For once, the crazy Nazi mystics pulled off one of the innumerable rites they’ve staged during countless World War IIs in the annals of fiction. Unfortunately for most people living on Earth in 1945 in Ken Hite’s The Day After Ragnarok, this particular rite summoned Jörmungandr, the serpent of Norse mythology that circles Midgard. The colossal serpent had already spanned Africa and continued to stretch across Europe when an American bomber, carrying the Trinity device, crashed straight into its eye, killing it. Things got worse after that as the serpent’s venom seeped into the sea and the air, and from there drinking water and foodstuffs. Nations crumbled, millions died under the serpent or from the harsh years without summer that followed. It’s a whole new world for everyone who survived.
I’m not usually one for post-apocalyptic settings in RPGs. I’m not really into the Road Warrior aesthetic, nor do I find adventures centered around scrounging bullets and gas all that interesting to play. So it took me a while to realize that Day After Ragnarok, Hite fan that I am, was something that would appeal to me. I’m still not sure what pushed me to pick it up — it could have been an interview I heard with Hite on some podcast or other; maybe Master Plan, but I can’t find a likely-looking episode in the archive — but I’m glad I took the leap.
In this post-Serpentfall world, civilization still hangs on in places, trying to get a handle on things, or at least hang on. And that’s what appeals to me about the setting: there’s enough of the modern world still in place that life as we know it can go on, even though the Poison Lands are just across the Rockies. Heroes working for institutions like Rhodes University, bastion of Western knowledge since Cambridge and Oxford both were crushed, or the great state of Texas, can get useful gear without having to root through department stores and abandoned bunkers.
One of the things I like best about this world is the use of the Midgard Serpent itself. Aside from its function as environmental catastrophe to kickstart the decay of civilization to a level were adventuring’s a plausible career choice, the serpent is also a source of plot material and gear. Speleo-herpetologists explore the beast’s corpse for resources and scientific discovers, also coming into conflict with the host of parasites and other organisms that constituted the serpent’s internal biology. The book never comes and admits it, but it’s the prototypical dungeon crawl: go down into a hostile, enclosed environment, fight oogedy-boogiedies that defy practicality and reason, extract valuable materials, leave, then come back and do it again. It’s so self-obvious and not needing any real explication, I guess that’s why Hite just tucked it in there, concentrating on building the world and dragging in real life lunacy to tie in to the more fantastical elements.
In a lot of ways, Day After Ragnarok reminds me of Armageddon: The End Times. Both of them focus on modern Earth, give or take a century-ish, recently stricken by a supernatural cataclysm. Nations fall, rise, divide and ally in different ways. New technologies and practices spring out of the recent catastrophe. The differences are mostly in style. Both settings are very over the top, but where Armageddon has a strong focus on the supernatural, as gods, angels, demons and everything else descend to Earth to fight off Leviathan, in Day After Ragnarok, the struggle is ultimately about and between humans. Humans caused the disaster, humans deal with the aftermath and action plays out on a human level. Yes, there are sorcerers and rocket packs, but it’s at a level akin to Heroes and X-Men, where Armageddon has more in common with Justice League and Legion of Super Heroes.
In short, I dig it a lot. It’s got a lot of great ideas. If I don’t write an outright Day After Ragnarok adventure, whatever I do write next will probably be heavily influenced by it.