All Flesh Must Be Eaten by Hostile V
INTRODUCTIONOriginal SA post
So it’s Halloween and maybe I’d stick with a more regular schedule if I reviewed a book/game series I actually enjoyed. To that end, this is the perfect day to start this.
ALL FLESH MUST BE EATEN
It is the year 2016. Y’all know what a goddamn zombie is. All Flesh Must Be Eaten is a game by Eden Studios that offers a survival horror RPG game using Cinematic Unisystem rules. If you know anything about Unisystem, cool. The original version of AFMBE came out in 1999 and I’ll be covering the 2004 revision to the core mechanics, and even then by 2004 people knew what zombies were. To its credit, AFMBE knows this and is not as slaved to the trappings of the genre as, say, nWoD could be. Chapter One of AFMBE is simply “what is a zombie?”, a little bit of in-character fiction, what the book is about, general info on RPGs and how the book is broken down. This entire section is 12 pages long. It is refreshing and welcome in its brevity. There's also a main introduction by Shane Hensley and you'll see him now and again from time to time working on the series.
Oh, on a side note, all AFMBE books have fiction in each chapter and maybe a little something prefacing each Deadworld. I won’t be including them for one good reason: they’re pretty excellent and if you go seek out the books yourself (they’re really not hard to find) you’ll get to read them. In addition to straight RPG books, the series also has fiction anthologies containing original stories about zombies and they’re pretty good themselves. There's also art but...the art is a little weird and not necessarily safe for work so I might include it but maybe not.
Anyway since I covered Chapter One in two sentences, let’s move on to Chapter Two.
CHAPTER TWO: SURVIVORS
AFMBE doesn’t have time to fuck around. It looks at its watch and says “I could not possibly fuck around at this juncture” as it power-walks into the graveyard. Before we get the mechanics we get how to make characters in a predominantly point-buy system. The game also emphasizes that character creation should be a group process relevant to the atmosphere of the game and the GM has final say on if they think characters fit or not. The game also supplies some Archetype characters for fast play and modification (and in fact there will be two books later that are just premades).
Your Character Type basically determines the power level of your character as it pertains to your game. The types are Norm, Survivors or Inspired. A Norm leans closer to the Survival part of Survival Horror; they have 14 points for Attributes, 5 points for Qualities, can get up to 10 points of Drawbacks and 30 points for skills. A Norm character will generally have a spread of average Attributes (with one or two Attributes above average), a few perks and a good spread of skills to use to supplement their Attributes. Survivors are more action/ability focused than Norms, the Resident Evil 5/6 Chris Redfield to the Norm’s Harry Mason from Silent Hill. Survivors get 20 points for Attributes, 15 for Qualities, can get up to 10 points from Drawbacks and 35 points for Skills. A Survivor can start at all Attributes above average and get more perks to play with. Inspired get the main advantage of being able to do magical/supernatural things; they’re stronger than a Norm but not as strong as a Survivor. Inspired get 20 Attribute points, 10 for Qualities, up to 10 from Drawbacks, 25 points for Skills and 15 for Metaphysics. They can also buy the Qualities of Gift and Inspiration in order to do magical things.
Mixed parties are…a tricky affair and the game doesn’t really do too much to address them. There’s a little bit of a threat of the Survivors or Inspired overshadowing the Norms and ideally the GM would use their own judgment. It really just depends on the setting and the threats of the zombies. There's also the fact that AFMBE characters aren't as powerful as characters from other Unisystem products.
Attributes come in the form of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Perception and Willpower. They start at 0 and you purchase points at a 1:1 basis. The human limit of Attributes is 1-5 with a 6 being peak human potential/achievement (buying that 6 would cost 3 points instead of 1). 1 is below average, 2 is average, 3 is above average, 4 is well above average and 5 is the practical human limit outside of hardcore training/practice. So, as previously mentioned, an average Norm would have two 3 Attributes with the rest as 2s or one 4 and five 2s and a Survivor could have two 4s and four 3s or a 5 and the rest as 3s.
Strength is strength/melee damage, Dexterity is the fighting stat, Constitution helps dictate health and fortitude, Intelligence is ability to use smarts, Perception is perception and Willpower helps resist fear and also is essential to using supernatural powers. The way the game system is designed, Dexterity is essential for non-Inspired because gunplay is hilariously lethal and Willpower is essential for Inspired by fueling their magic.
The derived stats are:
- Life Points: ((Strength+Constitution)x4)+10, making the human span of Life Points be from 18 to 58 without the use of Qualities.
- Endurance Points: ((Str+Con+Will)x3)+5, 14-59 before Qualities. Endurance points are expended to withstand fatigue and exert yourself before having to recover. Endurance Points also act as Life Points for nonlethal attacks.
- Speed: (Con+Dex)x2 for miles you can run per hour, 4-24 depending on Attributes. Half of that is the number of yards you can run per second. This really only comes into play when running is necessary.
- Essence: Essence is simply the amount of points you have across all Attributes, meaning that Norms have 14, Survivors have 20 and Inspired have 20. Inspired can enhance their Essence pool through Qualities and even though Norms and Survivors have no way to draw on Essence, that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Essence acts like a soul pool for Norms and Survivors; some zombies devour Essence and having it totally devoured kills you.
Qualities and Drawbacks only have two categories in this book: regular and supernatural. Supernatural Q/D can only be attained by the GM giving them out or by playing an Inspired character. Drawbacks have set points and can be spent on a 1:1 basis for anything except Attributes. Attributes upgraded with points gained from Drawbacks are equal to the new level (4 points for Strength 4, for example). There are also Metaphysics you can spend points on but we’ll get to that later. I won’t be including the prices of each of these.
- Acute/Impaired Senses (Q/D): gain Perception bonuses/penalties depending on which sense is taken.
- Addiction (D): get points depending on what you’re addicted to and how bad it is. You can’t just buy off this Drawback, it requires roleplaying and tests.
- Adversary (D): someone/something wants you dead or hurting. The GM is encouraged to just not accept certain Adversaries if they’re negligible or likely to come up. Basically this Drawback depends on whether or not the GM will let you take it and how strong of a threat the enemy is.
- Artistic Talent (Q): +3 to making a certain kind of art and can be bought multiple times. Why would you buy this? +12 Essence Points added to your Essence Pool because having a creative soul strengthens it.
- Attractiveness (Q/D)
- Charisma (Q/D)
- Clown (D): Lots of wisecracks.
- Contacts (Q): Variable depending on how useful the contact is.
- Covetous (D): three levels basically depending on how much of an amoral fuckhead you are to get what you want.
- Cowardly (D): First, do not take this. Second, it’s variable. The levels are “Willpower test to stand your ground”, “Willpower test to stand your ground or fight back if you have the upper hand” and “ha ha useless”. Do not take this. Cowardly 3 is basically for NPCs that are completely unsuited for combat.
- Cruel (D): Comes in two forms. Level one means you have standards and won’t hurt certain people they love and won’t seek out opportunities to be cruel. Level two means you’re a complete fucker and someone is going to end up fragging you in your sleep.
- Delusions (D): Variable and comes with some examples such as Phobia, Weird Delusions and Prejudice.
- Emotional Problems (D): Variable with some examples like Emotional Dependency or Depression. Emotional Problems could be interpreted as the mental disorder drawback but thankfully this game doesn’t include that at any point.
- Fast Reaction Time (Q): +1 to resisting Fear and you basically get to act in a surprise round.
- Hard to Kill (Q): Some games have “Don’t Suck” abilities you can take. Hard to Kill is one of the two main Qualities in AFMBE that fall under that banner. It comes in level 1-5 and each level gives you +3 Life Points and +1 to Survival tests (such as, say, not passing out from blood loss/wounds). Very useful.
- Honorable (D): varying levels of how restrictive your code of conduct is.
- Humorless (D)
- Lazy (D)
- Minority (D): variable depending on time period and what you pick. Basically it means that the members of the majority group are prejudiced against you in some way. Like I said, variable.
- Multiple Identities (Q)
- Nerves of Steel (Q): And here’s part two of Don’t Suck. You don’t make Fear checks unless you see something ridiculously supernatural or horrific and in that case you get +4 to resisting fear.
- Obsession (D)
- Paranoid (D)
- Photographic Memory (Q)
- Physical Disability (D): Variable. You’re allowed to have a prosthetic. Lowest level is having a prosthetic or missing hand. Highest level is full paraplegia for 8 points returned. Absolutely not worth it but that’s probably the point.
- Reckless (D)
- Recurring Nightmares (D): Every time you sleep the GM rolls 1d10 and on a 1 you have nightmares that mean you wake up short 1d4 Endurance points from tossing and turning.
- Resistance: Variable and can be taken multiple times with such things as Disease (very useful depending on type of enemy zombie), Radiation, Pain, Fatigue and more, making it easier to fight off or endure such things.
- Resources (Q/D): ranges from -5 (destitute) to +5 (multimillionaire) and it costs/refunds 2 points per level. So you can totally get 10 extra points from being completely destitute and it probably won’t affect you very much in the zombie apocalypse.
- Secret (D): Variable depending on how likely it is to get you killed.
- Show-Off (D)
- Situational Awareness (Q): +2 to Perception to spot trouble and see sneaky enemies.
- Status (Q/D): variable.
- Talentless (D): -3 to attempts to Do An Art along with penalties to Intimidation, Seduction and Smooth Talking because inhibited creativity affects how you can manipulate people. Not too far from the truth, actually. The social ding is a pain but at least this doesn’t affect your Essence.
- Accursed (D): Variable. The character is afflicted with some kind of curse that ranges from 1 point to 10 points. Curses are measured in severity (1-5) and how hard it is to break (1-5). The GM and player should discuss what the curse entails and why it was applied; curses from this drawback just don't happen to people, the character was at fault somehow.
- Gift (Q): The character has an innate attunement to the supernatural world and things normal people can't see. Prerequisite to being Inspired and also lets you make Perception tests to watch where Essence is flowing or concentrated.
- Good/Bad Luck (Q/D): Variable. Every point of Good Luck adds 1 point that can be added onto tests. Every level of Bad Luck gives the GM 1 point that can be inflicted on the character's rolls with the recommendation of being careful with its application. "Make Bad Luck count but don't abuse the characters".
- Increased Essence Pool (Q): Every point spent during character creation gives the character +5 Essence. After creation it can still be upgraded with 1 point giving 2 Essence. Great for giving you more power but it also makes you more attractive to supernatural things and monsters that feed on Essence.
- Inspiration (Q): Core AFMBE takes a lot from Armageddon in the sense that the Inspired are basically able to channel forces of divine power. Inspiration allows someone with The Gift to call upon their Essence reserves to cast magic. I'm dumbing it down but we'll see how it actually works in a bit.
- Old Soul (Q): The PC had past lives they can recall and have a stronger soul as a result. This can be taken multiple times with each level meaning 3-5 lives they can remember and can be taken by all PC types. Their past lives weren't necessarily good ones or they weren't necessarily good people. This Quality has a lot of bonuses. For starters, +6 Essence. They also get +1 Attribute point to add to a mental Attribute (translation: you are putting that shit in Willpower to magic better). Plus, if you have defined past lives, you can make a Skill test for the cost of 1 Essence point and use your Willpower and Intelligence as modifiers to call on an ancestor's ability to use that skill (if say you need to shoot a bow or ride a horse). My favorite thing about the examples of this is that the GM insists that the character who has 10 past lives make five of them peasants in five different eras because it's ridiculous for them all to be specialists/unique snowflakes and because historically there have been a shitload of peasants/manual laborers.
Okay as much as I have good things to say about AFMBE, I will say that it does fall prey to there being a crapload of skills. There's predominantly the issue that not all of these skills (like Beautician) will have a use depending on the type of game you play. A comedy-themed game where you have to disguise the walking dead from your landlord or you'll get evicted? Beautician might work perfectly to pass the jawless zombie off as Cousin Ed. Everything is fucked and on fire? Maybe don't take that. It might be good for a stylistic/backstory choice, you might be able to make the Warlord of Santa Fe look good and grant you passage to Phoenix, but it might not be necessary.
Buying skills depends on the type of skill. A regular Skill costs 1 point per level and then 3 points per level past 5. Special Skills such as Medicine or Martial Arts cost 2 points and then 5 after five. Level 1 is basic training, 2-3 is general competency, 4-5 is comprehensive competency. Anything above that is just gravy when it comes to getting things done. You can also pay 1 point to get a Skill Specialty that adds +2 to something specific, like shooting rifles, doing hair, understanding Soviet bureaucracy and field surgery. Skills are always used with a relevant Attribute. I won't be including the skills; there are a lot of them and I don't wish to bog everything down, but you can generally guess what kind of skills they are.
Also Dexterity is kind of the general ruler of combat with Strength and Brawling being used for grappling and takedowns while Dexterity and Brawling is used for kicks and punches. Martial Arts also has the bonus of adding your Skill rank as a flat damage bonus to your final calculated damage and if you don't specialize in certain Firearms, you can use all Firearms pretty equally. It's not a perfect system but then again you'll need the advantage against certain kinds of nasty creatures that need many bullets.
Unisystem has many different kinds of Metaphysics such as Witchcraft and Psychic Powers. In the case of the core book, all they have to offer is Inspiration which is strictly "you're a conduit for a Higher Power and you can only use your powers in the righteous quest to fight evil". These powers in question are called Miracles and you can get them for 5 points each at creation or 10 points after. Inspired have to have faith to use their Miracles and they really can't be used recklessly; lives have to be at stake and the enemy has to be a kind of supernatural evil. The undead are a valid target while the abusive parent isn't (under most circumstances). Basically the Inspired is sending a request to their Higher Power and if they decline, it just doesn't work. Inspired can also lose their powers if they lose their faith but the GM is explicitly told to not try and trip up the Clerics to make them fall. Chances for the Inspired to lose their faith are supposed to be tests or dilemmas, dramatic moments of their story more than taking away a player's asset.
Miracles generally don't require anything more than the Essence cost; pay the price and it happens. There might be a roll involved but there are no Miracle skills. Essence is regained at a rate of Willpower for every 5 minutes. You can also use your Essence to dispel Miracles from other sources. The core offers the following Miracles:
- Blessing: push Essence into an item to allow it to grant a Luck bonus to whoever wields it, +1 for every 3 Essence. However, you can't regain the lost Essence until the bonuses are depleted. 10 Essence can also be spent to basically transform the item into a Blessed item which can exploit the weaknesses of certain kinds of zombies.
- The Binding: trap a supernatural creature at the price of 2 Essence per the creature's Strength+Willpower or half of its Power Level (explained later). Bound creatures can't attack or defend but the definition of evil may vary and it may not be as effective as you'd think.
- Divine Sight: see ghosts, supernatural auras and the truths of human beings and institutions. 5 essence per 10 minutes of use.
- Touch of Healing: 1 Essence to heal 1d4 Life Points. The touch can also heal Mild/Moderate/Serious/Terminal Diseases (2/5/15/25 Essence). The real limitation is that the power can only be used on the faithful or people the Inspired deem to be fighting the good fight and only really in extraordinary circumstances.
- Holy Fire: summon fire that deals 1d8x(Willx2) damage for 20 Essence. Bypasses non-supernatural armor, doesn't require an attack roll, but is only really effective depending on how evil the creature is.
- Strength of Ten: +5 Strength and +20 Life Points for 15 Essence. The Inspired isn't affected by shock or pain until the battle is over or they die. Handy buff.
- Visions: 5 Essence for a vague hint of some kind. Visions thrust onto you by the GM cost nothing.
Inspired are...hmm. They're handy and they do a pretty good job of averting scenarios where they can just defeat everything. They're a little too situational and they feel too Armageddon-y to me (I'm pretty sure this whole magic system is taken from that anyway). They're not mandatory for a game at least, which is nice.
You start off with gear and such that make sense for your character idea and their Resources, so pull together some tools that make sense and then pick a name, appearance and age. There are also another means of character creation which focuses more on skewing Skill points instead of giving a flat pool. Take it or leave it, it's nothing too fancy; more skill points are nice but they process is a little more complicated.
Thoughts: That's it for character creation. I just did all of character creation, in a point-buy system that has advantages/disadvantages, in a reasonable amount of space and time. And it's all pretty solid and reasonable. Did I mention I really like this game? Because I really like this game.
NEXT TIME: this book has a whole mess of premade characters and I feel like they warrant their own post before I get into mechanics.
PREMADE CHARACTERSOriginal SA post
The thing to remember about this is the fact that this game originally came out in 1999 and the premades didn't really get updated. This includes such delightfully weird things as the Video Store Clerk being obsessed with Doctor Who (somewhat understandable because this was pre-revival and everything was literally passed around on VHS tapes), the Video Store Clerk being a playable character to begin with and the Priest's character design being a direct ripoff of Jesse Custer from Preacher. Then you run into kind of funny things like the Hacker not being too out of place in the modern day and age. Anyway, I don't have much to say about these characters. They show off the system pretty well and just how easy it is to make a Survivor lethal with the simple addition of Fast Reaction Time. Out of all of them, the Soldier/SWAT is the stand-out asskicker due to having a good mixture of the three Don't Suck perks.
Another thing to note is that some of these characters have slight references to some of the Deadworlds you'll see later in the book, giving you a little hint of what's to come.
NEXT TIME: mechanics and such.
CHAPTER THREE: Shambling 101Original SA post
CHAPTER THREE: Shambling 101
AFMBE uses the tried-and-true Attribute+Skill+Dice vs. TN system. Using Skills and Attributes are called Tests, using raw Attributes is called a Task (double the Attribute for a simple test). However before we get into that, the book gets a little confusing by saying "this is the system we use but here are all of the alternate ways to play the game first". This threw me a lot when I first read this book and despite how much I love it, it really did take me a while to figure out just how to play AFMBE due to this weird little quirk of presentation. Admittedly, AFMBE is the first game that really sucked me into being interested in tabletop RPGs; my only real experience before that was D&D 3.5 and I had no idea that a lot of systems just use the same sort of mechanics.
Alternate Game Systems
Playing Cards: You draw a card from a deck and face cards count as a 5 followed by an additional draw where another face makes it a +10 and any other card is just a 5. Jokers are only used in an optional rule where you draw another card a red card is an automatic success while black is an automatic failure. There's an optional rule where players have a hand of six cards from a shuffled deck that they can use to add to Tasks or Tests in order to let the players control the narrative and reduce randomness. Weapon damage is fixed to the average amount indicated on the equipment charts. It's a pretty workable system but if you're new to the genre, this really shouldn't be the first thing you see in the mechanics section.
Story-Driven Diceless: This works like how Fallout New Vegas did some skill checks. There are fixed TNs based on difficulty of a situation and your combined Attribute+Skill can basically carry you up to a certain threshold of difficulty. You can also forgo needing the numbers if you roleplay hard enough. Weapons still do fixed damage and there are no Life Points, just descriptions of how severe your wounds are (less than 10 points is a light wound, 10-20 is a serious wound, more than that is dangerous and probably life-threatening). Not bad for freeform or play-by-post RPGs.
The two things that the book emphasizes are good standbys of RPG design: Roll When It's Important, don't just make them roll for everything, and Rolls Don't Rule. Rolls Don't Rule pretty much means that the GM should pull punches if the outcome is A: bad for the story, B: not fun or C: both.
The main TN you're shooting for is TN 9 and anything above that just adds more to the success and with the use of penalties and bonuses depending on circumstances. There are penalties for unskilled Skill checks. There's also a somewhat interesting critical system where rolling a 10 or a 1 means you roll again and then get a bonus/penalty depending on the result or another reroll. It's a little complicated; if it's a 10, you roll again, subtract 5 from the result and if it's positive get that added to 10. If you roll another 10, you roll a third dice and have +15 from the previous rolls. It's a little too fiddly and hard to explain because it also applies to rolls on 1s where negative results subtract from the pool.
I don't really feel like getting too deep into mechanics; these are generally things people have seen before and understand if they have a passing familiarity with these types of systems. Like so:
I don't really like Fear Tests! This isn't a shocking stance to take but I do feel like it needs to be said. I like it to be natural for my character to feel fear in a scenario outside of some asshole wizard casting a Fear spell. Plus I'm the kind of person who doesn't really like to be told how my character feels or reacts to stuff. So as a general whole, it's your duty to take Nerves of Steel and then not deal with this.
But if you don't, well. Fear Tests have a TN of 9 and are calculated differently. Roll 1d10, subtract your Willpower Attribute and then add penalties onto the result based on violence/terror of the situation. Inspired get to double their Willpower to resist Fear, so Praymaster the Granter of Miracles with a Willpower of 4 gets to subtract 8 from the result on a d10 and will only really get scared in the face of the worst shit. If the result is 9, you flinch or jump for a second but that's it. Having a higher result than 9 from all of that inflicts penalties.
So yeah, take Nerves of Steel because you're playing a survival horror RPG and any time you don't have to deal with stuff like a Fear Test is a good time.
Turns last 1-5 seconds and are basically one action apiece.
Intentions: Say what you want the character to do and the GM will decide whether or not it flies. GMs are cautioned to not just rubber-stamp everything a player wants to do but they also shouldn't just shoot down every idea. You should mention things the players might have missed or forgotten.
Initiative: Whoever starts the fight gets to go first on the first Turn. After that, it can be either selected by the GM or you roll 1d10 and add Dexterity. Some things also just happen first; guns are faster than melee but a sucker punch takes precedent and Miracles or thought-activated things just fire off the fastest. Ultimately that falls under GM discretion outside of rolling for initiative.
Performance: You can take multiple actions with a cumulative -2 to each action (except in melee in which you get one attack and one defense for free before you start getting penalties). The only defense against ranged weapons is to dodge or make a Dexterity roll. You can also aim and fire bursts: -1 instead of the -2 for semi-auto, the standard -2 if it's a heavy semi-auto, bursts have -3 for multiple bursts but success levels mean that more than one bullet hits, automatic fire means you start taking -4 to hit after every 10 bullets but successes mean more bullets hit and automatic can also be used suppressively without aiming but anyone not in cover is hit by d4 shots. There's an optional rule where being shot at is stressful and if you want to do something while being shot at you have to make a Willpower test first.
Damage is calculated by rolling the relevant dice and then multiplying it. Damage multipliers for ranged weapons are loosely defined by distance the bullet travels (more damage for point-blank) but have a basic fixed multiplier while melee weapons have a multiplier based on the user's Strength. Time for special weapon rules that don't necessarily apply to fighting the undead! Two-handed weapons add +1 to the Strength of the wielder for damage. Slashing/stabbing weapons do double damage (to humans, this doesn't apply to zombies). Bullets that pierce armor do double damage from getting trapped inside, hollow point bullets deal triple damage but double armor between the target in bullet and AP bullets don't do extra damage but halve the armor. Shotguns really just hit targets easier with shot and their other bonuses depend on the other types of shot. Explosives deal both shockwave and fragment/shrapnel damage and depending on the balance between of the two damage varies. There is also poison, disease, fire, falls and more but that's pretty specific.
Guns are incredibly lethal in AFMBE, especially if it's between two humans. Let's take our buddy the Soldier/SWAT (and for easier convenience let's just call her Iris). Iris is in a shootout with the Biker and Iris has an assault rifle. 5.56 mm bullets deal 1d8x4 and has a fixed damage of 16, which means that the Biker's LP of 58 can't take much more than three and a half bullets on average because when NPC enemies hit 0 LP they tend to die. The humble assault rifle fires in burst and automatic, meaning that the moment Iris points her gun at the Biker, he is fucked for a variety of reasons. First his leather jacket counts as armor meaning that a bullet in his belly does double damage from bouncing around. Second, Iris has a Dexterity of 4 and a 4 in Guns (and maybe a +2 bonus from having a specialization in automatic rifles?). This means that versus a flat TN of 9, she has nowhere to go but up if she rolls higher than a 2. One squeeze and the Biker is absolutely annihilated from the first two bullets in a burst. Anything more than that is overkill. And this all happens on turn one because Iris has Fast Reaction time and he doesn't.
AFMBE doesn't do the Exalted-style rocket tag; AFMBE's combat style is shooting someone the moment you see them. Combat against the zombies themselves tends to be a bit more complex for whichever reason, but against a normal person it's quick and bloody and final. The advice of "pull your punches" is an absolute necessity if you ever put human enemies up against the players and they don't get to go first.
Armor does help protect you by having a result you can roll relevant to the type of armor and then subtracting it from the damage, but this only goes so far. Items also have armor and Life Points.
The rough estimate of damaged is that 2 points is something superficial, 3-5 is a deep but light wound, 6-10 is severe and 11-15 sustained is the kind of wound that pops an organ or inflicts massive trauma. This estimate scale is accurate but still laughable when the average 5.56 mm bullet deals 16 damage on average. You're not inhibited until you're down to 5 Life Points where you have penalties to doing anything. At 0 you have to make Willpower and Constitution tests to stay on your feet and stay awake. -10 LP and below and you're in critical territory, needing to make Willpower/Constitution Survival tests to not die. If you took any level of Hard to Kill, you have bonus points against not dying while you take -1 to such tests for every 10 points below -10 you have sustained. You either die from a failed roll or get saved with some medical attention.
Endurance Point damage just causes you to pass out unless the GM uses an optional rule where you sustain 1 Life Point for every 4 Endurance Points of damage because nonlethal doesn't mean harmless.
Failing a Survival roll means you'll die in Conx2 minutes without immediate medical attention from a trained professional. If you're in the basement of the abandoned church on Blood Mountain, this rule doesn't really apply. But if you can get medical attention and you're not ripped in half or decapitated or something worse, it's possible for a trauma doctor and nurses to attempt to resuscitate the technically dead player.
So how do you get better? Well it's not easy. First Aid can be used to treat the player once for each wound sustained, restoring 2 points per success level. In the case of the shot Biker, there would be three wounds sustained that can be treated. In a hospital, you recover your Constitution in Life Points per day when below 0. Without a hospital, you need to make a Survival test daily and getting 1 LP per level of success. When you're back to 0, you recover 2 LP a day flat, nothing else. So not only is it incredibly easy to die, it's hard to heal without downtime.
Endurance loss can only be regained by getting sleep. When you're down to 5, you take -2 to everything. Hit 0 and you nap. You also have to get at least 7 hours of sleep a day to not lose points from being tired, costing 1 point per hour of missed sleep and for every hour past 24 hours awake. You gain Endurance at a rate of your Constitution score per half hour of sleep.
Essence damage is more situational. Being in prolonged periods of stress and danger takes away 1d4 Essence per hour while combat eats 2 Essence points per turn and 3 in close combat. 1 or 0 Essence means that the character is depressed, having negative Essence forces Willpower checks vs. temporary mental Attribute loss and having -30 Essences forces save or die Willpower checks. Inspired regain Essence at a rate of Willpower per five minutes (translation: they are fine in a hour) while Norms and Survivors regain it at a rate of Willpower a hour.
I'm not including the vehicle rules 'cuz I need to draw the line somewhere.
Having spent more time since I first read AFMBE, I can't say it's got a perfect character progression system but it's pretty damn decent. The slight crimp in it is that you have to basically explain why your character gained such an advancement and it has to make sense with what you've been doing, but that's something the GM has to address.
What's not covered in this table is the fact that Attributes are supposed to be more fixed anchors to measure your character by. Raising a <5 Attribute costs 5 points while getting that sixth costs 10 points. It's generally not hard to walk away with at least 5 points which means it's not going to be hard to start getting those Don't Suck qualities for the Norm characters or something else that helps boost your character. Normally I would be a little leery at how these things are priced, but considering the lethality of combat it's pretty fair.
