The End of the World: Wrath of the Gods
I bought this book years ago, back when it was first released. I recall reading it at the time and not particularly liking it. I was much more a traditional gamer back then, and I found the idea of my role-playing group playing themselves in the game to be very strange, and I did not care for how incredibly rules light it was. After all, the point of games is to inhabit a character, and how could such a simple system capture the complexity of a real person I know? Prior to giving away a copy of The End of the World: Rise of the Machines, the Full Metal RPG crew decided we wanted to give the game an actual play to decide what we thought of it collectively. Being the only one with a core book, I was on deck.
First up, we need to talk about the rules a bit. There are six abilities split among the three categories: Physical, Social, and Mental. Two per category. They roughly correlate to more familiar concepts in gaming. Vitality is Strength and Endurance. Dexterity is nimbleness and the ability to work with your hands. You get the idea. You a rating from 1-5 in each ability, and that is your target number to roll equal to or under on a d6.
There are no skills, instead under each category you have an advantage and a trauma. An advantage is something related to that ability that might help you on a roll. A trauma is something that might hinder you. Sticking with the physical category, an advantage would be Distance Runner, while a trauma would be Clumsy. These add a positive or negative die, respectively.
To make a test, you start with 1d6, then you can add a positive d6 if you have a related advantage in that category, and additional d6s if you have equipment, situational advantages, or assistance. Next you have to add in negative dice if you have a related trauma, or situational disadvantages like darkness or needing to rush the job. It helps to have different colored d6s for this reason. You make your roll. Any negative dice cancel out positive dice showing that same number on a one to one basis. After doing that, if you have any positive dice that are equal to or under your ability, you pass! Any uncanceled negative dice add stress under the category you rolled against.
Each of the three ability categories has a stress track. Three levels with three boxes in each level. As those boxes are ticked off, the player comes closer to death, or insanity, or whatever terrible fate awaits them. It is called the End of the World, not Uncle Fuzzies Fun Van, which… is probably also pretty terrible.
You can trade levels of stress for additional traumas, which is the death spiral of the game. As you gain more trauma, you roll more negative dice, leading to more failed checks and more stress until you die.
Ok, enough bookkeeping. What did we think of the game? Speaking for myself, I had an absolute blast running this. It was fun and frantic, which was only amped up given that we were play testing with a two-hour time constraint. Character creation was really easy. After all, who knows you better than yourself? With our sheets in hand, we started playing.
I opted to run the scenario covering the rise of Cthulhu, That Which Cannot Die. Right away that started things off in a pretty dire situation. The game starts at the very table you are sitting it, with the very people you are sitting with. This makes determining equipment fairly easy. What is there immediately around you that might be of use? From there, the players more or less drove the narrative as they decided where to go and what to go. I only had to act as the arbiter of the current state and function of the world. I killed myself as quickly and brutally as I could, because I do not like the idea of running a GM character and it set the mood for what was to come.
The game is fun. It is great beer and pretzels game. I could easily see running it as a darker, more somber affair. It would make a good con game, as well. You can stretch or contract the timeline as much as you need to for one shots or a longer-term game, though you do need to keep in mind that it is very lethal.
The system, which I initially did not care for, runs really well and stays out of the way. Players can argue for or against positive and negative dice on checks and it works nicely. Provided you can keep failing forward, there is never a loss of things to do. It almost works like a background system from other games. The players know what they have studied and what their strengths and weaknesses are, and provided you are all keeping each other honest it is really easy to take test and determine outcomes. There were no arguments over the rolls as went, just people deciding what to do and then doing it.
The game understands what it is about and it delivers on that understanding. This is the end of the world. There is not going to be a positive outcome. Even if you survive, you may come to envy the dead as monsters or robots or aliens ravage what is left of civilization and struggle to survive in the ruins. Our game was dark and comic. It could easily be more tragic if run slowly and built up. If the idea of playing an end of the world scenario is appealing to you, then you will find something to like in this series.
You get five scenarios to choose from. If Cthulhu is not your speed, you can try on Quetzalcoatl, Ragnarok, Revelation, or Nature rising up to destroy humanity. They each offer their own set of challenges and awful ways to die. It is not a setting book, so you need to do some lifting to fit events and suggested scenes into your game, but that is remedied easily enough.
This is going to turn off a lot of trad gamers. The game is extremely narrative, and the players are playing themselves, so you have to cede almost all control to them. That can be a very unsettling feeling for the traditional crowd. Combined with the really light rules and grim dark nature of the game, it can be off putting to people who want to smash monsters and take their loot.
The trauma system could get too real for people who are suffering from real, deep seated traumas. It is best not to drill too deeply there and let the players decided what they comfortable with putting down and dealing with. Players can always opt to play a character instead, which would be a fine solution. Depending on the direction you are taking the game, an X card may be reasonable to have on hand.
Wrath of the Gods is unrelentingly brutal. Unlike other games in the series where you fight aliens or zombies or robots, you cannot fight the gods. The best you can do is keep running and staying one step ahead of the mayhem. I suspect Rise of the Machines would be a game where you at least stand a change of fighting back, whereas in Wrath of Gods if you decide to fight a Star Spawn, you are probably getting ripped in half.
Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by this game. I had a feeling I would enjoy it more returning to it with a fresher sensibility on what gaming is and what I want out of games, and I was not disappointed. It was a really good time and I would easily run this game again. In fact, I will likely pick up a couple of the other books in the line as well for future game nights. It is fun. It runs well. It is narrative. That checks off three big boxes for me right away.