Review: GURPS After the End 1 – Wastelanders

As all my other reviews this one will be rated according to meat (rules, stats, game mechanics), cheese (setting, characters, story), sauce (form, writing, style, art) and generic nutritional substance (universal nature, adaptability). At the end you find a weighted average of those components and a value score that also takes into account price per page.

Not at all surprising given RPK’s recent ask-me-anything session, this week’s release kicked off a new quick-start line with GURPS After the End. The big question is, of course, how it compares to the already existing ones. I’ve never had a chance to delve into Monster Hunters, but AtE doesn’t need to hide from either the Dungeon Fantasy or the Action series.

GURPS_After_The_End_1_Wastelanders_1000

Facts

Author: Jason Levine (“Reverend Pee Kitty / PK”)
Date of Publication: 03/03/2016
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 36 (1 title page, 1 contents page, 2 index/ad pages)
Price: $7.99 (PDF), $ 0.25 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-after-the-end-1-wastelanders

Review

The book follows the existing framework for a quick-start line. It mainly gives us the “Player’s Guide” with a one-page intro, character templates (15 pages), cheat sheets for traits and skills (5 pages), equipment (7 pages) and a few extras. In this case the extras mutations and new rules for Long-Term Fatigue, cinematic Radiation exposure – half a page each – and Mutations (a 3-page chapter).

The page numbers alone show that templates are the most important part of the book, but there’s more than that and it definitely includes more information on world-building and related topics than either DF or Action. The new mechanics are also unusual for a character guide, but of course they are needed to streamline some rules that also impact character creation.

On the whole, this is still mostly a book for players with some added details that will mainly be of interest to GMs – and not all of them at that.

No additional books past the Basic Set are needed, but Bio-, High- and Ultra-Tech along with Psionic Powers certainly add depth to the setting.

Meat

The templates as such are not nothing absolutely new. Yet pretty much every template gets more detailed packages to help differentiate characters made with it. The exception is the Nomad, who will be defined by their choice of vehicle. The packages are mostly about slightly different roles, not just weapon choices like in DF. The customisation notes are likewise extensive (more than 1/3 of a page each) and tied to the packages. The advice given there is very solid and helps keeping players used to more resource-rich environments grounded. Common mistakes with trait and skill choices are mentioned as well as good equipment buy strategies. These also include tips for which templates can stand in for others in a pinch with correct trait selection.

What isn’t immediately obvious to the novice GM is the fact that that the templates are very much regular heroic level instead the larger-than-life ones in Action and Dungeon Fantasy protagonists. Fitting for the setting this gives characters more scope for personal growth. It also means that you won’t find traits like Weapon Master, Gunslinger
or Trained by a Master on any of the templates, which incidentally leads to less of a gap
between combat-oriented and support characters.
The biggest change to Dungeon Fantasy is certainly that social traits are included in the templates, which is – of course – crucial for the setting. Wealth doesn’t exist as a concept, though – well, nobody is going to miss these rules much. And maybe RPK will come up with some ingenious mechanics for the accumulation of stuff in the upcoming “GM’s Guide”.

The lenses presented here are not tied to character background like in Action. They act more like Power-ups or the lenses in DF: Denizens – Barbarians in giving characters a special shtick like “Fast” or “Hardy”. They do all have the same 50 point price tag, though.

The cheat sheet is nothing special, but it is a crucial piece of information for the novice GM. It lists what does and doesn’t go in a wasteland setting and also gives you tips on how to handle those boring background skills that might exist reasonably.

This chapter also includes the Long-Term Fatigue and Radiation Threshold Point (RP) rules. The former offer an easy way to remember that you’re not only fatigued, but dehydrated, sleep-deprived, starved etc., but aren’t what Douglas H. Cole did in “The Last Gasp” (PYR/3.44) – but given that this is a framework that should appeal to newbies that is a good thing. Even veterans might snatch the rules for another setting, but don’t expect any wonders. RPs are a cinematic way to treat radiation that fits in very well with most postapocalyptic portrayals and avoids unfunny outcomes like “dies painfully over weeks” without making radiation a non-issue. They’re basically a hit-point-equivalent mechanic and can be bought up and down from a base value.

