- Don't Sweat The Small Stuff... Like Dying
A major difference between Zombiepocalypse – and one of the hardest shifts for experienced table-top roleplayers to make when transitioning to the game – is that getting your character killed in the game isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is more of a minor stumbling block. You can create a new character in seconds, and that new character will start the game unInjured and with an unused Players Option. The new character may even have the opportunity to loot the corpse of the old character, so you might not even lose any equipment. So don't worry about putting your character into no-win situations or trying something stupid that might get them killed; that's just part of the game.
- Use Your Strengths Of course, the goal of the game is to keep your character alive as long as possible, and although the world he is in is incredibly dangerous, he has several advantages over most monsters he will face. The first of these is his speed; in most cases, the Player Characters can move faster than the zombies. Running away will almost always be a viable option, and even if you must engage in combat, you usually have the advantage of maneuverability and mobility. In most cases, your characters will also have the advantage in range; the zombies can only engage in melee combat whereas the Player Characters can shoot them from afar and not get attacked in return. Finally, the Player Characters have skills and talents the zombies don't, including driving away in cars, or using abandoned machinery for zombie-slaying in ways the manufacturers never intended. Zombies, on the other hand, tend to be limited to shambling and biting.
- Stay Out Of Melee Although individually less effective in combat than the Living, the Undead usually have numbers on their sides that give them the advantage. When you have five or six zombies pounding on you, the difference in the To-Hit rolls is insignificant, and few characters can survive that sort of assault for long. But in most cases, the living dead can only attack characters in melee range. If you can keep them at a distance, they are harmless. Engage in melee combat only as a last alternative; it's better to run away than face those odds. But just remember, while shooting them from a distance is safer, it's usually louder and will attract more walkers.
- Watch Out For The Living The Undead are dangerous, but pound-for-pound, nothing will give you more of a challenge than facing off against other Survivors. They have all your advantages – range, speed, and skills – and will probably use them against you if forced into combat. So while it's not always possible to avoid a conflict with other Living, it is highly recommended.
- Offer Alternatives You've been forced to retreat into a store-room with only one exit, and zombies are right outside the door. There doesn't seem any way out and even the GM is looking a bit concerned. What now?
Suggest a reasonable alternative. Most Zombiepocalypse games are being created “on the fly”, meaning even the GM doesn't have a clear idea of what's going on. Maybe there's an airvent through which the Player Characters could escape. Could that fire-extinguisher be rigged to detonate, blowing a hole in the wall? Perhaps that distant gunfire the characters heard a few minutes back are some bandits on the trail of the Player Characters, and they've arrived just in time to attract the attention of the herd? Throw out some ideas to the GM, and it's likely he will latch on to one of them.
- Use It Or Lose It You have just found an automatic rifle and six Clips of ammunition. Faced with a small group of zombies, you may be tempted to stick with your pistols (or worse, engage in melee) rather than mow them all down with your most powerful weapon, but think again. Death comes quickly in Zombiepocalypse, and you can't always be sure that you will be able to salvage equipment or weapons from fallen comrades. What good is that powerful gun if it's on the corpse of a character you were forced to abandon? Use the equipment you have when you have it. You can be sure that the GM is plotting ways to take it away from you as quickly as he can.
- Run! It's not retreating; it's advancing in another direction! Individually, the undead are weaker than the Living, but their big advantage is in their numbers. Even if you manage to keep one group of zombies at range, you are probably being flanked by another. Don't be afraid to run away. It may be the only way to keep the group – or just your character - alive.
- Stay Together In a world where law and civilization has collapsed, it is tempting to go the route of “every character for himself”. It is also very foolish. The numbers are already very much against the Living, and characters on their own only exacerbate this imbalance. Furthermore, by working together, characters gain several advantages: they have a greater variety of skill, they can heal one another (remembers, characters cannot heal themselves of Injuries) and they have a larger pool of Inventory. Going off alone is a quick way to get your character killed.
- Do Something Stupid! That herd of zombies is shoving itself up the stairs and there's no way out? Only if you use logic and sanity. Jump out the window! Light the building on fire! Strap on a few grenades and sacrifice your character in an attempt to give your fellow players a chance to escape. It's mad, it's stupid... and it might just work! Zombiepocalypse is a game that rewards innovative thinking, because the ultimate penalty – dying – is so mild in comparison (just roll up a new character). You have an idea just crazy enough to work? Try it... you might just succeed!
- Remember Rule Zero The rules of the game are there to provide some balance to the game, but they are not the beginning and end of the game; they are just a tool to assist the group in having fun; a necessary abstraction towards the creation of an enjoyable adventure. Regardless of what the actual rules say, the GameMaster has the final say in any arbitration, and – while you, as a Player, may not always agree with his decisions, you should not spend undue time challenging him. It distracts the other Players and focuses on the wrong aspects of the game. Anyway, the worst the GM can do is let your character die, and – what with it being so easy to create a new one – it's hardly worth the effort to argue anyway.
