that in line. The New Era got some strong support, but financial problems at the company meant that it only lasted a few years. The next versions-Marc Miller's Traveller (4th Edition) and GURPS Traveller- both rolled back and did away with the concept of collapse.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bloodlines: A Supers Campaign Seed (Part Nine)

Ten years ago I ran a ten or so session Mutants & Masterminds campaign I hugely over-prepared for.  "Bloodlines" focused on inherited super-powers limited to certain bloodlines around the globe. You can see the first post here which lays out the general concept. This post is the last of the ephemera I put together for the campaign. These are three handouts I used to move the main plot along. One presents the alt.rec.minion boards, another hints at the discovery of means to destroy super-powers, and the third reveals the secret behind the big event which kicked off the campaign. 

This is the last of the series. You'll see a combination of new material and published ideas, primarily used to add color to the background. You might find some useful ideas for plots or how to present certain things. My real hope is that other GMs steal inspiration from this for cool sessions. This material may be a little rough since I haven't gone back to edit. 

GM's notes: A few weeks into the Untouchables work in Chicago, they had the Anarch Underground buzzing. The following is a data intercept from a blog connecting various minions in the area. The typos have been left intact. This is an example of a kind of side-plot and device that serves to make the players laugh and reinforce their ego.

BARON KARZA69: I know people have been asking about this, particularly some big boys who seem to be recruiting now or at least hunting or something. Anyhow, I’ve put together a quik list of what we know now about the,m.

Shutdown: A Syzmanski which means he’s only good against other supers. I read somewhere that he’s their leader, but I think you can leave him for last. He’s probably wearing armor. Rumor: I’ve heard that he’s tied up with Firstborn and his girlfriend Transcendence. That could be bad or good—might be able to sell him off or it might draw the attention of those a-holes.

Grey (?): MENTALIST. Take her out asap. She’s a tiny little thing but she seems to know Kung-Fu. Fast, she has to be taken out quickly and at range. Big objects, trucks, nets, those kinds of things, number one on the list for who gets K.O’d. I heard from one of the guys that she led the charge in to the bar. Might be reckless.

Bolt: God I hate speedsters. Fats and hard to hit—solution as always, drawn from the Minion manual—“Autofire and Objects.” You can get some things to hold him: sticky spray guns, nets, etc but you need to get him in a place where he can’t dodge away. Plus he does that human top thing which is a pain. Two other solutions: flash grenades to send him flying off and gases or smoke. He’s an Aussie, which means he’s probably a Hunter so if you do capture him, he’ll weak out pretty quixcklyu.

Onyx: This is their brick, she’s got a Drammen glow so be careful. She’s not super dense, but you should probably play the environment off of her—she has to have leverage to lift things. I heard she punched in the window at that bank robbery and that stuff can take heavy arms fire. So don’t get punched by her. Better to hit her with disorientation, things that rely on dodging, etc. Grapples won’t work and neither will straight physical. xjAnubis49 suggested using Hero-B-Gone packs. That’s no a bad idea—she doesn’t seem to have a transport power.

Roaming Wolf: Hard to say what his deal is. Probably a Rakepaw and they can be just about anything. HTH combatant!!! Make sure to keep him at range if at all possible. He’s fast and can jump around. May have to lock him up inside. He must be sneaky too, maybe some stealth powers because I headrd he got up behind the robbers at the bank before any of them saw him. Probably ought to treat like their brick. OOH you need to watch out and not underestimate him since we don’t know exactly what his powers are.

Cruel Butterfly: We’ve got pretty good info on him from the Japanese Fan Groups. He’s got a whole dossier available. Check [here], [here] and if you want to see something funny theirs a fan page with all of his TV commercials from japan [here]. He’s got a little bit of Braddock and a little bit of Drammen blood. The first thing you’ll notice are the Wings—he’s apretty good flier and hard to hit. SOP is an entangle or something to drop him down, which apparently Transit did to him when they fought Kingdom Come. However, those fruity wings secret some kind of caustic acid which will burn through most of the stuff you’d use for that. It also means you shouldn’t try to grab them unl;eess you have glovers on. Plus, if you get too close he can shake the wings and spray acid in your face blinding you. WEAR GOOGLES!!! That seems to be the extent of his superpowers, but he got outfitted when he was in Jpan and has some nasty equipment: a glue gun to he can reach out and pin you down. The gun’s trademarked and VillainNet has a solvent formula you can make in your kitchen…the problem is you really need a partner to spray it and you may not have time. He’s got armor but more importantly they gave him a utility belt. I don’t know much about it since I can’t read Japanese, but they say it is super-cool. It might be for show, but I’ve seen these freak (in general, not just these guys), pull things out of their pockets and laid waste to whole squads of agents like GI Joe on crack./

That’s what we have so far--- if you have more, feel free to post.

