D&D as a Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
A while back I decided to blow up my campaign world and had Ragnarok (Norse end of the world). Fortunately the group was able to reverse it's effects in my 4E campaign that went to epic levels, but the world was pretty trashed.

So my current campaign definitely has a points of light in a dark world feel. Want a magic item? Well there's the ruins of the old city over there. Good luck with all the undead that infested it when 90% of the population was wiped out in a matter of hours and thinned the border with the Shadowfell. Oh, and by the way, there are other spots where the border to the Feywild is thin and another where fiends have been trying to break through.

But at the same time, it's also not resource scarce from a survival standpoint so not sure it really qualifies. I thought about setting up some kind of magical disease/crop failures but I'm not good at constant dark and dreary tone.
 

ninjayeti

Explorer
I think "apocalypse" implies a sudden, complete collapse rather than general decline of knowledge and civilization. I've never heard the fall of Rome referred to as an apocalypse or the middle ages as post-apocalyptic.

I'd say the two hallmarks of post-apocalyptic fiction are:

1) complete collapse of society and institutions. There is no government, no military, no corporations or guilds. At best you have a village or tribe to help you but beyond that you are on your own. Other civilized settlements may just be rumors, but at best they are long and dangerous journeys to reach.

2) the objective of adventuring isn't wealth or glory but survival and the acquisition of basic supplies: food, water, bullets, gas, etc.

With a fantasy environment you can do some fun stuff with #1, but #2 is more problematic. Even in a "magic as technology" setting like Eberron a typical rural village is going to be largely self sufficient: they likely grow their own food, have a reliable water supply, have a blacksmith to make basic weapons, etc. Things like medicine, gas, bullets, water purification chips don't really work as objectives. Even if you assume a village has no food or water it is harder justify adventuring for a solution as you aren't going to find a stash of MREs or a water tanker truck in most fantasy environments. "Our well is contaminated but I think the temple a few villages away has a Decanter of Endless Water" doesn't feel like a compelling plot.

So if I was doing a fantasy post apocalypse I would focus on #1: the PCs need to find the remaining pockets of civilization, set up trade and mutual defense, and create new institutions to face the challenges of the new era. It would lack many of the tropes typically associated with post-apocalypse fiction, but it would still pose distinct challenges from a standard fantasy game.
 

S'mon

Legend
Default D&D setting is post-post-apocalyptic, Medieval not Dark Age, so you have ancient ruins plus a more or less functioning current society. Some settings do go more post-apocalyptic, like 4e Points of Light, which has the recent apocalyptic Fall of Nerath.
 

Coroc

Explorer
A while back I decided to blow up my campaign world and had Ragnarok (Norse end of the world). Fortunately the group was able to reverse it's effects in my 4E campaign that went to epic levels, but the world was pretty trashed.

So my current campaign definitely has a points of light in a dark world feel. Want a magic item? Well there's the ruins of the old city over there. Good luck with all the undead that infested it when 90% of the population was wiped out in a matter of hours and thinned the border with the Shadowfell. Oh, and by the way, there are other spots where the border to the Feywild is thin and another where fiends have been trying to break through.

But at the same time, it's also not resource scarce from a survival standpoint so not sure it really qualifies. I thought about setting up some kind of magical disease/crop failures but I'm not good at constant dark and dreary tone.
Go ravenloft. One of your shadowfell portals will do. Some really dark domains are Falcnovia, or the one Azalin rules.

Or just start a darksun campaign that's imho the best postapocalyptic campaign world. It is gritty w/o undead at every corner, daily food and water are a constant challenge.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Yeah, this is kind of a core conceit of the genre. Some settings deviate from it of course, but it was central to the original source-material, and it survives in some form in most of the current adaptations.

By the way, I think this makes an excellent in-universe explanation for the weird pan-medieval hodgepodge of different technologies and sociopolitical structures that D&D has.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
For me, I like the idea of there being plenty of ruins that can be plundered for riches around. Even though I normally don't do dungeon crawls I like the idea that there is danger around every other corner.

But ... much like the Black Plague the survivors of the apocalypse actually have a lot of resources. Arable land and other resources are relatively plentiful. Yes, there are monsters that go bump in the night but if you are one of the lucky ones and aren't eaten life is not that difficult.

