The Day After Ragnarok is a What-If scenario that probably didn’t come up in the early risk assessment sessions of the Second World War. When the Governments and Intelligence Services of the West knuckled down for some blue sky thinking on defeating the Nazi menace, they possibly discounted the possibility of mythical world-consuming serpents.
For me, however, the bizarre concept had me engaged from the outset – if only because in my minds eye I had some weird Michael Bay slash Roland Emmerich doomsday image of rescue helicopters flying toward the viewer as explosions crackle beneath the gargantuan, skyscraping, scaly bulk of the downed Jörmungandr.
While the final game supplement doesn’t quite pan out to match the vision in my head, the actual material still had me fizzing with ideas.
The Day After Ragnarok (TDAR) is a setting book written by Kenneth Hite, with versions written for Savage Worlds, Hero System and Fate Core. This review relates specifically to the Fate Core version of the supplement, for which Hite received able assistance and adaptation from Leonard Balsera and Morgan Ellis. The Fate Core version runs to a 145-page PDF, and you can also get copies in print.
The book includes plenty of black-and-white illustrations of characters and pulpy action, often involving snakes. The format is single column, clean and very readable, with handy sidebars filled with useful tables, alternatives mechanics, and handy explanations.
Without being too picky with percentages, the book breaks down into four sections – Characters, Background, Bestiary and Adventures. The whole lot comes fully bookmarked in PDF format, allowing you to quick spot what you need in the Table of Contents. You can also fallback on a pretty thorough Index if you know you read something specific but can’t put your finger on it.
The Day After Ragnarok kicks off with Background, the material split across two sections. The section at the beginning of the book outlines the world of the setting and possible themes for the game. It sits right up front because it has relevance to both players and Gamemaster. What you take from here will shape and channel the way you hit the game and how you form the characters within the greater mess of the apocalypse!
The later section of Background comes inside the Gamemaster’s Section and outlines the finer political make-up of the various global powers, the individual nations, and just how one might interact with the others. Depending on the initial campaign framework, some of this might be just window-dressing, while specifics appear writ large as patrons and adversaries. Looming across much of this lays the remains of the Serpent, a shattered Nazi presence, and the impending threat of supernaturally amped-up Communism.
As a relatively slim supplement with a lot of ground to cover, the background for TDAR can only hope to skim across the surface. Whatever campaign arc you choose, plenty of potential exists for Gamemaster and players alike to develop and expand. That’s a nice way of saying that you won’t walk away from reading with a fully formed and setting rich campaign right off the bat. You have a rough sketched canvas in TDAR, filled with plenty of ideas and potential. Some readers might feel short-changed and somewhat at a loss, but I think you have enough here to get started. A bit of judicious research into the first part of the 20th century and quick searches on Wikipedia should fill out more geopolitical and geographical background.
As a setting, TDAR has a wealth of diverse potential. Espionage and political intrigue in the British Empire Down Under; unrest in divided India; two-fisted adventure in the jungles of South America, riven with secret Nazi strongholds and ancient temples; gross dungeoneering in the carcass of the Serpent; grumbling warfare between Japan and China; and the diverse hell of the Poison Lands of the US, where the tainted heartlands feel like some weird return to isolated settlers scraping an existence in the face of starvation and nature.
One moment you could have air battles against ragged Nazi fighters in the shadow of the Serpent, while the next you might be seeking out dangerous Ophi-tech – gadgets based on extracted serpent innards – in blizzard scoured gulags in the depths of Communist Russia.
Remember that the game takes place in the aftermath of not just the Serpentfall, but also the Second World War. This is the late 40s and early 50s, with technology to match. Massive resource has been ploughed into the war against the Nazi and Serpentfall struck leaving the world resource poor and politically strung out. Paranoia reigns and those who can scrounge will do better than those with once depended on their wealth alone. The world doesn’t lack resource, but much of the infrastructure has been shattered or crippled, requiring titanic focus and effort to restore.
The Character element of the Heroes’ Section starts with consideration of background for the purpose of setting out the campaign, before launching into the nitty-gritty. TDAR tweaks the Fate Core character creation approach a bit, but not much. The setting embraces the common heroes rather than the superhero, expertise and determination over hyper-competence.
Characters have five Aspects, three to five Stunts (which impact on Refreshes), and extra slots for gear. The section offers some thoughts on creation focus depending on the theme and setting of the campaign. Then you have an impressive and handy list of archetypes, from Acrobat and Aviator through to Sorcerer and Speleo-Herpetologist – those brave souls who venture inside the Serpent seeking fortune and treasure.
While these can provide a short-cut for players struggling to find their way, they also serve as an ideal basis for quick player characters in convention games or allies and adversaries to populate adventures.
The TDAR setting tweaks Skills, including the expansion of transport related expertise and provision of Scrounge as an essential alternative to Resource in this gear-stretched setting.
