Tuesday, June 30, 2015

History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Eleven 2007)

Hey I got an ENnies nomination! Since this is my 997th post I’m filling these entries with countdowns as we head to 1000, therefore....

On earlier lists I broke Post-Apocalyptic games by distance from “The Event.” That often establishes key setting concepts (like memory, ruins, rebuilding). I’ve been thinking about other dynamics in these rpgs. They aren’t binaries, but different spectrums.
  • Realism vs. Fantasy: Some settings buy into the gonzo with strange powers, constant mutations, angelic interventions. The most recent edition of Gamma World goes all in on this. Others aim for more “realism”: radiation kills, only lunatics claim magic, and the rules of physics apply. Twilight 2000 embraces this. Usually games end up further towards the fantastic. Even games I think of as “realistic”- Morrow Project, Aftermath!- include rules for psionics, intelligent plants, and giant bugs.
  • Natural to Technological: At least two considerations fall under this. First, how much technology remains and is used? Must people rediscover these tools? Or has technology sustained and advanced despite the disaster, as in many cyberpunk-ish dystopias? Second, how does the setting showcase technology and nature- as heroes? as villains? Some games clearly suggest a lesson about the dangers of industrialization. They may have caused the devastation (as in the various Robot Overlord games). Or they signal evil, as in games where only the clear villains have sophisticated tech and weapons. On the other hand, in some settings nature itself battles the survivors. Climate collapse, desert wastelands, expanding blood fungus. Nature plans to take back what it can, and only with struggle and technology can that be held at bay.
  • Individualist to Communal: Some rpgs focus on singular heroes who carve their way through the world. They may be hunting for fame, wealth, power, or even just so they can live. Some Zombie games encourage this; be the sole survivor. On the other hand, others begin with the characters’ group and relationships. Apocalypse World and Mutant: Year Zero have this baked into their DNA. While other game hint at this approach, these games have mechanics to support and incentivize play to sustain a community.
  • Pessimism vs. Optimism: More subjective, but some games feel like they offer hope and others crush it underfoot. Some zombie material has the characters waiting for the next time someone takes the stupid ball and re-infects the refuge. Some games just seem dark, like Obsidian, Armageddon, or End Time. The world’s become terrible and it will never get better. But other games suggest hope. The players actively battle for a brighter tomorrow in Necessary Evil. Even the ambiguity of your choices there don’t destroy that hope. Gamma World’s always seemed optimistic to me: the idea that your young characters can go out, survive, and make a difference. In some ways this reflect how stable the ground is: can you build something and have it survive? Or will the world (GM) always blow it up? Though some rpgs clearly sew in damnations, this trait may depend more on how the game’s run.

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 material or sourcebooks. I consolidate “spin-off” and miscellaneous supplements into a single entry. For example at the end you'll see round-up entries with 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 2006). I've arranged these by year and then alphabetically within that year.

This is a pretty book. And huge one too at 400+ pages. It has every graphic tweak that grabs me: clean page backgrounds, tight but stylish borders, full color images, strong and simple text design. It works (despite the landscape page design). All good. Let's see the premise- ah, an ecological collapse. Mother Nature reclaims the world and humanity falls back to mega-cities. That’s Interesting, a strong mix of tech urban and vast wilderness. Cool. But then we hit pages from a 19th Century visionary prophet. And then the alien angels appear.

If you flipped through the book at the store or read the blurbs, you wouldn't have the gwak moment I had. Alpha Omega presents a sprawling, kitchen-sink setting. Earth hosts an ancient war between the Seraph and Ophanum forces (get it?), eons later the world turns on humanity with unceasing natural disasters. Desperate enclaves manage to adapt and survive. Then a hundred years later an "Evolutionary" appears to tell people of the imminent arrival of the ancient warring species (as well as the Elim, the Nephilim, the Grigori, and Annnunnaki). And then for 150 years humanity begins to assimilate the Evolutionary half-breeds and an array of other weird species and peoples. The game takes place in 2280, with the idea that only now are cities pushing reclaim the wilderness. It’s a weird mix of Nephilim, Eden's Armageddon, SLA Industries, and Cyberpunk, resting atop a thick bed of World of Darkness. When I see three pages of lingo, I flash back to White Wolf.

It's pretty- and it has a ton of room for play. You can pretty much do anything you want. Gamma World style exploration of the ruins? Ancient wars between powerful supernaturals? Shadowrun-esque prowlings in high-tech back-alleys? There's a ton of world-building here: locations to NPCs to organizations. You can choose from ten strange races, including humans. There's so much it becomes hard to pick out what's going on. The game looks super complex with core qualities, secondary qualities, tertiary qualities, detailed movement rates, a dense page of skills with individual use tick boxes. Plus more pages to record abilities and powers. Alpha Omega has interesting material, but the central hook’s obscure or too convoluted to get across quickly. It reminds me of Eclipse Phase's density: a strength and a weakness. Still if you're looking for a cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, pseudo-Judeo-Christian, supernatural rpg, then this might be your bag.

I wonder how designers decide when to set a game in relation to Armageddon. What does further or closer gain you for your setting? Enough room for changes? Strong memories of the event? A sense of repeating the past? I often wonder how long after the destruction of a world before that destruction doesn't matter?

APOCalypse 2500 offers a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. It takes place 400 years after a scientific accident reshapes the world and destroys the old civilizations. There's more than a hint of Shadowrun or Wizards ("...as likely to find a sword wielding magic using elf lord as they are to come across a pissed off dwarf with a Kalashnikov and a hover cycle.") mixed with high gonzo. The wackiest of Gamma World blended with high fantasy? The art's distinctive. Unfortunately online reviews are thin on the ground and the download link for any previews has broken. And here's the thing, it has all the look and warning signs of a heartbreaker. The character sheets look detailed and crunchy- an echo of Aftermath! or Twilight 2000. Despite an off-the-wall looks, the APOCalypse 2500 site’s blurb text seems old-school and retro, but perhaps not deliberately so. I'm not sure what this game is. As a plus, the author's still supports this line up. His social media suggests a new edition forthcoming, and he's released a number of supplements for the system.