GM's notes: While investigating an semi-abandoned Synistry base, Onyx discoverd a page jammed in a fax machine. It had survived the destruction of all other records in the facility. It turned out to be a page proof from a scientific article, complete with editor's mark ups. The authors of the article are two scientists who may or may not have been taken away by the DHPD a few weeks ago. What is certain is that Homeland Security seized their offices at Northwestern and neither scientist has been heard from. The Untouchables also discovered that a Sorrentino super-tech who had at one time worked from Synistry had also consulted with the scientists in the last several months. That agent, codenamed Wizard, vanished a week ago in an elaborate plot that the group believes The Foundry carried out. The implications were that someone had discovered a method to neutralize all super powers of the Bloodlines.

The document is presented in its original, uncorrected state:

Seguer and Leeman Page vi
The Epsilon Field: A New Approach to Parahuman Intrinsic Field Studies mind that we cannot derive and explanatory model from these findings. We leave that for researchers in other areas, better suited for those kinds of theoretical studies.
With those caveats in minds, we can summarize our findings. This paper in particular will deal with the first point, and then give a brief outline as to how our works has confirmed the further points. We will be publishing our work on those in the next few months.(13) While we will be outlining our methodology at the end, it is worthwhile to note that our research is based on a sample size of 328 Parahumans, drawn from across all of the Bloodlines. (See Appendix 3.5 for a full breakdown of subjects and sources).(14)

First, while it has been generally known that Parahumans exhibit some form of energy field the nature, configuration and proximate cause of that field has been unknown. Using Chaotic Spectrography we have been able to define that field more explicitly and have assigned the name “The Epsilon Field” based on historical precedent. Based on our research, we can make several statements with certainty about it.
  • It falls with in the Holmes-Markey Range,
  • With one exception the attractor patterning of the field follows a relatively parallel structure,(15)
  • It is continuous, in that the field remains present even when Parahumans are not exercising their powers,
  • The exercise of powers does increase the field, even among those abilities that one might consider innate or passive,
  • and it is possible to identify Bloodline membership through analysis of the Epsilon Field.

Second, there is a relative correlation between field strength and the strength of powers possessed by a Parahuman. We have measured this on the basis of non-subjective power analysis over a set of discrete subjects. From this we can conclude that the birth generation of a subject within an active Bloodline directly correlates with their power. That is, later generations of Bloodliners have stronger fields.

Third, it may be possible to induct or negate the energy of that field. Given that the presence of the field is directly tied to the level of the field, we believe this would negate the powers of the individual. It may be possible to do this on a permanent basis.

Fourth, contrary to expectations this manipulation of the field is not parallel to Syzmanski...

(13) These papers have yet to be submitted and as with this one are not to be cited until publication.
(14) The Appendix includes the listing of secondary sources and records the observations are drawn from. Our primary observation group is modest but wide-ranging.
(15) While most of the Parahumans exhibit what we have come to call a Lattice version of the Epsilon Field, members of one Bloodliner exhibit a strangely different field. Within the Rakepaw members we studied (n=14) their field was noticeable different. While it still falls within the range, the configuration of the attractors does not parallel that of other Bloodlines.

GM's notes: The group looked into the murder of Tate Morgan, a former sidekick to a hero killed at the Zero Moment. In the course of the investigation the received a tape, clearly made and edited by Morgan. The Zero Moment was the kicker/starter for the campaign. Essentially the group was recruited and had been planning to be a kind of freelance Midwestern team. However, even as they were in their interview with the recruiter, news started to come over the wire about a titanic battle between several super-villain and super-hero teams, resulting the the deaths of nearly all involved. This led them to head to Chicago which had previously been a dangerous super-villain stronghold in an attempt to finally restore order there. Eventually, the plot would wrap up at the end of the campaign when they discovered why the incident had happened-- and that in part it had been arranged by an alternate universe version of one of the PCs-- as they discovered in this video.

Video opens with an interior of some kind of craft, you guess a VTOL or chopper judging by the shaking. The camera itself is clearly sophisticated and stabilized—the image shakes little while the people in the cabin lurch back and forth. Vision members Iron Lotus and Willforce can be easily spotted in lead position near cockpit door. Durandal is closer to the camera operator. Three other supers can be seen Haven, Gigawatt, and Manifest. They are independent operators, not members of Vision.

