Thursday, March 12, 2015

Back Issues #22 - It's The End of the World - Part 4: Post-Apocalypse

It all comes to an end eventually, but what happens after that? When the bombs have stopped falling, when the Rapture is over, or when the only humans left have a natural resistance to the pandemic that killed the rest what happens next? After the Apocalypse comes ...

Issue #22: It's The End of the World - Part 4: Post-Apocalypse

How it happens isn't important (caveat: it's important), when it's happens isn't important (it can be), why it happens really doesn't matter (sometimes it does though); the only thing that really (really) matters is that somebody survives. You can't really tell a post-apocalypse story without survivors. The story need not be their tale, it could happen 10 generations or 1000 generations later, but if nobody survived you got nothing.

What I said about the relative unimportant of such details as the who, when, how, why, and where (no what, we know what) is, of course, false. The how of an apocalypse for instance can make for rather sweeping differences between settings. A nuclear exchange followed by fallout and "nuclear winter" is going to create a different setting entirely compared to one where Ragnarok occurred and Midgard has been devastated by the god's war and the spilled blood and power of so many power beings, both good and evil.

Just as important is the when, or more specifically the setting before the setting. Look at the Fallout game universe and its unofficial prequel Wasteland. Then look at something like The Postman, The Book of Eli, or Mad Max. The past of the setting influences greatly the current universe. Or not. If the world shattering event was significant enough and the time since long enough the post-apocalyptic society may well be sufficiently more, or less, advanced, and very possibly culturally different in ways that almost fail to relate. Aspects of the (in)famous Rifts universe show marked difference from the "Golden Age of Man" (e.g. Tolkien, England's new Camelot) while others (like Triax and the Coalition) are greatly informed and built upon the remnants of that time.

The why can matter as well. If humanity was attacked by intelligent apes for instance, or alien beings, the setting will take shape accordingly, and be different by far from a nuclear war or global pandemic brought about by bio-terrorists (12 Monkeys anyone?). Linked to the why is the who. The Drej (from Titan AE) are a markedly different opponent for humankind than the Cylons (old or new, take your pick), or Skynet (though Skynet and the modern Cylons probably have a lot in common if you sit down and think about it).

Working on the precursor to your setting can help you develop a more compelling start to your world, and bring up factors that will help you to flesh out aspects of your setting. Using the six basic questions can really help kick start the process and being about a stronger end more detailed setting.

Setting Idea #1: Beyond Ragnarok
The gods are dead. The Jotun are no more. The Fenris has been slain. Midgard is a scorched battleground. The blood of giants and Jormungandr have poisoned and twisted vast lands, turning creatures evil and twisted. Simultaneously the blood of the slain gods has given birth to new demigods and creatures divine while making the lands they seep into fertile and potent with magic.

Setting Idea #2: After MagicWhen the great war began the armies of Men and Elves and their allies took up every tool at their disposal to vanquish the dark gods. Every conceivable innovation was put to use as a weapon, from alchemy to gunpowder, from primitive steam and clockwork to every facet of magic. Only magic proved capable of any great effect and the ability of the warmages directly influenced how effective magic was as a weapon, for every lost mage the Mortal armies suffered a defeat that could not be replaced. Slowly they were beaten back, with only the greatest of the Magi to hold the tide. In desperation the wizard and sorcerers turned to a weapon of last resort, a technique that would ensure their victory, but the cost would be beyond their ability to foresee. In desperation the last of the mages created a chain reaction within the unversal forces of magic itself, and created a conflagration that consumed and destroyed all magic. The dark gods were defeated, but the cost was dear indeed, all magic was gone, all enchantments where destroyed, all mages were killed or rendered powerless. The world was devastated from the war and magic was gone forever.

Setting Idea #3: TransHumanityNanotechnology. It was meant to be our greatest achievement. Micro-machines capable of manipulating the world and our bodies according to our design. It all went wrong. The initial uses seemed safe, and it was likely that the limited scope of those trials was the reason. The first medical nanomachines were the first step over the cliff, the only step that mattered. They were programmed to their users genetic code, they sought out aberrant cells (cancers) and destroyed them, targeted viral agents and bacteria and eradicated them. When they made the jump to another person their own would destroy the invading nano-machines. Nobody knows what changed or why, but the tools of our immortality almost destroyed us. To stop the plague more nanomachines where created and our bodies became a warzone. Those who survived where changed, their genes ripped apart and stitched back together, or their bodies torn down and rebuilt as a meld of technology and organism. What's more the world's infrastructure was ruined, buildings and highways were broken down and reformed in bizarre alien landscapes. Once verdant natural lands are now gleaming spires of quasi-mechanical plants life or wastelands of raw elemental ingredients.

Next time you decide to run a post-apocalyptic setting will these factors get you thinking? Will you put more time into thinking about the circumstances that brought about your setting? If so, how?