Post-Apocalypse of the Gods

This is a notion I’ve had for a while, sort of simmering on the back burner. I caught an old episode of Hercules Legendary Journeys yesterday though, the one where he meets the Norse gods, and so I got to thinking about it again. What follows is a thumbnail sketch of what might make for an interesting campaign that blends D&D-esque fantasy with Gamma World-esque post-apocalyptic gaming.

Ragnarok

If you’ve done any reading of the Norse myths, you are undoubtedly aware of Ragnarok – the twilight of the gods. At Ragnarok, Loki leads the giants and other bad guys against the gods, and most of the major “characters” end up dead – Thor and the Midgard serpent kill one another, Odin and Frigga are swallowed by Fenris and he is in turn killed, Loki and Heimdall kill one another. Good stuff, and somewhat unique in western mythology I think. Heck, some obscure movie studio is apparently making a movie about it.

What I always found cool about Ragnarok, though, is that although it was the end of some of the gods and results in a flood that wipes out most of humanity, it is not “The End”. There is a post-Ragnarok world just waiting to be explored and conquered!

Post-Ragnarok

From memory – so please excuse any omissions or errors – Balder returns from Hel after Ragnarok to become the new king of the gods. I also remember that Thor’s sons, Magni and Modi, inherit their father’s hammer – presumably they take up where dad left off as protectors of man and god. In addition, two human beings managed to take shelter in Yggdrasil and were left to repopulate Midgard, so humans are still around.

If we play around with the concept, we can maybe make a fun campaign out of it.

On the fantasy side, we have the gods, and thus we have clerics and magic. We can also preserve at least some of the monsters of mythology – Norse mythology, of course, but monsters from other mythologies are welcome as well. Since we’re in a post-apocalyptic setting, we can also throw in all the original weirdness from D&D – green slime, bulettes, beholders, as well as monsters from post-apocalypse settings – maybe Magni and Modi travel around in a chariot pulled by spider-goats?

Like this, only ruined and full of mutant demigods

On the science side, we can borrow from Marvel comics and use an Asgard that is as much science as it is sorcery. Some of that technology was left behind on Midgard, perhaps, but even better stuff is hidden away in Asgard if only some high-level adventurers can figure out how to get to it. The remaining gods – maybe we can call them The New Gods – now dwell on Midgard with humanity (though a bit separated, as the gods always prefer to dwell in gated communities).

Another option would be to set Ragnarok at some point in the near future, thus allowing modern technology to exist in the ruins of the world, ruins that are now visited by the primitive people who have established settlements close to, but not too close to, those ruins, to scavenge for supplies.

The Campaign

The campaign can be set in post-apocalypse Scandinavia/Iceland/Greenland, or you could even use Minnesota. Since the world is flooded in Ragnarok, you can use some maps that show what the geography would look like with higher sea levels – that will keep things just different enough to fool the players for a while and give them the enjoyment of figuring out what world they’re exploring.

New towns and cities have sprung up, blending the old and the new. The wilderness is haunted by mutants, worgs and the scattered remnants of the giant races. Perhaps the elves of Alfheim visit now and again – let them be grey elves and beautiful and judgmental – and some of the dwarves survived the apocalypse hidden away in their mountains – let them be duergar and foul and greedy.

Above is a quick sketch of a campaign world, with the sunken city of Lug inhabited by mutant amphibious englishmen (use tritons to make it easy, or sahuagin to make it scary), the Swamp People of old Paris, with their giant frogs, the Gnomes of Zurik hiding away all that gold, the City of Black Bear, which can serve as a tent-pole mega-city-state with legions of warriors threatening more peaceful folk beyond, and of course New Asgard, where the gods and their servants dwell, and from which come the paladins of Balder to spread a new enlightenment among mankind.

Lords of Light? Not Quite

I finished reading Thundar, Man of Two Worlds, last night and this is my promised book report. As always, I will keep it short and try to avoid spoiling it for folks who want to read the book themselves.

First and foremost, the book is an homage to the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was published in 1971, but reads more like something written in the 1930s (for good and ill). The author, John Bloodstone, is really writer Stuart J. Byrne. Byrne wrote pulp sci-fi back in the 1950s and 1960s, wrote a couple episodes of Men into Space (which I love) and a couple movies in the 1970s, and later wrote translations of Perry Rhodan stories.

The book concerns the adventures of Michael Storm, who is a mountain climber and swordsman (all such characters need to have a knowledge of sword fighting before they wind up in a swords and sorcery setting) who winds up in the far future through his reckless daring. Once in the far future, he gets into all sorts of trouble – again, I don’t want to get into specifics, because blabbing about them would ruin all the good (which is little) this book has to offer.

Unfortunately, the book lacks ERB’s creativity, or his pace reminiscent of old movie serials, with each chapter ending with the protagonists in a terrible situation, and the next beginning with how they escaped it … only to fall into another by the chapter’s end. You get a little of this in Thundar, but not enough, and like most fan fiction it doesn’t completely gel. The book was clearly intended to be followed by others which, to my knowledge, did not materialize.

Now, as to whether this book could have influenced the Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon (1980-1982) … maybe, but only in very small ways. If it had any influence, I would guess it was a matter of the creators of the cartoon having a hazy remembrance of the book. Cartoon Thundarr looks a little like the guy on the cover, but the resemblance ends there. There is no Ookla the Mok (and the Mogg in the book can only have influenced the word “mok”, and nothing else about old Ookla), though there is a “dawn man” called Koom (and he’s pretty cool – more Koom would have made for a better book in my opinion). There is no Princess Ariel (though there is a Princess Cylayne, who does help Thundar and mostly serves as a Dejah Thoris stand-in to motivate our hero). There is some super science, but no sorcery. There is no sun sword, though there is a blade of Damascus steel. There was a catastrophic cosmic event that screwed up the Earth, but the story is set a million years in the future, so there are no remnants of the 1980s. In short … very little influence. There is suggestion that this world was the origin of the advanced peoples of South America, but the people we meet in this future earth don’t apparently resemble them at all – I kept expecting this and was disappointed.

Can gamers get any inspiration from the book? Maybe, but I doubt it. The world building is pretty simplistic. You have mountains and a jungle and an inland sea and two rival cities on its shores, and not much else. I would expect that every DM’s first stab at making up a campaign world was as good as anything you would get in this book. There’s almost a cool hook involving technology’s influence over the world, but it remains vague, perhaps to be dealt with in more detail in the later books that didn’t happen. Even if technology had been more fully explained, it mostly shows up as a deus ex machina, which wouldn’t be too handy to a DM writing a campaign world. The way Michael Storm ends up in the far future could be copied for a game – it was pretty fun,  but not revolutionary.

Final grade: C-