AFTERMATH! - Cities in Dust
“Cities in Dust” is survival campaign set in a world recovering from the great Ruin of 1988. It’s a post-apocalyptic spaghetti Western by way of CBGB’s.
We first started playing Aftermath! back in the early 1980’s. My players loved roaming the wasteland battling mutants and raider gangs. I think they got out of it what a lot of old school role-players got out of early D&D – a feeling of complete freedom in an anarchic setting where the PC’s are top dogs.
But while my friends adored playing Aftermath! I had a real tough time running it. It may be difficult to fully understand today, but back then the specter of nuclear war loomed large. As far as my generation was concerned, it wasn’t a matter of if we would all die horribly in a nuclear inferno, but when. While my younger siblings, cousins, and schoolmates focused on the “glamorous” side of the post-apocalypse as portrayed in The Road Warrior and Escape From New York, my research as GM led me to such feel-good films as The Day After and Threads. Looking up stuff like megaton yields, the effects of fallout on survivors, and the results of even the smallest nuke hitting Chicago didn’t brighten my mood any. I couldn’t see past the piles of beloved dead and the destruction of everything I valued to get to the “good stuff”, and this ultimately led to the premature end of the campaign.
Thus I was a bit conflicted when I was asked to include Aftermath! in the revival sessions we started a couple of years back. Twenty years on, nuclear armageddon was no longer such a sure thing, but I still didn’t have a good handle on how to run a post-apocalyptic campaign without being bogged down in doom and gloom.
Luckily, I picked up The Road Warrior on blu-ray around that time. I hadn’t seen the movie in years, and between the passage of time, the hi-def presentation, and the extra bits and bobs in the international cut it was like viewing the film for the first time. I had always known the movie had been patterned after classic Westerns – the infamous shot of Rooster Cogburn as a background extra makes it obvious – but this time around that idea pinged around my head like a Super Ball. And it gave me a direction for my Aftermath! campaign.
The radioactive wasteland is just another frontier, after all. Outlaw gangs roam the country, preying on lone travelers and humble homesteaders. The small settlements that dot the landscape are in constant danger of succumbing to violence and anarchy. The heroes are wanderers, solitary creatures of violence who can enable the rise of civilization but can never themselves be civilized. Update the dress code a little, swap out mutants for Apaches, and you’re good to go. Armed with this new outlook on the post-holocaust, I ran the revival session with great success and received lots of requests for more adventures in post-Ruin Sydney.
So here’s our old campaign, back from the dead and ready to party. Ideally, I would love to explore some of the classic Western themes in the campaign – the conflict between freedom and civilization that arises as the wilderness is tamed, the role of justice in a lawless land, the struggle of honor against man’s baser nature – but we will probably just end up killing people and taking their stuff.
Saddle up, and watch out for the Rads!