Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Threads: Your Mutant Future Prelude

Most of us old school gamers grew up during the final decade of the cold war.  With Ronald Raygun's Hollywood style of politics towards the Soviet Union in it's final throws, us kids had at our disposal not only D&D but thrilling post apocalyptic visions of Mad Max, Thundar the Barbarian and Judge Dredd.

The end of the world didn't seem so bad and fit our fantasy filled brains with mutants and magic and the ruins of humanity's society.

But the reality, no doubt, would have been much more grim than that and I think we all knew that.

Or would it be...?

In the mid-eighties, both here in the states and in Great Britian, the powers that be released two movies aimed to show the horrors of a nuclear war; the American television drama called "The Day After" and the BBC drama called "Threads".

I'll briefly talk about The Day After first then get in to the BBC's more disturbing Threads. (some great additional commentary on The Day After can be found here).

In America, radiation sickness isn't too bad.
In The Day After, you get the star studded cast of Jason Robards, JoBeth Williams, John Lithgow, and Steve Guttenburg living their lives before and after a nuclear attack in Lawrence Kansas.  The TV movie was hyped up to be a horrifying look at the affects of a nuclear war with parental discretion advised.

Perhaps it was horrifying.  But having grown up playing war games and fantasy rpgs and reading comics, I knew the affects to be much more dramatic than a few Hollywood stars loosing their hair due to radiation sickness.  I wasn't impressed at the time and felt it was a sugar coated, over expositioned version of the realities of a nuclear war so as not to strike any real fear into the populous, but only to get them to chat about seeing the movie around the water cooler for a day or two but being a catalyst for no real change.

The last shot in The Day After as America doesn't
loose it's humanity.
What do you expect from the country that brought you Duck and Cover?  In fact, the movie has only moved a few steps from the Duck and Cover days.  The whole things come off as a disaster movie and, IMHO, melodramatic and a bit lacking.

To their credit, the producers display a disclaimer after the film that says that things will actually be much worse than those depicted.  So why not show the worst?

That was left to the BBC.

Now Threads on the other-hand...

If you want to see a provocative, disturbing realistic portrait of a nuclear war I urge you to check out this film from the BBC released roughly during the same time as the US version.

There were no big stars (at least that Americans would recognize), or doctors or heroes.  Threads portrays just regular folks going about their seemingly mundane lives as political forces outside their control bring the world to destruction, all of which gave an incredible foundation of normalcy which the every-man can connect with.  The viewer can place themselves into any one of these characters plus with it's almost documentary feel gives the whole thing a great sense of non-hyped realism.  As in the American The Day After, the first hour counts down to d-day.

Starving survivors acting like it's a Zombie Walk
The attack itself is brutal and horrific but that would just be the start and the city of Sheffield, where the story takes place, takes a direct hit.  No punch is held back in the depiction of the immediate aftermath; the firestorm and death and suffering.  It is not a glossed over depiction of the after-affects of a nuclear war.  The suffering is depicted as quite real, both physical and especially psychological. And as the days and weeks go by things only get worse and more barbaric as the threads of society and humanity break down.  In fact, almost the entire second hour of the movie is depicted without dialogue - a stark contrast to the American spoon-fed version of the aftermath.

But what does this all have to do with a prelude to a Mutant Future (Gamma World) game?

Well, keep reading.....


I urge you to watch the movie Threads before reading further.

Only one character that we meet in the beginning of Threads survives to carry us through to the many years after the war.

The woman Ruth, who becomes pregnant at the beginning of the story carries her baby to term in the months after the war.  Though the brief narration mentions the dismal future of having a successful birth, Ruth manages to birth her baby on her own in a shed while a barking dog watches.

Here is where the Mutant Future begins...

The contents of the basket of this street vendor contains
literal rats-on-a-stick.
In the film, after the birth, ten years pass and the immediate affects of the war lessen.  The population of Britain is down to per-medieval levels.  Agriculture, though attempting to make a comeback is still a pretty dismal prospect, but some folks are tilling the soil. It is here that Ruth succumbs  to 10 years of radiation poisoning leaving her daughter of 10 to fend on her own.  There is a scene where this girl and other children born after the war are being educated by a television with a children's program on video tape while an old crone watches on.

Eventually leaving this small society, this girl is on her own.  Scrounging and scavenging she eventually hooks up with two other boys possibly also born after the war.  A new generation born into this Mutant Future / Gamma World.  Together they loot the ruins for food but one of them is shot as a looter.  The girl and one boy escape.  The girl, now thirteen, becomes pregnant from the surviving boy and eventually is on her own again.  In labor, she finds shelter in some broken down 'medical center' where some old woman is helping a sick dying man.  It is here that the girl gives birth.  The 'nurse' gives the wrapped baby to the young girl and as this girl removes the swaths to view the face of her baby she begins to scream (the film ends in a freeze frame before the scream is actually heard).

This last moment is where we can be thrust into the beginnings of our post-apocalyptic game.  You initially think that the baby may be still-born but with the look on the mother's face at the very end tends to push the thought that the baby is indeed alive but in some horrible mutant state.  Realistically, I am sure this Mutant baby would either eventually die or live a pretty horrible brutal life, but in games terms, using Threads and a prelude to a post-apocalyptic game, you get the beginnings of a mutant race.

Now I don't mean to make lite of an incredibly serious subject.  I was shocked and moved by this movie as a whole, even thirty years after it was made but this is what our games represent.  Though Gamma World is just a fantasy RPG it's foundation is based on some pretty grim and brutal realities as this movie shows.  Why not explore that, feel that and make it part of your game.  It will definitely set a realistic foundation to a fantastical game setting.

Anyways, just thought I'd share...

A hopeless mutant character or a role playing opportunity?


  1. This is messed up. Im going to have to check out Threads, sounds brutal.

  2. Are we starting a MF, campaign? I have been building a sandbox MF campaign area. The central village is in an old amusement park, there are some great pics of abandoned amusement parks on the net.

    1. I'd be up for playing if you want to run it!

    2. Of course I have been looking for an excuse to try out Roll20 virtual tabletop. :)

  3. I just have to convince my group to give MF a try. I have a 24" square hex grid map with just the central mapped out for the players. They only have local knowledge of the surrounding area out to about 12 miles, with rumors of other places just beyond. I have lots of mini-adventure areas to place in the characters path. A sentient crystal forest that needs help, offering a PC the chance of the Quills and Spines mutation as a symbiotic crystal creature. A cannibalistic robot in search of fresh "parts". A vampire cloud of nantites sucking the Iron right out of it's victims, and then trying to construct a mysterious "thing". A mysterious keep constructed of ancient marble and granite tombstones. Top all this off with a crazy weather table with gravity storms that cause vertigo, acid rain, earthquakes, and bizarre color shifting storms. I have big plans LoL


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