Review: All Things Zombie: Final Fade Out

All Things Zombie: Final Fade Out is Two Hour Wargames’ latest version of the award-winning All Things Zombie game. Like most 2HW rules sets, it sits on the borderline between skirmish wargaming and roleplaying, and is designed to be equally viable for competitive, co-operative or solo play. Ed Teixeira, the author, says he expects this to be the final version, as he would now prefer to work on expansions and scenarios rather than keep updating the rules; mainstream games companies, take note and follow his example, please.

This is a 106 page book (or in my case, PDF file). You’ll probably be seeing a lot of this on the blog going forwards, so for this post I’m focussing on changes since the second edition.

WHAT’S NEW?

  • Characters now have skills as well as Rep and Attributes. Don’t worry though, there are only two: People and Savvy. Pep is for interacting with NPCs, Savvy is for – well, pretty much everything else. (There are more Attributes too, including Medic which helps in healing people.)
  • Reloading – optional but recommended. Previous versions of ATZ assumed that you had ammo, and you just reloaded when you had to, end of story. If you add this rule, you can fumble a reload and be staring at a zombie over the sights of an empty gun. Oops. However, drawing is still a free action, so this is where you pull out your backup weapon. You do have a backup weapon, don’t you? I can see this increasing the tension quite a bit, and it is entirely in line with the genre.
  • Lack of sleep. In this version of the rules, you don’t get many quiet nights, what with all the screaming and zombies and all, and it can leave you groggy (i.e. with a lower Rep) at the start of an encounter. Never mind, once the adrenaline starts flowing you get your full Rep back.

WHAT’S CHANGED?

  • To my mind, the most significant change is that zombies are now Rep 3 unless they can see you, in which case they activate as if they were Rep 4, but are still Rep 3 for other purposes. This shifts the balance of play in favour of the humans, as the zeds will activate less often.
  • In Sight is updated to the Chain Reaction Final Version standard, namely roll Rep d6 and look for “passes” (scores of 1-3) rather than the earlier 2d6 vs Rep. However, zombies don’t trigger In Sight tests.
  • Your Star (PC, in effect) now always starts as a Citizen, then turns into a Ganger or a Survivor (your choice) either once he meets the criteria or if he survives to day 21 of the outbreak. Police and military figures are NPCs who disappear after 30 days (having turned into Gangers or Survivors by that point).
  • There are fewer reaction tests, and those that remain are more clearly worded (at least, in my opinion).
  • Melee has changed in that you no longer split dice between opponents, you fight them in turn and lose 1d6 each time one ties with you. Perhaps more importantly, zombies now roll 3d6 in melee rather than 1d6. In no version of ATZ do you want to face multiple zeds in melee, and in this version you really, really don’t want to do that.
  • Zombie placement happens as soon as it is triggered, rather than at end of turn. The mechanism for placing them has also changed from picking a quadrant to a clock face arrangement, which I suspect means the zombies will be more evenly placed. It’s also easier to remember than the old method – I memorised it the first time I read it, whereas in ATZ: BDTZ I had to look it up in every game.
  • The vehicle rules look different, but I almost never use vehicles anyway – engine noise draws zombies like flies.
  • Encounters, contact, PEF and NPC movement, and items are more like 5150: NB versions than the old ATZ: Better Dead Than Zed rules. I like the new way better.
  • Pre-generated NPCs. One of the main breakers of game flow for me was stopping to generate the NPCs my Star met. No longer, just roll some dice against a table and you can see their stats and possessions. If I understand the rules correctly, you can get more stuff by looting the bodies than you can by searching buildings; that is likely to shift things even further towards “shoot first and ask questions later” than was already the norm in ATZ.
  • Random events have changed. However, my favourites (the dog and the black chopper) are still there. I can’t see cellphones working for more than a day or two after the power goes out, though; none of the servers would be going much more than 48 hours after that. So I may swap that event for something else.

WHAT’S GONE?

