There’s a lot of variety to tabletop role-playing games (RPGs). Not everything is Dungeons & Dragons – you’ve also got Pathfinder, Vampire: the Masquerade, Mouseguard, Dresden Files RPG, etc. Not all of them use the same system of play, either, and that’s definitely true of our topic today. The End of the World RPG books, published by Fantasy Flight Games, are very different from the majority of tabletop RPGs I’ve played. Why?
Because you play as yourself.
That’s right – the character you create and play in the game is *you*, reimagined in the easy ruleset written into the books. In the game fiction, you have just sat down to play a tabletop RPG with your friends when the end of the world begins…talk about meta, right? The End of the World RPG books provide a variety of ways for the world to end, from general theme (zombies, alien attacks) down to specific scenarios (plague zombies, rise from the dead zombies, etc.).
Character creation is as easy as assigning values to offensive/defensive physical, mental, and social statistics up to a point value, and then giving yourself positive and negative traits that may affect things in game. After that, an interesting part of character creation begins – everyone secretly votes on whether you gave yourself too high or low of a score in a particular stat area (physical/mental/social). You then adjust your stats accordingly and give yourself extra positive/negative traits depending on how the other players voted.
The last two steps of character creation are trauma and equipment. If you are currently dealing with a trauma (and if you’re willing to disclose it), you can be realistic and put it down on the sheet. For instance, if you’ve just gone through a bad breakup or broke your arm, those could affect your social and physical dice rolls, respectively. The equipment you mark down is literally whatever you currently have on you! Your phone, keys, wallet, are all part of your equipment – down to your % charge remaining on your phone and the amount of cash in your wallet. I’ll be you wish you had your pack from your Boy/Girl Scouts days on you now, huh?
As every player at the table is playing as though they were themselves, you’re unlikely to solve the apocalyptic scenario you’re in…trying to survive will be hard enough. Scavenging for supplies, dealing with other survivors, handling whatever the apocalypse is throwing at you, and finding shelter are likely to be the main concerns in any End of the World campaign. If you survive long enough, you may even get to the post-apocalypse scenario, which is an imagined future after the apocalypse has ran on for some time.
Every attack – whether physical, mental, or social – can have dice added to either the negative or positive dice pool. Negative dice cancel out positive dice (say, rolling a 1 on positive and a 1 on negative then cancels out both dice), and any dice remaining affects the outcome of the roll. Uncancelled negative dice deal stress (similar to hit points in other games), and positive dice under your ability score for that characteristic give you success on whatever happened. This leads to scenarios where you can succeed at something, like attacking a zombie, but still take stress/damage for doing so. It’s an interesting mechanic and allows for great roleplay!
We ran a couple versions of the zombie apocalypse End of the World book with the teens at my library instead of Dungeons & Dragons, and neither of the campaigns lasted more than three sessions due to choices made by the players. They also didn’t get further than a day into the campaign, but the teens said that they thought it was cool to play a fictional version of themselves where they got to actually act out an apocalyptic scenario. They wanted fairly early combat, but that led to early player deaths, so I’d encourage building up the world and the scenario a bit more before unloading an enemy against them. We’ve moved back to Dungeons & Dragons since then, but I’ll definitely be breaking this out for another go if we need a break at some point.
Have you tried the End of the World books? What has the response been from your teens? Sound off in the comments below!