On a Pale Horse

On a Pale Horse
Ninety Percent of You Die

Russ Pitts | 22 May 2007 12:02
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"Whatever form it takes, we posit that [the apocalypse] will wipe 90% or more of the population from the globe, and directly or indirectly shatter the major edifices of man's culture into the bargain." - Aftermath! Game Master's Guide

Dodging zombies or surviving post-fallout radiation poisoning may not be everyone's idea of a fantasy tale, but it's hard to deny the appeal of starting anew. If you could wipe the slate clean, what would you change? If you lived in the post-apocalypse world, where no law existed and anything was possible, how would you live? Who would you be? One way to find out is to play Aftermath!.

Created in 1981, during the "golden age" of pen and paper roleplaying games, Aftermath! is in every possible way a pinnacle of RPG gaming. The game was published by Fantasy Games Unlimited and created by Paul Hume and Bob Charette, the team who, eight years later, designed the well-remembered and heavily influential Shadowrun. RPGs of this era were typically over-designed and often complex to the point of alienating even dedicated players. Aftermath!, in this respect, puts them all to shame. The game is so mystifyingly cumbersome, so beautifully complicated, that even the hardest of the hard core find it to be impenetrable - and brilliant.

Imagine a game in which every object was usable, every item could be fashioned into a weapon (or armor) and every imaginable circumstance was planned for and organized into a chart. Now imagine that this game was 100 percent accurate to real-world objects, weapons, athletic abilities and tolerances. Imagine, in other words, a total world simulation. That's Aftermath!. If life were an RPG, and God the game master, Aftermath! would be the rule system. There are rules for eating, sleeping and walking. There are rules for defecation, rules for distilling gasoline alternatives, rules for fashioning home-made armor, reloading firearm ammunition, loading muskets, blacksmithing, bowery, cooking, cleaning, camping, dialogue, running (stopping running), shooting, shooting accurately, riding horses, amputation, first aid, foraging, farming, building houses, digging wells and ... well, everything.

The Aftermath! rules do not stipulate what happened to cause the apocalypse (that's left to the game master), but they do allow for practically every possible scenario imaginable, from alien invasion to zombie infestation, detailing the after-effects of each. Including The Flood.

From the Aftermath! Game Master's Guide:

Have you ever considered the possible results of a New Ice Age, one that starts tomorrow and is in full swing within a century? Contemplate the pre-ruin unrest inherent in that situation! If we manage to melt the polar ice with a Green House Effect, not much, say 5% in the next 50 years, with a little help from some theory that does not pan out (say using nuclear warheads to clear a trans-polar channel, or some equally harebrained scheme), do you care to picture the resulting rise in sea level and its effects on our society? Or just drop a decently-sized celestial traveler onto the Earth, or swing some massive cosmic hitchhiker through the system on a course too close for comfort. Bang! No more civilization.

The major attraction of this type of game, to paraphrase the rule book (and Spider-Man) is also its major disadvantage: With the power to simulate every possible action or activity ever conceived by man comes the responsibility to do the accounting. Or to put it more simply: If you play Aftermath!, you'll be consulting a lot of tables.

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"The basic procedure for combat is straightforward. ... A flowchart ... is provided." - Aftermath! Basic Rules

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