Sunday Review: GURPS After the End 1 – Wastelanders

We have a new series in town, and an old one. After being held up in release limbo for an awfully long time, the post-apocalyptic GURPS After the End 1 – Wastelanders has clawed its way through broken terrain, starvation, radiation, and mutant dinosaurs to snap at our heels.

This will be a very comprehensive review of AtE 1. I’ve read through it once already, and I can tell that SJG is learning from prior successes.

The overall format, right down to structure, is the same as Action 1. You get templates, the cheat sheet, then new rules for mutations, and finally, gear.

Introduction

The introduction is not quite as important for AtE1 as it was for Action, which has some very critical assumption-setting departures in it. It still sets the tone for the book, though, concisely and well.

  1. The book is not about the process of the apocalypse. That was generations ago. The stories told here are in the world in its aftermath.
  2. The point value of typical characters is lower than some of the other worked-example series at 150 points, which is one of the first real instances in this type of book that returns to the original recommended point value for starting characters from the Basic Set.
  3. There are some new, simple rules for mutation, blended tech level, and fatigue. These can be mined for other quick-play campaign styles as well.

The introduction sets the tone for what follows. This book will be about grit, luck, determination, and survival. And radioactive mutant dinosaurs. No, they’re not really in the book. But you can see them waiting in the background . . . clever girl.

We’ll cover each chapter in turn. 


Chapter 1 – Wastelander Templates

This chapter is the guts of the book, and covers two types of character building blocks:

  1. Templates – big blocks of points that represent complete playable characters
  2. Lenses (things you add to make a character distinct and usually a bit more powerful
Templates
The meat of the book, covering perhaps half of the total page count. Less is explained in section-level headings, and it gets right to the included templates, which are

  • Doc – medical expert and frequently social face.
  • Hulk – big freakin’ guy (like 7′ big) that will usually hit stuff
  • Hunter – recon, scout, food supply, silent killer.
  • Nomad – Always moving, one step ahead of danger, vehicle/animal transport expert.
  • Scavenger – If it can be found in the wilderness or the wasteland, you can find it.
  • Tech – There may not be much left out there, but what it is, you can fix and use.
  • Trader – Probably the zeroth oldest profession, before that other one. There’s always a deal to be done, and you’re the one doing them. Really does have the Brooklyn Bridge for sale.
  • Trooper – Expert fighting, and a little bit frightening. If it can be shot, you will shoot it with discipline and verve. 
The thing that really sets AtE1 apart from (say) Dungeon Fantasy and Action 1 are the copious and profoundly useful Customization Notes provided for each template. Each runs to nearly a full-page column in length, and discusses how the template fits into the overall AtE world, variants of each type that will be useful to PC and GM alike, and makes recommendations for skills and abilities required to serve the customized role. 

The templates are big enough, flexible enough, to cover the bases. They are “only” 150 points, so stepping on each others’ niche won’t be a problem. It’s a solid basis set for adventuring in the Wasteland, and the customization notes and mini-lenses for each template provide a lot of variety.


Obligatory Panning of Blocks of Text

I’ve noted this before – I like templates but do not like how they’re presented on the paper. The format is basically the aforementioned wall of text. This is space-efficient but hides the utility of the template, which is the rapid presentation and assimilation of hundreds of points worth of choices.
If you use GCA and someone makes a macro for you? Templates are the greatest thing since sliced bread. If not, I find them very hard to read, but they’re the SJG house style and aren’t going away.

Lenses

What lens is this?

A short section, giving 50-point blocks of power-ups and modifications that are designed to boost the capability and niche of the characters. They are Blessed (lucky), Fast, Hardy, Learned, and Mutated. Note that there’s another lens, Experienced, which is tucked into each template. It’s 50 points of “more better!” used to raise the overall point value of a campaign.

Each one can be added to any template. There’s no reason you can’t have a Fast Doc, or a Learned Trooper.

Again, combined with the existing templates and custom notes, there’s a lot of room to make unique characters here.