CHAPTER FOUR: Implements of Destruction
Chapter four is all about weapons, armor and equipment. It's got quite a bit to offer in materials and special rules so I'll mostly just share the tables and such. Equipment has Encumbrance Value, Cost in 1999 dollars (which the game admits is irrelevant in certain campaigns where there's either barter or murdering the owner to take it) and Availability (Common, Uncommon and Rare).
There are also vehicles. I won't really be including them. Here's a typical vehicle statblock for a sedan.
Thoughts: Honestly the lethality of the system lends itself to the survival horror feel without demanding REALISM and COMPREHENSIVE MECHANICS and MDC and BEING COMPATIBLE WITH EVERY OTHER PRODUCT EVER. I hate you Kevin Siembeida. I appreciate the other posters of this thread for sharing with me the edits they make to the mechanics which would make a good job of stabilizing the system and letting the Attributes do more. Honestly if I had to make a change of my own, it would be adding survival horror healing tools, stuff like injection guns of glowing chemicals or some kind of biogel to help cope with the lethality. But, admittedly, that would probably only fit for certain campaigns.
NEXT TIME: my favorite mechanical part of the book, the rules for building zombies to put up against the players. It's fun and neat and I have an idea for a zombie to build but if anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears.
CHAPTER FIVE: Anatomy of a ZombieOriginal SA post
CHAPTER FIVE: Anatomy of a Zombie
Special Zombie Combat Mechanics
Before we talk about our friend the walking corpse, there are some rules that are different from combat against living people. For starters, unless the zombie has a specific weak spot the players can make a called shot at, where the damage lands is randomized. Instead of Life Points, they have Dead Points and zombies also don't have Endurance; they can just keep going until they fall apart. Another thing to note is that there's no bonus to slashing/piercing damage against the undead.
- Head: if the head isn't the weak point of the zombie, 20 points of damage applied to the head in one hit will decapitate the zombie. A headless zombie loses its bite attack and probably has issues with finding its prey. Any damage less than that is simply subtracted from the zombie's pool of Dead Points, so sufficient DP damage to the head without blowing the head clean off will eventually kill the zombie.
- Arms: 15 DP damage in a blow causes the zombie to lose an arm. Losing both arms means they can't claw, punch or perform fine manipulation, plus they get -2 to bite attacks.
- Legs: zombies also lose their legs with 15+ DP damage, giving them -2 to all attacks and halving their speed. Zombies missing both legs can only crawl around at Speed 1 and take -4 to all attacks.
- Torso: the torso contains the Heart and the Spine which can be specific weak points. If they're not selected as weak points, then the torso generally just takes hits until the DP of the zombie is exhausted and it's put down for good. Taking 20 DP in one hit knocks the zombie down and forces it to get back up. Or it doesn't get back up and it just crawls. It will probably get back up, costing it a turn to get on its feet.
Some zombies just don't have weaknesses, or maybe the PCs have other fun toys at their disposal like an industrial press, a barrel of acid, a crematorium furnace or a woodchipper. 200 cumulative damage from a slashing weapon will mince/shred the zombie until it's no longer able to function anymore. Alternately, 100 cumulative damage inflicted by any non-bullet, non-weapon damage will also destroy a zombie. These rules really only apply if the zombie has no weak points at all; a quick dunk in a bathtub full of acid will make short work of a zombie with a head weakpoint by eliminating the limbs until its head contacts the acid.
YOUR BASIC ZOMBIE
The basic zombie is based on the Romero-style shambler. The -2 intelligence means that the zombie can't speak, use tools, learn or solve problems. You can inflict damage anywhere and take it down in no time at all and it can only really attack with bites. It's only a threat in large enough numbers. The right side of the box indicates specific info about the zombie: how much it needs to eat, what it needs to eat, how strong it is. You pick an appropriate option for each of those to build your zombie and each option adds or subtracts points to a total that you can use to measure the relative power level of the zombie compared to your players.
The process of building a zombie is as follows:
- Choose the Weak Spot.
- Choose how the zombie Gets Around.
- Choose Strength.
- Choose Senses.
- Choose Sustenance.
- Choose Intelligence.
- Choose Spreading the Love.
- Choose Special Features.
- Add the points together to figure out the power level of the zombie so you can judge how to fairly put one up against your players. It's not stated but I'm pretty sure you can also increase the zombie's Attributes and also give them skills on a point for point basis.
Changing the weak spot is a good way to mess with your more savvy players or add diversity to the enemies you throw at them. You can give zombies more than one weak spot, subtracting 1 point from their power level for each additional weak spot.
- All (0): You can hit the zombie anywhere and it loses DP. Dead Points are calculated the same way you calculate Life Points.
- None (+10): The zombie can't be destroyed outside of 100 points of non-weapon damage or 200 points of slashing. Limbs can still be cut off and it can still be decapitated, but the head will still be biting and the limbs will wiggle towards prey to attack.
- Brain (+6): The zombie has 15 DP concentrated in its head and destroying anything else won't stop the zombie. It's a -5 to hit the brain, but a good enough hit can drop it ASAP.
- Heart (+7): The zombie has 15 DP concentrated in its heart and, again, destroying anything else won't stop it. It's a -6 to hit the heart .
- Spine (+5): 15 DP are in the spine and it's -4 to hit the zombie's spine from the rear or -5 to hit it from the front.
- Fire (-5): The zombie takes double damage from fire and burns quicker than a normal corpse does and needs less heat. There's a slight errata issue in that picking fire as a weak point doesn't say anything about the zombie's DP, which makes me consider two options. Either the 100 damage rule still applies but the zombie now takes double damage from fire, or you calculate DP like normal and they take double damage from fire. Either way, they're not flammable enough to immediately fall over and die; they can still walk around and attack until they're ash. This can be problematic if one manages to grab you while on fire.
- Chemicals: The zombie takes double damage from chemical weaponry or 1d8 damage per turn from a chemical that doesn't normally do damage (such as rock salt, say). This is -1 to -10 points that are roughly determined by the type of chemical, how destructive it is, how it's delivered to the zombie and how easy it is to get the chemical. A controlled substance that can only be delivered by needle dart would probably be on the low end while loading a shotgun with rocksalt or a Super Soaker with ammonia would be on the high end of negative points. This also has the issue of not saying how many DP they should have.
- Blessed Items: The zombie takes a flat double damage from being attacked with a blessed item, such as bullets coated with holy water or a mace blessed by an Inspired ally. This is also variable of negative points depending on the type of object, type of blessing required and delivery method. The downside of this weakness is that the damage is abstract because of the variety of weapons this could be and again, I don't know if this counts as 100 points or a DP scenario.
Here is where the game starts introducing special features for the zombies that aren't necessarily exclusive to how they get around. The first three choices here, Slow and Steady, Life-Like and The Quick Dead are just the flat basics of how your zombie moves and are mandatory to choose from. Everything after that is an optional special feature.
- Slow and Steady (0): the downside is that the zombie moves slower than an average person does when walking and can't run, ever. The upside is that the zombie still never needs to stop and rest. The zombie gets Dex 1 and Speed 2.
- Life-Like (+3): Running threatens the zombie's balance, but it can move fast enough to do the next best thing: power-walk at a reasonable pace. Dexterity 2, Speed 4.
- The Quick Dead (+10): The zombie is capable of running constantly, never needing to slow down because it never gets tired. They look a little funny in motion up until the fact that they're running sinks in. Dex 3, Speed 18.
- Burrowing (+3): The zombie can dig its way through sand or dirt. Not the fanciest power in the world, but as previously mentioned it makes for a hilarious surprise.
- Leaping (+3): The zombie can jump 12 feet forward or 6 feet straight up, regardless of how fast it normally moves. This also makes a great surprise for the PCs.
- The Lunge (+3): Grants +2 to Initiative in close combat representing the zombie dashing forward to take its prey by surprise.
- Aquatic (+2): Some zombies either sink like a rock or get stuck at the bottom of a lake. These zombies swim, gaining Swimming at 2 and a Speed of 3 in water.
- Climbing (+2): A mix of dexterity, strength and inability to feel fatigue means the zombie can climb three feet per turn and get Climbing at 2.
Like choosing mobility, the first four choices are Strength options and the rest are special abilities.
- Ninety-Pound Weakling (-3): Strength at 1 and no real muscle mass. Still dangerous in high enough numbers.
- Dead Joe Average (0): Strength at 2.
- Strong Like Bull (+5): Buffer than the average corpse, Strength at 4.
- Monstrous Strength (+10): Legitimately superhuman strength abounds at Strength 7, giving the zombie the ability to punch through walls to get at its prey and rip doors from their hinges with ease.
- Damage Resistant (+5): Something about death makes the flesh tougher for this zombie, meaning that all attacks that aren't fire or chemical do half damage even if the zombie has a weak spot. In the case of a zombie with no weaknesses, they effectively will have to take 400 points of slashing damage to be destroyed.
- Flame Resistant (+1/+3): At its basic level, the zombie takes half damage from fire. At the second level, fire doesn't hurt the zombie, period. No being a wiseass and picking the fire weakness to pair with this.
- Iron Grip (+10): The zombie gets an effective Strength of 10 for gripping and grappling and even if the arm is severed it won't let go of its prey.
- Claws (+8): Nothing like a little claw/claw/bite for your monster. Claws deal 1d6xStrength damage in melee, plus they pierce armor and deal slashing damage to living flesh. Claws can even pierce thin metal.
- Teeth (+4): Iron Grip, now in oral treatment form. The jaw latches on and won't let go unless the head is destroyed or the zombie runs out of flesh to gnaw. It's a -3 to hit but it deals a constant 6 damage per turn as long as the mouth is attached.
- The Hug of Death (+8): -2 to connect with the hug but the zombie has Strength 10 for grappling, dealing 1d4x10 damage per turn when the hug is established. Even if the zombie is killed, the corpse will still be attached (just not hugging) and the victim will have to be cut loose.
Four levels of Perception modifiers followed by more special abilities.
- Like the Dead (0): Can't see worth a damn, can't touch, can't smell, can barely hear. The zombie can really only see blurry outlines of moving things and not much more than that, relentlessly chasing after a moving target and not noticing the open manhole. For some reason, it can tell the difference between a target of interest and another zombie. Perception set at 1.
- Like the Living (+1): The zombie can see just as well as you and me, but the kicker is that they're capable of feeling pain. Perception 2 and 10+ points of damage sustained from one attack stuns the zombie, making it miss its next turn to recover from the feeling of pain.
- Like a Hawk (+2): Still feels pain and is still affected by it, but Perception 3.
- Like Nothing You've Ever Seen (+10): It takes a lot of stealth to get past this zombie, giving it Perception 7 to notice things. It still feels pain at least, so that rule applies.
- X-Ray Vision (+Perceptionx2): The zombie's super vision is capable of seeing through up to 3 feet of unshielded material and its total power lets it see up to Perceptionx10 yards.
- Life Sense (+Perceptionx2): The zombie can sense living prey up to Perceptionx10 yards no matter what's between it and a meal.
- Scent Tracking (+Perception): The zombie is capable of following scent trails up to a day old, giving it a minimum 4 bonus to Tracking rolls. Water or rain is a good way to hide your scent.
- Infravision (+Perceptionx2): The zombie is capable of seeing fluctuations in temperature up to Perceptionx10 yards away. This has drawbacks, though. For starters, sufficient sources of heat can attract the zombie's interest. Second, if the temperature is high enough outside, it's possible for the walking dead to get warm enough to pass for human again and register as a target to each other.
Sustenance is broken down further into two subcategories: how often the undead need to feed and what they need to feed on. General rule of thumb for the former is that the zombies that need to feed more actually need to eat less and the ones that go longer need to eat more.
While we're here, let's talk starvation. If the zombie can't get its food, it loses a quarter of its Strength daily until it hits 0. When Strength is 0, the zombie is weak enough to barely move. They can't die from starvation, but they're much less of a threat when starving.
- Daily (0): The zombie needs to get 10 ounces of its meal a day. If they can't, they starve starting the next day.
- Occasionally (+2): The zombie has to eat 16 ounces over the span of three days or go three days and gorge on the fourth. Day 5 without food is when starvation kicks in.
- Weekly (+4): The zombie needs to snack on 24 ounces during the span of a week or wait six days and feast heavily on the 7th. Day 8 is when they start to starve.
- Who Needs Food? (+8): Sometimes these zombies just don't need to eat tangible things or they just don't need to eat. If they "feed" from a special circumstance (like sunlight or magic energy in a certain area), they starve on the next day if cut off.
- All Flesh Must Be Eaten (0): Any part of the body will do.
- Braiiiiiins (-3): The main problem with needing to eat brains is that you better hope you're smart or strong enough to get the skull open first.
- Sweet Breads (-3): Delicious, nutritious organs are on the menu. The zombie has an appetite for one organ in particular.
- Blood (-2): The bigger the hole, the faster you feed.
- Soul Sucker (+5): The zombie needs to feed on Essence through a physical attack. This is generally fatal because not all zombies are smart enough to just take what they need and come back the next day to feed on the same supply. The zombie drains double its Willpower in Essence but only really consumes half of that (so its Willpower). Each Essence point is worth 1 ounce of food.
Intelligence differs because by default the zombie is Dumb As Dead Wood, giving them -2 Intelligence and the inability to do much more than move around and pick themselves up. This section really just offers ways to add or augment its base of DADW in different ways.
- Language (+1): The zombie is capable of speaking its native tongue, although don't mistake being able to speak for actual intelligence. The zombie gets Language 5.
- Tool Use (+3 per level): Tool Use comes in three levels. Level one means the zombie can use melee weapons, doors, basic mechanics. Level two means the zombie can use slightly more complex items like guns. telephones and switches. Level three means the zombie is smart enough to multi-task or do complex things like drive a car or use a computer. Each level gives Intelligence 1/2/3.
- Animal Cunning (+2/+4): The zombie gains the instinctive skills an animal, able to learn from mistakes and experiences , gaining Intelligence 0. Level 2 means the zombie gets Intelligence 1 but can only act on the same level as a smart animal, pawing open doors or using pack tactics. Tool use is plain out, meaning it's sub-primate intelligence.
- Teamwork (+4): Somehow, despite not knowing how to speak to each other, all zombies in a 20 yard range have a strange psychic bond that lets them work together and coordinate.
- Long Term Memory (+5): These zombies can actually learn in a human sense, gaining Intelligence 2 for the purpose of memory and the ability to actually learn skills.
- Problem Solving (+15): The zombie gains Tool Use 3 for free and Intelligence 2 for problem solving, not memory or language. Having Problem Solving means that the zombie can slowly regain its old mental faculties, though the memories might be lost for good.
How is zombie formed? You can modify these three or make their own. There's also the choice of "Nobody Loves Me" from later books where the zombies are just plain incapable of making more of their kind.
- Only the Dead (-2): Zombies are only made when a victim dies by the hands of another zombie.
- One Bite and You're Hooked (+2): A simple scratch or bite seals the victim's fate if they can't get medically treated in time. This doesn't have to be an immediate thing; there's a later example in the book of a disease that takes around 5 years for an infected victim to turn.
- Bury the Body (-2): The zombies have to treat or prepare the fresh corpse in some way to get more of their kind, like rolling them into a barrel of nuclear waste or placing it in the cursed tomb of the abandoned church on the hill.
These don't fall under any sort of banner and make good finishing touches or alterations for special enemies.
- Acid Blood (varies): The zombie can't use its ability offensively, it's just a hazard of trying to engage it in melee. The acid does X damage per turn, X being the variable power the GM picks. Worth noting is that the zombie flesh can't be melted by the acid blood and the book says it's perfectly possible to cobble together a suit of flesh armor to become immune to more acid blood.
- Diseased Corpse (+3): In addition to being a walking abomination, the zombie carries some kind of illness with it. Touching the zombie without protection runs the risk of infection.
- Noxious Odor (+5): Going within 6 feet of the zombie is a bad idea. The smell forces Constitution checks to resist passing out from the stench or being overcome with retching.
- Nest (varies): There's something living in the body of the zombie, likely some kind of angry insect that automatically helps the zombie in melee range. The parasite does damage per turn equal to the variable chosen and the attack bypasses armor.
- Spitter (varies): Getting this stuff in your eyes is a bad idea, blinding the victim for 1d4 hours unless they can get to an eyewash station or a strong enough hose. The zombie can hawk its spit up to half its Con in yards and deals damage per turn based on the variable power (armor is ignored if the face is specifically targeted).
- Spew Flame (varies): Downside of this breath weapon is that it can only fire it once every six hours. The fire deals damage per turn equal to the power level and can go up to Con range in yards.
- Detachable Body Parts (varies, usually more than +10): The zombie can force a part to disengage and act on its own, using severed hands to creep through small spaces and unlock doors or turning guts into smothering bed sheet assassins. Cost depends on how creative the zombie can be.
- Explosive Personality (+2/+5): The basic level of this means that the zombie explodes over a 4 yard radius but doesn't actually hurt, it just forces a Fear test until you get used to it. The higher level deals d6 damage to everyone within the radius and a Fear test for everyone who sees it happen.
- Regeneration (+2/+5): This only really regenerates DP as opposed to missing limbs or holes in the zombie. The lower level gives the zombie back 1 DP per minute while the higher level gives the zombie 1 DP per turn.
I'd love to stat up the zombie intestines from Brain Dead/Dead Alive but they're unfortunately one-note.
iZombie Max Rager/Utopium Zombie
STR: 2 (7)
DP: 15 in the head only
Language: Local 5
Weak Spot: Brain (+6)
Speed: The Quick Dead (+10)
Strength: Dead Joe Average (0)
Senses: Like the Dead (+1)
Need to Feed: Weekly (+4), Brains (-3)
Intelligence: Language +1, Problem Solving +15, Long Term Memory +5
Spreading the Love: One Bite and You're Hooked (+2)
Stolen from Another Book: Mind Eating (+13, zombie can gain certain skills and memories temporarily for three days after consuming the brain and some other skills/memories permanently)
Cheatsy Homebrewing: Raging Out (-8, inflicting 10 points of damage doesn't stun the zombie. Instead it has to make a difficult Willpower test to resist raging out, dipping their Intelligence to -2 while granting them temporary Monstrous Strength for a scene), Where Is My Mind? (-10, inability to feed instead permanently starves the zombie's Intelligence at the rate of 1 point per month. When Intelligence dips to -2, the zombie is permanently Raging).
Attribute Adjustments: +4 Con, +1 Perception, +3 Will.
The iZombie zombie has the danger of being as smart as a human, but their biggest liability is their dwindling humanity and the fact that they can't always control themselves when faced with a fight. They're a dangerous enemy one-on-one.
Dead Heat Zombies
Language: Local 5
Weak Spot: None (+10)
Speed: The Quick Dead (+10)
Strength: Strong Like Bull (+5), Damage Resistant (+5), Flame Resistant (+3, immune to flame)
Senses: Like the Dead (+0)
Need to Feed: Who Needs Food? (+8)
Intelligence: Language +1, Problem Solving +15, Long Term Memory +5
Spreading the Love: Nobody Loves Me (-5, taken from the Zombie Master's Screen)
Cheatsy Homebrewing: So Don't Delay, Act Now! (-15, the zombie has an expiration date that will cause their unlife to immediately end when the clock hits 0. In this case, it's 12 hours from creation), They're Better Fresh (-5, the zombie is dumber if they're raised after they've been dead for a while).
Adjustments: +1 PER, Guns: 3, Brawling: 3, +2 Will
Poor Roger Mortis. He's an incredibly dangerous foe to go up against a human enemy due to the fact that he can just shrug off anything thrown at him short of a special chemical bath (and even then). He'd make one hell of an undead Terminator if it wasn't for the fact that his unlife has limits. Something this powerful but this doomed could make for a pretty tense short-form game based around playing keep away.
NEXT TIME: the rest of the sample zombies. It turns out that zombies can in fact get the ability to fly thanks to big-ass wings (admittedly this is only available through the Zombie Master's Screen).
More Sample ZombiesOriginal SA post
More Sample Zombies
Trogdead the Zombienator (because if we're doing zombie stuff, why not just bring back other stuff from the mid 2000s?)
Flight Speed: 25
Weak Spot: All (0)
Speed: The Quick Dead (+10)
Strength: Ninety-Pound Weakling (-3), Flame Resistant (+3), Claws (+8)
Senses: Like the Dead (0), Scent Tracking (+1), Infravision (+2)
Need to Feed: Weekly (+4), All Flesh Must Be Eaten (0)
Intelligence: Animal Cunning 2 (+4), Long Term Memory (+5)
Spreading the Love: One Bite and You're Hooked (+2)
Special Abilities: Spew Flame (+15)
Stolen from Another Book: Flight (+6, wings)
Attribute Adjustments: +4 Con, +2 Will.
This was really fun to stat out and design. These zombies require the players to remain vigilant and alert in open areas because they'll have to watch the skies for hit-and-runs. The other way to avoid getting attacked is to learn how to work around its limited perceptive abilities. I definitely made the fire breath way too strong but it can only use the fire every six hours. The real way to make this zombie crazy overpowered would be to remove the Anywhere weak point. This zombie would make a really good recurring encounter/boss fight because it would throw the players into a scenario where most of the time their only advantage is how soon they can get a bead on it and shoot.
SAMPLE ZOMBIES FOR AN INCREDIBLY STUPID AND HACKY CAMPAIGN IDEA
Jerry Seinfeld's Zee Movie
In the quest to survive without bees having to do shit because Bee Movie makes no sense, the harmony between Man and Bee is bolstered when both species dedicate their scientific prowess to creating a new species to work instead of bees. Okay let's be honest, it's mostly humans doing the work and then comparing it to Bee society and Bee biology. The replacement species ended up becoming as large as the Asian Giant Hornet, a non-sapient insect designed to do everything bees to and not complain or feel pain. Nothing will stop this new species from doing its job, not even wanting to fuck human women. They called these new insects Zees.
This, of course, backfired hilariously.
Buzzby, Queen of the Zees, may not be sapient but that doesn't mean she's stupid. She came to realize that mankind and its world were a threat to nature and their primary goal of pollinating all flora everywhere. To that end, she started pumping out more and more drones and workers, sending them out in large groups while letting one or two of them slip away to assimilate themselves into human hosts. After a year of work, the Zees struck back against their creators, having turned their hosts into mobile beehives to carry them through the world and provide nesting grounds for the army of gigantic bees.
Now the Zee menace is spreading worldwide and it's up to brave soldiers to prevent the destruction of mankind.
Weak Spot: Fire (-5)
Speed: The Quick Dead (+10)
Strength: Ninety-Pound Weakling (-3), Damage Resistant (+5), The Hug of Death (+8)
Senses: Like a Hawk (+2), Scent Tracking (+3)
Need to Feed: Who Needs Food? (+8, food source is nourishment from the hive)
Intelligence: Animal Cunning 1 (+2), Teamwork (+4)
Spreading the Love: Bury the Body (-2, human corpses must be brought back to the hive for a controlling Zee)
Drones are made of human corpses (or living humans) who've been entombed in the combs of the hive and emerged transformed. They're controlled by Zees working in tandem to manipulate the limbs, their bodies a horrific patchwork of flesh and wax. The original Drones were made by infesting people allergic to bee stings, but the most recent Drones are essentially human candles, the flesh preserved beneath a thick layer of wax. Consequentially, they're incredibly flammable and tend to burn out in minutes when lit on fire. Drones hunt in packs and generally have to rely on surprise or ambush to squeeze prey to death. When not hunting, they're often helping build the hive or dancing to communicate.
DP: 15 in the heart
Weak Spot: The Heart (+7)
Speed: Life-Like (+3), Leaping (+3)
Strength: Dead Joe Average (0), Iron Grip (+1)
Senses: Like the Living (+1)
Need to Feed: Who Needs Food? (+8, Zee venom from their symbiotic relationship)
Intelligence: Problem Solving (+15), Long Term Memory (+5), Teamwork (+4)
Spreading the Love: One Bite and You're Hooked (+2)
Special Features: Nest (+6, infested with Zees), Spitter (+3)
The Pained are the praetorian guard of the hive, humanoid soldiers armed with guns and hand weapons to help defend the queen and the land. The Pained were originally made from human captives given a taste of venom that slowed their hearts to a crawl and put them in a state of docility while Buzzby laid her eggs into them. They're both incubators and foot soldiers, kept close to the heart of the hive to ensure that the new Zees are born safely and kept alive on a steady diet of venom injections that preserve their bodies and their abilities. The upside of seeing them is knowing you're close enough to the Queen to make an attempt to kill her. The downside is that not all of them are wearing pants.
Buzzby, Queen of the Zees
She doesn't get stats, mostly because I imagine that she's just a much bigger Zee because she's constantly laid low with giving birth to more Zees. It's easy to just say "burn the hive to the ground" but you can't guarantee the Pained won't get away with a jar of royal jelly and start the whole thing over again a few years later. So it's up to the players to break into the hive and make sure she's put down for good and there's no threat of the Zees coming back.
NEXT TIME: my favorite fluff part of the book, the Deadworlds, a collection of premade scenarios to run.
CHAPTER SIX: Worlds In HellOriginal SA post
CHAPTER SIX: Worlds In Hell
Deadworlds! I love Deadworlds! Deadworlds are basically settings that provide a little bit of in-setting fluff, a history of the setting, what's currently going on and plot hooks for your GM to run games in them. I won't be sharing the fluff. Not all Deadworlds are suitable for long-term play and in fact many of them work as one-shots, but it all depends on the GM and the group. There are 11 Deadworlds presented in this game and some of them are recognizably inspired/based on certain movies or books and given a zombie twist. In fact, a lot of Deadworlds throughout the line are the generic sort of "this is probably what your GM would come up with as a basic framework with X and Y in mind". That's not to say that they're all derivative and blandly generic, but it's like buying a 40K mini. Can you play the built mini right out of the box, unpainted? Sure. Can you make it your own with paint and other accoutrements? Absolutely.
Before we get into the Deadworlds proper, there's a little bit of info about Intraparty Conflict. Basically good roleplaying deserves a bonus and this paragraph is the summation of all of it, followed by advice.
Rise of the Walking Dead
Argos, NY, is a rural community with a whole lot of natural cave systems and little else. Thirty years ago, the US government decided that natural caves are a good place to bury nuclear waste and depleted uranium resulting from building up nuclear weapons and science experimentation. So they bought the cave system (or eminent domain'd it, more likely), filled them with radioactive materials and sealed the caves. They didn't exactly expect the material to leech through the caves into the local soil and water table, slowly spreading over the next 30 years.
In the real world, Argos would have joined such towns as Love Canal and Times Beach as an EPA nightmare requiring the government to turn the area into a Superfund and compensate the victims. Instead, everything within 50 miles of the caves fell under the thrall of a strange radiation that eventually caused the dead to walk. It's hard to tell exactly how this happened; radiation, as we all know, is straight-up magic that only sometimes causes cancer but it also could have been the fact that the caves were a desecrated sacred American Indian site. The true cause is unknown and kind of irrelevant because this is based on Night of the Living Dead (with shades of The Crazies). What is important is that everything, no matter how old and skeletal, got up in the Lutheran church's graveyard and started attacking the town. The sheriff managed to get a call to Albany, the state troopers never came back and now the entire town is under quarantine by the US military.
The undead of Argos are stupid and slow, but the threat isn't the zombie so much as the transmissibility of the virus. The dead have the ability to see life force and they're not picky about their meals, biting cats and dogs and cows and bears and transmitting the virus to animals as well. If you get bitten, it's only a matter of time before you turn unless you can get a full-body blood transfusion. So the survivors of Argos are at the mercy of a hoard of undead people and animals that will only die from a headshot. They're safe, but the numbers of zombies are only growing and their supplies are running low. The CDC, EPA and Army haven't entered the town's perimeter yet and are trying to figure out their plan of approach, but the quarantine has already been broken thanks to undead animals sneaking past the soldiers.
