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Author Topic: Year of the Zombie  (Read 1238 times)


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Year of the Zombie
« on: October 06, 2006, 03:08:59 PM »
Chapter 1 - Campaign Types: what kind of zombie game are you running?
Chapter 2 - Time of Death: beginning the zombie campaign
Chapter 3 - The Dead Walk: zombie templates
Chapter 4 - Those Left Alive: new player classes
Chapter 5 - Cause of Death: additional threats and hazards
Chapter 6 - Lands of the Dead: locations of interest
Chapter 7 - We’re Jacked Up & Good to Go, Sarge!
Chapter 8 - Alternate Rules

I’m a big zombie fan.  Zombie movies, zombie video games, zombie roleplaying games.  There are few things that can’t be improved by adding a horde of zombies.  They’re such a direct, imminent threat that can’t be ignored.  There are hundreds of them.  They feel no pain.  They know no fear.  They are relentless in their pursuit of their one desire: to eat you alive.  Yeah, I like zombies.  

So when I got a chance to review the d20 Modern supplement Year of the Zombie, I was eager to see what was in it.  I’m not much of a d20 Modern player, though I am familiar with the system.  I’m a huge fan of the excellent All Flesh Must Be Eaten RPG from Eden Studios, and was eager to see not only how Year of the Zombie could bring zombie stomping goodness to a d20 Modern game, but how it might be useful for an AFMBE GM.

The first thing I notice about any RPG is the physical presentation.  YotZ is a PDF product, and is laid out appropriately.  The text is clear and the margins uncluttered.  I often find that the fanciful margins that look good on a printed book are only distracting and make for slow screen refreshes or suck up ink and toner with a PDF.  The fonts are interesting while still remaining legible.  The fiction is short, sweet, and relevant, and the art rather evocative.  The fiction is all from the “Diaries of Becka” and gives you snippets from the life of a survivor.  The artwork looks as if it could have been sketched in the margins of this diary.

The book opens with a short introduction to the zombie genre and a chapter on types of games.  There are a few variations set up, both in the type of game, rules used, and setting.  The pros and cons of each style are weighed carefully, from one shot struggles for survival to long term efforts to rebuild society.  The style is dealt with as well, giving alternate character rules for dark and gritty, heroic, and cinematic games.  While the options are discussed, Year of the Zombie certainly focuses on a gritty, harsh world of survival.

The next chapter is the one I personally found most interesting.  Starting Your Campaign is full of campaign advice, talks about the different ways to introduce the game, and the effects it may have on an existing game.  But the bulk of the chapter details a timeline of events likely to happen.  It starts with the panic and confusion of the initial outbreaks, the reaction of governments trying to contain the zombie threat, the eventual collapse of civilization, and the harsh existence in the ruins of society.  It even offers an eventual endgame, when the dead no longer rise and civilization can return.

At this point the book gets down to the nitty gritty – the zombies themselves.  The abilities are well thought out, such as bonuses to grappling since most moves won’t bother the zombie.  Good luck with that joint-lock.  Their Action Points can allow them to do suitably zombie-like actions such as confirm a critical hit on a bite or smash through barriers.  The average zombie is supplemented with fast zombies, frenzied zombies, and deceptive child zombies.

But it isn’t all zombies; there are the other survivors which the next chapter details.  The feral children are packs of wild kids that have been abandoned or abused and claim territory.  They become cannibals like the zombies around them, and consider all adults to be “prey.”  For the more heroic minded there’s the Lawman, a former cop or other authority figure who takes it on himself to look after the survivors and bring a semblance of law and order to the scattered refugees.  He’s a natural leader that people look to when things go wrong.  He’s judge, jury, and executioner in what would otherwise be total anarchy.

The next chapter lays out various types of threats the PCs may face in addition to zombies.  In Year of the Zombie it’s possible that in the chaos surrounding the Rise that the nations blamed each other and went to war, though the exact extent of this is left in the hands of the GM.  Not long after any such invasion command structure would collapse and the PCs may encounter enemy soldiers, rogue units, police, slavers, and good old fashioned crazies.  Each is given a thorough treatment, with stats, tactics, supplies, and what one could typically loot off them.

Of course knowing what the zombies are like and who else may be running around isn’t the whole story.  The survivors are going to want to find a safe base.  A variety of locations are described, along with their likely state and what the PCs could find there.  Dams, nuclear power plants, military bases, hospitals, and FEMA bunkers are all described in detail.  After that “We’re Jack Up & Good To Go, Sarge” details the weapons and vehicles the survivors might find useful, everything from pistols and submachine guns all the way up to Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Blackhawk helicopters.  This isn’t just an equipment list though, it contains a lot of information about the state this gear is likely to be in and the difficulties the characters will face in getting things operational.

The book wraps up with some alternate rules.  This includes a bartering system, which would reflect the real means of exchange in any post-apocalyptic setting.  Hit locations are a must for any zombie game.  You have to get those head shots somehow!  Rules for shock, pain, and dismemberment add to the harsh and gritty feel that Year of the Zombie is going after.  Finally there’s some horror and insanity rules to reflect characters that have been in the zombie killing fields a little too long.

Overall, I really like this product.  It’s a well thought out, well researched book that delivers the feel that it is aiming for.  If I had to describe it in a nutshell I’d say “Twilight 2000 meets All Flesh”, combining typical survival horror with the militaristic post apocalyptic game that I for one spent a good deal of my youth immersed in.  As a d20 Modern product I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

From the perspective of an All Flesh player, it would be most useful as a pre-made dead world.  Even though the rules would have to be converted the book would still be immensely useful.  The weapons section includes lots of information about maintenance and usage that will be useful regardless of the rules.  Similarly, the antagonists all include notes on equipment and tactics that any system can apply.

Still, no product is perfect and there are a couple of points I didn’t care for.  One was in the campaign advice chapter, where it suggests not telling the players what kind of game they are in for and springing the zombie apocalypse on them.  The idea is so they won’t metagame and make regular people, but I’ve never enjoyed bait-and-switch games myself.  The Wolf Packs (cannibal children) are interesting but seem a bit out of place in a zombie survival game.  I could see them existing in an isolated location, but the book presents them as a fairly universal phenomenon.  The zombies themselves are well done, but I’d prefer some kind of dynamic zombie creation system, as in AFMBE.  Finally, the game makes a bit too many mentions of sexual abuse and rape for my tastes.  I’m certain such things would go on in this setting, but I’d personally rather see them in the background.  But honestly these are minor points and matters of personal taste in what is really a well put together product.

I’d give it 8/10 for either d20 Modern players that want to do zombies or All Flesh Must Be Eaten GMs that could use a post-apocalyptic Dead World.  All Flesh + Year of the Zombie + One of the Living would be a great game.
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Year of the Zombie
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2006, 03:53:32 PM »
:) nice review, thanks for posting it.

I'm always interested in a good Zombie game.


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Year of the Zombie
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2006, 11:14:39 PM »
I'm happy to see the review; it's always good to have multiple perspectives on a product. I'm always happy to "meet" another zombie fan, too. You're in good company here.:)


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Year of the Zombie
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2006, 06:51:22 AM »
Thanks for the Review, Maddman.

So, what did you think of the supplements?
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