So 2016—I wonder why folks would have been thinking about post-apocalyptic games? What could have been in the air? What kind of terrible unmasking of national experience could have occurred that tore the mask away for some and made others hide their eyes.
Let’s check in with some media arriving in 2016
- TV Shows: 3%, Aftermath, Colony, Containment, The Shannara Chronicles, Travelers (tangentially), Van Helsing
- Films: The 5th Wave, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Bad Batch, Cell, Daylight’s End, Dead Rising: Endgame, Diverge, The Girl with All the Gifts, Here Alone, I Am a Hero, The Northlander, Pandemic, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Seoul Station, Train to Busan, The Worthy, X-Men Apocalypse
- Video Games: Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault, Attack on Titan, Dead Rising 4, Dying Light: the Following, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Fallout Shelter, Gears of War 4, Grim Dawn, Sheltered, Shin Megami Tensai IV: Apocalypse, This War of Mine: The Little Ones, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Toukiden 2, Umbrella Corps, The Walking Dead: Michonne.
- Board Games: 51st State, Aeons End, Armageddon, Bloodborne: The Card Game, Dawn of the Zeds, Dead of Winter: The Long Night, Defenders of the Last Stand, The Others, Saltlands, Salvation Road, Unknown, The Walking Dead: All Out War
I focus on core books for these lists, plus new post-apocalyptic setting for existing game or significant sourcebooks. If a line has several releases, I put those in a single entry. I consolidate zombie sourcebooks and smaller games into one entry and other miscellaneous supplements into a single entry. I list revised editions which significantly change a line or present a milestone. I only include published material- print or electronic. I err in favor of products with a printed version and cut off sourcebooks with a smaller page count. I skip freebie or self-published games. Finally with a few exceptions, I’ve opted to skip modules and adventures going forward.
I'm sure I've left something off without adequate reason; feel free to add a comment.
A sandbox game using OpenD6 and set in the United States after a nuclear war. I don’t know if it’s refreshing or crushing that seeing nukes as the cause on of our downfall seems like the return of an old friend. It’s a basic presentation, with stock art illustration. It includes some toolkits and optional zombie rules. Interestingly for an OpenD6 game, it uses all the polyhedral dice. The blurb stresses that this is a labor of love decades in the making.
2. Apes Victorious
Apes Victorious is built on the OSR basics of systems like Labyrinth Lord (the rules include conversions to it, Mutant Future, and Starships & Spacemen 2e). It, as you might imagine, draws heavily on the series from the 1970s. You can play as a human astronaut, ape, degenerated human, or “psi-active underdweller." Planet of the Apes is one of the classic “the apocalypse happened so long ago we forgot” series.
Interestingly this is not the only Ape-driven rpg, though Eden Studios Terra Primate doesn’t have a definite setting, just the concepts that intelligent apes are around. So it might be a better fit to play out the more recent film series (which came out after TP).
This makes me feel old. I remember when AW first came out and some designers (who would later buy into the mechanics) complained about the tone and voice of the rules. But then other games began to adapt, rework, and rethink mechanics from it to create PbtA games—with a new approach to hacking given the lack of SRD or even agreed upon principles.
AW2 coming out just seems like a year or two ago, not five years as of this writing. Any revised edition had a lot to live up to but the Baker’s focused on tuning making Apocalypse World better, rather than trying to adapt other innovations back into the game. So the second edition is tighter in some ways, makes changes to better fit with how the game actually plays at the table, and messes with the economy. It’s also a more straight-forward presentation—it still has a strong, aggressive voice but does a stronger job of showing how the game works.
All the changes to the mechanics feel like fine tuning. The biggest come in the reworking of combat moves—personal, group, and vehicular. It adds a single new playbook, The Maestro’d. The Operator playbook gets cut. There’s changes to harm and the economy of lifestyle has undergone some shifts. The reception to 2e was strongly positive. At least in our circles, GMs moved over to it quickly.
The Bakers would follow up the 2nd edition with two supplements worth noting. The first is Burned Over, which presents a deep reworking of AW. It’s intended to offer a game playable by more age groups and appeal to a general audience. From the blurb copy, “No sex moves, a more reigned-in take on violence, less adult horror in the grotesquerie. In many ways, if we were to create Apocalypse World today, Burned Over is the game we’d create.” The other is the Extended Refbook which collects extra playbooks and more discussion of fronts.