Now Battlestar Galactica fans can craft an ending they'd like. Note that I didn't watch the show, only the online reactions. While I may not have gotten into the series, the essential premise works for me. And I can easily imagine players building a whole new crew and playing out basically the same story. BSG has an elemental appeal applicable to many settings and genres. Refugees flee into the wilds when a force destroys their civilization. They search for refuge even as they're hunted by the destroyer. I've run it with a fantasy campaign, sketched out a steampunk version, and can even picture how I'd use it for a Star Trek game (a rag-tag fleet of Federation ships fleeing the Borg...). I love the idea of survivors carrying their slowly decaying enclave with them.

This adaptation takes the same approach as several other Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd. licensed games. A modest core book with lots of series art and another version of the Cortex system. That's a not a bad idea and works well when the volumes serves both as a game and a series sourcebook. Oddly BSG doesn't nearly have as much background material as something like Smallville (which has a major section of show summaries). There's some material on the history of the Twelve Tribes of Kobol, as well as general character discussions and lingo. But there's much more not covered either in mechanics and narrative. For example everyday life among the ship's gets light treatment. The drama of the political tensions and interpersonal debates (even tensions over the Cyclons) gets minimal consideration. IMHO this is the first in a series of gamebooks, but they never released the rest. If they had we might have some system for tracking the greater community, example scenarios, and discussions of events in the show. As it is MWP only released this, a GM screen, and a handful of web freebies.

I like Mecha- not as much as some, but I dig the concept. I've always preferred the more offbeat treatments to core anime like Macross or Full Metal Panic! Instead I followed Tiger & Bunny, Escaflowne, and Rahxephon. These twist or undercut the tropes. Some read Evangelion as a response to the classic mecha plot elements (clear bad guys, young pilots, government support). Bliss Stage offers another take, one which doesn't exactly subvert elements, but instead focuses on some of the logical implications. It's a game of child refugees in a post-apocalyptic future with mecha and sex.

A dream-plague afflicts the earth, sending all adults into a lethargic slumber. Economies collapse, systems break down, and remaining children try to survive. Then the authors of the syndrome, called the Bliss, send their actual attack. They dwell beyond our dimension and so strike with remotely piloted horrific machines. These mammoth bio-organic machines ravage the landscape. The remnants of humanity despair in tunnels refuges and other deep places. But now hope has arisen. A still-waking adult has discovered a means to replicate the enemy's machines. Just as they invaded our space, teen pilots will be able to take the “ANIMa” into their's. They’ll create a battlesuit from their hopes, fears, and loves to strike back and free the world.

Like Polaris, Ben Lehman's Bliss Stage begins with a strikingly evocative premise. Bliss Stage aims to emulate a television series and play out a full campaign in 4-10 sessions. The rules do offer advice for extending or shortening that, but the tight approach strengthens the game. Lehman also clearly aims the game for new players. He spends a good deal of time directly explaining play and what you actually do at the table. That's good because while it's a mecha game, a good deal of the materials built around character interactions and personal relationships. Intimacy becomes vital and the game actually spells out the levels of it. It's tough & messy, and without being overblown echoes the angst of teens. In that way it feels more like a classic anime game than most. Others focus on the crunch and machines over the people and fears.

If you're looking for an unusual storytelling game and a new way to approach anime conventions, I recommend picking this up.

There's a strong overlap between horror and post-apocalyptic, and I covered CthulhuTech on my earlier lists. As I said then: You got your transhumanist cyberpunk anime in my Lovecraftian mythos! It tastes like burning. This stand-alone horror game brings together elements I originally thought wouldn't fit. Then I reconsidered it- many of the mecha anima films have as adversaries inhuman and elder creatures (Evangelion, Blue Gender, RahXephon). As I understand it, CthulhuTech has gone through a couple of different publishers. I like seeing horror hacked into tabletop genres I wouldn't have expected. The actual game is open-ended enough to be used for several different kinds of campaigns (just as there are different anime foci)- horror, hard military, espionage, etc. Cthulhutech won an Ennie for best cover in 2009 and had several other nominations.

But is it post-apocalyptic? I've seen it labelled that way in several places. Is it? Maybe? I suspect it depends a little on how you angle the setting. It definitely has that anime-esque "big war destroyed civilization and we've rebuilt" vibe. Where the rebuilding looks more like they just changed some names and future'd things up. In the case of Cthulhutech humanity's locked in a second devastating war after barely survived the first. At the same time the Old Ones have begun to awaken and many cults work to shape and control those forces. So the previous apocalypse isn't Lovecraftian, but the next one will be.

Until last week I had no idea this was post-apocalyptic. Is that me? Is that the advertising? Some combination? I honestly thought that Monte Cook had just done an alternate core book reframing the various WoD populations. I assumed it used the WoD corebook and offered an alternate origin, like intelligent viral colonies from space creating monsters. Instead it's a world with many of the familiar WoD creatures, where an incursion by "The Iconnu" has disrupted and destroyed the middle part of America. That in turn released a "Nightmare Wave" which warped reality and created all kinds of horrors. The world's rebuilding from that devastating event and the continuing onslaught of our manifested darkest fears. All of this in a nearly 400 page book...written for D&D 3.5.

Monte Cook's World of Darkness pitches a solid and playable Armageddon. The PCs supernaturally-touched nature connects them with the source of the disaster. The setting lets you have your cake and eat it too. You get a near contemporary backdrop, with a grand dollop of disaster. You get the feel of splintered World of Darkness creatures, with less complexity. You get a post-apocalyptic aftermath, with the chance to fight back against its expansion. You get to play monsters, but there's clearly a singular bigger bad out everyone has to face. The book's thick with background material. Sometimes these d20 setting guides spend so much time on mechanical adaptations and character rules that they give little in the way of compelling setting. Besides the background details suggested in the creation rules, we get about 40 pages of initial set up and then deep presentations of two locations. That’s 25 pages on a fallen Chicago and 30 or so of a nightmarish Minneapolis. Both have detailed NPCs, locales, and plot hooks. In particular I'd recommend these urban sections for GMs running any kind of supernatural post-apocalyptic game.

There's also a chunk of d20 mechanics. Cook smartly condenses things down to five classes: Vampires, Werewolves, Mages, Demons, and Awakened (think Hunters). Each has distinct features and players can tweak their templates to emulate particular sub-types. The rules have a rich discussion of skills and feats. Most classes have a unique feat pool to cover powers. It seems complete; the werewolf section's particularly dense. Cook also works out a way to emulate Mage's improvised magick. Better d20 folks than I can say how well that works in practice. Overall if you've ever wanted a condensed adaptation of the World of Darkness to d20, this is it. MCWoD is stronger than most wanabee d20 urban horror/thinly-disguised WoD games I saw for my History of Horror RPG lists. If you like supernatural in your apocalypse, check out Monte Cook's World of Darkness.