  • Day One, the initial encounter sequence to ease your Star into the game. There is an updated version of this free to download from 2HW, though.
  • The example scenarios. These are replaced with little sections suggesting you pause as you read through the rules to play out a short vignette illustrating things like In Sight, shooting and melee.
  • Being able to play as a cop or soldier. However, since there are reaction tables for both, you could easily add them.

COMPARISON WITH OTHER 2HW RULES

At least, the ones I use often enough to spot differences…

  • Only ATZ has zombies, obviously.
  • 5150: NB has Bonus Dice for the Star (and possibly Co-Stars). ATZ: FFO and CRFV do not. 5150: NB Stars are thus more resilient.
  • Star Power, Larger Than Life and Cheating Death in ATZ cannot be used against wounds inflicted by Zombies. Do not boogie with zombies, they will mess you up.
  • Buildings are simpler in ATZ than 5150. (There are no buildings in CRFV.) Specifically, the internal areas and movement between them are replaced by two simple rules: Anyone in a building is concealed; anyone stationary in a building is in cover. I think I like this better than the more complex rules in 5150.

CONCLUSIONS

The new rules are better aligned to the game objectives (survive and prosper), and overall I think most of the changes are improvements. As with all THW rules, you are rewarded for sound tactics and keeping your eye on the mission objectives. You still have to kill zombies to increase your Rep, though.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5.

Shadows of Keron Episode 21: Blood in the Snow

A small group again this weekend although Athienne and Garstrewt did join in by Skype partway through. Since I still want them present for the denouement of Vengeance of the Branded Devils, I turned to the Viking adventure in the SWD core rulebook, transplanted it to Northeim, and advised the group that in a flash-forward adventure taking place after Vengeance, Gutz had taken his pals back to his home village to show off his bling and prove to his doubting childhood friends and family that he had made good.

The parallels with Beowulf were sufficiently strong to convince Athienne’s player, who is an English teacher, that they were in fact replaying that story. This was a theory close enough to be useful.

Nessime’s player sought divine intervention, and after a ridiculous number of raises on her Knowledge: Religion roll, managed to contact Ymir, King of the Frost Giants, and ask for his advice on the best route to the nearest ice troll. He answered truthfully, and after a long trek and a tough fight, they managed to kill a five metre tall ice troll. This would have been really useful if the ice troll concerned had had anything to do with the assorted murders and kidnappings they were trying to sort out.

On finally tracking down the miscreants responsible, adroit use of Puppet to start a brawl among the kidnappers and to mind-control the hostage through the party’s rescue plan (ensuring she went the right way at the right time), followed by The Warforged’s signature Blast power into the dogpile, resulted in a bloodless success for the group.

Pity about the ice troll, but its head has greatly increased Gutz’ reputation in his hometown, so not all was lost.

All Things Zombie Reboot

In honour of Zombtober, and bearing in mind the continued lack of Garstrewt and Athienne, this weekend the guest game was All Things Zombie: Final Fade Out. In about 90 minutes we created characters, ran through some rules examples – a firefight, for example – and played the Day One scenario (a free web supplement from the 2HW site).

The Warforged’s player generated a character with Rage and Brawler, which he declared was a doomsday-prepping survivalist kendo teacher who had been praying for this day for years; Nessime’s player created a Greedy Medic; Gutz’ player had a Runt/Born Leader car mechanic armed with a nailgun; and I had a character with very little background beyond having Poser and Rage, because I spent most of my time interpreting the rules for the others, who have never played ATZ before. All the characters were Rep 4 Citizens.

This session didn’t flow as smoothly as I’d hoped – I really should have played a couple of games solo first to get the hang of the rules, but I thought I could get away with it because I’ve been playing so much 5150: NB. (One of the advantages of solo play is I can stop and puzzle over a rule I don’t understand for as long as I want; that’s much more stressful for me when I’m introducing new players to a game I want them to like and don’t understand how to do something.)

