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GURPS Zombies: Day One, Sean Punch 25 May 2015

Eight zombie campaign frames sketched out in moderate detail.

GURPS Zombies is a huge and comprehensive book, which deals not only with the walking dead in all their variations but with similar hordes of enemies in general. That's plenty of material for building a custom campaign, but many GMs don't necessarily want all of that: they want something they can start with minimal preparation, and that's what this book is about. (I'll admit I've felt this way sometimes, even though developing a campaign setting is something I greatly enjoy, which is why I've recently been running Torg.)

This isn't like All Flesh Must Be Eaten, which lays out specific detailed adventures in its supplements, but it does give eight setups for zombie campaigns: power level, backdrop, genre, and so on, while advising on which bits of GURPS Zombies are relevant and which can be left out. They get around six pages each.

Empire of the Necromancer-King

This is a genre fantasy world, with high-powered heroes battling the undead hordes (all mindless, none infectious). A massive empire of the unliving attacks the last remaining human kingdom; the good guys are always outnumbered, but skilled and well-equipped. Adventurers will defend or re-take villages, destroy unholy artefacts, and ultimately strike at the Necromancer-King himself.

Fields of Fear

In the antebellum South, slave labour is cheap… but zombie labour is free. The zombies are enslaved living people, and are not the enemy: they're just more victims. This is a small-scale game of investigation and slow revelation, in a society that's not going to put up with the murder of prominent citizens. Some of the tensions between NPCs are particularly interesting.

Savage Streets

A new drug makes its users crazy. But that's only a problem for the addicts, right? This is a modern action game with civilisation breaking down, but only in limited areas: PC law-enforcers and vigilantes can clean up the streets but head home at night in relative safety. These zombies are mindless brain-eaters, but not infectious.

Zeta Force

A patchy task-force of zombie hunters deals with multiple zombie outbreaks: turns out it's an easy end-state to reach from all sorts of dubious experimentation. Practically any sort of zombie can show up here, from mad-science serums or black magic, but many of them will still be living. Power scales from technothriller to GURPS Monster Hunters at the GM's whim.

Ultimate Zombie-Fighters

The world has fallen apart: almost everyone is dead. Heroic zombie fighters try to hold off the shambling hordes. Scattered human communities may offer aid or threat. Zombies are infectious, but PCs are immune. This is the classic post-apocalyptic zombie scenario, but there's more to do than just shooting the bad guys.

Alpha and Omega

Zombies have overrun the world; superheroes fight them. But everyone's hand is against them, for reasons that would be spoilery to reveal.

Time of the Zombies

Well after the apocalypse, the low-tech survivors try to scavenge supplies and rebuild. There are still occasional zombies out there, as well as more conventional cannibals, and mutant people and animals.

Depravity Well

The one SF setting here: humanity's first interstellar expedition has crashed on a planet filled with alien nanotech zombies. This is a long-term survival game, with no hope of rescue for years to come, balanced by exploration and some attempt to find out what happened to the aliens.

Overall this is a wide range of zombie campaign settings, with good advice even on how to keep the splatter-fest of Ultimate Zombie-Fighters from becoming samey and boring. While the length varies (Fields of Fear might well be played in a few sessions), none of them is set at the transformational moment between normal world and zombie apocalypse, so this should give them some legs. (This seems like a reasonable place to plug my own modest contribution to the zombie RPG genre which does happen at the transformational moment; it's written for the WaRP System but it's readily usable with GURPS.)

I probably won't use it any time soon (my players aren't particularly interested in zombie-fighting) but this is still an interesting exercise in campaign design. GURPS Zombies: Day One is available from Warehouse 23.

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