This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue.
2D6 Adventures After the Apocalypse. Michael Brown.
Michael Brown https://dtrpg.com/browse/pub/9030/Michael-Brown
The Cepheus Engine rules are spawning more and more publications which are designed for role playing outside of anything recognizably Traveller. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about that. It’s good to see other genres and settings appearing for a rule set Traveller fans will be familiar with and thus can adjust to easily if desired; and it’s always possible that it might work the other way and draw role players from other lands into the Traveller universe. However, it does give pause for thought to some of us as to what exactly constitutes Traveller. With my bibliography work particularly, some definition needs to be applied to keep the project manageable.
One solution would be to decide Cepheus Engine is no longer Traveller. Some might already argue that is the case and it wouldn’t be a ‘wrong’ decision. In fact, it may be one I have to make soon if the rate of publication continues to grow. However, it would mean missing out on such treasures as Michael Brown’s excellent short adventures which could easily be set in the Third Imperium. Indeed, quite a few of them originally saw light of day in Freelance Traveller as fully fledged Traveller adventures. Or MODES: Object Quality System (Adam Dray, Verdigris Press, 2018) which is quite clearly a ‘generic’ version of QREBS from Traveller5 but is easily – and usefully – usable with, say, Mongoose Traveller, without any work at all. Of course, there are other Cepheus Engine works which are clearly not Traveller. Again, using Mr Brown as an example, his Under Western Skies series are obviously a thing apart. Although, having said that, if you’ve been inspired by the Firefly TV series (2002-2003), or the film Serenity (2005), or going much further back, the “Spectre of the Gun” episode of Star Trek (Season 3.6, 1968) – you might feel these would be easy to adapt and much fun could be had doing so.
But squarely on the boundaries of what might be ‘in’ or ‘out’ is Afterday by Michael Brown. Having produced a (micro) SF setting in Omega 99 (Space: 1999 anyone?!) and rules for non-SF genres such as westerns (see above), spies (Violation of Truth), pulp adventures (Thrill of the Thirties!), martial arts (2D6 Martial Arts) and fantasy (Of Realms Unbounded), he’s now brought out a post-apocalypse set of rules.
Afterday allows adventuring in that staple of film, novel and computer game: what happens after civilization collapses. In twenty simple but attractively designed pages you get a reminder of the CE tasks rules, five pages of character generation, two pages giving ideas for ‘what happened?’, a d66 table of types of survivors, three pages of equipment, one page on combat and survival, half a page of vehicles stats, half a page of “wildlife” stats from feral cats to zombies (of course!), a page on dangers and post-humans, and then three pages of tables for generating settlements of various kinds.
A colour cover shows a suitably atmospheric ruined city of skyscrapers and smoke with a broken down vehicle in the foreground along with an indistinct something which could be an alien, a zombie or a survivor with some well-lit rig. One assumes that it is the United States that has taken the hit from the 55mph speed limit sign. The only thing which mars the lovely image is an unfortunate typo in ‘Apoocalpyse’ – or maybe that’s deliberate as the world falls apart. [This error appears to have been corrected –Ed.]
What’s distinctive about the text is that it summarizes pretty much any post-apocalyptic option I can think of – whether natural, man-made, alien – in a generic way that allows the referee to review the options and decide where to take any adventures or campaigns. This generic nature means the book can cover all the ground necessary in just a few pages. Of course, some might see it as a negative that you don’t get lots of detail or atmosphere for one particular setting, but for the price this is a good compromise and allows referees to develop their own games in whatever way they want. In fact, I would have found a couple of hundred pages on the subject off putting and demoralizing but this treatment has actually made me think about how I could actually use it for a game.
I won’t go through every section mentioned above in detail, but some points to note follow. The character generation follows the usual career pattern with options for Artificers, Healers, Mercenaries, Scavengers, Seekers, Traders, Tribals, and Wanderers. There are no specialities. It adds a segment on Apprenticeship for pre-18 year olds which is very appropriate for this kind of genre and could be used elsewhere. One little oddity is that the skill tables are laid out horizontally rather than vertically as is traditional. It’s not a major problem, but it does take a little getting used to. Skills are given definitions appropriate to the apocalyptic genre although more could have been made of this and they’re still pretty generic. Some are close to the original Cepheus Engine System Reference Document, some are new. One wrinkle I would have liked to have seen in this section might have been for aging, say, to not follow the standard pattern of starting at the end of Term 4 but perhaps starting a term earlier to represent the harshness of life in such environments after The Event.
