MAD MAX'S WORLD
Some Damned Thing in the Middle East led to a limited US-Soviet atomic war in the early 90s. Although neither country got more "than it's hair mussed" (in the immortal words of Dr. Strangelove) it brought about a global economic collapse, while the final nuclear "spoiler" attack against the Mideast oil fields brought about a huge oil price spike: the massive costs of rebuilding and decontamination meant that the world had essentially reached "peak oil", in the sense of decreasing returns on investment, by 2000 AD.
These problems were compounded by global warming-induced climate change, and the "memetic plague" of the Nihilist cult, which preached a philosophy of dealing with a violent and meaningless world too corrupt to be saved by punching it in the head first. The global economy remained stuck in low gear throughout the 1990s and 2000s. A series of bloody wars fought over resources, water, etc. broke out by the mid-2010s, while the US began slowly to descend into civil war. International trade sharply contracted. Massive climate-change induced droughts ravaged India and China.
In 2020, Australia is still functioning, barely, although much of the interior of the country had been abandoned due to unrelenting drought and perpetual fuel rationing, and become a virtually lawless no-man's land with road-trains of supplies passing through only under heavy police guard. Law and order is breaking down, with Nihilist groups celebrating the rites of Chaos in the cities, where running water and electricity increasingly became part-time only. New power plants are being built to use native coal rather than oil, but with the economy at a standstill progress is slow: some trade still comes in from SE Asia and New Zealand and S. America, ships increasingly running on coal (and from nearby Indonesia, occasionally on sail) rather than oil, but with demand remaining low Australia has little to sell, and necessary food imports are expensive: efforts to build up agriculture in the still viable SE and Tasmania were hampered by a lack of imported equipment and difficulties in paying the labor needed.
It was around that time that a young but already hard-bitten cop by the name of Max Rockatansky had his deadly blood feud with an Outback crime gang, and then dropped out of sight.
Shortly after, disaster struck. A second round of atomic warfare finished off what was left of civilization in the northern hemisphere after the Soviet Union (now descended into full-blown North Korean-ish crappitude) attempted to conquer the still functional bits of Europe and the Middle East in a desperate effort to gain a large enough "resource zone" to survive. The military regime that at the point still held most of the former US did not respond well. Heavy radiation fallout reached as far as Australia, which also lost a couple cities due to ancient targeting plans nobody had bothered to update.
The global economy collapsed entirely. Trade was cut off, and food rationing was imposed nation-wide. Two years later a wave of armed, desperate refugees from civil war-torn Indonesia descended on the north coasts. In the wake of the dispatching northwards of whatever armed forces could be scraped together, the hungry cities exploded. Half a dozen revolutionary groups attempted to seize power, each with their own agenda as how to "save" the nation. The Nihilists sided with whoever seemed the most destructive. Order broke down, cities burned, distribution collapsed. What was left of Australia broke apart into a number of now autonomous communities, struggling to maintain the vestiges of a 20th century civilization.
In 2026, Max Rockatansky, not exactly willingly at first, would help save a small band of refugees from one of the more insane Nihilist outback gangs.
The tech crash bottomed out in places such as South Africa and South America, where some sort of late 19th century level of existence was maintained. Warlords emerged from the chaos of SE Asia and S. China. Although they warmed up again after a brief spell of nuclear winter, global temperatures began to level off, much less CO2 entering the atmosphere. Small nuclei of civilization reemerged here and there in Australia as the Nihilists died out essentially through severe lack of long-term planning.
In 2033, Max Rockatansky would play a rather disruptive role in the political arrangements of the crude settlement of Bartertown, and set a bunch of child survivors on a trek to Sidney.
It is now 2041.
A now middle-aged Max finds himself aboard a steamship bound for South America. He had not intended to become a hero of the Revolution that overthrew the dictator of Tasmania and established the Republic, but Max always finds ways to stumble into trouble. Now – and he still quite can't wrap his head around it – he is Ambassador Extraordinary to the Republic of La Plata, empowered to negotiate trade terms, etc.
