This is the thirty-third entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Once more, a game has been picked at random from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. It’s Build Your Own Apocalypse, by Bitwise Coyote. Its tagline in the bundle reads:

Collaborative story telling about the end of civilization

Hmm… the title suggested I’d be able to build my own apocalypse. What’s all this about “collaboration”?

As has become standard practice for Scratching That Itch when dealing with tabletop role-playing games that require more than one player, I must simply write my impressions of Build Your Own Apocalypse after reading the book, as I am unable to actually play it myself. In this case, the book is a mere two pages, and is in the running for the shortest word count of any tabletop entry so far. The tagline is accurate: Build Your Own Apocalypse is very much about storytelling, going so far as to remove any mechanical elements — dice, cards, or rules of any kind — from the storytelling itself. Players simply come up with a story, using the characters and setting they’ve decided upon at the start.

There are dice in Build Your Own Apocalypse, but they are used between storytelling rounds. Once players have discussed the setting and premise for their apocalyptic tale, and determined how many rounds to play — which are assigned to different chapters to give some overarching structure to the story — they use their dice to bid on where the story will go next. Each player secretly writes down an event which they hope will drive the narrative in the next round, and then bids some number of dice from their dice pool. Without revealing the events, players roll their dice, and the player with highest total roll will get to use their event as the focus. At this point all players’ events are revealed, and any others which make sense to tie in to the main event can be used as well.

There are some mechanics for recovering dice, especially in the final round which focuses on a new hope rising from the ashes of the apocalypse. But mostly, Build Your Own Apocalypse is a very simple framework with which to tell stories with a group of friends. There’s little guidance as to subject or even tone, beyond the general apocalyptic framing, so players can come up with whatever they choose. Unlike some tabletop role-playing games that have cropped up in Scratching That Itch so far, including one with a similar apocalyptic bent, Build Your Own Apocalypse seems to leave room for humor and silliness if players desire. When discussing thematic consistency, the example given is “If the group’s story is about a runaway AI deciding to eradicate drivers displaying Confederate flag bumper stickers, adding an event about dairy cows with chainsaws might derail things a bit.” That’s certainly not the apocalypse that would have sprung to my mind.

But really, it’s wide open. Whatever players wish to tell, they can. With so little structure, Build Your Own Apocalypse will be highly dependent on a good group of people who are comfortable creating stories together, and is likely a bad choice for new players who are not used to tabletop role-playing. On the other hand, the freedom given to players could be a great strength, and the dice bidding mechanics help keep the story moving without too much internal debate or individual players forcing their vision for the story on the others. I’m also intrigued by the mention of using Build Your Own Apocalypse as an intro to an entirely different role-playing game. The authors mention that it could serve as a lead-in for games such as Apocalypse World, Atomic Highway, or Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. I’ve never played any of those, but if you have and you’d like to turn your initial worldbuilding into a little game of its own, why not check out Build Your Own Apocalypse? If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $2.

That’s 33 down, and only 1708 to go!