The End Of The World: Zombie Apocalypse
One day, a friend of mine showed up to my table with a gift. Twas this unassuming blood red book entitled: The End Of The World - Zombie Apocalypse. Intrigued by another installment from Fantasy Flight Games, I stuck it on my shelf to revisit when I could, and then my whole world got flipped upside down.
Now, nearly two years later, on this the October of the literal pandemic apocalypse, I thought it high time to dedicate a little energy and focus to this curious little system.
Today will serve as an overview - an introduction to the theming of the system and its tone. Then, we'll have a part 2 next week where we make some honest characters. Why "honest"? You'll understand in a moment.
How This Differs From D&D
Unlike many other fantasy tabletop experiences, games run in this series of scenarios place the players in PC roles far removed from the classical elven ranger. In fact, you don't play anything at all - the game character is literally yourself, or at least the fictionalized version of yourself portrayed as an avatar in the game world (honestly).
Yes, We're Still In Kansas...and there's blood everywhere.
This isn't a far off land or alternate plane of existence. The setting is your current location, city, town, neighborhood; the events of the game scenario unfold where you live and NPCs and characters are intended to be based on people and locations you know.
Short Scenarios and Survival
The goals and "missions" in this game are fast-paced, deadly, dangerous, and narrative-based. Combat exists, it's not hyper-detailed or super tactical, as going toe-to-toe with a zombie is probably a scenario that you yourself don't want to be in by any means. The scenarios we move through are difficult challenges on the path of survival; raiding a hospital for valuable medical supplies - finding a better bunker when the first is compromised - fighting starvation while you power through mastering hunting skills you've never had to use before.
Oh, and everything's done with D6's. :)
Tests and Checks
As with most alternative systems to D&D, there are always similar mechanics with synonymous terms. Checks become Tests in this case. Anytime you want to do something, the GM will decide if a Test is needed - and it's even dictated in the rules to save Tests for important or exciting moments only, when your success or failure matters to the outcome of the story.
This distinction is huge to put out front, as many tables often call for rolls too much for mundane or arbitrary tasks. As you're representing yourself, you may not need to roll for a task you already know how to do. But context is key here - there's a big difference between running for an athlete, and running down a street being chased by a horde of fast zombies, even for an athlete. The latter would probably have a Test involved, whereas the former would be unnecessary.
But instead of a DC, you're rolling with positive and negative dice, like stacking the odds in your favor or stacking them against you with complications. We'll take a look at some specific mechanical examples next time (10/10/20).
There are a decent number of "loose" mechanic / high narrative games out there on the market today. It can be difficult to separate oneself from the shadow of D&D if you incorporate similar mechanics, so many games launch themselves so far to the other end to provide space enough to grow in their own niche.
I've seen this work. Fate Core does this particularly well.
I've also seen this fail miserably.
But I am very intrigued. A zombie adventure with a bit more grit, and an honest look at character creation that is intentionally intimate and straightforward may be just the fire one needs to create a short, powerful story.
...We'll see you next time for some character creation.
Don't get bit.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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2nd Saturday: Monster
3rd Saturday: Worldbuilding
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