Brains: Thinking About Zombie Apocalypse RPGs



I recently posted some of the games that are distracting me, causing one player to ask me "what about a zombie apocalypse?"

So... What about a zombie apocalypse? Truthfully, I've never done an all-out zombie apocalypse game, though I have rather enjoyed liberal use of zombies in D&D games.

I've actually always wanted to do such a game, though truthfully I find it a little bit on the intimidating side - while a one-shot zombie apocalypse game is pretty easy to do, the challenge is in keeping the campaign interesting. Obviously, game after game of killing zombies would get rather boring.

One of the inspirations I'd take would be Max Brooks' World War Z. While I found the movie to be so-so, I found the book fantastic. Its premise is it is written several years after a zombie apocalypse has been contained, with the author being the interviewer of numerous personalities. Most of the interviewees appear in only one chapter, others are revisited throughout the book, either directly or indirectly. Through them we follow the story of the outbreak, the near collapse of civilization, and the turning of the tide. What I found refreshing was the idea that civilization does not absolutely collapse, though it is on the brink. For example, the United States is forced to withdraw its zone of control to west of the Rocky Mountains, temporarily abandoning everything else. The Walking Dead is another inspiration, both in comic and television form. There society is definitely more decimated, providing a greater need to form their own communities.

Gaming engine is fairly wide open. I've two games that are built around zombies. The first is Eden Studios' classic All Flesh Must Be Eaten. I flipped through it a little bit today and it does have a lot going for it, though it does seem a funkier in its mechanics than I'd remembered. I really do like its zombie customization system. The other game I have is a more recent one, Immersion Studios' Infected RPG. While AFMBE is a fairly generic zombie apocalypse game, Infected posits a fairly specific apocalypse, set five years after the outbreak. It's definitely configurable but I'd need to give some thought to the default assumptions and how much work I'll be creating by breaking them. The biggest adjustment I'm considering is starting the game off in the outbreak and possibly utilizing the Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel system, giving each player multiple characters and seeing who survives the initial outbreak.

Other games would work very well for a zombie apocalypse. There's four additional ones I'm considering:

  • Savage Worlds - Fast character generation, fairly easy prep. Tons of online resources. Possibly a bit pulpier than I'd be looking for.
  • BRP/Call of Cthulhu - I love Chaosium's BRP system and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition could work just fine - take away the Mythos, add zombies. Its got a lot of stuff we don't need, but we already have the books, so no harm.
  • GURPS or Hero - Lumping these together. Both of these are fairly gritty RPGs which might serve well in a survival game where a certain amount of realism is desirable - yes, in Champions the Hero System can go to four-color comics, but take away the powers and start with fairly normal humans and you've stripped away a ton of the complexity. I lack a ton of experience with either, having played in the occasional game of both. Given I've a desire to do Golden Age Champions at some point in the future, perhaps a basic version of Hero might be reasonable.
We've still got some Penny Dreadful Cthulhu to do, but this will give me something to contemplate. Assuming Rogue One doesn't unlock Star Wars...

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