Is it just me or is the post-apocalypse much like a fantasy world?

art-002 Last week I’ve been playing the new Defiance MMO from Trion Worlds. It’s set into the same setting as the TV show of the same name. While it’s not really a post-apocalyptic setting, it shares a couple of tropes with the genre. And this got me thinking about post-apocalyptic settings again. For a long time I have been wanting to run a post-apoc game, but for some reason it never left the planning stages.

Yesterday I made a realization, which might have been obvious to some (perhaps even most) of you: post-apoc settings work a lot like fantasy settings. In a lot of fantasy settings the wide-spread settlements are points of light in the darkness of an untamed wilderness. Only the bravest and most foolhardy adventurers dare to enter the wilds in search of riches and glory.

In post-apocalyptic settings it’s often the same. There are usually only small settlements in a vast wasteland which is overrun by mutants or other nasty creatures (this differs based on what the cause of the apocalypse was). These settlements are ruled by more or less tyrannical warlords. And this is yet another parallel to fantasy settings. The dungeons filled with deadly traps and untold treasure are not so different from the underground vaults in many post-apocalyptic settings where fearless scavengers can find pre-apocalypse artifacts and other valuable commodities.

With a lot of the tropes of both genres pretty similar, running a post-apocalyptic campaign may be a way for people usually running fantasy games to experience something new without leaving their comfort zone completely.

What do you think about this? Am I totally delirious or are those two genres closer than one might think? Or was this totally obvious to anyone and I was the only one oblivious to the fact? Please share your thoughts below!

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 “Is it just me or is the post-apocalypse much like a fantasy world?”

  1. I think you’re spot on. I know they’re computer games, but just look at Skyrim and fallout. Ignoring the similarities that came about because of the fact they were both made by the same company, and we have two very similar games. Even the plot arc for the main character has parallels.

  2. If you squint, Space-Opera, Post-Apoc, and Fantasy are all really the same genre, each with its own veneer.

    Way back in the day, there was even a cartoon in the back of Dragon Magazine (“What’s New with Phil and Dixie”, by Phil Foglio), and in one issue they compare all of the elements of Fantasy and Sci-Fi/Space-Opera.

    Actually, here it is:

  3. I can see that. Lots of similarities. I think the difference is primarily in the atmosphere. If the fantasy setting is using the “remains of a lost empire” ideal, like Bethesda pulled in Skyrim, then yeah, spot on. If it’s a high fantasy world with a thriving culture though (think Oblivion for comparison), things are a lot happier in feel than you really get in the post apocalyptic wasteland. In general, post apoc feels grittier in general to me.

    That being said, a good, gritty fantasy game would feel fun to play.

  4. (Spoilers?) Weis and Hickman’s Deathgate Cycle books was a fantasy world that came into existence after a nuclear holocost. I’m pretty sure that more fantasy settings than you might think came about similarly. So many take place in the ‘second age’ with something big and bad running roughshod over the world to turn the age.

    Fantasy usually goes a little lighter with a ‘great war’ instead of world destruction but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

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