Iron Lotus: …and just keep close. There’s going to be a lot of thunder and noise out there.
Durandal: Cut it out Jake, they know what they’re doing. [Turns to the non-Vision Heroes]. You’ve done this before but not in these numbers. Don’t count on communicators—once you get a target from one of us, just keep after them. That’s the best thing. Strategy won’t work out there.
Haven: We’ve gone over the records like three times now. I think we’ve got it.
Willforce: No you don’t.
Haven: Excuse me?
Willforce: These people kill—no fooling around. Don’t even think about holding back—use everything you’ve got from word go.

(Some inaudible muttering comes on for the next few minutes. The camera shakes as the vehicle clearly banks.)

Durandal: We really didn’t get anything from Solomon on this?
Iron Lotus: I assume Bane did…how else would he know to get here? But he didn’t share anything else with me.
Durandal: I don’t like that.
Iron Lotus: No…no…he wasn’t holding back, I really think they didn’t give him much more to go on. He just grabbed as many as he could and headed this way.
Manifest: (Accented) What if they break into Lockdown?
Willforce: We run and don’t stop running until we hit a coast…maybe not even then.

(Sound goes out at this point…the operator of the camera is clearly fiddling and adjusting the device. At one point in a polished surface you can make out that the cameraman is Tate Morgan. He has body armor on.)

Durandal sits by the camera operator and starts talking. A few seconds in the sound comes back.

Durandal: OK, we’re about three minutes out. We’re going to drop you at a decent spot. Just promise me you’ll keep the Geyges Cloak on.
Tate: Not a problem. I don’t want to get killed.

There’s a break here. An edit maybe as the next thing we see is a barren landscape, some hills and scrub terrain. It is unclear how long the break is between the last sequence and this one. The camera’s maybe been on for ten seconds when several things launch from the ground. About half are missiles and the other half flying humans. As a group they impact in the air with a series of resulting explosions. Their target had been clearly cloaked up until this point. Now whatever assault vehicle the Anarchs had has been destroyed. The frame is suddenly filled with fire and wreckage decloaking and dozens and dozens of superbeings.

Morgan’s camera is pretty good and he tries to follow the fight. However there is too much. Energy beams in the air, distortions in the gravity field, pairs of fliers grappling with each other and thundering into the ground at Mach One. It is almost impossible to make out who is fighting who. For a second you see Boom of Frontline tossed up into the air by someone from Ravage. As he rises he rains a salvo of explosions down catching the Anarch and throwing Boom higher. Then with a crack that shatters the air, Warhead smashes into him, drilling both into the ground.

Speedsters, people creating barriers, telekinetic effects, gouts of fire—it becomes quickly clear that Anarchs had aborted whatever mission they were on. You can catch a few people trying to direct things—Bane leaping across the field to pull Gauntlet out of harm’s way—all the while clearly screaming into a headset. Spartacus and Master Task trying to pull some groups back to organize their end of the battle, but with little effect. Ravage is full into it as if everyone else.

Then there’s a light that cuts across the field—a pure white beam, rainbowed just at the edges that shoots from one figure to another. You pause and rewind, slow the thing down. It seems to shoot out from two figures and crash in the middle. Further analysis identifies Haven and Navigator as the two figures. There’s a sound, and then the audio goes completely out and the picture begins to slow. You check the counter on the tape and it is still rolling at the normal rate—but the images have shifted to slow motion.

More identical beams crisscross the field, pairing and pinning figures. The explosions, fire, and debris make it hard to identify who and how. You can discern at one point that Speedmetal and Apex are pinned even in their blurred super-speed state. In another you spot Lady Hive and Master Task caught on another beam. The lines of light cross each other and a glow starts to shimmer at the furthest edges of the battle, encasing everyone in an enormous sphere. In the center a figure forms in cage created by the strange energy beams. Then a flash overloads the camera.

When it comes back on, there are bodies, most burnt into the ground. A few people remain standing apparently unhurt. In the air above you see an armored figure, shining in mirror-like steel reflecting the sun. Below you see Bane, Spartacus and Harridan stagger trying to assess the situation. Closer to the camera, you see Manifest, clearly injured…he seems to have been caught at the very edge of the blast. His left side is burnt, torn and gruesome. He staggers and barely holds himself up.

