Unexplored Genres – The Progressive Apocalypse

This is the first post in a series I plan on working on. I will be focusing on what I’m calling “Unexplored Genres,” but what would much more accurately be called “Non-Typical Genres.” It’s not so much that these genres don’t exist in RPGs, it’s just that they’re so rare, and so … undefined that they could use a little bit of attention. Without further adieu, I present, the Progressive Apocalypse.

What is a Progressive Apocalypse? A progressive apocalypse follows one of two basic premises for the story, though variations are possible: Either the world is undergoing an apocalypse over a slow and drawn out period, or their was a cataclysmic event, followed by a prolonged period of decay. Either way, the defining aspect of the genre is a sense of near hopelessness – although it may not happen for a few hundred or even thousand years, the world is dying slowly but steadily. There is little to no chance of averting the apocalypse.

What makes Progressive Apocalypse different from post apocalypse? Because progressive apocalypse happens during the apocalypse, and creates a sense of decay, urgency, and despair, it works best with settings that have darker themes. The interesting aspect of Progressive Apocalypse settings is that everything will end, no matter what. This may or may not be known to the people who live in this world, but it still shadows the setting, creating a feeling that permeates the air.

How does one play in a Progressive Apocalypse campaign? The way I see it, there are two ways to play in a Prog’Poc campaign. The first, and more obvious way, is to play it much like one would play a Post Apocalyptic campaign – the heroes can change nothing, they can save no one and nothing, and all they can do is make people comfortable while awaiting the inevitable end. The second way is the one in which there is still hope that the apocalypse can be stopped in some way – either through powerful magicks and sciences, or through the fortune of misinterpreting the signs (“Oh, the asteroid was heading for Mars, not for Earth after all! Sorry for the panic!“). This seems to me the more logical choice, but of course, that all depends on the style of gameplay you like – hopeful and inspiring, or dark and dreadful. One can also certainly make the distinction between man-made apocalypses, and natural apocalypses. Generally, I prefer it when the slow decay is human-engineered, and they have only themselves to blame for the slow entropy of their world, but picture our own planet earth 5 billion years from now, as the Sun is expanding and burning out all life on earth – how would you roleplay in those situations?

Have you used Prog’Poc before? How did it work out? Does your setting (or any settings you know of) use this premise as part of the overall theme?

9 thoughts on “Unexplored Genres – The Progressive Apocalypse

  1. As a sucker for post apocalyptic fiction, I have to admit to being intrigued by the concept of a progressive apocalypse. A game where people are living during the decline, rather than after the fall of a civilization sounds really interesting and I can see it offering great opportunities. The idea of electricity can be taken away part way through the campaign, for example, and still be within the context of the genre.

    I like it!

  2. My first thought upon reading this is Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. It strongly reminds me of Roland’s Mid-World.

  3. I dig this as well — to me, it makes the most sense in a just-over-the-horizon modern game dealing with the effects of climate change or conventional war or a zomebie apocalypse.

  4. This sounds a lot like the original postman, by David Brin. The end wasn’t a huge apocolyptic event, but a series of synergistic mini-disasters. A series of crop failures, riots, looting, ineffective government, finally a failed pre-emptive EMP attack from the soviets – followed by a worldwide pandemic.

    While the movie had too much kevin costner to be anything but…whatever you want to insert here – the book still remains one of my all time favorites.

    Much like Southland tales, getting there is half the fun eh?

  5. @Tom – Yeah, I’ve always liked the post-apocalyptic myself, but ever since I’ve discovered this rare and misrepresented genre, I’ve been dying to play a campaign in it.

    @Target – Yeah, Mid-World is definitely an example of the Prog’Poc.

    @PatrickWR – I imagine the typical Zombie’Poc is a good sub-genre of this genre. Have you ever read World War Z? That’s something I’d like to set up a campaign for.

    @Ravyn – You’re on!

    @Donny – I’ve never read the Postman, but I know I utterly sympathize with the Southland Tales quote. 🙂

    Thanks for reading!

  6. Also hearkens back to prequels to the Foundation Trilogy by Asimov and Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation.

  7. Andy, I’ve never read Asimov – I personally don’t really get into the sci-fi genre all that much, but it sounds like something worth checking out. Thanks for reading!

  8. I’m actually running a game like this currently. Within the last year demons have entered the world, taken over various cities around the world and are still battling. As they win cities the cities become demonic versions of the original. The infrastructure of countries and the world has started to crumble. The party works for the US military (they’ve all combined into one) trying to find ways to shut the portals to Hell and save the Earth. So far it is a lot of fun.

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