Four Books to Inspire Your Apocalyptic TTRPGs
"Wasteland Zoner" by Dean Spencer
Running an end-of-the-world game for your weekly game night and need some grist for the mill? We've got you covered. Your gaming group's probably checked out Walking Dead and The Last of Us but we've gone some under-the-radar reading to help inspire your games and to give you some treasure troves of content to steal for your game. Your players will think you're a genius and you'll stop scratching your head when you sit down to game prep.
After the Burn by Assorted Authors
Published by Rogue Owl Press
Disclaimer: We're a little biased on this one as several HHP team members have stories published in this collection. We hope you'll still take a look!
After the Burn is an anthology of stories focused on the small fictional town of Barning, Vermont, spanning the course of decades following a devastating series of solar flares that upended civilization and changed the world as we know it. There are ten stories with a range of characters, tones, and perspectives that paint a fascinating mosaic of post apocalyptic life. This kaleidoscope of stories is guaranteed to give you some great material to inspire your own world and setting. And if you like these speculative fiction style anthologies, be sure to check out Rogue Owl Press' latest collection that's launching in late April 2023, Horrors of the Deep.
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The Borrowed World by Franklin Horton
Published by Horsemen of the Apocalypse
My reading list isn't ranked, but if it were, this would probably be my top pick. The Borrowed World is book one in a growing series (ten books as of this writing) and of all the books, it feels like the one most easily translated into TTRPG content. It has a wide cast of interesting characters, it's action heavy, and it frequently subverts expectations of the genre. This book is more in line with "prepper fiction" as it deals with protagonists who have long been doomsday preppers. However, it a lacks the thinly veiled pro-MAGA political baggage that many books like it carry. In this first installment, the protagonist, a state employee, is hundreds of miles away when a coordinated series of terrorist attacks on the US power grid cripples the country and plunges it into chaos. The characters must then embark on foot to make their way back home with many interesting and tense encounters along the way. I've read the first four books in this series as audiobooks and thoroughly enjoed them all. The narrator in the audiobook is excellent and I definitely recommend giving it a listen.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
This is THE literary book to read for apocalyptic fiction. If you're unfamiliar with McCarthy, he's a widely published author whose books have frequently been adapted to the big screen (this one included) and his writing style is direct and terse, a true disciple of Hemingway. This book is about a father and son who walk the desolate apocalyptic wastelands, keeping everything they own in a worn-out shopping cart. The story is relentlessly grim but a beautiful read nonetheless. It remains the only novel I ever finished in a single sitting (I think read the last page and finally turned off the nightstand light shortly before dawn). I revisited recently, my first time rereading it since becoming a father, and it hit a lot harder than before. While the hopelessness can feel claustrophobic at times, it is a fantastic apocalyptic read an entirely different tone from the survival adventure style of Borrowed World. If you're going for a grim, barren wasteland style TTRPG, this book is a must read.
One Second After by William Forstchen
Published by Forge Books
This book is something of a guilty pleasure. It was written as a cautionary tale by a knowledgeable military officer and historian in an attempt to persuade congress to prioritize hardening the US infrastructure against a potential EMP attack. The writing is stilted, and the characters are like cardboard cutouts. However, the story is undeniably compelling, particularly because it was written with absolute accuracy as its cornerstone.
The book follows a small community in North Carolina for one year following an EMP attack from an unknown adversary that completely destroys the US's electrical grid and all unshielded electronic devices - which is to say just about anything with a microchip. Many apocalyptic stories sweep past the collapse of society in a montage of riots and looting. One Second After explores the fictionalized breakdown of and American society patiently and methodically. There is a TON of details here that you can use in your own apocalyptic game that will increase its realism - if you can get past the clunky writing.
What your favorite apocalyptic fiction you use for inspiration on game night? Let me know in the comments below!