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I've been reading a ton of Zombie apocalypse fiction. I find the World War Z stories by Max Brooks to be among the best. What RPG would be best suited to this type of story and why?

Some additional criteria:

  1. I am looking for a deeper story than just surviving combat.
  2. Modern or near future setting are preferred but fantasy and sci-fiction are also acceptable
  3. Games and settings that are currently in print are preferred over out of print or obsolete products.
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10 Answers 10

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Well, to a degree "more than surviving combat" is what you put into it... But here's some good ones I own and have read or used.

All Flesh Must Be Eaten uses the Unisystem like most of Eden Studio's games; it has a large number of supplements for everything from kung fu zombies to wild west zombies. It's a toolkit game where you can make the zombies work in a variety of different ways. It's the biggest zombie RPG. They are ruthless, I see that there's a WWII (Band of Zombies) and a pirate sourcebook (Arrgh, Thar Be Zombies) coming out this year. So it's well in print. I've played many one-shots of AFMBE and it's a good game. It's crunchier than most indie games but very low crunch compared to the GURPS/D&D/etc. set. But it's pretty trad in that relationships and whatnot aren't really modeled integrally in the system.

(Naturally you can run zombie survival horror in anything from D&D to, well, anything and someone probably has...)

There's a Savage Worlds based game called "War of the Dead," it's sold in some kind of chapter by chapter format that I don't understand. Zombie Run was a good earlier Savage Worlds setting, it focused on the moving cross country aspect that movies like Zombieland and parts of other movies use. I have an adventure called "Weekend Warriors" that is a military vs zombies scenario for SW too. You might choose this game if you already like Savage Worlds in other venues, it's a light trad game.

In terms of deeper story, there's a number of indie games I own that bring some additional dimensions to zombie survival horror.

There's a new zombie survival horror game by John Wick called The Shotgun Diaries that was up for an Indie RPG award. It's been reviewed glowingly from various sources. It's very short (18 pages), not for someone that wants loads of rules support.

There was an interesting zombie game that got runner-up in the 2007 Indie RPG awards called simply "The Dead," whose tagline is "A role-playing game about death and relationships." It is free for download. It focuses on relationships between survivors and how those give people each other strength (or weakness). I downloaded it at the time and was impressed, it's short (32 pages) but the relationship aspect is really neat.

There's a new post-apocalyptic game by Vincent Baker called "Apocalypse World" that's like 300 pages and well spoken of. You'd have to add zombies, though someone is working on a hack for it called "Dead Weight" that does so already... It's got a lot of support right now in indie circles (even if some if it is a little on the rabid fanboy side).

Adding zombies tends to be easy. I'd first go for what kind of apocalypse you want. A Twilight:2000 kind of WWIII military action thing with crunchy rules? A Road Warrior type like Atomic Highway? And then toss in zombies.

There's Left 4 Dead hacks for Savage Worlds, nWoD, and even 3:16 out there too.

Heck, I have a couple zombie-RPG PDFs I don't even know how I got... The RPGnow Haiti relief bundle maybe... Zombocalypse, Contagion... It's one of the most covered genres in gaming. Do you want lots of support or just good one-shot fodder? How much system do you want?

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Twilight:2000 also had (in 2010) a reboot "Twilight: 2013" which adapts the system a bit, and adds in a very tastefully done treatment of psychological stress and trauma. –  Smithers Nov 10 at 1:43

Zombie Cinema is fast and fun, allowing one to play through a selection of characters, just like World War Z goes to different POV's every chapter.

Check it out.

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Alright, this is in a bit of a different vein then most of the answers given: GURPS.

The Complete Zombie Survival Guide focused very much on a real-world examination of how different weapons and survival conditions would work in a fictional war against the undead. World War Z mostly continued this, with some rather unfortunate misunderstandings of how much power a nuclear weapon can put out and the effect of radiation on bacteria.

GURPS seems a very good match for this, due to their excellent (and often somewhat obsessive) 'reality checking' of every fact. They have professional weapons technicians write their gun books; the guy who wrote GURPS Martial Arts is a professional martial artist; and so on.

This will let you emulate the very fine detail that The Complete Zombie Survival Guide has about different types of rifles and so on.

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Greg Porter's EABA game has a supplement called Dark Millennium that covers zombie horror in the Dark Ages (11th century). A modern supplement called "Code:Black" could probably be used to focus on zombie horror instead of a wider palette of "supernatural modern horror" that is its basic premise. I have played in an extended zombie campaign using Porter's earlier CORPS rules, and other games using EABA -- his rule designs are relatively smooth and easy to use, but they also carry a nice "gritty" feel, and this combination plays into the genre very nicely.