Time has returned to normal. Bane and the other two appear uninjured, but shocked by what has happened. Then there’s a blur and suddenly Spartacus doesn’t have a head. The armored figure is there and tosses the skull away like a soccer ball. He looks at Bane who leaps at him without hesitation. The armored figure evades the tackle. As Bane rolls to his feet to make another strike, he freezes. The figure holds out his hand, clearly keeping Bane in place with some invisible force. Then claws emerge from the tips of the armored gauntlets as he drives a fist through Bane’s back, punching through to the front. He pulls back and spin kicks the body away.

Harridan has begun to run and the armored figure tracks her movement. However, in the air, another figure forms in an instant. It is a streak as it swoops down and grabs up Manifest, catching him before his body collapses. There’s a burst of energy and those two figures shoot past the camera. The armored figure makes to pursue but doesn’t. Instead he waits a moment and then in a blur of motion appears in front of Harridan, striking and knocking her to the ground. He leaps high in the air, spins and brings his knee down full on her. She jerks and stops moving.

There’s a good half-minute there with the camera trembling. The figure surveys the area, and then starts to walk outside the circle. He stops then, pauses and turns to look at the camera. Even from the half-mile plus distance, it feels like he’s staring out of the screen. You see him reach up and remove the helmet.

It is Roaming Wolf.

The tape ends.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Three: 1988-1990)

In my last entry I looked at post-apocalyptic sources up through 1979. These included the books, movies, TV shows, and comics which might have influenced designers of the earliest games: Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, The Morrow Project, Aftermath, and beyond. For this post I move forward into the Reagan-dominated 1980’s. It's a time that opens with cold-war paranoia in a new, strange form and ends with a desperate scramble to find fresh threats and enemies. RPGs faced the same challenge; some stuck with old stand bys while others found new apocalypses.  Last time I started with books, so let’s flip that. Tell me if I miss anything awesome. 

MOVIES of the ‘80’s
The Road Warrior (1981), She (1982), Warriors of the Wastelands (1983), Endgame (1983), Warrior of the Lost World (1983), Testament (1983), Yor: Hunter from the Future (1983), Radioactive Dreams (1984), Night of the Comet (1984), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Red Dawn (1984), Terminator (1984), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Warriors of the Apocalypse (1985), America 3000 (1986), Robot Holocaust (1986), When the Wind Blows (1986), Solarbabies (1986), Cherry 2000 (1987), Creepozoids (1987), Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987), Steel Dawn (1987), She-Wolves of the Wasteland (1988), World Gone Wild (1988), The Blood of Heroes (1989), Cyborg (1989), Millennium (1989), Slipstream (1989)

A couple of thoughts. I think it’s hard to overstate the impact of The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome on gaming. I don’t just mean the whole genre of Autoduelling it sparked with Car Wars, Dark Future, and the like. Even more you see impact of those costume and set designs on the art and imagery of post-apocalyptic games of the 1980’s. All bondage tribesmen of later works spring from that. As well, clearly producers realized post-apocalypse movies could be made cheap. Get some patchwork outfits, head out into the desert, mix up guns and spears, and voila! You have a post-civilization wasteland. There are some terrible, terrible low-budget movies on that list above.

BOOKS of the ‘80’s
The Book of the New Sun series (Gene Wolfe, 1980), “The Pelbar Cycle” (Paul O. Williams, 1981), The Quiet Earth (Craig Harrison, 1981), The White Plague (Frank Herbert, 1982), The Dark Tower series (Stephen King, 1982), The Amtrak Wars series (Patrick Tilley, 1983), The “Ashes” series (William W. Johnstone, 1983), The Unforsaken Hiero (Sterling Lanier, 1983), Galapagos (Kurt Vonnegut, 1985), The Postman (David Brin, 1985), This is the Way the World Ends (James Morrow, 1985), The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1985), Endworld series (David Robbins, 1986), Fire Brats series (Various, 1987), Obernewtyn Chronicles (Isobelle Carmody, 1987), Swan Song (Robert McCammon, 1987), Wraeththu series(Storm Constantine, 1987), Wolf in Shadow trilogy (David Gemmell, 1987), In the Country of Last Things (Paul Auster, 1987), The Gate to Women’s Country (Sherri Tepper, 1988), The Last Ship (William Brinkley, 1988), Tea from an Empty Cup (Pat Cadigan, 1988), Plague 99 (Jean Ute, 1989).

