I grew up under the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Perhaps I’m not a child who was taught to jump under their desk when the nuke hit like those of the 50s, but I watched and wondered as President Reagan threatened the Soviet Union with Star Wars and certainly found some perverted joy in watching moves like The Day After and Threads.
At one point, I was thoroughly convinced I’d die in a nuclear attack well before I ever had sex. It’s true, and I even broke down and admitted as much to my mother who assured me that would not be the case. Still, how could she know? Did she control the secret briefcase with the red button that launched mutually assured destruction like the President? I think not! But alas, doomsday never came… and once again mothers everywhere were proved wise in the face of their twelve year-old children.
Still, my fascination with that A-bomb only grew once I started playing D&D in the early 80s. By the time I had a functional relationship with the rules of the game, probably 8th Grade, I began crafting my own post-apocalyptic RPG called ‘Future Warrior’.
I very much wish I could share some of the covers for that game with you, but they’ve found their way into storage (a tragedy, I know). Still, I had a core rulebook and four distinct supplements for the game all under my first LLC moniker RST Hobbies, which is of course the reverse of TSR. (Note: RST are my initials, Roger Scott Taylor, which isn’t the only odd connection I have to TSR because I also share a birthday, July 27th, with Gary Gygax)
One of my fondest, or perhaps strangest, memories of running a Future Warrior session with my friend Mark, was of a one-on-one adventure that had his character running out of food. When I told him he’d have to eat a can of dog food he’d scavenged, he flat out refused and instead decided to attack a wayside wanderer who was camping nearby with several nice weapons close at hand. Mark’s character only had a road flare and decided he’d attack with it as a thrown weapon. I told him it would do no good unless he somehow threw it in the guy’s mouth with a Nat 20. He proceeded to roll the Nat 20, killing the unfortunate wayfarer, but guaranteeing Mark’s character never did eat dog food from a can.
Indeed, that is just how the future rolls, I guess, the strong take from the weak and the lucky sometimes come out on top even in the face of certain defeat.
It wasn’t until a year later that I discovered Gamma World 3rd Edition, as purchased by Mark’s younger brother Curt and quickly absconded by us older boys. This was the first time a scene from the apocalyptic world was cast in almost glamorous detail instead of a ‘survivor from the ashes’ kind of standard.
To this point, I’d only ever interacted visually with post-apocalyptic gaming worlds by seeing the advertisements for Aftermath in the Dragon Magazine. There, a Mad Max clone was looking ready to rumble in stunning black and white, but with the Gamma World 3rd Edition the polish that was the mid-80s TSR ‘Pit’ came to full bloom.
Keith Parkinson’s unbelievable image of a wolverine-like mount and chrome-armored rider were all I needed to realize the future might not have looked as dark as one might expect. Legitimately, Parkinson’s boxed set cover might only be outdone in sheer ‘shine’ by Elmore’s space opera cover for the original Star Frontiers, and I can almost imagine the two of them trying to outdo each other in making the harsh reality of a possible future look more like a GQ photo shoot.
Nonetheless, I was hooked for the better part of a summer on playing a Dabber (Raccoon Mutant), not to be confused with a Badder (Badger Mutant). Mangar Blackeyes was his name, if memory serves, and after his adventures came to a halt at the start of another school year, the days of my running love-affair with the apocalypse also seemed to come to a close.
Perhaps it was the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jesus Jones’s one hit wonder Right Here, Right Now, or the dismantling of the U.S.S.R. that caused it, but more likely it was my actually having sex that caused the cool factor of the fall of our civilization losing its luster.
Many years later, with the rise of eBay, I began collecting this venerable game in many of its former incarnations. I was impressed with the base art of the Gamma World 1st edition, the more talented aspects of Jim Holloway’s artistic take in the 2nd Edition, and even the inclusion of my beloved Jeff Laubenstein in the later D20 editions from post 2000.
At one point, several years ago the nostalgia for what could be if it all went to Hell provided me the push I needed to create a card game based on a post-apocalyptic setting. I went so far as to get the game printed, if only in a single version, so I could play it with my old friends.
In some ways, I guess I came full circle, and I had a blast art-directing my game in just the fashion I wanted. I guess I went with Parkinson on the design, my characters clean compared to most images one would find, but I also think there is some Holloway humor in there to keep the game fun.
Now in 2012, after a week in which I was introduced to Savage Worlds, Mark asked if I’d like to co-DM a post-apocalyptic campaign the next time we were together with the boys. I have to admit, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea, and certainly Savage Worlds is the perfect fit to do it. Who knows, perhaps with a little conversion work, Mangar Blackeyes can ride again!
Anyway, for good or bad, I’ve always been a fan of a future fallen, from a Mad Max addiction as a tween to watching for signs of the fall of civilization with each passing year of social and financial unrest in the world of today. In some ways it’s hard feel a sense of pride and wonder in the future, a cataclysmic fall just easier to accept, and yet the harder path seems to always be the correct one to take. So for now I’ll continue to enjoy my life in the bloom of high civilization and hope the future unfolds in a much more pleasant storyline than my young imaginings.