Not Your Daddy’s Zombies

"If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skin into their clothes … and if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order." – Firefly

I use zombies a lot, mostly because their simple and predictable tactics make them good opponents for solo games; it’s both easy and credible for them to be moved in accordance with rules, rather than trying to imagine the best tactics for both sides, turn by turn.

But let me draw your attention to a few things about the standard Savage Worlds zombie from the core rulebook…

  • Smarts d4. Notice, not d4(A); this ugly biter as smart as some beginning PCs or the standard Soldier ally. He remembers how ladders and doorknobs work. He’s going to go around the open manhole, and he is not going to stagger off one rooftop because he can see you on the next.
  • Intimidation d6. Not only is the SW zed scary, he is scary with malice aforethought, trying to Shake you so his buddies can drag you down.
  • Shooting d6. In most games you take down zombies with a ranged weapon before they get close enough to bite. This little devil shoots back.
  • Pace. There is nothing anywhere in the rules that says zombies can’t run. This alone makes them much more dangerous; not so much Dawn of the Dead, more 28 Days Later.

So, combat with Savage Worlds zombies is more hazardous than in other zombie games. It likely begins with you coming under fire from armed zeds lying in ambush. While you’re pinned, the fearless assault team of zombies closes up; one intimidates you to Shake you while the rest pile in with wild attacks and maximum gang-up bonuses.

You’re being shot at, you’re Shaken, and four zombies are engaging you in hand-to-claw combat, each rolling at +6 to hit. They are fearless, +2 Toughness, and you basically have to use a called shot to the head to take them out.

Good luck. I’ll be in my bunk.

The Last Parsec Primer

The eagerly-awaited (at least by me) Kickstarter for The Last Parsec is now off and running – in fact it fully funded within an hour of opening, so we may confidently expect some of the stretch goals to be met.

The Last Parsec is a loosely-defined sandbox setting, initially with three main setting books, each with a plot point campaign focussed on a single star system somewhere in the sandbox – where exactly doesn’t matter, since hyperspace travel times do not depend on the length of the journey.

The setting assumes you have the Savage Worlds Deluxe core rules and the Science Fiction Companion, although so far I’d say the SFC is optional unless you want to build your own races or hardware.

One of the teaser items is a free-to-download setting primer, a 12-page PDF, so I grabbed that and started comparing it to the SFC…

  • In TLP, the hyperdrive travel times listed in SFC are only valid if the destination has a functioning astrogation beacon for which the navigator has the access codes, which might be freely available, for sale, or closely-guarded secrets. Without access to a beacon at your destination, the trip is longer and more dangerous. (I could see some planets posting commodity prices on the beacon as well as navigational co-ordinates, possibly for an additional fee.)
  • Communication is both possible and near-instantaneous between beacons. Without being relayed through beacons it is slower, but still many times faster than light.
  • Insystem travel is normally done "under conventional power", not by hyperdrive.
  • The Known Worlds do not have a central government, or a common currency. There is however a trade language, Lingua Universal ("uni").
  • The main races are all from the SFC, although Aquarians and Avions didn’t make the grade. Presumably they are still out there somewhere.
  • The interstellar empires from the SFC are both present. Only one is given a size, the rakashan Tazanian Empire, said to be a large one controlling thousands of worlds. (The SFC states that the United Confederation has dozens or hundreds of member worlds, so it looks like the Tazanians are the 800 lb gorilla of the Known Worlds.)

For convenience, the PCs are assumed to work for JumpCorp, a megacorporation reminiscent of the Galactic Taskforce in Star Frontiers – it’s big, it does a bit of everything, and it pays PCs handsomely to do risky jobs for it.

REALITY CHECK

The setting is based in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy, in an unspecified time period. The explored volume, the Known Worlds, is said to span the width of the arm (which I quickly found out was about 3,500 light-years) and to contain billions of star systems with thousands of inhabited worlds.

The Atlas of the Universe tells me that that there are somewhere around 80 million stars within 2,000 light-years of Earth, which is a good first approximation to the setting’s volume, making them around 15 light-years apart if evenly spaced through that volume. Of those, current thinking is that 23% are spectral class F, G or K, and one-third of FGK stars will have Earth-like planets in the habitable zone; let’s call that six million such systems in the Known Worlds, averaging 35 light-years apart.