This French game takes place in a world which has rebelled against humanity. The earth itself strikes back at them with plagues and disasters, forcing humanity to flee to flying cities powered by divine magic. The setting mixes faith, mysticism, and cybernetic tech together, a return to the kitchen sink apocalyptic settings of years past. Overall fairly crunchy, though the demo rules and two small supplements are short.
5. Belly of the Beast
In this setting, the world was destroyed by a massive skyrock centuries ago. People survived in the wake of that. Then three generations ago, that rock split open and from it emerged a massive, land crushing worm which swallowed nations, cities, fortresses, and civilizations. Think Midgard Serpent or the Stone Thief from 13th Age. It devastated the land.
But some survived inside the maw and inside the belly. You play descendants of those who survived the Devouring. You’re a scavenger living out a wet, gruesome, and dark existence. You will be hunting through the organs and fleshways to recover artifacts from these lost societies and survive.
Belly of the Beast is the first rpg I remember X-Carding when we played it. The GM suggested the currency at play within the beast would be teeth and I noped right out of that. It’s an interesting idea for a game--Mad Max feel inside the belly of a whale. It’s a little too dark for me, but could appeal to others.
Belly of the Beast is designed by Ben Dutter and this uses the same Ethos Engine mechanics which power Vow of Honor and Hunt the Wicked. If you know those games, picking up this one should be easy.
An interesting post-apocalyptic setting. It has zombies but that outbreak happened a hundred years ago. The walking dead exist but have become kind of commonplace. The real thread has begun to emerge from monstrous variants of these creatures. These changes have forced the survivors into a variety of factions.
Era’s a game with a decent amount of support. The ERA d10 system harkens back to World of Darkness. Players roll big fistful of d10s and count up successes against a target number. That system also powers several other Era games, with the first being Era: Consortium I believe. That’s a big sci-fi toolbox. Multiple other settings have been presented in Era d10 Fundamentals sourcebook. So if you’re looking for a game which has other worlds and settings you can bolt on, Era has you covered.
The publisher Shades of Vengeance followed up the core book with both a Quickstart Guide and a Role Book Primer. They supported the line with three sourcebooks: Infected Manual (more mutations for zombies), The Swarm (splatbook for a specific faction), and Tales of the Outlands (adventure seeds). In 2018 they released a Definitive Edition which adds another 100 pages of setting and background material.
7. Hora de Aventuras Juego de Rol
It’s always been a great disappointment to me that we never got an English-language Adventure Time rpg, especially during the heyday of its TV series, graphic novels, and wonderful comics. I have to content myself that Nosolorol Ediciones managed to secure the Spanish-language license and produce this great looking game.
And if you haven’t watched the show: yes, Adventure Time is post-apocalyptic. It takes a few episodes before that becomes unquestionable in the series. But eventually we see tons of ruins, secrets of the ancient world, and even flashback to the days before the apocalypse.
From what I can gather it’s a simple d6-based system which allows you to create your own characters for the setting. Status cards represent effects which happen to your character (“¿Congelado? ¿Enamorado? ¿De bajona? ¿Pocho?”). It looks like tremendous fun. The company released a few supplements: a small guide to the Candy Kingdom, a guide to the parallel universe land of Aaa, and a GM screen. Plus they also got cool Adventure Time dice. As of this writing it appears to still be in print and available. And yes, I just paid exorbitant shipping to get a copy and dice.
The other post-zombie post-apocalypse game to come out this year. Infected! likewise has a world where zombies are only part of the problem, more at the margins than the main issue. General survival and the collapse of civilization present the more immediate threat. There a focus on markets, commodities, and resources in the backstory (though not as deep as Red Markets, see next list). It’s a basic set up without any major twists in the core description.
The system uses 2d10 for resolution and has a chuck of detail to manage. Eight stats, 24 skills, calculated vital stats, circumstance bonuses, advantages and disads. I always know we’re in for crunch when I check out the weapon and armor listings. The former can have an Init Mod, Strike Mod, Damage, Range, Parry Mod, Magazine, and HR. The latter has sectional ratings and modifiers to movement and awareness depending on what you’re wearing.
The game’s decent looking and the core book’s 250+ pages. Immersion Studios has supported this with several releases. There’s a GM screen and five short scenarios available. If you’re interested, a free quick start’s available.
There’s an interesting publishing split that I’m going lump together in this entry. So Metamorphosis Alpha is arguably the first sci-fi rpg, launched in 1976. It has the players on a generational ship where systems have collapsed and things have gone terribly wrong. You can see some of its influence on the latter Gamma World, but they’re distinctly different games. In 1994 TSR released Metamorphosis Alpha to Omega as a setting for their Amazing Engine Game. In 2002 Fast Forward Entertainment released a 25th Anniversary edition. In 2006 Mudpuppy Games released another version, expanding and changing the first edition with a 176 page hardcover. In 2014 Goodman Games released a Deluxe Collector’s Edition of the original game alongside a handful of modules and supplements.
