Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Three Historical Settings for Your Zombie Game

Robert Rath | 17 Oct 2013 16:00
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The zombie genre has become a zombie itself: shambling, decaying, wandering on autopilot. Yet we still keep making and enjoying zombie stories-so what's the solution? We change the formula. Galvanize the sucker. Shoot twenty thousand volts into that old corpse and make it dance. One way to do that is to strip the zombie apocalypse of its urban setting and situate it in the past. Just in time for Halloween, here are three historical settings that turn freshen up your table top zombie game-from the gothic dread of Victorian waiting mortuaries to a gleefully unfaithful retelling of the Alamo.

LOST WITH ALL HANDS

The captain was ecstatic when they fished the German out of the water. The U-boat officer's skin was putrid and bloated-he'd been out there a long time-but his pockets overflowed with maps and codebooks. It's a lucky strike, and lucky strikes are rare in the North Atlantic.

Twenty-four hours later the HMS Somerset Vale's small sickbay bulges with fevered men. They froth and yowl, squirming inside their yellowed skins, but that's nothing compared to what happens after they lie still. Within a day, the malady has taken half the crew and the surviving seamen find themselves locked safe behind bulkheads. But they won't survive if they stay there-for the Vale has drifted away from its convoy, and the North Atlantic is no place for a lone, stricken destroyer. U-boat wolf packs hunt Allied vessels. Pocket battleships churn the dark waters. The skies buzz with Luftwaffe spotter planes. If the crew wants to live, they have to make their way through the ship, battling their former comrades for control of the vessel's critical systems. Seize the helm. Crank up the engines. Broadcast a distress call, and for God's sake man - keep the bloody lights on.

In Lost With All Hands the players become officers of a crippled Hunt-class destroyer. Each player takes on a specific role such as helmsman, communications officer, chief engineer, Royal Marine officer or the ship's doctor as they try to mitigate the infection and elude German pursuers. This is a damage control scenario rather than a zombie killing game, meaning that the infected are an obstacle rather than the primary threat. While the players can bludgeon zombies on in the narrow corridors or lock them behind bulkheads, even a corpse that presents no physical threat can send the ship off-course or taint the provisions simply by blundering around. If the crewmen are to survive, they need to leverage all their problem-solving skills and work in concert to bring the Vale home-or give it an honorable burial at sea.

hunt  class destroyer

GM Notes: Keep the players in suspense. Once the officers find a balance, throw another crisis at them. Put a German pocket battleship on the horizon. Have the zombies start a fire in the hold. Make sure the game is about problem solving rather than just eliminating the undead, which shouldn't be wholly possible-remember, there are limited guns and ammunition on naval vessels and they're usually locked up in the armory. Players will have to use improvised weapons like spanners and pipes for most fights, and need to be extremely careful about explosives. After they gain control, the next question is what they're going to do. They can't land in a friendly port or they risk spreading the malady. If they radio a distress call, the Royal Navy may quarantine the ship, or even try sink it to stop the contagion. Scuttling the Vale might be a wise choice, but the icy Atlantic is no place to be in a lifeboat. Particularly intrepid and bloody-minded players might even try to crash the ship into an enemy port as a bioweapon. No matter what they chose, blindside them with consequences and never let them completely contain or destroy the outbreak.

Suggested Tabletop Rules Sets: GURPS WWII and GURPS WWII: All The King's Men.

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