Under the Skin
Tim Cox Previews a Scenario for Zombie Apocalypse
What if, all of a sudden, your friends and family weren’t themselves? And not just them, but your neighbors, coworkers – everyone. Even your pets. They still look like themselves, and even talk like themselves (except your pets, obviously)… mostly. But something’s off. That’s bad enough, but it gets so much worse. There’s something under their skin.
–Under the Skin,Zombie Apocalypse
You’ll face countless zombies and unimaginable dangers in Zombie Apocalypse, the first book of The End of the World line. Five distinct scenarios each offer a different take on the rise of the living dead, and you’ll need all your wits and skills if you want to survive.
Some threats you may recognize from classic zombie movies or literature, but others are a little bit stranger. Today, Tim Cox, the writer who adapted Zombie Apocalypse from El Fin del Mundo, shares his thoughts on the game’s scenarios and goes in depth with his particular favorite: a scenario called Under the Skin…
Writer Tim Cox on Reinventing the Apocalypse
Zombie Apocalypse includes five distinct scenarios, each covering a different way that the world might end – specifically, with a different kind of zombie invasion. There are fast-moving infected zombies, corpses animated by a mysterious, radioactive meteor, the traditional living dead, and more. It was an exciting challenge for me to work on essentially five games at once, exploring the various dangers that players (and the rest of humanity!) might face under various circumstances. All of the scenarios were a blast to write, and it gave me a great reason to go back and binge-watch some classic (and not-so-classic) zombie movies – as if I really needed an excuse!
Writing for Zombie Apocalypse was a very different experience than working on previous Fantasy Flight Games RPG products that I’ve contributed to. FFG’s The End of the World game line is based on Edge Entertainment’s El Fin del Mundo series. Each scenario in Zombie Apocalypse takes its core concept from El Fin del Mundo, but as I wrote the scenarios, I had a lot of room to work with developing the scenarios and putting my own twist on them.
All in all, developing each scenario and working to make each one unique was a great experience. In addition to providing background information and general guidance for GMs, all scenarios include sample locations with encounter seeds and a timeline of events. The timeline helps GMs gauge the spread of the outbreak on a global scale, measuring how the world around the PCs changes regardless of their actions. Of course, PCs might be able to affect events to some extent, but The End of the World is not about preventing the apocalypse – you’re just trying to survive!
The Monster Within
Each scenario has its own unique elements that I really enjoy, but the scenario called Under the Skin stands out as a particular favorite. As much as I love “classic” zombies (which receive plenty of attention in Zombie Apocalypse, don’t worry), I was hoping to do something a little different that would hopefully surprise and maybe even frighten the players. The concept for this scenario – zombies that continue to “live” even when cut apart – and some very interesting artwork gave me a lot to ideas for developing a distinct zombie apocalypse.
The key to figuring out how these zombies would work and what set them apart was deciding the cause. I’ll give a spoiler alert now: if you don’t want the details about the cause of these zombies, you might want to skip to the end. In a nutshell, the “zombies” in this scenario aren’t animated corpses, but humans and animals infected by a parasitic organism. These parasites initially affect the behavior of the hosts, causing an uncontrollable hunger for fresh, living brains! As the infection continues, the ravenous parasites begin to break down the host’s body and consume it from within. So, in effect, we get two kinds of zombies in one. Zombies in the first stages of infection are intelligent, living hosts that use clever tricks and even weapons to eat their neighbors. In the later stages, the zombies are brain-dead corpses animated by the parasite within and almost impossible to destroy. Even when limbs get chopped off, the parasite continues to animate them!
Because these parasite hosts are so unlike more familiar undead or rage zombies, it meant giving a lot of thought to different factors and how they might affect a game. This included how the parasite spread, how quickly it affected a host, and – most importantly – how the parasite and infected hosts could be killed.
The parasite hosts offer varied challenges and encounters for players at each stage of infection. Those in the early phases are difficult to distinguish from ordinary people, and smart enough to conceal their nature until it’s too late. This required a different kind of approach from other zombies, which are generally obviously undead and not too bright. It was a lot of fun coming up with examples of strange behavior or methods of attack for these hosts, and I think GMs will also enjoy it!
After the End
Each scenario also includes a Post-Apocalypse section, giving players “lucky” enough to live through the apocalypse the chance to try their hand at surviving after the collapse of civilization. Each Post-Apocalypse presents its own situations and environments for the players to contend with and navigate, from blasted ruins ruled by vicious gangs to dystopian corporate-controlled cityscapes.
Under the Skin has perhaps the most extreme Post-Apocalypse section. To put it briefly, a practically indestructible parasite spreading throughout the environment and infecting most of the population calls for drastic measures. If the players survive long enough, they might be among the fortunate few relocated to secure, quarantined underground facilities while the surface is subjected to a thermo-nuclear scorched-earth campaign. I wouldn’t advise going up top without some serious protective gear. But at least there are no more parasites…
In Zombie Apocalypse, you’ll have to test yourself against parasite-infected zombies and other deadly denizens of the end times. Even if your fight for survival takes you to the Post-Apocalypse, there are endless trials and horrors in store for you at the end of the world.
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