The End Of The World As We Know It: your guide to playing a survivalist in a modern game.

Image Courtesy of Elli Thor Magnusson and Corbis The Apocalypse is very popular right now. Zombies, peak oil, economic collapse, nuclear war and various creative interpretations of the Mayan Calendar have set more and more people prepping for the end of days, or just having fun talking about it and making plans for various hypothetical scenarios.

With our current cultural obsession for the End Times rivaling our fervor for the Futuristic Dystopian Government in the eighties, it stands to reason that somebody’s going to want to run a game about the inevitable rise of the Undead or a nuclear warhead falling on us out of nowhere.

For situations like this, rolling up a survivalist can give you serious edge over the challenges you may face, as well as just being a highly entertaining character to play.

I’ve broken this post up into two sections. The first deals with a few of the different philosophies and lays out a few lovingly tongue-in-cheek templates I’ve developed over years of browsing through various forums and other online communities as well as a few personal encounters with other survivalists. The second section, which will be posted a week from now, is a system-neutral guide to gear, with a few bits of individual equipment, advice on building gear kits for your character, and other pointers for making your wasteland warrior pop.

I’ve been a multiclass Nerd/Armchair Survivalist for a long time, a lifestyle that I could probably blame on watching Tremors at a very young age and deciding that the character of Burt, the enthusiastic, gun-slinging survivalist, was an ideal role model. As luck would have it, it’s remarkably easy to balance to the two classes, since they are basically the same thing. Don’t believe me? Go to the vast majority of any knife, gun or survival forums and you will see pointless, technically obsessive arguments that makes a forum debate about a Reed Richards vs. Wolverine throwdown seem tame in comparison.


Over the course of these two articles, we’re going to be discussing a wide variety of ideas, tactics and personal beliefs in this article. I want to make it abundantly clear that I am writing this article solely for the purpose of character research and development in the context of tabletop roleplaying games, or possibly fiction if you happen to swing that way. I am not advocating any of the ideas, methods or philosophies that we are going to be covering in this article. Most of the folks that I’ve met in the prepper communities have been perfectly calm, nice people that fall within a comfortable distance of being both sane and reasonable… But there is a definite fringe element of people getting ready for the end who are completely and utterly bonkers. These individuals should only be studied as inspiration for making a particularly eccentric character, or possibly statting up for use as antagonists against your post-apocalyptic player characters.


General Philosophy 

Most people in the community at large have some drastically different ideas about what’s going to snuff the lights of society and what it will take to survive when that happens. Like-minded individuals congregate into various families and fandoms, and each one will have a different set of rules, philosophies and principles. Most schools of thought do share a few common ideas, and these can be a good starting point for your character’s core philosophy:

  • Self reliance is utterly essential. You shouldn’t plan to rely on the assistance of the community, corporations or government in the face of a major disaster.
  • Major urban areas will most likely become a massive death-trap in the event of a serious disaster. Escaping to a less populated area is almost always desirable.
  • Preparation and study is key. Research the various facets and intricacies of your favorite scenario and prepare accordingly. Have a plan for getting out of dodge or for holing up at home, depending on whatever strategy makes the most sense for the disaster at hand.
  • Having the right tools for the job is essential, regardless of whatever your favorite school of thought happens to be. Some people have simple, handmade kits they can sling into a small bag, and others have massive rucksacks of high-end gear and a variety of premade kits for hitting the road and staying at home.
  • Other people will become a serious liability in most disaster scenarios. Most people will be desperate enough to do something stupid or amoral to survive, whereas others will probably take advantage of the chaos in order to burn, murder and pillage.

These are just a few basic concepts to give you a rough idea of what might be important to your character, and what sort of thoughts will dictate their actions and preparations both before and after the game begins. Now that we’re getting a better idea of what our characters might be like in a broader sense, let’s look at a few possible templates you can draw from to give your character a finer level of detail.

Armchair Commando 

You know everything there is to know about your subject of choice… in theory. Most of your training consists of arguing on forums or making extensive Amazon wishlists of things you probably can’t afford to buy. You probably have a stash of old military manuals as a foundation of your personal gospel, supplemented with online video tutorials, books from a variety of authors and an impressive log of hours watching the host of Man vs. Wild ingest a variety of… fluids.

