Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Year in Post-Apocalyptic RPGs 2014

Since I finished my history of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs, now I get to examine the games of 2014.  I'll be doing lists breaking down last year's releases in the genres I've previously covered (PA, Supers, Steampunk, Horror). I'll try not to go into as much detail with these entries; I want them to be a quick survey. The sheer volume of gaming goodness produced each year is staggering. And 2014's a year with some awesome releases (Mutant: Year Zero! ftw)

Of course Fallout 4 came out last week. Where others lost productivity, I gained it. My niece picked up a copy and has been playing non-stop. She's monopolized the TV, so I've been relegated to my office. Sherri sits and watches her because she loves the scrapping system. I'm not a big Fallout fan, but it's been awesome to see those who dig it celebrating the release. Some folks in my G+ feed have been commenting and narrating their travels. I love reading Jeremy Kostiew's tales of the wastelands. 

BUT the other big post-apocalyptic news is Into the Badlands, a martial arts series set in a weird, collapsed America. It looks awesome. And it almost makes me regret cutting the Cable cord. I want to watch the first episode online, but what if I get hooked? I hope Badlands ends up being amazing-- and that someone does a game up for it.  

This lists 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. 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 from last year. 

I only learned about this game via my friend Derek, who works for Eden Studios. He mentioned it a kid-friendly, card-driven rpg which had done hugely well for the company, selling through several printings. It was one of those moments where I realized how large and varied the RPG community could be- and also how niche. I'd certainly never seen Adventure Maximus! discussed in my gaming circles locally, in forums, in G+, or even on the rpg blogs and sites I follow. I hadn't seen it being brought up in lists of rpgs for kids. That cements my conviction that most RPG gamers blindly grope the elephant. We have a image of the community and "industry," but huge swathes of gamers and enthusiasts exist we never see, playing things we either don't know about or underestimate the popularity of.

Adventure Maximus! uses a simply and colorful system, combining unique dice and cards. It has a board-gamey feel, but offers an easy rpg, able to accommodate many players. Here's why it's on this list despite looking like a fully fantasy game. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world called “Ex-Machina.” That setting’s post-apocalyptic in the same way that Adventure Time is. There's an old world lost and transformed by events. Relics remain, but they're secondary. Instead you act in a weird, wonderful, and wacky land. As an unabashed AT fan, I'm glad to see that approach.

A kitchen-sink game, with a magic/psychic/mutant-infested wasteland. Breachworld uses Mini 6, a streamlined adaptation of the old WEG d6 system. In the setting, gate technology leads to rips in the fabric of reality, resulting in disruptions and incursions. We’ve seen similar approaches with Rifts and the most recent version of Gamma World. Breachworld isn't as dark as the former or as gonzo as the latter. It came about through a Kickstarter campaign, and several pdf supplements have been released for it.

The Broken Earth Player's Guide came out in 2013, but the bulk of the core material appeared in ‘14. That earlier guide acted as a teaser; all of that material appears in the main volume. Broken Earth’s event itself seems nuclear, with people a generation or two out from the collapse. It includes oddness like psionics and mutations. Broken Earth offers a post-apocalyptic setting with a narrow geographic focus. It centers on the Midwest and a little bit of adjacent Canada. A bit over half the book's devoted to presenting the locations, along with plot points and NPCs. I will admit the "Kingdom of Geneva" and "Wizards of Geneva" entries made me groan a little. Broken Earth has two versions, one for Pathfinder and the other for Savage Worlds. All of the products (Players Guide, Core book, pdf supplements) can be picked up in either flavor.

As I've discussed in previous lists, much post-apocalyptic science fiction contains strong social and political commentary. Consider Canticle for Liebowitz, The Last Wave, or The Handmaid's Tale. That's less so now in modern zombie tales, where the message seems to be humanity sucks. Post-Apocalyptic RPGs have generally stayed away from these kinds of commentary. The most overtly satirical, Paranoia, is an unfocused firehose of Juvenal-esque commentary. You could point to a conservative streak in games like Twilight 2000 or Freedom Fighters, but that's obscured by pages of weapon listings.

