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I started my zombie apocalypse campaign in a rather low-budget and low-powered way, mostly to avoid having flame throwers and incendiary grenades be the go-to solution for zombie hordes. When the PCs ran into teams from a rival corporation with more advanced tech (an Umbrella carbon copy), one of my PCs wondered why he had never before heard about the cybernetic arms and memory-wiping technology this company has at its disposal.

Since I want the game to be about the zombie apocalypse rather than an investigation into and public exposure of the secret technology this company has, I'm in a bit of a bind. How do I fix this?

One solution I thought of is creating a plausible explanation for the secrecy over profit, but I can't think of one. I'm also concerned that learning of the existence of such a company would logically, cause a huge uproar in world governments and citizens, and I'm not sure how to handle that realistically if the game goes there.


For background, I'm running ZCorps, in which a zombie virus has spread across the US over the course of a few weeks, and America is fighting extinction. The PCs are members of a corporate militia created by an emergency measure of the Senate, mandated to intervene where and when needed and to supervise the US army. (The Army needs supervision because of an unfortunate incident where they napalmed Kansas City without government consent.)

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For history or politics, your best resource is really going to be pre-written things like Wikipedia. We can help with lots of things, but a Q&A site can't replace spending time doing research. –  SevenSidedDie May 14 '13 at 18:16
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"one of my PCs wondered why he had never before heard about the cybernetic arms and memory-wiping technology this company has at its disposal." Err, what was your question? :) –  OpaCitiZen May 14 '13 at 19:39
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@OpaCitiZen : quite good remark, but it's a more elaborated process than just the MIB neuralyzer. Besides, I'm uncomfortable with telling one of my PCs that his memories have been erased, I know he'd go on a total paranoia making him unplayable. –  Trajan May 15 '13 at 9:03
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@Trajan Ok, I get that. In this case, tell them they are definitely immune to the memory wiping (they got nano-vaccinated against it or something) - but everyone who could've told'em about it so far seems to have been affected. :) –  OpaCitiZen May 15 '13 at 9:12
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7 Answers 7

up vote 54 down vote accepted

Don't.

This is something I started to do in my campaigns. When the players derail the plot, I build a new one for them to follow. If they want to focus on how the bad guys have tech that isn't public knowledge, they can. They're ignoring the larger problem of "oh crap, zombies" while doing so, however, so simply let the rest of the world go on into decay as they mess around, until they're forced to confront the fact that the secrets being kept are perhaps a little less important than the fact that everything's collapsing around them. Let the plot equalize itself over time by letting the players do what they want; eventually they'll realize that they can expose this whole secret and conspiracy stuff, but don't have anyone left to expose it to because they've all become zombie food.

However, if you must.

Make them choose between their mission and the mission.

Eventually they have to be confronted with the following conundrum: Is our personal investigation getting in the way of the good of mankind/not being eaten by zombies? If they don't do this, then they'll continue their investigation as planned, but the world around them effectively ceases to exist as it was, meaning that they have to take responsibility for everyone dying and they no longer can get any help. If they're working with someone, have them pull support. Do so in a way that enhances the narrative, however "New York's almost overrun! Get back here or don't come back ever." works better than "and they didn't want you doing that.", because one sounds like a logical reason, and another sounds like railroading.

Dry up their leads.

If you really want them to stop searching for evidence, have the other corporation collapse. Their secrets and technology are gone with them as they crumble from within. The players could still try to investigate, but there aren't any real survivors to explain things, and anything they find essentially ends with "and now we're all gonna die".

Wave it away.

One thing it sounds like you're asking is how to explain the presence of high-tech gadgets. Simple; they're one-of-a-kind and untested. Sure they do what they're supposed to, but they're nowhere near finished. They're prototypes sent into the field. Ultimately, it's sort of your fault for introducing it if you can't explain it, but simply have it end. No more supertech gear because it didn't work, as the field trials showed. The only one got destroyed, beat up, or otherwise compromised and it proved to be less valuable than its investment.

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+1 for the first two words. A good summation of what I was driving at. ^_~ –  Sardathrion May 14 '13 at 20:16
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+1 Fantastic first option, which I would go for every time. The world goes on around the characters, who cannot be everywhere and do everything –  Phil May 14 '13 at 20:36
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totally this. Make them worry about "oh, crap! Zombies!" You can wonder about the philosophical implications of any random thing, but it's much harder when a zombie is trying to eat your braaaaaaaains! –  Pulsehead May 15 '13 at 1:04
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Really good advices, thanks. I think PCs will split on the "their mission or the mission" dilemna, but that would be an interesting RP session if they do. –  Trajan May 15 '13 at 9:15
    
+1 for having the players drive the story. Don't let the zombies suddenly disappear, but if the players want to investigate this other company, let them. –  Brian S May 15 at 14:13
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Developing new products in secret is what corporations are supposed to do. If they have something and you don't, it might just be time to put more resources into R&D.