Escape From Argos: The classic heartwarming story of a bunch of screwed people banding together to probably die or escape just to get shot to death by the military. The roads are clogged with the undead and abandoned cars and the longer it takes to figure out a plan of attack, the more zombies there are converging on the hideout thanks to their life sense. Waiting for the military to come is as much of a gamble as making a break for the quarantine line, and even then the quarantine isn't necessarily safe. Plus, the quarantine has already been penetrated and other towns are starting to have issues with the walking dead, meaning that the surviving characters are now the defacto experts on dealing with this nonsense.
Into the Fire: The grass is always greener on the other side of the barricades and the military want to get into Argos to save survivors and bring back a zombie for analysis. The players are scientists and soldiers trying to find the cause of the outbreak and figure out a possible cure, leading them through the countryside into the ruined town down to the caves full of the undead. As an optional complication, the line can be overrun to a degree that they can no longer get help from the military and are on their own to survive.
PHADE to Black
16 year old Philip Harrison had a massive crush on 15 year old Jenna Filipachi. If you think they got together against all odds, you'd be wrong; Jenna barely knew Philip existed and was more into recreational use of cocaine, heroin and unprotected sex. And one night Jenna died and Phillip was faced with a decision. Should he mourn her death? Or should he decide to conquer death and bring Jenna back to life? Well, months of obsessive internet research on voodoo and reanimation of the dead later, the crazed Philip dug up Jenna's decaying corpse, raised her from the dead in a dark ceremony in his bedroom and had, uh. Had sex with her zombie.
In the morning, Philip had immediate regrets and destroyed the undead Jenna then promptly moved on with his life. He went to college and came out of his shell and he didn't use condoms. He went to Amsterdam for spring break and he also didn't use condoms there either. By the time Philip died at age 20, thinking with his dick had caused millions of people worldwide to contract the disease he picked up from the undead Jenna: PHADE.
The thing is, if Jenna was more inclined to take care of herself and be knowledgeable of her health, Jenna would have known that unsafe fooling lead to her contracting HIV. By the time Jenna died, the HIV had been untreated and become AIDS. By the time Jenna's zombie rose up, the dark energy used to animate her body had influenced the AIDS virus and transformed it into PHADE. By the time Jeremy died, the PHADE infectees had started to die as well and PHADE had become a full-blown health crisis. PHADE is sinisterly effective: no side effects at all until you die 4-6 years after you contract it. After a few months of mass deaths, mankind finds out that there's a second stage of infection: the bodies of the dead infected get back up and hunt the living in packs.
The world is currently in a state of decline. There are millions of undead worldwide and they're frighteningly smart, disabling infrastructure when they're not hunting humans for food. As long as their heart can still beat tainted blood through their veins, they'll continue to hunt and move to the best of their abilities. Amputation/limb severing doesn't do anything (the wound instantly closes over once the limb is off, fire takes too long and decapitating them means it'll keep going. The scientists of the world are desperately working on a cure or a vaccine and they're running low on time. Governments had moved infected into containment centers and now they're hotbeds of PHADE zombies killing other infected and making the numbers grow. The only "upside" of this whole scenario is that PHADE takes months, maybe years, to kill you. You can try to hold out for a cure or help the untainted while you still can, but your own salvation isn't a guarantee.
Fighting for Home: Safe zones are a main concern across the world and they've been established as best as they can be in the cities. This hasn't panned out too well and this campaign reflects that. This campaign starts off with the beginning of the outbreak, the governments calling for a curfew and advising civilians to create safe zones and the collapse of the government, the loss of power, the riots and fighting in the streets. The focus of the campaign is the characters' attempts to fortify a region of the city, take back control and survive. Alternately, they can make things better to prep for an escape to a safer environment; the zombies are smart enough to have figured out the ways out of the city and are watching them for easy meals.
The PHADE Vaccine: Or maybe you can push the clock ahead. A vaccine has been created and the characters have to test it somehow, but at least they have some military backing. Do they inject themselves and expose themselves to a PHADE zombie to see if it works? Do they hunt the cities for volunteers, give them the shot and whisk them away to a containment site? The bigger question is, if it works, what then? If it does work, the campaign can be the characters setting up a clinic, fortifying it, fighting back PHADE zombies and inoculating survivors, helping protect mankind one needle at a time before the militaries of the world regroup to bring the fight proper to the zombies.
Deep in space, millions of years ago, aliens experimented with necrotic energies in experiments that went horribly wrong. In an attempt to save their species, they launched a gigantic chunk off into space with all of the corruption on it, the mistake consigned to the cold black void. Millions of years later and worn down by light years of hard traveling, American scientists detected a gigantic asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Taking a cue from Armageddon, the nations of the world pooled their nuclear weapons and modified them to survive going into space and rocked the asteroid with explosions. Fortunately, the millions of years of travel and innumerable impacts with other heavenly bodies caused the asteroid to explode into harmless fragments that burned up in orbit. A triumphant United States celebrated Memorial Day in the year 2000 with a mind free of worry and the world rested easy, enjoying the beautiful sight of the rocks burning as they fell to Earth.
Regrettably, the dust ended up being a lot less pretty when it blanketed every inch of the Earth and the alien energies started stirring the dead. Skeletons and recently interred alike clawed their ways out of their graves, the Arlington Cemetery's Memorial Day celebration derailed by 200,000 undead from the Civil War forward attacking everyone on live TV. The march of the dead was immune to guns and knives and explosions, but not fire. The downside of the discovery that the zombies were weak to fire lead to mass catastrophe as walking torches caused cities, buildings, forests and more to burn. As the zombies crumbled into dust and ash, the people killed in the fires got right up and took their place.
Today (2000whenever), the cities are still burning and the US is in dire straits. The infrastructure is collapsing and many parts of the US are without power, water or communications. The military is trying its hand at airstrikes, which are a little effective except for the damage to buildings, and the President has declared martial law. There's fear that as more zones fall to the undead, the US might try to burn them away with nuclear fire. For now, everyone is desperately stockpiling gasoline and retreating to more rural locales with less of a zombie presence, preparing incendiary weapons for war.
The zombies are stupid but they're strong and they can't be stopped with anything short of fire. They don't need to eat anything, but they just feel compelled to bite at their trapped victims until they die. The other big issue with the zombies themselves is that it's damn near impossible to get someone free when they're grabbed; their grips are unbreakable and fire destroys them, but the living victim is now attached to a flaming corpse. The issue that's bigger than the zombies themselves is the fact that it's the dust that revives the dead. The only safe place to die is in a clean room devoid of any trace of the dust, and even then if your corpse is removed from the room it'll reanimate.
We Are the World: I'm not a fan of this one so much. The main idea is that you make fictionalized versions of yourself and play as yourself pre-impact, then on the day of the rise and then letting the players drive the narrative for what they want to do when faced with the walking dead. Mostly the thing I dislike is the "play yourself" aspect.
The President's Daughter: A more action-oriented campaign, the characters are all soldiers on a mission to save the President's daughter (or someone else really, the GM can adapt this however). They've got flamethrowers, white phosphorous grenades and other weapons to cut a fiery swathe through the undead, save the target and escape alive and with the target in tow. Then the GM should really feel free to twist the game as they see fit; maybe the President is undead when they return, maybe the Army is being overrun, maybe they just want to go AWOL with the target and make their own way, maybe a nuke is threatening the city where they were and they can't get the Air Force to stand down and prove they're alive and clear.
The OrganoCore corporation was legitimately, sincerely dedicated to helping promote safe and organic agricultural practices. Their first attempt at a product was...okay. The pesticides and fertilizer weren't as good as, say, Monsanto's and they actually cost more than a regular product, meaning that organic farming continued to have less of a crop yield and more of a high price of product. So OrganoCore decided to get alternative with their research, tapping into herbs and plants of Indonesia and the Caribbean along with folk remedies and native recipes. The second generation of products managed to do everything they promised with zero impact on the planet, providing bountiful harvests and zero harmful agents. In no time at all, OrganoCore was rich beyond measure and countries all over the world started contracts with the company to get deals on OrganoCore 2.0.
OrganoCore 2.0 wasn't really the problem in the long run. Despite incredibly dubious and sinister origins, it really did everything it promised to. Both OrganoCore 1.0 and 2.0 are completely safe and harmless and effective (though 2.0 is still more effective than 1.0). The problem came from something the company ultimately didn't account for: was it safe to mix both products? It wasn't an immediate concern or point of worry due to the fact that 1.0 was discontinued, but some land that had been treated with 1.0's pesticides and fertilizers still held a trace of it and some farmers still had some of it. On its own, 1.0 and 2.0 are safe. Mix them together and they unlock a terrible power some consider to either be Gaia's Wrath or a dangerous mutation.
The fact of the matter is that the plant matter affected by the mixing of the products created a predatory, sapient flora that grew rapidly and sunk its roots into the dead, replacing old nervous systems and veins with plant matter linking walking corpses to the controls of the plants. What they want, if they could "want" anything, is to undo everything mankind has created and return the planet to its natural form. Rural places worldwide were slowly and quietly snatched up by the walking dead and mutant plants before anyone knew something was wrong. Then the shit hit the fan when graveyards in cities, tended to with OrganoCore products, started disgorging plant-ridden undead hell-bent on tearing down man's works.
As things currently stand, the cities are the only safe places left in America and things aren't much better in the rest of the world. The mutant plants run wild and terraform the Earth according to their design, a world where undead dogs and cows and humans live in harmony thanks to a root in their brain. Destroying the brain or exposing them to strong chemicals and herbicides are the only way to deal with the undead or the plants, and the militaries of the world are working on whipping up strong defoliant agents to fight back. The zombies are busy working on burying corpses in tainted soil to make more helpers and are working their way across the world, tainting virgin soil simply by laying down on it and extending their brain tentacles into the ground. As it stands, both man and plant are in a stalemate that mankind can't win. The threat isn't "the zombies get into the cities and everyone gets transformed", the threat is starvation because without access to all the old infrastructure now buried under roots and leaves there's no way to get new food.
Bastions of Life: The players are citizens of a city that's still safe and being cleaned out, but the threat of starvation and lack of food is making survivors turn on each other in a nasty way. Push comes to shove, they'll probably have to venture outside of the city and into a world being transformed into a primordial jungle, braving the dangers of the plants to survive or maybe find food to bring back.
Thank God for DDT: The players are tasked with recovering a new, stronger batch of defoliant from a military base outside of their city. They can be military or civilians, but either way the base has already been overrun and turned into a particularly fecund burying ground to make more zombies. The mission is to fight your way in and return with a highly dangerous defoliant that'll give mankind a fighting chance against these photosynthetic bastards.
NEXT TIME: alien invaders, wasteland raiders, zombie troops and French Crusaders.
CHAPTER SIX: Part TwoOriginal SA post
CHAPTER SIX: Part Two
They Came From Beyond
The Race is not native to our solar system, but they're here now. The Brood Queens arrived suddenly and without warning, using their massive reserves of psychic energy to teleport themselves into safe places to rest and recover from the strain. After a few years of recovering and research, the Queens release drones, foot-long centipede drones with eight tentacles helping them get around. They steal the bodies and corpses of the Others (mankind or really any species targeted by them) and turn them into suits and disguises to help prepare a conquering army for the Queens. They're slowly working on amassing power and an army to fight for them, using their own lesser psychic powers to animate the corpses and keep them together. When all is said and done, the Brood Queens will rule Earth, all nations crushed beneath them. They'll breed mankind as a resource to be exploited, using them as slaves and culling them to create more hosts. This oppression will last until the Brood Queens get hungry enough to devour every resource the planet has to offer. When the planet is dead, the Queens will project their mind through the stars to find a place to begin again and use their energy to teleport and begin the cycle all over.
The campaign is set in the early days of the attack of the Drone/Corpse army. The drones have managed to come up with a couple thousand undead troops and have started attacking mankind, using any recently kill as a new soldier by letting a loose drone take it over. There are 307 Queens across the world and mankind doesn't know they exist; they're only aware of the drones piloting bodies. Mankind is fighting a threat they don't fully understand that will only grow bigger, but they've managed to figure out that the drones control the body from the spine and destroying the spine kills the drone. They've also figured out that once a body is ridden, it can't be used by another drone and that drones can't use a body that's been dead longer than two days. The most important thing mankind can learn is that killing a Queen kills all of her drones. If we can figure that out, we might have a chance of making Earth be their last stop.
Fight to Survive: The players are besieged by an army of corpses that are smart and durable and working together. There's too many of them to engage in a fair fight, so the campaign should revolve around trying to find somewhere safe to defend themselves and figure out how to stop the walking dead. If you want to throw curveballs at the players, two good choices are "the drones can also control dead animals" or "the building the players are inhabiting is secretly a Queen's sanctum".
Killing the Brood Queen: The players are involved in the military in some capacity, either as civilian conscripts or soldiers. The brass has figured out that there's no way for these gribbly little drones to speak, so they must have some kind of psychic or pheromone language. What if there's a Queen? Spoilers: there is a Queen. The problem is finding the Queen and dealing with her (not to mention the fact that there's 306 other Queens, but we'll squish those bugs when we get to them). Getting to the Queen is equally tricky, as it cutting a path through all of the drones and zombies protecting her. The Queen herself is no slouch; she's got psychic powers strong enough to cut a small cave into a gigantic cavern for her babies and she's got plenty to throw around at the PCs. It might be prudent to follow the Resident Evil school of thought and make sure you have a RPG with a few extra rockets.
In 1944, the Occult Corps had a breakthrough in preparation for the Allied landing at Normandy. Using a mixture of Nazi junk science and magic rituals, they created a special serum that would reanimate the dead the moment their heart stopped. This surprised the hell out of the landing Allied soldiers when the German soldiers of Normandy got back up and started shrugging off bullets. Worse, the Nazi zombies were able to still use their weapons (though not reload them, simply using them as clubs or using the bayonets when empty). The terror advantage of the ground and sea lead to the loss of Normandy and a propaganda victory for the Reich. Now the German chemical plants are churning out more of the special serum to distribute them to every man, woman and child, turning every population center into a possible death trap if the Allies try to invade.
There's not too much that's fancy about the backstory; it's an intentionally quick-and-sloppy WWII-themed historically inaccurate setting for players to muck about in. Actually let's talk about that aspect in particular; the Deadworld of Mein Zombie is basically the only Deadworld to be re-used/evolve over the span of multiple books. This scenario only presents Nazi zombies, but there will be another Deadworld featuring Nazi zombies vs. Soviet zombies and later an entire sourcebook for WWII going horribly off the rails and affecting the entire world. How bad do things get? Long story short, Karl Haushofer (Rudolf Hess' teacher) causes the apocalypse in 1943 by reading a forbidden incantation from a book from a cursed Sumerian city. We might get there eventually, though. Right now, let's keep things simple.
Mein Zombie takes place in 1945; Germany is mostly fighting the Eastern Front with the help of their undead troops while the Allies are fighting in Italy and being bogged down by a zombie counter-offensive. The Nazi strategy has zombies at the front armed with bayonet-tipped guns being followed by living troops armed with more advanced weapons and vehicles. The Allies have decided that the existence of zombies need to be kept a secret and that they have to figure out the power of the serum if they want to stand a chance of winning the war. They're getting some help from horrified German civilians informing on spies. Basically, Hitler wants every civilian to get a shot of the serum. The Reich is getting public morale up with propaganda of the victory of D-Day and a lot of faithful are willing to take the serum as part of a national pride thing. The big issue with this plan is that the serum only works for a month (requiring monthly shots to retain potency) and retooling the national infrastructure to crank out enough serum for everyone hasn't happened yet.
The other issue is the fact that the Nazis have managed to make zombies with a shred of intelligence. They know how to shoot their guns, they know to listen to commanders wearing Nazi officer clothing and they follow the chain of command. There's no turning the zombies against the Nazis unless someone was to kill, say, Donitz and put on his uniform and tell them to. They're also only killed by the destruction of the brain and they're being used as walking bombs to deal with tanks and vehicles. That's enough to put a crimp in some plans.
Bring 'em Back Dead: This campaign puts the players in the shoes of Allied soldiers fighting in Italy and introducing them to the quirks of the Nazi zombies over the span of a few firefights. Then word comes down from the brass and the players get a special assignment: they have to capture a Nazi zombie and bring it back for analysis. A good idea, but it's got some issues. First, they want the zombies to come back as intact as they can be. Second, the zombies fight in large packs that mob the enemy, making it difficult to separate one from the herd short of killing 99% and taking a survivor. Third, there are living Nazis following the paths of the zombies and they have sniper rifles and big guns to help their undead troops. Worse, one might not be enough for testing, and now that the players have proven themselves to be competent soldiers...
Blowing the Chemical Plants: The players are soldiers again, and this time the job is to sneak behind lines into Germany to destroy one of the serum plants. The Allies have been doing the best they can to destroy them from the air, but a lot of the plants are in remote locations or heavily defended. For thematic sake, let's pretend the plant is high up in the Alps on a cold, snowy night. The players have to get to the plant, get in and evade living and dead guards while stealing vials of the serum for study and setting bombs. A good complication is the inclusion of an old, frail scientist who was one of the main minds of the project and wishes to defect. He'll gladly agree to leave with the players, but how are you going to get an old man out of enemy territory?
After the Bomb
If you're looking for a bad Fallout d20 RPG or a game about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, look elsewhere. What we have here is a good old fashioned apocalypse brought on by the folly of man. It started with a serial killer fleeing the People's Republic of China for the safety of Taiwan. When Taiwan refused to turn the man over, Chinese special forces attempted to reclaim him only to be killed by Taiwanese military. The Chinese blockaded Taiwan, the US Navy intervened to break up the blockade and the noise of the boats shooting munitions at each other made the Taiwanese government panic and attack China with a missile. But not just any missile, oh no. They shot a Soviet nuke at China, one they bought as a special emergency option. When all was said and done, civilization was ended in nuclear hellfire followed by nuclear winter.
However, the Chinese had been playing with an altered deck and weren't using standard nuclear weapons. They had been using neutron bombs because they're quick and clean and get the job done, killing civilians but leaving infrastructure intact. Thirty years after World War III, the survivors and new generation of mankind have found out that the special neutron bombs had strange side effects on people. You had your standard disfigurements, but a lot of people were born baptized in the fires of the atom and came out resistant to it. They're naturally radioactive and background radiation of the ruined cities does absolutely nothing to them, giving mankind the chance to return to the abandoned cities and explore them for supplies and lost technology. However, their mutations also bring a horrible side effect: death is not the end for them.
Thirty years after the apocalypse, there's a couple million humans still alive across five continents. Tribes and families are the metric of government/civilization and the north is too cold to live in, heavily affected by the sky that's been blocked out by ash and dust. The scavengers have been finding amazing caches of equipment to help bolster the bow and arrow, but they've been dying in the ruins for a variety of reasons. Some die from mistakes, some die from fights and some die because despite being resistant to radiation they accidentally went into a zone that was still too hot. These radiation-resistant humans, when dying in a city or hot area, are further mutated by the lingering radiation and inevitably rise as undead. They're resistant to all forms of damage and don't need to eat, sustained by the ambient contamination. They viciously hunt and kill anything in their territory and can't be stopped short of total dismemberment or atomization. They're also different every time one of them rises up, all of them strange and mutant but still tenacious and strong. The "best" way to kill or disable one is get them to the limits of the radiation and then remove them from the area of influence; they're helpless without radiation and will starve immediately but they're smart enough to know the limits of where they can travel and won't willingly step past it. The other method is to carry around a lead-lined container to trap them inside, cut them off and drag them out to a safe place to chop up the body and burn the pieces.
The Quest for Firearms: The players are tribesmen being harassed by a neighboring threat, likely an enemy tribe or raiders or something else. They live a few miles away from a city and one day they hear of a weapons cache that would be a boon in protecting the tribe from their enemies. The players must then venture into the city to find it, having brushes with the undead and other humans scavenging the city. They should come to blows with a group of dangerous scavengers and someone should die, letting the players understand just where the zombie mutants are coming from and putting the immediate heat on them by having a threat manifest so close to them. On top of that, the weapons are being unwittingly protected by more zombie mutants, keeping the haul from the players.
Out of the Vault: The players are from an underground shelter that was legitimately secure and protected from the bombs during the war and have known their whole lives in the safety of the vault. Good news is that today is the day that the radiation monitors say it's safe to exit. Bad news is that you're fresh meat in a ruined city full of raiders and dangerous undead mutants. Do you stay home and fight to protect it or fight to make your way out of the city and into the outside world?
All We Need is Zombiedrome: An enterprising group of survivors has constructed a makeshift stadium right on the limits of the city's radiation field, covering the field with a metal cage. They've taken to going to the city to capture zombies and find weapons, using both as bloodsport entertainment. Criminals or slaves (or anyone, really) are forced into the cage with a zombie to fight for survival for the entertainment of the crowd. The players can either be on the evil/amoral side of things and be the ones supplying the undead and the weapons, or they can start as prisoners of Zombiedrome and try and find a way to escape the arena before they're torn apart in combat.
Dead at 1000
As far back as humanity has existed, we've always worried about the apocalypse. It's just taken different forms. The people of the year 999 AD were happy when the world didn't end when it became 1000, but they should have given it another year or so before celebrating. Lucius Mordecai was a Venetian nobleman who enjoyed dabbling in the occult arts with the help of Italy being the central trading hub to the East. Collecting Chinese and Indian manuscripts became a past time to the budding sorcerer, who would eventually take to performing Satanic rites and human sacrifice from the comfort of the Mordecai family estate. Then the neighbors found out and burned the estate to the ground while he was home. Angered, Mordecai fled Italy to explore Europe and find a place to call his home. Eventually he settled on Paris, France and decided that it was time to show them, show them all by using a Sanskrit ritual to sacrifice 13 virgins. I'm not sure if Mordecai knew what the outcome would be, but he ended up raising the dead in the city's cemetery who quickly devoured his followers and obeyed his every command. Now every person slain by the claws of Mordecai's hoard gets up and joins his cause and France is in danger of falling into Mordecai's hands completely.
This has been a pretty good recruitment drive for the Vatican because all of the other European states (and Britain) are panicking at what they're hearing out of France. Pope Silvester II doesn't think this is the end of the world because otherwise God would have told him so and he has reason to suspect that Mordecai is to blame thanks to word that Mordecai was last seen in France. The Venetian sorcerer had been excommunicated by the Church and they've been keeping tabs on him. Instead of preaching that Armageddon is here, the Pope has declared that the walking dead are caused by Satan and all faithful should join the next Holy Crusade. The people are starting to feel hopeful that God's protection will bolster their fight into France, but they really have to get together quickly to stand a chance. As for Mordecai, he's totally drunk on power and loving every minute of it. He's not sitting idly by, though; he's got other books to pick through and experiments to run to help ensure that ushering in the forces of darkness will lead to him becoming ruler of a damned world.
Last Stand at St. John's: The players are good old fashioned Shit Farmers or whatever they feel like being who have gotten swept up in a panicked local mob that has run to the local church for protection. There are two problems with taking refuge inside of a church: there is generally just one way out and that's been cut off by the undead, and they have crypts. While the zombies are trying to break in to the church, the players and the trapped peasants have to contend with undead saints and bishops clambering into the church from the crypts. The big dilemma is whether or not the players should stand their ground and defend or try and escape. If they do escape, what about everyone they're leaving behind?
The Great Crusade: The players meet in the Vatican, surviving the journey to answer the Pope's call and being put together as part of the army that will march on France. Being the players, it's their job to lead the hike into France and scout ahead to see if Mordecai is still there (he is) and how they can lead the army to them. Complications arise in the form of mortal cultists who worship him like a god and are hell-bent on sabotaging the players' efforts to find Mordecai, but defeating the cultists will let them find a safe route into Paris. The bigger complication is the fact that Mordecai might've summoned a demon to make their dramatic duel against him even more dangerous. What happens if the players win or lose? That's up to the GM to decide.
Unofficial Game Idea: Misplaced time travelers armed with enough firepower to stop the forces of evil (un)dead in their tracks. Does the Army of Darkness RPG exist? Yes, yes it does, but let me just play a little Devil's Advocate here.
NEXT TIME: A Christian priest, a houngan and a Buddhist monk walk into a graveyard...
Until the Ending of the WorldOriginal SA post
CHAPTER SIX: Part Three
Until the Ending of the World
Surprise kids, it’s Abrahamic Armageddon! Yes, it’s accurate to the Book of Revelations, but not the one you expected. No, it’s accurate to the original Book as written by Saint John. The original book was changed and edited over the years by the Church and general theological shenanigans. So when God reaches down and brings the damnation and resurrection, it’s quite a bit different than what everyone with an apocalypse hard-on didn’t expect. The world has become so full of sin that God has decided to start anew and let mankind punish itself. The faithful and worthy get brought up to Heaven and the rest are left on Earth. If you survive the End of Days by displaying goodness and compassion and charity, you earn yourself a ticket to Heaven.
The day after all the good people are Raptured, Israel is ground zero of the zombie apocalypse and the dead rise in the wake of the sun sweeping east. By the second day of the Rapture, the entire world is swarming with the undead. As it turns out, a pretty major mistranslation of a verb obscured the means of God’s wrath. It wasn’t that the dead would rise up and be judged, it was that the dead would rise up and judge the living. A person killed by a zombie has their soul freed to be judged and sent to Heaven or Hell or wherever is appropriate while the dead person gets up as a zombie. The only places safe from the dead are places of worship but even then too many sinners will undo the sanctity; the zombies are compelled to destroy everything that mankind has created (in addition to the living). The only people safe from the dead are the sufficiently faithful, but that only lasts as long as they don’t sin or not help others. There are still at least six years left of Armageddon and not everyone has been able to infer the truth of the situation yet.
Servants of the Light: You’re good people doing good things. Regardless of your belief system or background, this God is the avatar of all gods and is willing to save anyone who can prove they’re worthy of salvation. You can help other survivors or help sanctify land against the undead and help fight off the unjust and wicked survivors who would hurt others. Do enough good deeds and you’re guaranteed a ticket to Heaven…after you die. You still have to die. And the best way to die without it being a sin as at the hands of the zombies.
Servants of the Dark: Better to reign on Zombie Earth than kiss ass and go to Heaven (even if God is probably going to wipe Earth clean anyway). You might be a regular bad person or you might actually be allied with the Devil, but you’re definitely an asshole and you definitely want to drag others down with you. This is pretty much the only possible evil campaign in the book.
The Middle Path: You’re not a saint and you’re not a Satanist. You’re just some people who weren’t good enough for Heaven. You’re just trying to survive and figure out what’s going on while the faithful try to save you and the faithless try to screw you.
Dawn of the Zombie Lords
A decade after the zombie apocalypse came and refused to end, mankind had found a survivalist groove. A century later, the earth is under the thrall of the people who have figured out how to control the undead and they’re jerks. The first of the Zombie Lords was Lord Obatala, a man from the Caribbean with extreme willpower strong enough to force zombies to bend to his will. Nobody is really sure how this works, but it does. He took over Hispaniola and quickly turned his sights towards the United States and the rest of the Caribbean, attacking the shattered government with undead troops. Across the world, other Zombie Lords began to manifest their powers. Some of them are benevolent and use their powers to create safe zones, but then you have others like Count von Stults conquering most of Europe and the Lady of the Yellow Springs taking over most of China.
There are 36 Zombie Lords and they control most of the undead. Only Obatala has a write-up, so basically everything is up to the GM. One hundred years after the resurrection, there are 1.2 billion living humans and 7 billion undead. The Zombie Lords issue these sort of metaphysical, invisible seals/mental marks to the living and the dead, controlling the dead with the seals and protecting the living from the sealed dead. Zombie Lords can strip seals from enemy zombies, but it takes a bit of effort. They can control undead as long as they’re within line of sight and there’s no limit to how many they can control at one time. The dead are used as menial labor and grunts and everything more sophisticated requires the living. Those living are scared of losing their protection and of the other Zombie Lords.