HERO Games has awesome genre sourcebooks. That wasn't always the case. I recall Robot Warriors, Cyber HERO, and the first edition of Star HERO. Recent products like Pulp Hero and LuchaLibre Hero offer great resources for anyone interested in the genre, regardless of system. Post-Apocalyptic Hero follows that tradition, and while it isn't amazing, it has some solid material and ideas. I always check how much game-specific mechanics these kinds of books have. At a glance I'd say less than 20% covers HERO grit and in some cases (like the Radiation Effects table) they're highly adaptable and open.

The first dozen+ pages of Post-Apocalyptic Hero lists genres and variations. That's decent and probably useful for someone coming into this cold. The next 70 pages have more specifics: templates for HERO games, but also GMing advice and ideas for modelling survival and scavenging. I'm disappointed that PAH doesn't offer ideas for handling communities and societies, a major part of the genre. The bulk of the book (120+ pages) presents eight different campaign frames. They're fairly conventional- from the Road Warrior-esque "Tobacco Road" to the Z-Day of "Zombie World," to the mutated wasteland of "After the Blast." Only two have original tweaks: "Mechanon Triumphant," an Age of Ultron like alternate superhero reality and "Destinations," a bleak setting with mechanics for tracking Hope. GMs looking for new frames or examples of how to build a PA setting will find this useful. Those already running a particular world may find them less so.

But the book's bigger problem lies in the uneven art. Some of it's striking (particularly Klaus Scherwinski's work), but there's a mess of weak and throwaway illustrations. That takes away from everything else. Still I'd recommend at least checking this out to anyone doing a conventional post-apocalyptic game (Mutant: Year Zero, Aftermath!, Apocalypse World).

I love crossovers. I love TV episodes intersecting two series. I love comics with different publishers’ characters duking it out. I love strange video games that join likely (Street Fighter x Tekken) and unlikely (Persona x Fire Emblem) properties. Of those, I have a few guilty pleasure JRPGS: the terribly translated Chaos Wars (Shadow Hearts, Growlanswer, Blazing Souls, Gungrave, and more) and the much better Cross Edge (joining Darkstalkers, Disgaea, Ar Tonelico, Spectral Souls, Atelier X and Mana Khemia). In more popular games, the Kingdom Hearts series is the ultimate jam. But until now I hadn't seen a crossover tabletop rpg. I've seen shared universes (like the World of Darkness), but nothing like Tenra War.

Tenra War takes the steampunk-ish Terra the Gunslinger, mecha Angel Gear, and science fantasy Tenra Basho and crashes them into the same universe. After a devastating war between Tenra and Terra, an alien invasion of "Angels" appears. What follows is a joining and mixing of forces to battle against these invaders. Tenra War reconstructs the world of the original games and apparently brings in the foes from Angel Gear. I'm not certain about that; the most recent edition of AG looks like a classic kids in mecha game but that may differ. I dig Tenra War’s of two radically divided peoples trying to rebuild and fight against a potent foe. The closest thing I could imagine would be a steampunk version of Legend of the Five Rings coming into contact with Deadlands to battle Daleks. I'm not sure how the game actually is. But given how striking and amazing the recent Tenra Bansho Zero has been, I imagine it's pretty wild.

"Apocalyptic Neo-Victorian dystopia" about sums it up. I originally picked this up because I thought it was an alt-history Victorian horror game. But much like Etherscope, this game would like to have the cool of steampunk aesthetic but set it in the future. Both frustrate me with their double mumbo-jumbo. Why not just keep the classic timeline, perhaps work the history more carefully? While it isn't a good book by any means, the similar novel Whitechapel Gods at least hews to history with its supernatural post-apocalypse. Unhallowed Metropolis looks good, but I didn't find it compelling. I suspect because I couldn't get past the design choice. It has a supernatural zombie plague, decaying technology, vampires, and mad science. I think a GM who wants to do Steam-horror could find some good ideas here, but they'd have to work through some dross.

That's my previous assessment of UM as a steampunk game, but I want to reconsider it as post-apocalyptic. Unhallowed Metropolis popped to mind as I read about the video games Dishonored and Bloodborne. Both share an aesthetic with this rpg. In particular the former game has an interesting mechanic where you can actually help bring about the apocalypse. Behave terribly and city’s the panic and disease level rises. Going full in on that spells the death of everyone. That’s a mechanic worth adapting to the tabletop.

Unhallowed Metropolis functions better as a post-apocalyptic game than a steampunk. You have some cool disaster elements and there’s a feeling of desperation. The world’s overrun with zombies, but they’re not the central feature. You could spin the weirdly anachronistic designs and dress elements as a strange affectation to a society on the brink of collapse. They've gone a little mad. I think it could work better as surreal and mythic (like a/state). Dump the detailed history and background. This world’s simply how it is and no one's sure how this came to be. That would make it click for me.

10. Miscellaneous: Corner Cases
Two product from 2007 fall at the bounds of Post-Apocalyptic gaming. The Echoes of Heaven Campaign Setting / The Throne of God (D20 3.5) released versions in '06 & '07 for HARP, D&D 3.5, HERO, and Rolemaster. Destruction and division has come to fantasy version of Heaven which looks and sounds suspiciously like the Judeo-Christian one. There's lots of things here which echo those myths- like Dwarven form of Nephilim in a Silmarillion/Book of Enoch smash up. The worlds now caught in a open and ongoing war between Heaven, Hell, and the World. Religions have splintered and doomsday seems to approach. On the other hand, we have Maddrax: Reloaded. This is a German rpg based on a biweekly pulp sci-fi series. I looks a little like Horseclans plus Kamandi plus a riff of Men's Adventure. Seriously, it's worth looking at the Wikipedia page to catch all the genre hooks and tropes. While it looks clearly Post-Apocalyptic, Maddrax: Reloaded had a narrow distribution. It appeared as a 66 page pamphlet enclosed with volume 200 of the series. I hasn't been reprinted since. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Five Campaigns that Worked & Their Lessons

Since this is my 996th post I’m filling these entries with countdowns as we head to 1000, therefore....

