Apocalypse Games

Welcome to Apocalypse Week with the Renegade Octopus! I’ll be talking a bit about apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic games and styles this week; today I’m going to list some of the different styles of game in this genre and give a brief description of each of them.

Apocalyptic games are those set during whatever event or series of events lead to the collapse of the world as we know it; a lot of zombie games are apocalyptic, with the fall of civilization happening around the players as they seek to save themselves and others from the doomsday plague unfolding around them. Often these are action-heavy games, with daring escapes, desperate situations, and the kinds of fights that you want to get over fast so you can get away before they draw any unwanted attention. Zombie plagues, doomsday scenarios (whether natural, like meteor strikes, or divinely-spawned), alien invasions, and the like are all apocalyptic game styles.

  • Zombie Apocalypse games are the go-to on this kind of game. You start with the initial limited-seeming outbreak, with the players near ground zero, and they have to survive as the end of the world unfolds all around them. Over the course of a campaign, things go from a relatively mundane beginning to them finding shelter somewhere isolated from everything, terrified of every sound in the night, convinced that the walking dead are waiting.
  • Natural Disaster games are nice in that they can be limited in scope or completely global. They can deal with the fall of a civilization that sees the end coming, with a meteor impact coming that came out of nowhere, or with the direct aftermath of a (super)volcano or powerful earthquake and how survivors of the disaster handle dealing with it. Non-global disasters likely end with the survivors making it out of the disaster zone and back into the now-flimsy-seeming shelter of civilization; global ones can end when they settle down to try to eke out a living or when the predicted doom arrives.
  • Plague scenarios have a little in common with the zombies, but disease is far more insidious; where the active opponent is zombie games is often the zombies mingled with desperate survivors, plague scenario foes will begin with government forces like the police and escalate to NBC-equipped soldiers  trying to enforce a quarantine. With common symptoms and a delayed onset, players end up paranoid about every single cough and sneeze; if the quarantine is successfully enforced, they may find themselves fighting others for simple supplies while they wait for the quarantine to end. If it isn’t, it becomes a question of avoiding contact with others being weighed against the need for supplies – do they dare risk getting sick by coming into contact with something a plague victim may have contaminated?
  • Armageddon games are those that model either after a generic divine doomsday or after the world’s end according to a particular mythology. In scenarios where the Righteous are swept away and spared the suffering of the end times, the characters are assumed to be good, but not good enough. Of course, when horrific supernatural events begin happening, even the righteous person’s will can be stressed to the breaking point. The key here is to pick a particular mythology, get the details down, and then let the players have free reign within the limits of that mythology. No one is going to grab Thor’s hammer after he gets killed by the world serpent, and no one is going to find the Holy Grail to drive off the Antichrist.
  • Alien invasions are one of the few Apocalypse Games where you can let your players run wild with the biggest and most impressive characters they can create; the aliens, as beings capable of crossing interstellar distances with a will to invade the bottom of a gravity well, still hold the advantage. A good way to handle this kind of game is to model it off video games like X-Com; let the players be the elite members of a paramilitary organization scrambled to fight the invasion, and give them the chance to improve and gear up at the potential expense of what makes them human. Either they win and have to deal with a world made unearthly by their own actions, or they lose and can pick up a new game in the post-apocalyptic aftermath.

Post-apocalyptic games, by contrast, are set anywhere from a few months after the end of the world to a few generations. The old world is lost, but not gone; the ruins of a once-great civilization stand in mute testimony to what once was. In this, you’re already a survivor, or descended from a survivor. Resources are scarce, equipment is jury-rigged, and there’s a certain tribal-level animosity toward outsiders. Resource management, the construction of well-defended safe spaces, the planning of ambushes and scavenging excursions, and all kinds of long-ranging plans and ideas are the core of this kind of game. The absolute worst is already well-past; now you’re bunkering down to survive a winter that may never end.

  • Zombie games also fit here; unlike the frantic scramble for survival, this mode assumes that the players are the hardened survivors of the apocalypse, with a base of operations and a zone of territory that other survivors recognize and respect enough to not make too frequent forays against them. Individual sessions will revolve around clearing out zombie infestations, gathering supplies to keep their base working and anyone with them fed and protected, and  planning how to expand, rebuild, and renew.
  • Post-apocalyptic games built on a world devastated by disasters man-made or natural (or supernatural, if there was an Armageddon Event in the past) play similarly to zombie games, save for a few things – the weather is undoubtedly worse, with atmospheric dust causing an ice age, rain that might be corrosive, radioactive, or contaminated by divine wrath; and a need for something to threaten the players without zombies. Other survivors make a good choice for this, particularly cults raised around the shadow of doomsday who see any attempt to rebuild as heresy.
  • Post-plague worlds are likely to be more exploration games than base-oriented ones; a need to keep on the move, as the plague continues to slowly follow along after survivors (who may well be naturally immune carriers, unwittingly spreading it as they move) and they seek someplace that can promise a cure or inoculation against it. Let the players sandbox here, with threads to lead them back to places they’ve been before, only to find thriving post-disaster communities destroyed by the plague or the raiders who seek their own survival above everything else.
  • Settings fallen to invasions have a certain vibe about them; here, civilization isn’t gone, it’s just controlled by an unspeakably powerful superior force. History itself is rife with inspiration here. Any invasion in history resisted by freedom fighters and guerrillas can help model the behaviors of people in such a post-apocalyptic setting. It also brings the question up again, as players get the opportunity to steal from their superior foes and augment themselves, as to how far they’re willing to go in sacrificing their own humanity to save the human race from occupations and possible extinction.

That covers the gist of it for now! Check back tomorrow, when I’ll be looking at the problem of logistics in apocalyptic gaming.

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Apocalypse Games

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