Ages ago, before the modern times, the world was very different. The earth, and all of humanity, were battered and punished almost daily. Again and again, the apocalypse happened. Again and again, the world was destroyed and humanity was all but lost. Save for a few brave souls, fighting against the forces of darkness in a savage world of the future.
Sometimes it was disease, sometimes it was natural disasters, but most often it was nuclear war that was responsible for the repeated collapse of society. Most of the time these Armageddons were nearly total, leaving the earth a smoldering husk inhabited by primitive warriors and mutants; others were a slower collapse of infrastructure leading to pockets of civilized humanity surrounded by inhospitable wastelands. But in every instance the holocaust provided a similarly corrupt and hostile world with threats on all sides.
This was the world of my youth. Movies, novels and T.V. shows (including Saturday morning cartoons) reiterated this theme doubling down on the real world news of cold war nuclear arms treaties and nuclear power plant meltdowns. The future for us was bright, like the flash before a mushroom cloud followed by radioactive glow. It even influenced our hobbies and games.
There were traditional board games along this theme like ‘Warlord’, a post nuclear Risk variant, also released under the much more kid friendly “Apocalypse: The Game of Nuclear Devastation” and ‘Thunder Road’, an official Mad Max car war board game. There was even a C64 game for the brand new home video game consumer called “Wasteland” which was basically Zelda meets Mad Max.
And then there was Gamma World.
First created by James Ward and TSR in 1978, this game was part of the first generation of true role playing games that was packaged and sold as an entirely stand alone system, although it was very compatible with the current version of D&D. The setting is the far off future, into the mid 25th century, hundreds of years after the war. With radiation creating mutated humans with
strange appearances and powerful abilities, fighting alongside mutated animals and even plants, using medieval weapons and ancient technology rifles and lasers.
The game mechanics were typically clumsy and over complicated, leaving you wishing for an apocalypse rather than tackle the conflict resolution matrix charts required for most any kind of interaction. Want to figure out how to use a gadget you’ve never used before? Good luck. The process could eat through most of the night and still leave you with a broken vibro-blade. Later editions, of which there have been seven, would update and streamline the rules, but would also revise the timeline of the apocalypse with more modern visions of destruction like plagues, nanotech and hadron collider meltdowns producing an alternate reality collision.
And just like Gamma World, new versions of impending world destruction keep coming out every few years. From Y2K bugs to Mayan calendar the end has been near for a long time. In fact, as I write this we are just weeks away from devastating asteroids colliding with the earth. According to Internet conspiracy theorists and doom prophets, NASA is actively covering up a 2.5-mile wide asteroid on a collision course for earth sometime between September 15th and the 28th.
So if you’re reading this, I can only assume you and your clan of survivors have stumbled across some hard copy archive in the ruins of what used to be a library while fleeing armies of cannibal mutants who’ve chased you across the wasteland on modified muscle cars and motorcycles.