NOTICE: All art on this page is from Wizards of the Coast, and is thus copyright of its appropriate authors. It is shown here via the d20 Apocalypse Art Gallery as reference only.
Humanity has a long-running obsession with its own uncertain future. From games such as the Fallout series and movies ranging from The Day After Tomorrow to The Prophecies of Nostradamus, all the way to comic books with names like Kamandi and Superman at Earth’s End, media is littered with wildly varying views of planet Earth “after the end”. Wizards of the Coast noticed this, and in 2005, they decided to fill this niche with a 96-page paperback entitled d20 Apocalypse. Did they do well? Did they fail? Well, let’s dive into the depths and see what this book provides.
It’s the End of the World (And I don’t feel fine)
In order to understand a post-apocalyptic game, one must first define just what “post-apocalyptic is”; Wizards does this by making the entire first chapter of this book a grocery store for the Gamemaster’s apocalyptic recipe. You start out, of course, with the main ingredient: the apocalypse itself. D20 Apocalypse provides 10 different deliciously disastrous scenarios, including:
-Alien Invasion: Earth has had a Close Encounter, and it wasn’t of a friendly kind. While the aliens were nearly destroyed by an unexpected circumstance (whether that is the Idiot Ball like in Signs, a pox upon their people like in War of the Worlds, losing to humanity’s efforts to fight back like in…plenty of stuff, really…or something else entirely is left up to the Game Master), the planet is irrevocably changed, and both technology and fauna that shouldn’t be on our planet have spread and fallen into the hands of the remnants of civilization.
-Environmental Cataclysm: Sea levels have risen, storms have become twice as nasty as they were in the past, and the world overall has reverted into a primal greenhouse. Civilization is broken down by riots and rampaging, and those that haven’t died out have devolved back into feudal territories.
-Judgement Day: The gods are pissed, and they’re kicking ass and taking names. Comes in many flavors, including Jehovah Justice, Mayan Massacre, and Ragnaroky Road.
-Supernatural Apocalypse: Zombies, demons, dragons, the works… There’s something here from somewhere else, and the war machine springs to life…only to be trounced by Things That Should Not Be. A bit silly and underestimating the power of human ingenuity, but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.
You also have the pick of the litter of post-apocalyptic human government, ranging from the zealotous Religious Society and “democracy from hell” Lawful Society to the decadently self-disastrous Depraved Society and racially-charged Ethnic Society. But enough about fluff, let’s talk crunch. While chapter 2 is completely dedicated to various optional bits and bobbles, chapter 1 starts it out with a bang…literally. We get rules for both levels of destruction from various massive damage weapons, as well as the range of fallout from nuclear weaponry. This may seem like a minor detail, but it’s a godsend for anyone that isn’t willing to take the time to calculate every niche of their destroyed world.
Pick Your Poison: Rules and Rulings for the Apocalypse
The first thing that stands out in this chapter is the large selection of building damage rules. Cave-ins, unstable flooring, an entire structural collapse…you want it to happen to your players, you’ve got it here. Conveniently, the section on unstable structures is followed directly by rules on scavenging unstable structures. Hefty tables of what you can find in any sort of typical city structure and values items have when it comes to bartering provide a large amount of backing to the economy of a world after the fall. Some of these seem iffy, like a katana being worth more than a medical kit, but it’s an overall decent and usable system. The folks at Wizards were also kind enough to include completely new equipment, including beer (no, I’m not joking; it’s listed under “cheer food” and grants a +1 morale bonus to all rolls and checks for 12 hours), gasoline, insane weapons such as the debris-launching “dirty gun” and the ever-handy rock launcher, and more. My personal favorites are the toiletries and dune buggy…they’re so mundane they should be in the core rulebook, yes here they are in the middle of a book about the fallout of humanity. Also strangely absent from the original d20 Modern books but present in d20 Apocalypse are the rules for modifying vehicles. Here, you can find monster truck parts, weapon mounts, and off-road tires, amongst other things.
Environmental hazards make up a majority of a post-apocalyptic world, so it’s no surprise they get some love next. Some are self-explanatory, like acid rain and nuclear fallout, but others are more atypical; the “joy buzzer”, for instance, is an uber-thunderstorm charged by a greenhouse atmosphere, spewing out gigantic lightning columns and belching ball lightning that pummels the earth. The section mutations are split between new drawbacks and benefits such as cyclopean vision and natural psionic talents and comments on how “fantastic” mutation differs from realistic mutation, if you so choose to implement natural consequences to the fallout world’s mutants. And then there are the monsters….oh my, the monsters. While there are more adversaries in the later chapters, the brunt of generic enemies can be found within this chapter. You have your archetypical “beast from hell” in the Apocalypse Demon template (applied to a minotaur for the example in the book), two robot overlords that are CR 1 and 10 respectively, a donkey (yes, a reprint of the donkey…again…), the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (who are looking a bit ragged at only a mere Challenge Rating of 13), a template for all your mutant needs that is unsurprisingly named ” Mutated Creature”, giant cockroaches, sapient ant and rat swarms (this one seems a bit less archetypical than the others…), 28 Days Later-esque plague zombies with the Viral Deathspawn template, and a large list of monsters from d20 Modern and Dungeons and Dragons titles that can be used as “mutants”. Some of these make sense, like elves being mutant humans and toxic sludge being uber-amoebas; others are…less so. Some key chuckleworthy assertions include:
-Skunk apes are mutant skunks (wait, what? Not mutant apes? How…but…wha?)
-Rust monsters being mutant anteaters.
-Owlbears are somehow fallout-mutated owls.
So…yeah. Some of those are kinda silly. And as a final bonus, this chapter gives us enhanced disease rules, including rules for vomiting! How lovely…
An Unlikely Band of Heroes
Chapter 3 focuses entirely on actual character rules, starting off with how base occupations (it’s hard for find a celebrity when Hollywood’s nuked) and skills (“you took that many ranks in Research? Hah, failure…”), and advanced classes (“you can’t be a Techie, you fool!”) are altered by a post-apocalyptic campaign setting. Finally, we get two new “apocalypse-neutral” advanced classes for your perusal. These don’t have any presumed apocalypse cause behind them, and are thus more easily dragged and dropped from setting to setting. The Road Warrior, like its namesake, focuses on having modded-out vehicles and being the dominant advanced class in vehicle-based warfare, while the Scavenger is a master of…well…scavenging. Neither is excellent, but neither is horrid either.
In the second half of this review, we’ll look at the campaign settings presented in d20 Apocalypse, and get the final verdict on just how this book stacks up to the competition.