Then there’s Dream Askew, from Avery Mcdaldno, creator of the amazing The Quiet Year. This short game lightly borrows mechanics from Apocalypse World. But it goes diceless and GMless. It focuses on questions of gender and sexuality in the aftermath. That’s the striking social question at the center of play. Dream Askew has a token exchange economy and handles relationship elements more lightly than Mcdaldno’s earlier design, Monsterhearts. I first heard of this when Kira Magrann cited it as a small game deserving of more love in a recent panel. Shawn McCarthy has an interesting review of Dream Askew on RPG Geek.

Inflorenza is a hefty, self-published French RPG (352 pages in A5 format). Google translates the subtitle to "Heroes Martyrs, and Bastards in the Forest Hell Millevaux." To unpack that I have to step back a little. Sombre: Fear Like in the Movies is a French generic modern horror system, released in 2011. It apparently came out in pieces using a magazine format. In 2013 Millevaux came out, a setting supplement for Sombre. It apparently showcases a deeply Metal post-apocalyptic world. le Grog says that the author calls that, "post-apocalyptic, forestry and sludgecore." I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS. In any case, Millevaux released under a CC license. It contained background, GM advice, a scenario, and (of course) game fiction.

Which brings me back to Inflorenza. This seems to be a reworking and expansion of Millevaux. It breaks away from its roots as supplement for Sombre and offers a completely new system. It looks quite good and has a wealth of good material, despite the author apparently using the first person throughout. It looks grungy, but I can't really figure out the full premise. Here’s how Wikipedia describes “Sludgecore” aka Sludge Metal.

Another French post-apocalyptic rpg, set in Europe. The world has been devastated by environmental changes. Humans survive in enclaves, but the world outside is wild, dangerous, and transformed. Some lucky few have the skills and powers to pass through these dangers between enclaves. They must contend with the short and rapidly shifting six seasons of the world. The game fiction and mechanics tie to those seasons, with characters influenced by their birth aspect. Krystal seems to be a less grim, more optimistic setting. The game has been supported by a decent campaign module, Daughter of Winter, as well as a "Notebooks of Europe" series of pdf short supplements.

The English translation of the Swedish rpg, Mutant: År Noll. Modiphus brought this out in a lovely edition, with supplemental dice, cards, and a zone map available. It offers a wasteland future, with characters surviving in The Ark. Humanity has devolved and the world outside is lawless and chaotic. Characters have randomly generated mutations, but those can change throughout play. M:TZ has simple rules and organizes character picks a little like playbooks from Apocalypse World. The game splits between characters exploring to locate resources and PCs helping their enclave to grow. It bakes in community-building, even while having all the classic conflicts of this kind of setting. This is a great game and I highly recommend it.

If there's one thing Monte Cook Games can't be accused of, that's not supporting their game lines. 2014 saw MCG release a ton of Numenera products. Perhaps the most notable are the large volume supplements The Ninth World Bestiary, Numenera Character Options and Technology Compendium. They also released a host of great and interesting pdf only products like Strange Creatures of the Ninth World, Beyond All Worlds, and the awesome Injecting the Weird. They've covered an amazing range of ideas in these releases. Numenera has also seen support from third-party publishers, like Ninth World Assassins and Whisper Campaigns. I hadn't realized that other companies have made that move.

Another Kickstarter project, OmegaZone offers a Fate Accelerated setting. The publisher blurb's pretty evocative, "Post-apocalyptic Los Angeles meets Cimmerian Pulp Adventure with a heavy dose of Gamma World." It offers a weird, fallen world with uncertainty about just what happened and what the past actually was. While the material is built for Fate, it's open enough to be adapted to other systems easily. OmegaZone really consists of two parts. The Instant Setting Deck (54 cards) comes with a variety of mutation details, approaches values, and so on. Players use these to shape characters. It includes other material for things like gear, and the only complaint I've seen is that buyers want more of everything. The connected OmegaZone Guide's a 64-page digest. It talks about how to use the deck, gives ideas for options, and outlines the setting a little more. The guide pdf's a little pricey at $10- you're probably better off buying the physical copy for $15. The cards run about $12 and you can only get PoD blanks from DriveThru.

