Sell me on a game for zombie survival horror

edited December 2007 in Story Games
Years ago, back when I was a Steve Jackson Games demo monkey during the heyday of GenCon SoCal, I ran this GURPS adventure where the characters were all tourists in Disneyland when a zombie outbreak happens. The set-up is that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride breaks down, and by the time they get back to the surface, Shit Has Happened. The game has few zombies to start, and it ramps up as time goes on (and, though this reveals a secret about how I run it, as the group makes poor moral choices & bickers).

Really, I wasn't running anything but a very, very light GURPS game and put most of the weight of the game on my shoulders. I recognize that now, but I want to run this again (potentially at Orccon in February) because it's a hell of a lot of fun. But, I don't know what system would work for it, and I'm not particularly interested in GURPS anymore.

I used to think Don't Rest Your Head was the answer, because I really, really like that game. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the strength of a DRYH game would break a survival horror game -- the former involves heavy use of character agency & the option of super-competence, whereas the latter is a genre of denying character agency & and being overwhelmed by a situation compared to their competence level.

I'm also not looking for a game that deeply mechanically explores the emotional/mental state of a character in the situation. I'm not looking for the survival horror version of Grey Ranks, for instance -- at least, not for this.

So, with all that said, any thoughts on what games I should be looking at?



  • edited December 2007
    Dead of Night! It's a well-constructed indie game that does fun, cheap horror really well. You get extra points when you use horror cliches. Also, it's well-written, unlike some of these books on the market these days.

  • Grey Ranks is a survival horror game.

    Anyway, TSOY with horrorfied Keys would work (we've mulled that over ourselves; Steve has some good ideas).
  • Last night, we started playing a game set in Racoon City (Resident Evil) using the Mountain Witch. So far the combo of Trust, Dark Secrets, and the fast resolution system is working perfectly.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarGrey Ranks is a survival horror game.
    I missed the word "zombie" there. Yeah, it is a survival horror game, but I'm looking for lighter. Or, as Graham put it, "fun, cheap horror."

    My friend has Dead of Night. I should borrow it from him. I also like the idea of TSOY with horrorfied Keys -- if ya'll are open, I'd like to bend your ears on that.

    The Mountain Witch is an interesting fit. My only concern is the time involved, and that I haven't played TMW yet.
  • Posted By: Ryan Macklin
    I missed the word "zombie" there. Yeah, it is a survival horror game, but I'm looking for lighter. Or, as Graham put it, "fun, cheap horror."
    hey, all you have to do is change the situation elements and it's a whole new ballgame!

    I think the essential part of doing zombie horror with TSOY would be writing Keys that evoke the movies. I had been thinking about Key of Survival as a reward mechanism for self-preservation. This would put pressure on other in-genre keys such as Key of Conscience or Key of Fraternity. The goal here is to reward survival- one of the most important elements in any zombie story- but to pit it against other important human motivations, such as love and mercy.

    I'd kicked around some other ideas for ramping up the excitement about survival, but I didn't come up with anything satisfying.

    I like the idea of doing zombies with Mountain Witch- I think that would do well to portray the constant danger of being betrayed or failed by your friends. :)
  • This is kind of what All Flesh Must Be Eaten (Classic Unisystem) was designed for. As a system, it's a bit lighter than GURPS but not as light as many other games. The first time I ran it, the characters were visitors in a small mountain town to attend a wedding when a zombie outbreak occurs.
  • When do you need the game, Ryan? I'm writing Geiger Counter to do EXACTLY THIS. I'm supposed to finish it soon, for the Festival of Flawless Victory.

    Also, you might check out the other zombie hacks of Vincent's games (Geiger started life as an Afraid hack): Zombies in the Vineyard, The Infected, and A Quick Survival Horror Dogs Hack. I collect them.

    Also, I described Eero Tuovinen's Zombies at the Door in this thread. It's beautiful and elegant.
  • Damn, Jonathan beat me to Zombies at the Door, which is fun and very easy to learn.

    Oh, and another cry of "Dead of Night" from me too.
  • edited December 2007
    Jonathan, while I'm looking to choose a game in the next week or so, I'm open to trying other games later. I'm interested in Geiger Counter, though because it's GM-less I wouldn't want to run it as an open convention game. (Edit: To be clear, this is because I prefer to shoulder the responsibility of system knowledge on myself when running for people I don't know, and that's easier for me in a system with a GM.)

    Also, I've had the pleasure in playing in one of Carl's Zombies in the Vineyard campaign. (I'm the Ryan in this one.) Carl ran a hell of a great game and it really showed me what one can do with the Dogs mechanics, but I don't want to bite on his style.
  • I would say go with something lite, simple and fast. I used All Flesh Must Be Eaten for a Zombie Apocalypse game a while back and it worked great, it wasn't exactly high art but it was fun.