Still, by the end of Day One we were holed up in the nuclear bunker underneath the kendo teacher’s combination house and dojo, and the mechanic and the doctor had both seen and killed a zombie (the doctor took its head off with a spade, while the mechanic was still coming to terms with it being a former friend).

The players took this badly-prepared session in good heart, and decided to think of it as the cut scene introducing the game (they are all keen videogame players). We agreed to finish off the outstanding Savage Worlds scenario (Vengeance of the Branded Devils) next time we meet, then try another ATZ game, and then I’ll hand over the reins to the Shadowrun GM for a session. Meanwhile, I’ll shift my solo focus to ATZ for a while to get the hang of it, and GM the game until everyone is comfortable enough with the rules not to require explanations.

Their plan for the next encounter, incidentally, is to raid a military base for guns and explosives. On Day Two of the zombie outbreak. I do not think this will go well.

Shadows of Keron Episode 20: Windborn

Another short Savage Worlds session with few attendees this weekend, so I ran a flash-forward adventure after the end of Vengeance of the Branded Devils – the Zandorian adventure from Beasts of the Dominions. (I don’t want to finish Vengeance without Garstrewt and Athienne being there, as it might have been written for them.) As usual, no spoilers, but this is a nice four-page adventure featuring one of the titular Beasts.

The party made short work of most of the encounters, thanks to the careful use of Puppet and Blast powers by The Warforged, Boost Trait by Nessime, and thrown axes by Gutz. A hostage was rescued, bad guys were fried, a considerable quantity of bacon was taken as loot, and only the Big Bad caused any real problems – you have to be canny how you take the boss monster down.

They weren’t canny, but they pumped enough Blast and Bolt powers into the boss that it didn’t matter. Peace, as they say, through superior firepower. Although they did get covered in filth as usual, and Nessime realised that she no longer has the Holy Handkerchief, which she successfully delivered to the Ninth Alchemist a couple of sessions ago.

The Warforged, being the character who plays most often, is a few experience ahead of the rest and has just reached Heroic. Since I expected the campaign to go a few advances into Legendary, this is almost exactly the halfway point; he has expressed a desire to retire as one of the Alchemists of Gis. We’ll see, plenty of time for that later.

A short, simple scenario with three players is just in the sweet spot for me, and I think that is more about my style as a GM than anything else. Regardless, as often happens with the Beasts & Barbarians scenarios, I find my normal jaded attitude replaced by enthusiasm and a will to play. I can’t decide which I’d rather play, SW or 5150; mind you, I don’t have to – I can play both, and more.

In the Middle of a Chain Reaction

"The choice is up to you. Feel free to use as little or as much of the following rules for your campaign…" – Ed Teixeira, 5150: New Beginnings

This one’s for Steve Boulter… Steve, you said you weren’t convinced all Ed’s changes for 3rd Edition were of benefit. Here are my thoughts having played 5150: NB for a while…

I like:

  • The new In Sight method – Rep d6 looking for passes rather than 2d6 vs Rep. I didn’t expect to like this, but it while it is fractionally slower in play, it makes many-on-many firefights flow more smoothly.
  • Bonus dice. For when the Star absolutely, positively has to win a dice roll.
  • The 5150: NB skills system. Rep and a couple of attributes aren’t really enough to keep me interested in a character, but LTL’s dozens of skills were overkill. This feels right in the sweet spot.
  • The self-improvement rules. I like it that my Star can’t lose points unless he fails.
  • The revised melee rules. I never really took to the idea of multiple sub-turns inside a melee, with the figures’ melee dice gradually eroding until one didn’t have any left. That’s gone now.