In the previous campaign there were food shortages and other issues but it didn't really add much to the game for me. People are assumed to have a relatively high level of wealth quickly in their career, if not at first level. Maybe I'm just not a doom and gloom guy, more of a be paranoid because there really might be something hiding in the closet. :unsure:
 

Coroc

Explorer
For me, I like the idea of there being plenty of ruins that can be plundered for riches around. Even though I normally don't do dungeon crawls I like the idea that there is danger around every other corner.

But ... much like the Black Plague the survivors of the apocalypse actually have a lot of resources. Arable land and other resources are relatively plentiful. Yes, there are monsters that go bump in the night but if you are one of the lucky ones and aren't eaten life is not that difficult.

In the previous campaign there were food shortages and other issues but it didn't really add much to the game for me. People are assumed to have a relatively high level of wealth quickly in their career, if not at first level. Maybe I'm just not a doom and gloom guy, more of a be paranoid because there really might be something hiding in the closet. :unsure:
I got some idea spooking around in my head for a while on how to best do a setting a bit alike some ravenloft domains, like Falcnovia with its oppressive regime or the one which map is basically 19th century industrialization London (cannot recall the name of this one atm it's got some Jack the Ripper theme I think).
What I imagine is something extremely gloomy, literally dark, maybe foggy but not always, but when not, the sky is clouded also with smog eventually. It should be a populated area on the one hand otoh many houses should be empty or inhabited by something else than the normal folks. The normal people would only leave their homes if they absolutely have to.
Basic things like water and food supply should still work somehow though, but I have no good idea on how to make this logically consistent, because this would require rural areas providing these goods.
While the rural areas could be as gloomy and dark, having lonely farm houses strewn about, there would have to be some market or traffic of goods in larger quantities. I do not know how to resolve that.

That's where darksun really shines, it is thoroughly consistent and still gives that postapocalytic feel.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
While the rural areas could be as gloomy and dark, having lonely farm houses strewn about, there would have to be some market or traffic of goods in larger quantities. I do not know how to resolve that.
This is where too much worry about realism can ruin a good thing. Screw the trade routes.
 

Blackrat

He Who Lurks Beyond The Veil
There is a finnish rpg called Astraterra that is basically a fantasy setting in a postapocalyptic dyson ring. The magic in the setting is actually manipulation of ancient tech. The game was designed to be kid friendly. I know the writer was working on english translation, but I don’t think they’re ready yet. It does have english website with some of the fluff however: The Setting — ASTRATERRA
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I got some idea spooking around in my head for a while on how to best do a setting a bit alike some ravenloft domains, like Falcnovia with its oppressive regime or the one which map is basically 19th century industrialization London (cannot recall the name of this one atm it's got some Jack the Ripper theme I think).
What I imagine is something extremely gloomy, literally dark, maybe foggy but not always, but when not, the sky is clouded also with smog eventually. It should be a populated area on the one hand otoh many houses should be empty or inhabited by something else than the normal folks. The normal people would only leave their homes if they absolutely have to.
Basic things like water and food supply should still work somehow though, but I have no good idea on how to make this logically consistent, because this would require rural areas providing these goods.
While the rural areas could be as gloomy and dark, having lonely farm houses strewn about, there would have to be some market or traffic of goods in larger quantities. I do not know how to resolve that.

That's where darksun really shines, it is thoroughly consistent and still gives that postapocalytic feel.
In my old campaign, it was far more gloomy and morose. But crops will still grow even with constant fog as long as it is warm enough, just not as well. Some may even grow better because of the constant moisture. However, the crops were always sickly looking, food spoiled more easily, certain crops worked others didn't. Mushrooms were also a big thing.

The problem with ongoing resource scarcity though is that in the long term the population will drop to the level that the environment can support. Assuming the population hasn't dropped to zero, scarcity becomes the new normal. You can set the campaign in an era where the population is still dropping but at some point it stops being "shortages" and becomes "normal".

If you had a small region that was unsustainable, there would have to be a reason people stay there. But anyway, that's why I don't do the constant shortages thing. Life can be hard for "commoners" and it may be difficult to scratch out a living but it faded into the background quickly.
 