Remind them of that. Also remind them that, in the face of the zombie apocalypse, this story would be a minor footnote in the media and ignored by nearly everyone... if there's even a media left by then, or anyone out there to report to. Even if they are successful, those actions would amount to providing free advertising for a rival's product. Of course, you could just give them what they want in a ridiculously easy (and brief) encounter, only for the group to discover that no one cared.

If the players push too hard at this, you could throw them a bone by making up your own tech to be the results of their own corporation's research efforts — something that won't disrupt your game, but could be interesting and useful for the players. Let them have that tech, but keep it "in development". Then you can do something like, for example, changing critical failure rolls to also include 2's and 3's (or more) for those items. Make them "glitch".

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This is a solid answer, which is good because I'd feel kind of bad about upvoting just for the Half-Life logo as your pic... but totally +1 for the Half-Life logo in your pic. Unbelievably appropriate here. –  KRyan May 15 '13 at 3:13
    
+1 solely for the second paragraph. :-) –  corvec May 15 '13 at 14:38
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What if the technology were developed by the corporation as part of a black budget program that was funded by the Department of Defense? The technology was developed in secret, then for some reason the project was scrapped. The government stopped funding, but the corporation was 90% of the way to fully functional technology.

As a calculated risk, the corporation kept going and finished their development work. They funded the additional development through an off-the-books fund they had created for delicate situations like this. Their belief was that the next Presidential administration would re-start the black budget project, and they figured if the technology was ready to roll, they'd be able to convince the US government to roll it out on a much bigger scale than originally intended, which would lead to more profits for the corporation.

The corporation was conducting field trials of the technology when the zombie apocalypse hit. If questions come up, the DoD could come forward and state that the tech was developed as part of a secret research project.

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That's actually a perfect explanation. I'll keep it in mind for the post-campaign debrief if there's one. –  Trajan May 15 '13 at 9:25
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For me this is great opportunity to add something to the game. Here are a few off beat ideas:

Aliens: The Umbrella-clone did find some remains of technology in several landing sites. They started to retro fit them and before they could go public, those pesky zombies ruined everything! Now, that opens up the question: are the zombies just advanced troupes for an Alien invasion?

Time travel: Someone in the future is sending help. They know they are doomed but if they could only send back some weapon to fight the hordes, maybe they can save their past selves. Could zombies be an unforeseen side effect of the temporal rifts?

Alternate reality: Well, the PCs do not remember the technology but everyone else does... Why is that? How come the PCs are not remembering? Was their memory erased? Why? Or maybe they are right all along and the Umbrella-clone are far more sinister than previously thought.

Meta: Admit that you messed up and ask for the players to come up with an interesting answer that would enhanced the story. Or ask each player when they are alone and see if you can combine all their theories into one.

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Aliens: Bonus idea - it was tech / virus / disease / nano-bots from the crash site which caused the zombie outbreak in the first place. –  xan May 15 '13 at 8:53
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The rival company - originally under the control of a rival, super-secret govt agency - has a network of satellites capable of influencing the thinking of entire continents. Trouble is, its AI has gone rogue and a bit crazy, and even though its operators managed to shut it down partially, it's still up there, online, where now, thanks to the Apocalypse, no one can really reach it, and is beaming down seemingly random patterns. Like, it does its best to make as many people forget its existence as possible. And it's focusing its efforts - and precisely targeted beams - on 1. bringing its parent company's teams under control, 2. making any and all rivals forget everything about its parent company.

There, that should (or may or might) give you the tool to shift the game's focus back to the zombies any time. ;)

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A Fake

I'd make the corporation they've encountered and especially the tech they have just an elaborate fake, something which doesn't work but they try their best to give an impression that the thing is real.

The possible reasons for them doing that:

  1. Trying to get people away from their turf so that no one uses their resources.
  2. Getting the government to get an interest of them so that they can, possible, get board and lodging in a safe place.
  3. They have problems coping with the real world so they've constructed their idealized view of it. A one which involves hi-tech and them being cool.

The scope of the fake can go from a small group of people to a big, elaborate set-up done by some company/government.

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Instead of imposing your will on the players, go with the flow.

Try tying in what the PC's want to do with what you want them to do. Maybe this secret technology is the key to stopping the zombie hordes.

Or maybe this corporation is the cause of the zombie apocalypse.

The PC's in my campaign once stumbled into a tapestry shop. The pictures in the tapestries were of dragons, and the players were so fascinated with the stories that they told that it led to a whole new adventure. Rather than force them back on track with the adventure I had prepared, I went along, and they are really enjoying it.

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