broken car

Help, I’m Alive! – Deadworld Design Journal 1

As with so many things, this all started with Kelly telling me she had watched something she really enjoyed. In this instance it was Van Helsing, a television series that details the activities of a mysteriously badass woman who kills vampires in a post-apocalyptic world. She then had me watch it as we worked in the evenings after the rugrats had nested for the night. I liked it well enough. As Kelly suspected, it gave me a few ideas I could translate into RPGs.

She then started watching Z Nation, which she really got excited about, so, once again, I started watching it with her (she kindly allowed me to start at the beginning). I was leary at first.

I’ve watched The Walking Dead to the end of the seventh season. I read the first hundred issues of the comic book. I stopped both because I found them wearying. Their relentless bleakness made me wonder why any of the principal characters wanted to survive aside from sheer masochism. I liked Z Nation more than TWD (or Van Helsing for that matter). It was cheesy, had some bad acting and questionable production values, but its bones were good. And the scenarios and ideas in play seemed like someone had translated their zombie apocalypse gaming sessions into an awesome series of short B movies. In short, its makers remembered that sometimes its okay to be fun or silly, even in the midst of death.

Shortly after I started watching Z Nation, Kelly asked if I wanted to change campaigns while we were on vacation; switch from our Supernatural inspired modern occult investigation campaign to one set in the zombie apocalypse. Sure, I said, thinking that this would be a short term thing. I should have known better….

Location Matters

I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, so I lightly sketched out zombified North America. The best zombie entertainment, in my opinion, begin in the aftermath of whatever apocalyptic event brought the world to its knees, so I decided to set our game four years after Z-Day. Our game would start in Virginia, at the University of Virginia per Kelly’s character’s background. A portion of the University has been turned into a secure compound under a chauvinistically tyrannical thumb. The rest of the campus is kept free of the dead and other riffraff by the compound’s soldiers, who also make scavenging forays into other less friendly territories. Women, children, and the elderly take care of the compound itself, ensuring that it runs smoothly and that the soldiers are comfortable.

Beyond the compound’s environs, the US is a patchwork of disparate factions vying for limited resources. The larger a community was, the harder it was hit on Z-Day, so there is marginally more safety from the dead in the less populated regions of the country.  Much of Kansas is controlled by a charismatic clergyman and his chosen Redeemers. There is a roughly triangular region anchored by Chicago, Springfield, and Indianapolis where the sun no longer rises. Locals of this area have taken to calling it Neverlight, outsiders merely say that it is Always Dark and avoid the area. It is rumored that there are… things… in the dark. Texas is reputed to be free of the dead and is ruthlessly controlled by four Oil Barons. The waters have reclaimed southern Louisiana; New Orleans is now generally known as The Sunken City. There are points of light as well: the southern tip of Vancouver Island has been walled off and is free of the dead, if rumours are true, though one must endure eight weeks of solitary quarantine if they are to join Utopia, as it is called by the desperate. There are other safe zones out there, somewhere.

Alert Status Red

Being set in the zombie post-apocalypse, zombies will of course be well represented. Regular, lurching zombies, fast zombies, plague spewing zombies… they’re all in there. People with their myriad array of abilities and allegiances of course will likely pose the biggest threat, ultimately. But there needs to be more… Taking a page from Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3, tyrant and nemesis-like undead menaces will present themselves from time to time.

The dead are comprised of more than just zombies as well. As described above, there is a region that never sees daylight. What kind of undead creatures could thrive in such a place? I can think of one or two.. or perhaps more. And… and this is my favourite part… there are ghouls. Yes. Ghouls. What is terrifying to people inured to the horror of the zombie apocalypse? Dead things that are social, intelligent, and ever-hungry for living flesh are. The ghouls, and their queen, have plans. And while they would love to see the population of humans increase, it would certainly be to the detriment of the general quality of life…

The End is Here

I think that is enough to chew on for the time being. Next time, I will discuss the system, resources used, and some house rules that have been implemented to better simulate the system’s implementation of the theme.

Comment below!

What have I missed? What kind of things would you like to see in your zombie apocalypse? Sound off in the comments.

Two bees on a flower

A Buzz on Spring Break – “For The Hive” Play Account

Ah spring break. A glorious time full of fun and excitement and a break from the monotony of every day life.

And as a work from home mother of three small children with no child care, it is also a really long two weeks where I struggle immensely trying to juggle work  and rugrats intent on getting up to no good (I believe it was day two that Rugrat #2 shoved half a dozen smurfs into the baseboard heater while I was showering).

Gardening, baking, colouring pictures, and Pokémon Go can go a long way, but Ken and I decided spring break was also the perfect time to break out another RPG adventure for the kids. We agreed it was time to play For the Hive, a really well reviewed adventure written by J Gray and published by Playground Adventures.  I thought it could be fun to add a fourth player to our game, and I suggested we try bringing another child into the mix. So a couple of weeks ago I called the mother of Rugrat #1’s best friend.

