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I am slowly preparing to start my first campaign in a non-DnD setting, and I wanted to start something in a post-apocalyptical setting. I have thought about using modern d20, I like that there are literally no limitations to what you can do with it, and it is easily expanded/modified, but on the other hand (with regards to the discussion about Probability Curves) I don't like the fact how random the system is. Plus, I'd like to have a non-heroic campaign, characters shouldn't be able to sustain a point-blank shotgun shot into their faces!

What elements exactly I am looking for:

  • Non heroic, characters should be as fragile as normal humans
  • Mutants, magic, PSI abilities are all very welcome
  • Advanced technology (lasers, atomic batteries, teleportation devices, whatever) is also very welcome
  • System of long-term injuries, ailments, diseases, bone fractures, phobias or anything like that would be a nice addition.
  • Less completely unpredictable dice rolling (like in d20), or tokens

Generally it would be nice if the system wouldn't be restraining, giving much space to modify the rules.

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10 Answers 10

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I have these suggestions, all at the far ends of the thematic and mechanical spectrum.

Mutant Future. If what you're looking for is an old-style, Gamma World-like game with simple rules and the ability to include wild amounts of mutants, androids, etc etc, then I suggest Mutant Future from Goblinoid Games; if you want to season it with magic and monsters, then you can sprinkle in bits of Labyrinth Lord, from Goblinoid as well. At the lower-level end, characters are certainly fragile, I suspect.

Apocalypse World. Vincent Baker's latest game is a decidedly new-style game with lots of interesting mechanical flourishes. Characters can be fragile, and while each character has some special stuff they can do, you can easily frame these gifts as within a gritty heroic scope and not post-apoc-folk-in-tights. Baker bakes in some weirdness into the game (the Psychic Maelstrom), and you can easily spice with mutants and freaky stuff without bending the game. With each game Baker publishes, he gets better at not just giving you a great game, but giving you great, clear explanation on how to play it. Apocalypse World's rules are lengthy compared to his previous efforts, and a great deal of that is in laying out, very clearly and explicitly, how you should play the game (before you inevitably attempt to hack it to suit your group's desires).

Aftermath. If what you're looking for is an old-style, gritty, simulation-y game with a deep, flexible rule system, it's hard to do better than the original. The game has a somewhat undeserved reputation as intensely difficult: I disagree. The rules are deep and complex, granted, but they're also very clearly explained and rational in approach. Additionally, FGU now sells a new "Tech" supplement for widening some tech for the game (aliens, mutants, space travel, cyper-computery stuff, some updated tech), and a "Magic" supplement if you want to inject a magical aspect to the game. Aftermath is clearly designed for deep, long-term, simulationist play, but it's fundamentally no more complex than full-on GURPS or D20.

Generic rules. You can also try using several generic rules-sets to get what you want: GURPS would work, probably, as would Greg Porter's two most recent game efforts--CORPS and EABA. In particular, EABA with the Stuff supplement (for building machines and creatures and such), and perhaps with one or two of the campaign supplements, would suit well. Porter's designs are smoothly developed, but are deep and simulation-y -- the reason I explicitly call out Aftermath over EABA or GURPS or HERO or BRP, or another generic rule engine, is that Aftermath is specifically written for post-apoc play, while being built on top of (essentially) a generic, simulationist game engine (the same that appears in Daredevils and Bushido).

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I love Apocalypse World, but the OP asked for "non-heroic" game systems. AW is definitely more of a "movie logic" game system, and that's why an unwounded AW PC can take a shotgun blast to the face without dying. In addition, AW is a narrativist game system, while Aftermath is highly simulationist. Therefore I think "Aftermath!" is much more in line with the OP's requirements. – As If Feb 20 '14 at 5:56
I don't agree that you should think of AW in those terms. An unwounded AW PC could take a shotgun blast to the face, sure. They can also die horribly. The point is that the action doesn't de-facto have mechanical consequences, it has narrative consequences, and that doesn't discount AW from being used for non-heroic-style play. What it means is that is that the gaming group needs to get on the same page with respect to genre expectations. Know the story you're telling. – Viktor Haag Feb 20 '14 at 20:59
That said, my experience with AW is pretty limited; my assertions are only from my impressions from reading the rulebook and that very limited play: all I mean to point out is that "movie logic" does not automatically NOT mean "gritty". There are lots and lots and lots of gritty movies. Especially in the post-apoc genre. – Viktor Haag Feb 20 '14 at 21:01
Point taken, and appreciated. AW is super-hackable and it's all about the group getting on the same page. If the OP prefers highly detailed charts, etc, I'd still lean toward Aftermath! but if the OP prefers narrativism then AW is a good way to go. – As If Mar 3 '14 at 5:21

First, I'm going to refer you to my answer to a similar question about playing Fallout on the tabletop.

Then, I'll attempt to address each of your specific elements:

  • GURPS has always had fragile people and dangerous combat. Without special abilities or magical powers, fighting with guns and sharp pieces of metal frequently leads to death.
  • Mutants, magic, PSI abilities are all covered by the 4th edition base system, IIRC.
  • GURPS has long had vast equipment lists as well as a tech-level system (see other answer).
  • GURPS has phobias and other mental problems, old wounds I think would make a fairly simple disadvantage if they don't already exist as such.
  • GURPS uses a 3d6 roll-under mechanic with a strong probability curve.
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GURPS looks promising, though it seems to be tad too complex to easily get into it. Lite rules are not much more help, but I doubt there can be much done about it. – Maurycy Mar 23 '11 at 23:23

I don't know if you have played Shadowrun at all, but I think the system would work well if you either put it on a world like the Fallout video games, or depending on how flexible you are with your postapo definition, you could run a game where the PCs are a gang in the barrens.

