Wednesday 15 September 2010

Be Prepared

I suppose an explanation is in order for the growing gaps between posts on this blog. I'm afraid it's nothing remotely interesting - just the daily grind of trying to juggle work, shoving together a PhD, social commitments and flat-hunting - but I hope it will serve as an explanation nevertheless. Suffice to say: I am both busy and knackered, all the time, at the moment.

But I am still finding time for actual play, on a bi-weekly/sometimes monthly basis. As coincidence would have it I happen to be planning a campaign due for launch in October, and since the blog carnival this month (which I am amazed is still going) is all about game prep, I think this is a perfect opportunity to both kick Monsters & Manuals into gear and show off my super duper game planning skillz.

The game I am planning is called All Zombies on the Eastern Front (AZotEF!!!! for short) and is a World War II/Zombie Apocalypse game. The core concept of the campaign is, essentially, "You're in the middle of World War II, then something even worse happens" - and in keeping with this spirit I've tried to make it as bad as possible for the players: they begin as Axis POWs in the hands of the Soviets, trapped on a prison train heading into area of the world which happens to be in the first stages of being overtaken by a zombie epidemic. The email blurb I sent out to the players sums things up nicely, I think, and runs as follows:

...All Zombies on the Eastern Front will be about one part Zombieland, one part Twilight 2000-esque “soldiers in a post-apocalyptic Europe”, one part John Carpenter’s The Thing, and one part I Am Legend (the book, not the cruddy Will Smith version). There’s quite a bit of flexibility in that players can be of any rank or branch of the armed services, and can be German, Italian, Hungarian, Romanian, even foreign volunteers in the Waffen-SS (though I stress the focus of the game is escaping the clutches of zombies, not Nazism), and although I’ll be using the Cyberpunk 2020 rules they’re quite heavily hacked (no classes, very different skill list).

Content-wise, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to mow down hordes of the undead with your stolen PPD-40 and its 71-round drum magazine, but combat is by no means the be all and end all, and there’ll be a lot of NPC interaction and investigative stuff going on too, as well as all the travails that go along with post-apocalyptic gaming (finding food, ammo and shelter; overcoming moral quandaries about protecting innocent fellow survivors; avoiding cannibal bandits, etc.) and quite a bit of wilderness exploration.

You read that right; I'm using a hack of the Cyberpunk 2020 rules. This is mainly because I want to lift the Friday Night Firefight rules wholesale; my philosophy on World War II games is that you want combat to be frightening and deadly, and without armour or cybergear believe me, Cyberpunk 2020's combat rules are very deadly. I'm yet to see how it will work in play (I'm slightly worried there'll be a TPK within an hour), but the first signs are encouraging - the players are making noises along the lines of avoiding combat and playing intelligently, which is always nice to hear.

Logistically my prep is involving lots of maps, random encounter tables, random NPCs, and random name generators - stuff which I generally enjoy - as I envisage a lot of travelling on the part of the PCs, and I'm leaving it open ended, which makes for little in the way of pre-planned encounters/adventures. (Whether the players want to head back to Europe, go East and try to make Japan, hunker down and see if they can survive or investigate the source of the Zombie plague is up to them.) I expect all this stuff to run into the pages and pages, which will be a further drain on my time but one I'll actually enjoy - a rarity at the moment.


  1. This is relevant to my interests.

  2. If I wasn't going on honeymoon at the start of October I would be so tempted to sign up (even as a relevant newbie to games like this). That sounds EXACTLY like the kind of game that I want to play!

  3. This is relevant to my interests.

    What he said.

  4. If you're inclined, I'd love to see a workup for a sample adventure (the idea of Germans breaking into a gulag for shelter and supplies just tickles me).

    Friday Night Firefight is wonderful fun and evil combat rules, a WWII hack is to use an oft-quoted line relevant etc.

    Thanks for contributing to the Carnival, it goes on until it stops. :)

  5. I wouldn't have told the players that it was a zombie game. With that knowledge, they have certain preconceptions in mind already. I would have told them that they were Axis POWs on a prison train headed towards a Soviet camp. And that's it. *Then* I would have thrown them into the zombie meat grinder. For me, the only way to do a zombie game is as a twist, a surprise. If the players know ahead of time, all the fun is spoiled.

  6. Tetsubo: I used to have a similar hardline attitude about such things, but nowadays I think the element of surprise in a zombie (or any horror) game kind of depends on the scope of the campaign.

    If it's meant to be more of a one-shot, then yeah, absolutely don't tell the group what they'll be dealing with. But for a campaign, even a short one, the big reveal is gonna come within the first session (or two at the max) and then the rest of the campaign is about dealing with the zombies. So the value of surprise there is much diminished.

    I don't think a whole lot is lost by the players knowing what they'll be dealing with going in. If anything, it increases the tension as they're waiting for the Dead to show up.

  7. sirlarkins: But I don't want the players designing characters with a zombie uprising in mind. I want them to design characters for a standard campaign (whatever that might be) and *then* spring the zombies on them. I want them, ideally, unprepared for a zombie uprising. Just as we would be if it happened. For me, that is the 'survival' part of a zombie survival campaign.

    But I also would not make the big reveal within the first session. I would probably wait until the third or fourth session. I want them *convinced* that things are progressing normally. Then, WHAM.

  8. Tetsubo: I do like the idea of surprising the group, but I also don't like the idea of burying the lead. And I think the bait and switch really depends on the group make-up - what if it turns out that the World War II buff who signed up for a gritty historical game doesn't like the way the game progresses after the bait-and-switch? Seems a bit unfair to spring a zombie game on somebody who doesn't want to play in one.

  9. noisms: I admit, it is a gamble. But I personally can't imagine running a zombie game any other way. For me, the GM, any other method wouldn't be fun. This is also why I would never run the Lovecraft universe. If the players know they are going to to facing the Mythos, there is no fun for me. The characters in the stories never know they are in a story. The meta-knowledge that you are in a Lovecraft story means that the 'fun' has been spoiled. Discovery should be just that, discovery. Pretending to discover things just seems sort of hollow.

  10. Just to say, man this sounds like a lot of fun.

  11. Gwarh a.k.a. Chris McNeil27 October 2010 at 00:43


    Have you heard of the novel (trilogy actual) "Fiends of the Eastern Front" by David Bishop

    I used to own it and left it in London while on vacation (still kicking myself for that is it costs an arm and a leg now from used book vendors) But it was a great read.

    And it's bang on with your idea/setting. If you can get a copy I think you'd love it as you could totally mine it for ideas.

    P.S. their is also a "Fiends of the Eastern Front" book set in the Pacific during WWII.

    You might also like the Savage Worlds setting book "Weird War II" and or "The Day after Ragnarok" by Kenneth Hite. Or even "Gear Krieg" by Dream Pod 9.

    Actually come to think of it there are a few Mini's/WWII/Zombies games out there now. Dust is one of them. All would be good for idea-mining.

  12. Gwarh a.k.a. Chris McNeil27 October 2010 at 00:46

    Fudge, I meant to say "Fiends of the Rising Sun", also by David Bishop. Set in the Pacific during WWII.

    And... have you ever seen the low budget British Action/Horror film called "Dog Soldiers" about a British unit on patrol/training and the get jumped by a pack of Werewolves. Kinda/sorta fun that one.