It was an awkward call because I have never broached the topic of RPGs with other parents. “So, uh, hi Parent! Do you have a minute? I wanted to talk to you about something.” Immediately I realized it sounded bad, like her child had done something wrong.  She was driving, using her car’s speaker phone, so there was also that awkward bit where you feel like you have to talk extra loudly while introducing role playing games to someone when you can’t even see their face to gauge their reaction.  She’s awesome though, so with the promise of letting her look over the adventure before we played it, she said it was a go.

Time to Game

A week and a half later, the first Saturday of Spring Break, was the big day.  Rugrat #1 & #2 were bouncing off the walls with the impending arrival of Friend 1, who arrived grinning ear to ear.  Getting the game started proved a bit tricky. We had gone ahead and premade the characters for the kids, guessing what type best suited Friend 1. The sheets were bang on, but the lure of the pawns, tokens, and visible map were strong. The kids kept trying to play them like a board game and had trouble listening. Eventually, with food in their bellies, Rugrat #3 safely in her crib for a nap, and pawns and character sheets sorted out, we began.

for the hive coverHere is where I jump in and say that if you want to read a review of For the Hive, you can find Ken’s here.  There are also some reviews with the product here.

Really Time To Game

With everything set, the adventure began.  Ken adjusted it slightly, setting it at a nearby library we like to visit, but as written, the adventure makes it easy for players to become invested – who doesn’t want to help a friend, and save a bee hive while they are at it?

Friend 1 sat quietly and super still, listening intently as the story unfolded.  Rugrat #1, who is seven next month, squirmed and wiggled, which is typical for him.  The key things Bzzercup had to say could have been stressed better to the kids (the Rugrats had trouble focusing), but that was not the adventure, it was our kids and the delivery of those facts – a good reminder not all kids focus as well as Friend 1! GMs playing with kids for the first time: remember your audience! 

Rugrat #1, who is an anxious child, had a lot of difficulty with the idea of shrinking in size, even when we stressed it was just pretend.  With some convincing from Friend 1, he reluctantly agreed, and we were are able to set off across the grass to the hive.  Here the beautiful map came into the play.  The kids loved this map, and we had to run off to print a few extras (how hard sharing can be).

One of the big things I noticed running this adventure for kids is how much (at least mine) needed to be reminded we were doing this together, that we were a team, and that we all had to help each other.  It’s a hard thing to learn – accepting you won’t excel at everything, but that what you may not be able to accomplish someone else on your team can.

A great example was the magical looking glass lost in the huge expanse of grass.  Rugrat #1 was super upset he couldn’t activate it, but I pointed out that without him we wouldn’t have even known what is was or what it could do. Teamwork let us jump forward across the lawn (but downside – he didn’t get to come across the praying mantis he saw in a piece of art, and there was a bit of an upset about that).

So How’d They Do?

Simply put? They succeeded in the goal of the adventure.  And not all groups do.  There were some hurdles though.

One major thing Rugrat #1 had trouble with is things not going his way.  This is a fun little educational adventure, but (much like any other RPG session) the joy gets sucked out a bit when a player throws a tantrum and storms out of the room because his dice aren’t rolling well. After being given the chance to calm down, Rugrat #1 did rejoin the party, and he was just in time for the big final show down.

Rugrat #2 remained quiet for most of the adventure, chiming in during combat to grin and yell “I hit it!” (naturally we made him a barbarian). He was feeling a bit under the weather and lounged across his chair, with his feet on me, or sat on my lap for most of the adventure.  When Ken and I game we sit in the basement on a big day bed with a table nearby.  It’s super comfortable. It’s also a space that would have kids bouncing all of the place and playing with pillows.  Be sure to find a space the kids can focus, but everyone can be comfy – sitting on our hard wooden IKEA chairs for a couple of hours with a four-year’s bony bum wiggling around wasn’t exactly ideal.

Over the course of the adventure, Friend 1 would randomly grin and exclaim “This is so much fun!”, making the afternoon so much better. He was the wild card for us as we’ve played with the Rugrats on a few occasions, and I must say he was a delight.  (There may have been mumblings afterward of sending Rugrat #1 to his house next time and having Friend 1 come by and game on his own.)

Final Thoughts

Rugrat #1 and his friend told us they had completed a unit on bees in school, and knew most of the bee facts that were shared during the adventure, but Ken and I found them interesting. I would recommend that anyone GMing to the younger crowd makes a point of these facts. It is really easy for them to get lost in the excitement of the adventure, and they are pretty interesting (plus a great educational take away).

Rugrat #1 hates conflict. And not being awesome. Obviously these are serious hurdles with Pathfinder.  On more than one occasion he stormed off, hiding in his room. I’m not sure there’s a great way to avoid this if you have a similar child in your life, but reminding him (or her) ahead of time about teamwork is a good idea.  This adventure also did a great job of not having the players “kill” anything.  Opponents were paper wasps.  Wasps actually made of paper (and it was a great tie-in to a previous PGA adventure).  This meant instead of killing a living thing, characters destroyed or ripped the paper, defeating the paper wasp – a very nice touch for children who are sensitive or otherwise upset by violence. I think this made it easier for Rugrat #1, and Rugrat #2’s favorite thing was “ripping the paper wasps.”