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Looks really promising. I am fully capable of bending the system to suit my needs, so that wouldn't be a problem. I don't suppose there is anything like Open Game Content? Could you recommend which core book should I get my hands on to get as much info of the system I can? – Maurycy Mar 22 '11 at 13:18
I've personally played both second and third editions. Currently 4th edition is what they are supporting. If you are going to postapo-world, you probably will only need the main rulebook (and 2nd and 3rd would both work well for this). If you want to game in SR-world, you will probably need to read up on riggers, magic, and pray none of the PCs want to play a decker (they eat large amounts of time when the rest of the PCs are twiddling their thumbs). – Pulsehead Mar 22 '11 at 13:30
Turns out Shadowrun second edition was released for free in Polish, so that makes it good for me. But I am still interested in other systems too! – Maurycy Mar 22 '11 at 13:45

Eclipse Phase might fit the tickets. It's a very transhumanistic post-apocalyptic setting. Genetic manipulation, nano-tech, psychics, and AIs are all big parts of the world. It uses a percentage system for dice rolling but I couldn't tell you what that does for probability. It also supports long term issues and keeps track of both physical and mental damage and as damage accrues you do gain greater long term issues (beyond just the basic penalty for the injury).

The setting is fairly broad scope allowing for a lot of different game types depending on the characters played. It can support quite heroic play but the general tone of the books is that of very high-tech humanity who are in completely over their heads horror.

Did I mention it's creative commons licensed and the publishers seed the books to bit torrent themselves? Share with your friends!

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A fairly new post-apocalyptic fantasy game is the Desolation RPG. Magic has gone amok and has changed the world. It uses the Ubiquity system which is a skill based rpg. It's fairly simple to learn and play.

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I would also suggest another new entry in the PA arena: Atomic Highway from Radioactive Ape Designs. It uses its own system (called the V6 Engine) and was best described by a friend as "Take Mad Max II/III, blend with the new Death Race film, add a few chunks of Fallout, and simmer. Serve topped with a few completely and utterly optional nods to more gonzo post-apoc settings such as Gamma World."

I've read through the corebook and believe it does address the points you're looking for rather well.

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When it comes to systems, you really have to decide where you want to be on the simplicity <> complexity scale and the realistic <> cinematic scale. Working out where your group sits on these scales will inform your choice of system immensely.

For gritty, post-apocalypse weird though, I would suggest Unknown Armies, if you like the simple end of the scale. With a street-level campaign it can be pretty brutal, and you can easily control whether it progresses to global or even cosmic scale later.

(Global might mean the PCs founding a new utopia in the aftermath, cosmic could mean them using their psi/magic/mutant/weird science powers to develop time travel and going back to make the apocalypse have never happened *8')

If you want the complex end of the scale, there are lots to chose from, but over the years I've moved further and further from complex systems, so there are others better able to advise.

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Basic Roleplaying/Call of Cthulhu stands out to me. It's even dead easy to slap on AD&D Psionics. BRP can definitely be kept in the normal human range without difficulty. Call of Cthulhu is well suited to an apocalypse - the Great Old Ones have risen, and you've got to be insane to survive.

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If you speak French, you might want to give Charognards a try. It has these cool game pieces and it is very non-heroic.

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Unfortunately nope, only Polish and English (and back in the High School they were trying to teach me German, but I guess I managed to resist the system). I could probably going through some translation program, but I think it would be too much work to bother unfortunately. – Maurycy Mar 24 '11 at 8:57

You plainly want to play Gamma World.

It's totally non-heroic, post apocalyptic, mutant driven, technology scattered world. Characters die easily as insects and often they actually are insects; the only thing you requested that is not present there are the long-term injuries, since they usually just regenerate if they don't die, but if you really want you could custom-rule something like that.

My advice is to let the players play as a "larger group/organisation" with more members than the actual players, and chose which PG to play every time, so that if one dies it's not really an issue: they chose another one (when it makes sense, of course, it shouldn't "just teleport there") and go on.

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Which edition? They're not interchangeable and it's not clear which you mean. – SevenSidedDie Apr 17 '11 at 23:19
I meant the 4ed-based one, assuming the feel of the game was the same for all editions - is it not? – o0'. Apr 18 '11 at 9:11
Remember that saying about assuming. :) No, old Gamma World was gonzo in a different way, and the systems are almost entirely unrelated so comments about healing and long-term injuries are edition-specific. Because this is the RPG SE exchange and not the Recent RPG StackExchange, never assume that people will make the same edition assumptions as you. :) We have experts from across the history of RPGs, and in a system-recommendation Q, there's not going to be any bias for newer systems over older—just the ones that fit the requirements best. – SevenSidedDie Apr 18 '11 at 17:34
+0 because the question specifically says he doesn't want the unpredictability of a d20 system. – Adam Dray Apr 24 '11 at 21:24

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