Post-apocalyptic tabletop RPG Backwards is crowdfunding an additional pair of sourcebooks that explores two new regions - the overgrown heartlands of New Englands and the flooded, half-broken Gulf Coast - of America after total societal collapse in an event known only as The End.
Life can often feel as though we’re verging on the edge of a dozen different apocalyptic scenarios, so the draw of a tabletop RPG setting such as Backwards feels almost natural, logical. The designers intentionally evoke the bizarre while weaving as much regional folklore, religious traditions and cultural pockets as possible into the world.
Backwoods’ two new sourcebooks follow that tradition, leaving previous hubworlds New Orleans and St. Louis behind for drastically different geographical zones. Backwoods explores the seat of America’s government - or what’s left of it - and the aristocratic families still clinging tightly to yesterday’s dream of hegemonic power. At the same time, the wildernest creeps inexorably across towns and villages, swallowing pockets of civilisation whole while shadows, cults and cryptic monsters watch from the edges of the trees.
Backwaters’ exploration of the Florida, Georgia and Alabama coastlines takes a different approach, swapping small-town horror for swashbuckling daring and danger. Fishers and sailors hunt the monster-riddled waters of the Gulf, ferrying people and supplies while also protecting the stubborn coastal communities who couldn’t even be driven from their homes by doomsday destruction. America’s government holds little sway here, ceding to local authority, small-town heroes and pure collective grit.
Backwards uses a bespoke D20-based system and four core attributes - Intuition, Build, Vigilance and Reflex. When rolling to overcome an obstacle, player characters will use the modifier derived from their stat’s Goal Score. When an adversary or the GM rolls against them, that number must beat their Goal Score. It’s intentionally simple, getting out of the way of a character-driven narrative that leans hard into survival-horror tropes that, according to the designers, can support a vast variety of gameplay approaches.
Campaigns can be as sprawling or intimate as the party desires - do they explore rumours of a church dedicated to the patron saint Dolly Parton in the backwoods of Tennessee, or perhaps aid the revolution brewing in the Heartlands amongst a coalition of patriots tired of waiting for America’s so-called leaders to recognise the eldritch threat on their doorstep?
Players have been imagining post-apocalyptic versions of their own world for as long as we have been rolling dice and crunching stats. It’s a familiar storytelling urge that can be executed extremely poorly, given the diverse cultural and sociopolitical makeup of the US. The creative team behind Backwards appear to keep that question front of mind, as their team of writers, artists, editors and sensitivity readers (all of whom are listed on the campaign page) include an impressive breadth of backgrounds and areas of expertise.
Backwards’ version of America after the collapse of society is far less in love with Neoliberal capitalism as the Fallout series and not quite as outright silly as Dungeons & Dragons’ beloved Gamma World offshoot (though it can definitely support those kinds of stories, if a party wishes). Instead, these sourcebooks focus on the people left to cobble something out of the shrapnel and debris of a fallen world power, and how the spectre of “the greatest nation in the world” still haunts the dirt and ashes beneath their feet.
The Kickstarter campaign for Backwards: Regional American Gothic Horror runs through October 28th and is raising funds for two separate physical sourcebooks, but backers can also snag digital PDFs of either book or both as a bundle. Fulfilment to backers is expected to begin in December 2024, and more information on their two previous books can be found on their official website.