That says to me that most inhabited planets are Earth-like, because needing life-support systems is more expensive than being able to live without them, and as you can tell from a distance which stars are most likely to have naturally habitable worlds, you probably don’t bother with checking the others out – if you want an airless rock, there are plenty of those in your own star system already.

WHAT’S TO LIKE

The thing that appeals most to me about TLP is that you can drop any world or setting into the overall sandbox with little or no effort, so long as you can make it work with FTL radio and a distance-no-object hyperdrive.

More on the individual setting books in late October or early November, when I’ve had a chance to check them out.

Review: Interface Zero 2.0

“If you’re looking for more detailed rules for cyberspace, check out Interface Zero 2.0 by Gun Metal Games.” – Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion

In a Nutshell: THE cyberpunk and near-future setting for Savage Worlds. ‘Nuff said. Published by Gun Metal Games.

CONTENTS

This is a 320 page PDF, so these are the highlights rather than a blow-by-blow account of each chapter.

Character creation follows the usual Savage Worlds approach, although the designers recommend using skill specialisations and giving PCs an extra 5 skill points to help that along. There are 16 archetypes for those like me who just want to jump in and play. As SF settings go, Interface Zero leans towards hard SF, so you’ll find no orcs here; but available races include hybrids, characters whose DNA has been spliced with that of various animals, and you can use those to match Shadowrun races or the Intelligent Gerbil races common in space opera. You can also play an android, bioroid, cyborg, simulacrum, vanilla human or genetically-engineered human, although the setting stops short of full-on digital PCs existing only as substrate-independent software. Psionics is permitted as an Arcane Background.

There’s the usual crop of new edges and hindrances. I tend to gloss over these as part of a conscious decision to stay as close to the core rules as possible (which simplifies the learning curve for the whole group, including me), but they cover everything I’d need to adapt any genre story I’m familiar with except Johnny Mnemonic’s amnesia; I suppose you could do that with Clueless, actually.

There’s a huge gear chapter, which includes flavour text on the various manufacturers. As you’d expect, this is heavy on weapons (ranging from knives through chainswords to particle beam rifles); cyberware (and there is a new derived stat, Strain, which limits how much you can install); and drones. There are also a small range of robots, various drugs, and both standard mecha and rules for building custom ones. More unusual is the section on entertainment products and fast food joints.

The chapters on The World and The Solar System are 160 pages of intricate, interlocking setting information that I’m not sure I’ve fully internalised even after several readings, dripping with plot hooks. I’m not even going to try to summarise them, other than to say they are very, very good.

The game master section has random adventure and gang generators, city trappings (tags which affect how the PCs’ skills etc operate in that area), and advice on how to run the game, notably what type of missions a group would be offered and how much they would get paid, both depending on the party’s rank; a group of Novices might be offered Cr 500 apiece to do some leg-breaking, while a group of Legendary characters might be offered Cr 125,000 each to assassinate a corporate CEO.

It’s worth noting that the Pinnacle’s own Science Fiction Companion refers to this as the go-to product for detailed cyberspace rules.

FORMAT

This is a layered PDF, meaning you can switch off the background layer to make it more printer-friendly. There’s a lot of full-colour artwork – I’m tempted to call it "lavishly illustrated".

Flavour text is often written as if it were an online debate between characters in the setting, which works well, especially as a means to get across multiple views of the same topic, any of which could be the truth in your campaign.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

There are a few places where terms are used before they’re defined. This isn’t a huge problem, keep reading and in a few pages all is revealed. It’d be nice to have some sort of sidebar or appendix with a glossary, though.

CONCLUSIONS

When I started reading Interface Zero, I thought "This is the Savage Worlds version of Shadowrun," and indeed it can be if that’s what you want; but it’s much more than that. Beyond its own lavish backstory and setting, this is a toolkit you can use for almost any near-future science fiction game – the one thing it doesn’t cover is starships. You could use it for Neuromancer, Judge Dredd, Mad Max, Shadowrun, Outland, Blade Runner, Deus Ex, System Shock, Dark Angel, and others; I’ve seriously considered adding starships and using it as the core of a space opera game in a similar vein to 2300AD.

