Wednesday, 25 April 2018

After a War

There is a sub-genre of fiction (detective fiction usually) which is set in the aftermath of a war. A nonexhaustive list of this includes films such as The Third Man, Three Kings, The Good German, and books such as Tokyo Year Zero (which is execrable - I feel duty bound to warn you not to read it if you're considering it), the De Luca trilogy, the Bernie Gunther series, and I suppose A Song of Ice and Fire and those Steven Erikson books if you want to stretch things a little.

As a setting for fiction that kind of background works, because everything is up for grabs. The normal rules don't apply. Somebody has taken society in both hands and shaken it to pieces like an Etch-a-Sketch drawing and now the constituent pixels are trying to find their way together again. The out-and-out chaos and totality of conflict itself has passed, but events take place against an unsettled backdrop which is intrinsically interesting as a result. It's plausible that people are going missing, settling scores, stealing things, breaking up or getting back together, and all the other stuff of good fiction, in large quantities.

A post-war environment also makes great campaign setting material for similar reasons. Red dragons have just swept through the land burning random settlements on their way somewhere else. Gibberlings have just invaded and fucked everyone over before throwing themselves into the sea en masse. A devastating plague of russet mold which almost emptied the land has just receded. The storm giant overlords have recently been overthrown and the men of Fantasyworldland have thrown off their shackles. And so on and so forth. In that kind of setting, the sandbox almost creates itself: everywhere they look, there's a plot hook for the PCs to get involved in or just a ruin to loot or explore.


  1. Good notion. There's also the potential for a fairly meaningful set of benevolent actions (to say nothing of Harry Lime antics); gameplay may not support growing crops, but it may support the creation of food caravans or keeping a hard-won peace.

    Think also of the disaster-relief aspects of Deep Carbon Observatory.

  2. Very true, particularly for conflicts unresolved over a decade or two. For example if I was Russian and wanted access to warm sea ports I would patiently watch the US in the middle-east get bogged down and dispirited and when they (inevitably) withdraw, I would dance down to my objective.

    Coincidently, I was reading today the opening of Runciman on the Crusades in which he tells of a Persian war in the Levant in the early 7th century, after which Roman resolve is exhausted, and who pops up? only that infamous Tom, Dick And Harry, the ingenious Arab warlord Mahomet.

    The 'After War' concept can be used to explain how your central empire in a game campaign struggles to impose its will, in religious, civil or martial affairs.

  3. Not to mention the fact that former soldiers, unemployed now for a wide variety of reasons, are the basic stock from which adventurers are built. There's a reason a 1st. level fighter was called a "veteran" in classic D&D.

    You could extrapolate roles for the other classes in a fantasy war. Clerics are pretty obvious. Thieves could have gotten their start as camp followers or refugees. Wizards could have started as anything from R&D to special ops to heavy artillery depending on how you think your setting's armies work.

    Many of the gunslingers from American tales of the wild west learned how to handle their shootin' irons in the armies of either side of the Civil War. Whether they decided to help tame towns or shoot 'em up was dependent on their temperament.

    1. Good point. What happens to all the young men who've been fighting after the war is over is something there should be a book on. The best example I can think of is the troubles in Germany in the 1920s after the demobilization of its army...

    2. Most of Dashell Hammett's stuff is all about the nasty mix of unemployed veterans, the Great Depression, and Prohibition.

    3. Or how 'bout all those samurai who got put out of legitimate work once the Tokugawa shogunate got rolling?

      How poetic the term "ronin" is ("wave person"), referring to a whole class of warriors who were essentially cast adrift.

      Or should I say caste adrift? Especially considering their social status forbade them from just going off and farming or being merchants.

      what do you do if fighting's the only job you're allowed to have but all those positions are filled by the only game in town?

  4. The second edition of Warhammer FRP was set in the aftermath of Storm of Chaos. It really helped the mood and campaigns.

  5. The only section of Elder Evils I enjoyed was Signs of the Apocalypse. They provided so many different ways to almost destroy the world and leave it scarred and changed when the evil was finally defeated. And the Blood Moon was the one for war. It starts with aggression between nations and other organizations and ends with everyone going nuts and battling to the end. If the sign is lifted, then civilization has to pick itself up and try to rebuild as best it can.

  6. My Wednesday Game is of this sort, though with a slightly more post-apocalyptic bent. The wonders of the techno-magical Golden Age were twisted towards war and unleashed. It's gotten so bad that the very land itself has been turned into a weapon, and warbeasts prowl the night. Everyone is forced to turn to the demons and genies who were enslaved by the warring sides to carve out little pockets of safety (though not always sanity) in which to survive. But yeah, the entire world is up for grabs, the very plants and animals and geology are both threat and treasure, and the real challenge was coming up with cool terrain and threats that don't sound like I just ripped off Thundar the Barbarian. ;D

  7. I think this concept is really for anytime the "dust hasn't settled", "periods of transition" in other words, and it's rife for conflict, adventures and opportunity. And sometimes the "after the war" can become "between the wars" - as the previous war can reveal a weakness that a new party (other kingdom etc I mean) decides to test/exploit.


  8. After a war, after the fall of an empire, after an apocalyptic event. All of these situations are fertile ground for stories about exploration, conflict, and the ascendance of a new power.

  9. Maybe it's better to phrase it as "broad disorder with localized order makes for a good campaign setting"? It's not just post-war stuff. It's post-apocalypse (wasteland/fortress). It's early colonial wilderness/fort. It's underground caves/Drow city. Or take a page from Emmy Allen; the rest of the world/your tribe's cave.

    Too much disorder and there's nothing to trade and no coherent system of values. Too much order and you can't go adventuring and get rich.