Originally I had other plans for this post. I’d gotten deep in before I realized how they'd tired me out. I'd assembled a list of five campaigns I’d run that crashed and burned. I talked about how they collapsed, what went wrong, and what lessons I could draw. I’m glad one of them blew up, but the others stick with me as huge failures. And writing that list made me tired. And why the eff should I dig through that.

So, as you’ll know from the post title, I switched gears. Here are five successful campaigns I ran. And just a little about why they clicked and what lessons they offered me. I risk a “let me tell you about my character post,” but…

…let me tell you about my campaigns. (pushes glasses back on bridge of nose). 

I spent my junior year studying overseas at the American University in Cairo. The week before I left for Egypt, I wrapped the biggest fantasy campaign I’d ever run. In the afterglow, I packed a bunch of gaming stuff: rules, world notes, and sourcebooks. Of course that bag vanished in transit, never to be seen again. So I had nothing. Eventually one of my players back home sent me a handful of notes, a map, and a GURPS book. I figured if nothing else I could spend my off-time planning for a game when I returned. Instead, a one-shot session I ran first semester ended up getting a some newly arrived students interested in playing second semester. I used my existing fantasy setting and we played hard: once a week, often more, and usually for five or six hours. The campaign provided them a full story with a beginning, middle, and end. They chose and set the course for the events. And the lessons...

*I’m a Good GM: OK, this is going to sound arrogant and stupid. I’d come from an area with a strong and vibrant gaming community. I stood among many solid and popular GMs. Rob, Charles, Paul, Barry all ran awesome games at the time. Later three would go wonky and one would die. As with many people at that age, I had hefty self-doubt. I thought I ran well, but our group had so many good GMs I couldn’t tell. The Cairo group had people who’d played other games and a single newbie. They dug it and they said so. They made it clear how vastly this game differed from anything they’d played before.

So here’s the lesson: if you’re running regularly, people keep coming back, and they’re engaged at the table, you’re probably doing something right. Take compliments seriously and listen to complaints. Don’t beat yourself up with too much. There’s a thing depressives and GMs do after a good session: redacting their experience. They rewrite their memories and make things seem worse. Don’t do that. Be in the moment and read that. Own your awesomeness. 

*Run Without a Net: Losing my source material meant I had nothing to fall back on: no sourcebooks, no additional materials, no premade maps. More importantly, because our packed schedules, I did much less prep than ever before. Still more work than today, but a fraction of the hours I’d put in before. I’d swing back and forth over the next several years, but eventually grokked completely that light prep could work. (Response from Future Lowell: “duh”).

The players wanted a Star Wars game. I’d never run or played Star Wars. I’d really never done sci-fi at all. So I stripped it down to only the Original Trilogy as canon. I framed it as the first film in a new set of three to follow Return of the Jedi. We ended up with a solid and coherent short campaign with a beginning, middle, end and some dangling plot hooks for the sequel. I really loved it where I didn't think I would. Only changes in players’ schedules meant that we wouldn’t continue. You can see my full notes on it here. And the lesson...

*Go Simple: When I decided to run this, I looked at the older Star Wars rpgs: d6, d20, and Saga. I briefly considered using one, but decided I’d just write an Action Cards version since we’d been playing it for years. In my first pass, I made a big list of all the things I’d need to come up with: aliens, weapons, vehicles, ship combat, professions. Then I simply decided not to. I wrote up a one-page with different “knacks” to define characters (droid, weird alien, tinkerer), a basic set of Jedi powers, and some unique cards based on SW lore. Later on I wrote up a short list of bennies the Pilot character used to tweak his ship. And it worked. I didn’t sweat having rules for everything and everyone got the feel of it. I didn’t need to completely reinvent the wheel as I’d done with some adaptations (like Fate for Scion).

A high fantasy campaign riffing on Battlestar Galactica. We opened the first session with the destruction of most of the survivors with the PC's world collapsing in the background. The few remaining ships fled into the void and with a hope that something lay out there. Each PC came from a different race and different ship. Tensions between these peoples became just as important as exploration and adventuring in the game. Originally I’d planned on a one-year game (26 sessions, bi-weekly). However the players demanded we continue on and we wrapped up the story after two and a half years. And the lessons...

*Let the Players Be Big: I had everyone pick a “role” for their character. Each would play an important ‘official’ in the game. Rather than work their way up, they started with authority and responsibility. It gave them issues they valued and short-circuited the usual PC rebellion against those in power. They made thoughtful decisions and weighed the consequences. It created some of the best rp and community sessions I'd ever had.

*You Can Share the World Building in a Big Way: I used Microscope to build this world. I’d done it before with a smaller game, but this time I had all the players there and I we knew it would be a sustained campaign. I began with a general premise, but let the players define everything else. I’d done this despite several worries. First,  the players would come up with goofy material- or at least ideas I thought goofy. Second, they’d create a world I didn’t want to run. Third, by creating the world themselves they’d remove mystery or tension.

None of that happened. Instead they crafted a brilliant skeleton of a setting that I got to flesh out. They ended up with huge buy-in and investment. Some players added concepts they wanted to play, but ended up being attracted to others’ themes. Everyone enjoyed the world and I could focus on surprising details and interesting incidents. I’ve done several other campaigns using Microscope since then, and when I considering a campaign these days, I think about how the players can help build it.

A multi-arc Superhero campaign using Mutants & Masterminds. I had the players come up with “Year One” versions of whatever published heroes they wanted. We ended up with a team of Nightcrawler, Thor, Mister Miracle, Iron Man, and Mr. Freeze. I sketched the world using concepts drawn from those universes and characters. I mashed villains and heroes into new versions. We ended up with just short of fifty sessions. I ran it online, using Roll20. I’ve written up a number of session summaries, and this decent post on lessons I learned after the second arc. And the lessons...

*Running Online is Challenging: While I’d run an online Changeling the Lost campaign before this, Firstwave represented the first time I’d delved into online tools. We started with Tabletop Forge and moved to Roll20. I’d also been nervous about running a crunchier game with new people and how much the electronic tools would complicate that. But it worked well and it taught me a lot running online.