This is a solid product, well-crafted and inspiring, the best science fiction setting for Savage Worlds I have seen yet, and it’s now the yardstick against which I will measure all the others. The main thing that stops me running it is that we also play Shadowrun occasionally, and I don’t want to tread on that GM’s toes.

Space Travel, Trade and Encounters

In the same way that the default D&D campaign was about plundering an underground complex, the default Traveller campaign was about a small starship trading from world to world and getting into trouble while it did so; and that seems like as good a spine as any to hang a Savage Worlds SF game on.

The Science Fiction Companion is easily understandable when it comes to ship construction and combat, less so for travel, trade and encounters. Let’s look at each of those in turn before we start rolling dice, shall we?

TRAVEL

On first checking the rules for travel and upkeep in the Science Fiction Companion, it seemed it was always cheaper in the long run to burn extra fuel to arrive on the day of the hyperjump, because the cost of the crew’s wages is more than the cost of fuel. Experimentation showed this was wrong, for two reasons; first, you pay your crew once per month, but you have to replace fuel more often than that if you burn extra. Second, the cost of the extra fuel has to be less than the profit you expect to make on your cargo, or you will go broke within a few months. You’re likely to do that anyway, as you’ll see in the next section, although it takes longer if you don’t pay your crew.

It also seemed that the Knowledge (Astrogation) roll to make the hyperjump was dramatically uninteresting, because all failure does is delay the jump by a few minutes, and unless you’re being pursued by rakashan pirates or about to be eaten by a giant mutant star goat, it’s not worth rolling. Again, that’s not quite right; it matters how much you eventually succeed by, as raises on the astrogation roll reduce transit time and hence operating costs.

You need a good pilot to survive and prevail in combat, but you need a good astrogator to make a profit. Since presumably you want the astrogator to be better than the ship’s AI, he or she will likely have Scholar and the prerequisite d8 skill.

TRADE

The intriguing thing about Savage Worlds trading (SFC p. 28) is that it has nothing to do with the characters or the planet they’re on. This makes it extremely portable; it’s a subset of rules with no connection to anything else at all.

After trying a few dozen trading voyages off-camera, I came to the conclusion that this also means that you go broke fast unless you have a number of possible destinations and know what the prices are going to be at at each one; if you don’t, on average luck over a long period you break even on the trading rolls, but it costs you money to move the ship around, so you make a loss overall.

Therefore, co-operation between trader ships is advantageous; they will share prices in some way. A government might operate subsidised ships of its own, or might pay for pricing information which it then shares on a Commodity Board at the starport, to encourage trade and thus boost its economy. A merchant’s guild might jealously guard the information, only sharing it between members. A large trading corporation might have the resources to do this itself, so the co-operation might be entirely internal to the organisation.

Whatever form the organisation takes, one of its primary functions is to collect price data from nearby worlds on a monthly basis (the prices change each month) and share them. This is limited to worlds within one jump of home, though, as by the time the typical ship has gone two jumps, collected local prices and returned, loaded up the best cargo and jumped back, the prices have changed, so there’s no point.

The organisation therefore has at least one ship per neighbouring world that basically does nothing but carry mail and news between the homeworld and its neighbours, and an extra one or two undergoing maintenance or repairs. These ships are as small as possible, since this minimises their operating costs on all fronts. Since there are ships (probably armed) scuttling around neighbouring systems on a regular basis, those systems count as "patrolled" for purposes of random encounters – see below for more on that.

Each ship trots out to an adjacent world at the beginning of the month, carrying something it hopes it can sell at a markup, then comes back. They share information, and then all make the most profitable run they can for the rest of the month; if there’s enough money to be made, the ships may burn extra fuel to reduce transit time, so that they can make more runs before the prices change.

Now, while it’s logical for these little ships to trade and thus offset their operating costs, they can’t be expected to make a profit, for the reasons stated above. So, like Traveller’s subsidised merchants, each ship has an Operating Cost Position – essentially, an amount the organisation will tolerate it losing. I reason this would cover fuel for daily operations and two hyperjumps per month (one out, one back), provisions, and crew salaries, but not additional hyperjumps or burning extra fuel to reduce transit time. Crews which lose less than their OCP are considered good; crews that consistently lose more than their OCP are replaced.

