Thursday, October 25, 2007

On Zombie games

This material is largely not my own- rather, it represents what I've taken away from numerous discussions on the topic of zombie survival horror games, and in turn offer as advice to others. I've found myself repeating it enough that I figured I ought to just stop and write it all out. If you want an exhaustive discussion of all the different ways you can do things, there was an amazing thread in the d20 modern section of the wizards forums. If nothing else, it should still be in the archives...

So. Here's my primary recommendation: Have the zombie plague be a disease- spread by contact between body fluids, usually saliva to an open wound- that begins with the victim being flushed and irritated. This state builds up slowly and then escalates sharply, with the diseased flying into a berserk, adrenaline-fueled rage which lasts for several hours. Eventually the subject's body simply gives out, and they collapse, reviving as a body about half a day later. This has a few benefits for you as GM; it accounts for the torn-up condition of both the world and the zombies, while also giving you handy shock troops to shake things up.

And you always want to shake things up- give the players safety mechanisms and then take them away, never let them be sure a safe haven will last, have the zombie's vulnerabilities and abilities not be quite what they expect. (Note: At this point I started naming more examples of how you could do this and couldn't stop. I'll post it as a separate example in the next post). A lack of uncertainty and/or speculation makes it very hard to scare someone- don't be afraid to let the game evolve as characters, locations, and circumstances change.

Any gamer worth his salt will relish the chance to play in the most genre savvy ways he can imagine. If you'd rather have them assume the role of people who weren't geeky enough to already have a plan for dealing with zombie outbreaks, make sure everyone understands this going in. Personally, though, I relish savvy players- especially when details like the origins of the outbreak are left unknowable. Every time they circumvent a challenge, it's a chance for me to take another set of gloves off. Look at the direction they're trying to take and work off the challenges that goal will naturally entail. You want to hide in the wilderness? You'll need get your hands on camping gear and other supplies, then make your way out of the city. You want to stay out here? Then you'll need to make regular food runs, and any number of events could force you to move. . .

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