Mastering Zombiepocalypse: Advice for the GameMaster
- Kill Their Characters... But Fairly Zombiepocalypse is different from other role-playing games. In most RPGs, the GameMaster and the Players work together to create a continuing story, a heroic tapestry where the characters face off against insurmountable odds and – in the end – come out victorious. Along the way they may face challenges and defeats; the GM will provide them with fierce opposition in the forms of monstrosities, traps, dangerous environments and unhelpful NPCs. Some of the Player's Character's may be killed, valiant sacrifices to the success of the Quest. But the overall goal of GM and Players is to reach the end of the adventure.
Zombiepocalypse is not that sort of game. In Zombiepocalypse, the goal of the GameMaster is to kill the Player Characters.
Okay, it's not quite so blatantly unfair as that. The actual goal of the GM is to provide the Players with a fun experience. But in the genre of zombie-horror, the situation is always dire and, in the end, the heroes never are victorious and rarely even are assured of their own survival. Death is everywhere, and in a world ravaged by the walking dead, it can – and will – come suddenly and unexpectedly. The apparent protagonist of the first half of the story might die long before the climax, only for his role to be taken up by what was – until then – a secondary character. As GM of a Zombiepocalypse game, it is your job to recreate this deadly environment.
The rules are designed to help you in this. The world of Zombiepocalypse is deadly and the game-system reflects this. For instance, every time a player is attacked by a zombie, there is a greater than 1-in-20 chance that he will die. There's a good chance that in any single combat encounter, one of the player characters won't survive the encounter. And unlike other role-playing games, there are no second chances; no resurrection spells or hi-tech medical kits to bring them back from the brink. Ammunition is scarce, and enemies are everywhere. The odds are heavily stacked against the player characters. This is on purpose; the GM is being given every advantage against the players because their characters' death is in the cards.
But at the same time, the game is supposed to be fun. Death may be inevitable for the player characters, but it is little more than a slap on the wrist. A new character can be created in seconds and introduced into the game in minutes. New characters return to the game without Injuries, and with an unused Players Option. Added back into the game at the right time, and the player won't even lose his character's hard-earned equipment, as his new character will be able to loot the corpse of the old.
Zombiepocalypse is borrows as much of its style from video-games and board-games as it does from the traditional RPG. Like video-games, the game is fast-paced and intense, and – like in a video game – death is merely a minor inconvenience before they respawn. Like board games, the characters often end up little more than faceless pawns; with such a high mortality rate, there's often little opportunity to develop any quirks or history for the character before he's killed. But unlike board games or video-games, Zombiepocalypse offers the player the full range of freedom of any other role-playing game.
As GM, you must balance the drive to kill the players with the necessity of keeping the game fun. It is no fun for the players if their characters die one after the other, falling into the grave mere minutes after they are introduced. Never place the Players in a no-escape situation; never force an Injury on them without letting them roll the dice. But that doesn't mean you need to be overprotective of their characters; in many RPGs the GM will fudge dice rolls to the players advantage to keep the adventure on track. In Zombiepocalypse, it is recommended that you play them as they lie. If the characters die, so be it; so it goes in the world of the walking dead. But it is also up to the GM to encourage the players to find alternatives to self-destructive behaviors; teach them that running away is often the better course of action, even if it is not heroic, and “bravely going where no man has gone before” is a recipe for quick death. Encourage them to come up with alternatives, and let them make the attempt, no matter how poor their chances are. The players aren't expected to win, and their characters aren't expected to come out of the situation alive. But Zombiepocalypse isn't about winning, it's about surviving and so long as they can keep on running, that's victory enough for them.
- Know Your Basics (adventure start settings) to be written
- If If Doubt, Add More Zombies Occasionally the adventure will come to a lull; a moment of inactivity when neither Players nor GameMaster quite know what to do next. If you aren't sure what to do, then it's probably time for more Zombies. The Undead are everywhere, and a herd is never far off, after all. The zombies need not necessarily attack the characters but their mere presence should jolt the Players into action. The undead are the primary motivators in the world of Zombiepocalypse and the GameMaster's biggest and best tool. If you need the players to move in a certain direction, put zombies on the opposite side. If the characters have amassed too much equipment, keep throwing undead at them until the PCs burn through all their ammo. Are they locked behind a seemingly impenetrable fortification? The undead can appear in the most unlikely of places to dislodged them. In Zombiepocalypse, you can never have too many zombies
- Keep The Pressure On The world of Zombiepocalypse is a dangerous one, and death – or the Dead – lurks behind every corner. Players should never feel secure and totally in control of the situation. Zombies are everywhere, other Survivors can be as dangerous as the Dead, and resources are scarce. Never let the Player Characters forget that they can die at any moment. This does not mean you have to constantly keep them engaged in combat; this too quickly burns out both Players and GM, if only due to lack of variety. But Players should feel that any encounter could break into a fight at any time. Even simple activities – such as getting into a car and driving away – should include an element of risk (Is the car locked? Do the players have the keys? Will the roar of the engine attract a herd of undead?). Even normally safe things – such as turning on the lights – should make the Players give some thought to the consequences. Spice up your adventures with mini-encounters that keep the Players jumpy; somebody yelling in the distance as he is attacked by the Dead, or an animal running in terror down the street (perhaps presaging an approaching herd... or perhaps not), or even a lightning flash that briefly illuminates the world … and the Player Characters.