RANDOM ENCOUNTERS

The SFC doesn’t cover these at all, although Savage Worlds itself calls for drawing a card if travelling through an area that isn’t patrolled. If one were using random encounters, the logical point at which to check is on arrival in a new system.

By the above reasoning, any world acting as a trade hub effectively patrols all its neighbouring worlds (those within one hyperspace jump), so there are no space encounters there.

Beyond that, hostile encounters are possible; my thinking is that in most cases the setting will tell you what PCs should encounter; raiders, over-zealous patrol ships, pirates and so on, according to where the GM has placed those; my instinct is that consistency in this will be more useful in the long run than creating complex tables. ("Let’s not go to Tortuga, we always get hit by pirates there.")

REFLECTIONS

I can see I’m not going to want to track this in detail in the face to face game; while the characters spend a lot of time obsessing about trade goods and markets, the players neither need to nor should.

However, whether you call them scouts, couriers or trade pioneers, you could easily construct a campaign around one of the small price-checking starships, with the PCs as the crew. Start at the base world, visit one of its neighbours and have an adventure, come back and tell your patron what the prices are like there. If you make a profit, so much the better.

Once More Into The Nebula

This year’s sci-fi campaign is gaining momentum now, after a certain amount of dithering over what rules and setting to use. Some of my previous groups have had firm ideas on what should be used, but the current players are very laid back about that, so I can use whatever I want.

THE RULES

Much as I love Classic Traveller, it has holes. Character generation is too random, there’s no levelling up to speak of, and the range and armour DMs for combat are too clunky. I could house-rule my way out of that, or we could learn a new game (say, Mongoose Traveller or Stars Without Number), but you know what, we’re already familiar with a game that will do the job, and that’s Savage Worlds. So there’s the core rules set.

There are things SW does not do well, mostly around setting generation; but that’s fine, because I have a setting in mind already.

THE SETTING

The Official Traveller Universe is too big and too detailed not to use, but by the same token I want to tweak the setting too; that and my affection for the Dark Nebula map have taken me away from the well-trodden paths, towards that region of space.

I’ve used the Nebula as a setting before, in the playtest campaign for my work on GURPS Traveller Alien Races 2 and 3, and I expect to have a couple of the same players. To avoid awkward questions and allow me to apply lessons learned in the intervening 15 years, I turn the clock back from 1105 or so Imperial to 3400 AD and the very start of the Aslan Border Wars. That’s during the Long Night, 650 years after the fall of the Rule of Man, so there’s a major difference – this game will have the feel of re-emerging into space after centuries of rebuilding, much like Stars Without Number or Traveller: The New Era, either or both of which may be mined for resources.

It also means the Solomani Confederation doesn’t necessarily have to be the Stalinist Nazi hybrid of the Official Traveller Universe; that’s 2,000 years in the future from the PCs’ viewpoint.

THE STARMAP

I promise I will eventually stop redrawing the map of the Nebula; but not today. I hope this will be the final version, although I admit it never has been before…

This version has the rescaling and rotation I normally apply, but I worked out how to do double star systems in Hexographer so added those back in. Doing that revealed that I could have a more authentic jump route network by moving a couple of worlds as well; since one of the conceits of the tweaked setting is that one can only move along jump routes, this has no effect.

dn06h

Worlds are colour-coded; red dots are homeworlds, blue ones are primary systems, orange are secondary, grey are tertiary. (Using dots for everything makes it easier to do the map key in MS Word for player handouts.)

Jump routes are in green; solid lines for charted ones, dotted lines for uncharted. Hyperspace jumps are only possible along charted routes; my rationalisation for this is that the map is a 2D representation of 3D space, so worlds that appear next to each other may be too far apart vertically to allow a jump; there is an explanation for the uncharted routes, which I’ll come back to later when I do some world writeups.

That means I can suppress the hex grid for clarity, since the players will never use the hexes. Then, the map looks like this:

dn06

The map uses the original 1980 terms for the interstellar states, Solomani Confederation and Aslanic Hierate; this is so that any Traveller-savvy players who join the campaign will immediately realise this is an alternate Traveller universe, not the official one.