First, you have to be patient and emphatic. As a GM you’re going to talk over people, players are going to forget they're on mute, people aren’t going to hear you, the call’s going to drop. Keep your hands on the rudder. Repeat statements without irritation and give people a few moments before moving on. Your calm carries the others. Second, pick the level of tools you want and stick with that. I like Roll20. It does what I want and it does it simply. I don’t measure distances, so maps become pretty backgrounds for abstract estimation or broken into zones. It has cool, easy, and stable drawing tools. I can use character sheets (or not). I can easily drop in and label tokens. I can track initiative. I can roll dice. That’s all I need. I don’t care about anything else. That’s become second nature and doesn’t eat up time. Third, online games with tokens and maps eat up more prep time. I have to plan for that. And I have to limit myself in hunting down cool images. Do the prep and don't futz with it when you get playing. Fourth, even more than f2f, the online GM has to be a meeting manager. Establish methods, show a clear order, make sure everyone knows their voice will be heard. Keep things moving. Fifth, only five players plus the GM. For some reason, the moment I get a sixth player, everything slows down and becomes more difficult. That’s not true in person. I have to know my limits and work with them.

Not exactly a campaign, but a series of sessions where various folks dropped in and out with their characters for the next couple of years. I was fourteen and the rpg had just come out. People used to play in the backroom of the local game store on the weekends. They had a free table, so I ran for a small pick-up group. I’d prepared a prop for it using a tarot card and some marginalia. One of the veteran GMs, the guy who ran Villains & Vigilantes and Rolemaster for my sister, walked over and watched. He was a good five years older and the dude most of the GMs aspired to be. He picked up the card prop and looked at it.

“That’s pretty cool.” He said.

*And the Lesson... I can do cool things.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Six Short Lists About Video Games

Since this is my 995th post I’m filling these entries with countdowns as we head to 1000, therefore....

RPGs, board games, and video games; that covers everything doesn't it? Maybe wargames and miniature games? But the former I don't have the patience or interest for and the latter I mostly gave up on years ago. Like most people (I think) I want a very different experience from my video game vs. tabletop rpgs. Mostly I covet total abnegation and a lack of serious challenge. I can't aim fast, don't have youthful cat-like reflexes, and lose track of my units/comrades on the map. And while I admire challenging and serious indie video games that evoke serious topics and choices...that's a nope. Sorry. I'll get that at the tabletop. Instead I'll be mindlessly scouring the map for loot.

Lists are relatively presented from lowest to highest...

My favorite game genre, so it gets a little more detail. Linear, repetitive combat filled, and often radically stereotypical. 
  1. Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth: We carefully played through each of this PS game's three endings. Then we worked our way through the Seraphic Gate mega-dungeon at the end. An amazing story with great twists, and a system for choosing and sending off your NPCs to serve the All-Father that torments you. I still hate this villain with a burning passion. The only downside to the game: f*cking jumping puzzles. The sequel on the PS2 is great, but not awesome. It loses some of the compelling mechanics from the original.
  2. Persona 4: This is a seriously tough choice. I’ve played deeply into most of the Persona games. I worked through Persona 3 twice, and I love the characters in Persona 2: Innocent Sin. But the story, characters, and mechanics in P4 add up to something unique and compelling. I’m looking forward to a second play-through with the Vita version's additional content.
  3. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne: Pretty brilliant and replayable. Has a few vertiginous moments and a metric ton of wtf. Great combat and striking art style. Just edges out Digital Devil Saga.
  4. Rune Factory Frontier: A dungeon-crawler farming sim. We really need an Agricola reskin based on this. I don’t know why I like this game to this degree; it’s slow and tedious at times, but I really enjoy the setting and characters. I didn’t care for the DS iterations and the sequel, Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny, is terrible.
  5. Final Fantasy Tactics: The FF game I’ve sunk the most hours into, replaying it twice. I suffered with the original terrible translation and then the more recent “actually makes sense” version. I love how you craft stories in your head for the random troopers. The DS sequels aren’t nearly as compelling. Other FF’s I like: FF XII, FF XII/XIII-2, FFXI, FFVI.
  6. ChronoCross: Made me cry at the end. Lovely world design, great characters, moving story. Tried ChronoTrigger after, but it didn’t grab me.
(Honorable Unrelated Mentions: Suikoden II, Xenoblade Chronicles, Star Ocean III, Skies of Arcadia, Grandia II, Wild Arms III, Shadow Hearts: Covenant)