As mentioned, mutations get their own chapter and the system itself is pretty slick. All mutations are accompanied by a Freakishness value, which apart from making it obvious for others that you are a mutant and giving you a reaction penalty also necessitates rolls on a side-effect table, when you reach certain thresholds. The nice thing about that table is that the disadvantages won’t generally ruin your character concept (though Berserk and Callous might in some cases). The mutations themselves run from subtle to freakish, while decidingly leaning to the latter.

The last chapter deals with gear and gives some world background. The “economic” TL of the world is 4 and all the prices are figured from that using the standard rules for higher TL gear. What’s disappointing is that we are basically told to stop using TL modifiers for skill use. I had somehow expected an ingenious compromise between realism and cinematic usability.

The equipment list is not quite as colourful as in DF: Adventurers, but provides most of the basics that aren’t in Basic: Characters. I’ve missed cross-country bicyles and expected a couple of out-there PA motor vehicles, but alas there aren’t any. What is there are a table for problems with scavenged vehicles and very detailed rules for fuel replacement mechanisms. That last page is where old GURPS Vehicle stereotypes will rear their ugly heads in the unconverted. It is good stuff, but it might put off the less technical-minded.

Meat score: 8 (that rat jerky ain’t irradiated)

Cheese

Given the examples one could expect AtE1 to do poorly in this regard. That’s not the case. Granted, it does contain only a small amount of world-building and non-rules oriented material, but what’s there is certainly nice enough.

The “How did it all end?” box spells out different end-of-the-world scenarios and encourages GMs to mix and match to create something unique. It also talks about how distant in the past the end should be set. You can’t have proper a post-apocalypse if everybody is still sad about missing the end of Game of Thrones.

The customisation notes for the templates talk a lot about how they will fit into the world, much more so than in Dungeon Fantasy and still more than in Action (which uses the modern world anyway). Even the traits in the templates give some world information, though often these aren’t further explained (like Secret: Organ-legger) and the GM has to work them out for themselves. There are interesting bit-pieces like trader becoming the last DJ, but they’re far and few between.

The outlined barter economy based on rifle cartridges makes sense. You wouldn’t want to invest ins something as perishable as cigarettes and who needs bottle caps anyway?

All the notes about what still is and what isn’t useful give the GM something to work with when designing treasure hoards. Even the rules for fuel-substitutes are good as inspiration for world-building – or for deciding that everything runs on mystical petrol.

Cheese score: 6 (Brahmin milkshakes for everyone!)

Sauce

As always Jason Levine’s style is readable and pleasant, without quite reaching Dr. Kromm’s tongue-in-cheekiness. It is one of the funnier RPK books though – even the author section seems more hilarious than usual.

The illustrations are again the weak part. Even though none are bad, the resulting theme is pretty incongruous. The title page is a good indication of what to expect.

The only real beef I have is that I would have wanted a clearer indication of Freakishness level for the mutation section. Yes, Freakishness is treated as a regular disadvantage, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have that spelled out near the front of each mutation.

Sauce score: 5 (Sure, that’s soy sauce!)

Generic Nutritional Substance

How generic can a book be that deals with civilisation after the end of the world? Pretty dang generic actually. All the new rules work for any setting that might touch on the subjects of survival, radiation and mutation (which could be from demonic powers just as easily).

All the world-building information is relatively generic too. Yes, something went terribly, terribly wrong, but that’s not that specific. It could happen in a fantasy world too, though the guns are, of course, a problem. The templates chapter has a handy box called “Inappropriate Skills” that helps you determine when some of the listed skills are inappropriate because of setting contents.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7,5 (Man, generic rat paste is the best!)

Summary

GURPS After the End 1 – Wastelanders is a good product for beginners (GMs and players alike) that benefits from the fact that there aren’t so many postapocalyptic settings out there and that GURPS really shines at simulating realistic survival. It’s not quite as easy to use as the first volume in the Dungeon Fantasy or Action series, but that has a lot to do with the subject matter. There’s a much broader range of images that come up, when one thinks of the wasteland.

Let’s hope there are two or more of these coming this year and we’ll all be set to ride the fury road!

Total score: 7.275 (best in 2016 so far, beating out Epic Treasures by the tiniest of margins)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (50%), Cheese (15%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a meat-oriented book. A “cheesy” setting- or drama-orientied book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 5.1375 (it’s always the low page count that gets this one down)
Value Score is composed of the average of Total and Price.


GURPS is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy.

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