THE CONFLICT

The period of tension and intrigue leading up to the First Aslan Border War is a great time for roleplaying adventures, the straight-up combat after war breaks out not so much, at least not for the players I have in mind. This is a good thing, because otherwise I would feel compelled to work out the war in detail – which naval squadron is in which system on what date, how long the Battle of Valka lasts and who is involved, that kind of thing – and the campaign would collapse under the weight of my notes.

So instead of using the Pacific War of 1941-45 as a real-world analogue, the campaign is going to be more like the 1930s, which will suit the pulpy feel of Savage Worlds very well.

THE PCS AND THE BASE WORLD

The PCs will be those from Back in Black; converting them to SW is a cinch because they are actually SW archetypes converted to CT.

None of them have a ship, or ship-related skills, so for the moment all I need to worry about is their base world; this is going to be Mizah, and I’ll look at that in the next post.

Review: Zed or Alive

Not doing so well on the sticking to my wish list front, am I? But you can’t expect me to resist this one… you’ll see…

In a Nutshell: The Zombie Apocalypse for Savage Worlds’ Showdown miniatures rules, by Rust Devil Games. Intended for head-to-head skirmish wargaming, but also viable for co-op, solo, and RPG games. 102 page PDF. You need the Showdown rules as well as this book to play, but since those are free to download from Pinnacle Entertainment, I’ll let ‘em off just this once.

CONTENTS

Chapter 1: Welcome to Zed or Alive (5 pages)

This introductory chapter tells you what you’re letting yourself in for: A campaign-style skirmish wargame with zombies. A grimdark settlement (Stadium City, so called because it’s built in an abandoned sports complex) barely holding out against the zombie hordes.

It also explains the setting rules. Bailing effectively introduces a morale check, a Spirit test taken by the group’s leader when a member drops or is eaten by zeds, representing his (or her) decision to sauve qui peut. There are expanded rules for climbing and breaking down doors – take heart, only a couple of paragraphs. The Pain rule means that when figures are hurt, they must pass a Spirit check or scream in pain (drawing zombies). And so on. The key point is that the world of ZOA is dangerous. Wild Cards don’t get bennies. There’s a variant incapacitation rule called Bleeding Out which I haven’t really grasped; maybe it will become clear in play. Nobody has Arcane Backgrounds.

Chapter 2: Denizens of the Dead World (14 pages)

These come in four flavours: Survivors, Tribals, Military and Shamblers. You begin with $400 – effectively, points – with which to buy figures and equipment; your group must be 2-4 figures to start with, and can grow to 8 over time. You need to track food, water, ammo, experience points and a few other things. Depending on which flavour of group you choose, you select members from a series of pregenerated characters, each with their own stats, skills, edges, hindrances and points cost.

Something that feels a bit clunky here is that the group’s Fame is calculated using a different table of values from the one you use to buy them. Still, that only matters once, when you set them up.

Something I like is that each group has a camp. More of that later.

Survivors are what it says on the tin; regular people who’re just having a bad day. They may elect to start with a random edge and a random hindrance, but the word "elect" implies to me that they need not. There are four survivor templates; Everyman (jack of all trades), Veteran (has police or military experience), Worker (good at building and fixing stuff), Kid (lucky), and Caregiver (medic type).

Tribals are your traditional cannibal gangers living in the ruins and eating Survivors. They may be Warchiefs (leaders), Shaman (fixer/healers – the Tribals have lost most of their technical knowledge), Headhunters (the basic Tribal), or Quislings (insane pets who can sometimes pass for Shamblers).

The Military are the field representatives of surviving government officials, who now live in underground bunkers, searching desperately for The Cure. They are utterly ruthless, and see the other groups as at best a way to distract zombies, and at worst as lab animals. Military figures include Grunts (the basic), Medics, Operators (elite special forces veterans), and Snipers. They differ from the other groups in having specific missions to accomplish, and regular resupply by airdrops; Survivors and Tribals are generally scavenging when you meet them.