So far there are no real rulers of the world. The Zombie Lords are chafing a bit against each other and occasionally they put together groups of zombies backed up with living soldiers equipped with artillery to fight each other. A lot of the wars have been stalemates, but occasionally overwhelming zombie strength has lead to one Lord falling and their land and undead being taken by the victor.
Servants of the Zombie Lord: You’re loyal to one of the Lords and have to do things for them. They can either be benevolent or tyrants and the missions can generally vary. The one the game recommends is being assigned to assassinate another Lord and escape before you’re killed by wild, rampaging undead.
On Their Own: The players are survivalists/isolationists living in a remote area free of Zombie Lord control. They have to fight off the undead and keep it all together and then things get worse when a nearby Zombie Lord finds out they’re out there when they destroy the Lord’s zombies dedicated to killing unaligned living. Do you attempt to protect your freedom, or do you move somewhere else or try and play other Lords against the one threatening you?
A New Lord Rises: One of the players is a nascent Zombie Lord with weak powers that will only get stronger with practice. The goal is to help the new Zombie Lord gain power and take on the world one way or another.
Rebirth Into Death
Good news, kids and Buddhists: reincarnation is real. The basis of reincarnation is that every living thing has life essence/a soul and when you die your essence flies free to something about to be born or just waits for an open spot. Thanks to evolution, more and more hosts become available and in the process some souls realized that they could evade reincarnation and stay in the afterlife. These souls ended up figuring out how to send lesser souls to which hosts and how to basically control the system. So they set themselves up as benevolent controllers of the reincarnation system, making sure that the good souls get the good host bodies and the bad souls aren't reborn in sentient bodies.
But then we start getting into Mage: The Awakening territory. The rulers of reincarnation do work together, but they argue and they struggle with one another for a few millennia. Then, to make things worse, some of the rulers figure out how to ascend to the true afterlife and refuse to share the info with the others. The rulers end up going to war and they abandon the reincarnation machine/the reincarnation dimension completely, leaving some of the older, weaker souls to make sure it runs. Unfortunately, these older souls don't really know how the whole system works, and this brings us to present day: the breakdown of the cycle of reincarnation.
The cause of the zombie apocalypse is the simple fact that the system of reincarnation has basically started putting souls back into dead bodies. Instead of being collected and assigned to a newborn home, a recently released soul is shunted into a nearby corpse. To make things worse, this is never your own body. If you die near a hospital, you're most likely waking up in the nearest corpse in a hospital bed while some other soul wakes up in your old body. If there's no other body nearby or if the line is too long, your soul will just end up in a lesser form of life until you die again (a fish, a cat, a squirrel). That's actually more of a blessing than it sounds because being reincarnated in a corpse isn't fun. For starters, you can't talk outside of telepathic communication with other resurrected. Your body isn't particularly coordinated well because you're not the original pilot. Finally, you have an overwhelming to eat human flesh on a daily basis...and this doesn't have to necessarily belong to a living person. Going into a starvation frenzy means that you can get by just as easily eating another zombie at the cost of intense disgust when the hunger fades. You have 10 hours after eating before you feel hungry again and after 5 more hours you can't tell friend from food. You also can't take a headshot.
Story Ideas: Really the main story idea is that you're all recently reincarnated zombies who have to balance survival with the need to feed. The resurrection breakdown hasn't outright caused the apocalypse or collapse of society; on the lower end of things it's incredibly disruptive, on the higher it's a global emergency and people are panicking. The players have to figure out what exactly they're going to do with their undead selves. Are they going to try and communicate what's going on (they can still write or type, just not speak)? Are they going to just kill everyone? Or maybe they'll band together in a zombie horde and start becoming a roving war-band of hungry undead.
Thoughts on the Deadworlds
Grave Impact is by far my favorite because I like the fact that it's possible to take Earth back from the undead, you just have to be cautious with your flamethrowers. I like the idea of that hot, dusty apocalypse. My least favorite is End of the World because it's designed to be a one-shot and it goes a little heavy on the Christianity. Really I just like how there's a wildly diverse spread of Deadworlds and it's only going to get bigger and weirder and in a good way.
d20 Conversion Rules
Ha ha I'm not dumb or suicidal enough to tackle this part of the book. Basically if you like your d20, there are rules for running AFMBE in d20. Want to know how the heck this works? Get the book yourself!
All Flesh Must Be Eaten is not a perfect RPG. It is, however, thoroughly enjoyable and at least a pretty solid system for a point-buy, dex-ruled system. I lost a little bit of steam near the end due to real life, but AFMBE will always be the game that drew me into alternative systems outside of d20/D&D/weird lazy homebrews and I will always go to bat for it.
And with the core book done, there's plenty more books to go. I'm sincerely considering going through the books in order because I enjoy the line and they're pretty digestible books. So if you're interested in me picking up another book, here are the options I have for you.
1: I go in order of the book line, which is what I'm leaning towards. That means that the next book would be ENTER THE ZOMBIE, the sourcebook for dual-wielding heroic bloodshed, kung fu and Wuxia. It's honestly a little bit funny to me that this is the second book they came up with, but it's still a pretty good book.
2: I cover whichever book you guys vote on, as seen here in this Straw Poll: http://www.strawpoll.me/11662964
I did not include either Book of Archetypes 1 or 2 because I am not sure they really have much of a leg to stand on, seeing as how they're really just a collection of premade character types.
Also if you're interested in some of the free products for All Flesh Must Be Eaten, I have links for you!
First we have the introductory demo kit which has quickstart rules and a bare bones plot about going on a road trip: http://www.edenstudios.net/images/afmbedemokit.pdf
Second we have The Waking Dead, which is an introductory adventure for players that is totally not based on The Walking Dead, you can't prove anything: http://www.edenstudios.net/WakingDeadFREE.pdf
So vote; I'll let the poll run for a few days. Until next time.
ENTER THE ZOMBIE CHAPTER TWOOriginal SA post ALL FLESH MUST BE EATEN
ENTER THE ZOMBIE
Hello again! You may be asking "why are you starting on chapter 2?". Well that's because Chapter One in pretty much every AFMBE book is the intro that goes over what the book is about and follows a little bit of intro fiction. Well, I've said it once and I'll say it again: Enter the Zombie is the sourcebook for heroic bloodshed action and kung fu fighting. More importantly, it includes rules for two new types of cast members, rules for playing as a zombie and a buttload of new zombie abilities. Even if you're not down with these types of movies or entertainment, the new rules are well worth the price of admission. Also resoundingly excellent is the intro fiction. It's about the spirit of a Dread Lord being summoned into a fresh corpse to kill a crime lord/sorcerer who killed the summoner's girlfriend. It's way better than I'm making it sound.
CHAPTER TWO: TAO OF THE DEAD
New Character Types
Both of these new types use Essence but they're not like the Inspired. Their powers are their own and they're an expression of Chi instead of holy might. They're a little more of a cross between the Inspired and Survivors, getting durability and ability and Chi powers.
Martial Artists have mastered the physical and spiritual sides of their bodies to unleash them as a living weapon. They kick ass and take names for a living when they're not training or honing their minds. Martial Artists get 25 points for Attributes, 10 for Qualities (10 for Drawbacks), 15 for Skills and 20 for Metaphysics. Some of these points will be spent on the Gift Quality and a type of Essence Channeling Quality. They get more Attributes than Inspired and Survivors (and when Dex is king, that's pretty major!) and more points for Metaphysics than Inspired do (though granted some of it might end up being spent on what's necessary to use their abilities). Their big downside is they get less Quality points than Survivors (and when you consider that a Survivor can start play in full Don't Suck, that matters) and they get less Skills than both Survivors and Inspired (due to the somewhat limited nature of their training and the fact that there's no reduction in price for the Martial Arts skill for them). Basically they're excellent at melee combat and being able to use their Chi abilities but they're not really as well rounded as a Survivor. Also if you use the other type of character generation in the book with randomized skill points, Martial Artists get a base 5 points minimum.
Shooters are masters of gun-fu, able to use Chi to manipulate their reflexes and ability to sling bullets. They get 20 points for Attributes, 15 for Qualities (10 for Drawbacks), 20 for Skills and 15 for Metaphysics, also needing to buy Gift/Essence Channeling. Their Attribute and Quality spread is on par with a Survivor and their Metaphysics meet the Inspired's point pool. Their big weakness is the lack of Skill points being on the lower side of things, just not as badly as the Martial Artist. Granted, putting points into Gun is less costly, but. Essentially the Shooter is a Survivor who traded 15 points of Skills for points to spend on gun-fu tricks, which can be especially helpful in the right kind of game.
There's a handy new rule change in place for the Martial Arts skill. In the basic rules, Martial Arts costs 2 points per rank and then 5 points after Level 5, giving +1 damage per skill level as well. The change is the addition of actual moves and the fact that when you get your first rank in Martial Arts, you get to pick three moves that make up the core of your school. Every time you level Martial Arts, these three moves increase in power to be the same level as the core skill. Every level after also gives you 3 points to spend on picking more moves at a level you want to see them at. So, say someone takes Martial Arts 4. They get 12 points total and the first three abilities purchased cost 1 point each and will auto-level with the skill. You now have 9 points to spend on other moves and abilities. Points can't be used to level abilities over the skill's level; skill level acts as the cap.
Further rules: each move counts as an action for the purposes of multiple actions in a sequence on your turn.
Martial Arts Combat Moves
- Arm Lock: parry or grab someone successfully to apply Strength Damage as long as the arm lock is held. This damage is inflicted automatically, but the defender can break free if they win a Difficult Strength test vs. Strength+Arm Lock test.
- Back Kick: kick people behind you without turning around, dealing d4xStrength damage. Failing this move means you run the risk of accidentally throwing yourself off balance or falling down.
- Breakfall: Make a Dexterity+Breakfall check where success levels reduce the damage multiplier from a fall by 1 point per level. When the multiplier hits 1, the success levels start shaving 1 point of damage off the result per level.
- Counterpunch: triggers on a successful parry. Each level of success from the parry adds +1 to hit with the counterpunch. The punch deals 1d4xStrength damage.
- Crescent Kick: kick mightily in a circle. Deals 1d6xStrength damage but it's harder to keep your balance than the Back Kick.
- Disarm: Dex+Disarm vs. Dex+Weapon Skill to disarm an enemy.
- Flip: get off the ground without having to use a Defense action to get back up on a successful Dex+Flip roll. Failure means the Defense was wasted and you're still on the ground.
- Grab: a successful grab means that the attacker can fire off another Combat Move with no penalty for multiple actions. Grabs can be added to Dodges or Parries with no penalty either. Does this mean you can Parry a punch, Grab the attacker and Counterpunch the attacker right in the solar plexus? Yes it does!
- Head Butt: The big upside of a head butt is that you can use it when your hands are full or you're tied up. The big downside is that a failed Skill roll to use it means you take the 1d4xStrength damage instead because you hurt your head. Fairly accurate to real life, really.
- Jab: Jabs can be used twice in a row with no penalty because they're so quick. 1d4x(Strength-1) damage.
- Judo Throw: Parry or Grab someone to make a Judo Throw roll. Success deals 1d4 damage and puts the opponent prone, giving them -4 to pretty much everything combat-related.
- Jump Kick: deals 1d6x(Strength+2) damage but fucking it up means you run the risk of falling down.
- Kick: Regardless of success, throwing a kick out into the aether means that the attacker gets -2 to any defensive actions that turn or the next. 1d4x(Strength+1) damage.
- Punch: On the other hand, throwing a punch gives you +2 to any defensive action that turn. Deals 1d4xStrength damage.
- Roll With The Blow: If you're hit by an attack, you can spend your next attack move to attempt to roll with the blow. Before damage is calculated, a successful RWTB test means each level of success reduces the damage multiplier of the attack by 2 down to 0.
- Roundhouse: A heavy attack that deals 1d6xStrength damage but means you take -2 to defensive actions that round.
- Stabbing Hand: Punch+; more damage but with less defensive bonuses. 1d4x(Strength+1) damage.
- Shove: force the opponent back on successful contest with the possibility of putting them on the ground. No damage.
- Spin Kick: Deals 1d4x(Strength+2) damage but carries the same defense penalty as the regular kick plus the threat of losing your balance like the back kick.
- Sucker Punch: if the attacker succeeds on an Intelligence+Sucker Punch vs. Perception test, the target can't defend against the 1d4xStrength damage punch.
- Trip: Force the target down to the ground and deal 1d6 damage.
SPECIAL CHI TECHNIQUES
Chi Techniques are bought with Metaphysics points during chargen with a point cost equal to the Essence paid to use the power per time period. After chargen, the cost is double the essence cost. If the technique has a variable cost, it’s 3 for chargen and 6 post.
Using these techniques requires you to have two things: the Essence needed to activate the power and the ability to channel your Essence. Essence Channeling is paid for with Quality or Metaphysics points and lets you channel Rank Essence and recover Rank Essence a minute. It costs 2 points per rank 1-5 and then 5 per level after. You can totally run around with just Rank 1 Essence Channeling; it just means you’ll need multiple turns to accumulate the Essence you want to spend on a Technique. You can also channel Essence to disrupt an enemy’s use of Chi on a 1:1 basis, using your own to make them unable to pay for their abilities. It’s handy but you have to be careful to leave yourself enough for your own abilities. Also it’s up in the air if you can use multiple Techniques and multiple actions on the same turn, sometimes requiring penalties or just outright refusal based on what you want to do.
- Acrobatic Shooting (2e/turn): the Shooter is capable of feats of gymnastic prowess such as the classic Max Payne diving shot or surfing on a car hood and shooting or doing a backflip and shooting. Enemies have -3 to hit the shooter using this power without penalizing the shooter at all, or this ability can just be used to let the shooter do something seemingly impossible while shooting.
- Ain’t Got Time To Bleed (varies): AGTTB lets the user ignore the penalties of damage as long as they can pay the Essence to just grit their teeth and bear it. 2 Essence points can be used to ignore 5 points of damage. The damage is still taken, but it only really takes hold at -20 LP when all of the survival rules take effect.
- Balance of the Cat (1e/turn): Engage in gymnastic shenanigans without fail in addition to automatically recovering from being thrown. These things can all be done at full speed too.
- Be Like The Water (varies): 2 Essence points per turn grant an extra Dodge.
- Blind Firing (3e/attack): Lowers the penalties to shooting with poor visibility to a flat -3 to hit.
- Blind Strike (2e/attack): Like above but with melee. The fighter also knows where exactly the enemy is if they're within Speed yards of them.
- Catch Bullets (3e/attempt): You can attempt to catch up to your Dexterity in missiles (bullets, arrows, shuriken) by paying the cost and making a Difficult Dexterity Test each time. Essence can also be spent to give a bonus on the attempts to catch. Does not work with bombs or shotguns unless the shotgun is loaded with slugs.
- Chi Block (4e/close combat attack): Punch an enemy and spend the Essence to inflict 1d4xStrength damage but it also messes with their Chi flow. A successful punch means the target can channel Success Levels less Essence for Success Levels rounds.
- Chi Bolt (5e/bolt): Throw Chi manifested in some form as a ranged attack, maybe as a fireball or sonic boom or something invisible. Deals 1d6x4 damage and can target up to Willpowerx10 yards away.
- Chi Drain (4e/attack): Damage the opponent to make Essence flow from them and be lost in the air. Essence lost this way can't be used by anyone unless they have some kind of vampiric ability. Bleeds off 1d6x3 Chi.
- Chi Punch (3e/attack): Coats your fist in visible Chi energy until you attack something with it. Deals 1d10xStrength damage.
- Chi Shout (1e/attack): kiai loudly when attacking for +2 to hit and +2 damage on a melee attack. No yelling to make bullets better.
- Combat Sense (3e/turn): +3 to Perception when using this ability and +2 to initiative.
- Crippling Hold (3e/turn): Automatically apply 1d6xStrength damage when you’re grappling someone as long as you can pay the Essence cost. If you have to recharge, you’ll continue grappling the target but just don’t do any damage.
- Drunken Punch (3e/attack): The attacker can fire off an erratic punch that causes the defendant to take a -3 to avoid the punch. If it connects, the -3 continues to all defensive actions for the next turn. The Drunken Punch itself deals 1d6x(Strength+1) damage.
- Eagle Eye (2e/attack): Ignore all range penalties with firearms and shoot accurately up to the weapon’s maximum range. Want to kill a helicopter pilot with a handgun? Eagle Eye’s got your back.
- Flying (5e/turn): Literally fly. Well, okay, jump in the air and have total directional control over your trajectory and where you’re going to land. It’s more like a hang time in a basketball dunk. While aloft, the user can move at a rate of Speedx4 and can keep spending Essence to remain in the air. This can also be used to control/negate fall damage.
- Flying Chi Kick (2e/attack): Launch yourself like a missile and travel up to 20 feet in a straight line to hit the target. Defending against the kick is done normally, but the kick itself does 1d8x(Strength+2) damage.
- Flying Windmill Kick (varies): Mix the Flying Chi Kick with the later Hurricane of Kicks and you’ve got this ability. You launch yourself like a FCK, it has the same base cost and the same damage, but you can also spend 2 Essence to attempt another kick with no penalty for multiple actions. You can spend up to 10 Essence to fire off multiple kicks.
- Great Leap (1e/leap): Standing still, the user can hop up to 18 feet (6 meters) in the air or jump 36 feet (12 meters) horizontally. With a running start of at least 9 feet, the vertical limit is 36 feet and the horizontal limit is 72 feet (24 meters).
- Golden Bell (varies): The user can kiai and help negate damage as they receive it thanks to the power of
Hamon EnergyChi. The user can spend up to 5 Essence and each point negates 1d4xWillpower damage. Note: this only works against blunt weapons, not bladed/edged weapons or bullets.
- Healing Touch (3e/touch): Ahh, here we go, reliable healing for the party on the go. Each touch massages life back into the body via Chi infusion and can be used on the user or someone else, even if they’re undead. Every touch restores 1d4xWillpower Life Points (or if you’re undead, just User’s Willpower LP).
- Hurricane of Kicks (varies): Fire off another kick for the price of 2 Essence. The extra kicks don’t have any penalties for multiple actions, but you can only spend up to 8 points of Essence and this ability doesn’t combine with any other technique or combat move.
- Instant Reload (2e/reload): the user can reload faster than the eye can see, meaning the gun is just spontaneously reloaded as long as the user has more bullets on their person somewhere.
- Iron Palm (2e/attack): Deal 1d6xStrength damage against living or undead targets. You can also use this to punch through wood or stone, leaving a fist-sized hole. Not effective against any metal stronger than iron.
- Multiple Shooter (varies): Use Chi to control the muzzle of a gun so there’s less kick and you can shoot more accurately. In plain English, make as many ranged attacks as you want with no penalty as long as you pay 1 Essence. Penalties only apply when the shooter stops paying Essence. This is absolutely overpowered in terms of combat and absolutely hilariously useful.
- No Shadow Kick (varies): The advanced form of the Flying Windmill Kick. The first attack costs 4 Essence and up to 10 more points can be spent on using more kicks, like the FWK. Unlike the FWK, every kick knocks the target back 2 yards if it connects and when all kicks are done the target has to make a test to remain on their feet and not fall to the ground (if they’re still alive). Damage is the same as the FWK.
- No See Blow (4e/attack): A rough punch to the opponent’s head only deals 1d4xStrength damage but blinds them for rounds equal to double the amount of Success Levels achieved.
- One-Inch Punch (1e/attack): Ahh, the famous One-Inch Punch. You can use this while being grappled by an opponent or attack people discretely in a crowd, making them roll to see if they notice the blow coming or if anyone else sees you hit them. Deals 1d4x(Strength+1) damage and extra Essence can be spent to make it harder to see coming, but can’t be combined with any other Chi ability.
- Penetrating Shot (varies): Ignore armor without using armor-piercing rounds. It costs 2 Essence to ignore armor up to chainmail, 3 for armor up to plate, Class 1 and riot shields and 4 for armor up to Class 2, 3 or 4.
- Power Flick (3e/attack): Imbue Chi into an item and then flick it at the enemy to deal 1d6x2 damage. You can use playing cards, pebbles, pencils, grains of rice or you can even use bullets without a gun.
- Quick Draw (2e/draw): Exactly what it sounds like, but mostly for guns as long as they’re within six feet of you. Two shooters with this power can go after the same gun, which results in a Dexterity contest.
- Rain of Fists (varies): Each point of Essence spent lets the attacker throw out another punch up to 5 Essence spent. Punches do regular damage and this power can’t be combined with other powers or combat moves, but the defender can only defend against as many attacks as they have actions to spare.
- Running the Gauntlet (3e/turn): Run as fast as you can while blind-firing at the enemy to give them -6 to hit you. Even if they do hit you, the damage has a -1 to its multiplier.
- Speak Nicely to Betsy (3e/attack): Attune your Chi to a specific signature weapon, giving you +2 to using it and hitting. This can be two weapons, but that doubles the cost of using both at once.
- Super Throw (varies): Fling the enemy up to Strength+Martial Arts in yards after a successful grab. This costs 1 point and additional points can be spent to increase the distance thrown by 1 yard. Damage dealt depends on where the victim lands, but the victim always lands prone (alive or dead).
- Trick Shot (varies): The GM determines the cost based on what the shooter wants to achieve and how unlikely it is that it could happen. Regardless of how ridiculous they are, there’s no penalty to the shot, just a price to pay. Examples the book uses: average shots (like shooting down a chandelier) is 1 point, challenging (opening a door by shooting the control panel) are 2, difficult (firing around a corner using ricochets) are 3 and near impossible (shooting another bullet out of the air) cost 5.
- Two-Fisted Firing (2e/turn): Dual-wield guns with no penalties to hit. The only restrictions are that each gun must be used against the same target and that recoil still applies if both guns are going to used to make multiple attacks.
- Wave of Chi (4e/wave): Bust out an AoE that hits anyone in front of you up to 3 yards away. This deals 1d4x2 damage automatically and forces a Strength check; if failed, you’re forced prone and are pushed back two yards.
In order to play zombies, we first have to explore how to make them. They follow a slightly different creation method than the core game’s zombie creation and character creation.
- The core stats for the player character comes from a premade zombie template for the setting. Going to play a PHADE zombie? Use the PHADE zombie’s statblock. If the template doesn’t have Problem Solving or Long-Term Memory, add those on but increase the power level by 20 points.
- You now have 10 points to bump your Attributes up as you see fit. The limits of human maximums don’t apply but you still have to pay more to get a 5+ Attribute. Note: these 10 points also raise the power level by 10 automatically.
- Calculate Speed, Essence and Dead Points (only applies if they have All as a weak spot).
- Subtract the total Power Level from 90. The remaining points can be used on Skills, Qualities, Metaphysics and Zombie Aspects. The player can still choose to take up to 10 points of Drawbacks as well.
- Qualities: Any qualities or drawbacks that affect Endurance do nothing; they cost no points and they refund no points. Same thing applies to Recurring Nightmares. Hard to Kill does raise Dead Points, Increased Essence Pool does raise Essence and zombies can take any Supernatural quality they want.
- Skills: no change to skill prices, but some skills might be unfeasible or unusable due to the state of the body.
- Metaphysics: no real change here besides needing The Gift to be Inspired, be a Shooter or a Martial Artist.
- Aspects: okay, here’s where things get a little tricky. Zombies are limited to what they’re originally given from the template when it comes to base physical attributes. Any enhancements to those have to come from spending those 10 Attribute points. If you’re a breed of 90 Pound Weakling zombies, you can’t buy Monstrous Strength. That being said, you can buy Aspects that fall under Intelligence (being able to speak wasn’t included in the core intelligence boost, buy that) and you can buy Special Aspects (you may be a 90 Pound Weakling, but you’re immune to fire!). Cost of an Aspect is equal to its Power Level.
- Zombies don’t suffer any impairment (outside of losing parts) from Dead Point loss. That being said, once their DP hit 0, that’s it. Zombie Characters who are Important (like PCs) can regain Dead Points by eating more of their chosen sustenance than they need to. For every extra meal’s worth (as in, double what you’re supposed to eat) the zombie regains 4 Dead Points. If the zombie doesn’t need to eat (Who Needs Food?) but has a chosen thing they still draw power from, they regain 1 DP a minute as long as they’re exposed to it. If they’re not drawing power, they’re not healing.
Zombie characters are pretty fucking powerful. This is because balance basically goes right out the window with how many points they get, some of the aspects they can choose (hello Regeneration!) and how the human ability limit goes bye-bye. Even with the core Aspects and rules and abilities I was able to make some pretty beefy, dangerous zombies. But now we get into the fun stuff that make player zombies hilariously powerful when taken.
A write-up of the sample zombie character that's actually made in the book to outline the process.
NEW ZOMBIE ASPECTS
- Bloody Mass (4): the zombie is capable of just collapsing into a puddle of goo, flesh and bones on a whim. It moves at half speed and is completely immune to all damage outside of fire, acid or explosives. It can slip through cracks and even remains cohesive in water. Bloody Mass can be used as a reflexive defensive action but requires two turns to reform.
- Bone Blade Kick (2): the bones of the foot are naturally fused into a sharp blade. When the zombie kicks, the flesh naturally retracts to expose the footblade before sliding back to cover it again. The kick now deals 1d6+(Strength+1) slashing damage.
- Bullet Sponge (2): Regardless of weak spot or they’re hurt by bullets, if the zombie is shot the flesh actually traps the bullet inside and keeps it for later use. The zombie’s weird biology creates new casings and powder for the bullets and they can push the perfectly usable rounds back out through their hands to use for later. Or, if the zombie has a gun attached to them, they can just feed the new bullets right back into the gun.
- Burrowing Finger (5): Using a regular melee attack (dealing 1d4xStrength damage), the zombie can jab a finger into an enemy…and then break it off inside of them. The finger still listens to the zombie and will burrow towards the heart or brain, moving 6 inches per round and dealing 1d6x2 damage per turn. When it reaches the target, the finger then deals 1d8x6 damage per round until the target dies. Absolutely lethal against a living target and very handy for going after the weaknesses of another zombie.
- Buzzsaw Torso (+4): After a successful grab, the ribs and bones of the chest/sternum warp at will and rip right through the zombie’s chest, spinning in a circle and using the ribs as teeth as the spine spins the sternum like a saw blade. The attack deals 1d12x4 slashing damage per turn and will seal back up when the zombie wants it to.
- Chi Suck (4): A successful grapple or bite allows the zombie to drain Essence from the victim and take it for themselves. This sucks 1d10x3 Essence per turn and the zombie can hold onto/spend this extra Essence for the next 24 hours or until they reach their resting level of Essence, whichever happens first.
- Crimson Spray (1): The zombie can, at will, spray gouts of blood up to three yards away and try to get it into an enemy’s eyes with a Dexterity test. If it hits, the blinded target has -3 to melee and -6 to ranged attacks. The big advantage is that this ability can be used in conjunction with another action without multiple action penalties. Sh-sh-shah, blood burst and a sucker punch!
- Decaying Bite (3): One of my favorite aspects due to how absolutely rude and nasty it is. The zombie has some kind of parasite or escharotic agent in its body that is harmful to living flesh (but not its own). A successful 4 damage bite turns the wound into a festering nest. The consumption spreads at a rate of 1 inch a minute and caused 1 point of damage a minute. Unless the victim gets the infected flesh cut out, cauterizes it or burns it with acid, they’ll die slowly of a thousand cuts. However, the treatment is often dangerous and will result in damage as well.