A Spanish rpg, based on the work of Luis and Rómulo Royo, Both are striking graphic artists, with styles that remind me of Heavy Metal, Brom, and Giger. Apparently there's a whole set of elements to this Plenilunio universe including comics and a novel. I think the setting’s actually called "Malefic"*. The game itself takes place in a devastated New York of 2033. The devastation comes from a supernatural war between...well, I;m not sure. Google translate didn't help me out too much here. Maybe between Angels and Demons? Maybe other gods involved? There's something about the Moon attacking. The game's a stand-alone core book with a simple d6 resolution system. No supplements have been released so far.

*There's a certain irony to that name given the cheesecake nature of much of the art.

jim pinto has been releasing Protocol Games, a series of small, tightly-themed rpgs with a shared system. Several of his 2014 batch have a post-apocalyptic themes. System Failure offers a dystopian world of rebel robots using humans to fuel themselves. The Plague takes players to a world where disease has ravaged the population. The game centers on the tension of survivors in the immediate aftermath dealing with isolation and despair. Zombieskin has a corrupted future caught in a war between mutants and zombies. Mutants must protect an untainted child without destroying themselves via their powers. pinto also took his earlier game George's Children and reworked for both a Protocol and a zero-prep "GM Zero" version. It covers a single day in the lives of children left behind after an apocalypse has killed off the adults. Another GM Zero game, The Carcass has the players taking on members of a dying tribe in the fallen wasteland.

Additionally pinto also created two post-apocalyptic Protocol series. Deadlands Tall Tales, as you can imagine, offers quick stories set in the Deadlands. It has six parts, each with a distinct theme. The post-world game series has the group playing themselves after the end of the world. That story's broken into three evolving parts.

12. Rotsystem
Or in English, “Rootsystem.” A Swedish post-apocalyptic rpg. It presents the age-old story: Man meet Nature, Man Ravages Nature, Nature Ravages Man, Man Retreats to Mega-Cities, Nature Takes Over. Within the cities, humanity battles against dominance by corporate overlords. In an interesting twist, the game also calls itself "retro-cyberpunk." In this world people have "no wireless networks, no satellites, no cell phones, no GPS." The Green World outside has a form of communication which can bore into and take over systems using those frequencies. So I think they have a more “hardware hacking” approach. I like that, and it suggests an interesting Dieselpunk tone. The artwork's striking as well. A cool done-in-one game which I hope will eventually see an English translation. The Swedish original can be purchase PWYW from RPGNow.

I missed this one on my 2012 list, the year they released the Rogue Mage Player's Handbook. That includes the rules for character creation and the basic system mechanics. The setting itself appears to be a Divine Apocalypse (plagues, disasters, ice age, and then angel wars). It reminds me of Eden's Armageddon, but further down the timeline. Rogue Mage is apparently based on a series of novels by "Faith Hunter," a prolific author I'd never heard of. They concern a neomage named "Thorn St. Croix."

Anyway...this adaptation's unusually based on Mutants & Masterminds 2nd edition. That's kind of cool since that's one of my favorite games. 2014 saw the release of the other core book, Rogue Mage RPG Game Master's Guide. This volume includes more details on the world, all kinds of monster/race guides, NPCs, and most of the setting detail. Misfit Studios has also released several pdf supplements for the line as well. If you're a fan of the books, you're probably already aware of this game.

The major reworking of the "World of Aden" setting for Pathfinder. That was originally 1996 WEG game based on an SSI computer game. As I said in my earlier comments, "World of Aden appears to be a sword & sorcery game with a Thundarr or even steampunk vibe to it. It’s actually built on a trilogy of novels I'm having a hard time finding anything about. Only one volume appears to be in print...with a review by Shawn Carman on Amazon. West End Games, in their explosion of licenses for MasterBook, went into production just based on those novels and a pair of games. In Aden There's an event called the Darkfall destroying civilization, making it an Aftermath game, but there's also hints of lost technology."

The difference in presentation and tone between the two versions remains hilarious. This new edition was created by industry veterans Shawn Carman (see above) and Rich Wulf. This is a 220+ page book, split evenly between PF mechanics and background for the setting. The company has supported the line with a variety of pdf releases. Thunderscape's gotten generally favorable reviews. If you're a Pathfinder enthusiast interested in weird fantasy with fallen tech, consider checking it out.

