Daily Illuminator

November 2, 2012: How Are Those Zombies Coming Along?

Back on May 27, Steve announced that I was going to write GURPS Zombies. I started work on June 1 and submitted the first draft on September 21. Then in the last progress report (dated August 1 but written on June 25, explaining my "only a few weeks" remark), we hinted at a public playtest. Since then, we realized that the schedule shuffling that gave me the opening to write the book would also result in delays if we had to solicit for and organize a large number of playtesters, meaning that it would be best to go with a private review. Sorry about the change in plans!

Since you can't get an early look at the first draft, let me fill you in on what's in the book. It's a work in five chapters:

1. Getting to Know Your Zombies. This "five Ws and one H" breakdown is no quick-and-dirty "What is a zombie?" essay, but a meaty analysis that could almost be its own e23 PDF. It examines zeds as fears, as social criticism, and as targets (blam!); reviews folkloric and fictional origins; and offers a detailed typology covering everything from classic walking dead to psychos who use "zombie drugs." Boxes look at zombies in pop culture and the news, and even at what to call the darn things if "zombies" doesn't work for you.

2. Victims and Killers. The "Characters" chapter comes next, putting player-oriented info ahead of stuff the GMs might want to keep secret. It explores traits for screaming victims, fearless zombie-killers, and mad zombie-masters – everything from new perks like "Tastes Bad" to a hard look at zombies as Allies. It tackles thorny questions such as immunity (or being a carrier!) for PCs in a zombie-plague situation, and the fate of social traits (especially Status) in a zombie apocalypse. It even weighs the possibility of playing a zombie PC. The last few thousand words cover selecting gear, notably weapons and armor, and include a short list of biohazard gear for gamers without GURPS High-Tech.

3. Zombies! Now it's the zeds' turn. This chapter opens with a long look at zombie traits, particularly disadvantages (drooling brain-eaters have their share); worked examples of Affliction, Dominance, Infectious Attack, Innate Attack, etc.; weird stuff like intelligence increases in hordes and after brain-eating; and plenty of zombie-specific perks (three festering flavors of Pestilent!), quirks (need I even explain "Involuntary Utterance"?), features, and meta-traits. Next comes Zombie-Maker, a step-by-step guide to assembling that stuff into monstrous templates for all kinds of walking dead, ghouls, infected, and sewn-together constructs. Finally, Instant Zombies presents 23 ready-to-use examples – infectious shamblers, necromantic slaves, fantasy monsters, you name it – with notes on variants like bosses and zombified critters.

4. Zombies in Play. Here you'll find rules for dealing with zombies in the game, with extra detail on biting, ways to batch together or reduce dice rolls, and three simplified combat schemes for handling hordes. Survivors aren't ignored, though . . . they get advice on fleeing and hiding, and dealing with biohazards. There are also sections on different infection models (with asides on protean plagues, getting splashed with blood, and hacking off infected body parts), curing outbreaks (or individual zombies), and creating zombies (and assigning them magical energy costs and weird-science research budgets).

5. Zombified Campaigns. This is the "Campaigns" chapter. It suggests which zombies and zombie traits work best if you want one zombie, a few zombies, or a whole darn apocalypse. It thinks about zombies on a genre-by-genre basis. And it tackles tricky questions like heroic power level, replacement PCs, and dramatic betrayal. It also reprises difficult issues raised earlier, such as zombie PCs and immunity for heroes – but now from a dramatic perspective, not a rules viewpoint.

All the usual bits and pieces will come before, after, and around all this. Most notable is a lengthy discussion of source material: the Zombiography. That's where I show my bias toward film and video games, and try to convince you to watch strange Canadian movies like Fido and Pontypool.

Right now, the first draft is in staff review. I'm also bouncing a few rules off my GURPS-author peers. With luck, GURPS Zombies will enter production before the end of 2012 and be published sometime in 2013.

-- Sean Punch

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