Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review: After The End 2 - The New World

I'll just keep on saying it,
real covers, please.
Just a wee bit earlier this week, I reviewed the first book in the new(ish) line, After The End, a GURPS franchise for post-apocalyptic style games. As is the typical pattern book 1 was the "player's book," while book 2 is the "GM's book." This is a huge book with tons of stuff, usable in the post-apocalyptic setting and outside of it as well, and even, if like me, that thing isn't your bag, this is a book you might want to take a loot at. Let's take a closer look then.


Moderate table of contents
This is a substantially sized book coming in at 56 pages, with a 3 page intro, and a 3 page outro, giving us 50 pages of the front and center thing. We have a 5 page chapter on setting up the mythology and setting, 21 pages on how to handle the things the environment throws at us, 19 pages on all the other stuff, and 5 on basic game mastering.
This book is most substantially full of guidance for making a survival game in a harsh environment fun, and rules for making the tools work the way they should for such a setting. The book presumes a few things about the setting:
  1. The world ending event(s) happened long enough ago that the game does take place After the End but
  2. It hasn't been so long that civilization has totally had the chance to recuperate and try getting back on track yet
  3. The "end" was probably brought about by a nigh fantastic catastrophe.
So that said, there is a bit of flavor and assumption going on here, but that is neither here nor there.
Illustrations are topical and don't seem anachronistic, and pull quotes are all enjoyable. Organization makes sense, with no noteworthy flaws or notes to speak of which to speak. This is a great book for anyone interested in creating a slightly gritty, but overall cinematic survival campaign, but also pretty useful even outside of that specific application, as the rules are, of course, GURPS, so it fits in wherever else GURPS fits.

The End

This chapter covers setting the stage for your game - thinking of how the world came to be in the situation it currently is in, and if that is true, the gameplay, setting, and story implications. There are several examples of popular judgement day fallouts and altogether I found the chapter surprisingly insightful, though, and this probably is a positive, somewhat system agnostic, relying very little on mechanics, and going to good lengths to lay a foundation for the rest of the manual.

Wasteland Hazards

The difference between this chapter and the next is somewhat semantic, but, in hindsight the division between hazards and the other scenarios makes sense. Here we have several different examples of set pieces that we typically associate with the genre, and gameplay mechanics and rules to bring them into the game. For example, we start with a conversation on Chemicals and Munitions talking about how and why and where we might find such hazards, and what that might mean for players, rules for dealing with it, and example impacts for falling victim to such a setup. Throughout, we have a few monsters here and there, which, while following the organization of the document, I feel might be better if they were grouped all in one easy to reference location. Other than that, everything in this chapter reads sensibly and intuitively, if not a tad bit dry to read in one solid sitting.

Boldly Going Forth

While the previous section dealt more with immediate threats and hazards, this chapter is more about going through the "process" of surviving; that is, to put it somewhat without finesse, the previous chapter is about things that happen to the players, and this chapter is about the things that happen in between those.
We talk about Survival, and exploring Ruins and Bunkers, Scavenging for stuff, and we have a really cool section on invention (the bit that inspired me to buy the book.) This is followed by special considerations for Computers, then probably the two biggest components of most campaigns, Combat, and Negotiation.
Though the chapter is overall amazingly solid, special attention needs to be paid to the invention rules. Those in the Basic Set are definitely a bit bare bones, and almost so much so, it makes GMing it quite a headache. Dungeon Fantasy has some slightly improved invention rules, but they only work in the confines of the scenario that you are using the power to make hacks and gimmicks for quick fixes to one-off problems. With this book, the invention rules are finally solid enough that I think I am going to (with very little modification needed) try to find a way to patch this into my more typical fantasy GURPS campaign as a replacement for the rules from Dungeon Fantasy 4.
On the inverse, the rules for Computers always seems like a really weird way to abstract the task in question. Maybe it's one of those things because Computer Programming is one of my real life skills, and I'm the guy who watches the movie and giggles, "ha ha, he said he's going to write a program in HTML," but it feels so alien to the way I think of computer programming that it is a little hard for me to wrap my head around it.

Post-Apocalyptic Game Mastering

If chapter one (The End) was about establishing the framing and window dressing of the game you'd like to make, this chapter could be thought of as the crunchy mechanical counterpart to same. The chapter is good reading, and probably the most entertaining read of the entire book. I especially enjoy that the Making Everyone Useful section exists here, which closely mirrors a similar section from Dungeon Fantasy 2 as well. This section gives a nice detailed analysis of the templates from the first After The End book and helps compile scenarios that specifically speak to each template's strength as ways to make each "class" helpful throughout the progress of a game.

Other Thoughts and Closing

My favorite parts of the book are the final chapter and the section on the invention rules, but overall this book's biggest asset is how reusable it is - it isn't just for After The End games. It is pretty helpful for any game that has survival, urban exploration, and/or an air of lawlessness in an ungovernable land. For After The End it is essential, for everything else, it is still very good.

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