An interesting trade-sized Post-Apocalyptic game with a couple of uses. It offers your classic Mad Max style future (although without the cars as a central feature). You have wastelands and various communities and bands competing between them. The rules split between a gang-style miniatures game and an RPG. The minis game feels like Necromunda or Mordheim. You manage a group of warriors which gains experience through skirmishes. You have downtime and community management between sessions. The RPG side narrows things and offers skills and more rp elements. The group runs the PC band through adventures- aiming to gain territory, find lost tech, and support your enclave. That side's still very tactical, but looks like it could be a fun diversion for groups who like crunch. The company created a line of miniatures for the setting. However that seems fairly limited and my sense is that it didn't gain any real traction. Still worth checking out for fans of old GW style games and mini RPs like Inquisition.

Once again I'll point out that RPG Geek declined to list this as an rpg despite it actually being one and self-declaring itself as one. Because they're dumb. 

16. Miscellaneous: New Editions
Four games of note received new editions last year, some more substantial than others.

The Metamorphosis Alpha Deluxe Collector's Edition offered a lovely new reprint of the original game done as a hardcover. This includes material from Dragon Magazine, new stuff by James Ward, a new adventure, plus Ward's playtest notes from 1976. The campaign succeeded and even got a few stretch goals. A product aimed at the nostalgic collector.

The Degenesis Rebirth Edition came out in three formats: an Artist, Limited, and Premium edition. Marko Djurdjević reworks his "Primal Punk" game for a new era. Quick start rules for it appeared in '12. Apparently the English edition's available for pre-order. You can check out details on the site and what seems like clips from the Mutant Chronicles movie. Degenesis has the look of a property that the designer wants to expand into other media.

On the other hand Golden Age RPG (Second Edition) is a revision of an rpg based on a series of radio plays. It ditches most of the original system and rebuilds it with a new stand-alone engine: the Cascade Studios Role Playing System (CSRPS). The fallen fantasy setting remains intact. Lastly Dystopia Rising Live Action RPG Survivor's Guide seems to be a codification of the Dystopia Rising LARP rules, though not complete. That's apparently a licensed live-action setting, which they made into a tabletop game, and then rereleased as a LARP. The Dystopia Rising organization has been the subject of controversy recently, with questions arising from their handling of sexual assault allegations.

17. Miscellaneous: Supplements
Several existing lines expanded their range in 2014. Eclipse Phase released a half-dozen supplements. Some of these re-bundle older material and some offer short adventures. The most significant new release was the Morph Recognition Guide. Dystopia Rising also released several setting sourcebooks Diaries of the Rum Coast, covering the southern coast and Axis of Blood & Iron describing the Great Lakes region. Infestation served up a short module for the German RPG Godchild. Pelgrane concluded their Cthulhu Apocalypse line with the adventure Slaves of the Mother.

The French pseudo-Arthurian post-apocalyptic rpg Wasteland released Good Old Ingland. This setting book as you might imagine covers England and includes two modules as well. In adversary sourcebooks we got Mutant Bestiary One for Mutant Epoch and Heroes & Villains of Mega-City One for Judge Dredd. The former's as gonzo as the rest of the line, while the latter retreads earlier material. Rotted Capes released a module, Mind Games, for their zombie supers rpg. Finally while formatted as a series pitch for DramaSystem, Shikagek, is a short, generic PA campaign premise.

18. Miscellaneous: Fringe
Finally here are a few other smaller and/or pdf only releases I found:
  • Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wastelands, a pulpy, drifters in the aftermath style game. Has a strong, self-declared B-Movie vibe. Uses a version of Fate.
  • Caustic Trollworld is a frame for Tunnels & Trolls 7e. The short booklet has a tainted world with survivors battling for survival.
  • The Dawn of Tomorrow is a tiny post-apocalyptic setting for the Adventurers! rpg.
  • Dogs of War, an adventure for something called the “Entropic Gaming System.” Seems to be set in a fantasy world after a devastating war.
  • Neon Sanctum Playtest Kit, a pnp kit for a "tactical card based role-playing game set in a deadly cyberpocalypse world." They attempt to Kickstart this in 2015, but were unsuccessful. 

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