Thursday, March 13, 2014
Review: GURPS Zombies
by Sean Punch
I have to say this right out up front - I'm not a zombie fan. Oh sure, I like painting zombie minis for my fantasy game, and I'm fine with walking corpses as cannon fodder bad guys. But zombies movies? Eh. Zombie apocalypse? Not interested. I had a little fun playing AFMBE a couple times but it was only really entertaining as a one-shot. I liked Doom, and I love Army of Darkness. But I'm not a horror game fan. I'm not the target audience for a book on zombies.
But I do love well-crafted rules. And I am a long-time friend, frequent editee, and occasional co-author of Sean Punch. That biases me because I like his style and he green-lights my stuff, but again, zombies . . . eh.
So all that said, how is this book?
The book starts out with a chapter all about the history of zombies. It traces their development historically (actual beliefs), fictionally (beliefs in stories), and in combination (since they influence each other in a circle.) Movies, historical sources, games, comics, reality (zombie fungus!) - they all get their zombie due here. Again, I'm not a big zombie fan, so although this is well-written I'm not that excited by zombies.
The "Victims and Killers" chapter is all the chargen details. It covers the living characters in a zombie game - hapless victims or zombie hunting survivalists and everything in between. The advantage and disadvantage section deals with knotty problems like resistances and immunities (are the heroes immune? What if they aren't?) It also deals with extremely low-point Ally Groups in GURPS, handy for necromancers with a horde of negative-point walking corpses as allies.
The zombie section is excellent. First, you get all of the rules you need to build your own zombie templates from the ground up, with solid advice on how to do so. Each stat gets picked out for what giving ST+3 or HT+1 to a zombie means in practical terms. The real nice bit of this chapter is that once it gets on to example zombies, you get both a template and a "just the stats" worked example of a generic version of that zombie, ready for play. This makes it both easy to customize or to apply the template to an existing character or set of stats, and to just pick out zombies to deploy in hordes. And there are a lot of them - 26 fully statted zombie types ready to go.
The Zombies in Play chapter is outstanding, too. For me, this is the really valuable part of the book. It starts out with Biting 101, a section that covers in every detail how zombies biting in combat works - it's as if the whole combat system was pared down to just biting, so you never had to look anywhere else for the detail. A similar bit is later in the chapter - a table outlining the effects of injury on the (very common) Injury Tolerance (No Brain, No Vitals, Unliving) variety of zombies. Very handy.
It also includes rules for zombie hordes. The horde rules make applying resisted effects, disadvantage rolls, major wound/stunning effects, etc. to a large group of zombies a cinch. It's a nice extension of the existing rules and probability. It's nicely worked out and makes it easy to decide when to apply them and went to just say "it works" or "it fails." This would work really well for DF games featuring massive fodder swarms, too, and a rough version of the horde rules will be familiar to my PCs in my DF game. So I can vouch for them working in general, and the specifics in GURPS Zombies improve on the concept of "horde as one big monster" nicely.
The rules for cumulative damage are nice, too - for figuring out the time it takes for a horde to pound through barriers and for how much shoring up you need to do to keep your anti-zombie defenses up. As always for GURPS books, the rules work across the board - you could use these for anything, not just zombies, trying to work through defenses over time. There are also rules for driving through zombie hordes which are quite good, and you realize why buses and tractors and tanks are the way to go and why sportscars just turn into mush.
The final chapter of the book is dedicated to zombie campaigns. Like any other GURPS book, it aims for generic and universal - so you get a very broad but very helpful look at all sorts of zombie campaigns. If it occurs in zombie fiction, zombie games, or zombie movies, it's covered here. It's not just high level advice but also practical specifics for different campaign types.
Overall, the book is really good.
How about for non-GURPS players?
It's rules heavy in big chunks of it, but both the zombie background chapter (p. 5-25) and campaigns (p. 137-152) would be useful for zombie games in any system. And like I like to say, you have GURPS Lite for free as a Rosetta stone for GURPS.
Is there a Zombie Apocalypse Setting?
The book doesn't come with a setting, and I've gathered that is sometime some people found kind of bothersome. Personally, I'm glad - I find settings to be page-heavy and utility-light, since I never just run something as written anyway. But I do agree GURPS could use a Zombie Apocalypse setting. I hope sales of this one justify Sean Punch sitting down and banging one of those out - I'm curious to see what options he'd pick for a widely-appealing zombie nightmare would be. I still wouldn't run it, because, well, zombies . . . meh. GURPS Zombies - for me, a big book of useful monsters and excellent rules for dealing with hordes of splatter-infecting creatures.
For other reviews, please check out my reviews page.