Reading Summerland by Greg Saunders

Way back, even before the Internet, I had a plan; I wanted to collect every single post apocalyptic RPG there was. I got quite a few for my collection before the futility of the project dawned on me. While I don’t aim for getting all of them anymore, I still pick up one every once in a while.

Summerland by Greg Saunders has been sitting on my shelf since my last order from Lulu. I wonder if it has what it takes to end up on the gaming table?

Cover from Summerland by Greg Saunders

Cover from Summerland by Greg Saunders

The book
The book itself is 9×6 180 pages softcover, like most other indie RPGs from Lulu. As I understand it there was a thinner version previously, this one has ‘Revised and expanded’ on the first page. The cover by Paul Bourne is the prettiest I have ever seen on an RPG. Inside there are both photo manipulations by Greg himself and a few pictures by Jerome Huguenin, all very fine but a bit on the darkish side.

The text is easy to read and everything is clearly explained, but it still took me a few sittings to get through the game. It is full of examples and flavor text, and I didn’t want to miss a thing. Given how I usually skip ahead when I read games this says something about the quality of the text.

The setting
The quote below is from the first section of the setting.

One night, for no apparent reason, a vast and ancient forest appeared across the land as if it had existed there for hundreds of years. Destructively superimposed on all that existed before it, the forest devastated the works of man. Nothing escaped the blanketing of the trees, not even the tarmac of the roads or the buildings of the city centres. Life as we know it ceased: structures collapsed; roads, rail lines and runways were choked;and anything that may have helped with a swift recovery was lost. for a short while a state of emergency was broadcast over all available media, but soon these reassuring words fell silent. As devastating as the Event was, much worse was to follow.

The game starts an unspecified number of years after the Event, as the apocalypse is called. But the PCs grew up before the Event and had it interrupt their adult lives. When the game starts the survivors are spread out in small isolated communities, and the premise is that the PCs are Drifters. The Drifters are immune to the Call, a mysterious force that draws ordinary people into the forest where they disappear, and act as messengers and guides between the settlements.

The goal of the game is for the PCs to confront traumas in their past so that they can become whole again and join a community. But as their minds heal they lose the resistance to the Call.

Two things strike me as I read the book. The first is that the ‘feel’ of the game is more British TV mini series than Hollywood blockbuster. It is slower, low key and the forest is magical rather than the action movies set in post nuclear war wastelands that we are used to seeing. The other thing is that Summerland is an RPG for adults, the setting is very dark in places and psychological issues stand at the very core of the game.

The rules
The rules are simple. Four stats – Body, Finesse, Mind and Empathy, a few ‘tags’ that are specializations of the stats and two pieces of equipment, and the character is done. At least as far as the mechanics are concerned. Task resolution is simply roll under stat+tag with a number of d6’s (more dice for higher difficulties).

A similarly simple system for conflict resolution, that also is used for social conflicts, and a mechanism to track how the character heals the trauma from his or her past, makes for the rest of the body of rules.

The form
Summerland is played in the traditional way with GM and players. The focus is not to amass guns and equipment, as is common in the genre, but the healing of the characters’ psychological traumas. Which makes it a bit different.

There are lots of advice on how to run the game in the book, and lots of events and encounters around which adventures can be built.

Without having played the game I think that it is very well suited for a mini campaign, in a single session the characters will not progress enough towards joining a society to make things interesting and in a long campaign the lack of depth in the rules could become an issue.

The setting is excellent. Everyone knows what a forest looks like, and most are familiar with the post apocalyptic theme from movies and other media.

The rules are good. Not much depth but they will do the job they were designed for very well.

The form is very good. The GM gets lots of advice on how to run the game.

Will I play it?
Provided I find the group to play a short campaign I would play this, although I think I’d prefer to play the game as a player over GM’ing it. … /5002309 – Lulu entry for Summerland

1 Comment

  1. November 23, 2010 at 20:21

    […] Summerland was the apocalypse envisioned by the BBC, The Rustbelt is the apocalypse by HBO, or possibly […]

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