Unlike the other three group types, Shamblers are NPCs operated by the rules rather than a player. Like most zombies in fiction, they are attracted to noise; one of the game aids is a decibel meter, and the more noise you make, the further away zombies can detect you. If that distance reaches the maximum (12"), then more noise not only attracts the zeds that were already present, but generates more of them. I rather like that, I’ll have to try it out. It is also possible to play as the Virus Strain, but I’ll talk about that under the Campaigns chapter.

This is actually quite cleverly thought out, as there is a logical reason for each faction to fight all of the others.

Chapter 3: Confrontations (10 pages)

These are the scenarios used for individual games. Ambush, Finders Keepers, Rumble, and The Drop are head-to-head; The Horde, Highway of the Damned, Outbreak, The Hunt, and Thinning the Herd are co-op (and can be played solo or head to head as well).

  • Ambush: One group is returning from a successful scavenging mission, when a second group attacks.
  • The Drop: A Military group is being resupplied by air, but another group found the supplies first.
  • Finders, Keepers: Two groups fight for possession of rich loot.
  • Rumble: Two hostile groups encounter each other in the ruins, and decide to teach each other a lesson.
  • Outbreak: Just when the groups thought it was safe to relax, the infection takes hold inside their supposed haven – both need to get out before the zeds eat them, preferably taking some civilian NPCs with them. (Tribals are allowed to eat them later.)
  • Highway of the Damned: Looting traffic jams for fun and profit.
  • The Horde: Two groups are just about to fight over some loot when a zombie horde surrounds them; they must work together to survive.
  • The Hunt: An especially large and vicious aberrant zombie is causing trouble. Sort it out.
  • Thinning the Herd: There are just too many zombies near Stadium City. Discourage them for a bounty payment.

Weather rules are found here, too.

I like that under the random generation table for confrontations, even though your groups may be enemies, the luck of the dice may force them to co-operate to survive.

If I understand correctly, because Shamblers always move last, and they’re the only foes you would meet in a solo game, you could play solo without drawing for initiative – unless you wanted a chance of getting a joker, of course.

Chapter 4: Campaigns (47 pages)

The campaign rules let you string together a series of confrontations into a longer story, by adding rules for what happens between scenarios; treating wounded, managing supplies, and so forth. The game assumes a week passes between confrontations.

The premise for wound treatment is that most people still alive a few years after The Crash are resistant to the zombie virus in some way. Consequently, it seems that they are easily taken out of the fight, but not easily killed, by wounds. However, they do accumulate damage which reduces their stats – busted kneecaps, crushed hands and so on. As usual in SW, you can use experience to buy the losses back, so it’s not as grimdark as it sounds.

Speaking of experience, it seems it would accrue at a higher rate than usual, but is based on actions during the game not on attendance at sessions as in normal SWD (not a criticism, a stylistic choice). Advancement is much as normal, though there are a number of new edges (I liked Comic Relief, which gives friends morale modifiers due to the character’s jokes) and some tweaks to existing edges and hindrances.

Between confrontations, group members may be assigned to duties such as repairing equipment, caring for wounded, scavenging for food, scouting for a new camp, buying and selling goods at the bazaar, gambling, or recruiting to replace losses. Characters with the Gadgeteer edge may also craft items from loot, for example making a great axe from a baseball bat and some circular saw blades.

This is the chapter where your group’s camp is detailed (makes sense, as you wouldn’t need it in a one-off encounter). Where you’ve holed up is decided by the draw of a card, which gives a capsule description of the location (pawn shop, mansion, or whatever) and the benefits the camp gives you, which may be trait bonuses, additional duties that can be performed there, and so forth.

Here, too, are the rules for the repair and maintenance of vehicles, and the care and feeding of animals, notably dogs (extra combatants) or horses (transport).

The penultimate part is my favourite: Virus Strains. As well as the main factions, a third player in any scenario can represent the virus itself – controlling not just ordinary Shamblers, but more advanced versions of zombies. The Virus earns experience for causing damage and killing people, which advance it to more evolved stages. As it evolves, the Virus can field more dangerous abominations (the sort of things you find in Left4Dead) and also buff the basic Shambler zombie to make it more dangerous. You can have multiple Virus players, each representing a different strain.

Finally, we have rules for importing characters from SWD roleplaying, or exporting them to it. Since Showdown is essentially SWD with the non-combat elements stripped out, this is straightforward.

