Atomic Highway

Recently I learned about the awesome post-apocalyptic roleplaying game Atomic Highway by reading Berin Kinsman’s review. While he’s not really into the genre, he really like the games’ mechanics and toolbox approach. I wanted to run a post-apocalyptic game for a long time, so I decided to get a copy of the game. And I haven’t regretted this decision once, not even for a second!

Instead of writing a full-blown review I just want to share some of my excitement for that game with you. The underlying rules system called V6 Engine is something I wished I had invented. Basically you roll pools of six-sided dice. Each result of 6 is a success, but you can distribute your skill levels among dice to “push” them to 6. The number of dice rolled is determined by the attribute used for the test. This is as easy as it’s brilliant.

Atomic Highway What I really liked about Radioactive Ape Designs’ game is that while there’s an assumed setting, you are meant to create your own version of the apocalypse.  You want a Mad-Max-style with road warriors fighting each others in pimped up cars, dune buggy, or busses? The rules are in the game! You prefer a more wacky approach to the genre with intelligent animals like in Gamma World? It’s in the game. You love the Fallout computer game series and you want to run a pen & paper game based on it? With some work on the GMs part, even this is no problem at all.

The rules are easy enough that you can mess around with stuff without having to fear to break things all the time. Weapons, armor and other equipment in the game is pretty generic, but that’s no issue for me. And given the rules-light nature of the system it would have been a bit odd to have dozens of highly detailed weapon stats. Some types of weapons are missing, but again, it should be easy for the GM to make some new weapon categories up on the spot.

Irradiated Freaks And the supplement Irradiated Freaks really turns things up to eleven! You get new options for mutations, new monsters, new psychic abilities and more. After reading both books I had numerous ideas for different post-apocalyptic games I could run with Atomic Highway. My favorite so far is a setting inspired by the aforementioned Fallout series and a few other sources. Of course you could pull something off with a game like Savage Worlds or the Cortex System, but IMHO Atomic Highway is so perfectly suited for the job, that it would be a shame to use anything else.

Now I only have to convince my group of players that they want to play this game. And especially my girlfriend is not really a fan of the genre…

By the way, Atomic Highway has been nominated in the “Best Rules” category for the ENnie Awards 2010. I voted for it!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

4 thoughts on “Atomic Highway”

  1. Looks like a renewed interest in Post Apocalyptic roleplaying arose in the last few years.

    Apart from the nice Atomic Highway game you describe in this post, there are also many other games that tackle the genre. Among those that come to my mind are:

    – Mutant Future (for an Old School take on the subject mattter)

    – the Barbarians of the Aftermath supplement for Barbarians of Lemuria

    – the dark, thought provoking Apocalypse World (the newest game from Vincent Baker, author of Dogs in the Vineyard)

    There are even rumors that Luke Crane (Burning Wheel, Burning Empires, Mouse Guard) is working on a gritty post apocalytpic survival game (but I can't confirm the reliability of this news).

    Perhaps the real world financial, economical and political instability has inspired people… or perhaps it's the rumors and prophecies about the end of the world in 2012 😀

    Anyway the end result is a variety of new exciting game for the post apocalyptic enthusiast/roleplayer

  2. Thanks for the comment, Leonardo. I have had a look at Mutant Future, but I haven't heard about the other games you've mentioned. Do you have some more details on "Apocalypse World"? I've heard good things about "Dogs in the Vineyard", so this might be worth a look.

  3. About Barbarians of the Aftermath I know only what anyone can learn from online reviews and discussions because I don't own the game yet. If it is as good as Barbarians of Lemuria I think it's worth the money.

    About Apocalypse World.

    The game is set 50 years after an unspecified apocalypse that destroyed our actual civilization and somehow broke reality (or perhaps it was the breaking of reality that caused the apocalypse, we don't know…). A sort of supernatural phenomena known as the Psychic Maelstrom is implied in the setting but the details about its nature are left for the group to decide. The same goes for details about the apocalypse and the current status of the world.

    The rulebook contains an introduction but no section dedicated to the nature of setting (that emerges instead from the mechanics and is interspersed throughout the book).

    Character creation is class based and each player character must be from a different class. The different Classes encompass most of the stereotypes that are expected in a post apocalyptic genre: biker gang leader, gunslinger, psionicist, medic, landlord/warlord, techie. There are also a few uncommon options: cult leader, the "Skinner" (a sort of artist adept at social manipulation), the "Battlebabe" (mix of gunslinger and hot femme – or homme – fatale), etc.

    All the classes are much more colorful than it sounds from my description.

    If you want to take a look you can check the website of the game and download the player's material for free (essentially what you buy is the GM's manual). I'll put the link at the end of the comment.

    Mechanically the game is based on procedures called "Moves" and the GM never rolls dice: only players do. To explain what a move is, an example is worth more than a thousand words:

    When you do *something under fire*, or dig in to endure fire, roll+cool. On a 10+, you do it. On a 7–9, you flinch, hesitate, or stall: the MC can offer you a worse outcome, a hard bargain, or an ugly choice.

    This move is called "acting under fire". Every move contains the fictional conditions under which it is applied (in this case every time your character acts under pressure) and the general consequences of the move. When you "make a move" you roll 2d6 and add the relevant move-dependent stat. There are almost always three degree of success: on a 10+ it's a complete success and you get what you want, on a 7-9 you get what you want but there usually is some sort of additional complication and on a failure (6-) you only get a harsher complication.

    There are four kinds of moves:

    – general moves that each character can attempt

    – class dependent moves only available to characters of the related class

    – GM's moves (these are a little different, having no mechanical impact. They serve the purpose of prompting the GM for interesting things to say at interesting times. They formalize the GM's job. Somehow they are a way to consistently "teach" and reminds how to GM Apocalypse World)

    – Custom moves are invented by players and GM to personalize the game and model specific fictional situations

    How does the game play?

    Since character generation the game pushes the players to create badass characters that are inserted both fictionally and mechanically in a web of relationships (both PC-PC and PCs-NPCs). But the World after the Apocalypse is a harsh place where scarcity of resources is a fact and often a person's survival comes at the expense of someone else's. In such a world the Player Characters are literally encircled by dangers and are constantly put under pressure. Even if the only hope to build a better, human world lies in the cooperation with others, everything in Apoclaypse World is prone to decay. And the relationships the characters care about are no exception. Strained by the pressure of constant danger and harsh and difficult decision, will they break or will they survive?

    In the end the game is about the nature of human beings in a time of desperate crisis and that's what I find really interesting. If you have seen the movie The Road (or read the book) you'll have a good idea of the kind of issues that emerges from play.

    I hope this helps a little. It's not easy to describe the game and I'm not sure I've been clear enough. Also, the post came out longer than I expected and I hope it wasn't boring 🙂

    The link:

    In the end what I really like is that there are different games on the apocalyptic genre, each one focusing on different aspects. This makes all of them worthy of being played.

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