I don’t like:

  • Bleeder wound status. I find it confusing, and have to keep looking it up. Maybe that will change as I play more, but currently I don’t think it adds anything to the game that Stunned and Out Of the Fight didn’t already cover to my satisfaction. This is the only thing I really have a problem with, but I’ll keep playing it for a while, since it often takes quite a few games before I realise what a particular rule is trying to do.
  • Different reaction test charts for the different troop types. That’s been in 2HW games for a long time, and I’ve never really taken to it. However, I haven’t thought of a better way to do it, either, and they are so integral to the system that I don’t want to mess with them. The easiest solution is probably to restrict the troop types used in any one encounter, so I’m only looking up a couple of tables. Mind you, as long as you have a decent leader with each tactical group, it’s quite unusual for them to fail anything other than a Recover From Knock Down Test anyway.
  • How long it takes to resolve PEFs. There are a couple of ways to deal with that, one is Ed’s approach of pre-dicing a bunch of encounters and putting them on cards, another is not to flesh them out beyond Rep and weapon carried, which is what I find myself doing most of the time.

I don’t mind:

  • Hit location. I like the brutal elegance of rolling vs Impact. However, the hit location tables make it easier to use armour, by adding detail to damage resolution. I have toyed with the idea of dropping hit location and giving figures Star Power dice to represent armour, but that would mean more bookkeeping, which I hate.
  • PEF movement rules. They are less intuitively obvious to me than the ones in earlier editions, but I picked them up easily enough.

Neither like nor dislike but don’t expect to use much:

  • Cybertech enhancements and media crews. Just not my cup of tea.
  • Terrain placement, buildings, hiring-on, legal and economic systems. I don’t have a problem with them, I just enjoy other parts of the game more, and when time is limited they’ll probably fall by the wayside.

So, overall, I’d say the 3rd edition rules are an improvement – I like more of the changes than I dislike.

Blood Angels vs Jafar

Well, not quite. It happened like this…

My view is that players are generally much less concerned about the rules and setting than the GM, and I don’t think that’s just me; if the GM is enthusiastic, it’s easy to get the players involved; if the GM loses his enthusiasm, as I am, then the game falls apart. I’m starting to feel a bit burned out on Savage Worlds, and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to see if any of the 2HW products would tempt the group as a change of pace; I was thinking of Labyrinth Lord as an alternative, but another picaresque fantasy game won’t be different enough for me to recharge, I fear.

This weekend we found ourselves with very few players, not much time, and a sickly GM (me –just a cold, but enough to take the edge off my usual fiendishness). So, rather than not play at all, we opted for a guest game – Chain Reaction Final Version.

How complex was character generation, they wanted to know. You are Rep 5, I said; pick a figure, you’ve got what the figure has.

Of course, based on that, I should have expected The Warforged’s figure to be a Blood Angels Space Marine with a rocket launcher (he kindly agreed not to play a terminator marine with lightning claws). The others were more restrained, picking a SAW gunner and one of my two female figures with assault rifles; I went with an MP and two grenades.

The whole game lasted about an hour, including briefing them on the rules, and got to the end of turn three. By that point, all of the PEFs had been resolved (as an improbably large number of Jafar – I ran out of figures and had to use lion men for some of them) and slaughtered, mostly with explosives.

The verdict from the players was that it was even faster and more furious than SW, and that because of the chain reactions from things like In Sight Tests, they weren’t waiting as long between turns, so felt more involved in the game. I warned them that 2HW products essentially view the story arc as a way of justifying and bridging the combats; but in honesty that isn’t too different from most RPGs. How about a campaign, I asked, as a change from SW? Fine, they said.

Those present were all keen Team Fortress 2 players, which I think helped their decision. We bemoaned the lack of TF2 figures, agreeing that we could do tabletop TF2 very easily with Chain Reaction.

So, which 2HW game, then? We discussed 5150, ATZ and Warrior Heroes – after the fact, I wondered about a Warhammer 40,000 game, which would be easy to do, and would give me an excuse to buy 5150: Star Army. As if I needed one.

By a narrow margin, All Things Zombie beat 5150; the group thinks we have enough fantasy games already, and that 5150: NB would overlap too much with the Shadowrun campaign. So, once we reach a natural break point for Shadows of Keron, we’ll park Beasts & Barbarians for a while and go zombie hunting.