When I first started at secondary school in the late 1980s we had rather strange setup in my home town. At eleven years old we went to what was effectively a middle school, this was co-ed and following a couple of years the majority of pupils transferred to either the local girls or boys school, which catered for 13 to 18 year olds. The other unique thing about my particular middle school was that it was split across two sites about a mile apart. Break times were often spent on the transfer bus moving between buildings.
The main site (long since demolished), was kind of open plan with primarily outdoor corridors. Believe me when I say this was actually the better of the two. What however has any of this got to do with drawing inspiration for post apocalyptic tabletop gaming? Well apart from the prison camp styling of the architecture, one thing that really sticks in my mind was the school library. At the time I couldn’t really look beyond the classic Target novelisations of Doctor Who serials (I was slightly obsessed), but I do remember in particular another series of books with very striking covers. I never read these at the time as something about the content was too close to a very frightening possible reality that hung over us all in the Cold War – nuclear armageddon. These novels were the ‘Survivalist’ series by Jerry Ahern.
Recently as I have been working on my 28mm scale post apocalypse projects (with 7TV Apocalypse very much my cross-hairs) I’d started thinking about backgrounds and settings for my games and models. Aside from the obvious Mad Max style road warrior scenarios, my memory of the old school library and the ‘Survivalist’ came to the fore. Needless to say a quick trip to Amazon and eBay and I’ve got the first few volumes.
First things first. These books are very much of their time. The hero is in that Reagan era 80’s mold. They are not literary masterpieces, they are pulp, but by heck (as they say round here) I’m enjoying them. Needless to say the basic premise is following the titular ‘survivalist’ John O’Rouke in his adventures in a nuclear war ravaged United States. John has to fight off marauding gangs, invading Soviets and the like, while searching for his wife and children. Our hero is not only a survival specialist, but also a trained medical doctor, former CIA operative and weapons expert. There is an almost lurid amount of detail in these books about guns and weapons with the caliber of ammo, background and description of rifles and machine guns all being describe in minute detail each time they are used (and they are used a lot). There is also a lot of cigarette smoking in these books (check out the covers)!
There’s certainly plenty in here to act as inspiration for gaming on the tabletop. I particularly like that the Soviet Union is attempting an occupation of the US (somehow this is possible after a nuclear exchange), but this gives a bit more scope for scenarios, rather than just the usual marauding gangs versus gangs setup.
Unsurprisingly I’ve been looking into miniatures for John O’Rourke, and remembered the Wargames Factory Male Survivors multi-part plastic kit. This came out originally a few years ago and was more recently re-packaged and re-released by Warlord Games as part of their Project Z range.
It seems uncannily like the creators of this set had read some of these books as out of the box I was quite easily able to pull together a figure which is almost a spitting image of the Survivalist from the book covers. The next stage will be to paint him up and get some stats created for 7TV.
Inspired by this I’ve also been looking into other background material and thanks to an excellent article in the November 2018 issue of Wargames Illustrated on ‘near apocalypse’ gaming have come across the old GDW Games Twilight 2000 source books. But more on that another time…..
For more information on the Survivalist series, I’d heartily recommend this article on ‘We are the Mutants’.