As the last game session of 2012 wrapped up on Dec 21st, we discussed as a group what we would like to do in 2013. Perhaps the apocalypse was in the air, for it was the end of a baktun, and we all agreed a zombie apocalypse survival campaign would be great.
The excellent TV show (and comic) The Walking Dead was the original inspiration for this. additionally, the idea occurred to me to slowly introduce supernatural elements into the game, via events and learned or acquired abilities, akin to superpowers, gained by the survivors. The TV show Heroes was the inspiration for this, which featured regular people realizing they had superpowers, only instead of suddenly having far-reaching powers, the player characters (or “cast members”) would discover glimmers of something special, developed over time, by surviving through the apocalypse.
The campaign would be “save the world” and would include all manner or surprises along the road to ultimate salvation or destruction. It would begin as a gritty survival horror, where instant death was waiting around every corner, and actions had far-reaching, often fatal consequences. The objective of the campaign is in no uncertain terms to gather as many survivors as possible and rebuild society. An impossible task, to be sure, but anything less noble would descend into anarchy and nihilistic destruction in short order.
The original idea was for each of the players to create an “idealized” version of themselves, and the game would begin as we were seated around the table one Friday night for our usual game night. However this received some negative feedback from a few players, whom I suppose do not relish the idea of having to visualize themselves being torn apart by ravenous ghouls. There could be a high turn-over of “cast members” during the first few sessions, as the apocalypse unfolded in gory detail. After that, survivors would tend to keep surviving. the game will begin in our home town, and in a dramatic departure from my “Luke’s Diner Rule”, which states that no electronic devices are allowed around the table, the players will be able to use devices, like google street view, to inform their choices, so long as the cast members have access to such devices in good working order.
Those survivors would begin to uncover the causes of the apocalypse, and hopefully find or discover a cure, or at least a way to end or diminish the rising dead from overwhelming the planet. The plan is to allow players to play themselves, or to pick a pre-made “archetype” to use. This “normal person” will be their player character until such time as they choose another amongst survivors, or create a character to use.
The first question as the game master, was to decide on a game system. It was quickly apparent that no version of dungeons and dragons could quite capture that level of horror and danger that the genre required. rules for wounds, fatigue, both mental and physical were required. Nor was the alignment system appropriate. An over-arching goal (save and rebuild civilization) allows a base-line for judging characters actions. This game was going to be as much about the interactions of the survivors, as it was about defeating mindless hordes. Having a cast member’s “personality” become a factor in the role playing is an important part of a character driven story. to that end, d&d just didn’t cut it, unfortunately.
A benefit of this campaign is that we get to try out a new game system. Having only played the last three editions of dungeons and dragons, our focus has been pretty narrow. For the modern zombie apocalypse I was looking into three game systems: D&D Modern D20, a modern take using the same rules we are familiar with, with the same drawbacks described above, as well as being very technical and excessively rules-oriented; The World of Darkness, a storyteller game about ghosts, vampires, and werewolves amongst us normal folk; and All Flesh Must Be Eaten, a zombie survival role playing game.
Ruling out Modern D20, left two great choices, each with plenty of reasons for choosing it, and I was lucky enough to acquire the core rulebooks for both systems. At first glance, it seems like All Flesh is the natural choice, because it deals with the subject matter directly. It even has rules for minor supernatural abilities, or “miracles,” which align well with some of my own ideas on gained abilities. It presents a number of game-worlds, from the traditional Night of the Living Dead, to aliens, to an undead crusade in the dark ages. The ideas presented in the book are well though out and well presented.
I have only perused the book and will more than likely devote more time to going over all its wonderful qualities, but in short, it has almost everything I am looking for in this game, except for a complete lack of rules for morality and personality, two areas of focus for the upcoming campaign. It also has very little in the way of character advancement as play progresses. I do not think the leveling system pf D&D would be a good fit, but something more robust than adding a few skill or attribute points is definitely needed.
Finally, we come to the third game on the list, and the one i finally chose to use. Having realized I actually own the World of Darkness Quickstart adventure Nightmare on Hill Manor, and have the core rulebook arriving in the mail any day, I realize it has the perfect element of morality (consisting of the virtue and vice that every character possesses) and personality merits and flaws, the game is geared to run a horror styled genre, which is exactly what a zombie apocalypse would be. it is not a perfect fit, and to that end I will attempt to convert as much from All Flesh Must Be Eaten as possible.
So what do we know about the campaign so far. Well, I have the introductory encounter planned out, as well as a prelude, both of which I hope to present on the opening night of the campaign. Here is what we know. A sudden, fast moving comet is approaching the earth. its velocity, as well as its trajectory made it impossible to discover until it is a week away from bisecting the earth’s orbit and blazing through the upper atmosphere before skipping back out into space. The comet is on a ten thousand year orbit around the sun, and is filled with all manner of nasty gamma rays and such.
The Nightmare at Hill Manor is a ghost story/horror move adventure that deals with being trapped in a haunted apartment building. The wonderful beginning casts the characters as a group of friends meeting at one friend’s apartment for poker night. As a prelude to the zombie apocalypse it will be modified to fit into the larger campaign, and will take place one day after the comet is discovered, and six days before the near miss.
After the introductory adventure, the players will have the option of keeping their pregenerated chaacters, or of making their own, and then we will continue on to the main kick-off. once the prelude is done, and the weird night in the apartment is over, the group sets off together on a vacation, a trip to a gaming convention. The tickets are already bought, and so even though pandemonium is happening as the world awaits the arrival of the comet, the cast of characters are busy fulfilling their gaming duties.
The next scene is six nights later. returning from the convention the night the comet is supposed to arrive, the plane has difficulty landing at the main airport due to freak electrical storms. it diverts to the tiny municipal airport and while banking, the comet is seen above as a bright flash as it slams through the air directly above the city. the pilot is blinded or killed, as are all the passengers on one side of the plane as it overshoots the landing strip and crashes onto the main bridge connecting the airport to downtown.