When the Big One hit, it came as pretty much a shock to everybody. I mean, you'd think it would have happened in the middle of the 20th. century, back when the world seemed ready, willing, and able to blow itself to hell, not in the middle of the 21st., in the middle of an age of unprecedented peace and prosperity for the human race.

It was a grand time, then, so the legends tell us. Science seemed to be unveiling a new miracle every day. People over most of the world were well fed and happy. New machines, smart machines that made life a lot easier, were all over the place. Mankind had even domesticated the virus, and was putting it to work reworking the very essence of life.

And that's were things started going haywire. Viral gene recombination had become a popular tool with genetics labs and medical researchers almost as soon as it was discovered. It was an amazing trick. Program a virus to rewrite the genes of whatever you wanted, infect the subject, and you could have any sort of designer lifeform you like.

But somebody up there didn't like us playing with their toys, and next thing you know some genetic manipulator virus (the press of the time called it the Prometheus Virus) got loose from the lab and started a plague of bizarre mutation that affected every living thing in America, and then spread across the world.

Birds were turning up with extra pairs of wings and the ability to generate shocks like an electric eel, fish were crawling onto the shore on stubby little legs, dogs were beginning to repeat their masters commands back at them, and worst of all, babies were being born with all manner of strange physical traits and unexplainable mental abilities.

Well, the gene labs went into overdrive, working on a way to counteract the effects of the rampaging virus. They met with a decent level of success too, and were beginning to innoculate large populations of humans, and even some domestic animals, against the effects of the virus.

Just when things seemed on the mend, the Prometheus Virus hit the crops. It had finally mutated to the point where it could affect plants, and affect them it did. Entire harvests were found to have developed deadly toxins, or other bizarre mutations that rendered them totally inedible.

That's when the wheels really started to come off. Plague and Famine turned America into an overnight madhouse, and soon their buddies War and Death showed up and made it a full fledged Apocalypse. There was looting and violence, terrified mobs, and on top of it all the desperate attempts by the authorities to put a lid on it all. But it was too late, and the military fell upon each other and the citizens like rabid dogs as the last shreds of any sort of civil authority snapped under the pressure. Large, terrible battles raged across the nation, pitting the deadliest machines mankind had to offer against one another in a storm of destruction.

Finally, some crazy bastards high up in what was left of the Pentagon had the bright idea of settling everything with some Nukes, dropped into the chaos of every major city of America. Maybe they thought they would be stemming the tide of the virus, maybe they were only bluffing and their bluff got called, maybe they just wanted everything quiet again.

Well, that's what they got, in spades. A long, cold, sullen quiet of misery and starvation. All the worlds' technological networks were smashed, all the fury spent, the weather was screwed up and the fallout was seeping into everything. The days of glory were gone. Life as mankind knew it was over.

The thing the bombers didn't get, however, was the Prometheus Virus. The radiation did change it though, it made it slower, more gradual. Some species it gave up on altogether, and left them to go on without all the wild variance from generation to generation. Thus new ecosystems started to build themselves, nature sat down and got back to work. But she wasn't gonna be as nice about it as the last time. The world became a vast wilderness again, a realm of monsters and deadly peril, of insidious radiation, and the machines of old, resting uneasily in their graves.

So this is the world that your characters have inherited. Five hundred years have passed since the last bomb cooled in it's crater. Mankind is only now beginning to shake off the daze of the Apocalypse and try to go out and conquer it all again. He has some new competition now too. The Virus saw fit to pass on some of the brains, that we once considered our own special feature, to many types of beasts and plants. So it's kind of up in the air as to who eventually gets to take back the world. Mankind itself is a house divided, between the old style Homo Sapiens whose ancestors managed to protect themselves from the Virus, and the new breeds of man, the Mutants, gifted with all manner of physical improvements, as well as expanded powers of the mind to back them up. The world is a chaotic place, where the strongest, and especially the smartest, can carve themselves out not just mere survival, but dominance.

It's a harsh world, and to make it, you gotta be a real bastard...