Boxed Text
There are three instances of boxed text throughout the chapter, weighted to the beginning.

  • How did it end? talks about different ways that the world ends, fire, ice, meteor, and disease. It will flavor the kind of threats and the literal lay of the land.
  • Inappropriate Skills is a terse discussion of where not to spend your points. Useful to prevent players from building in useless abilities by accident. On purpose is on you.
  • Hulking Equipment. Big guys require big stuff, and this very short box tells you how to get super-sized weapons, armor, and stuff without worrying about square-cube laws.

Chapter 2 – Wastelanders’ Cheat Sheet

Now on to Chapter 2, the Wastelanders’ Cheat Sheet.

This is a worked example of something that’s recommended for most campaigns. Recommended enough that SJG hosts a web application – the Trait Sorter – to allow GMs to create such custom lists. 

What’s the list? Or lists, rather? The appropriate Advantages, Disadvantages, Skills and other abilities or notes for the particular campaign. Or in this case, genre.

Advantages

The Advantages were sorted into the realistic and heroic, but mostly not powered. This is basically what it says on the tin.

Specialization


If your gadgeteers are too powerful in you campaigns, this box text gives a great way to limit that by offering up seven specializations for this power. It’s very worth stealing.

Perks


A half-dozen Perks, all of which are chosen from the larger work on Perks, Power-Ups 2.

Disadvantages

The supplement, like Action before it, takes a lot of the crippling physical disads and tosses them out the window, since while it might be in genre, it’s probably not terribly fun, to play a crippled sessile PC – the game is about getting out into the wastes and . . . well, doing something. That something will wait until AtE 2, invariably the campaign book.

A box sets up the disad limit for the campaign at about a third of the starting character points. Neither generous nor stingy.

Skills

Obviously, skills get the same treatment. A cut-down list of skills is provided, stripping out the supernatural/powered set, and those that are more suited to passive study or setting up shop and selling lemonade for a living. Unless it’s nuclear lemonade.

It ends with a box noting that some forbidden skills are out because they’re not interesting to PCs. Not in the book: saying that if a PC needs one of those, a simple IQ roll would fix that right up. So would the Dabbler perk.

Secondary Characteristics


The book adds two new secondary attributes, Long-Term Fatigue Points (LFP) and Radiation Points (RP) to better track the particular hazards of the Waste. 

RP basically function as another form of hit points or fatigue points. LFP has an interesting mechanic behind it. It’s not as nuanced as what appeared in The Last Gasp (Pyr #3/44), but it more than makes up for it by being dirt simple and effective at what it sets out to do. Rules are provided for missing food and sleep and water.

Chapter 3 – Mutations

The third chapter is three pages long. It presents Powers-based rules for mutations, for attack, defense, bodily transformation, movement, and sensory improvements. Each mutation is a power, and comes with a cost in “freakishness,” that measure how . . . odd . . . you look. This comes along with physical and reputation issues. All in all, fairly tight balancing mechanism. 

Chapter 4 – Gear

It’s a different flavor than most other gear-centric games, where the cool thing is to have the most advanced, most awesome, niftiest batmobile, rifle, or computer.

Here in the Wasteland, you’re lucky to have food. The book spends its first portion talking about wealth, money, and how they don’t exist. Welcome to Bartertown. Another thing that doesn’t really exist is Tech Level, and the only real delineation between objects of different technology strata is price, with each level being double the level of the previous one. Since the world is basically a TL4 environment – the highest TL you can sustain without getting into large power source requirements – that means a Glock 9mm will probably run you about $8,000.

You start with $500 – the equivalent of a box of fifty rounds of ammunition in the Waste.

The equipment list would be boring repetition of items mostly already present in other books except for two things. Firstly, you don’t have to look in other books – what isn’t in the Basic Set, which is required to play the game, is repeated here as “new,” which means “new to the Basic Set information,” rather than “new to GURPS.” That’s true of prior entries in many places as well, though there is plenty of honest-to-goodness new stuff here too.

