Sunday, July 19, 2015

Does Post-Apoc need a sense of loss?

To answer my own question, I think it does.

I think part of the attraction of post-apoc play is the tramping around in the destroyed bits of a civilization you recognize, even if only superficially.*

It has to come with some sense of what was before. Earth-set post-apoc has this. Games where science and magic blend together in a lost past (Tekumel, say) or there is just ancient tech (Traveller, notably) are more science-fantasy or science fiction with superscience than post-apoc. You can't mourn what you never felt you had.

In other words, it's not enough to just have the remnants of older civilizations around to explore, use, or play with. It's not enough to have old tech or old magic to be found in the ashes of destruction. The players need to feel some kind of loss for what's gone.

I think that's why Gamma World is effective. I think that's why Metamorphosis Alpha works (it's a ship, but it's a world gone bad based on a world you live in now). I think that's why T2K works. You can't go home again because home - all of it - is wrecked. But you can try to build something new out of it. There isn't some great shining beacon to retire to, but you can try to build one.

To me, no sense of loss = no post-apoc feeling. Just science fiction or fantasy or science fantasy.

* This is why 25th century Gamma World has STOP signs and revolvers and "No Nukes!" shirts in the art.


  1. If it can't be recognised as being after the apocalypse, it's not meaningfully post-apocalypse, is it? I mean, you can say "many years ago, everyone was happy, but then the wizards had a big war", but the world is no different from your standard fantasy in play unless there are visible results from that war.

    1. It can be kind of distant in time, but the players need a connection to that past. You might be able to pull that off with a campaign world that the players themselves played in before, or even better, blew up themselves.

    2. Indeed. I've only run one post-apoc game (a single encounter in what was basically Grayhawk in the modern day), but the closest there really was to a connection to the past was (IIRC) one player who was alive Before.

      Otherwise, it was basically a small dungeon crawl (old convenience store) with GP replaced by misc. scraps and a harpy at the end.


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