This is the first in a series of posts reviewing old school games, modules, and settings. Since this is my first review it will jump around a bit and might miss a few points.
The game Aftermath! is by Paul Hume and Robert Charrette the original game debuted in 1981 and was published by Fantasy Games Unlimited. The game was in its time supported by a several different campaign settings and supplements. I have not seen so I cannot comment on the new Aftermath! Magic! supplement for Aftermath! although I was able to run a magic campaign quite nicely back in the eighties without it. Fair warning, while I am not paid to review this game nor do I know the authors or publishers this game has a very fond place in my heart and my enjoyment of it may, no certainly colors my assessment.
The original game I purchased was a boxed set with three softbound 8 1/2 by 11 books. I believe there was also a screen with various charts. My current edition has all the old books with their original page numbers in place in a single book. I do prefer the current book to the old ones as it is easier to handle and keep together. Although I also miss my charts. In this game you will need easy access to the charts.
Before you open the book there is a nice cover illustration that I believe was on my original box. My memories are over thirty years old so any lapses are purely my own. The picture is of two survivors a man and a woman. They are carrying a mix of gear (and standing a bit too close together if they are expecting shooting-type trouble!) nicely posed and the picture certainly evokes the feel of a post-apocalypse setting.
The game itself is a skill based system with various points being used to purchase the skills that the player wants. There are also attributes that correspond to the usual roleplaying game categories and talents that indicate where a character's strengths and weaknesses lay. All three usually contribute in some way to a character's skill in a particular area.
The default setting for the game is the 'twenty years after' campaign. This is set twenty or so years after whatever caused the apocalypse in the first place. Aftermath! gives some very good examples and hints for game masters however it it is a bit dated as the Cold War was the primary danger facing society at the time in regards to an apocalypse.
The character generation system includes an element of randomness although a game master and players can fudge that if they want to. It doesn't break the game if you choose your own age or background. The player's section includes rules for encumbrance travel, search, clothing, and weapons.
The rules for combat require a flow chart to make work but they are comprehensive and realistic. Somebody knew their martial arts and hand-to-hand combat. I wish I could talk to the designers because one of them or both is pretty solid on the subject for a game. While no particular martial arts style is showcased in the game it has excellent rules for striking, throwing, and grappling. I would be interested in seeing an expanded martial arts section if one were ever made.
The character mechanic is purely skill based but has excellent rules for increasing skill abilities and the talents associated with them. If you successfully use a skill enough then you will increase the talent associated with that skill.
The game includes rules for a campaign set longer after the apocalypse as well as rules for during the events that end the world itself. The long after the ruin campaign is covered in the Gamemaster's guide.
The game includes a variety of firearms skipping any copyrighted names but any reasonably informed gun person will be able to identify the gun in question. They also include a list of hand to hand and non-gunpowder missile weapons. The lists are detailed and give a game master a good basis to work up anything that is not on the list.
There are lists for armor as well. These include future armor (well future for 1981) and it is an interesting look at what informed people thought might be coming in the future for police and military protection. The armor rules cover every possible area of the body and are as comprehensive as the rest of the rules.
How it all ends. There's no skimping on the different methods that the world will end, how many people are killed at which stage, and when civil unrest starts to take hold. You have ecological disasters, comet strikes, apes taking over the earth (where have I read about that?), conventional war, nuclear war, biological war, NBC (all three), and anything else you can conjure from your inner nightmares. The way the world ends matters to the survivors after all and the players themselves might want to play out the apocalypse. Why not? Who wouldn't want to watch a train wreck unfold (in game terms)?
The section on the world after the apocalypse contains rules and examples of mutant human and animals, robots, computers, some ideas for magical creatures and aliens and other items a game master needs to populate the wasteland. The medical tech and battery rules assume that we will develop some pretty impressive batteries and medicine in the future and maybe we will. There are also rules for lasers, specialty shells for firearms, flamerifles, and even nuclear weapons.
So far, so good. The game has rules for nearly anything and everything that you might need to run a campaign. It also has a short bibliography of books and magazines that cover the topics discussed in the game. This is a very detailed game. Some find the detail to be intimidating. It covers rules for bullet ballistics based on length of barrel, weight of caliber and charge of powder. Those are not rules for the quick start gamer. Although, you can play the game just fine without those details and never even miss them. There is no getting around the fact the rules are complex. However, you need only use the level of complexity that suits you and your gamers.
There is more than a little hyperbole on the subject of complexity found on the internet which I will not link to because I believe it is misinformed. However the game is not suited to a quick start without prep. It can be done but it requires being flexible and skipping some steps.
The various supplements included games set in Cairo Illinois and the University of Melbourne hundreds of years later. The game itself could be adapted to other settings, I used it to run a superhero campaign, horror and straight fantasy.
It compares well to games like Twilight 2000 and Morrow Project for complexity and rules for most situations. It is a crunchy game. I have never played a 'rules lite' post apocalypse game and would like to try one for comparison's sake some time.
How does the game hold up after thirty five years? Really well actually. For those that like crunch it is paradise. It is as crunchy as it gets. For those that like mostly realistic gun play it is great (but you better count your bullets!). You can get into knife fights or artillery duels with this game and both are just as playable. The focus on the Cold War is understandable if dated (although we seem to be heading back that way every day). All in all this game has held up pretty well.
Which makes me wonder; why didn't this game become more popular? Gamma World came out three years earlier and comparing the two is less 'apples and oranges' than 'apples and robotic mutated alien-infected oranges'. Gamma world is Thundarr the Barbarian and Aftermath! is those old war movies we used to see on Saturday afternoon. One is very nearly a cartoon and the other is gritty, in the dirt action and adult type roleplaying. Perhaps Twilight 2000 filled that niche or was better marketed. The Morrow Project had also just been released with a more limited setting. Having played all three games I can say I like Aftermath! more because of the setting flexibility and the more open ended nature of the narratives and game play. Aftermath! was well received by critics so that was not a problem.
Perhaps it was the publisher? Fantasy Games Unlimited certainly had a full catalog of games of all types. Every single one that I owned was top-notch in style and execution but none of them were compatible in rules. It also couldn't have helped that they were out of business for nearly fifteen years. It's tough to find a market niche for something that isn't being supported. The current FGU website does leave a little to be desired. There are products without any description at all. I cannot see how you can sell a product that way. However, that doesn't speak to the older Fantasy Games Unlimited.
Certainly other game designers folded during those years or were bought out. I want to emphasis that I have enjoyed every single one of their games. All of them brought something new and fun to their genres and gaming itself. I am guessing that it was simple bad fortune and perhaps the over-hyped complexity of the rules.
The game is informative, fun and if you are a game master that enjoys world building and history this game is definitely a fun time. I say buy it if you enjoy complex games or if you like noodling around with the end of the world.
UPDATE: Leave some comments for pity's sake. It validates my lonely existence as a quiet forest creature.
Fun Fact: The E.E. Knight Vampire Earth series began life as an Aftermath! campaign. The books are excellent on their own and I'll eventually be reviewing the series.