- Always Give The Players An Out As important as it is to keep the heat on the players, at the same time you should never put them in a completely unwinnable situation. However you stack the odds against them, the players should always have a chance – slim though it may be – to escape. It might be that door at the far side of the room, or a nearby vehicle, or those weapons just out of reach, but there must be an opportunity for the players to do something, or it isn't much of a game. Although having a character die isn't the end for a player, it often feels like losing, and if that death seemed inescapable then the game seems unfair and – more importantly – not fun. So feel free to put obstacles in the players' path, but make sure to offer them alternatives and be open to any suggestions the players themselves come up with. Don't worry; you'll get another chance to off their characters soon enough.
- Let The Players Participate In World Creation Except for the zombies, most players will find the game-world very familiar; after all, it is the same one they themselves live in! This familiarity can be of great advantage to the GM, since he can depend on the players to help flesh out the environment. Players are likely to come up with unexpected ideas – such as locations to visit or equipment for which to search – that may not have occurred to the GM. Don't dismiss these ideas out of hand. Instead, put those ideas to use. If they want to visit the local police station, let them find one a few blocks away. Do they think a lumber yard might come in handy? Invent one on the spot. After all, the world is as familiar to you and it shouldn't be too hard for you to create a believable location on the fly. This method provides the players with a feeling of greater [control] on the world. Of course, that doesn't mean that every cock-eyed scheme they come up with should be allowed (despite what the players insist, there are not gun-shops on every corner!) but keep an open mind; it will make the game much more enjoyable for both the GM and the players.
- As the GM Giveth, So He Taketh Away (equipment) Unlike most roleplaying games, Zombiepocalypse offers little in the way of rewards for the player characters; there are no experience points, no new skills to learn, no princess to rescue or treasure hordes to win. In fact, the characters can't even be sure of their own survival. Given this lack, it can be hard to incentive the players. And the one method the GM has – equipment and weapons – can quickly unbalance the game if put to excessive use. So as quickly as the player characters find new gear, the GM should be working to take it away.
It is important to give the player characters weapons early in the game; without it, their only real option against zombies is flight, and always running away can quickly become tiresome. Players will want to fight back sometimes, even if retreat is usually the more sensible option. So the GM should make sure that their characters find weapons of one sort or another before too much time has passed. And a good percentage of these weapons should be ranged, because the odds are stacked too highly against the players for them to regularly engage in melee. So don't be stingy with handing out pistols and rifles; these aren't just rewards, they are necessary tools to keep the game in motion. At the same time, providing the players with too many weapons can dangerously tilt the balance of power in favor of the player characters. Characters armed to the teeth will have little fear of the undead, turning the game into a soulless shooting gallery. As GM, you need to strike a balance between providing the players with the necessary tools for the job while at the same time ensuring they remain vulnerable to the monsters.
The rules themselves help with this; the Inventory system prevents the player characters from ever carrying more than four weapons for this very reason. As GM, you have another powerful resource at your fingertips: you control the amount of ammunition they can find. A rocket-launcher (or even a tank!) is a powerful weapon, but all but useless without ammo or fuel. Don't be afraid to change up the weapons the players find; give them a machine gun, but only two Clips of ammo. Then when that runs dry, let them find a pistol, and later perhaps a shotgun. Even the most powerful guns will be abandoned once ammunition becomes scarce in favor of a less powerful, but loaded replacement. The variety will also make the game more exciting and provide the necessary reward for surviving characters.
- Random Wins Over Planning to be written
- Caricatures, Cliches and Archetypes to be written
- Keep It Short to be written
- Using Tokens to be written
- Beyond Rule Zero to be written
ZOMBIEPOCALYPSE is still in development. Although playable, the system is not complete. Not all the rules have been written and those that have been are subject to change at any time. And editing for clarity and readability is low priority. Despite being made available to the public on this website, ZOMBIEPOCALYPSE is still considered to be in beta form. You have been warned.Notice 2
The Roleplaying Game System currently known as ZOMBIEPOCALYPSE is being made available to the public for free for their enjoyment and use. However, the author maintains all rights towards its distribution and development. You are free to view or download the rules and make use of them in any game sessions for the personal use of you and your friends. You are not free to redistribute the rules in any way, nor are you allowed to make any derivative works from it.
In English, this means you are free to download this game and play it amongst friends. You are not allowed to give the rules away to anyone else (redirect them to this website instead), nor can you take these rules and create a derivative work from them.
For more complete licensing information, please see our License page.
(c) 2013 Spalls Hurgenson