For the past few months in 2020, I have been working on a pen and paper RPG called ATMOD: A Thousand Miles of Dust. It has expanded to be a much larger project than I intended, but I think I have ‘capped’ what I can do with it until I have started to playtest. I decided that the project was deserving of its own page.
I set out to make an RPG that would explore themes of survival, power, and desolation. I set out to make a world where things are rarely permanent, where exploration and mobility was paramount, so that people could survive off of the remnants of a society long gone. As a guide to myself as I write more, and to let you know what you’re getting into, I have listed a few notable influences below.
What should be obvious is that Mad Max was a huge influence. The jagged excitement of Mad Max’s vehicular acrobatics, and the raw tension that drove the characters was the spark this project in the first place. The pure imagination of all 4 Mad Max movies is impossible to overstate, and for the most part it just got better and better with each film. If you want to play ATMOD, watching any of these movies is a great place to begin. The 2015 video game Mad Max (which came out at a similar time to Mad Max: Fury Road) offered up many ideas on how car combat could work. The care that went into every detail of the vehicles and people that occupy that universe shows, and hardly anything seems ‘out of place’. Mad Max embodies the violence and emotional core of A Thousand Miles of Dust.
Mad Max films beget Fallout computer games, and Fallout is undeniably another huge influence. While I envision the world of ATMOD as more post-climate disaster and less post-nuclear disaster, Fallout still informs what makes for compelling glimpses into a prosperous civilizations’ history. ATMOD does not have nearly the level of practical civilization as Fallout did, and there is not the implication that ATMOD is strictly American 50’s jingoism put into perspective. I can not thank Fallout enough, however, for stretching the limits of what seems to be possible in a post-apocalyptic world, and for codifying useful tropes in that type of fiction. Fallout embodies the politics and game systems of A Thousand Miles of Dust.
Oregon Trail is up there too! It’s a game where you march on, sometimes losing loved ones, sometimes finding resources in unexpected parts of the world, and power through to try and find a better life. When you lose your son to a disease that you could not treat, you have a funeral and move on; there is little time to ruminate upon grief and loss. Oregon Trail is the frontier American version of Mad Max, in that you are traveling a dangerous lonely road, struggling for each new resource to continue on another day. Oregon Trail embodies the survival and omnipresence of death I want in ATMOD.
Finally, I kept Jim Henson classics, especially Fraggle Rock and the old film The Dark Crystal, in my mind while creating the world. These pieces of absolute *art* are great at showing the interconnectedness of all creatures and geographies. Fraggle Rock is the singular triumph on how to make creatures have a purpose and a role in the ecosystem, from tiny productive Doozers to giant destructive Gorgs. Likewise, the ecosystem has a purpose and a role for the creatures, and most importantly they shape one another. The story of a turnip in Fraggle Rock can tell you everything you need to know about a dozen species of creatures. The Dark Crystal also has this in a similar way, but with an even greater variety of settings to fill with creatures. Jim Henson’s strongest works embody the sense of belonging to the world and the holistic approach to life of A Thousand Miles of Dust.
You may be expecting me to list off some interesting car facts, or tell you my favorite episode of Top Gear. I was never much of a car person, tell you the truth. I like some makes and models, and I can do basic things like change my oil or air filters and the whatnot. I have watched many videos and read books about combustion engines, and how cars work, and a little of their history, but in terms of being interested their precise function? Only a little. So if you see that I am illegally using the word ‘camshaft’ when I really meant to say something else on a car, that is because I am completely full of shit. In ATMOD, you also do not need to know anything about cars to get enjoyment out of the game! You can repair your car with scrap; who cares if the last battle tore off the muffler, beat one together with some scrap and get back on the road! In Oregon Trail you just happen to find wagon wheels; in ATMOD, you will just happen to find that one radiator you need to get ‘er up and running again.
Without any more pomp and circumstance, here are the resources I have so far created for the game.
Introduction: A Thousand Miles of Dust – a very short story
Table of Contents
- Essential Rules
- Common Pieces of Technology
- Plants & Animals
- Melee Weapons
- Ranged Weapons
- Vehicles: Your Lifeline on the Flat
- Vehicle Index
- Medicine and Drugs
- Character Creation Rules
- Merits and Flaws
- Combat Rules
- Vehicular Combat Rules
Character Sheet – v0.9
Car-acter Sheet – Work in Progress