The great inspiration for this campaign happened as we were sitting around the table towards the end of one game night and we started talking about what we wold do if there were a zombie apocalypse, like right now. Of course, many of us have had similar conversations, and when they happen around a gaming table, it is natural to take it to the next level: well let’s play it and find out. that is exactly what we set out to do.
This article, in lieu of a session retold in story form, will focus on what has gone wrong so far, of which a huge ruined pile grows ever larger week by week. However, to be fair, that is consistent with my style of sub-par dm’ing. It is only the resilience and fortitude of my long-suffering players that have enabled us to stagger on this long. This game is beginning to strain even those strong bonds, for completely ridiculous reasons that I probably should have thought of in the beginning.
1 — Pixel-bitching the real world
Look if you will, dear reader, at the above map, or if you can find it on google earth, zoom in to ridiculous levels, and try to find an escape route through a zombie infested wasteland. Yes it could take all night, and it did. Players at my table are always breaking out their electronics (going against the Luke’s Diner rule) and so I wanted to turn their evil to good, by allowing, nay, expecting the use of their tablets, laptops, and cell-phones. One of the ways in which they could utilize them was by using google earth to pinpoint their position in the real world. There are so many problems with this that my head threatens to explode just recounting them. The result of actually dealing with them was far worse.
First off, it takes forever to actually accomplish something direct on the internet as opposed to random browsing to amuse, so that the game ground to a halt for reasons such as page not loading errors, and mis-clicking, to name just a few of the headaches that go along with using a computer. The delays and confusion were unacceptable, and more distracting than playing facebook games while role playing.
Along with time consuming, the arguments and discussions that arise over particular land formations can completely derail the game in such a way that the humble ZM is not able to account for in real-time. For example, in the above map there is a railroad following a stretch of highway to the north. One would think that if the highway was full of zombies, it would be impossible to follow that railroad, but one would be wrong, if one were to discover that there is a chain link fence separating the two. It took a long time and a lot of arguing before it was settled that the fence and the steep embankment separating the road from the highway would make it a possible escape route.
The fact that it was a possible escape route was awesome, but it had the dual problems that it took forever to get there, and that it was far enough out of the scope of what I had planned that it was difficult to improvise. Half of my arguments about the fence were based on the issue of scrambling to cobble together an interesting night of adventure when all of my plans were about to be moot. Improvising is half the fun of dm’ing to me, but when they depend on real world data, it becomes unmanageable. Other examples of unamageability include using real world personalities; equipment, like what is in an ambulance; and how real world physics work, like the turning radius of a small plane. Sure these things can be looked up, and stuff like that was continuously looked up, but what I envisioned being a nice little sidetrack, became the all-encompassing focus of the game. What is the thickness of the road bed? How wide is the lane? Are there any breaks in the fence. At what temperature does dead flesh freeze? The list is endless.
People play games set in the real world all the time, and so this is an issue in any “modern” type of game, but for some reason, it has become an obsession that is hard to shake. Possibly the fact that the game is set in our home town at the current time (Dec 21st close enough) that it led to a sense of hyper-realism. It is an issue that seems to be fixable, by first setting the game world in a universe that is almost exactly a reflection of our own, but not quite (which is exactly how the default New World of Darkness game world is describe.) Im sure this is a cheat many game masters use to explain why certain inconsistencies pop up:
Player: Granny’s blanket was red, why are you describing it as green? Something must be wrong with granny!
GM: (who doesnt have a flying fuck clue as to what color was granny’s blanket): Nope, it is red in our world, here it is green, next.
Issue Solved. Here is another.
2 — Play as yourselves!
Nobody wants to picture themselves, or their friends and family, torn apart by zombies. No one wants to have it described to them either, and even though I, as an evil and wretched dm, get a kick out of describing the most awful of disembowlments, players are apparently discomfited when it is their own guts spewing forth. Understandable. The solution to this is to either play a more “heroic” type of game rather than a gritty tale where lots of disemboweling happens, or to play “throw-away” characters with little personal investment.
It seems to be an irrevocable conflict of interest, in which we are attempting to play a realistic game of zombie apocalypse, yet the characters cannot in good conscience be harmed if they play themselves, and if they play other characters (after they themselves die or instead?) then the character creation process, which favors personality and complexity, becomes too arduous to keep throwing them away as the corpses pile up and then come after you.
Playing as super successful SWAT team members might be one fun type of apocalypse scenario, but the inspiration for this one was to be normal people trying to make it as est they could, and that has a much different vibe than tradition “heroic” games, which we always played in the past. There are many adjustments to be made, but one of the main difficulties will be for the players and the ZM (me) to accept and really appreciate the different type of game we are going for. It is a zombie apocalypse, after all, so there will be zombies to fight, and there will be much bloodshed. The many zombie movies, comics, and television shows upon which this campaign game is based inform us of what to expect. The best solution to this problem is to have a continuous cast of pre-made characters ready to insert into the game.
Issue: hopefully solved with ready to go characters, and an on-going understanding of exactly what type of game we are playing, with a focus on keeping it fun. I love describing people being torn apart by zombies, that is why i am a dm, but the players need to decide if they have the stomach for a game where they are not invincible heroes, but just regular people, yet still trying to do great things (like survive) and then get on with it.