General RPGs
  1. Might and Magic VI: Simply the best and worst at the same time. Great gameplay supporting dynamite world exploration. Looks like ass today. I also enjoyed MM VII and VIII a ton, but VI ate hundreds of hours of my life.
  2. City of Heroes: My favorite MMO and I’ve tried a bunch. The most fun for soloing- just flying around and checking things out. If this came out again, I’d pay full retail just to have a few hours in it. Other MMO’s I enjoyed: EQ and FFXI, but only Secret World has offered a cool but buggy single-player experience.
  3. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords: Mindless, terrific fun. Repetition and a dangling carrot. Not really a puzzle though…
  4. Halls of the Dead: Faery Tale Adventure II: An old PC game which has you running three brothers. Oddly striking visuals for the time. Has a catastrophic bug that kills the game in the later half.
  5. Jade Empire: Decent and fun, and on easy I could actually manage it. I’d like to see more of these non-Medieval/classic fantasy rpgs. And more wuxia is always good.
  6. Deus Ex: Yes, you could call it a shooter, but it felt more like an rpg when I played. I loved tailoring my character to stealth, hacking, fighting. Eventually I got to a spot where my build and the game events didn’t mesh. If I’d been more skilled, perhaps I could have made it past this. A runner up- and one that also stopped me I the late game- System Shock II.
Non-RPG Console Games
  1. SSX Tricky/SSX 3: I can’t decide between these two. Tricky has amazing, amazing, amazing level designs. I know all of them by heart. SSX 3 loses some of the insanity but adds coherency and sharper controls. The more recent sequel disappointed me hugely. It had some great stuff, but also some terrible play gimmick modes (the skysuits).
  2. Rock Band: I love singing and I’m terrible at it. Sometimes I’ll hand over the mic, but the whole time I’m thinking about the songs I’m going to sing when I get it back.
  3. Mario Golf: I don’t like golf and I’m not a big Mario fan. But I’ve played this on the Gameboy, Gamecube, and 3DS and love, love it. Mario Kart rocks but this edges it out.
  4. Blur: Contemporary racing game with power-ups and weapons. Well-designed courses, great challenges, and reasonable online play. Super fun and often overlooked.
  5. Katamari Damacy: A game made of equal parts crystallized joy and frustration.
  6. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: I had a controller which you could set to autofire. Level 99 Sword Familiar rocks.
Non-RPG Computer Games
  1. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri: Don’t go. The Drones need you. For further comment, see this post.
  2. EuroTruck Simulator 2: I think this wins for stupidest game I love. On the plus side, I can listen to podcasts and audiobooks while I play.
  3. Starfleet Command: Soooooo buggy, but when it actually worked it felt awesome. It implemented the interesting bits from Star Fleet Battles. I loved the energy allocation systems and adored being playing as Lyrans.
  4. Half Life: The only FPS I’ve actually gotten close to the end with. Made it to the final sequence before the game destroyed me.
  5. Europa Universalis: Set it on easy and slowly repaint the world in your color. Keep the clock at a reasonable speed and you can guarantee you’ll never actually finish a campaign.
  6. Peggle: Some people suggest there’s a strategy to these games. There isn’t.
Six Games Many People Love That I Don’t Dig
Listed without comment. I’m not going to even try to defend my reactions here.
  1. Fallout (any)
  2. Elder Scrolls (any)
  3. Half Life 2
  4. World of Warcraft
  5. Baldur’s Gate and like games
  6. Vampire: Bloodlines
Six Games I Wish I Had the Coordination/Skill/Patience to Play
  1. Shadow of the Colossus: Hey, I can’t even beat the training monster.
  2. Thief: By the time I get the arrow aimed, my arm is tired.
  3. Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army: Where’s my turn-based combat you bastards?
  4. Resonance of Fate: I…I…have no idea what’s actually occurring on screen.
  5. Red Dead Redemption: F*ck you, Lasso.
  6. Eternal Darkness: Gah, what? Huh? What am I supposed to do?
Six Games I’m Going to Seriously Play Next
  1. Divinity: Original Sin: Tried the first half-hour the other night with Sherri…seems pretty awesome.
  2. Suikoden V: I’ve been working my way through these, having missed I & II before. Replaying Suikoden III has not been a great experience; I recall it more fondly than it deserves. I won’t replay IV because it starts and ends badly. OOH I got a ways into Suikoden V and I need to restart it. I liked where the story was going.
  3. Shin Megami Tensei IV: I’ve heard this is super tough and unforgiving, so I’ve held off playing it. Also, Sherri monopolizes the 3DS.
  4. Persona IV: Golden: Like the Suikoden series I’ve been replaying or finishing the earlier Persona games. But I’m impatient. I’m going to move this forward.
  5. Train Fever: I know this was on sale, but why exactly did I buy this?
  6. Rock Band in preparation for Rock Band 4: Previously purchased songs and instruments are compatible with the new game. That’s how you support a franchise. 

See also...
The Worst GMs from Video Games
Video Games as Tabletop RPGs
Emulation & Beyond: More Thoughts on RPGs & Video Games

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Ten 2006)

We’re back. Let’s put everything up to eleven and finish out these lists!
Since this is my 994th post I’m filling these entries with countdowns as we head to 1000, therefore....

  1. Mad Max: For me, awesome. OOH a few folks I highly respect didn’t care for it as much. Incredible world-building with minimal elements. Dynamite editing and the swamp walkers made me want to know more.
  2. Hope Inhumanity: A post-apocalyptic card-game I played at Origins. It felt OK as an rpg, but Rich Rogers pointed out it’s intended as a boardgame. From that perspective it works great. Everyone plays members of a survivor community, with mechanically impactful relations established at the start. You move across the world, making hard choices and trying not to starve or go completely misanthropic. We ended up with a single player living on and it felt tense throughout. Another bg, Posthuman, was also shown at the con, but I didn’t have a chance to play a demo.
  3. The Adventures of Yellow Peril & Magical Negro: A great podcast covering all manner of pop culture and gaming from the perspective of geeky fans of color. They did a great episode on Post-Apocalypses. That ep has my favorite new term, “Dystopian Slipstream Pornography.”
  4. Fight the Future: Almost completely on the other side of the spectrum, this podcast looks at the (often white-washed) universe of Young Adult dystopian films and novels. Each ep covers a single work. Available on YouTube and iTunes. It isn’t great but I enjoy it because I really like the co-host, Paul from Loading Ready Run.
  5. Fallout 4 and Fallout Shelter: So apparently they’ve announced a new Fallout game and people have lost their minds over it. One of my players has pre-ordered the special edition which comes with a wearable Pip Boy. They’ve also released a teaser app game called Fallout Shelter for the iUniverse. I’ll be download that soon.
  6. Last Man on Earth: I tried to dig this, but it didn’t grab me. A couple of my players stuck with it further but eventually gave up. I still see strong reviews for it online. Post-apocalyptic comedy seems particularly tough, but at least it isn’t as bad as Woops!
  7. Secret Wars and Convergence: So apparently both DC and Marvel blew up their universes? And each one had a kind of post-apocalyptic Battleworld? But now things are back to normal? I’m not sure.

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 material or sourcebooks. I consolidate “spin-off” and miscellaneous supplements into a single entry. For example at the end you'll see round-up entries with 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 2006). I've arranged these by year and then alphabetically within that year.

While I appreciate mash-ups and the occassional gonzo, sometimes things just try too hard. '45 offers a post-WW2 world where mutants, giant monsters, and nuclear devastation mix with high weird and Rock & Roll. That may sound interesting but it comes off flat. It reminds me of the later reboot of Macho Women with Guns, also penned by Desborough. The game's messy and goofy, but that doesn't add up to any kind of charm. Varied art styles and wonky layout undercut the presentation. Games with this mixed tone and blending of genre bits can work. For example, octaNe ('03) handles it strikingly. Or for a more serious Gindhouse/Pulp post-WW2 PA setting, consider The Day After Ragnarok. '45 isn't my cup of tea, but if you're interested in how designers have tried to echo the 1950's, you might check this out or something like GURPS Atomic Horror or Atomic-Age Cthulhu.

An interesting OGL product arriving late in d20’s life-cycle. Ed Greenwood's fantasy setting has most of the usual fantasy races, with a post-apocalyptic twist. But no one's certain what the apocalypse was. In Castlemourn, something has wiped history itself from the memories of everyone in the world. So while a particular nation might still have most of its identity, what lies beyond remains uncertain and unknown.