In 2016 Goodman Games released Epsilon City a massive boxed set detailing a major city aboard the MA spaceship. This was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the game. It included a huge sourcebook, three maps, and two smaller supplements with cyborg rules and adventures. This was an officially approved product from James Ward and used the rules from the first edition.
But also in 2016 we saw another version of Metamorphosis Alpha from another company, Signal Fire Games. When Epsilon City keeps the weird gonzo colors and looks of the original, lovingly translated by Goodman. This (5th?) edition core rulebook goes for a sleeker, more modern look. The game was originally Kickstarted in 2012 and only released publicly this year.
It uses the System 26 system (which is awkward to say) but I don’t think those mechanics appear in any other games. Reviews seem to be meh about this one, that it lacks the spark of the original game. In trying to update to a more modern approach the wildness of the original went away. It isn’t helped by having few illustrations and bad organization. Signal Fire didn’t release anything else for the game.
Polaris is a flooded world setting where humanity has been driven underwater by a cataclysm long forgotten. They've survived and grown into potent factions built on advanced technology and genetic engineering. This is third edition and publisher Black Book Éditions’ second bite at the apple after 2008’s Polaris. The original game came out almost two decades ago in 1997.
This version of Polaris takes huge strides forward in presentation. The base game’s a two volume set in a striking slipcover case. The art’s fantastic, lush, and consistent throughout. The company has supported it with a few supplements, but it hasn’t blown up despite how great it looks.
I actually got a copy of this in a chain of generosity a couple of years ago. I knew I was in trouble when the copy arrived with two laminated pages of dense rules summary. I tried several times to read through this but the trad density of mechanics meant I bounced off. That’s too bad because the setting’s interesting, especially the themes of technological decay and the overall mysteries in play. It offers a level of wild fantastic beyond that of its closest watery sci-fi rival, Blue Planet. Polaris is a more cyberpunk, biopunk wild sci-fi game. It would be cool to see someone hack it into a story game system.
So I went back and forth on including this on the list. On the surface Pugmire’s a fairly trad fantasy game with canine folk. And it mostly is that. But it’s also a world where thousands of years have passed since the fall of humanity and the evolution of animal folk. We have a world of distant future where both the people and the apocalypse have almost totally been forgotten.
The game has a few interactions with that history. Some folks are guided by the edicts of the Code of Man. Relics and knowledge of the old world are treasures to be sought out. But for the greater part that apocalyptic backstory is stage dressing for the coolness of having an armored schnauzer swinging a magic axe.
It’s interesting to see the explosion across genres which happens around this time as designers take The Black Hack (and other Hacks) in different directions. Some of them feel like jokes and others simply as proof of concept—that it could be done with the system. The Rad Hack seems a little more serious about being a game, even if the concept itself goes gonzo (“Coated in slime!” is a selling point).
It has a clean layout and the art’s really nice. It offers a lot of additional material for the hack—it isn’t a small set of tweaks. It’s a nice game and worth picking up if you want to try old Gamma World modules or even more recent MCC releases.
13. Savage Rifts
This event was, I can say with some certainty, a complete surprise to me. The notoriously protective Palladium Games combining forces with another company, any company to allow its IP to be used with another system. The Kickstarter raised $438K for several books to be released the most important being the Tomorrow Legion’s Player’s Guide and the Game Master’s Handbook. As with many of these big kit rpg Kickstarters (see also 7th Sea), the company would stage releases over the course of a couple of years.
The original Savage Rifts Kickstarter took a smart approach. It focused on a slice of the Rifts setting but offered a set of rules which players could use to rebuild much of the massive and ongoing backlist of material from Palladium. Since then Shane Hensley’s company has followed up with two follow up Kickstarters. The first, 2019’s Rifts for Savage Worlds: American Armageddon offered three new books covering NA for the setting. It raised $230K. The second, Atlantis Rising, took a more modest approach with a single big sourcebook and some related accessories. (as of this writing it's at $126K. Final tbd).
14. The Wasted Hack
Technically this releases the following year in 2017, but the precursor to this- Waste-Land Beasts and How to Kill Them- came out this year. The latter’s a bestiary and toolkit for post-apocalyptic foes for use with The Black Hack and similar games. The second edition of this in 2017 reworks the creatures into the format used by The Wasted Hack.
