If you've been in the hobby long enough, one of the things you eventually learn is that there are some games around which have sprung up, weed-like, a number of "facts" that nearly everyone accepts as true, except for those gamers who've actually bothered to play the game in question. FGU's 1981 post-apocalyptic RPG Aftermath! is one such game. In my youth, Aftermath!, like most FGU games, was generally held to be an unplayable, complicated mess compared to other post-apocalyptic games like Gamma World or even The Morrow Project. Like all such conventional wisdom, there is some truth to it, but there's also much that this common impression gets wrong and frustratingly so, as, beneath it all, Aftermath! is actually a pretty good game -- or rather, it provides the framework for a pretty good game.
Like many FGU games, Aftermath! came in a boxed set, with three rulebooks (a basic rulebook, a player's book, and a referee's guide), along with an introductory scenario. The rulebooks range in length for 48-64 pages each and, taken together, include everything you'd need to play. Indeed, they contain more than most people would need to play, as Aftermath! was quite exhaustive in its treatment of topics pertaining to post-apocalyptic gaming. Everything, from diseases to mass battles to mutations to the effects, physical and social, of cannibalism are discussed, along with many more topics of potential interest. The referee could thus pick and choose precisely how much detail he wanted in his campaign and run with it.
And that was the real beauty of Aftermath!, the thing that a lot of gamers overlooked while staring wide-eyed at the lengthy combat and movement rules: the tool kit approach it took to the post-apocalyptic genre. Whereas both Gamma World and The Morrow Project presented coherent (I use the term loosely) settings to use with your campaign, Aftermath! did no such thing. It leaves open the question of how the world ended. Indeed, it leaves open the question of what the post-fall world is like as well, not to mention how long after the fall the campaign begins and what the conditions of the ruined Earth might be.
Instead of presenting a campaign setting ready to use, Aftermath! offers lots of options, trusting the referee to build the world he and his players will most enjoy. Thus, the world might be brought low by World War III, an alien invasion, a comet impact, an epidemic, or even the return of magic. Obviously, the game doesn't include full support for all these options in terms of rules, but many of them are given a solid treatment and the game provides the rules necessary for the referee to adjudicate the most common situations relating to each possible scenario. Consequently, an Aftermath! campaign might be a gritty, realistic one in which humanity destroyed itself in a nuclear holocaust or it could be a more gonzo one in which a genetically engineered virus wiped out much of the species but gave many of the survivors bizarre mutations. The game even supports -- with stats -- playing in the world of Planet of the Apes, if that's the kind of thing you enjoy.
Rules-wise, Aftermath! is definitely in line with most of FGU's other games. It's complex, involving some math and a fair number of charts. I found it a bit more complicated than Daredevils, whose rules are similar (no surprise, as both games share the same designers), but, with the exception of the overly fiddly movement rules, I don't think they're any more complex than many games produced nowadays. That's not to say they're to my taste; I prefer my games a fair bit simpler, generally speaking. But I don't think that Aftermath! quite deserves the reputation it had in my younger days of being "unplayable." Like all RPGs, particularly early ones, it demands a creative and mentally agile referee to be fun, one who knows when to use and when to ignore rules. So, perhaps it's truer to say that, as an "out-of-the-box" game, Aftermath! leaves a lot to be desired.
However, I'm not sure it's fair to judge Aftermath! on the same standards as RPGs written for mass market of newcomers to the hobby. Aftermath! is most definitely an "advanced" game, which is to say, it's not written for novice gamers. The game assumes that players are already familiar with what a roleplaying game is and how such a game works. Likewise, it assumes that the referee and players alike have a desire to create their own setting rather than use one that's been pre-packaged and presented to them for their use. It's the gaming equivalent of being given a large cookbook and told to make dinner for one's friends rather than being given a take-out menu from which to order a dinner for them. There's nothing wrong with take-out food, but, sometimes, one wants to make a meal from scratch. So it is with RPGs and Aftermath! is a game written for those who want to make their own post-apocalyptic RPG, using the many "recipes" it provides within its pages.
If you're interested, you can still get copies of Aftermath!, along with some newer supplements direct from FGU here.