Appendices (19 pages)

The Armoury, a list of weapons, armour and personal equipment; first time I’ve seen a skateboard in an equipment list. Vehicles, from bicycles to hummvees to motor homes. Freak Events. Loot Tables. Game Aids, including a decibel meter, quick reference sheet, squad sheets, and several pages of markers and burst templates.

FORMAT

Full colour throughout; two-column black on grey text, lots of pictures, some cartoonised, some out-and-out cartoons, some not.

Tables and boxouts are done in a faux handwriting font and laid out to look like post-it notes or squared notebook paper stuck on the page; the rulebook as a whole is designed to look like a manilla folder full of a survivor’s notes.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Layered PDF please, so I can print it without remortgaging my house to afford the ink.

Not so much a suggestion for improvement as a plea for enlightenment: Am I the only person left in the world who doesn’t name their miniatures? If so, what do the rest of you do when a figure dies, eh? Answer me that!

THE INEVITABLE COMPARISON WITH ALL THINGS ZOMBIE

Both are table-top zombie skirmish games suitable for head-to-head, co-op or solo play. Both are good.

ATZ ZOA
Focus Solo or co-op, head to head optional Head to head, solo or co-op optional
Turn Sequence Fluid, driven by reaction tests Draw for initiative
Undead Opponents Zombies Zombies, advanced zombies, aberrant mutations
Factions Survivors, gangers Survivors, tribals, military, virus strain
Campaign Start Day zero Some years after
AI for NPCs Advanced, with emergent behaviour Simple
Record-Keeping and Upkeep Very simple Complex, granular
Crafting Items No Yes

CONCLUSIONS

I thought I’d like this, which is why I backed the Kickstarter, and as it turns out, I do. I put in enough cash to gain access to the supplements in PDF format as they appear, so you may see those reviewed here later.

If I were still in a tabletop gaming group, I would try to get this going as a campaign, because I think it would be a blast to have a dozen or so players with various factions, and also a good gateway to roleplaying. Apart from a number of zombies, you only need a handful of figures apiece, which appeals to me; divvy the zeds up among the players and as a club you could have a decent horde in no time.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. I expect to use this at some point, probably dusting off Don and Bex from the ATZ/SWD crossover game to do so.

Shadows of Keron: A Retrospective

It’s time to call this one. Time of death: April 2014.

I have enough material to keep running the game for another year, maybe two, but with several of the group dealing with serious illness in the family, two running after a new baby, one off to university and two off to Japan, the best I can hope for is a long hiatus. All the same, it’s been fun while it lasted, and a real success. My only regret is that it petered out, rather than ending on the kind of slam-bang, white-knuckle high note I’d hoped for; but such is life.

If you count the city of Irongrave where the PCs began, which was absorbed into the Dread Sea Dominions once Beasts & Barbarians captured my imagination, this campaign has lasted about four years of real time; one of the longest I’ve ever run.

The game introduced half-a-dozen new people to role-playing, and four of them still play on a regular basis; that’s a win, right there. I converted the whole group to Savage Worlds – win – and they converted me to Shadowrun – win. I got to know Piotr Korys and Umberto Pignatelli – win.

Over the course of the campaign, the PCs have grown from their lowly beginnings at Novice rank to the edge of Legendary. They have travelled across the Dominions from the Independent Cities to the Troll Mountains to the Ivory Savannah. They have looted tombs, toppled kingdoms and slain a god. They have upset the balance of power in the Dominions for centuries to come by gifting both the Ascaian Amazons and the Smith-Priests of Hulian the secret of steel-making.

What now for our heroes?

The Warforged intends seizing control of the abandoned City of the Winged God, where he plans to create a new race of warforged and take over the world – for the greater good of all, of course. (It always starts like that, doesn’t it? Then there are dissenters, then the Blast powers and frying pans come out, and the screaming starts…)

Nessime has been instructed by the Smith-Priests to make her way to Jalizar, there to help contain its ancient evils.

Gutz’ present whereabouts are unknown; but the party’s jewels are safe with him, wherever he and Maximus the warhorse are – at least until he finds a tavern with dancing-girls…

“When it’s over, when it’s done – let it go.” – The Bangles, Let It Go