New Zealand (his first stop) is a reasonably civilized little agricultural dictatorship with its limited industries powered by geological forces, and much of the north under the largely autonomous rule of the Maori. South America is one of the generally less screwed up parts of the world, although Brazil, much of which has gone to desert, has split in three, communist weirdoes dominate the Andes, and it's warlord city from Columbia on north, (the Caribbean definitely has pirates) although still-extant oil wells means that a large chunk of Venezuela survives as a joint protectorate of several south American states. Technology is mostly stuck in the late 19th century, although La Plata has crude radios and has recently reinvented the vacuum tube. Valiant Latin American sailors are re-exploring the world two decades after the disaster.
He's been to the north and the south. He's inspired at least three religious cults. He's fought nihilists and religious extremists and Malay pirates and mutants and a gang of lesbian self-mutilating cannibals. He helped the Secret Underground City keep its secret and stopped the Warlord of Ayers Rock from enslaving the local aboriginals. He's crossed a thousand miles of desert in a mad inventor's blimp and turned down a trip to the Americas in the world's last functioning atomic submarine.
Indonesia is many small states, warlords, pirate empires and Islamic Shari'a states: SE Asia has larger empires, and although battered by fallout and terrible weather, not to mention the domino effect of several hundred million starving radiation-sick Chinese drifting southward, the Vietnamese nation survives in the south, although under increasing pressure from the Holy Union of the Cao Dai, which theocracy holds former north Vietnam and is expanding vigorously into the chaos of southern China. Africa is more fragmented than the old Holy Roman Empire, much of it returning, after the cities burned and emptied out, to pre-industrial village life enlivened by the few extant gunsmiths, the Zulu have returned to their martial roots and moved northward to conquer less drought-riven land, while Red Azania holds out through brutal mass-labor irrigation products and ruthless social control.
Desert nomads roam amidst the ruins of North African and Middle East cities now filled with drifting sand, victims of desertification. Civilization still clings to life along the shrunken Nile, which is ruled by a mad Russian general who threatens to nuke the Aswan dam if the population fails to remain docile. Odd apocalyptic new faiths spread in the wilds of south central Asia. A small remnant of the Israeli people survived the atomic attacks and the long march south to ensconce themselves, out of sight of the world, near the shores of Lake Nyanza. Much of India, starved in the south by drought, singed all over by fallout, starved in the north by nuclear winter, and invaded by desperate Muslim refugees from the west, has been depopulated and is now the realm of scattered little states, warlords and nomads, only the Holy Caliphate of Bengal still maintaining order and stability over an extensive area.
For once, Max didn't ride off into the sunset after defeating the bad guys: for one thing, he's getting old. His many old and more recent scars are making him increasingly stiff, and although he's still hell on wheels in a fight, he's neither as quick nor as agile as he used to be. And he's tired of wandering.
Europe, the former Soviet Union, NE Asia and America north of former Mexico is still rather radioactive in spots, and largely uninhabited. The US is populated by a few still-surviving underground refuges, scattered bands of cannibalistic mutants, a few religious communities south along the Gulf, and increasing numbers of Mexicans, wandering north into the less radioactive areas of the SW in flight from the various petty warlords (many of them former drug barons) who rule what is left of their nation. Europe is similar (trade "starving Arabs and Berbers" for Mexicans), although in the south of France a curious Nihilist dictatorship consisting of former cannibals and survivalists ruling over enslaved African refugees and Mediterranean survivors is growing at an alarming rate under the savage rule of the radiation-scarred British exile who calls himself Johnny Black.
And Max has other reasons to stick around. The more than slightly mad and remarkably deadly young woman he ran into in the ruins of Hobart – and has been unable to shake since - sleeping in the next cabin, for one. He's not quite sure what she is to him, but he has someone else to keep an eye out for the first time since his dog died, and as long as that isn't fully resolved, he can't go wandering off into the wilderness again. Besides, he's always liked the idea of an ocean voyage…