In this month's exclusive interview, Charles Ryan, one of the designers of the exciting new d20 Apocalypse supplement for the d20 Modern game, discusses the familiar yet alien nature of the postapocalyptic world and how it applies to campaigns set in the wake of world-shaking disasters. Now you too can explore the thrills of Doomsday with d20 Apocalypse!
Wipe the slate clean and watch a new world rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The allure of the postapocalyptic world is potent indeed -- witness the popularity of such movies as The Day after Tomorrow, War of the Worlds, and George Romero's "Dead" films. The ever-popular Left Behind series of books comes at the same topic from a religious angle. And now the d20 Modern game makes it easy for GMs to ruin civilization and put it back together again. The new d20 Apocalypse supplement not only provides all the tools you need to exterminate and replace most of the world's life, but it also offers just about every conceivable way of winding your doomsday clock. From biological disaster to Judgment Day, from the rise of the machines to supernatural invasions, d20 Apocalypse provides the means to the end -- then details the tribes, creatures, and weaponry that survive the collapse of human civilization as we know it. This rulebook even ensures that players can get started right away by offering three fully detailed campaign concepts. Atomic Sunrise is a nuclear wipeout setting, Plague World is the world after an alien invasion, and Earth Inherited represents the aftermath of a religious war.
Gamers have never inherited a more devastated and entertaining world.
Charles Ryan, Wizards of the Coast's Brand Manager for Roleplaying Games, designed d20 Apocalypse along with Eric Cagle, Darrin Drader, and Owen K.C. Stephens. For more than a year now, the players in Ryan's own campaign have been exploring the world in the wake of a nuclear doomsday, so it's safe to say that he knows a little something about what happens when worlds end and begin again. The other three designers are similarly well equipped to address the topic, and all four clearly wrote the book as much for their own entertainment as for the countless players and GMs who will benefit from the information it contains.
Wizards of the Coast: You said something both cynical and brilliant about the familiar -- yet alien -- idea of a postapocalyptic setting for a campaign: "We can look around us today and overlay that vision [of a postapocalyptic period] on the local shopping mall, the highways, the skyscrapers downtown -- even our own neighborhoods. Unlike a fantasy setting, the postapocalyptic world is all around us." How did this simple concept impact the design of the d20 Apocalypse supplement?
Charles Ryan: Much of what makes a postapocalyptic setting compelling stems from the fact that it's basically a fantasy (or at least a fictional) setting based closely on the real world -- the world around us today. It makes sense, then, that a lot of the rules address how to convert the "real" world into the ruined world after the apocalypse. Rules for scavenging and exploring old buildings, for traveling on the ruins of the real world's highway system, for modifying vehicles and trying to keep equipment functional -- all these guidelines provide the means to use the modern setting in a primitive, ruined context.
This theme of life among the ruins in the aftermath of civilization permeates even rules that aren't directly tied to converting the real world into this fantastic setting. Classes, feats, monsters, and the like are all based on projecting current creatures and activities into the postapocalyptic period.
Wizards: How did you decide upon the various "Choose Your Apocalypse" scenarios? I have a vision of a bunch of designers sitting in a room saying, "Oooh, don't forget the biological disaster of The Stand -- and the rise of the machines, as shown in the Terminator films." I'd venture to say that you didn't have to look far to find examples of the various scenarios you wanted to use.
CR: That's very true, and your vision is pretty much right on the money. Back in the concepting stage, even before the designers were assigned to this project, I sat down with the R&D managers in a room, and we kicked around every permutation of the postapocalyptic theme we could come up with. Even though I had already moved to the business team by then, Chris Perkins invited me to that meeting because he knew that the postapocalyptic setting was a favorite of mine -- in part because he was a player in the postapocalyptic campaign I had been running for the past couple of years.
Wizards: How do you approach the myriad options that a project such as this one offers? You have top-line considerations, such as societal structure, the types of devastation, and even the radioactivity level for certain types of campaigns, but you also have more fundamental considerations, such as actual rules for scavenging. It all seems a little overwhelming. How do you start the design process?
CR: Well, at that initial concepting meeting, we outlined the sort of rules that would be necessary for each of the setting types we had agreed upon (and for other axioms, such as whether the game is set right after the apocalypse, or generations later). We paid special attention to rules that would be useful in many different types of campaigns, and to those that would affect the campaign types we thought most GMs would choose to run.
Wizards: Mutations are, without a doubt, part and parcel of every apocalyptic setting in existence. But that topic was covered pretty thoroughly in the d20 Future supplement. What does d20 Apocalypse add to the mutation mix?
CR: This book offers a couple of different options for both more realistic and more outlandish mutations, along with a broader spectrum of different ones. It also provides some advice for using existing monsters -- not just from d20 Modern, but also from other d20 sources (such as the D&DMonster Manual) -- as mutated real-world creatures.
Wizards: Horsemen of the Apocalypse -- are these the scariest creatures in the postapocalyptic world? (Personally, I find rad-roaches even more revolting, but I think that's just me.)
CR: It's funny the way context can affect how scary a monster is. In my campaign, the players once had to deal with a giant praying mantis that lived in an old barn they needed to enter. This incident occurred early in the campaign, before the heroes had run into much weird stuff. The mantis was acting like a real ambush predator -- just waiting patiently in the shadows for its prey to pass by. The players were really scared of that barn! It was the best mileage I've gotten out of a CR 3 creature in a long time!
Wizards: As a co-designer of the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game, do you find it exciting to add even more possibilities to this gaming environment?
CR: Absolutely. I've played (and designed) modern games for fifteen or twenty years now. I love fantasy and science fiction games as well, but modern settings have a special place in my heart. And now that I'm no longer on the R&D side of the fence, I took special pleasure in doing a bit of writing and design.
Wizards: Which kind of postapocalyptic world do you prefer for adventuring? Do you envision the afterworld more as Mad Max, or as Left Behind?
CR: My vision is definitely a little more on the Mad Max side, but my own game also has a distinctly divine aspect to it as well. Perhaps it's a bit more over the top than Left Behind is -- okay, maybe it's a lot more over the top!
I won't go into too much detail about my campaign -- my players may be reading this article, and they still have a ways to go before they uncover all my secrets. But you could classify my campaign as Nuclear Armageddon with a touch of Judgment Day and Supernatural Invasion in the Aftermath time period. The heroes have had their share of run-ins with Road Warrior-style road gangs and slave-taking warlords, but they've also dealt with flesh-eating zombies, animated industrial machinery, demons, fiendishly mutated animals, and other creatures whose origins they have yet to figure out. That variety is a big part of what makes this type of setting so much fun -- even with the trappings and advantages of the modern world, you can give your imagination free rein.
d20 Modernd20 Apocalypse, July 2005 Release Date, softcover, full color, 96 pages, $19.95.
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