Depending on your budget, you might own a gun or two and a few pieces of basic equipment. Or, if you are more fiscally endowed you probably own a massive cache of civilian-legal weapons, ammo and high-end survival gear that’s still comfortably nestled in its original packaging. While your encyclopedic knowledge could certainly come in handy, it’s likely going to be offset by your lack of practical knowledge and the halfway decent chance that your character has been grossly misinformed about any given subject.

Suggested Skills: Survival, Firearms, Computer Use, with a few specialties in Research, Trivia, Debate, Recollection and possibly even in a Survival skill or two.

Compound Dweller

On the lighter side of this template we have a handful of hardcore religious fundamentalists and certain members of the Sovereign Citizen population. These folks will often keep to themselves, possess fairly sizeable stockpiles of food, weaponry and medicine, and manage their own agricultural plots in an effort to maintain an independent lifestyle. On the other hand, we have Doomsday Cults, Extremist Splinter Cells of mainstream religions, and other such groups of people. This category of compound dweller will use similar methods to sustain an existence far away from the prying eyes of the public.

Suggested Skills: Firearms, Survival, Crafts, Knowledges and other profession-based skills. Specialties should include Agriculture, Construction, Hunting, Specific Types of Firearms, Religious Studies and probably a few social specialties higher-ranking members of a religious organization.

Dirty Hippie 

You live closer to nature than most, and it usually shows. Dreadlocks, home-made clothing and a few ever-present fixed-blade knives are all common trappings for you. While society might cross to the other side of the aisle when it runs into you at New Seasons, you stand a better chance of actually surviving a disaster then most. A character who draws heavily from this template is much more likely to rely on primitive living skills interspersed with bits of modern luxuries and intimate knowledge of the local parks and wooded areas over more typical methods.

Your beliefs and mindset can run from ecologically conscious and practical to psychotically New Age, and your equipment and actions will be accordingly shaped by these points of view. Retreating to a pre-determined location in the wilderness, or  at least a very rural area, with your family is probably the core of your survival plan. Odds are also pretty good that you will not see eye-to-eye with many of the other survivalists.

Suggested Skills: Survival, Archery, Thrown, Crafts, Performance and Stealth with specialties in Agriculture, Bushcraft, Foraging, Hunting, Acoustic Instruments and Crafting Primitive Tools, Shelter and Weaponry.

Hard Right 

A member of this template might just be a firm believer in certain political idealologies… or they could be that one heavily bearded presence lounging at the counter of the local firearms shop, quietly rambling about how the government is coming to take your guns and how the latest left-wing president is totally the Antichrist this time. Either way, you probably have a decent cache of equipment, a good sprinkling of survival skills and enough cognitive wherewithal to not qualify as pants-on-head insane.

Suggested Skills: Firearms, Survival and Drive all serve as good core skills for this template. These should be reinforced with a broad array of other Skills and Specialties, such as different Crafts and Profession skills, Archery, Agriculture, Mechanical Engineering and Construction.


Members of this template prefer a more cautious, measured approach to the whole ordeal than most of their comrades. Usually concerned with more worldly issues like natural disasters, epidemic outbreaks or localized nuclear or chemical hazards, Preppers usually combine a carefully selected array of gear and detailed routes of escape to help ensure their survival against such an unfortunate turn of events. The methods of the individual Prepper tend to vary a bit between individuals, some will include weapons and vehicles in their plans whereas others will eschew them. Many are less concerned with bushcraft and long-term survival off the grid then they are with getting to a safe place or surviving long enough for order to be restored.

Suggested Skills: Survival is going to be the core skill here as is relevant to this article. Most Preppers will have the majority of their skills based around their day jobs, though many specialties such as Navigation, Long-Distance Hiking, First Aid, and Urban Survival should probably be present and accounted for.


These templates are basic points of reference, painting in broad strokes with primary colors. Mixing them up and drawing from different sources will help you create a more nuanced, well-rounded character than just relying on a single stereotype.

Tune in next week for the second half of the article, where we’ll discuss some common gear, determining your character’s Every Day Carry, and how to create a Bug-Out-Bag for them without having to meticulously detail every single item that’s inside of it!

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