- Entrail Whip (2): The zombie can reach into its belly and casually rip out its small intestine to use it as a whip. The intestine is naturally shriveled and treated to be used in this way thanks to weird biology and deals no damage to remove. The whip can be used to grapple or deal 1d4x(Strength-1) damage. It’s mostly better to use it to grapple.
- Fighting Flying Head (3): The zombie’s head can detach at will and hover in the air at a rate of 3xSpeed. As long as the head can see the body, the body fights with no penalties and the head can actually assist the body with bites and headbutts. It’s -5 to hit the head and unless the head is the weak spot, any damage short of total destruction is ignored. To cap things off, this ability has unlimited range and duration. See what I mean by weird and overpowered? I love it!
- Fingerblades (1): Practically normal compared to these previous aspects, the zombie can extend the finger bones through the flesh to create 8 inch long claws that deal 1d4xStrength slashing damage.
- Flesh Fist (4): With a successful punch, the flesh warps on the hand and automatically grabs the opponent if the zombie wants to. The zombie can then bust out whatever throws, locks or follow-ups they want to on the same turn with no action penalties.
- Flesh Holster (1): The zombie has loose pockets of flesh that can be used to store weapons or other handy tools. They have innumerable pockets that can either hold something the size of a handgun or something long, thin and slim. The pockets only become visible when the zombie wants them to be, sealing the flesh perfectly and hiding the contents otherwise.
- Grasping Feet (5): The bones of the feet are loose enough to let them be prehensile. A successful kick can automatically grapple a target if the zombie wishes, opening up for grapple follow-ups on the same turn with no penalty.
- Hand-Gun (3/5): At its basic level, the zombie can force a stripped-down 9mm gun into the flesh of the hand, creating a big unwieldy mess of flesh and metal that can’t be used for anything but shooting. At its higher level, the gun melds more sophisticatedly with the hand, allowing it to be used and completely hiding the gun until the bullets start coming from the back of the zombie’s wrist. The Hand-Gun has eight shots and has to be reloaded by ripping back skin and taking a turn to reload or swallowing bullets and letting them naturally relocate in an hour. Alternately, take Bullet Sponge! Damage depends on the rounds loaded.
- Horns, Tusks and Spikes (2): The zombie is capable of manipulating their bones to emerge from their body with the speed and force of a switchblade and retract them at will. The limit is one large protrusion or two small ones and either increase the damage multiplier by 1 or give 1d10 damage if the attack wouldn’t hurt the opponent.
- In-Bodied Armor (6): For some reason the zombie has Kevlar or steel plates sewn into their flesh, generally around torso and legs. The armor can’t be removed but it also can’t be seen easily; the zombie just looks a little bulky. The armor’s value is (1d8x3)+18.
- Iron Shirt Body (3): Like the above but with Chi energy infusing the flesh of the zombie to help protect it from harm. However, Chi is not as durable as metal or Kevlar, meaning that the armor is 1d8+8 instead.
- Just A Flesh Wound (5): Regeneration is handy…but it doesn’t fix cosmetic decay and lost bits. JAFW is the answer to that. It only restores 2 DP a day but it lets the cosmetic blemishes and missing parts grow back, restoring the zombie to a more natural look. Check the table at the end of this for suggested durations.
- Mind Eating (3/level): A successful bite to the head means the zombie can attempt to suck the memories from the victim’s skull. For every success level over the victim’s resistance, the zombie can either get 1 level in a skill or one key fact from the victim’s brain. Eat the entire brain and you get 10 facts or skills. These gains last for days equal to the skill’s level or can be made permanent gains for 2 points per level.
- Melding (3): A truly grody ability that can be done when the zombie successfully grapples an opponent. The flesh of the zombie flows and becomes malleable and actually starts to stick and fuse to the victim’s skin (even slipping through fabric to make contact), trapping them in a grotesque hug and making both parties fall over. The zombie can then attack the trapped victim with a +4 bonus to hit. The victim is either freed if the zombie undoes the meld or can rip free with a Strength test, but if the test is successful both parties take 1d10x5 damage.
- My Body is a Deadly Weapon (2): The zombie is able to detach one of their limbs and wield it as a weapon. A detached arm deals 1d8xStrength damage and acts like a club. A detached leg counts as a big club, deals 1d10xStrength damage and can be used two-handed, but you have to move at half speed.
- Prehensile Hair (3): With hair as strong as garrote wire, the zombie can use it as a third limb and hide a weapon in it to attack people. Hair can use melee weapons or throw them but has -2 Strength compared to the zombie’s core Strength (down to Strength 1). More importantly, the hair gives the zombie an extra attack action per turn.
- Ribs of Doom (3): The ribs of the zombie emerge and bite into the flesh of the victim, acting on a successful grapple and dealing 1d4xStrength damage. The zombie is then free to use their hands as they see fit and the ribs will continue to deal 1d4x(Strength-1) damage per turn. It’s great for making human shields if you need both hands for your guns.
- Shifting Bones (3/5): The zombie is able to shift their skeleton around beneath their skin to act as extra armor on a Willpower test, creating reactive spikes in addition to providing armor. An unarmed attack against the zombie deals no damage and inflicts 1d4+attacker’s Strength damage back at the attacker. A melee weapon provides (1d8x2)+8 armor. The higher level of this power allows protection against bullets.
- Shot-Arms (4): An upgraded version of Hand-Gun, Shot-Arms involves forcing a stripped-down shotgun into the zombie’s arm. The gun is completely hidden and the arm remains completely functional, but the shotgun can only fire one round before needing to be reloaded (also it comes out of the palm and might deal 1 damage depending on weak points). Reloading takes two rounds or one hour if they eat the shells. Or, y’know, take Bullet Sponge. Damage depends on the rounds loaded.
- Shuriken Nails (1): The zombie’s fingernails and toenails are detachable and razor-sharp, giving them 20 projectiles that deal 1d4xStrength slashing damage against enemies. If recovered, they just click back into place. If lost and the zombie can regenerate, they grow back over 48 hours.
- Snake’s Spine Lung (2/4): The zombie’s spine extends and the head rockets forward up to four yards away to attack with bites or headbutts before retracting. Just flick the switch on the action figure’s back to see a demo! At higher levels, the spine is strong enough to swing the zombie’s head like a flail, dealing 1d10xStrength damage. Because of how rapid and weird this attack is, the opponent gets -4 to defend against the first attack and -2 against the second, especially if they think they’re out of range. Using this ability counts as an attack.
- Spying Eyes (2): The zombie can remove an eye and let it fly away into the air up to Willpowerx10 yards away at the zombie’s normal speed. The zombie is capable of seeing (and, somehow, hearing) through that eye as long as they focus on it, but they can’t use both eyes at the same time. Better for PC use than enemy use.
- Strength in Numbers (6): Taking a little bit of a cue from toku/sentai, up to five zombies that have SIN can combine their bodies into one mega beast. This takes one minute per zombie. The first zombie forms the basis of the stats and each additional zombie integrated can add +1 to each of base zombie’s physical stats. Alternately, the conglomeration can choose to forgo one of the stat bonuses and instead make the monster manifest another pair of legs or arms. Each extra set of arms gives the zombie one additional attack and defense per turn without penalty, each extra pair of legs gives two extra kick attacks per turn but slows the zombie’s move speed by 2 points. So a full five zombie conglomeration could have +5 Strength, +5 Dexterity and +5 Constitution, or could have +5 Strength, +5 Dexterity and five extra arms, or etc.
- Sword-Arm (2/4): The bladed equivalent of putting a gun in your arm or knives in your feet, the Sword-Arm comes in two forms. The basic form is that the flesh is stripped away from one arm and the bones have fused into a natural blade. The enhanced form means that the flesh remains and retracts when the zombie wants to be seen. Either way, the blade deals 1d8xStrength damage.
- Theft of the Body (5): The zombie is able to repurpose body parts it takes from the living (specifically severed limbs) and attaching it wherever they want. Extra arms offer one free attack or defense if they’re positioned where they can reach the opponent and extra legs offer an extra kick but with -1 to Speed. Limbs stolen in this fashion function perfectly well wherever they’ve been attached, but the bond only lasts for one hour before the additional limb drops off.
- Trapping Flesh (3): Trapping Flesh means that zombie is really just half gelatinous and held together with force of will (making it the most logical extension to all of the grappling abilities that have come before it). Any close combat attacks against the zombie will still do damage but then immediately get stuck in the zombie’s body, requiring the hand, fist or weapon be pulled loose in a contest of Strength vs. zombie Constitution. The zombie, of course, can let the trapped object go free at any time but why would it? It’s still able to act normally and do whatever and now the food is stuck to it.
- Turret Torso (1): Something has made the zombie’s spine all limber and loose, letting it turn a full 360 degrees with no problem. This is a major blessing for a zombie with a gun because what it means is that it can run and gun at the same time with no penalty, or it can stand still and gain +2 to shooting because hand, eye and gun can follow its target without having to adjust its positioning and stance. Hell, the zombie can run forwards and turn its chest 180 degrees to shoot backwards with no penalty.
- Undead Flexibility (3): The zombie’s joints get nice and loose as well, giving all of its joints and connection points the ability to rotate 360 degrees with no problems. The zombie gets +1 Dexterity thanks to this along with gaining +3 to resisting locks, grabs, throws and doing Escape Artist things. The zombie can also squirm through any opening big enough to fit their body mass through (as long as it remains intact), like a bathroom window, storm drain or doggy door.
- Venous Defense (2): When you don’t need blood, this opens your veins up to do weird and wacky things to pass the time. The veins poke out of the body like three inches of sharp, bristly fur, giving the zombie 1d6+1 body armor. The veins also come into play when the zombie grapples, automatically dealing 1d6x2 slashing damage.
- Wall Crawling (2): Kind of tame at this point, but the zombie’s got a mixture of flexibility and sticky fingers that let it climb or move across any surface with no issues.
- Whirling Cyclone Kick (3): The WCK is the kung-fu use of having a 360 Crazy Spine, making the lower body spin like a top as the upper torso remains stationary and still. The zombie builds speed and will continue to balance on one foot and move normally, one leg kicking around in a constant circle until the zombie wants it to stop or the leg hits something. The kick deals 1d10xStrength damage, but the WCK needs to spin for one round in order to have sufficient momentum to do damage.
And now, for good measure, here are some weapon stats.
Well that was kind of a long update. I feel like it had to be a little thick because of how I was kind of slacking on getting this done and how I felt like I needed to basically put two updates together. Anyway, thoughts. I like the Martial Artist and Shooter, though I do feel like the Shooter is much stronger as a fighter due to Dexterity ruling. I think the thing I really like about them is the fact that the game is never truly...restrictive with busting out Chi abilities. Your powers aren't really designed for long-term use but that's okay, they're designed to be used spur of the moment to give yourself an edge and your Essence regenerates fast enough to mean you have a relatively consistent pool to draw from. You're never going to be shrugging your shoulders and hanging out in the back because you already used up three of your daily allotted Flying Kicks. I also like how the martial arts system feels firm without being crunchy or overbearing, how you can build well around a set of core moves.
Also good god those new Aspects for zombies, plus the ability to play as zombies. I love how a lot of them are very obviously brainstormed just for player use or for a particularly inventive GM to throw curveballs at the players. While I feel like it leans a little too hard on the side of Weird Shit or just benefits for player characters, I do appreciate the general breadth of abilities. I mean, you can literally replicate the T-1000 as a zombie with only a few of those abilities. It's pretty great!
Long story short, a lot of this inventiveness and comprehensive yet approachable design is part of why I really dig All Flesh Must Be Eaten and why Enter the Zombie really sings and excels as the first expansion book. I mean, thematically, it doesn't really follow, does it. You would have expected Dungeons and Zombies or Fistful O' Zombies to be the first book. But, well, AFMBE kinda does whatever the hell it wants and it really knocks it out of the park sometimes (and admittedly sometimes it doesn't).
So we've gotten all the mechanics and new fun toys to play with. Now what? Deadworlds! Because literally more than half of the book is made of four new Deadworlds, they have more of a cohesive campaign idea than the ones in the core book and as such they have more meat and characters to them. NEXT TIME we'll be diving face-first over a table in a restaurant full of backlit fish tanks and thugs in cheap suits with the first Deadworld, HARD BOILED CORPSES.
HARD BOILED CORPSESOriginal SA post
HARD BOILED CORPSES
Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain back in 1997, and in the current day (the setting in the book is 2000ish) there are still problems acclimating. The control of the Chinese government doesn't mesh so well with the Hong Kong Triads and the Hong Kong PD. Before the return, the dance between the Police and the Triads was a difficult dance of bribery, corruption, justice and violence. Now a third person has burst into the dance and thrown the whole thing off. The Chinese government cares less about rights and protocol and is more than willing to crush everything left over from British control to assert dominance, giving the Police more freedom.
This major shift in balance has put the Police and Chinese government up against the Triads with the Police going for the above-ground fight while the government goes underground. The government is more than willing to engage in illegal skullduggery and have come upon a master plan to crush the drug trade and the Triads. This plan is masterminded by Colonel Tsai Hsing, a man who saw how the CIA flooded black neighborhoods with crack cocaine and decided "yeah, this is a good start". Hsing's plan is called OPERATION WHITE THUNDER.
White Thunder's goal was to explicitly to kill addicts and crash the Hong Kong drug trade using funds from the Chinese government, assigned directly to Hsing by them. Hsing assembled a group of scientists, pharmacologists and drug enforcement agents to do two things: amass a collection of cheap heroin and then cut it so it's more dangerous. Like a Chinese krokodil, the scientists collected chemical compounds to make the high stronger and make it more addictive with no care for the user's health. They even picked the most dangerous additive of all: a small smidgen of radioactive waste from Chinese nuclear plants was enough to make a kilo ten times more addictive and potent. This cocktail of waste and chemicals and other dangerous materials was used to cut the cheap heroin to create the titular White Thunder in great amounts. Phase two of White Thunder was to flood the Hong Kong drug market with White Thunder, replacing vanilla heroin with the special strain and making it cheaper and easier to get than any other drug. The hyper addictiveness of the product was enough to hook anyone on the first hit with even just a whiff or a taste.
Very soon, the majority of the Hong Kong underground was addicted to White Thunder if they were involved in the drug trade. And thanks to the super potency they started dropping like flies from overdoses. Unfortunately, there was a side effect that the Chinese scientists didn't sniff out. When they did the drug trials, they used prisoners to basically see how strong White Thunder was and how fast it would take to addict and kill someone. They got the info they needed, but they didn't test long enough to catch the fact that White Thunder brings some of its addicts back as undead junkies.
It takes a few weeks of White Thunder use to have the stuff saturate the body to grant the effect of reanimation. It takes hold when you die from either overdose or some other means and coming back is a lot like waking up from a bad session. Addict Zombies retain their memories and personality and mind and can pretty easily pass for still living. They can take all sorts of punishment as long as the brain is untouched and they just have a weird smell. In short, it's hard to tell the difference between an unwashed heroin addict and an Addict Zombie. The main problem is that the Addict Zombies still need a fix of White Thunder to keep their minds together and keep their bodies going. But what happens if the zombie can't get their skag? Well, the human brain is a good source of dopamine, and eating a fresh human brain makes the perfect substitute to get them all of the chemicals they need. And when you're dead and living on smack and brains, you're not particularly employable. In the process of killing off the Hong Kong underworld, the Chinese government has inadvertently created a threat of a new criminal society run by zombie gangsters when they couldn't return to their old gangs.
In order to cement themselves as a new player, the Addict Zombies performed a reckless series of daylight robberies. The final one consisted of a zombie leaping in front of an armored car so their allies could attack the guards when they came out to look at the damage done so all of the zombies could kill all the guards and just steal the truck. The Police and Chinese government are spinning these crimes as being perpetrated by junkies in body armor, but they're both now privately panicking. The Triad also has to contend with ex-members being angry with them for trafficking the drugs that got them killed. Hong Kong is quickly reaching a boiling point where violence will spill out onto the streets.
The Police: The Heinous Crimes Task Force has been formed by Inspector Sammy Deng to deal specifically with the undead gangster threat. The HCTF has to rely solely on police firepower, investigations and tough cops. Any attempts to ask the Chinese for government for help has resulted in them not returning their calls. Inspector Deng can't hit the streets anymore since he lost his leg to a shotgun blast, but his years of experience in the drug game makes him an invaluable leader of the Task Force. His main man in the field is one David Chung, a man of action who's been promoted and demoted many times for not letting regulations get in the way of bringing criminals to justice. The HCTF is pretty rock-solid and on the level except for one member: Charlie Jeng. Jeng has been working undercover within the Triad since he left the academy and has had a long and storied career as a deep cover operative. Jeng is also undead thanks to taking some White Thunder to maintain his cover and now he's deep within the undead mob. He's got all of the information the HCTF needs to understand the plans of the zombie mob and crush them, but he's gone silent and hasn't been checking in due to his addiction. Jeng is still loyal the cops but he just needs to be in a place of safety and security to actually help them.
The Triads: There used to be dozens upon dozens of major gangs. After the crackdowns by the government and police and the threat of White Thunder, only five Triad gangs remain in power. The most notorious gang is run by the most dangerous gangster in Hong Kong: Ting Sui, Nine-Finger Ting. Ting owns major real estate and a big cut of the business of the underworld, but not the drug trade. His organization had moved out of drugs for moving guns and stocks years ago, so the rise of White Thunder didn't do much to shake his hold on the city. When the smaller gangs broke into pieces from the deaths and the zombies, they all fled to Ting for protection. Ting "graciously" equipped his new allies with guns and re-organized the underworld to give him more of a benefit...but underestimated the tenacity of the undead. Putting all the criminals together under his banner gave him unparalleled power, but it also made it clear to the zombies who is trying to put them back in the ground. Mix this with the fact that the other four gangs dislike being under Ting's control and are starting to chafe because his plans are ineffective and you've got a deadly combination. The zombies are targeting Ting's businesses, looking to draw blood and hurt him, while the other gangs don't trust each other and are starting to raise tensions. The only thing really keeping Ting safe is his best hitman Victor Cho. Cho's job is to stop any gang uprisings and to get to the bottom of the zombie problem. This is going to be harder than it sounds; they have no idea who is behind the White Thunder, they have no idea what's causing the zombies and they have no idea how to stop them. The Triads very well might collapse before the undead are ever dealt with.
Operation White Thunder: The central base of Operation White Thunder is a warehouse in Kowloon. Its existence is a complete secret to all of Hong Kong and nobody above Hsing knows anything about the operation; he's been feeding the Chinese government slivers of information about the program's successes and failures. The scientists and soldiers of White Thunder managed to figure out the zombie problem fairly quickly when Hsing's top agent Meng Shan managed to capture two zombies for interrogation and study. The truth of what they've done has put Hsing into panic mode; he (accurately) believes that if the government finds out what he's done, he'll either be killed by them or shit-canned. The operation has shut down as a result and instead Hsing is enacting a series of plans. First, they cut the flow of the drug back to a crawl so it couldn't get outside of Hong Kong and cause someone else to rise and lead international authorities back to them. Smart move, but now the zombies have to go after brains. Second, don't tell the Chinese government anything. Problem: Hsing might not be a true believer, but there are staff members that are like Meng. Third, keep capturing zombies to bring them back to the headquarters. The operation's doctors have figured out how to use brain surgery to break the wills of the Addict Zombies and they've been keeping them fed with the drug, using them as labor and to do other jobs. Fourth, Hsing has been skimming millions of dollars off the drug sales and using the enslaved zombies to commit crimes for him. Fifth, let Hong Kong burn while he runs away with his cash and private army, leaving the original staff of White Thunder to hold the bag and take the fall.
The Zombies: In life, Shen Lu Chua was a high-ranking lieutenant of a Triad gang who fell prey to a White Thunder addiction that blossomed when he did a purity test during a drug deal. Shen was one of the first to die and come back and for a while he was devoid of purpose and control over his body. It was Shen who looked at the broken undead souls around him and decided that they needed to organize if they were going to survive. Now he controls 90% of the zombie gangs in Hong Kong with the simple goal of survival. The main goal of the zombie gang is to get control of the White Thunder to keep themselves going and to keep their minds in line. Without White Thunder, the zombies are compelled to crack skulls and eat brains which ends up being bad for morale and control over the gang. Everything they've been doing up to this point was to get money, guns and safehouses; their headquarters is a collection of rickety junks out in the harbor that the zombies come and go to using underwater ropes and the sewers. Now their goal is to control the White Thunder and thanks to Ting's machinations they think he's the one behind the drug. Shen and his undead criminals won't stop fighting the Triad until the drug is theirs, but they're completely unaware of Hsing's operation. If the Operation is brought to their attention, they'll change track completely and go after the Colonel, but that doesn't mean the Triad won't come after them in revenge. The zombies are dedicated, but that misplaced dedication might be their downfall.
The Thin Blue Line
The basic premise of The Thin Blue Line is that the players are all cops who have been hand-picked for the Heinous Crimes Task Force. This scenario can be used as either the starting point of a campaign or as a stepping stone from an intro campaign based around playing Heroic Bloodshed cops. There's no specific recommendation for what kinds of characters you should be playing as, you should all just be police officers.
The campaign begins with the players being assigned with investigating the aftermath of a recent shooting between two groups of gangsters outside of a noodle shop. The forensic guys are already on the scene, prodding at the mutilated remains of a bunch of regular Triad Toughs. Grilling the forensic team and investigation should reveal a few key facts: the six dead men died from gunshots but their heads have been cracked open to remove the brain, there is old blood at the crime scene that's already congealed and couldn't have belonged to the victims, the witnesses saw the other shooters take multiple fatal shots and walk away with no effect. Finally, one of the corpses has a packet of White Thunder in their possession, but the zombies were more hungry for brains than drugs and ignored it. The big complication comes when a bunch of Triad show up at the crime scene to hassle the cops about the shooting...and a zombie gunman armed with a high-powered rifle starts taking shots at them from a nearby rooftop, having stuck around to send a message to anyone investigating the shooting. The players should chase the gunman to the harbor, where he leaps into the water and disappears.
The GM has free reign to improvise and go where they will from here. The players should be thrown feet-first into the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong and teased with the knowledge of the White Thunder conspiracy, letting them chase leads and get in shoot-outs. The GM is also encouraged to get the players to take the law into their own hands, cut deals with the Triads, get threatened by Colonel Hsing's goons, get involved in Shen's gang of zombies, get messy. Ideally the campaign should end with a massive (or series of) free-for-all gunfights between all of the factions, fights that level the secret bases and bring the wicked to justice or die trying. If they play their cards right, they might even be able to expose the Chinese government's role in Operation White Thunder.
No matter what they do or who they choose to side with, the basic point is for the players to up-end the unstable equilibrium of the city and shake it to its core.
I Want A New Drug
On the other hand, let's put those new zombie creation rules to work! The players are all victims of White Thunder addiction, resurrected from some sort of death back into a world of vice and hunger. The point of this campaign is less about justice and more about ensuring their next fix. The players can be part of Shen's gang, but the book says to make them be their own independent group of undead is a lot more interesting and helps stack the deck against them. The Police are trying to catch the players and make them face the consequences of their actions. The Triads are trying to get revenge against the players for going against them. Operation White Thunder wants to catch them to clean up their mess. Shen wants them to join his operation, won't take no for an answer and won't allow a rival to exist for long. The players are likely to figure out the truth of the whole scenario not by investigating but by chasing the drug back to its source. Ultimately, how do a bunch of undead bring the fight to a well-guarded warehouse full of the heroin they need? And if they succeed, what then?
NEXT TIME, something smells rotten in San Francisco and that something is FLESH EATERS IN LITTLE CHINA!
FLESH EATERS IN LITTLE CHINAOriginal SA post
FLESH EATERS IN LITTLE CHINA
Once upon a time, five thousand years ago when magic flowed freely through the world and the flesh was closer to the spirit, there was a Chinese boy named Hung Shao. Hung Shao was descended from many strong magicians and had a deep ambitious streak to learn and master magic. Unfortunately what he had in ambition he lacked in empathy and generosity. So he carved out a little piece of China for himself, settled down as a magical warlord and spent a few decades honing his magical skills for a few decades. But Hung Shao was a mortal man, and he was afraid of death. His fear of death was so great, he abandoned his realm and dedicated himself to exploring China to find a cure for death.
And he succeeded. Using a mixture of jade, a rare flower and some other ingredients, he permanently froze his biological age at 50 years old and became immortal as long as he could mix the ingredients and ingest them. The next 5000 years were a blast for him; he became an archetypical villain par excellence, killing people, ruling pockets of China, burning cities to the ground, sleeping with women, summoning demons. Along the way he wanted company and servants that wouldn't die on his watch, so he simply animated some corpses to become his eternally loyal army/manservants.
Everything was awesome for Hung Shao up until the 19th century. A decades-long game of Go with a demon was interrupted by the British army approaching his palace to figure out where the local women had gone. That was the day that Hung Shao realized that his comfortable pocket of the world was woefully behind compared to the rest of the world; geopolitics had shifted immensely since he last checked and so had technology. When the cannons of the British army leveled his palace, Hung Shao also learned something very important: people were not scared of him anymore. When faced with something fearsome or dangerous, their response was to draw a weapon and attack it. After having many more of his holdings get destroyed every time he moved somewhere new, Hung Shao decided to relocate everything to the place people would last expect: the New World, America.
So he packed everything he owned (zombies, luxuries, gold) and came to San Francisco in the late 19th century. He bought an inconspicuous warehouse, moved in and had his undead servants kill anyone who attempted to extort him. By the 20th century, he had a comfortable palace beneath the warehouse (mined out by zombie labor and stolen immigrants who would later become zombies) and the warehouse itself was a sweatshop. Hung Shao realized that keeping a low profile worked a lot better than advertising yourself as the local monster, so in 1964 Chinatown became home to the reclusive millionaire Daniel Hong, owner of the Chuan Fa Import/Export Company. Hung Shao used the personality of Daniel Hong to establish a legitimate business on his property and donated money gained from illegal trade and sweat shop work to get closer to his ultimate goal: ruling San Francisco.
Now, when I say "ruling San Francisco", I don't mean that Hung Shao meant he wanted to use the identity of Daniel Hong to become a kingpin of the underworld. Let's not forget that Hung Shao is a 5000 year sorcerer who is pretty set in his ways. No, in the 2000s Hung Shao unleashed his army of trained zombie soldiers on San Francisco to take over the city and rule through villainy and fear once more, setting them against the secret societies and gangs of the city. The first few months of the campaign went swimmingly but then things hit a major snag.
See, when you're an immortal who needs a certain little something-something to keep that immortality, you like to keep tabs on where your supply is at all times. But at a certain point, the times change and the world changes in ways you can't expect. And when you're the kind of person who'll play a game of Go for half a century, you get wrapped up in things and forget to pay attention the world. Hung Shao never expected the flower needed for his immortality potion to go extinct. It was perfectly fine when he left China in the 19th century, but strip-mining and environmental pollution killed the plant's species faster than he ever could have expected. Hung Shao immediately pumped the breaks on his evil plan to rule San Francisco and regrouped all of his resources at his warehouse.
Hung Shao's current plan is to find a replacement for the flower or find a new form of immortality so he can go back to being a magical warlord. Without it, he's screwed because the weight of the ages will catch up to him. However, the other forces of Chinatown are now aware of him and his power and like the British soldiers and every person who drove him out of China, they're not just scared, they're pissed.
FORCES OF CHINATOWN
Ever since the first Chinese workers started building the railroads in the West and immigration picked up in earnest, there was a concentrated effort to watch each other's backs in the New World. In the face of discrimination, Chinese immigrants banded together to protect their heritage and each other. This has had both good and bad results especially as the years have gone by. There are three main types of groups at play: secret societies, gangs and Brotherhoods (combat schools). As compared to Hard Boiled Corpses, each group was free to let the others live and let live as long as they didn't openly attack someone else. Hung Shao's actions threw the relative peace into turmoil and they're all angry about that.
