Tuesday, September 18, 2007

It's the end of the world as we know it (and I rolled a crit)

A whimper or a bang?

(This somewhat rehashes one of my “World Creation Made Easy” columns in the now defunct e-zine “The RPG Times”)

Post Apocalypse settings have long been popular with gamers. At the time that RPGs were beginning, Survivalism was quite the hot topic. Originally, the bugbear was societal, economic, and/or environmental collapse. (Decline & Fall, Stagflation, & Silent Spring) Then in the 1980s & ‘90s, thoughts turned to nuclear war and pandemics. (WWIII & Achoo!) By the late ‘90s, technological collapse came into fashion, along with concern over a few celestial near misses. (Y2K & ELE) Now we seem to have come full circle, with post 2000 election shenanigans, new environmental concerns, and terrorism combined with nuclear proliferation. (2nd US Civil War, Global Warming, & Binny-Boy’s Got The Bomb) Natural disasters have long been a “rational” explanation for preparations (Katrina), but very few of those qualify for ETOTWAWKI. (A Yellowstone Eruption or New Madrid Quake could do it, though) Some possible disaster scenarios are too outré or too controversial for polite discussion. If you’re planning to survive Zombies, the return of the Great Old Ones, or invaders from Mars, folks will think you’re even more of a nut. If you’ve based your planning around what to do the day the Welfare checks bounce, you’re probably a racist nut. (Braiiins!, Fhtagn!, Ulla!, & Helter Skelter!)

The main question for the GM is did things end with a whimper or a bang. Take a look around your PA setting. Is the scenery mainly plies of scorched rubble and heaps of skulls? Then things ended with a bang. If things are more-or-less intact, then it ended with a whimper. Bang is the default for this sort of thing. It has the advantage (from the GM’s point of view) of scarcity. If the local Wal-Mart is a pile of twisted rubble, then the players can’t just stroll around picking up batteries, common types of ammo, and cheap hiking boots. Of course the slower “Whimper” settings will result in the stores having been picked clean before The End, but that just relocates the goods to hundreds of smaller caches instead of it being concentrated. With a Bang, those goods are far scarcer and a brick of .22 Long Rifle ammo is wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. Some supplies, such as ammo, pharmaceuticals, & canned goods, are going to be used up very quickly. They are consumables, useful, and are mostly out of production after The End. Several of them have pretty finite shelf lives even under good conditions. In the case of ammo, there might be some low-level production from folks with reloading gear, but you can only get so many uses out of the brass casings, and the supply of primers will also be a limiting factor. Some calibers which are very common now will become rather scarce as they aren’t made in a format that’s reloadable. The .22 & .17 rimfires cannot be reloaded due to the rimfire priming system, nor can the Russian-made 7.62x39mm ammo which has been flooding the market the last decade due to their beridan primed steel cases. Ironically, the AR-15 may outlast the much more rugged AK-47 clones because we use boxer primed brass cases for our 5.56x45mm ammo. The AK may be in better working order, but that doesn’t mean much without any ammo for it… The stereotype of crossbow wielding maniacs might not be too far fetched, though the mohawks & ass-less chaps are strictly optional.

As the mood strikes, I’ll be expanding on the particular settings named in the parentheticals above. As a general guideline, though, here’s how they break down as to Whimper vs. Bang.

Decline & Fall
Silent Spring
Global Warming

2nd US Civil War
Yellowstone Eruption

New Madrid Quake

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