DMing 101 – Apocalypse Punk
Let the record show that I am not entirely happy with last week’s DMing 101, a rewrite is in order. For now though I continue with the genre’s series with a particular favourite of mine:
Genres – Apocalypse Punk
Civilization has ended, and the world has plunged into something. It might be ice, fire, darkness, lawlessness and barbarism, every day is a fight to see the next. Apocalypse punk worlds create heroes by necessity, and villains by convenience, as adversity brings the best and worst out of the people.
Unlike Tech-Punk, style is necessity and practicality. Goggles to protect against flying dust, scavenged clothing and protective gear, and survival essentials strapped on wherever they can be grabbed in a hurry. In-game, your characters will be the hardest survivors, perhaps the champions of the people who remain, helping make the best of a bad lot.
Dark Sun’s Athas is a world turned barren by the life-stealing forces magic. In Mad Max, the need for petrol is enough to drive people to insane degrees of violence. Technology, magic, nature, whatever the source of the devastation, the world the apocalypse leaves behind always has commonalities.
- Desolation: There are vast yawning gulfs between the specks of sentient populous. Perhaps those gulfs are lifeless barrens of ice, or desert, or maybe wilderness has reclaimed what the “civilized” people left behind, but either way the world is a lethal place for those unprepared, and dangerous enough for those who are.
- Desperation: Those few essential resources still available are hard fought for. Every day is a struggle just to scrape together enough to live on. Strength is law, and while strength means different things to different people – speed, power, community, tyranny – ultimately it is the strong that survives to fight again tomorrow.
- Relics of the past: The bones of the world that went before are scattered all around to be picked over by scavengers or abandoned as irrelevant trinkets of a dead culture. Some may be essential for life, such as old buildings, weapons, or water pumps. Still others could prove deadly, old pieces of the devastation the society created for itself.
Post apocalyptic settings present some common dangers and provide opportunities for unique challenges and necessities. Your party could fight over water, fire, or radiation meds instead of money and powerful gear. Travelling between cells of population could be a quest in itself, not just for the party, but for the people. Being a hero post-apocalypse means that your players must stand out against people who would be heroes in any other setting.
Threats come from all corners, the world and it’s people are hostile, and if you can get together enough to survive there are plenty who will come and take it from you. Even in those communities dedicated to cooperating and creating lives together, there are still self-interested parties always looking to work the system to put themselves slightly ahead of everyone else. For some, the pressures of living are beyond their ability to withstand, desperation leads to madness, which leads to sub-human, feral, and perhaps cannibalistic packs of what can no longer be called people.
The nature of the apocalypse will change how the wilderness can create threats for your players. Anything from a lack of water to an over-abundance of zombies can present a daily hazard. In the forgotten cities a building collapses, old and forgotten weapons and defence systems awaken and operate themselves, and sheltering creatures make a quick meal out of the party that never saw them coming.
While the world presents some dangerous challenges, people being pushed to their limits can create unique and powerful stories. Having a new world emerging amidst the wreckage of another can present some incredible opportunities for classic dungeon-crawling action, or some concept-shattering revelations, depending on how creative you’re getting.
See Tomorrow: A storm bears down on the cobbled-together city, it’s people can’t escape, but preparations must be be made if they are to withstand. Lost, alone and with no transport to get you to safety except the legs beneath you, the next few hours will make you, or kill you. Speed and determination are all that can protect you from the overwhelming odds and inhospitable world, do you have enough of either?
Watch – Mad Max
Play – Last Night on Earth
Preserve History: Though others would dismiss the old relics, you have faith that the new world will benefit from remembering it’s past. The discovery of an old research facility yields answers to ending the thousand-year storm. Three artifacts once stood, now only one stands between hope and oblivion.
Watch – The Book of Eli
Play – I am open to suggestions here, in the mean time, play games! They’re great!
No Tyrants! No Fear!: Blinded by a fairy tale, the last survivors of the fall blindly obey a man who has all but deified themselves. A safe haven exists beyond the mountains that the tyrannical leaders would have you believe are certain death to all who attempt to cross. When will their propaganda finally become unbearable? Why are they so determined to keep the populous under thumb?
Watch – Either Snowpiercer or City of Ember
Play – Fallout 3
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Tomorrow: Something I’ve been waiting for, for far too long.