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Apocalypse How

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"God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time."
— "Mary, Don't You Weep," author unknown, but known to be of antebellum origin

While The End of the World as We Know It is very common in fiction, there are a wide variety of ways in which it can actually manifest; this can be measured on two sliding scales, depending on the size of the "world" in question, and to exactly what extent it "ends". This is derived in part from Bruce Sterling's analysis of ways in which the Real Life world could theoretically end.


  • Societal Disruption: Civilization survives intact, but is forever altered. This may be due to the sheer amount of damage caused lowering the standard of living, or it may be a result of people being forced to adapt to the new threat(s) they face.
  • Societal Collapse: Humanity backslides within the affected area, regressing to pre-industrial levels at best and pre-agricultural at worst. Civilization may recover on its own eventually, but not for centuries at the least.
  • Species Extinction: A dominant or major species is either wiped out completely or reduced to such a low population level that its recovery is virtually impossible barring intervention by an outside force.
  • Total Extinction: Life itself ends. No living organism of any kind exists within the affected area.
  • Physical Annihilation: The affected area physically ceases to exist as it did before, but remnants of it can still be found. It is nuked into glass, sunk into the ocean, or blasted into asteroids.
  • Metaphysical Annihilation: The affected area ceases to exist totally, without remainder, or perhaps even to have ever existed. This usually involves erasing it from time. This may go up to the elimination of even the possibility of the existence of anything like the affected area, if for instance the basic system of reality is changed or wiped out. This may get highly abstract, depending on how fundamental the metaphysical destruction is.


  • Local Area: a small localized area undergoes a species-level or higher apocalypse. The rest of the world at large is totally unaffected, maybe not even knowing of the events happening in the affected area unless someone managed to record or document its destruction. Still, you wouldn't want to be there.
  • City: a city or the vast majority of one, or an area of equivalent size is pretty much vaporized.
  • Regional: a part of a continent or landmass, be it a province/state, geographical region, or sub-continent (e.g. "California", "Uganda", "Sub-Saharan Africa", "India", etc).
  • Continental: an entire continent or even an entire landmass ("Oceania", "North America", "Eurasia", etc).
  • Planetary: an entire planet, or the vast majority of one. (If the given setting does not involve space travel and/or other worlds, then the scale effectively stops here, or skips up to Multiversal if the other worlds are not elsewhere in space, but do exist.)
  • Stellar: a solar system, every planet orbiting a star, the star itself, or the star plus everything in its orbit.
  • Galactic: a galaxy, most or all of its stars, up to all mass associated with it.
  • Universal: the entire universe, all or most galaxies within it, or all major galaxy filaments or equivalent highest-level structures.
  • Multiversal: The Multiverse, or whatever that exists outside of the setting's native universe (includes whichever flavor of Another Dimension or Alternate Universe is on offer).
  • Omniversal: the totality of The 'Verse/Series Franchise (if said totality exists beyond a Multiverse), containing all alternate dimensions, planes of existence, parallel universes, possible universes, timelines, alternate continuities, realities, and Multiverses. This goes up to some abstract ontological limit if the setting includes explicit metaphysical stipulations.

Not to be confused with the comedy survival guide by Rob Kutner, which gives advice for surviving the relatively low-severity events, or the Discovery Channel series by the same name which explores various scenarios in which this could play out.

Related Tropes (assorted causes)

See also: Sliding Scale of Villain Threat, Evil Only Has to Win Once and Why You Should Destroy the Planet Earth. If they actually show it, then you have an Apocalypse Wow. Contrast with Unspecified Apocalypse. Not to be confused with the movie on whose title this trope is a pun.

Examples by class:

Examples by work:


The Universe Reset

Pucci's Made in Heaven accelerates the passage of time to drive the universe forward to the point it resets itself.

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