All in all, the Rugrats and Friend 1 had fun with this adventure, and both older kids said their favorite thing was helping the queen bee, but it seems Adventures in Wonderland is still the reigning favorite, and the Rugrats are eager for more of that soon. (More on that later!)

Scared

… and I Feel Fine – An Actual Play Account

A while ago I wrote a review for The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse by Fantasy Flight Games. I liked what I read, and was eager to get a couple sessions of the game in, which happened around Hallowe’en. The following is an account of the first session.

Once the players had settled, we had a brief discussion of their characters, particularly their traits and what they meant. I chose to skip the voting portion of character creation and just go with each player’s depiction of themselves. Then I set the stage for them.

It was game night, all of the spouses and children were conveniently elsewhere, everyone was settled in with their beverage of choice. People in town had been getting sick and the news was reporting increasingly common incidences of violence. There frequently were the faint sounds of sirens in the distance. Then everyone heard a crash in the air, then the sound of an aircraft falling toward the ground, followed by a bone rattling crash and a small explosion.

They rushed out to find that two of the commuter seaplanes whose flightpaths pass over my house had crashed, one falling into my neighbour’s home, destroying it, the other hitting the road in front of my house, destroying most of the parked cars (including most of theirs), and then rolling in a fiery mass into the house across from mine.

Everyone jumped into action, splitting into two groups: one heading to the neighbour, the other going across the street where they could hear screaming and a baby crying.

I went across the street, but stopped at the wreckage; I saw something moving in it… a person! I jumped into action, called my friends and offered help to the injured man.

Then I died.

Fierce fighter

We saw little of this….

The infected tore my throat out with the requisite arterial spray and looks of disbelief and dawning horror from the other players.  Things got real after that. Taking down this single infected took the combined efforts of the entire group, as it likely would in real life if five regular guys pushing forty had to take care of things. One of the characters got bitten… and infected in the fracas. Not that he knew it yet.

Scared

…but plenty of this.

After taking the infected down, they got the woman and her baby from across the street and retreated to my house to ransack it for all it was worth. The sounds of disaster carried on all night; fire could be seen toward the city. A plan was made to get to one of the character’s parents’ boat and take it to one of the outlying islands where another character’s parents’ had a cabin.

Then morning came and I kicked out the other crutch: the people killed by the infected were rising as zombies.

I had risen as a zombie.

There was a brief discussion, and it was decided that they would do their best to avoid me, rather than crush my skull. It was heartwarming.

The group rushed out to the one vehicle that had been parked far enough from my house to avoid being destroyed…  thankfully it was <NAME WITHHELD>’s minivan. Everyone piled in and drove up onto the railroad tracks next to my house. They wondered at the lack of people out and about, the absence of people fleeing from the city, but decided to stick to the plan and headed away from downtown.

They made it a few kilometres, until coming to a pair of unmoving cars blocking a rail trestle that crosses the highway. The highway below was packed with unmoving vehicles with some visible infected rampaging among them and a few zombies waving in the breeze.  Unnoticed by the infected, the group checked the cars out; one was empty, the other had a vacant-eyed zombie in the driver’s seat and a rabid looking infected in the passenger’s seat.

Seeing the PCs, the infected went berserk, and the guys knew they had to take it out before the infected on the highway heard it and came swarming up the steep slope to the trestle. Two of them moved the empty car with some difficulty… it was out of gas… and the others moved into position to deal with the other car.

The zombie was dispatched without too much difficulty, but the infected managed to sound the car’s horn, which made the baby cry. With the full attention of the infected below now on them (and quickly making their way toward the slope), the van driver decided it was time to take matters into his own hands and sped toward the car on the trestle. Seeing this, the two PCs dealing with the empty car sent it careening down the slope, taking out a couple infected in its descent.

The van hit the car, and slowly pushed it down the tracks, until it finally knocked it clear when the tracks turned. The PCs all climbed back aboard in the process and gritted their teeth as the infected reached the moving vehicle and began to batter it with their bodies. The van sped up after knocking the obstacle clear, leaving the infected behind.

I had each player then narrate a descriptive scene describing something they saw from the van, or something they were feeling based on their experiences thus far. Then they arrived at their destination with the boat in the driveway… and the driver was nearly shot by his stepfather. The misunderstanding was resolved, and everyone assembled readied themselves for a boat journey as we ended for the night.

I had a lot of fun running The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse, and the players enjoyed playing as themselves. So… what will happen next? Will we uncover the cause of this sudden and drastic change in reality? Will the PCs make it off the island? What will the world’s response be? How widespread is the event? What happens if <NAME WITHHELD> succumbs to his infection on the boat? Will the secrets of Quarantine Zone 4 ever be uncovered? Hopefully we get another session in soon so we can find out!