Quartz

Explorer
The 3E Epic rules provided an easy way out. Those artifacts aren't artifacts at all, 'just' Epic magic items. Once the PCs got to those levels, they could create those items. Look at it like a PC's origin story: their tutor was really high level - 6th or so (!) - but the PC meets and surpasses them. So too do the PCs come to meet and maybe surpass the ancients.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I was thinking, more and more, than perhaps my affinity for old school Greyhawk (at least, as I construe it) ties into this post-apocalyptic theme.
 

jayoungr

Explorer
I think "apocalypse" implies a sudden, complete collapse rather than general decline of knowledge and civilization. I've never heard the fall of Rome referred to as an apocalypse or the middle ages as post-apocalyptic.
Thanks, that was some of what I was trying to get at when I said lost knowledge doesn't automatically mean post-apocalyptic. You articulated it better than I did.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I don't think we should be taking "post-apocalypse" too narrowly. The apocalypse doesn't have to be recent or sudden. Basically it means "there used to be advanced civilizations who could do stuff we can no longer do, and we keep finding their amazing stuff.*"

*If usually we "find" that "stuff" by killing monsters and taking it from them, so much the better!
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I don't think we should be taking "post-apocalypse" too narrowly. The apocalypse doesn't have to be recent or sudden. Basically it means "there used to be advanced civilizations who could do stuff we can no longer do, and we keep finding their amazing stuff.*"

*If usually we "find" that "stuff" by killing monsters and taking it from them, so much the better!
Agreed. That was the intent.

I think that there are, for lack of a better way of putting it, two general post-apocalyptic settings.

One is directly after (or somewhat after) the apocalypse. More common in SciFi, this is in the days, weeks, or the first generation or so after Armageddon, when people are barely clinging on to survival.

The second (which is what I was trying to get at) is more of the "there were great powers once, and we don't have that now" which is really common in fantasy (but also Sci Fi ... TAKE YOUR STINKING PAWS OFF ME YOU DAMN DIRTY APE).

But this could be as banal, and as common in some ways, as our own history- how did the Romans build that, anyway? ;)
 

jayoungr

Explorer
I don't think we should be taking "post-apocalypse" too narrowly. The apocalypse doesn't have to be recent or sudden. Basically it means "there used to be advanced civilizations who could do stuff we can no longer do, and we keep finding their amazing stuff.*"
I respectfully disagree--I think that definition of "post-apocalyptic" is so broad as to be nearly meaningless. Finding ancient, advanced artifacts is such a staple of both fantasy and sci-fi that it would mean there are very few settings that aren't post-apocalyptic under that definition.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
Depends on how recent the apocalypse is.

During the apocalypse: 0 - 1 generations: primary consideration: living until tomorrow
Fallout.

Recent post apocalypse: 1 - 5 generations: primary consideration: scrabbling for necessities to rebuild; scrapping with next village
Fallout 2, Fallout 3 and Fallout 4.

Old apocalypse: 4 - 10 generations: primary consideration: rebuild, reclaim, scrapping with next county
New Vegas.

Very old apocalypse 10+ generations: primary consideration: find opportunities, scrapping with other nascent states
Not any Fallout, at least not yet. I doubt there will be since the setting revels in its post-nuclear wastelands.

In Greyhawk, for example, it's been about 50 generations since the Invoked Devastation. Long enough that people have been told of it, but no one really understands what went on, critical infrastructure has been built, new cities founded, wealth and populations rebounded.

It's not post-apocalyptic in genre, but it uses the tropes to provide ancient ruins to explore -- those created during the devastation and other created by other powers in the interregnum and treasures to find -- things that can't be reconstructed or whose cost would be more too prohibitive to comtemplate.
A lot of fantasy settings borrow a similar series of tropes. As mentioned LotR does the same thing, but its a slow decline after a war rather than sudden devastation. The Third Age by the time Aragorn is crowned is over two thousand years old, and Gondor been on a slow slide for centuries.

That said, at what point does it stop being post-apocalyptic? If I blow up a modern day setting, and then have my game 1000 years into the future with a new society is that post apocalyptic? Even if the society is fully functioning and as advanced as our own?
 
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