The secret societies started off as mutual aid groups that weren't allowed to exist under the government or couldn't exist formally due to racism and fear of the Chinese. The secret societies are still around and the two biggest ones fight Hung Shao directly.
The Jade Friendship Society started out as the Chinese equivalent of the Freemasons; members can call on other members through networks without having to go to the authorities for help. They own more than half of all property in Chinatown and their main source of money is construction, zoning and real estate. Hung Shao's zombies attacked high-up members directly and as a result the JFS started funding guns for hire and mercenaries to go after the mad sorcerer. They may not have magic, but they've got money to pay for skilled gunmen and big weapons.
The China Gate Society was originally a protection group that had the role of protecting new immigrants from exploitation. Unfortunately, times have changed the group and now they're one of the biggest human trafficking groups on the west coast. They smuggle immigrants in from China at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars and put them to work in sweatshops to pay off the debt. Hung Shao attacked the CGS for the purposes of taking over their business and supplementing his own, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Their response is to funnel money to the Triad gangs and local sorcerers to strike back.
Fukien Dragons: The Dragons are the oldest Triad group and have the most power of them all, making most of their money through the drug trade. The street members live fast and die young while the heads of the gang operate from the safety of protected buildings away from the streets. The Dragons didn't get hit too hard by Hung Shao's zombies and they actually managed to catch one and find out what they're up against. Their current plan is to sacrifice minor thugs to get experience about Daniel Hong.
Crimson Fists: The headquarters of the Crimson Fists was only a small distance from Hong's/Hung Shao's warehouse, giving them a slight edge over the other gangs in knowing that something fishy was going on there. However, Hung Shao's attacks killed half of their members and all of their leaders. In an attempt to save their skins they cut a deal with Hung Shao, who brought their leaders back as undead. Now the Fists, living or dead, work for Hung Shao as his defenders.
The Brotherhoods were formed by the martial artists and warriors who left China and came together to refine their craft in America. The true secrets of martial arts can only be found by people who seek the Brotherhoods, training that will let you perfect and hone your mind, body and spirit. You know, that old chestnut. There are three main Brotherhoods.
The Golden Tigers: The Tigers are masters of the five Animal Schools of Shaolin Kung-Fu, combining Tiger, Crane, Dragon, Snake and Monkey under one roof. Grandmaster Li Ho leads the Tigers and their 50 members as protectors of the innocent sworn to fight back the dark forces of Hung Shao.
The Night Boxers: The Boxers are a secretive Brotherhood, working as assassins and spies but not as mercenaries. Their leader, Madame Zhao, commands less members than the Tigers and their current goal is unknown. Zhao is known for being crafty and there are rumors that she might be extending a hand of friendship to Hung Shao.
The Wind Dancers: The Dancers have a public identity as a troupe of Lion Dancers, but that's really just a cover to pick talented kids and teens and train them in martial arts. The Dancers have the benefit of being beneath Hung Shao's suspicion up until recently; he viewed them as nothing more than a bunch of traditional entertainers until they saved a Chinese mystic from a group of zombies. They may be young, but their mission to protect their families and their communities is sincere.
Mystics and Sorcerers
Traditional Chinese magic also came to America, but it never really organized along the lines of the other groups. True practitioners of magic with the powers of Hung Shao are hard to find amongst the liars and legitimate healers and most of them keep to themselves. They're known in Chinatown, but they're either known affectionately as fixtures of the neighborhood or as someone you don't want to mess with. The game provides two such mystics.
Eg Chin is a good man through and through. He runs a soup kitchen and homeless shelter, he's involved in mahjong tournaments for the elderly and he's well-known tour guide and herbalist. He's also a legitimate magician, a master of divining and clairvoyance who has known Hung Shao's secret for close to 20 years and has been keeping an eye on him. Now he wants to rally the community to fight back, which won't be easy.
Charlie Mak was the youngest of eight children and was apprenticed to a Chinatown healer/wizard when he was a boy. His teacher taught him well but was not a nice man and Charlie grew up to be a bitter man. Charlie is a full time magician and makes a living from people coming to him for potions and spells. His loyalty and willingness to care about other people's problems only extends to the money they pay him; anything else that happens from using his services is not his problem. Hung Shao knew enough about his business to attack him, but Charlie escaped and is now focused on getting revenge. With only his apprentices and servants at his side, he's decided to fight fire with fire by raising his own dead to fight Hung Shao's zombies.
MAGIC IN CHINATOWN
We actually have a small addition to the system because they include actual spells and stuff beyond Chi abilities. So how do they work? Well. Same as Chi abilities; you gather Essence then make a roll. Anyway, the spells:
A Night on the Town
If you've never heard of Big Trouble in Little China, let me be blunt here: this Deadworld is based on Big Trouble in Little China and this scenario is basically "let the players make Jack Burtons". You should all make Survivors or Inspired who are adventurous and visiting San Francisco (sample groups from the book: a biker gang, navy sailors on shore leave, street gang from another city scoping out the city, radical militia on vacation, tourists who can take care of themselves) or Martial Artists who have come to investigate the secrets of the Brotherhood. Regardless of the reason, the group gets lost attempting to follow the guidebook's restaurant recommendations and the Crimson Fists decide to mug the PCs.
Fighting the Fists isn't much of an issue. What is an issue is that the GM should work with the players to create something they're attached to (a supporting character, a vehicle, a watch, etc.) that they will do dumb things and take risks to get back. While some of the Fists engage the players in a fight, the other Fists abscond with the Precious Thing and invite the PCs to give chase to get it back. The PCs should end up turning to the populace of Chinatown for help and come across a Brotherhood or Eg Shin who will help them determine where to find the Fists' hangout.
The PCs should fight their first zombie in the Fists' hideout and then figure out they have to take the fight to "Daniel Hong"/Hung Shao and infiltrate his compound. Making things worse is the fact that the Precious Thing has some relevance to Hung Shao's attempts to regain his longevity and if they don't get it back, a powerful ancient wizard now has true immortality.
To sum it up, this scenario should keep things fresh and moving along. The PCs should cross paths with the groups of Chinatown and make enemies or allies and eventually launch an attack on the palace of Hung Shao to stop the mad magician (or, more importantly, get their Precious Thing back).
We Band of Brothers
This scenario has the players make Martial Artists that are part of a Brotherhood in Chinatown. It all starts with a normal day of training until zombies suddenly burst into the school and attack the Grandmaster. This is the first day of Hung Shao's attack and they're not the only target; the Dragons will later show up at their door and ask how the PCs managed to beat back the undead, possibly becoming allies if cooler heads prevail between the players and the Triads. The attacks will continue and though the PCs won't be targeted further by Hung Shao, the other factions will come to them for help and protection.
Helping the other groups will reveal that the zombies aren't trying to kill people anymore, they're trying to kidnap them. All sorts of people are being targeted, even people related to the players. Snooping around will lead the PCs to Hung Shao's warehouse and a little stealth will reveal what has happened to the kidnapping victims: Hung Shao is draining their Essence as a stop-gap to stave off aging, killing one person a day in the process and getting more years back the younger the victim is. The PCs shouldn't be able to fight him directly at this point, they should regroup and get help, but now Hung Shao is onto them and sends the Fists their way in a drive-by. When that fails, he'll send two of his most dangerous warriors to kill the PCs, two very tough undead with years of training. This attack will reinforce two things. First, Hung Shao isn't kidding around. Second, they don't have much time to try and bring him down. Every day the PCs wait, one more person dies and Hung Shao sends more zombies their way.
I did this chapter a little out of order; the scenarios come at the end but I felt like putting them in the back half so I can end with this.
THE PALACE OF HUNG SHAO
Yup, the developers had some foresight and laid out some major fixtures of Hung Shao's palace/warehouse for the inevitable showdown. It also answers the question of "why not just wait until Hung Shao dies?". Not counting the fact that both scenarios involve him finding a stopgap/cure, Hung Shao ages one year per month. He's physically 55. This means it would take at least a year for him to die from rapid aging, which is a problem because he still has all of his zombie warriors and magic at his beck and call. Waiting for him to die isn't going to cut it, you're going to have to kill him.
The warehouse takes up a block and is in the center of Chinatown. The entire warehouse is surrounded by run-down low income housing whose occupants know about Hung Shao, but won't act against him. There's an agreement between him and the locals: he keeps the area free of crime and they keep their mouths shut. The warehouse itself is woefully lacking in defenses by modern standards because Hung Shao hasn't bothered catching up with technology, so the most technologically advanced defenses he has are locks. That doesn't mean it's undefended; Hung Shao relies on his zombies and magic to act as defenses. His Zombie Warriors are no pushovers when it comes to combat and he's loaded the palace itself with magical detection spells. The warehouse itself is a legitimate warehouse with three floors of boxes and goods.
The front of the building holds the living employees who do paperwork. This amounts to two security guards with guns who will press a button that opens a hidden door in the foyer that unleashes six zombie warriors. From there the players have access to the warehouse proper which is full of zombie workers (who ignore the players) moving boxes while warriors patrol the warehouse. Deep in the back of the warehouse is an old freight elevator with two warriors inside, and this is what the players are looking for.
The Underground Lair
Quick note on the zombies that applies from here on: they automatically attack anyone not wearing a magical jade talisman enchanted by Hung Shao that makes them ignore the wearers. Making a talisman is simple...if you can make such a talisman. All it has is Hung Shao's name written on the jade and then it's enchanted. Otherwise, these talismans can only be found in the pocket of the warehouse's head of security (from the lobby) or in the possession of some of the Crimson Fists' leaders. It's likely that the PCs have squared off with the Fists' enough to get a few talismans, otherwise the GM is going to have to be careful not to annoy the players with constant fights.
Anyway, the elevator. The elevator is a rickety piece of work that hasn't been repaired or maintained in the 40 years it was installed. It has a panel of 20 unmarked buttons that will cause the elevator to descend when pressed. If the button to the entrance hall is pressed, the elevator descends normally and takes the players to the entrance hall. There actually are 20 floors to Hung Shao's palace. The problem is that they're constantly moving around thanks to magic and a mechanical system that was built to rotate and move around rooms and floors. The other problem is that the elevator itself is a trap designed to kill intruders. Only one button leads to the entrance hall while the rest activate the trap. On top of that, Hung Shao changes which button is the right button on a daily basis. So the players have a 95% chance of getting this wrong, which means that the elevator will immediately drop 20 floors into a large pool of salt water, flooding the elevator with water. The elevator was designed to be reusable: dunk the intruders, drown them, raise the elevator back up.
Fortunately, cutting corners on elevator maintenance means that the doors no longer lock like they were originally designed to. The players take 1d10 damage from the fall, but they can escape by prying the doors open and swimming out. However, Hung Shao did put a backup in place. The elevator falling triggers a magical alarm that summons some warriors down to the pool to investigate what happened to the intruders. The PCs will have to either fight or flee the pool; either way from here they can use things like vents, crawlspaces, ladders, hatches or behind-the-scenes corridors to get into the palace proper.
The Entrance Hall
Say the PCs luck out and press the right button. Should this happen, the elevator descends normally and the players get out in the entrance hall. The hall is a long corridor with red and gold carpets, classical Chinese paintings and a collection of life-sized statues of soldiers with spears and armor that the carpet passes by. Four of the statues are actually painted zombies who are waiting to attack anyone who doesn't have a talisman walking by. At the end of the corridor is a 20 foot tall portrait of Hung Shao.
The corridor itself has wooden doors all along the entrance hall every ten feet. Each door has some icon of Chinese mythology etched on it, and the etchings don't actually correspond to any specific room because of how the lair keeps shifting around. Sometimes a door leads to a stone wall, sometimes it leads to a place you've already been.
What follows are popular rooms the players are likely to encounter. Use them, don't use them, come up with your own, it's up to you.
The Earth Prison
Hung Shao decided to make a little slice of Chinese hell on earth for his own entertainment and because the sound of suffering soothes him. The Earth Prison takes up a whole floor and is made of rooms of various torture instruments staffed by Warriors who have been taught how to torture. This is where captured intruders are taken. If there are no intruders, then Hung Shao just has the zombies torture each other and commands them to scream even if they can't feel pain anymore. The zombies dislike the Earth Prison for this reason, but the tortured workers won't try to escape and the torturing warriors don't attack intruders unless they interfere with their work.
Hung Shao's lab is where he reanimates the dead and researches immortality. One wall is lined with vats of corpses soaking to prepare for reanimation and the wall directly across from it is full of alchemical ingredients, herbs and more. The middle of the room is empty except for a table (where the dead are reanimated) and another table covered in various tools and objects and recently dissected human bodies.
The factory runs 24/7 with zombies hunched over work benches making sweatshop goods by hand (there are absolutely no machines in this area). It's quiet except for the sound of work as the zombies make everything: cheap toys, knockoff jeans, counterfeit designer clothes. There are no guards, just hundreds to thousands of zombies who can't be roused from their work. The only purpose the factory serves is an alternate escape route: finished goods are put in crates that get sent straight to the warehouse above.
The Shelves are where replacement zombies are kept for when a worker zombie literally wears itself out. This takes the form of a bunch of connected rooms, all of them 60 cubic feet and lined with cubbies big enough to fit a sitting human. Every cubby has a sitting zombie that does nothing but sit and stare and wait until when it's needed. The zombies don't respond to anything short of magic or being activated by Hung Shao. The floor exists to psyche out the players and put them on edge, making them worry about the rooms full of staring undead.
The Throne Room
The throne room is always located in the center of the palace, being the focal point that everything shifts around. The throne room is opulent with marble floors, priceless art, a gold inlaid ceiling and numerous murals that depict things Hung Shao has done. In the center of the room is Hung Shao on a moving golden throne and flanked by ten warriors wearing jade armor.
The warriors are normal warriors and represent phase one. Phase two is when Hung Shao's throne splits apart to reveal five zombie warriors coated in actual gold that was enchanted to be flexible. These zombies are the Golden Five and they're the best warriors under his control, some of them being in his service for at least a millennia. If the chips are down, the Golden Five are capable of using Strength in Numbers to meld into one omega zombie.
Also let's be honest: if Hung Shao sees the Golden Five losing against the players, he'd probably be more than willing to step up and throw some magic around.
NEXT TIME, a tale of assassinations, injustice and kung-fu set ONCE UPON A CORPSE IN CHINA!
ONCE UPON A CORPSE IN CHINAOriginal SA post
ONCE UPON A CORPSE IN CHINA
The year doesn't matter, but it's sometime in the last thousand years. The place, of course, is China. As with all stories set in China in an undefined period of time, the topic is kung fu.
The Shaolin Monastery created kung fu when the monk Bodhidarma founded it to teach monks mastery of the body and self defense to help train the body along with the spirit and mind. The original forms of kung-fu were designed to mimic the forms of animals and use their bare hands. As time passed, the monks who left the monastery (or were thrown out) brought their training with them while outsiders would visit the monastery to study fighting without seeking spiritual guidance. This lead to schools cropping up all over China and the rise of the school as a gang. Schools would go to war with one another and be destroyed.
Li Shai left the Shaolin Monastery when his father and brother died, returning home to care for his mother and his five sisters. A natural grandmaster of the animal styles, Li Shai continued practicing at home and soon his curious sisters began to learn his techniques when they weren't farming. At the time, teaching women martial arts was forbidden (or at the very least, unheard of). It was something that was done in secret. But soon the Li sisters brought other girls to the farm for training, and soon other women and men heard of Li Shai's techniques and came for training.
Henceforth, Li Shai founded the Flowering Lotus School and openly declared that he would teach any woman willing to come to him to learn his style. The Flowering Lotus style was designed with women in mind, focusing flexibility and speed and endurance. And this made the local masters of the five other schools (Tiger, Crane, Dragon, Monkey and Snake) very angry. First they spread rumors that Li Shai was sleeping with his students and when that didn't work they challenged him to a fight. That didn't work either; Li Shai beat them all pretty handily and sent them packing.
So the five masters did what most people do when they're humiliated: play dirty. They hired an assassin who poisoned Li Shan's tea and released a poison gas into the room of the Sisters while they were meditating. Satisfied with the results, they challenged the school again and tore it down when nobody would dare respond to their challenge.
The Li sisters watched this all happen. The funny thing about meditation is that sometimes it leads to astral projection. The poison may have killed their bodies, but their minds and spirits were still free and awake. They watched the five masters tear down the school and they watched their students hide their bodies in a cave in a shrine when they saw the girls' bodies remain perfectly lifelike despite being days dead. In their grief, the souls of the five sisters decided that they would have vengeance for themselves and for their brother. They would rebuild their school and they would conquer death.
And they did. Their spirits entered their dead bodies and reanimated them at the cost of trapping themselves inside the meat. Their grief, mingled with their anger and their horror at being trapped inside of an undead body, drove them mad. When some of their faithful students came to pray the next day, they were attacked by the five sisters and killed. They realized what they did when it was too late, but a grieving kiss to the lips of one of the dead students taught the sisters something else: they could breathe a bit of their own unlife into the bodies of the dead. Their students rose from the dead like them and the Li sisters formulated a plan.
One of the five masters is already dead. The Li sisters targeted An Wu of the Striking Snake School first, believing that he was the one who orchestrated their assassination. Using a mixture of seduction and Flowering Lotus style, the sisters single-handedly killed every person in the school: students, teachers, An Wu's children, wives, servants, everyone. The sisters raised every female corpse they could to add to their army to aid their terrible plan.
The sisters have been hurt and the circumstances of their death and undeath have affected their judgment and reasoning. Originally the plan was to kill the five masters responsible for their death, but they've decided to expand the scope to every single master in China, reasoning that at some point they all must have turned away a female student. This will expand even further as they sink deeper into madness, coming to the conclusion that every man in China must die and that they'll continue to teach undead women their style of martial arts to help them do it.
So, as of right now, the four other masters know of An Wu's death but they assume one of the other masters decided to turn on him. They would never believe that the Li sisters have returned from the dead and would be responsible, so they're fortifying their schools to protect against the other masters. The government of China have also been informed of the massacre at the Snake school and have dispatched an Imperial Judge to investigate. There are also rumors that the Shaolin Temple have sent a monk to investigate the murders (and because I'm bringing it up it's totally true).
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
The Golden Tiger School: Run by Master Ts'ao Wu, Wu is a giant of a man covered in muscles who focuses on striking and grappling. Wu doesn't fear An Wu's assassin but no longer wishes to associate with the other masters after the death of the Lotus School. As the attacks continue, Wu will eventually fortify the school and cut it off completely from the outside unless he dies earlier.
The Striking Crane School: Run by Master Kao Lin, the Striking Cranes focus on studying the enemy before attacking precisely. Lin is the person responsible for the government sending a judge (he sent a message asking for an investigation) and he also has students investigating An Wu's death. He thinks the Monkey School is responsible for Wu's murder, so he's been working with the other schools and officials while pinning blame/interest on the Monkey School. The fact that he's never gotten along with the master of that school is wholly coincidental.
The Flying Dragon School: Master Lo Chen thinks supernatural forces are behind the murder (he's not wrong). The Dragon Style is normally balanced and well-rounded, but lately he's been teaching his students Spirit Boxing instead. The idea behind Spirit Boxing is, uh, "punching with your spirit and blocking with your heart" to fight ghosts. It's not a very useful style because it's aimed at fighting ghosts (Lo Chen thinks ghosts are responsible) and is completely useless against zombies. However, because Lo Chen believes in the supernatural to begin with, he's probably the only master who might understand the truth of the attacks.
The Fighting Monkey School: Master Lwo Tong thinks that all of the other masters are idiots and this belief has been ingrained in his students' educations. He thinks An Wu wasn't murdered but somehow caused himself to die (not via suicide) because of how stupid he was. As a result, Lwo Tong is just generally unconcerned with all of the murder and continues to train his students. He's really annoyed at the presence of the Imperial Judge and is pretty sure Kao Lin is to blame for his presence.
Judge Wei: Imperial Judges travel from county to county acting as judge, prosecutor and investigator. Judge Wei has done the job for 20 years and has gotten a reputation for being one of the most thorough, successful judges in history. He has a group of investigators and 20 soldiers traveling with him (the soldiers are there to arrest and detain) and will leave no stone unturned until he catches the culprit behind An Wu's death. He also (rightly) suspects that one of the other schools is responsible for the Lotus murders. However, he doesn't believe that the supernatural is responsible but will change his tune when faced with solid evidence.
Brother Chu: The Shaolin Temple has no official influence or authority, but they like to investigate crimes involving martial arts and there was a premonition about the circumstances of An Wu's death. Brother Chu lurks behind the scenes, investigating and studying and only intervening when it's absolutely necessary. He basically exists to be the GM's tool for interacting with the players if they need it.
THE SISTERS LI ON THE MARCH
The sisters have amassed an army of at least 50 undead they've raised and have turned the shrine cave into their base of operations. After the death of An Wu, they've taken some time to train their new allies in a modified version of their style, Undead Flowering Lotus. Because the cave isn't that big, they've turned the surrounding forest into a base as well, building platforms up in the trees to hide up above. One sister and a few of their allies can be found in the cave while the rest train in the forest or watch the area from the platforms.
A bit of a complication has occurred, however. The sisters don't need to feed on anything to keep going, but their zombies do. Another kiss from the sisters will give them the Essence they need, but this saps the Essence pool of the sisters. Instead they've been letting the zombies attack caravans and travelers, feeding on the souls of the men and bringing the women back to the cave for transformation and training. This is pretty unsustainable, but so far nobody has linked the deaths and disappearances to An Wu's murder. The locals have (somewhat reasonably) assumed that a clan of bandits have taken up residence in the forest or maybe something else supernatural has caused the deaths; the activities of the sisters in the forest has lead them to assume that it's haunted.
For right now, one sister remains at the cave while the other four are at towns by the other schools. Since the schools have sequestered themselves for protection, they've been poking at the defenses and using their charms (or fists) to get information on ways in. The current plan is to seduce a student on their way out and manipulate them into letting the sisters and their zombies in, but their probing hasn't gone unnoticed.
Judge Wei has noticed the sisters' attempts at getting information and thinks it would be a good idea to attempt to talk to them or hold one for questioning (easier said than done). On top of that, Brother Chu has figured out that the sisters have returned from the dead but is biding his time before he makes a decision. He's found their base but wants to figure out their plans and how they managed to return from the dead. He might even be persuaded to try and reason with the sisters; they're entitled to revenge, sure, but they're hurting innocent people. Meanwhile Lo Chen has come to the conclusion that ghosts are responsible (specifically he thinks it's Li Shai's ghost) and is planning on sending some students into the forest to attempt to lay Li Shai's ghost to rest.
Wei Han, Judge
Instead of being a secondary player, this scenario allows the players to be Wei Han and martial artists guarding him and helping him. It's not necessary for someone to be Wei Han, but if they make him he gets 10 points for Chi Techniques and 60 points for all other skills. Player characters make Martial Artists as normal but get 20 points for investigation skills along with Status 2 and some legal powers for free. What they have in power they lack in backup.
This scenario moves the clock back so that it's been a few months since the Flowering Lotus School closed and An Wu was only recently killed with every man killed and every woman kidnapped. The general thrust is that the players aren't aware of any of the background and are interrogating the masters and locals for who might be responsible. Eventually they'll cross paths with one of the Li sisters (who will be evasive and refuse to go into custody) who will flee if pressed too hard. The locals will also be a font of rumors and talk about the forest being haunted and strange.
Regardless of how things proceed or if the players move events along, two of the sisters will succeed in infiltrating two different schools at the same time. One of them will give the signal to attack the school and while the players can't save the school's master, they might have a chance to save some of the students and women by fighting back regular zombies. Questioning the survivors will reveal two things: one student brought home a girl who let the zombies and other sisters in, and all of the women are gone even if they died in the fighting. The players will be able to find a trail that leads back to the ruins of the Flowering Lotus school and the forest camp.
How this plays out depends on what the players learn from investigation. If they're on the lacking side and didn't save anyone from the attack, they'll at least learn about the forest camp and will probably end with a siege on the camp to bring down any of the sisters there with the help of any other martial artists they've befriended. If they figure out most of it, they'll have a chance to warn the other schools about the way the sisters get into the school and expose the sister who is laying low in another school. With her cover blown, she'll signal an attack anyway, leading to a massive showdown between all of the sisters and the players set on school grounds.
We Band of Sisters
Honestly, there's a bit of this scenario that doesn't sit quite right with me. I'm not really a fan of the sisters escalating their plan from "get revenge" to "kill all men" when the former is a good way to make them sympathetic, complex villains. Also I'm not a fan of the general misogyny aimed towards the women by the premade characters (you'll see what they say later and it's one of the book's missteps to me). Luckily, we have this scenario where the players all make a sister!
Throw out the stats for the sisters and allow the players to make their own, changing the amount of sisters if necessary and giving them some extra points to boost their power levels if needed. Play starts with the sisters returning to their bodies and the GM should allow the players to pick which school they want to attack, but successfully killing one master will lead to Brother Chu and Judge Wei being added to the mix. There's a lot of good complications that come from playing as the sisters: killing Judge Wei or Brother Chu leads to more Judges and Shaolin brothers investigating the area. Chu might be persuaded to leave you alone if you limit your attacks to the masters but Judge Wei is an arbiter of the law and murder is murder. Plus there's the kiss of unlife and the temptation for the players to raise the dead. Finally, attacks on the masters should be treated like dungeons/raids. They should each have their own sorts of defenses and the same trick shouldn't work twice against them. The GM should be creative in how they handle each school and how the sisters might go against them, so by the time they go after the last school it should feel as climactic as it actually is.
NEXT TIME, warm fists meet cold flesh in the final part of Enter the Zombie. If you want immortality, if you want power, you're going to have to prove your skill in UNDEAD KOMBAT!
UNDEAD KOMBATOriginal SA post
Immortality is real. The rules of it are complicated, but it's a real thing. Immortality was discovered back in the BC heyday of the Persian Empire by the Magi, a group of magicians with the power to speak to the dead. Through the communication of necromancy, they learned that not all souls leave the body after death. Someone who has managed to kill a minimum of 20 people, 20 confirmed death, will have their soul bound to their body as a punishment until their body rots. When the body rots, the soul leaves for the afterlife. With a sense of curiosity that only magicians have, the Magi started stealing bodies of soldiers and experimenting with the bound souls. Eventually, they hit upon a ritual that involved sacrificing a life to allow a proper 20-kill-corpse to live again. The Magi (who had racked up a sufficient death count, what with being experimenting magicians) then started chugging poison and getting resurrected one at a time. Soon they were all septuagenarian immortals with an army of loyal undead soldiers, the Magi all relatively well preserved due to being dead for just a few hours.
The first 24 years of immortality went pretty well up until the hunger hit. The inexplicable hunger was confusing to the immortals and got stronger going into the 25th year, but they all gathered and ritually sacrificed new lives to feed themselves. This confused and scared the Magi, who sequestered themselves away from their soldiers to discuss a solution to the problem. While this happened, the hunger reached an apex and caused uncontrollable anger amongst the soldiers. When the Magi returned, half of the soldiers were destroyed and the rest of the soldiers weren't hungry any longer.
The truth of the matter is that their method of immortality meant that the initial life energy only lasted so long and more energy had to be taken from another undead. If this empire of undead was to survive, they would have to figure out how to stay fed. The answer wasn't hard to figure out: survival of the fittest, winner feeds on the loser. A tournament would be held every 25 years and the soldiers would fight against each other. To replenish the ranks, the Magi would seek out suitable soldiers or killers and offer them undeath. The new soldiers would provide perfect fodder to feed the other soldiers without threatening the Magi thanks to the fact that pretty much all of the old soldiers are loyal through and through. The Magi themselves would feed on anyone who disobeyed the rules of the tournament or just weren't up to snuff.