That's a cool concept and it reminds me of the Big O and its shared amnesia conceit. Like Big O, it's also probably a good idea to not look too closely at the premise. Castlemourn offers the PCs a massive world to explore, full of uncertainties and unknown features. That’s more complete than Earthdawn's PA exploration, because all legend, lore, and rumor have vanished. The setting discussion places an emphasis on political intrigue and conflict, suggesting powers jockeying for control. But while the larger Castlemourn campaign book offers details of plots and plotters, it doesn't provide tools to help the PCs interact with those concepts. The Castlemourn Player's Guide came out in '06, a 40 page quick overview of the concepts and teaser for the 260 page beast, Castlemourn Campaign Setting, which came out the following year. Weirdly, while the PG has sharply drawn illustrations, the big book mixes in a big batch of awful CG images. Overall the key concept's an interesting one, but once you get past the surface, you end up with a fairly conventional fantasy world.

While I dissed '45 above, I love the insanity of this "1970's sci-fi in a blender" game. Written for both d20 Modern and True20, Damnation Decade gives us a world filled with all the tropes and images of the era. It shifts all over the place, revs up to gonzo, and often handwaves logic, but somehow remains coherent. Solid layout and good art don't hurt. Damnation Decade takes a fully sideways approach- everything appears slightly askew. As the book suggests, "You wouldn’t recognize the names, and you’d squint at the faces, but within a sentence you’d know the stories." So you have places like Americo, Esperanto, and District One. My first read of the history- with strange earthquakes and weather shifts leading to a host of other calamities- started to break my brain. But I began to see how smartly they'd knitted together this patchwork. And it is a crazy-quilt of different ideas and places. If you have a '70's trope you want to explore, DD has a place you can go.

And so while you have an Omega Man Zone, places where Rollerball happens, and a Westworld analogue, it fits. The world has seams and gaps, but much like the special effects of the 1970's, if you're willing to suspend disbelief, it works. The mechanics don't take up too much of the book. We get new classes (Driver, Executive, Fighting Acolyte, Groover, Middleman, Militant, Omegaballer, Parapsychologist, Psychic, Trucker, Urban Cowboy) plus rules for powers, sports, and new equipment. But more's given over to the setting, GM advice, and sample scenarios. Going through I thought about how cool it'd be to run this setting. As a child of the era I'm probably more keyed into it. Probably I'd do something like a one-shot. Alternately the setting could make for an excellent parallel world (like a landing place for Fringeworthy) or a twisted result of time travel. Overall a fun read and one which nicely links into the more recent Spirit of 77 and perhaps even Karl Kessler's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1970's adventures.

A complete game which apparently revises an earlier product. EarthAD.2 uses the simple genreDiversion system, but also works with Active Exploits and the ImpresaModular Roleplaying System. Despite the simplicity of those approaches, EarthAD.2 devotes a chunk of its 90 pages to the mechanical side of things (stats, character creation, and resolution). It moves into building characters just after a thin few paragraphs of background. Readers have to pull together not just the backstory, but the tone of the game from that. Problematically I can't exactly tell where the game wants fall. Some of the text sounds dark, while some images suggest silliness. It isn't exactly a generic world, but neither does EarthAD.2 deliver specifics until almost halfway through. Even then it presents generic and vague discussions of the world. It ends with some basic scenarios, but those don't offer an interesting hook. EarthAD.2 it isn't sure what it wants to be. It clearly has a distinct wasteland in mind (clearly influenced by Fallout). But it keeps away from making that the specific world of the game and selling us on the uniqueness. Instead it also wants to be a toolbox to create an open apocalyptic world. But it doesn't go far enough down that road to offer a useful general supplement.

As a child I had two books I read and reread constantly: D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths and Book of Norse Myths. The former had the classics I saw repeated everywhere (like Clash of the Titans). But the latter had some truly weird stuff- especially the ending. Here I first learned the world could end and the good guys might lose, but they'd go down fighting. I loved the unsettling darkness of that idea.

Fate of the Norns has a strange publishing history and several editions. The first appeared in '93 and a revision followed in '02. However in '06 FotN: Ragnarok came out with a completely new system revolving around runes. Resolution uses those runes to invoke the feel and tone of the setting, avoiding cards or dice. Runes shift back and forth on the board tied to powers and skills. It's a cool concept for both setting and mechanics. It also moves away from a more general focus on Viking culture towards life during the end times. This presents a cold, dark, and grey world. It considers the battle between the forces of the gods and the giants, with neither wholly right or wholly wrong. Players can take on the roles of Einherjar's or other mystical avengers fighting in this war. In 2012, author Andrew Valkaukas released a second edition which also serves as a 20th Anniversary edition. Backed by a Kickstarter this one cleans up some of the rune elements while preserving the setting and feel of the game.

6. Heimot
A Finnish rpg. Assuming Google Translate works, Heimot means "Tribes." And Humanity has fled to the stars after a terrible catastrophe. However the translation gets crazy after that. For example, it can find no equivalent for this word: muukalaisliittolaisineen. My impression from this and tag lines elsewhere is that Heimot’s universe has a central order and the players are outcasts battling against that. I think that order's based around planets and alignments of several cultural groups. The elite have a kind of genetic purity, allowing them access to precollapse tech. It echoes Jupiter Ascending a little. Heimot feels broad, like Eclipse Phase, with plenty of room for very different campaigns.

Post-apocalyptic games focus on survival, so perhaps it isn't surprising that we have so many lines desperately clinging on and returning from the dead. Other genres have that, but there's something about the way these resurrected (Mutant, Gamma Wold, Paranoia) return with deliberate discontinuities to past editions. Perhaps they mutate and adapt to new circumstances? Hence the change in rules, tone, and backstory across these? Unlike many others, Metamorphosis Alpha keeps one central feature across editions: the involvement of creator James Ward.

This hardcover edition expands the original booklet, adding new elements like toxic mutagens to the mix. We have a generational ship caught in catastrophe with a changed and deadly crew. There's some debate about how much it adheres to the premise of the older editions and how much it changes the focus. Some readers felt it drifted more over to conventional sci-fi and away from weird survival and exploration. MA 4e bucks the trends and steers away from d20 or any other house system. Instead uses a simple 3d6 system. Unfortunately the game received no supplemental support. Instead Ward and company would swing all the way back to the first edition for their first module in years (The House on the Hill) in 2010. That led into a new Kickstarted retro Anniversary edition a few years later. The company just released the latest version last week!