Speaking of The Event, the next couple of pages give suggestions for a campaign’s backstory from alien invasion through climate change or nanoclysm1 to war and zombie apocalypse. It may be the paucity of my imagination, but I can’t think of anything the author has missed here. Even the possibility of divine judgement is included which is a nice touch given ‘apocalypse’ is the Greek word for the book of the Bible English speakers know as Revelation with its astonishing images of the end of the world and beyond. Each entry here has a brief description and gives inspiration for directions it might take a campaign.
Those Left Behind is a section consisting of a d66 table which allows you to randomly generate cultures that might be encountered and short descriptions of each. Examples include adaptable, collectivist, expansionist, repressive, slavemonger and weakened. Some are perhaps typical of the genre, some less so, but given that any amount of travel in such a campaign world is likely to come across multiple settlements – perhaps living in close proximity to one another – it’s useful to be able to quickly come up with a variety of options. Of course, to make any campaign truly memorable would require a lot more detail than is given here, not to mention NPCs, but this is a good start to kick off imagination and perhaps remind you of examples from film and literature you’ve come across before.
The hardware, vehicles and animals sections are much as you’d expect in terms of content. The only surprise here is that they’re as brief as they are. This is a good thing in my view. Many sourcebooks I’ve come across seem to get lost in extensive catalogues that add very little to role playing. Given the scope of this work – remember it’s just 20 pages – the author has, I think, got the balance right here. The possible exception might be the zombies. Now I should say that they’re not my cup of tea – in games or films or books – so there was a certain appeal in the fact that they occupy precisely one line (in the animal table) of the entire book. Kudos to Mr Brown for not getting lost in pages and pages of detail on this. However, given the nature of a lot of post-apocalyptic fandom, I suspect that many readers would have liked a little more on this. Perhaps a page (no more!) on different varieties, possibilities, effects of being attacked by them and so on. There is a note on post-humanism, but this is essentially a paragraph saying that some post-apocalyptic fiction includes mutated humans and/or uplifted animals and points to other sources for this kind of detail. It would have been impressive to see rules/notes for this in just a page or so!
The final section covers settlements and is essentially a set of rules for generating six types: Booming, Caravanserai, Ad Hoc, Declining, Outpost and Abandoned. The rules allow the creation of a descriptive string that is much like a Universal World Profile from regular Traveller or indeed the Cepheus SRD and indeed some of the values map exactly to such a string (e.g. size, population and leadership – i.e. government). This is fine and covers the ground nicely and succinctly. If I had any complaint about it, it fails to take advantage of the natural matches with UWPs to aid memory. So why not make size the second character rather than third – especially as ‘resources’ could be thought of quite easily as a match for ‘atmosphere’. But this is a minor nit, can be easily rectified, and for those not coming from a Traveller background is irrelevant. The best bit about this section is that it would be very easy to use this as a way of thinking about settlements in Traveller games – backwoods towns, out of the way asteroid communities and so on. Particularly if they’re low tech, small or very much off the beaten track.
Which brings us back to the start of this review. Afterday is of course, not formally Traveller at all. However, for referees visiting worlds which have had some form of disaster, this would provide a useful framework for quickly producing options and to help harried designers consider a lot of possibilities and hone in on what’s required. And for those who would like to take their Cepheus Engine 2D6 science fiction games into the Hard Times era of MegaTraveller or the virus nastiness of Traveller: The New Era, then this is just the way to get started.
If you’re looking for a detailed setting with a particular atmosphere and lots of NPCs or maps or zombie/disease/natural disaster detail, then it would probably be wiser to look elsewhere. If you’d like to venture into this genre for the first time and need some support to get started and have plenty of ideas for detail, then it’s a great framework. And for Traveller referees looking to visit some darker worlds – perhaps literally as well as metaphorically – then it’s worth picking up for some quick inspiration.