I love how post-apocalyptic elements bleed into other genres here. We see fantasy blends, high literature, young adult, and even pulp action. Perhaps the most surprising thing for me is the sheer volume of shitty men’s adventure novels with a post-apocalypse dressing. You have to be of a certain age to remember when “Men’s Adventure” had its own section of the bookstore (filled with Mack Bolan and The Destroyer novels). I guess it shouldn't surprise me that the 1980's generated the equivalent of romance novels for survivalists.

OTHER MEDIA in the ‘80’s
TV: Thundarr the Barbarian (1980), The Day After (1983), V (1983), Threads (1984), The Tripods (1984), Amerika (1987), Knights of God (1987), War of the Worlds: the Second Invasion (1988)

Other: X-Men “Days of Future Past” (1981), Akira (1982), Vampire Hunter D (1983), Fist of the North Star (1983), Dragon Ball Z: Cell Saga (1984), Appleseed (1985), Ex-Mutants (1986), Wasteland (1988), Dark Future (1988).

I’m probably leaving off some important manga and anime. In particular I’ve seen several places refer to Robotech and/or Macross as post-apocalyptic. Are they? I’m not familiar enough with the series- either the originals or the American bastardization- to make any kind of judgment. I tried reading the Wikipedia pages, but it was beyond my ability to parse.

To keep this list easy to read I’ve tightened the years covered. As we get closer to the present the lists expand and contract weirdly. I include mostly core books, but also significant setting or sourcebooks. I consolidate “spin-off” supplements into a single entry. For example you may see at the end of this list isolated modules for a line using post-apocalyptic elements. Given the number of great things published I haven't included everything I want. I try to list revised editions which significantly change a line or present a milestone. Generally I only include published material- print or electronic. I skip freebie or self-published games. I'm sure I've left something off without adequate reason; feel free to add a comment about a line I missed (if published from 1985 to 1987). I've arranged these by year and then alphabetically within that year. If you'd like to support this project, please check out my Patreon page.

1. High Colonies (1988)
High Colonies falls into the category of ‘pre-remaindered rpgs’. These games came from smaller presses in the late 80's and early '90's. Chessex, Greenfield, and other distributors picked them up and pushed them with the weekly new rpgs. They'd arrive and drop into the miscellaneous section of the rpg shelf, next to copies of Nightlife and Legacy: War of Ages. They'd sit there for years before eventually shifting to the used section to clear space. When I went to other stores I'd see the same books over and over again. I remember a decade later visiting a pop-up game shop which had clearly bought a cheap shelf-filler package. They had three copies of High Colonies in front of the complete line of It Came from the Late, Late, Late Show.

High Colonies doesn't offer much in the way of a game. It borrows and lifts from other systems and sketches things out loosely. But it does presnet a novel premise. Humanity has spread into the solar system, but a nuclear war renders the Earth uninhabitable. The survivors scatter across space stations around the solar system. Players generally take the role of mercenaries (i.e. space murderhoboes) hired to defend or attack these colonies. The concept's a solid one and it comes from designer Eric Hotz, well known to fans of Columbia Games. It has a crunchy, hard sci-fi edge to it. High Colonies reminds me a little of Space 1999 and more importantly the final stories in The Martian Chronicles.

I didn't even realize that this game had an actual setting. I'd assumed it was simply a comedic mish-mash. But according to wikipedia, "Macho Women with Guns is set in a near-future America where society has collapsed due to the misdeeds of the Reagan Administration. Taking advantage of the earthly chaos, Satan has dispatched his female minions, the Batwinged Bimbos From Hell, to rebuild society in a form he approves of. The Vatican has responded to Satan's plans by dispatching its elite group of warrior nuns, The Sisters of Our Lady of Harley-Davidson to combat the bimbos. The two groups of women compete (sometimes violently) to rebuild civilization by vanquishing post-apocalyptic menaces and male chauvinism."

People bought it. We always had copies going out the door at the store. The supplements…not so much (Batwinged Bimbos from Hell, Renegade Nuns on Wheels). It was as if the joke had been sold by the core book and few needed an expansion. The game did well enough to produce a revised edition, a d20 version, as well as translations into several languages.

3. Athanor (1989)
A French rpg, Athanor returns to a kitchen-sink approach for post-apocalyptic gaming. A virus has wiped out most of humanity, forcing them to live in thousands of tiny, scattered micro-zones with differing climates and cultures. Only large corporate entities provide any communication. Psi powers have developed during humanity’s time in these domed settlements. Athanor itself refers to an alchemical furnace, in this case the crucible of these settlements (I think). You might expect, as with many PA games, that players would be exploring the outside world. They would scavenge and observe changes. Instead Athanor focuses on the exploration of parallel worlds and micro-universes. That's an odd shift and shoves some of the apocalyptic elements into the background. The game didn't last long, with only a GM screen and a single setting supplement.

