Angry Punk Rockers In Classic Cars

by mshrm

Recently, I was discussing the intra-apocalypse game with a former player, and he brought up a point. “If the cars were wrecked by an electromagnetic pulse,” he said, “wouldn’t older cars be fine?”

The short answer is, “Yeah, probably” but let’s see if we can unpack it a bit more than that, shall we?

Strictly speaking, the characters can’t be sure there even was an EMP. They saw an immense flash of light to the north, all the lights went out, everybody concluded that game-world Seattle had become a crater. They identified the pink snow the next morning as fallout: the ash from the destruction. Totally reasonable.

After coming to those conclusions, though, they’ve seen hundred-foot tall* tripods. They’re avoiding “zombies”. I’m just saying, things might not necessarily be as they appear.

So I’m not saying it was an EMP… but it was an EMP. 😉

As a layman, it’s hard to pin down the realistic effects of EMPs. Casual research turns up a variety of possibilities. On the one hand, there’s stories about Soviet experiements during the Cold War that talks about burning out components of simple diesel engines. On the other, there’s talk of modern cars being entirely unaffected. Variables abound, but it seems that the most common effect of an EMP on cars would be to cause them to stall and require a re-start, with some needing minor repairs to be put back into working order. Lots of crazy blinking dash lights. GURPS Disasters: Meltdown and Fallout suggests a heavily penalized HT roll, or else the device in question fails until repaired, with repair rolls modified by the type of device and the quality of its surge protection.

Luckily, this isn’t a realistic apocalypse, it’s a cinematic one!

You can tell it’s a cinematic end-of-the-world, because everybody’s so hostile. In a realistic disaster, folks tend to help one another out, as best they can, but there’s a law of nature that says, in a cinematic apocalypse, people have to turn all grumpy and tribalistic. They also display an increased interest in piercings, mohawks, and punk rock fashion of all kinds. Can’t defy a law of nature.

So what does a cinematic EMP do to cars?

At the moment of the pulse, all the lights in the car go crazy, because that’s a cool visual, and then everything goes dead all at once. This happens to everyone at the same time, so what happens next depends on the situation. Someone cruising along at a low rate of speed might be able to roll to a safe stop on the side of the street, but 60mph bumper-to-bumper traffic would convert to utter, deadly chaos.

Once the wreckage has slid to a halt, even the otherwise-undamaged cars’ electrical systems will be fried, just like every other piece of electrical equipment that the PCs have encountered. Bob was able to rebuild a generator and get it running again, so it might be possible to do the same for a car. Or, it might not be so easy, since so many cars these days incorporate sensitive electronics. Burnt-out wiring is one thing, microchips are another.

Cinematically speaking, of course cars from before the late 1960’s will still work. True or not, everybody “knows” old cars shouldn’t be affected like these new-fangled computerized contraptions! (Despite those Soviet diesel engines.) Anyway, it’s at least seven times cooler for all the post-apocalypse punk-rock cannibals to be driving ’64 Stingrays and such, than it would be if they were all in Winnebagos and hatchbacks.


* The title character from The Iron Giant is meant to be 50 feet tall, for comparison’s sake.