Last night, the BBC started showing their remake of “The Survivors”, a post-apocalypse TV series first made in the 1970’s. So I thought it was a good time to look over films & books that have the making of great post-apocalypse games.
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’ classic SF novel charts the discovery of a near earth asteroid, its impact with the Earth and the first few desperate months of survival. This is probably the best book either author ever wrote, separately or together. Based on solid science this book is a great template for any asteroid strike based apocalypse.
Dawn of the Dead
You could substitute any zombie film for this but personally Dawn of the Dead (original version) is my favourite. Two SWAT officers, one TV News helicopter pilot and one TV news producer make a great party as they come to terms with the rapidly escalating spread of Zombies and flee the city. Taking shelter in a mall that they clear of zombies, only to face even greater danger from biker gangs. Of all the zombie flicks, this one makes the best basis for a short-roleplaying campaign.
If we are looking at post-apocalypse scenarios, nuclear war has to feature but good examples for gamers are hard to come by. TV specials like the the excellent Threads, the so-gritty-they-banned-it The War Game and the over hyped The Day After depicted the destruction of nuclear war but do not provide a frame work for a role playing campaign. In books, you’ll find slightly better pickings. The Survivalist and Deathlands series are good fun reads but they are sightly silly and the average GM can come up with better campaign worlds than these presented in those books.
And then there was Jericho. Long after the cold war, when most people have forgotten the risks posed by nuclear war, a TV series comes along and revisits the whole setting. Following the fortunes of a small town in Kanas after a major nuclear strike, it deals with fallout, food shortages, anarchy, the flood of survivors fleeing the big cities, inter-town warfare and more. It is the perfect primer for a nuclear apocalypse campaign. The first half of the first series is weak but then the production team really get their act together and the plot races along to a top-notch finale.
When it comes to deadly virii wiping out the planet, Stephen King’s The Stand is head and shoulders above the rest. The characters, plotting and pacing of this book are excellent. The good versus evil supernatural elements are well done and fit within the book no matter what your religious beliefs. If you are put off by Stephen King’s horror reputation or his less-than-good later books, don’t be. This is not only much better than just about all his other writing but it is also very different in scope and style. The most remarkable thing about the book is that they made a TV mini-series of it that is almost as good and captures most of the book’s essence. Book & TV series are hugely recommended.
War of the Worlds
Aliens attack and destroy mankind, resistance is futile. This pretty much sums up H.G. Wells’ novel. This in not a heroic story of mankind’s fight back but a dark story about basic survival against an overwhelming enemy. Practically all subsequent alien invasions stories can trace their roots back to this book so it is a great starting point for an alien invasion apocalypse campaign. The Spielberg / Tom Cruise remake is not bad and owes quiet a lot to the book but the 1953 version has very little to do with Wells’ original.