Food – durable, preserved food – gets some special mentions, as one would expect. Anti-radiation medicines that might be worse for you than the good they do are covered with brevity and no small amount of humor.

The armor section does a shorter job of ensuring that you check out the right armor by cost, by pointing out that in many cases “cheap” high-tech armor may well be better than TL4 equivalent normal stuff. There’s also a large, fun section of improvised weaponry.

Firearms and ammunition get a generic, quick treatment, but if there’s one place you might want to bring out detail, it’s here! A 9mm diameter bullet might come out of a .380, .38 special, 9mm Makarov, .357 Magnum, 9mm Parabellum, or even a .357 SIG  . . . and of those, only the .38 Special and .357 magnum can be fired from the same gun (and a .357M fired from a .38S gun might be a poor decision). Finding both a gun and ammunition of a common type? Gold . . . which is why not only are these things consumables, they’re literally money. 

The book also gives a brief overview of ammunition reloading, assuming you can find a press, dies, powder, and primers. Reloading ammo suddenly becomes an adventure in and of itself.

The final two pages are dedicated to vehicles, which mainly means they’re dedicated to the vehicles fuel, since that’s what’s going to run out the fastest.

Parting Shots

This is an interesting project and a welcome addition to the three existing worked-example series of Dungeon Fantasy (winner and still champion), Action, and +Rev. Pee Kitty‘s other series, the excellent Monster Hunters.

This is just the characters book, which follows what looks like a pre-set format that nonetheless delivers the goods: templates to make characters quickly, a chopped-down subset of the gigantic list of GURPS character traits for free-form character building without templates, special character-facing rules, and equipment.

It will be fascinating to see what the second volume, which will have to deal with actual adventures or campaigns, will offer up. The various ways the world ends all provide different background for what works, what doesn’t, what’s a threat and what isn’t. So how the author threads that needle will be fun to see.

As it is, this particular book (fair warning: I received a comp for . . . something I must have done a long time ago, ’cause I have no idea what it was) allows for a very, very wide variety of characters to be created by the virtue of having three levels of choices (template, customization, lens) each of which has few enough branches to manage to not drown the new player

That the intro characters are towards the established 150-point starting PC recommended in the Basic Set is icing on the cake, really, as it’s relatively easy to power up characters with lenses or just buckets of points, but harder to strip characteristics away without robbing the PCs of utility or differentiation.

The most interesting part of this series will be that everything is a challenge. It’s like the scene in the beginning of Cast Away where Tom Hanks’ character is shown cutting his foot or leg, badly, on coral. That used to be no big deal. Now? Potentially fatal, a wasting sickness waiting to happen. And that was before the zombie plague or mutant dinosaurs. When you can trade eight bullets for four meals worth of food for an MRE pack, or perhaps get 50 lbs of venison with two bullets . . . if you don’t miss, and if you can recover the game, and if no one hears the gunshot and comes to take it  from you.

It’s a good entry, and I hope the upcoming additional book (books? Who knows!) provides some fertile and juicy fields to plant stories.

4 thoughts on “Sunday Review: GURPS After the End 1 – Wastelanders

  1. While I'm glad for the positive and thorough review, I think I'm actually happier that you "got" everything I was trying to do with this book. I'm looking forward to seeing your thoughts on ATE2! –PK

  2. This is a really great book. Basically, if someone wants to run a GURPS game in the Fallout universe, The Walking Dead universe, or the Mad Max universe (among others), it's all here.

  3. I'm also excited by the way the character templates were constructed. The lower point character defaults, and the use of lenses to create more high-powered options, is a great structure.

    I can't wait to see what ATE2 contains.

  4. Great review. I really liked the action series but never wanted to run an Action campaign. We are currently running a GURPS Zombies campaign that could use a boost. I have a lot of players that are new to GURPS and having a customizable player creation template would really help. Some of the new guys are basically playing characters that I made but I have found that players get much more involved when they built their own character, right down to the last quirk!

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