    The weird thing is I too was thinking about doing a Zombie game... at OrcCon... set in Disneyland... but luckily I decided to shelve that idea a few weeks back.
  • This is me thirding Zombies at the Door.

  • Ha! Great minds think alike. If you do end up doing one, I can't recommend enough getting actual maps from Disneyland. There's nothing like seeing the players actually unfold the map and plan out things like "Okay, we need to get to the monorail in Tomorrowland, so let's go this way!" Seriously, it's awesome.

    I'm actually rather disinterested in AFMBE, so that won't be what I use. While it's lighter than GURPS, it still feels too much like it's cut from the same cloth.
  • Maps are totally a must have for Zombie Survival game! For the last game I ran we mapped out the mall they were trapped in, and the one before that took place in Arlington National Cemetery, so I had some maps from my visit there.

    Having definative locations and visual routes really helped the game out - there was less "Heya GM what do we see that would make a great place to bunker down" and way more "Hey we are going to this hill and is that a garden shed? I wonder if we can find some tools and weapons there..."
  • The Infected is neither a hack of one of Vincent's games, nor is it survival horror.
  • All Flesh Must Be Eaten and the related games are wonderfully simple for convention games, but chunky enough for old-school series play.
  • I'd suggest Classroom Deathmatch, especially if the idea is that everyone is going to die.
  • edited December 2007
    The Mountain Witch / Resident Evil game is a playtest for a 3-hour con slot in January. It's Gino's first time running the system (he's played once before), and so far it's looking like it'll take about 5+ hours (two of our group's normal sessions) to complete. I expect that time'll come down when he playtests it a second time.

    It is a hell of a lot of fun.

    For whoever's interested, Gino's versions of the Dark Fates are: Company Man, Infected, Guilty Conscience, True Motives, Revenge, and Love.
  • Posted By: Eric ProvostThe Infectedis neither a hack of one of Vincent's games, nor is it survival horror.
    Hmm... then I'm not sure what I was talking about in this post several months back.
  • Dead of Night is a good fit for zombies. You might also consider Dead Meat - Ultima Carneficina Dello Zombie!, if you can dig it up. Actually, Sean Wipfli surfaced here on SG a little while ago and sent me a copy, so you can probably contact him. Also the Dead does this I think, but I'm not sure if it's ready for play yet. SG's own Kuma is working on that one.
  • edited December 2007
    Thanks to everyone who recommended Dead of Night, which I wholeheartedly endorse myself! I've been running a 28 Days Later scenario for Dead of Night at conventions recently. The details for the setup are here, if you're interested here. One of these days I'll get round to posting actual play of it ...
  • No love for ''Dead''? It emulates the ''Walking Dead'' comics(focus on personal relationships, more survival than horror).
  • George, you got a link for Dead?
  • edited December 2007
    Here's a link for Zombie Squad!
  • edited December 2007
    While I appreciate the love uttered for DEAD, it is (alas) still being hammered into a final shape. The rules are here, but given that the game is card-based, that only gives you the shape of things. Feel free to hack at will, if what you see floats your boat. I have already laid out about 300ish cards, and I have about another 200ish before I can field-test it. My goal is to have all of the cards finished for playtesting by the new year.

  • Also, ''The Dead'' is an rpg inspired alot by the ''Walking Dead'' comics. Here's the link: The Dead
  • This is what I get for letting "The Dead Walk!" sit, unloved, for a year or two. The intro to "DEAD" reads almost exactly as the one for TDW! does. My laziness loses!

    To answer the original question, I encourage you to check out The Infected, Geiger Counter, or Zombies At The Door. I haven't had the opportunity to play any of them, but my research indicates a high probability of narrative zombie goodness for you with any of those.
  • Posted By: northerainAlso, ''The Dead'' is an rpg inspired alot by the ''Walking Dead'' comics. Here's the link:The Dead
    This is where I slink into the corner and be quiet.
  • Posted By: northerainfocus on personal relationships, more survival than horror
    Actually, I tend to see survival horror as a genre that explores personal relationships in extreme circumstances, so this could be up my alley.
  • I used The Dead a while ago, while it was in a primitive state, and I liked it a lot. I would prefer some more things to fiddle with, but for a con game it could be great.
  • Posted By: KumaPosted By: northerainAlso, ''The Dead'' is an rpg inspired alot by the ''Walking Dead'' comics. Here's the link:The Dead
    This is where I slink into the corner and be quiet.

    No actually, I did mean ''DEAD'' first time around. I just remembered ''The Dead'' as well.
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