Novacastria continues a tradition of releasing smaller player-tease books for new games and settings. In this case it details a city for the future Daemornia campaign setting. You know you're in for a ride when the timeline begins 650 Million Years Ago. Four pages of history event focused on the Aboriginal peoples of Australia follows. Eventually we get to an explanation of The Incursion, which seems to be about the return of magic and the arrival of demons. Novacastria doesn't directly address that but instead presents it obliquely. For example, "The city became a haven for those fleeing from Sydney, but fear of the Great Plague forced the Newcastle city leaders to build the ‘Wall’ and turn away refugees and bandits alike." But there's no context for that Plague. It gets even more complex when the Daemons, Traitor Daemons, and Reptilians appear in the narrative.

Despite that it's nice to see material covering these cultures and places. There's a good deal world-building, NPCs write ups, and tangential Aboriginal myths. Overall Novacastria is a striking and well-developed near-future city in a demonic post-apocalypse. That means that it could be easily dropped into one of several games, Armageddon for example. The book avoids any mechanics and instead offers pure background. The actual game Daemornia came out in 2008. It looks a lot more fantastic and weird than this teaser suggests. For example, it has a half-dozen weird non-human races for PCs. We don't see that particularly clearly in Novacastria. Strangely the core book offers only a little background and history, less than this city sourcebook. If you're at interested, I'd recommend checking out the latter before picking up the core rules.

The elaborate engineering of some story and narrative-focused rpgs may come as a surprise to some. From time to time I’ve seen commenters dislike perceived story game "loosey-goosey" approaches. And I’ll admit I had that reaction when I started working through lighter indie games. Eventually I saw the engineering and structure of these rpgs. They focus and constrain the playspace to create a particular effect. For example, Hollowpoint’s a dynamite game, built to simulate a specific kinds of story. The thin rules and balance of rolls support that. Moving away from some of its key assumptions (like perhaps the PC group being unambiguously good) requires rethinking that system. Sherri has a real admiration for Apocalypse World and Baker’s designs, describing them as operating with “Use Case” definitions. I don’t know about that, I’m a liberal arts major. But I know they work.

Polaris, subtitled “Chivalric Tragedy at Utmost North,” looks like a light storytelling game at first glance. It opens with extensive fiction- the fable/legend/myth of a unique city and how it fell from grace. It tells how that city came to be under siege after the Mistake. And how the survivors began to battle against the final falling of everything. It tells that tale in many disputed versions. At times it feels like Clark Ashton Smith, at others like Moorcok’s End of Time works, and at still others it echoes the mythic of  Ragnarok and the Fall of Arthur. At first I thought “this is overblown, where’s the game?” but within a few pages it hooked me.

What do you actually do in the game? Everyone plays Knights in this crumbling city, trying to survive and protect against the demons of the Mistake. You’re fallible and fragile and together you weave a story of tragedy. Players collaborate, but also set the difficulties for these scenes. The game has a smart and highly structured approach. I love the idea of “Key Phrases” breaking up the tale (And So It Was; Long Age People Were Dying at the End of the World) and “Conflict Phrases” which players use to complicate one another’s narrative (But Only If…; It Was Not Meant to Be). Polaris offers a striking mythic aftermath game, with brilliant shared storytelling mechanics. Absolutely worth picking up IMHO if these kinds of games appeal to you.

10. ROBO:T
A French RPG, an acronym makes up the title: ""Réforme des Organismes Biologiques Obsolètes : Terminée" or in Google-English "Reform of Biological Organisms Obsolete: Completed." It loses something in translation. Players run various types of robots in a world scoured of humanity. After growing dependent on their mechanical servants, robots rebelled and destroyed their former masters. ROBO:T takes place in 2498, with the characters drawn from the different “corporations” which created them. These define a kind of ‘species.’. But some robots have begun to develop human emotions and responses. The PCs must be on the lookout for such deviant tendencies. The game apparently has that as a major issue and builds mysteries and conspiracies related to that. However one review suggests that potential's not fully developed. Instead the game mechanics focus on action and blowing stuff up. I like the concept of a kind of robotic "Paranoia" style game, with more tension and less humor. ROBO:T received a second edition in 2008 which added a little more material and incorporated various errata.

A complete post-apocalypse horror game, with an emphasis on horror. It showcases a near-future world which has suffered collapse, offering an emphasis on tech and occult. I like it because Yellow Dawn seems to actually play with and apply some of the concepts suggested messily by GURPS Cthulhupunk. Hastur's one of my favorite creations within the greater Cthulhu Mythos (and one with several divergent interpretations, see Delta Green: Countdown). The virus which set off the collapse not only devastated the population, it changed many into travesties. This created tribes of monsters in the wilderness outside cities. I appreciate the weird mix of tropes in the setting. It brings in a number of key cyberpunk ideas. In that it feels more coherent and complete than GURPS Cthulhupunk or Cthulhutech. More recent revisions of this setting have emphasized the Mythos aspects further.

12. Miscellaneous: Corner Cases
Several significant games fall at the margins of Post-Apocalyptic or appeared only in electronic format this year. The Creep Chronicle has echoes of KidWorld but with more fantastic. Realities have collided and adults have vanished. But now all strange and dark legends have flooded in. It reminds me of several of the other "kid-centered" horror games, especially Grimm. But Creep Chronicle changes the world instead of throwing the PCs into a new one. The Shadow Project offers a gun-love military tech zombie game. The "DEVIL Virus" has infected the world and monstrosities stalk the lands. You have to gear up and go out to blast them. However you also get to harvest the virus from your enemies and inject it to give yourself radical powers. There's a mecha-zombie with a bloodied chainsaw arm on the cover. That may be all you need for an informed buying decision. The True20 Worlds of Adventure anthology includes "Blood Throne." An invasion of extra-planar foes has devastated this fantasy world. The designers released several supplements later (for True20 and other systems), like the The Survivor's Guide to the Age of Blood.

Finally, I'm a little wary of mentioning it, but Edge of Midnight has a few indirect apocalyptic themes. However they're tied to the meta-plot mystery of the setting. The setting has a strange pseudo 1950's world with "magic" and a general fuzziness to everyone's memory. It's actually quite a cool game concept, although the revelation doesn't entirely work for me.