RPG Review: Atomic Highway

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August 18, 2012 by Ish

Atomic Highway © Radioactive Ape Designs

Atomic Highway: Post Apocalyptic Roleplaying is at its heart exactly what the name says it is — a roleplaying game set after the end of the world as we know it, where car combat and long-distance travel are a prominent features. I was given a free copy of the PDF by the game’s author a few years back, because he said liked the style and tone of my posts on a forum for an unrelated roleplaying game. I had never heard of Atomic Highway prior to receiving his message and certainly didn’t seek it out. But I am not the type say “No” to a free game! To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect much… a random offer of a free post-apocalyptic game, while hanging around a fantasy games message board? My expectations were low, but boy was I happy to be proven wrong.

Radioactive Ape Designs has just announced the game’s rulebook will now be free to anyone who wants one. I was always happy to recommend it to friends for the previous price $29.99… but, for free? What have you got to lose!?

I love many things set in the Post-Apocalypse genre: movies like Mad Max, video games like Fallout, and comic books like Y the Last Man and The Walking Dead. However, I find that the genre tends to be a miserable one in roleplaying games. They tend to breed too much weirdness in-game settings for my taste (random mutations, superpowers, freaky societies, the now cliché zombies, and the worst of the worst: RIFTS). Atomic Highway is the right blend of “serious background” and “cinematic action heroes” game I was waiting for without knowing it. Yeah, its got a few mutants and optional rules for humanoid animals and psychic powers, but even with all of that stuff added in it avoids becoming silly or freakish.

The interior art is spartan but good.

The interior art is spartan but good. All back and white, pencil lineart that is pretty and it should be a boon to your printer ink budget, should you decide to print it. The PDF I received was not bookmarked, had no internal hyperlinks, but they may have changed that for newer copies. The column design is not in the most screen reading friendly of layouts on portable devices like my Kindle Fire… but the text is readable and clear, whitespace is well used, and I saw no obvious typos or formating hiccups in my several read throughs.The game-world is flexible, without any official setting, everything is left open to the Game Master and Players, yet at the same time some very well thought out how’s and what’s are presented so that the group can make their post-apocalyptic world on the fly with some semblance of logic. You’ve got your barter-towns, your isolated fortified homesteads, and nomadic tribes that form the main social landscape. Add a few marauder gangs, then the isolated and rare scientific laboratory from the Before Time, and maybe some cave or sewer dwelling Morlocks, for spice. These groups are described in loose categories, and the GM can easily create their own. There’s nothing terribly original or new, but it’s well presented and thought for gaming. Yeah, the world is a bleak and rotten one, but the tone makes me want to go out and explore and try to make things better not just stay locked inside and slit my wrists.

Character creation is template based, pick one based on your childhood or culture and a second based on your archetype or adult career. Assign a few floating skill and attribute points. Presto, you’re done. The templates have enough room for free choice that any two characters with the same template will still have differences and there are enough templates that you could play a dozen different characters without repetetion. Advancement is totally point-based and thus the templates only serve as starting points, not straight-jackets.

The dice mechanic is a unique one, but easily grasped by anyone with any experience in gaming and should prove quick to explain even to absolute newcomers to the hobby. You have a pool of d6s based on an attribute (1-5) which you roll trying to get 6s, each 6 is one success. You have skills (1-5) from which you can assign points to individual dice to try to make a 6. So, if I am making a test to scale a wall with a character with Strength 3 and Climbing 3, I could roll three dice getting 5, 4, 3. I can take one pip from climbing to make the 5 a 6, and the next 2 pips turn the 4 into a 6. Bingo. As to be expected from a name like Atomic Highway, car chases and vehicle combat can play a large role, but the rules are a simple expansion on the core mechanics, and are easy to use and exciting to play.

If I had to rank it, I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.

Compared to most of the games in this specific genre, its a solid 4.5 out of 5.

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