Tuesday, 26 October 2010

All Zombies on the Eastern Front [Session 1]

There was enough interest expressed in my post on prepping my current campaign that I thought I'd give a heads up on how the first session went: Swimmingly. (It was two weeks ago, though, so my memory is getting hazy... And the next session, incidentally, is booked in for three weeks from now - the joys of trying to find time to game in adulthood, eh?) A good time was had by all, mainly because I think all the players really bought the concept; for whatever reason the right tone of gritty realism and slightly pulpy adventure was struck from the get-go. I started things off in media res (with the PCs escaping from a prison train heading into Siberia which a pair of IL-2s were mysteriously attacking) and I'm glad I did, as the momentum just flowed from there and didn't really let up for the rest of the session.

Cyberpunk 2020 works fantastically well for a gritty WWII game, as its sheer deadliness when shorn of its rules for armour and cyberwear makes combat genuinely terrifying. (A rifle bullet is guaranteed either to kill or render hors de combat with a single hit, not to mention a 12.7mm round - and given that any competent soldier can score easy hits at 200 yards with a Mosin-Nagant, firefights are incredibly short and brutal.) Suspecting this would be the case in advance, I came up with a system whereby the players had at least some sort of control over their own destiny (a primitive "save" feature, really) - at the start I gave each of them a number of cards corresponding to their luck score from a doctored deck composed entirely of 3s, 4s, 5s, Jacks, Kings, Queens and Aces; they could then play these at any time to get various 'lucky' results (a 3 allows you to add 3 to a single dice roll; a Jack allows a single re-roll; an Ace allows you to reduce the damage of a single hit to 1, etc.). Two of them were forced to rely on this to save their characters from death at various stages.

Yet the speed and lethality of the combat didn't result in anticlimax-style fights. Quite the contrary; things built to a natural climax in which the PCs were gunning down NKVD men in a race against time before one of the enemy reached a half-track mounted 12.7mm HMG which would simply have made mincemeat of them. There was genuine tension in the dice rolling at that moment, as things really were touch-and-go.

My only regret from the session was that in actual fact only two zombies were encountered - the players were so traumatized by these events that they spent the rest of the session studiously avoiding any possible meeting with the undead! That's good for a GM to experience, as it means the players are clearly getting a visceral reaction, but still, it would have been nice to see more zombies being blasted with anti-tank rifles...


  1. Sounds like it's the classic Cthulhu set-up, basically--the actual encounters are so deadly that you have to find ways to make not-fighting both possible and interesting while still showcasing the monsters.

    Anyway, sounds like you're having fun, so that's awesome.

  2. I often get more pleasure from my players genuinely wanting to avoid their "main" adversary than from the actual encounter. I take this as strong evidence that I'm describing things well and setting a good challenge. That's especially true if the alternative encounter is a bunch of guys who can kill you with a single hit.

    Sounds like your zombies are well scary. But the key question: do they run fast or shamble?

  3. Yeah, that was my question:

    Runners or shamblers?
    Do bites *always* turn victims?
    Are head injuries the only way to kill them?
    How intelligent are they?

    (verification word: "brepik")

  4. Zak: Sort of, yes. So far the not-fighting bit is made interesting because of the travails of surviving Siberia in winter. Lots of searching for shelter in abandoned timber mills, that sort of thing.

    faustusnotes and zero zero one: The zombies run fast. They are not killed even by head injuries, and individual body parts remain 'alive' if severed. They don't bite, but attempt to maintain physical (skin on skin) contact for a period of a few seconds.

    They have a pulpy alien origin a la John Carpenter's The Thing, but the players don't know that yet.

  5. this campaign sounds very cool, noisms.

  6. Are the players getting into the characters and their backgrounds? Wasn't the plan that they would be Axis POWs? How does that effect their reactions?

    (zerozeroone asking a question from his phone)

  7. Sounds like a great game.

    Good to see a potential time-limit with the HMG being set up.

    Look forward to more reports.

  8. Any updates on this? Played any more sessions yet?

  9. Can you post your weapons stats, encounter tables as examples--I'd like to run something similar...