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I am considering setting up a semi-casual zombie-apocalypse game in which the player's characters will be based on "normal" people. [Rather than heroic characters.] This is not a game that I expect all the characters to make it through. What kind of zombie movie lets all of the main characters live through it? [Except Zombieland...]

That being said, I'm not sure that I want the players to get terribly invested in their characters, as they may end up getting eaten by an undead hoard... this leaves me with two options:

  1. Pregenerate a stack of characters
  2. Design a character randomizer that has the player roll for character background, hobbies, etc [which translate to base attributes, bonuses to base attributes, skills, and starting equipment] and then ask the player to flesh out the character with limited skill points

Which is more effective, the pregenerated characters, or the randomized characters?

BTW, I am thinking about doing this in Savage Worlds or a D20 system

EDIT - I should probably add a bit more information about what I was thinking for a randomizer.... The algorithm I have in mind goes something like this:

  1. Player rolls a D20 to determine profession
  2. Player rolls a D6 to determine # of hobbies, followed by D20 to determine what the hobbies are
  3. Player rolls a D6 to determine # of flaws, followed by a D20 to determine what flaws the character has

The "profession" would provide the base attributes and skills for the character. The "hobbies" would provide bonuses to attributes, skills, starting equipment... and possibly add feats. The "flaws" would provide hindrances... and possibly skills. The player would then get a limited # of skill points to use to round out the character. The goal is to make the player a bit more invested in the character, while keeping character creation down to 10 minutes or less.

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Hi @Joe, welcome to the site! I edited your question to clarify what you were asking. –  C. Ross Sep 27 '10 at 20:06
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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Zombie Cinema is a game designed to run the sort of game you're thinking of. It's meant for one-shot games where the PCs will almost certainly suffer casualties. It uses randomised character generation then lets players flesh them out a bit. I've played it once and we found that the character generation system worked well. It's worth noting that the effectiveness of character isn't important in the system (creative solutions and a metagame tactical "outbreak" tracker means more to survival than stats), so the characters don't have stats or anything more than the "flesh out" description that players give them.

If that sounds good, it might be useful inspiration for you even using a different system. Here's how the character generation works:

It uses a stack of cards from which the players draw to come up with a character. There are three stacks: character archetypes (e.g., officer, adolescent, macho), personal details (e.g., Naïveté, Compassion, Mental Problems), and a possible motivation/relationship to the zombies (e.g., Loved Ones, A Destination, It's Your Fault). Players draw from the piles to get three cards to inspire their character. They can throw a card back and draw again if it's not working for them, and they can pick from the same pile more than once if they really want to (still for a total of three cards).

The plus of this system is that it gives you character with a bit of situational context quickly. The cards have explanatory text that details what something like "Loved Ones" might mean, giving the narrative system of ZC a jump start. For your purposes, you could write the stats, gear, or whatever right onto the cards to give your system of choice a jump start and get playing quickly. For example, you could make a card like this (assuming Savage Worlds):

Military Training
You used to be in the Army and you've kept a few souvenirs and scars from your tour of duty.

You get:

  • d10 Shooting
  • d8 Driving
  • d8 Vigor
  • a Magnum .44
    • 2d6+1, Range 12/24/48, RoF 1, Weight 5, Shots 6, AP 1, Revolver
  • the military-surplus jeep you take camping on weekends

Three cards like that might be enough for a starting character without having to do any more chargen work. You may not even need character sheets at first.

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Thanks, that sounds very similar to what I had in mind... I'll look into that. –  joe.liedtke Sep 27 '10 at 21:32
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Unless you're planning on a high character turn over rate, I would go with the stack of pre-generated characters. Not only does this allow your players to be ready to play the fastest for the first session, but if their character dies during the session, it allows them resume playing in short order.

On the other hand, if you're planning for the campaign to be a zombie buffet with characters constantly dying, you will need lots of pre-generated characters. Creating enough characters will obviously take time, and that time might be better spent planning a more compelling adventure (i.e. ensuring that the session is fun while keeping with the plan that the PCs won't survive). If that's the campaign tone you're aiming for, the character randomizer would take work off your plate and allow you to spend more time on designing.

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Pregens. Have everyone write up 3 or four. Shuffle and deal them out.

When running a system with point builds, like Savage Worlds, players expect a balanced character. Pregens would be easier to maintain that, and faster to bring in, as well.

That said, you might want to look at a simpler system, for example [Deep 7's 1PG RPG, Shriek, is the 1pg of zombie horror. The splatbook is a supplement with more rules. It's actually about a 10pg download PDF, and they play fast and fun. And CGen takes 1 minute.

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