Horror is a good portion of my day job. As the host of PseudoPod, one of the first original genre fiction podcasts, every week my job is simple; get on stage, introduce a nightmare and then once its done talk about why and how it works. Its a little like Tony Stark’s amazing holographic work space being crossed with the radio studio from Pontypool. I LOVE my job.
I have a reputation in my field for being cheerful. I’m the guy who will show up for five minutes after a twenty five minute deep dive into Hell and point out the hope in the story. Hope is horror’s fuel. The denial of hope, the subversion of hope, the triumph of hope. Hope as the light at the end of the tunnel even, especially in fact, when that light is an oncoming train. Hope is why we yell at the screen because maybe this time they won’t open the garage door, Maybe this time the line will be drawn in the sand and they WON’T. READ. THE. LATIN.
Hope and horror are the poles of After the War. One has, as the game opens, begun to disappear into the past. The other is on the way in but needs of the all help it can get. Here’s the thing about the world ending; it’s never tidy and it’s never quite done. There’s no light switch (or finger snap). It’s a slow, ragged process which mirrors personal trauma on a macro scale. When you’re in the middle of it, it becomes your normal. The landscape you move across is ragged and dangerous and saps your energy but it’s the landscape beneath your feet so you get used to it. Your options are simple; you stop or go. Even when you think you don’t want to go on, even when you’re convinced you are beaten, nine times out of ten you aren’t. Four times out of ten you’re happy with that fact. But even when you aren’t, you keep going. To get where you need to be. To prove someone wrong. Why you’re doing it doesn’t matter and after a while that helps too. It’s just you and the ground. You and the distance. That line Tony has in Iron Man: ‘There’s only the next mission.’ He’s on this ground when he says that.
But the mission ends. The storm lifts. The wounds scar over. They may take years or decades to do it but they do and once that happens you have to ask yourself a question;
Personal trauma. Galactic near apocalypse. It all boils down to those exact two words. And yes I pretty much am quoting The West Wing here because that’s the exact tone I always have in my mind when I think of those words. Slightly beleaguered enthusiasm. A willingness to get back to work rather than rest. You heal when you do and, here, there is so much to do.
So, what’s next? Whatever you want to be.
You can absolutely dive into the aftermath of Tormenta, or the Song. You can run entire campaigns about in fighting between the Free Companies. You can run a Black Sky Industries campaign that’s full corporate intrigue, or a Fleet campaign out amongst the newly quiet stars. You can run full alien games, full human ones. Most likely, you’ll be part of a campaign focusing on an individual settlement and its daily struggles to survive. That community will, over time, encounter any of the ideas mentioned above. When you do, the extraordinary work Jason has done on the rules set means you’ll have a structure to work within and narrative to pull from that structure. Community as a survival tool is still community and what’s becoming clear to the people of Polvo is that there
is something amazing being born in the ruins. What’s becoming clearer to some of them is that the new society’s survival depends entirely on them.
Personal trauma. Galactic near apocalypse. Both eventually stop happening. People never quite stop moving though, or building something new. And while Polvo may not be a new world its certainly a brave one. And a world I am proud and honored to share with Jason, the rest of the team and you.
So, what’s next?
The same thing that’s always next.
Hope as a shield. Hope as a tool. Hope as a map to Polvo, its future and the future of your characters. May it fit your hand and guide you well.