RogerBW's Blog

Pyramid 92: Zombies 20 July 2016

Pyramid, edited by Steven Marsh, is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's zombies.

Unlife Support (Sean Punch) looks into allowing dead PCs to return as zombies, under the control of their players, as a form of discounted resurrection. This obviously has to be less appealing than full-on resurrection, and certainly less appealing than carrying on without dying at all, or PCs will deliberately get themselves killed (as certainly happened in the computer RPG Phantasie III – send in a party of starting wizards or clerics, get them all killed, and usually one or two will return as super-powerful high-level undead spellcasters). There are three worked examples: spontaneously through force of will (essentially a Will roll to return to life), a Partial Resurrection spell, and a Revivification Serum which is nominally technological but in practice might as well be magic. Each of these comes with its own template, ranging from 0 to -40 points.

The Unknown Hunger (J. Edward Tremlett) describes two new types of zombie, one driven by a supernatural darkness, the other a damned soul returned from Hell. Details of origin and infection can't disguise the fact that these are basically still just monsters that want to kill you, even if they're a bit less mindless than the usual sort.

The Viking Dead (Graeme Davis) gives rules, and legendary examples, for Viking revenants (draugr) and barrow-wights (haugbui). Options are extensive, as the legends are rarely consistent.

Eidetic Memory: Battlesuit Zombies (David L. Pulver) has powered armour troopers taking the role of the zombie: after all, if the AI can pop smoke and retreat when its pilot has been wounded, why can't it fire and advance? Then a virus makes the AI take over, in a classical clank-clank-argh style. But what are its goals? Well, that varies with the campaign, and there are several good suggestions here.

Terra Incognita: The Church of the New Focus (Steven Marsh) is a cult that offers various benefits to its members… but eventually turns them into mindless obedient husks. It's not quite clear how the church benefits from this, though solving that problem would make this a useful component in a modern horror game.

Not Your Average Grave Robbing (Michael Kreuter) is an adventure which needs a campaign with both mad science and magic. PCs investigate grave robbers (not from outer space) (probably). It's all pretty short and straightforward, but might make an agreeable interlude in a longer campaign.

Random Thought Table: The Element of Surprise (Steven Marsh) discusses how to spring surprises on players, by using low-level desensitisation (e.g. always having GURPS Time Travel in your stack of books for many sessions before you run the time travel adventure), by changing things round from the standard templates (usually a good idea), and by information denial, concentrating on what PCs can actually sense and know rather than just saying "it's a zombie". This is good advice, as usual, though I'd like to see some caveats about the sort of player who really doesn't like being surprised. (Sometimes this includes me.)

Short Bursts: Cicero (Matt Riggsby) is more Car Wars tie-in fiction, with no zombie connection.

Appendix Z: Indian Ghouls (Graeme Davis) is a short, stat-free listing of the ghouls of Hindu mythology.

As with the Dungeon Fantasy issues, there's very little here for me: I'm not running a zombie game, and while I am gearing up for an investigative horror campaign at the moment I expect zombies to be only a very small part of it. I may be able to work with the Church of the New Focus, and Battlesuit Zombies has some inspiration, but that's about it.

Steven asks whether such highly-focused issues are worth having. For me as someone who buys pretty much all of GURPS anyway, the answer is no: it means a longer gap between material I can actually use. Pyramid 92 is available from Warehouse 23.

All we want to do is eat your brains
We're not unreasonable, I mean,
No one's gonna eat your eyes.


  1. Posted by Shimmin at 09:06pm on 25 September 2016

    Apologies for necroing, however thematically-appropriate...

    I was just wondering, would it be possible to use a selfish gene reading with the Church of the New Focus? So although it's not actually in the interest of any particular member nor of the church hierarchy, the "Church" overall gains a statistical benefit from husking, such that the branch of the original church which first manifested husking ended up swamping the competition?

    Off the top of my head: * Each new convert provides more hands to serve the Church's purposes. Providing that an average convert's net value is positive for perpetuating the Church, more converts is better.
    * The initial benefits help confirm their commitment; more importantly, they encourage evangelism and offer concrete evidence to show potential converts, while also allaying suspicion. Immediate husking is not evolutionarily sustainable because it deters potential converts - like how very high and rapid mortality hinders viruses (as best I recall). However, there is a cumulative cost to the Church of supporting a free-willed member and providing benefits. * At a certain time point, the member has on average tapped out most of their evangelical potential (exhausting their network, basically) and their net value to the Church declines. * There's a threshold somewhere at the intersection of declining evangelical potential and rising cumulative cost. Here it becomes optimal to husk.
    * In the longer term, husking allows the Church to maintain and even increase the net benefit-per-member by negating some of the costs, such as those benefits. Because they remain obedient, they are still useful for sustaining the church, like worker ants. * As a secondary benefit, husking prevents members from leaving to join rival churches, which would actively compete with the Church.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 09:17pm on 25 September 2016

    Welcome!

    I tend to think of organisations as entities that either preserve themselves or disintegrate (which is why you get political campaigns that have won the thing they were founded to win, and then go around looking for some other cause rather than just shut down).

    Looking at real-world cults would suggest that the time to husk is when the members run out of money and/or start to become disillusioned.

    The exact method by which the progress to zombiedom is made is deliberately left open in the article – but there is mention of an "initiation process", so it's not an intrinsic consequence of membership.

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