Extras covers the inclusion of Powers, Magic, Miracles and Psionics, any of which might be possible in a setting that draws on Norse Mythology in such a matter-of-fact there’s-a-world-shattering-serpent way. The outlook of the planet has change and the existence of the supernatural cannot be denied. The gods, in some form, must exist and the taint of the Serpent – in venom and blood – has warped nature and those poor souls exposed to it, accidentally or intentionally.
A further section considers Gear, a use for those spare Refreshes you might have lying around. Whether disposable or personalized, Gear offers interesting ways to tweak and change up the mechanics of the game when you need an edge. In addition, Serpentfall has changed science and technology, opening up new and horrible avenues for study and experimentation. Heroes likely will come across Ophi-tech in the hands of the Big Bad more often than not, seeking to relieve them of it and secure it safely. However, a grey market in Serpent-derived technology may also serve to give character access – although unfettered use threatens a state called Snakebit, a steady slide into tainted territories and conversion to the dark side…
Common gear, including weapons and vehicles, holds much scavenged from the war. Expect Jeeps, tanks, armoured carriers and plenty of semi-reliable world armaments of dubious providence.
The Gamemaster’s Section kicks off with background, geopolitically breaking up the world setting, scattered with key non-player adversaries and allies. This section also includes a two-page map, showing the location of the Serpent and the general extent of the world powers.
Various Top Five sidebars dot throughout the GM section, offering ideas for adventure locales depending on the focus of your game. These include Places to Get Mercenary Work, Secret Bases, Places to Be Attacked by Pirates, and Places to Find a Remote Castle Ruled by a Madman – all excellent and entertaining fodder for the Gamemaster seeking ideas for ‘next session.’
Born of Venom and Ice is the bestiary adversaries, threats and monsters. As I mentioned earlier, I can see this having value to any GM seeking to populate a game of pulp and savagery. Under general categories like Bandits and Cultists, the section offer levels of increasing threat and thoughts on how each might appear in different locations.
Natural Threats, for example, provide animals like Bears, Dogs, Sharks and Wolves, then provide variations based on environment, locale and size. That’s a Big ‘Un! allows you to scale up the ordinary, while Swarms throws a hoard of hurt at your unsuspecting player characters.
Chimeras and Monsters fill out the world with a variety of monsters, both artificial and supernatural. The former encompasses those threats born of the taint, while the latter arise from a world suddenly open to mythological threat. Demons, serpents and rampaging Jotun – the giants of the Nordic sagas – pose a very real threat to those who wander out into the wild.
The final quarter of the book provides an Adventure Generator, an alternate world for Spirit of the Century, and a barrel of random encounter tables.
The former breaks adventures down into their component parts, like the Hook, the Villain, the Goal and the Twist, then offers a dozen ideas for each. You can pick them off the page or roll randomly – and the section finishes of with several examples. Throughout this section, sidebars also include very brief campaign structures for the different arcs you might play – from those seeking to rebuild the world, to games where the war continues whether on the battlefield or in the murk of espionage.
Serpentfall Revisited takes the iconic characters from Evil Hat’s Spirit of the Century setting and recasts them as the key figures in bringing about Serpentfall. The Centurions defeat Jörmungandr, but at a cost that shatters the organisation, just as the serpent shatters the planet’s surface with it’s impact. The brief section weaves the characters of Spirit – like Sally Slick and the deadly Doctor Methuselah – into the Ragnarok setting, providing an interesting alternative world of pulp heroes. Even if you don’t use the setting, the section provides character write-ups useful as highly competent guest stars.
The book rounds out with random tables, in the Appendix: Poisoned Lands Encounters. While the normal approach for Fate Core tends toward story-telling and collaboration, what harm can come from throwing a wild card in front of the player characters now and again?
Over several dozen tables, the section offers encounters split out by location, events and people, with a spread of animals, monsters and human threats. Combined with the dozens of ideas in the Adventure Generator, any Gamemaster can certainly generate whole sessions on the fly, packed with threat, thrill and adventure, all at a moments notice.
The Day After Ragnarok has a setting that reminds me of games like The Strange or TORG, where the world encapsulates diverse potential backgrounds into a single mash-up. Like those other games, The Day After Raganarok uses that approach to provide a diverse setting likely to appeal to all kinds of players, and I think it does it well. Smashing the Second World War up against the arrival of Jörmungandr, the World Serpent, means you have a setting rooted in real world sources layered with the potentials of mythology. Like the Fate Core system, you can take the mythology slider and dial up or down as you see fit.
At the end of reading this, I found myself filled with ideas. I’ve already been selling it to my players and I can see myself rolling it out for conventions. Two-fisted pulp action always goes down well in a time-restricted event, rounding off with Nazis on an airship usually. TDAR can serve that up and more, covering Bond-esque espionage through to gritty Commando jungle sortees and rounding out with Indiana Jones-style raids into Serpent guts.
Review based on a personal copy. The Day After Ragnarok: Fate Core Edition, Kenneth Hite, Leonard Balsera, Morgan Ellis, Atomic Overmind Press, priced $12.95 in PDF at time of writing.