The Magi were happy with this plan. Their soldiers couldn't threaten their power and having at least 20 years to train the new recruits would give them a fair shake at fighting. That meant the only thing that could threaten their power was each other.
So the Magi promptly split all of their soldiers evenly and put space in between each other, selecting a piece of the world to settle and make their own little kingdom. The Magi convene and arrange their forces to fight one-on-one, bet on who might have the most remaining soldiers and spy on each other.
There have been 149 tournaments over the past years. The tournament gives the Magi and soldiers something to look forward to, but not everyone has survived. Seven Magi still run the tournament with three more unaccounted for, all of the other Magi being destroyed for trying to withdraw from the tournament.
The Rules of the Tournament of Souls
The tourney is divided into two phases. The Open Round is the first half (and used to be the whole tournament) where every zombie is matched up against another Magi's zombie and fights to the death. Soldiers never fight someone else under their Magi patron's banner. This did the job of getting everyone fed for the next 25 years, but a lot of the soldiers weren't satisfied and some of the Magi wanted more entertainment.
This lead to the creation of the Conquest Round. The Conquest Round is optional and each Magi enters 5-10 soldiers and bets on the results with money and other soldiers from their stable. The only restriction on betting is that you can't bet against your own soldiers, but it's not uncommon for a Magi to lose a bunch of soldiers and then win in Conquest and fill their ranks with more soldiers. There's also a good incentive for soldiers to volunteer to enter the Conquest round. For starters, every soul consumed from another soldier adds cumulative energy: kill five and you don't have to feed for 125 years. You're also exempt from having to fight in the Open Round for the years you're fed, but most continue to fight for the thrill of the combat and the power. Finally, the act of consuming another soul makes the winner stronger.
Finally, the most important rule: the Magi who hosts the tournament gets to add one innovation. This can be a good addition (the Magi Mardonius introducing fighter seeding and brackets) or a bad addition (Xeromenidies' decree that all fighters will wear iron boots and square off at the bottom of a hundred foot deep pool of muddy water).
The 150th Tournament
Pharzuburra (I will be calling him Pharz, I will not say this whole name) is the Magi hosting this year's tournament. He hadn't won a tournament since the 16th century and thinks having the home field advantage and adding his own innovation will give him the edge to break his losing streak. This tournament's twist? Living warriors will fight against the dead and this has lead to a big change of the Magi recruiting and training the living.
The Magi think it's a hoot. The soldiers, not so much. The tournament has become the religion of a lot of the undead and it would be a gigantic pain for a regular human to win something meant for them. They're also unhappy with the presence of the living because killing a human deprives them of a meal. On the human side, a lot of them have no idea what they're getting into. Some have been told there was a gigantic prize at the end of the competition. Others had their Magi tell them up-front about the truth of the tournament and have been killed when they tried to quit or have just had to train their asses off. The last year or two have been full-bore balls-to-the-wall training for the human contestants regardless and the tournament is ready to begin.
The Magi are all 2500+ years old and are incredibly powerful and proficient in magic and other skills. They all physically look like desiccated corpses with long white hair and beards and tanned skin that pulls against their bones, some wearing modern clothes or older garb. But, again, appearances can be deceiving. It's going to take at least a handful of people to go up against them or the help of another Magi.
Pharz is running this year's tournament. He dresses in modern clothes and has a surprisingly high voice. Despite being the host, he's planning on cheating if he can get away with it. He's a very compulsive, fastidious person who loses his bananas when things go awry. If something derails the tournament, he's the one who is probably going to react without thinking of the consequences.
Xeromenidies is the local weirdo. Sometimes he wears clothes that show off his splendor, sometimes he wanders around in a bathrobe. He's annoying and he likes to prank the other Magi and their soldiers. The thing that makes his annoying personality worse is that he has a very good win streak for his bets.
Mardonius really liked the Spartan way of doing things. He and his soldiers spend their immortal years devoted to constant training and practice. Fittingly, he has the soldier with the highest win rate in the tournament: Lysander, a warrior who has entered seventeen Conquest Rounds and walked away the victor every time. Mardonius doesn't talk much or have much to say.
Hazzura is still a priest of the Persian empire and gods and is pretty much the only one who still is. He believes the tournament is a holy religious act and recruits a lot of cultists or religious people to become his warriors. They like to sing hymns a lot and this annoys people.
Gygerras thinks immortality is pointless without power. To that end, he spends a lot of time playing with the stock market, investing in things, paying people to fight governments, typical sinister immortal stuff. He really only competes because he knows if he didn't the other Magi would come hunting for his head. To that end, his soldiers lose a lot but he doesn't care. He often throws money at the problem to get more for the next tournament.
Jerebes was lazy in life and is lazy in undeath. Unfortunately, it's hard to nap when you're undead and now he mostly spends his days lazing around, wishing he could regain that sense of restfulness. He goes through the motions as his most trusted soldier and aide Kim Lee runs most of his affairs. As a result, there are rumors Kim Lee might usurp his boss' position.
Rutulla would like to leave the system. He tried once with the help of the Magi Umaru but then things went pear-shaped. So he betrayed Umaru, who was destroyed, to save his own skin. Now he's waiting for the suspicion of the others to pass so he can make another attempt to go solo. He also doesn't do too well because he doesn't really care about the tournament.
If anyone has seen the Street Fighter movie, congrats, this is that movie! The secret UN task force is recruiting the best martial artists in the world to infiltrate the tournament. The Magi are known to Interpol as The Seven, a ring of criminal masterminds who need to be brought to justice. These ultimate martial artists will go undercover with the help of a guy who knows a Magi whose stable could use more human warriors. To reflect this level of skill, the players' Martial Artists should be made with +10 Quality points, +20 points for Skills and +10 points for Chi Techniques. Also the PCs should know how many people they've killed over the course of their life; this number could be the difference between death and undeath.
The players will get on a boat in Singapore that is crewed by a bunch of surly sailors and a Zombie Warrior. The Warrior will lead a search of the players and they'll find the tracking devices (if they're ever recovered, they're broken). The players get blindfolds or are confined to small rooms and transferred between multiple ships over the course of three meandering days before they reach the island and the tournament.
The players are kept in their quarters for the first few days, but they can escape and poke around the island. They're kept out of the Open phase so that way all of the soldiers will be guaranteed a meal, but the players can totally catch a glimpse of the fights if they're sneaky enough. If they get caught, they're returned to their quarters and maybe tied up. The Magi or soldiers won't kill them because they're not intending to let them leave alive one way or the other.
Now comes the Conquest phase. The players and all of the other fighters are brought to the grand stadium where the truth is revealed and they meet the Magi. There are 100 total fighters in Conquest: the players, 57 zombies and enough humans to round it out to 100. The pairings are announced for the first round and every human has to fight a zombie. Everyone is moved out to a different arena and the players should fight less powerful zombies for the first round.
Ultimately the goal isn't to win so much as it is to successfully contact the UN team in Singapore using the island's multimedia center. It's still going to take them a few hours to get to the island, so until they make landfall the players will have to survive. The grand finale is a full-on siege of soldiers shooting up zombies and going after the Magi. Everything up until then should be fighting with an emphasis on letting the players do cool shit in the ring.
Welcome to the Revolution!
Immortality sucks if you're still shackled to something like the Tournament of Souls. The players are all zombie soldiers who are tired of fighting and training and doing nothing else. They get to make killers from any time period up to 500 BC and get 140 points instead of the regular 90 for zombies. They also need to pick a Magi to work for (and they might not all work for the same Magi).
The game should begin on day one and include the Open phase so they can get their feeding done and allow the players to have some fun cracking skulls. Fortunately, they won't be matched up against each other. Hopefully they live and walk away with a full belly for the next 25 years, but that only lasts so long. The players will need to come up with A: a way to get off the island and B: figure out how to sustain themselves for years to come.
To get off the island, you'd need either a helicopter or a boat. Fortunately there's no short supply; each Magi owns a yacht that's guarded by other zombies who aren't fighting at the moment. The yacht itself has a helipad and a copter used to ferry zombies from the stadium to the boat. They're also likely not the only fighters who are dissatisfied with their current state of affairs. If they poke around, they'll find at least a dozen other zombies who would be willing to join an escape attempt. A big enough mob of zombies will pretty easily steal a yacht without much effort.
The real problem is the food. The book says it's possible to bring along hostage zombies to eat them in the future (or hell you could just kill a bunch in the escape) but this is only temporary in the long run. The real trick would be to kidnap one of the Magi, which is no small feat. Since the Magi fear final death, it wouldn't be too hard to find convince one to cooperate. Alternately, they could force the Magi to teach them the secrets of magic. There is no easy choice here; even with the knowledge of magic, you need a proper type of corpse to raise it and kill it to eat.
The final choice is when to launch the escape. Later in the tournament, there are less guards to impede your hijacking. There are also possibly less zombies to join your rebellion.
The book freely admits that because this is a stand-alone setting, it's not too hard to incorporate in another game somehow. It wouldn't take modification to include the tournament in a fantasy setting, for example. They don't really go about how to do it, but y'know, you can.
THE ISLE OF THE DEAD
Like Flesh Eaters In Little China, the book was kind enough to plot out arenas and such for you to use when you play the game. The titular Isle is a small island in the Malay Archipelago of Indonesia and is actually called Turtle Island thanks to its healthy population of turtles. Since Pharz set up shop here, he's been calling it Isle of the Dead and demanding others call it that because it's more appropriate. The island is four miles long, up to a mile wide in places and naturally shaped like an oblong. It points north to south, with the north side of the island more raised and rocky with jagged cliffs. The whole island is covered with jungle. And yes, there are plenty of turtles.
Pharz has been building on the island for twelve years and has set up a good little hub here. The buildings are a Hollywood interpretation of feudal Japanese architecture and the seven Magi each get their own palace to lounge in. The residences all have running water, electricity and air conditioning. There's even a communications center with satellite receivers and transceivers. The zombies all stay with their Magi in the palace and have access to anything they might want to satisfy any need. The humans don't unless their Magi is particularly nice. The residence for the living amounts to comfy dorms with cement rooms and access to nutritional food, a bed and other niceties. Making their furnishings nice wasn't on Pharz's list because none of them are leaving the island alive.
The stadium is where the Open phase is held, a Roman-style amphitheater on the beach. It seats 500 spectators, is full of electronics to record everything and has a box for each Magi. The floor of the stadium is where the Open phase eliminations take place, the zombies coming down from their seats in the stadium to join the fight when it's their turn. The floor of the stadium is made of fine white sand, but a foot beneath the sand are modular metal plates that contain multiple traps and dangers so the combatants aren't just hitting each other until one dies. For every turn that passes, each combatant rolls a d10 and has to contend with a danger from the arena's floor attacking them. These random events are dangerous but they can be leveraged by a human combatant to help get an edge on the durability and strength of a zombie.
THE TOURNAMENT FIELDS
After the Open phase is done, the stadium and its dangers are discarded. The Conquest Rounds are fought across the island on different arenas that vary in danger and traps to mix things up and provide entertainment. Each field has a viewing area for the Magi and select guests to enjoy the havoc. The following fields were all designed by Pharz and are his favorite, but as the GM you should feel free to come up with your own.
The Flame Pits
The Flame Pits were built in a cave on the north end of the island. The arena is laid out like a giant chess board with each square measuring three meters across. The white squares are marble pillars, the black squares are six-foot-deep pits filled with fire. The two combatants have to maneuver from square to square to fight each other without falling prey to gravity and fire. If you fall or are thrown into a pit, fire deals 1d6 damage a turn and you have -4 to all defensive actions while in the flaming pit. It takes a turn to climb out of the pit and you can't defend yourself while doing it, but at least it doesn't require a roll to get out. Because the zombies have a weakness in their spine, fire doesn't affect them too much. Spending two rounds in a fire pit set the zombie ablaze and now living fighters have to deal with their enemy being on fire and unhindered by it.
Hall of Long Knives
The Hall is a concrete building in one of the jungles. The building is a thirty square yard room with a twenty yard high ceiling. Hanging from the ceiling and walls are weapons attached to strings: knives, maces, spears, clubs and more. Basically the GM should have any melee weapon available for the players to use. Most fields only let the fighters use their fists and natural weapons, so a melee weapon is a definite boon for a living opponent. However, the weapons themselves are a risk for the fighters to gamble on.
To obtain a weapon, you have to first select a weapon. When a player picks a weapon, they should roll 1d10. On a 1-5, it's a simple thin thread holding the weapon and the weapon comes free with a tug. On a 6-10, the weapon is attached to a fine fishing line and requires a Strength test to get it free. Failure to free the weapon takes your whole turn and there's no way to tell which substance is holding the weapon. When the weapon is free, the quality of the weapon becomes an issue. You can spend a turn evaluating the weapon you picked and make an Intelligence+Hand Weapon test, or you can just use it. The GM should roll 1d10. 1-4 means that the weapon is a replica or a fake and immediately breaks when it hits the enemy, dealing no damage. 5-7 means that the weapon is in bad condition or just badly made, doing half damage and only dealing regular damage. 8-10 means that it's a high quality weapon, giving you +1 to hit and +1 extra damage.
At the north end of the island, a large ravine cuts through a cliff wall, 20 meters wide and 200 meters deep with a river at the bottom. A tangle of rope ladders, cords, walkways and more criss-cross the entire ravine. The ropes lead all the way to the river to provide a way back up if you fall, or you can try and catch yourself on something. You can only stop a fall after falling 3 meters, with a failure dropping you 3 more until you hit the river. Every 3 meters deals 1d6 damage to the character who fell, 1/3rd of damage calculated getting dealt to the spine of zombie characters thanks to kinetic force.
The trick to the Heights is manipulating a 3D space and using it to your advantage. Everything rocks and shakes and was designed to be uncomfortable to traverse; even the rope bridges have oddly spaced steps and a wobble to them. Strategic maneuvering is important; having the high ground gives you +2 to hit and to damage while fighting from the low gives you -2 for both. Clever or smart characters can also spend an entire turn making a Perception/Notice test to find an advantage the arena's creators tucked away.
The Maze is a hedge maze built into the jungle. Years back Pharz sectioned off a bit of jungle and laid out the walls using bamboo and thorn bushes, grooming the thorns/bamboo but letting the jungle run wild between them. You can only see up to three meters ahead of you at any time and the maze is full of traps and computer-controlled lights and sounds randomly trigger to throw fighters off their game. Each X below is a site of a random trap or event that will reset automatically after two rounds (with the option of an additional trap triggering with the next activation). These spots can be caught ahead of time with Notice at least. Unfortunately, it's -2 to the task due to the jungle lighting and the entire maze has a general -1 to hit and Perception.
You might notice that the maze is big. Well, there's another element at play. Fighters in the maze are dropped off at a random point five yards away from each other and equipped with a transmitter. Go more than five meters away from your opponent and the transmitter will make noise and explode in two rounds if you don't get closer. The transmitter also can be used to help you find your opponent. If you successfully point it in the direction of your opponent, it'll vibrate noiselessly if you're pointing right at them, regardless of stuff in the way. If the transmitter is destroyed, the fighter loses the match and their life is forfeit.
I've had a lot to say about Enter the Zombie and one of the things I enjoy about F&Fing is that I get to engage on a deeper level with the game. I still really like Enter the Zombie, but it does have its uneven patches. Hard Boiled Corpses and Flesh Eaters are pretty solid campaigns, Once Upon a Corpse needs a bit of creativity on the part of the players and GM and I think Undead Kombat is the weak link because it's not too full of a campaign idea. Fortunately, in the future, AFMBE will acknowledge that some scenarios are less full than others and are just indicate which ones are and aren't.
The zombie creation rules are great, the new zombie powers are fun and helpful, the Martial Artist and Shooter are good additions and the rules support them as good Essence-using alternatives to the Inspired. Even with the rough patches, it's still a book I'd heartily recommend people pick up to expand AFMBE core and it's a good first expansion to the line.
The next game is a game I remember liking at the time but I definitely haven't touched it since I read it, so join me as I dive back into All Flesh Must Be Eaten with PULP ZOMBIES.
PULPY FLESHOriginal SA post ALL FLESH MUST BE EATEN
CHAPTER TWO: PULPY FLESH
Howdy howdy, I’m back at it again. This one was kind of tricky to get back into? That’s because All Flesh Must Be Eaten books are…hit and miss. Some of them are really great! Some of them are just okay. There’s not a lot of bad books in AFMBE but oh man do the books that are just middling at best really just look ugly compared to the good ones. For example: Pulp Zombies follows Enter the Zombie, which has three really good Deadworlds and rules that let you play as a zombie that could eat people using your ribs as teeth or turn the bullets you got shot with into bullets you can shoot back at people.
And oh man does Pulp Zombies just…not compare.
Again, it’s decent. It's mostly competent. It’s a nice little book, it’s got some decently interesting Deadworlds that are campaign-friendly and it includes new powers and stuff. Enter the Zombie is the oldest kid and completely and totally embraces its source material. Pulp Zombies runs into the problem where Pulp is…way more nebulous of a genre than Wuxia or a Kung Fu Fighting Film or Heroic Bloodshed. Case in point: Chapter 2 of Pulp Zombies is kicked off with 11 pages of explaining the trappings of the Pulp genre and the culture of the time and what the world is like in the era of the Depression. Enter the Zombie has a literal list of movies you should go watch in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 is just “alright so let’s start with chargen and other trippy powers”.
So yeah unfortunately this book is middling at best. The intro fiction is nice, but again I’m not sharing the good intro fiction, I need to excise some stuff to make y’all want to buy these books or seek them out on your own. I’m also skipping the entirety of “what is Pulp?” and “the Great Depression and You: This Was Written in 2000 and 16 Years Later Some Shit Has Definitely Changed”. Really here are the four pillars of Pulp that the game puts forth:
- High Adventure. You’re going on an adventure that could never happen in real life but fuck the haters, I’m gonna get on my awesome plane and have a dogfight over the jungles of Africa.
- Heroes Are Heroic. Other stories have moral quandaries. Pulp doesn’t. Okay most heroes don’t, ignore people like The Spider or some detective novel protagonists. This isn’t noir, this is Pulp. It’s really hard to tell sometimes. Pulp is a hard genre. Anyway. Ignore shades of grey, you want black and white morality.
- Villains Are Villainous. Their hearts are black as night and they’re sinister bastards. They might have a reason that they’re evil, but they made the choice to be evil and they’re so evil they’re irredeemable. Alternately there’s the rare mad god a la Lovecraft but even then, those villains can’t tell right from wrong because they’re not human.
- Cheese is Good and Good for You. Embrace and use camp to keep the story flowing and complicate the heroes’ lives.
PULP HERO CREATION
Let’s go over past PC types real quick just to refresh memory and compare.
- Norms are regular folks who get 14 Attribute points, 5 for Qualities, up to 10 from Drawbacks and 30 Skill points.
- Survivors are more beefy folks who get 20 for Attributes, 15 for Qualities, up to 10 from Drawbacks and 35 Skill points.
- Inspired can harness magical abilities and get 20 for Attributes, 10 for Qualities, up to 10 from Drawbacks, 15 for Metaphysics and 25 for Skills.
- Martial Artists are super good at killing in melee and get 25 for Attributes, 10 for Qualities, up to 10 from Drawbacks, 20 for Metaphysics and 15 for Skills.
- Shooters are super good at ranged murder and get 20 for Attributes, 15 for Qualities, up to 10 from Drawbacks, 15 for Metaphysics and 20 for Skills.
If you want your players to be STRONGER and BEEFIER, well let me introduce you to the LEGENDARY HERO archetype. Legendary Heroes get 30 for Attributes, 20 for Qualities, up to 10 for Drawbacks, 30 for Skills and 30 for Powers. All of the other limitations from before apply, they just get more points to throw around because they’re just that good and powerful. Plus! Legendary Heroes are fearless and never make a Fear Check. They are fine fit folks without fear and the absolute strongest PC you can make.
Modified Qualities and Drawbacks
- Minority is now worth 3 points as a Drawback instead of 1 because, well, the game admits that discrimination is much worse in the past. Which is…accurate but at odds with the notion of the pillars of pulp this game put forth.
- Resources now has a new dollar amount because it’s the past.
- Animal Companion (Q, 1-4): You have a buddy. The smarter the buddy, the more it costs. The better it fights, the more it costs.
- Force of Law (Q, 1-4): The higher the level, the more legal powers you have.
- Hyperlingual (Q, 1/level Variable): Add points in this Quality to every foreign language you speak.
- Trademark (D, 1): Look it just doesn't work if I don't brand them, I gotta brand them. I don't have a problem, I can stop anytime I want.
- Danger Sense (Q, 1/level): Perception bonuses.
- Gadgetmaster (Q, 3/level): Make gadgets! Limited by the levels in your Mechanic and Science Skill; cannot exceed the lower of either or if both are the same, can only be equal to both.
- Mentalism (Q, 2/level): Gain fabulous psychic powers probably not from the Inscrutable Orient because that doesn't fly anymore.
Alright. Gadgets. Building gadgets. You know what this means: it's kinda complicated.
There are two ways to master a gadget. First, sit down in your lab and make shit. If you do this, Laboratory Gadgets are basically a part of your arsenal until destroyed or discarded. What does this mean? I honestly don't know. I interpret this to mean that you basically have a Gadget Cave where you can open a locker and then load up on stuff. Alternately, there's the Spontaneous Gadget when you need to whip up dynamite on the fly or MacGyver a gun out of pipes and chemicals. These can be repeatedly used but they eat up Gadget Slots if that makes sense.
Actually let's explain Gadget Slots. You can have X Gadgets on you where X is your Gadgetmaster Quality and X is somewhat variable because it depends on how many points the gadget has. LGs and SGs both take up the same pool of points and only open up if A: the gadget is abandoned or lost or destroyed or B: it's the beginning of a new adventure except A does not count while you're in a mission chain, you can't just give up Gadgets to other people to open up slots. It's complicated. It's really...confusing and I don't like the Gadget rules too much.
Gadgets can't be less than 1 point and generally run from 1-5. Rating depends on complexity and accessibility and other modules.
Complexity depends on the level of technology needed to create it and how well the technology is understood. For example: the humble atom as used for atomic energy. If this Gadget mutates ants into giants, it's Pulp tech. If it gives your enemies cancer, it's modern tech. If it's used to power a rocket engine, it's futuristic tech. Some stuff is generally off limits so there's no Shenanigans that make your GM cry, so no time travel, no immortality, no going faster than the speed of light.
Utility depends on how often someone would use it in everyday life if it was widely available and if it could be used by an Average Joe or Jane or if it would require specialized use. Who would use it and how often would it be used?
Other modifiers include...
- Miniaturization: make the item be smaller and more portable. For every quarter of the mass you shave off, add 1 point to the Gadget.
- Onerous Requirements: Lower the Gadget points by 1 for every requirement that is a pain in the ass to operate it. To count as an Onerous Requirement, it must either A: require a good deal of time to prep the gadget for use or B: require a specific piece of equipment to be used in conjunction with the gadget and that piece of equipment can be broken or lost. Like imagine a pocket walkie talkie and an earpiece and you can lose the earpiece.
- Horrible Consequences: Lower the Gadget rating by 1 if the gadget glitching out has substantial and significant catastrophic effects. The conditions that cause the Gadget to have problems should be noted and made clear.
- Dangerous Side Effect: Lower the rating by 1 for this. Do not use this with an Onerous Requirement where using that item would make this work.
- Combination: Raise the rating by 1 for each item combined with the item. Each item that will be combined must be built separately and had the Utility and Complexity figured out. It's as big as the biggest item unless miniaturization is in play.
I don't like Gadgeteering too much and I would generally avoid this. You can do a lot without them. Anyway, here are some premade gadgets.
Mentalism allows you to use fabulous psychic powers to do stuff with your brain. Each power has Strength (raw power when it comes to that power) and Art (expertise and finesse). The Mentalism power lets you use any power as long as you have 1 Str or 1 Art. At chargen, Strength costs 3 points per level until 5 and then 6 per level (after chargen it costs 6 until 5 and then 10 from 6+). For Art, chargen is 2 per level, 5 after 6 and then 5/8 after chargen. You can resist Mentalism with Willpower, use powers defensively and there are rules for groups all using powers at once which I can't be bothered to get into. Finally, your Essence is enhanced by all Strength and Arts for each power added up and this bonus will change should the Str or Art change. Full disclosure: I'm gonna skip a lot of fiddly technical details. I like AFMBE. I don't like projectile vomiting rules at y'all.
Clairvoyance: see distant places and try to look for a helpful vision. Can't be resisted, can be used to help protect the psychic by making a Perception+Clairvoyance task to see if there's something going on.
Mind Control: make people do stuff with your brain. You have to hear the voice of the psychic and be seen. Resisting commands depends on the magnitude of the command and Perception and Willpower can be used to realize you're mind controlled and snap out of it. Mind Control can be used to control your own mind and be added to Willpower to resist some other psychic powers.
Psychokinesis: throw stuff you can see with your mind. There are rolls involved. I don't really care about showing them. You can also throw mind punches which is pretty nice, the brainpunches deals damage based on your Strength and people can't see them coming. Resist with Willpower, can be used to manifest psychokinetic armor.
Pyrokinesis: Start fires with your mind. Works great on zombies. Resisting Pyrokinesis is Willpower and forces the fire to not come forth. You can also defend yourself with superheated air forming a shield that melts bullets and keep people away.
Read Mind: Read minds. You can defend with Perception to know your brain is getting read or resist with Willpower. Using it defensively lets you block other psychic attacks.
Telepathy: Send mental communications, scare people, let out psychic screams to stun people. Screams can be resisted, voices can be resisted with Willpower or other powers, use Telepathy to defend from other brain powers.
Thoughts: Some of the powers are kinda decent and nice, gives you some good offense and defense ability and if you want to sink points in psychic powers instead of magic/blessings you have some good options. The Gadget system confuses and annoys me because honestly I think some part of my mind has just given up trying to accept any semblance of a point-build gadget system that isn't just "talk to your damn DM". And, sadly, I'm still not a huge fan of pulp and I'm afraid that's going to color my interpretations of the material but I'm going to remain upbeat and positive because there's more digestible stuff ahead. Speaking of! Have some premade characters.
Let's kick this shit off with a bang. Come back NEXT TIME where we uncover the hidden mysteries and relics of THE HOLLOW EARTH!
THE HOLLOW EARTHOriginal SA post
CHAPTER THREE: THE HOLLOW EARTH
So The Hollow Earth follows a much more different design than all of the other Deadworlds because it's basically designed for campaign/mini campaign play. Or at the very least it's designed to be a multi-session one-shot.
The gist of the adventure is that back when Mesopotamia, Sumer, Egypt and Greece were dominant powers (basically the Bronze Age) the dead spontaneously rose and started attacking civilizations. The response was a coalition of brave warriors and sorcerers from the Middle East coming together to figure out how to deal with the walking dead. Wielding both magic and the power of their gods, the warriors and the mages and priests journeyed into the Hollow Earth and actually used the power of the Hollow Earth to seal the zombies inside.
For reference, when I say "hollow earth" I don't mean that it's a planet within a planet. The Hollow Earth is a world-spanning cave network that was the basis of religious beliefs about the underworld being, well, literally under the world. No living thing can live there which is fine because ha ha do you get it. It's the more "plausible" kind of Hollow Earth like along the lines of Jules Verne but this is as grounded in science as you're gonna get, folks. The dead hate living underground. They dig up into cemeteries, convert some fresh bodies into their own kind and eat the rest. Sometimes they will eat a spelunker who has gotten horribly lost. That's it. That is their whole existence. To say they have been cranky is putting it mildly but they've been growing in number for a long, long time and things are going to get awful should they escape.
