Apocalypse World – the new game from Vincent Baker – has been making the rounds through all the gaming blogs I regularly follow. It’s a grim’n’gritty, totally player/character-driven game of post-apocalyptic inter-personal relations. I’ve heard it described on more than one occasion as “Firefly, but after the bombs.” It’s wicked fun, and I’m currently involved in two steady games of it.
On more than one of these aforementioned gaming blogs, the writers have made comments to the effect of “this ain’t the tabletop version of Fallout, kids” or “if you’re looking for the apocalypse Fallout, try Gamma World instead.” My first instinct was to nod my head and think “yeah, this game is way more mature than Fallout, that’s totally right.” But upon recent deeper play-throughs of Fallout 3, I realize that that couldn’t be further from the truth. Apocalypse World is perfect for bringing the world of Fallout to life.
Let’s face it: the Fallout universe is right fucked from the get-go. It’s the blasted remains of a world scorched by a global nuclear war started in the 2100s – a war fueled by civilizations that never shed their 1950s ideals. As you wander the wasteland in any direction you wish to explore, you see the remnants of those elitist, isolationist ideals everywhere. You never once forget that the way things are now was caused by the smothering hubris of the last generation of powers-that-be, and in their stead you find only ruin and chaos.
The Fallout franchise is frequently remembered for its tongue-in-cheek humor, but what tabletop game session isn’t, as well? I’ve played all the games in the franchise to date, and while I agree that that humor is there and in droves, the most recent game in the series at times takes a stark turn towards the depressing and macabre. As a prime example of how Fallout 3 can definitely work with Apocalypse World, let’s look at the town of Grayditch. Yes, there be spoilers behind the cut.
For most players, you don’t even learn about Grayditch until you truck off to the Super-Duper Mart to work on one leg of Moira’s “Wasteland Survival Guide” quest. At some point, while wandering around outside the building, either a bedraggled wastelander (rare) will run up and scream about crazy ant monsters, or a kid (more common) will come up and ask for help killing those same monsters. This kicks off a quest simply called “Those!” in which (you guessed it) you kill a bunch of giant ants (among other things).
At first it seems like “yet another” tongue-in-cheek 1950s sci-fi movie reference within the Fallout universe. Attack of the giant fire-breathing ants, oh no! But once you start following the clues and researching the truth behind the situation, you learn about a more human story underneath it. Most specifically, you find a computer terminal for one now-deceased Will Brandice, and reading through its logs you learn a somewhat heart-wrenching story about how he came across the country to escape the clutches of a more sinister organization (one which later appears as a chief force of antagonism in the game) and give his wife and kid a better life. The tension mounts in his journal entries, and you later find that almost all of the characters from his logs, himself included, have met horrible ignoble fates. Later, when you’re done with the quest proper, you can try and find the now-fatherless kid a new home. Among your many options are using him as a buy-in to join a wealthy town full of slavers.
That’s not funny, unless you’re a gigantic asshole. That’s not tongue-in-cheek at all. The whole time I was reading the notes, I was hoping that maybe, just maybe Will had found a way to protect his kid and wife, but no. All dead. Horribly dead. Murdered by the sheer harshness of the wasteland after losing everything else they valued most: their friends and family. That, to me, is prime Apocalypse World material.
For other inspiration, just check out the starting town of Megaton. It is perfectly set up as a ready-to-run Apocalypse World hardhold. Lucas Simms is nominally in charge (hardholder), and keeps on good relations with both Doc Church (angel) and Moira Brown (savvyhead). He runs a tight ship, driven by the values of Wasteland Justice. But there’s some trouble a-brewin’ within the corrugated walls of the town. Confessor Cromwell (hocus) leads a growing cult obsessed with self-irradiation and giving themselves to Atom – Atom, by the way, is an unexploded nuclear bomb just chilling out right in the middle of town. Colin Moriarty (Operator) is gathering power within his brothel/watering hole, and is ruthless enough to crush any opposition Al Swearingen-style if he needs to. A loose cannon ex-raider named Jericho (gunlugger) is wandering around town like he owns the place. One of its citizens, Nathan Vargas (npc) has become enamored with the Enclave, who eventually try and take over the wasteland by force. And finally, an outsider named Mr. Burke (npc) is working on behalf of a nearby much richer town, trying to actually wipe Megaton off the face of the planet for good.
I want to play in that town.