Another interesting approach would be to use Lock'n Load publishing's All Things Zombie boardgame. The boardgame is a re-publishing of a set of miniatures rules in a boardgame format, and it models the genre very well: it's swift, not complicated, and plays very nicely, but it still carries the grit and tenseness you'd want from the genre. It could very easily be used as the "tactical encounter" presentation of a gaming campaign: in fact, the boardgame is specifically designed to support "campaign play" -- i.e. a series of tactical scenarios that are all connected to one another by a loose plot. Of the various "zombie" theme boardgames I've tried, ATZ is by far my favourite: you can tell it's designed by guys who solidly understand how tactical level conflict works, and how to put in place rules that handle tense tactical action without layering on swaths of stuff that's not needed.

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I would probably just take the rules from Dark Millenium, and drop the religious overtones that are present in that sourcebook. Code: Black's insanity rules could also be useful. –  foxxtrot Sep 1 '10 at 3:24

I've never tried the "OMG Zombies !!!" chronicle (even if I would like to play one), but if you are familiar with the systems and have access to the following books, you should have everything needed:

  • World of Darkness
  • World of Darkness: Antagonists : p22-29 : Rules for Zombies
  • World of Darkness: Mirrors, p154+ : The chapter "The World of Darkness Destroyed" contains a lot of information about different post-apocalyptic settings

Of course, if after a few sessions, zombies become "boring" (as in "hey, it will be our 1000th zombie kill this week!"), you can still borrow other "monsters" from the World of Darkness settings.

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Hot War has zombies (or things very much like zombies) in it, and it uses a very interesting relationship mechanic that ensures that the players will try to make the scenes about each other, their loved ones, their rivals, their enemies, etc.

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One of the things that would mess things up as far as existing RPG systems is the nature of combat. Zombies are only taken out with a shot to the head. Humans will eventually become Zombies with just a scratch, or even a bullet going through and grazing them. There'd be no need for hit points or anything of the sort. If a Zombie touches you, you're out of the game in short order.

For that, you'd look at a system that has a well developed skill system. FUDGE would be a good start in terms of that. FATE too, as you could apply the stress track to things other than combat.

The system I think might do it best though is Impresa Express. The reason for this is as skill systems go it's very well developed, it's quite simple otherwise so you can tell the story, and it has simple fatigue rules, which given the WWZ chapter on Total War would also be very important. It's also pretty much set up and ready to go for WWZ, whereas FUDGE and FATE would take some work.

Link here

On another note, thanks for asking this question. I've liked Impresa Express for a while, but hadn't quite figured out what I'd use it for. Now I know.

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Whether or not zombies can be killed by means other than headshots and how inevitably zombism follows injury varies from setting to setting, but for the settings where your assumptions are correct, you make some good points. –  GMJoe Jul 9 '12 at 7:38

AFMBE is well respected for the genre. For a slightly lighter version of the same engine, Army of Darkness uses Unisystem Lite (same as the Buffy & Angel RPGs), and so those can be made into supplements for it.

Under a Serpent Sun is the Burning Wheel setting for post-holocaust; it's OOP and supposedly under revision

Radz is by Deep7 games... it's a bit more cinematic, and it's a little further afield, but simple, fast fare.

Gamma World should also be able to do it, as should Gamma-Trollworld, but I'd not recommend either.

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Please provide more details on these recommendations –  anon186 Aug 30 '10 at 16:32
    
Under a Serpent Sun is more about an apocalypse caused by the depravity of a segment of humanity. You'd have to take that out of the system assumptions to make it work, though it would probably provide a decent skeleton to build a Burning Wheel zombie game. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 30 '10 at 17:27
    
Nah, just add zombies made with Magic Burner and/or Monster Burner... ;) –  aramis Sep 24 '10 at 6:47

I've run a Zombie game set in the real world (players pinned down in a stately home in middle-England) using The Pool. The Pool is simple and doesn't get in the way at all. Many games can't be easily run using The Pool, but Zombies can I think - the key is that the zombie meme is likely well-known enough by all players that they can really take part in the telling of a story. The rules really shine because they don't get in the way of you constructing a really satisfying story between you.

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In respect to using the WoD system, I have been running a survival horror campaign for about 1 1/2 years now, and albeit I wouldn't run a typical hack and slash zombie game with it, the system makes it easy to keep the suspense and horror factor alive and well. I just personally don't use the rules they have for zombies, I did my own thing on that part.

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