The upside of the spell was that it worked. The downside was that it was more of a door with a bunch of locks on it than it was a giant steel wall. The magic used by the priests and mages still had to be going for the spell to be maintained. But fortunately ancient cultures are a lot smarter than we tend to give them credit for. Instead of making one thing that was magically resonating in tune with the spell, they created a dozen and scattered them throughout the Middle East. You actually only need one to be functional to keep the spell in place but it helps to have backups...especially when tomb robbers and the rigors of age and academics mess with your relics of unfathomable power.
And that's how it's been for the last 2300 and change years. As long as the relics remain undisturbed in certain locations (it's possible to move them, you just need to prepare) and remain watched over by the members of the Society (the heirs to the legacy of their magical forbears), the spell will hold and keep the world safe. Now, granted, there are only three relics left. And the guardians of the Society have been carrying on an oral and written tradition for 2300 years and change. Outside of the grand leaders of the Society, the people watching over the relics don't exactly know what will happen should they be disturbed. Time has a tendency to distort inherited knowledge and some of them think they're actually agents of the Templars or that the relics will stop the moon from crashing into the Earth. But, regardless, the ancient leaders of the Society were smart and used redundancies and the world is safe.
Enter the PCs!
Guy Cicero is a former professor of ancient civilizations who previously worked at Princeton. I say all of those in the past tense because he became a Hollow Earth Truther after he bought some rubbings from a grave robber that ended up sparking an interest in the Hollow Earth. His driving interests in the truth has become an obsession that lead him to lose his job and then do a whole bunch of morally dubious ethically grey stuff to fund his hunt. He's been responsible for insurance fraud, theft and general scamminess to pay for his expeditions. The introductory fiction actually has him trying to convince his friend James Merriweather of the truth to no avail because he's actually finished. Or at least he believes he's finished compiling the information that will prove the existence of the Hollow Earth.
Which is a problem. See it's not that he believes in the Hollow Earth exactly. Cicero has mistranslated and misinterpreted a key phrase: "banished to the underworld". In his mind, the walking dead were destroyed by the artifacts and had their bodies dissolved while their souls were sent to an eternal rest. In his defense, he's not totally wrong to base his mistranslation on a metaphorical understanding considering the truth is insane and silly. The proof he has is the locations of the last surviving relics and he's hiring assistants and help.
Enter the PCs!
STAGE ONE: ANCIENT ARTIFACTS
Guy basically needs one of four things from the PCs: smart-types, people with money, zombie-hunters/people who have witnessed the walking dead or barring none of that he at least needs people to carry his crap and help out. In a stunningly awful example of railroading, if the PCs refuse to help out then Guy will accomplish all of his stuff off-screen and then the dead will walk anyway. Frankly the GM should just skip to getting on the plane and meeting Guy for the first time instead of giving the players a choice. I'm not advocating for railroading so much as I'm advocating for narrative convenience and moving quicker to the action and derring-do. Like the book even says " If that happens, the Zombie Master should let the Cast Members think that if they had only gone with him they might have been able to avert the flood of zombies that is busy bringing about the apparent end of civilization as they know it. That is not the case, but letting them think they could have prevented the catastrophe probably ensure that the Zombie Master never again has to deal with ornery players who try to sidestep her adventures." No! Fuck off with that! No! An alternate scenario is to run this without Guy and let someone in the party take the role of Guy which is much better advice.
Either way you want to walk the line between the PCs wanting to work with Guy and the line between them realizing that they're threatening to unleash a great evil. The general advice is to make Guy basically be a likable enough sort with rough edges and hotheaded behavior that has gotten him unjustly ostracized from the respectable scientific community.
So there are three set locations for the PCs to travel to and recover a relic. There are no real recommendations for how to run getting to the sites, just suggestions for things to happen along the way. Personally I would probably just do one inconvenience or neat thing along the way and then focus the majority of the session on getting the relics proper and staging any further shenanigans depending on run-time and narrative twists the adventure takes. Some of these examples aren't great, obviously. The problem with running a tomb-raiding adventure that is roughly 75% tomb raiding adventure is that when you do it Pulp-Style...well, narrative conventions, tropes, tone, etc. Out of these recommendations, I'd keep snake trap, Guy has a depressive episode, Society spies and a modified version of the alley fight and chase that doesn't lead to the PCs being arrested. Anyway have some actually good advice before we get into the sites proper.
Saqqara, City of the Dead
Saqqara in the scenario (and real life!) is a collection of burial sites located 20 miles outside of modern-day Cairo. The relic is located in the burial step pyramid of Djoser, a real-life king who was a pharaoh of the 3rd Dynasty. His reign was (very roughly estimated) between 2650 and 2640 BCE and he was the man who actually kicked off the trend of pyramids. In the game, Saqqara is a functioning town, home to trade and houses and goods (but for more specific goods, Cairo is the better choice). Beneath the pyramid of Djoser is a hidden passage that contains the scepter, Egypt's relic of the moment. The chamber is plugged shut via gigantic stones and was in fact built before Djoser put his pyramid on the spot, built secretly with his pyramid added to cover the spot. There's a layer of limestone between the pyramid and the hidden chamber and without Guy's clues, nobody has come close to finding it.
Case in point: the Society agent of Saqqara, Neferti. Neferti has no idea where the scepter is located due to the fact that his great-great-grandfather had a sudden fall and died before he could pass the info on to his kids. The main industry around Saqqara is doing work for/with the archaeologists exploring the pyramids and Neferti is one of the hired hands who will really only take work around Djoser's pyramid in order to try to protect the scepter. He's more or less guaranteed to be someone who gets attached to the party's expedition either as a guide or as a laborer. His only real goal is to explore the pyramid to try and figure out where the scepter is while occasionally misleading expeditions so they don't do something stupid like try and dynamite out secrets.
The Dead Sea
Relic #2 is located out in a cave on the shores of the Dead Sea and boy howdy is there a lot of space around the sea to check. Fortunately Guy's research into Sumerian funerary art has turned up a handy bit of info that will reveal which cave holds the relic. A particular hill will cast a shadow during [INSERT TIME OF DAY/ASTROLOGICAL EVENT HERE] and the shadow will linger over the cave of the artifact when the time is right. And fortunately that event is [X DAYS FROM NOW]! The artifact in question is three cuneiform tablets that form a triptych. Plus there's a high chance of finding the actual Dead Sea Scrolls! The big downside is that the cave is rigged with a trap that will cause it to collapse if you don't take the right path over a bunch of rocks.
The Society presence of the sea is the Akhtar clan, a local family in Jericho who runs a trading business and dabble in general information dealing. The head of the Akhtar clan is Su'ad, a large man with a good head on his shoulders who will keep an eye on the party. The Akhtars have a good grasp of what exactly the relics do, passing the history of their line down through meticulous records. Su'ad and his family would be a huge treasure trove of information...if the PCs knew to pump him and his for data. As it stands they kinda don't actually do much! They Know Stuff and keep an eye on the PCs and will send traders out by the PCs to milk info under the guise of offering goods to the explorers. That's really it. It's up to the GM to use them well.
Babylon (but actually Baghdad)
The last relic is an old man-sized water jug with beautiful Babylonian art engraved on the body. According to Guy's notes, the jug is located in the abandoned city of Babylon in a vault. Unfortunately Guy's notes are out of date. The Roman writer of the note figured out where the jug was being held...and was killed by Society assassins. Why didn't they destroy his notes? I dunno. Misinformation is pretty good for hiding their relics, I suppose.
Babylon is empty except for the remains of a German Oriental Society's expedition and all the dust they kicked up digging out antiques and pottery and such. The empty ruins are good for a fight, the book says, or good for just letting the players bask in the weight of ages and the splendor of the fallen city. Either way there's no jug in the vault. The vault hasn't been opened in centuries but there's no jug in sight, it's not easy to hide something man-sized. Babylon would be a complete dead-end if not for the fact that a PC will notice someone watching them from the ruins. The watchers in question are Abdel and Yahya, two members of the Society who guard the jug and like to keep an eye on the abandoned city to see if anyone might be hunting for their relic. They're described as not being very bright and being easy to intimidate and interrogate but they run the moment they're made and lead the PCs on a chase through Babylon. If they're caught, the PCs will learn that their ancestors actually moved the jug to Baghdad and it's hidden in a secret room in the sewers beneath their ancestral homes. Or you can follow them back to Baghdad and sleuth your way into the secret room.
I just want to leave this here for how tone-deaf and bad this is, this is from this section on what to do once the jug is found: "In Baghdad, the Cast Members also have a chance to sample every conceivable Pulp Era Arabian Nights trope, including rotund Arab merchants with great beards in wide sashes and enormous turbans, selling all manner of silks, carpets, melons, and lamps; beautiful veiled women tempting them into all manner of debauchery; and dirty robbers with wide scimitars. At the Zombie Master’s discretion, flying carpets and bottled genies may even be in order." Yeesh. No. C'mon.
STAGE TWO: ZOMBIE RAMPAGE
The moment the third artifact is moved is when everything goes to hell. First there's a gigantic earthquake that opens up innumerable holes to the Hollow Earth. Then come the screaming hordes of undead pouring forth to snack on the living after millennia on the Raw Soil Diet.
The majority of the zombies are dumb as hell and just hunger unceasingly for the meats of the living. Their big threat is their numbers and the fact that they just keep coming when you think you've cleared them out, more of them clawing their ways out of the sinkholes and joining the fray. The lesser zombies should chase the PCs (and Guy) to the airport so they can make their escape.
Complicating things are the Alpha zombies, undead who retain most of their intelligence and have the ability to psychically command any lesser zombie around then in a 20 yard radius. Well okay it's a mixture of psychic command and verbal command which is screaming in a guttural undead tongue that is both horrifying and noisy. The GM should also add strange zombies with strange powers if they see fit, like exploding zombies or zombies that breathe fire.
Also I say "chase them to the airport" but really anything goes at this point as long as the players get somewhere safer and find out some important facts.
- The earthquakes have happened worldwide. The zombie horde trickles to a crawl in a quake zone but never fully stops.
- There are new earthquakes happening erratically and make more holes for zombie invaders to use.
- Putting the relics back doesn't solve anything. The PCs are open to try but returning the scepter, the tablets or the jug doesn't work.
- Nobody saw this coming. The governments of the world are in full bore fire-fighting mode and mobilizing the armies to fight back the undead while throwing an emergency scientific convention in Geneva to try to figure out just what the hell. Hint: the players should go to Geneva.
- The Society themselves are throwing an emergency meeting whereupon they will agree to go to Geneva to explain to the world leaders what's up. If the PCs are tapped into Society affairs, this will be the best way for them to learn that they should go to the Geneva conference.
No! Bad! Bad advice! Bad!
STAGE THREE: INTO THE DEPTHS
The convention is offering attendance to anyone who has any knowledge of what's going on. If the PCs are famous enough, they'll just get a de-facto invitation. Otherwise it's a pretty easy matter of convincing folks to let them attend. This has also attracted a bunch of wonks and crackpots which the book says wisely should be used as comic relief.
Either way the PCs should be in the room when the delegate speaker from the Society comes in to explain what's up...and that it's the PCs' fault. Guy Cicero, FYI, has managed to make himself scarce and hide from facing the music. Turning over the relics to the members of the Society at this point will reveal why just putting them back doesn't do anything useful: they've lost their charge of magical energy. The spell is in place and will kick back on once the relic is properly energize. And to energize the relic, they're going to have to trek deep into the Hollow Earth to find the energy source that the Society's ancestors used millennia ago to empower the first relics.
This is when an earthquake hits Geneva and the conference hall is ground-zero for the zombie hole, which immediately pours forth and starts attacking the world leaders.
The PCs don't exactly have much of a choice of which hole to use to access the Hollow Earth but they should still be allowed to press-gang some NPCs into helping them out on their impromptu expedition. Soldiers with guns, scholars or Society members make for good backup. The moment they all go into the hole, another earthquake seals the hole shut and the PCs have no choice but to press onwards.
Adventuring to the center of the Hollow Earth is pretty easy. All you have to do is go down and follow gravity. The big problem is that the tunnels and caves twist and turn and you have no map. At least there's edible fungi and running water and maybe weird gribbly cave fishes. Random encounters might be:
- Realizing the underground room you're in that has a bunch of holes in the ceiling means you're actually below a graveyard and the undead have dug out the tunnels to easily get at corpses.
- Lava river+rock platforms=inconvenient place for a zombie attack.
- An alpha zombie has smeared itself and its horde with a bioluminescent fungus and the PCs encounter them in a pitch-black section of cave. Why? Well so you can have a weird battle and so the zombie can try and trick people into thinking they're seeing daylight around the corner.
- Finding caverns the size of cities where the zombies once hung out, packed against each other like sardines as they waited for the chance to escape. Fortunately the caverns are empty but you can, like, tell that this is where the zombies just sat all day for millennia, hate gnawing away at their empty bellies.
- Finding yourself in front of a zombie stampede as they make their way to the surface and having to find a way around them or out of their way.
- Taking a wrong step and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-otEdq-Ozo
- UNDEAD DINOSAURS
When you think the PCs have had enough, they make it to the core of the Hollow Earth, a place where zombies don't ever tread. The core of the Hollow Earth is a gigantic room where the floor looks like it's made out of liquid plasma, bright white and shining defiantly into everyone's eyes yet filling them with an odd sense of peace. After your eyes adjust to the light and the light fades, the PCs can see a stone bridge that leads to the center of the room. You want to walk on that and not the, uh, floor. Walking on the floor reveals that A: it's like quicksand and B: you catch fire if you touch it.
Trekking into the light over the bridge takes you to the heart of the core, a ring of blue-white energy in the floor that makes people want to dip the relics into them. Doing so is what's needed to energize the relics and immediately turns the spell back on. At this point the PCs have won! No zombies are encountered on the trek back to the surface and they're hailed as heroes for fixing their mistakes. The moment they fixed the magical shield the energy caused all the zombies on the surface to melt into ash and the world is safe once more.
Unless you don't want it to be. If you want to turn the game into a full campaign, this event could be the catalyst that derails human history as we know it and launches it into a world where everyone knows the dead walk and some want to learn the dread secrets of the undead. But that's up to you.
Years ago I really liked this scenario and my opinion remains generally unchanged. It's a definite highlight of the book but goodness some of the GM advice and tone advice hasn't aged great. You definitely want to run this as less pulp and more two-fisted archaeological adventure and definitely cut back on the Exotic Middle East tropes the game wants you to use. Fortunately it's a pretty bare-bones framework and that means there's a lot for GMs to sculpt around and do their own thing. Change the Society or don't, add or subtract relics, make Guy join the party at the end to atone for his actions, whatever! You're in charge. Run with it.
So yeah as a jumping-off point for an enterprising GM, The Hollow Earth is a solid little adventure with a kinda weak second act.
NEXT TIME: we look at one of the bad scenarios for the game, a baffling tale of pulp heroism gone horribly wrong in ZOMBIES, INC. They try to go for a Doc Savage homage by way of a proto-Night's Black Agents. It doesn't really work! I'll explain why when we get there.
WORLDS OF THE DEAD: 1Original SA post
Merry Ghostmas, have some zombies! I’m overworked and I stare at my computer as I desperately wait for social media to update when I’m not working so I think a more productive creative project will be a better outlet! Plus, it’s October and I’ll probably never resume covering every single AFMBE book so here’s one of my favorites!
In all seriousness this is one of my favorite AFMBE books. Worlds of the Dead is a wonderfully weird book that’s perfect for the F&F treatment because it’s absolutely light on the mechanics. Worlds of the Dead is just a collection of premade Deadworlds (various alternate realities that have zombie outbreaks as a lynchpin) for a GM looking for inspiration, a one-shot or a campaign. Some of them are pretty meh but as a whole I enjoy most of them. They just go all over the damn place in idea and I love it.
Plus, the nice thing about talking about them is that I don’t have to go too deep into the weeds. They’re barely over 15 pages apiece, ish, and that’s including stats for the various zombies and players. This time I’m probably going to cut out the stat blocks in addition to the lore/in-character slash setting intros (which I will forever tout as being the highlight of these books). I want to relax a little and be more informal/less in-depth and discuss/criticize what we’re looking at. I’m also going to include a one-sentence summary before getting into the real meat of the Deadworld if you just want to skim and not read further.
So without further ado and fanfare, Worlds of the Dead!
ACES HIGH: WORLD WAR I
Summary: In 1917, the Red Baron becomes a revenant leading a squadron of damned fighter pilots.
Unfortunately, the summary kind of speaks for the entire scenario. After his mentor dies in battle, Manfred “The Red Baron” von Richthofen takes control of his aerial unit. Wracked by guilt over his mentor’s death, The Red Baron makes a vow to serve Germany even in death. His plane is eventually shot to pieces in a skirmish and goes down in a tailspin. Before the Allied pilots can confirm the kill, the rest of the unit chase them away. A sweep of the area where his plane went down doesn’t find the plane and the Allied conclude that The Red Baron managed to make the landing and get to safety.
But, no. He really did die. His vow mixed with his will causes something to get back up out of the wreckage and command his destroyed plane to reconstruct itself. The reborn Red Baron flies back to Germany and tells his horrified superiors “yeah I died but, uh, I made a promise I’m gonna go keep. Well. Bye!” and flies right back to the front.
The Flying Circus, lead by the Red Baron, continues its assault on the Allied forces because the Central Powers really do not want to try to stop him. Because they’re not stopping him, the Baron’s got his own necromantic scheme going. Each unit of the Circus has 12 pilots for a total of 48 pilots across 4 units (including the Baron). He inducts living members into the Circus and when they die in battle, he brings them back as a revenant like him. However, his undead pilots can be destroyed, whereupon a new living pilot takes the finally-dead one’s place. Rinse, repeat.
Note how I said his pilots can be destroyed. The Red Baron can’t. Nobody has been successful in shooting his plane down a second time, which creates a sizable problem when he can just keep refilling his ranks.
Also, off-handedly mentioned is the fact that the Germans have found Victor Frankenstein’s notes and are using them to kickstart a zombie army. Put a pin in this idea for later; it’ll come up again in other scenarios but this is just barely mentioned here in an attempt to pad the setting out a bit.
There’re a few sample ideas for adventures in this world which amount to: playing as fighter pilots using hexes and figures, trying to stop the production of zombie soldiers as Allied special forces in Switzerland and playing as spies to figure out the Baron’s weakness. From here it explains the weakness and…treats it as a metaplot thing…yeahhhhhhhh. “Whether the Cast is allowed to find this out or not, the Red Baron is invincible until his destiny comes to pass.” No, c’mon, please, don’t do this. Bad game designer.
In real life there’s debate about who exactly killed the Red Baron. Aerial dogfights aren’t a place for precision answers in service of who killed who. Forensic evidence has actually even proven that the Red Baron wasn’t killed by another fighter pilot but by someone on the ground shooting up. In this Deadworld, the one who can kill the Red Baron is the ghost of his 79th victim, the ghost of Richard Raymond-Barker. RRB’s ghost wanders the trenches and no-man’s lands until the day he sees the Red Baron flying overhead and seizes his destiny (and a nearby mounted machine gun) to shoot him down before passing on to his eternal rest. And, canonically in this Deadworld, nobody wants to admit that a ghost killed him so they give credit to the man commonly credited with killing him (from a plane, even though [gestures up at the forensics]), Arthur Brown.
The rest of this installment are zombie stats and stats for World War I airplanes in case you do want to model aerial battles.
HOW THE ZOMBIES WORK
Depends on the zombie. If they’re one of the Baron’s hand-raised men, they’ve got human/above-human attributes, damage resistance, the ability to sense life, a bevy of skills (including speech) and heightened strength. They also have the supernatural ability to coordinate with each other in the air without speaking or indicating commands. They don’t need any form of sustenance but they can’t make more of themselves. They also don’t have weak spots, so depleting their health through sustained damage is enough to put them down.
If they’re zombies raised from the Frankenstein techniques, they’re still pretty intimidating. They move quickly, they’re trained in fighting, they’re pretty strong, they sense life, they’re smart and they also have damage resistance. Their big weakness is the limited amount of skills they have (though they do have language) and the fact that despite their resistance they’re destroyed through health damage. They also don’t reproduce or need any nourishment. The only thing that makes more Uber Soldats is the reanimation technique being used in specialized preparation centers to bolster the ranks of the zombie army.
I like this Deadworld…with some caveats. First, okay, sure, have the Red Baron only be killed by the ghost of whatshisname. That’s okay. But the entire adventure absolutely has to be a limited campaign of the PCs figuring out how to beat him and maneuver the ghost where it needs to be. Otherwise it’s kind of just a boring one-shot of doing whatever while an invincible undead fighter pilot runs around karate-chopping people out of the sky. “Possible other adventures” in this scenario nothing. Stick with that.
Two, ditch the Uber Soldats, they don’t really add anything and they’re used much better in future Deadworlds in this friggin’ book.. You have an undead doom squad of fighter pilots! Focus the scope on that business!
But outside of that I just really enjoy that this world is the same as our world with a very bizarre hiccup of “one time a famous fighter pilot became an undead vanguard and everyone was very concerned about that until a ghost killed him”. That’s just a good speed bump of weirdness. A lot of the Deadworlds kind of tend to craft this big machine or world that just runs on the zombies being there to justify it. I appreciate the small scope and weird historical fuckup of this one.
Summary: The Irish Famine threatens the entire world in a cross between the beginning lore of Unhallowed Metropolis and justified anger at the British Empire being a bunch of imperialist assholes.
This one is also a little bit…on the nose historically as well. “What if the Potato Blight was supernatural?” well I dunno I guess there’s zombies, I suppose.
The Potato Blight happens in 1846 and causes a mass panic in Ireland to escape the country. The Irish bury their starved dead and do their best to survive on the island or take a gamble on going to America/Europe in a ship stuffed full of other hopeful souls. The plan to stay in Ireland hits a huge snag when the dead start to rise from their mass graves in 1847 with a hunger for human flesh. There’s not a lot of confirmation that this is happening until the undead besiege Dublin and are scared away in a fire that razes the city. The dead are buried…and promptly get back up the next day, along with the burned corpses.
In short, if you die on Irish soil, you get back up if there’s enough of you left. Period. The Blight put something awful and necrotic in the ground and the armies of the dead grow by the day as people keel over from starvation and get back up.
On the British side of things, their evaluation of the situation is mixed between “…this is all our fault by not letting them own their own land and forcing them to become a monocrop country” and “fuck them they’re Irish”. They do offer aid and expeditions are launched into Ireland to study the Blight, but then the dead rise and Britain promptly says “well. That’s that” and quarantined the island. You can leave to move to another country but nobody’s allowed into Ireland without specialized and highly restricted allowance.
Or at least that was the case until London police discovered a conspiracy of Irish expats emptying Blighted soil smuggled from Ireland into British graves. Now Ireland is completely cut off and has been for two years. Any ships going in and out are sunk by the naval blockade surrounding the island.
The year is 1849. Nobody is any closer to understanding the situation in Ireland. The British are happy to maintain quarantine and just let them die. Ireland has become a collection of well-defended enclaves holding back the dead and nomadic bands of survivors scraping by. Priests are an important social part of the survivors because the survivors are generally desperate for redemption, salvation and hope.
- Playing as an adventuring band of Catholic missionaries and relief effort workers (legally) passing through the blockade, realizing what’s going on and dealing with the consequences and the fact that the British navy may not let them leave.
- Irish survivors fleeing to an escape boat piloted by a smuggler…that’s only meant to take one of the PCs to safety. And the beach is choked with the walking dead.
- The PCs are English dealing with Irish insurrection in the UK and trying to contain the beginning appearances of the Blight. “For a darker twist” have the PCs play as special agents trying to figure out how far is too far when it comes to handling a family of Irish who escaped the blockade and made it ashore…and are unintentionally carrying the Blight with them.
- The PCs are Irish immigrants aboard an overstuffed ship headed to Ellis Island…and the filth of the ship is letting the Blight take hold. No land in sight and the dead are starting to prowl the halls of the ship. What’ll happen if it makes landfall in New York City and nobody can stop the undead in time?
HOW THE ZOMBIES WORK
The Blight zombies have a symbiotic relationship with the blighted earth itself. If a body is left on blighted soil, it will inevitably rise with a speed depending on how corrupted the earth is (as fast as a hour, on average around 12 hours, rarely a few days). Burning the body prevents this, as does hucking it in a peat bog because the dead can’t get out of a peat bog. The Blight burrows into the nervous system to resuscitate the dead and modifies the mouth for feeding, rotting away the back of the throat and inside of the mouth to expose the arteries and veins (with little flaps of skin that cover these blood-lines that…make weird flapping smacking noises when they engage and disengage).
They also actually feed on Blight spores. See, the Blight animates them but it’s also absolutely everywhere. They can’t ambiently exist thanks to how contaminated the island is; the pollutant levels of the Blight are high but the spores are too diffused into the environment. However, because it’s in the air, the water, the food, the animals (doesn’t affect animals) means that the Irish are constantly accidentally ingesting Blight spores. Which is fine. It’s harmless to the living. However, the human liver and kidneys is really good at concentrating weird particles from all over the body into a handful of spots. This is what makes the Blight zombies attack the Irish: they can smell their digestive system being full of delicious food and they’ll disembowel people to get at the sweet meats, mash them up through chewing and swallow the paste into their veins directly to the metabolic center, the heart.
Physically they look like the walking dead except for the blood that pools in their mouths and runs down their faces whenever they attack. Think old-style vampire myths where they dig up the corpse to find it bloated with blood on its lips due to decomposition gasses. They’re also not an enormous threat. They’re slow, except for when they lunge. They’re as strong as a regular person. They’re not smart. Their big advantages are, well, numbers and the fact that their rotting mouths double as an attack. The smell of the putrid blood bubbling up from their mouths when they feed is enough to sicken people and force them to freeze, giving the Blight zombie the opportunity to grab its prey. Their hearts are also the weak point…but guns are in short supply and nobody’s really willing to get in melee with one. Most Irish settle for incapacitating them and burning them or herding them away. Outside of Ireland, I don’t think the Blight zombies are a threat at all due to their single-minded focus on only feeding on sources full of concentrated Blight. The book doesn’t really go into that.
This one kind of walks the line between “tone deaf” and “needs more fleshing out”. It’s not the worst idea to jump-off from, especially because the book directly notes how complicit the British were with the Famine and how the Irish wanting to get some measure of revenge are outweighed by the people who just want to live. Most outbreaks would be complete accidents on par with a refugee ship accidentally becoming a hot-box of super strep.
That said man it’s super 2019 up in this world we’re living and the idea of this zombie outbreak having refugee/geopolitics parallels are a little too eeeeeeesh for my liking. I don’t entirely want to play Irish dealing with impending genocide caused by the undead and British indifference. The more compelling scenario is the one where the world is dealing with this crisis and how that plays out, and it’s kind of shallow in that regards. That said, I like the internal physics of the zombies and how their construction accidentally asks the question of “are they actually an international threat or is the Blight the bigger threat?”. But I don’t think I’d want to play 19th century British dealing with this whole shebang either?
It’s a solid enough nugget of an idea that needs to be worked out more and handled with care. I could get down with a more politically/sociologically-minded short campaign or something like that, but that’s not really what this is. I guess the safe option would be to play the pretty interestingly dark one-shot of “only one of you is meant to leave and the exfil zone is full of undead, how are you going to justify you get out and who’s being left behind as bait” and pretend that the Blight isn’t being carried by the Irish passively.
NEXT TIME: 17th century France and the 8th century Abbasid Caliphate in the Golden Age of Islam! I’m kind of obscuring just what they’re exactly about by mentioning the time and place! They may not be as interesting as the time and place imply!