I mentioned before the Car Wars series of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Those did fairly well for SJG Games for several years, enhancing the RPG side of Autodueling and giving solo players a chance to play. Freeway Warrior offers another CYOA post-apocalypse game, this time from Joe Dever, the author of the popular Lone Wolf adventure game books. The series wears its Mad Max heart on its sleeve. We have a stoic main character, Cal Phoenix (of course), leading a colony of survivors across a wasteland US while being pursued by a vengeful biker gang. The series did well enough to support four books. There's an interesting shift between the books’ simple and stark UK covers and the gonzo US artwork.

5. Mutant (1989)
Here's another game which might not qualify as post-apocalypse by my definition. But it does show how game lines can shift over time. The Swedish rpgs Mutant and Mutant 2 appeared previously. They're classic descendants of the Gamma World tradition. However by the late 80's cyberpunk had become the rage. Target Games decided to release a new version of Mutant borrowing more from that genre and Judge Dredd. While the game kept a dark, dystopian future with mega-cities, it ditched all of the classic radiation-created craziness. So mutated animals, youthful exploration of ruins, and the like vanished. Mutants still existed but as transformed humans, often discriminated against. Devastated lands between the cities remain, but this aspect is downplayed (as it was in the Judge Dredd rpg). This version is referred to as New Mutant or Mutant 2089 to distinguish it from the previous versions. It did decently enough to generate about a dozen supplements, several expanding the cyberpunk and netrunning elements.

Target would eventually shift the Mutant brand even further, resulting (via a twisted route) in Mutant Chronicles, which we'll see on a latter list. Like Cyberpunk 2020 or Shadowrun, Mutant 2089 shows the "apocalypse as backdrop" or perhaps "shitty future" genre. Something bad has happened and reshaped the world, but we're not living in the shadow of it. It is just different and life carries on. So these games are literally post-apocalyptic, but play doesn't revolve around those elements. You see what I mean?

6. Mutazoids (1989)
One of the pleasures of finally having Designers & Dragons in hand is the ability to check the history of some of these smaller, flash-in-the-pan companies and discover a world of zany complexity. Ken Whitman, a graphic designer, formed Whit Productions to release Mutazoids. He then formed another similarly named company to do a couple of games we'll see on the next list. Then after handing that company off to investors he became TSR's GenCon Coordinator. Still later he was at the heart of the fiasco which was Traveller T4: Marc Miller's Traveller.

Mutazoids offers an interesting post-apocalyptic future. Rather than a fully devastated world, we instead have a significantly changed Earth. An artificial plague kills off much of humanity, but more importantly causes genetic changes for children of the survivors. This results in beings with slight deformities (Acceptables), highly potent transformed beings (Mutazoids), and humans with hidden talents (Supers). Fear of the plague and these mutants has allowed the rise of a fascist, dystopian government. Strikingly you play not as these mutants, but instead as Enforcers- agents of the government attempting to contain the threat and maintain the power of the Second Republic. That's a different direction to take, especially given the awesome Minotaur dude on the cover. There's a mix of X-Men and Logan's Run here.

7. Road Rebels (1989)
*Cue wailing guitar riff* ROAD REBELS!!! Normally on these lists I avoid self-published games, but this one I had to cover. It looks to be a post-apocalyptic heartbreaker in the vein of Road Warrior. A commentary of RPGNet says "We've got Captain Planet meets Mad Max meets Mars Attacks." But to really taste the ambition, you need the back cover blurb:

"Road Rebels is the first role playing game designed with the serious role player in mind. In this very complete basic game are 16 pages of weapons of all technology levels, 30 pages of cars, trucks, buses, tractor trailers, and motorcycles, several creatures, poisons, acid, diseases and special equipment. An entire chapter is devoted to advanced combat rules that include fighting underwater, strangling, back stabbing, street fighting, and various other ways to thrash an opponent.

Vehicles can be highly modified with weapons, armor, handling modifications and engine modifications such as nitrous oxide, turbo chargers, or super chargers. Characters may drive their vehicles on or off road, in snow or in mud, up or down hills, run over buildings, cars, cats, or pedestrians that are in the way. Forget speed limits, road signs, and slow drivers. In Road Rebels when someone cuts you off you can cut him out.

