A Different Kind of Old School, Part 3: We play our cards right, and we'll have a generic system...

The logical place to start with a new game is with the book labeled "BOOK 1" and Aftermath! is no different.

"Basic Rules for Role Playing Simulation" - there's a lot of info packed into those half-dozen words, and they're as exciting for me as when I was able to point out that as far back as the little brown books, D&D had been explicitly intended to be played with "miniature figures." A game that calls out, and owns, the nature of play - simulation. There'll be stories here, friend, but we won't just invent them ourselves and guide them like authors. No, we're setting sail on uncharted waters and letting the luck of the dice tell us a story instead.

This is an old game, so there is the obligatory introduction where the concept of role playing is discussed, roles defined and dice explained. An interesting artifact, perhaps of the time, is that the game works under the assumption that you only have two kinds of dice, the standard d6 you could nab from your never-played Monopoly box, and the d20 (notably, the 0-9 twice style, as they stand in for d10, d30 and d100 at need). This is interesting from an archaeological perspective, but also influences the game in lots of ways as we go along - where something might have been better with a d8 or a d12, we see things like 3d3 and 2d6 being used, bell curves be damned. It's a little weird, and something I would correct for if I ever follow through with my quixotic dream of rewriting the game myself.

Six Attributes, with associated saving throw values, twelve figured characteristics, and seven Talents all dance together and interact with one another in myriad ways that are presented throughout the rules, but which on paper will probably look like Too Many Numbers to modern gamer eyes. That said, they're figured early, during chargen, and while some will change with damage or fatigue during play, the rest are fixed and remain useful throughout the life of the character.

Being a connoisseur of initiative systems, I must say that Aftermath! has one of the most interesting to me. It's the closest thing I've ever seen to avoiding what Nash and Whitaker call the "jerky concertina" that most games inflict upon the players (Runequest 6th Ed, p. 438). Phase based, it allows for differing OODA loop timings as well as finely grained movement to allow for smooth, natural interrupts to occur. More on that in the combat chapter.

When we hit skills - which are more finely grained than most games, but stop short of GURPSian proportions - we run into another really remarkably odd design choice on the part of Hume and Charrette. When you "take" a skill in character creation, you get a base score with the skill based on your attributes and talents that apply to the skill - for example, Salvage Food skill starts out at the sum of your Wit and Deftness attributes and your Scientific Talent. Take it a second time and your base score is doubled. This leads to scores that typically range from 1-100, but for some combat skills especially, you can have scores over 100 or even 200, theoretically. And yet, in a system that uses d10's extensively, and makes use of the d100 roll elsewhere, immediately divides those basic skill values by 5 and makes use of a d20 for skill checks. It was strange to us then and it's... weirdly disconcerting even now.

That said, the skill system (presented in Book 1, there's no skill list. Just an explanation of how to use skills and the various types) is very robust. Basic skills have a 1-100 score, and a 1-20 BCS (Base Chance of Success) to roll against. Others have a specialization you must take, and while they work otherwise like basic skills, you can use the other specialization at half value - Urban Search isn't as useful in the woods, but it's not useless either. Finally combat skills can have values over 100 and while the bottom 100 points act like a basic skill, those above 100 can allow for a mechanism to counteract fumbles and another to allow aiming at a specific hit location.

Speaking of hit locations - the rules for armor are presented here along with encumbrance - and reading them I can't help but be reminded of GURPS Low Tech. Rigid versus flexible armors, quilting and reinforcing rules, and damage to armor are all presented here, quickly and matter-of-factly, You might play forever without running into a need for bronze reinforced heavy hide or quilted heavy cloth, but it's there if you need it.

The bulk of the volume's pages are devoted to movement and to combat, which sounds like it might be a very combat focused game, but do recall this is one book of three, and masses all of fifty-six pages. And yet, the combat system is truly remarkable - enough so that it warrants its own post...

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