That’s a pretty substantial reworking of The Black Hack. It’s not as gonzo as The Rad Hack. It instead has a feel that’s closer to Fallout or Wastelands than Gamma World. The interior art’s a little cartoony but consistent.
A freeform game about characters caught up in a city which is falling apart. The book mentions 28 Days Later and Escape from New York as touchstones, but there’s also a strong echo of the video game This War of Mine. The game has a light resolution system—d10 with some specific actions spelled out like moves. There’s a play sheet for tracking the group and the book contains premade characters and locations. At first glance this might seem like a thin game, but there’s surprisingly deep material here worth checking out.
16. Miscellaneous: Zombies
- Ancalia: the Broken Towers: A kingdom sourcebook for Godbound. Multiple Night Roads have opened here spilling out the undead to overwhelm the land. The kingdom has been cut off from neighbors and only a few cities survive.
- Dead Reign Sourcebook 6: Hell Followed: The second to last of these sourcebooks for Palladium’s zombie rpg (2008). This one adds a cornucopia of loosely connected material, including new zombies, new classes, disasters, conspiracy theories, government enclaves, and more.
- Morts: A World of Adventure for Fate Core. After a zombie apocalypse, jobbers—called Morticians—get the unpleasant task of keeping things secure and dealing with internal incidents. Has a "worklife" comedy edge, but then veers into lots of material for magic and running supernatural creatures as PCs.
- No Way Out: An Italian scenario book for playing zombie games with Fate Accelerated.
- Survive This!! Zombies! Collected Edition: Pulls together the Survivor Guide, Zombie Master’s Guide, and Zombie Manual for this fairly trad, low budget zombie rpg. Also release a few other supplements for it that same year. In 2018 they would release a second edition.
17. Miscellaneous: Other Sourcebooks
- Antagonist and Protagonist Archives: Character and NPC resources for Fragged Empire (2015).
- Apocalypse In Your Hometown: So there’s apparently a Stay Alive! modern survival rpg variant of Tunnels & Trolls 7th Edition. This is a collection of scenarios for that, set all over the globe. The collection includes Stay Alive! Lite’s 33 pages of rules.
- Asteroid Cybele: The American Wasteland and Asteroid Cybele: Lords of London: It remains a shock to me that people still play and publish stuff for a game which was legendarily complicated in my youth. These two volumes are part of a four book series focusing on an apocalypse kicked off by an asteroid strike. The American Wasteland covers Miami and beyond with the framing device of a race from Miami to Seattle. Lords of London provides a setting book for the city.
- Il Culto della Torre: (The Cult of the Tower) A sourcebook for the Italian rpg Nameless Land (2013). It seems to be both an adventure and a sourcebook with a diary as the framing device. Takes PCs to what used to be South America.
- In Thy Blood: A campaign setting and adventure for the DEGENESIS rpg (2014). Original German version came out the previous year.
- Into the Deep: This was a weirdly light year for Numenera (2013). This is the only hardcover released for the line, this covering all things in the oceans. That was supplemented by the short volume The Octopi of the Ninth World. They also release a Numenera Artifact Deck.
- Overgrowth of the Undying: Our yearly Dystopia Rising (2011) sourcebook. This one covers the titular Overgrowth region and the Nuclear Family Faith.
- Post-Cthulhu: Ah, another lovely piece of shovelware from Starbright. As always, has the complete Fate Core rules, and then material for running an after the Mythos rises campaign.
- Shangri LA: A regional sourcebook for the hybrid rpg/miniatures skirmish game Wreck Age (2013). The company added a couple of other smaller releases this year as well.
History of Universal RPGs
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs
History of Cyberpunk RPGs
History of Superhero RPGs
History of Horror RPGs
History of Wild West RPGs
History of Licensed RPGs
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part One: 1976-1984)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Two: 1985-1987)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Three: 1988-1990)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Four: 1991-1993)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Five: 1994-1996)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Six: 1997-1999)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Seven: 2002-2002)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Eight: 2003)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Nine: 2004-2005)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Ten: 2006)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Eleven: 2007)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part Twelve: 2008)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 13: 2009)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 14: 2010)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 15: 2011)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 16: 2012)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 17: 2013)
The Year in Post-Apocalyptic RPGs 2014
The Year in Post Apocalyptic RPGs 2015: Part One
The Year in Post Apocalyptic RPGs 2015: Part Two
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 20: 2016)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 21: 2017)
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 22: 2018)