Characters can become highly skilled in combat, in driving, stealth, perception or other obtainable skills. Characters may use any type of weapon including flame throwers, acid spraying guns, explosives, explosive ammo, swords, axes, clubs, knives, baseball bats, pool sticks, whips, chains, crossbows, pistols, rifles, shotguns, broken weapons or whatever else a character can get a hold of.

To survive in the world of Road Rebels one should be 12 years or older, be armed with a six and ten sided die, and be ready to take on the challenge of the exciting new world of Road Rebels."

That pretty much tells you the game's focus. And it’s impressive in being the first game for serious role players (as opposed to casual? non-professional?).

8. La Terre Creuse (1989)
A French rpg, aka The Hollow Earth. This apparently draws loosely from a series of sci-fi novels by Alain Paris. Humanity goes deep underground for many centuries following a massive event called the Silent Death. They evolve into a strange science-fantasy society ala Hawkmoon. The French reviewers at GROG draw strong parallels between the two settings. It feels like a revision of those ideas to utilize more complicated game mechanics. The setting’s equally complex with a mix of Vril Magics, micro-hollow worlds, decayed technology, and a weird high medieval vibe. I wish I knew French given the odd Google translation: "The dogma of the Hollow Earth, which is faith in what is called the current "Imperium," says that humanity is evolving not on the outer face of the earth, but on its inner face. And the sky, the sun ... the moon are bright spots hanging in the center of the Earth. In addition, there are other hollow lands, which can be accessed through passages located at the poles. The analogy used in the presentation of the world is "a sponge whose solid part consists of rock, to infinity and whose bubbles, holes, hollow home land."" The game itself doesn't seem to have done particularly well, generating only a single setting supplement and a GM screen. That seems to be the average for these these ambitious but flawed games of the period.

9. Age of Ruin (1990)
All I have is a few scattered scraps on this one. The description at Noble Knight Games states "A post-apocalyptic RPG, set around 80 years after a third world war caused by lack of natural resources. The dominant weapon was called the Red Death, a plague which killed by mutating the DNA of the infected. If you survived, your children were mutants. It uses a simple percentile attribute and skill-based system. Includes a fast-playing vehicle combat system, and an introductory mini- campaign/adventure." The back covers explains that "The Earth has been ravaged by environmental disaster. Humanity has been twisted by a diabolical plague. Mankind struggles for survival against savage mutants and a brutal environment. Only the brave and strong survive. WELCOME TO THE AGE OF RUIN."

Cutting Edge Games of Tempe, AZ only published this, as well as a single supplement Realm of the Beast. The cover is awesome and so 1990 as to be painful. None of the authors seem to have gone on to publish other rpgs.

A game which might be a little ahead of its time...not necessarily in terms of mechanics (it came from GDW) but more for its whimsy and subject matter. It licensed the comic Xenozoic Tales which ran from '87 to '96 across several publishers with a little over a dozen issues. C&D saw a heavy push across multiple media including trading cards, video games, and a cartoon show. In the future humanity escapes a ravaged Earth by building underground. After six centuries they return to the surface to find it overrun with once-extinct lifeforms. Now they must survive in this fallen world with only limited and rudimentary technology. It’s post-apocalypse mixed with pulp and dinosaurs. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs remains one of the brighter and more upbeat PA games published. Survival's still an issue, but there's an equally potent sense of fun.

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs never did well for several reasons. First, the license built on a thin comic book basis with few issues available. Second it never saw serious support from GDW. Third while the setting might be light, fast and pulp, the system is anything but. Instead it builds on the tactical mechanics of Twilight 2000, perhaps not the best fit. It might be a single 144 page book, but it packs a ton in: including a host of rules for multiple combat problems and situations. While the T2K system doesn't kill it, it doesn't help. I suspect even a fast and furious system (like say Savage Worlds) would have had an equally uphill battle grabbing market share with this concept.

An Italian RPG which loosely translates to “Sons of the Holocaust.” Italian publisher BlackOut released this after modest success with the fantasy rpg Lords of Chaos. Figli dell'Olocausto is a military-heavy post-apocalyptic rpg not unlike Aftermath or The Morrow project. A nuclear war in 2004 leads to mutations and the present chaotic state of the world in 2028. Some comments praise the interesting and crunchy approach, but they also point to major gaps in information and concepts. Others simply describe it as crap. BlackOut published nothing else for the game and seem to have ceased doing anything rpg related after this.

