The Illuminerdy is growing, little by little. There are more secrets to be uncovered, more inspiration to be shared. And us? We live t0 forward the cause of mankind. Or at least the part of it that games. Today I’d like to introduce you to one of our newest initiates: Nakia Pope, who wanted to share a little bit of his own setting design process for you, dear reader. Because he cares. We, at least, are enormously glad to have him contributing. Welcome to our newest column: Cycling to the Apocalypse! Enjoy.
Like many gamers, I have hundreds of half-baked and ill-formed ideas for games, characters, and settings floating around in my head. I try to jot them down as best I can in some notebook or program somewhere, but most are quickly forgotten. I am not sure why, but I keep returning to the idea of a World War 2 game. Despite lots and lots of things happening in real life (or, come to think of it, because of those things. I need a distraction!), I keep coming back to the idea of running some sort of game set during the events of the Second World War. I am not sure why, but that conflict has long held a place in my imagination. My grandfather was a veteran, serving in the Pacific theater as a Marine. He never, ever spoke to me about his experiences, however. I remember checking out books from our little elementary school library on World War Two and reading them on the bus ride home. My interest waxed and waned, but lately it’s returned with fervor. Books about the war are now my primary non-fiction reading, but I’ll admit to not having delved much deeper than popular history.
One Saturday a few weeks ago I was out for a bike ride along some nice trails here in Irving and crossed over an old bridge. Straddling a dry creek, it was obviously once built for cars. But the road had be rerouted. Now the pavement was cracked and the rails rusty, with branches full of fall leaves overhanging the pavement. I slowed the bike down as the old bridge became a Location — a spot some weary travelers crossed in a post-apocalyptic America, searching for supplies and safety. I have a fondness for post-apocalyptic stories, too, especially ones that involve most human infrastructure remaining intact, only to slowly fade into disuse. As I rode on over the bridge, I thought about the new show Revolution, wondered why I wasn’t really following it, reveled in the awesomeness of Walking Dead, smiled at a memory of reading The Stand, and then skidded to a stop. Those stories, and others I had read, had something in common. The apocalypse always happens NOW. What I mean is, there’s always some big event that ends humanity as we know it, but that big event always happens in the relative present. Things are trucking along for our protagonists just fine, then Something Big happens, and all of a sudden there’s no electricity or orcs start running around with M-16s or 96% of the earth’s population succumbs to a virus. Most post-apocalypse games and fiction take the relative present as their point of departure, acting as a sort of meditation on the “what if we were forced to deal with the Big Event” sort of question.
An Alternate Apocalypse
What if the apocalypse didn’t happen today? What if it happened when technology was different? What if it were a Victorian, steampunk apocalypse? Or. . . *gasp* what if it happened in World War 2? Then I got all these mental pictures, wonderful and horrific and occasionally cheesy, cobbled together from a host of pulp movies and lots of reading: an American patrol wandering into a town in North Africa that’s utterly and mysteriously empty; a Nazi solider fighting back-to-back with a British officer against zombies; a green tentacle lashing out of the impenetrable jungle of Guadalcanal to drag a screaming Marine into the night; a Mad-Max like scenario of cars battling for gas in the desert only the cars are Jeeps, Packards, and Panzers; the lid of the Ark of the Covenant NOT slamming back down with a “thud” after being pried open by the SS, but falling off to the side, with the clouds becoming ever darker and the reddish-gold pilar of fire growing, and growing, and growing.
And then I thought, “I need to run post-apocalyptic game set in 1943.”