12. RIFTS  (1990)
Rifts is, for me, the ultimate Quantum game. It exists simultaneously as awesome and awful. From a distance, it seems amazing. Look at the concept: a nuclear war in a high-tech future results in the disruption of magical ley-line energies which shatter reality and tear the world open with rifts, allowing beings from across the dimensions to pour into and take control of various zones. That's brilliant. But then I collapse the wave function. I actually look at the rules, the layout, the system craziness. And that's so not what I want to run and play. Yet smart gamers I know and respect had their formative experiences with this rpg. Some still play it.

No other game has done multi-genre with a distinct setting as effectively as Rifts. It brings together supernatural, mutant, cyborg, psychic, elder horror, and divine elements in a way no other game does. Every supplement has amazing crazy artwork and cool ideas running through it, from Wormwood to Atlantis to Mystic Russia. Rifts takes place about 300 years after the cataclysmic event. The world has settled somewhat and now the struggle’s more for control than absolute survival. Palladium would later come back to consider the early post-event era with Rifts Chaos Earth. Rifts remains an important post-apocalyptic game, even if that concept does get buried under the sheer diversity of material. Also please note that I refuse to use all caps for the game's title in text.

13. Twilight: 2000 (1990)
When the first edition of Twilight 2000 came out, I still had nightmares about nuclear war. My father taught political science. I'd sat through several horrific documentaries about the effects of a nuclear exchange. He had maps in his office showing the impact and fallout from a strike in the United States. I used to compare that to other maps, trying to figure out what a nuke hitting Chicago or Detroit would do to us. By 1990 I began to have some hope about the future. I couldn't be sure, but things looked promising- at least as far as all of us not dying in a horrific nuclear blast.

GDW’s second edition of Twilight 2000 had several obstacles. It had to consider the geopolitical changes and evolution in game design. For the former it made several small shifts intended to make things slightly more realistic. It kept the concept of a limited nuclear exchange, combined with more realistic forms of internal collapse. As to game changes, GDW for better or worse embraced crunch and gunlove. Sixty plus pages of the revised version present weapon and vehicle cards. That makes sense- all of the gun, operation, and equipment guides published for T2000 sold like hotcakes. At the store we had a strong contingent of military buffs who bought everything even though they never played rpgs. GDW knew their target audience and kept an emphasis on combat and detailed resolution, even as they made a few allowances to open the game up. The second edition included rules allowing civilian PCs. In 1993 GDW returned and again changed the mechanics slightly to a 2.2 version. This was intended to bring Twilight 2000 in line with their house system and make it compatible with Traveller: The New Era. GDW also published a version of this, Merc 2000, which kept the super-crunchy mechanics. That allowed gamers to play mercs operating in various brush-fire wars.
14. Wastelands (1990)
Another Swedish game, Wastelands also shrugs off the legacy of Gamma World. However instead of cyberpunk, goes for a Mad Max look. I'm not sure if there's a good term to describe that gritty sci-fi trapping: Tribal? Autoexotic? something like that? However despite that appearance, this isn't a world of depleted resources. According to the translated wikipedia entry, "Wastelands takes place "after the disaster", thirty years after a devastating invasion from space creatures called byrr. A portion of humanity lives in the complex - City complex under byrrs control, while the rest live in the wilderness, so-called wastelands . The game is more focused on action than on misery." The game seems to emphasize gang conflicts and tribal warfare. Lancelot Games only published two supplements for this game before sliding into bankruptcy.

15. Miscellaneous: Post-Apocalypse Supplements
This time I have one genre-crossing supplement and one corner case to consider. I'm leaving off some items with incidental post-apocalyptic twists. For example some GURPS setting books include sidebar post-apocalyptic variants. Champions in 3-D (1990), on the other hand, includes several different post-crash parallel dimensions for use in supers campaigns. “Horror World” (alien parasites have taken over) and “Disaster World” seem the most obvious choices. They aren't classically post-apocalyptic, but the book does offer a toolkit for building such parallel worlds.

Other dimensions also factors into another game from this era: Torg (1990). I have to admit I never got into Torg because I wasn't sure what the hook was. Only after it had gone out of print did I discover its card-driven elements (something I usually dig). Like Rifts, Torg offers a multi-genre setting. But it places the characters right in the middle of a reality war. It isn't exactly post-apocalyptic, though several of the dimensions offer dystopian settings. Perhaps the closest might be the Orrosh or Horror Kingdom, but I'm uncertain. I'll need to turn to others who know Torg better than I.