Master of Zombies
Game Master Tips for The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse
“It gets inside people, and it messes with their minds.”
–The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse
The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse, available at your local retailer and through our online store, lets you experience the horrors of ravenous brain-eating hordes rampaging throughout your home town. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of zombie movies and TV series, or simply curious to see how you and your friends might survive a zombie infestation, Zombie Apocalypse offers you scary and suspenseful roleplaying adventures.
While the players must run, fight, or hide in order to survive, the Game Master (GM) controls the zombies as they run rampant through the streets and usher in the end times. This is a great privilege, but no small task: you must orchestrate the fall of civilization while giving players a fighting chance at survival. You must bring to life the terror of the apocalypse while being mindful of what the next skill test might be. Today, we’re offering some tips for Game Mastering Zombie Apocalypse, so you can have even more fun unleashing undead mobs against your friends. If you’ve never taken on the role of GM before, the easy-to-learn mechanics of Zombie Apocalypse and its basis in your own reality make it an excellent first game to GM.
Know Your Players
Rather than playing superheroes, supercriminals, or fantastical beings, in Zombie Apocalypse the player characters (PCs) play as themselves – or rather, slightly abstracted versions of themselves. So, during character creation, you may want to use yourself as an example. Not only can other players then refer to your character sheet while working on theirs, but they will also feel more at ease evaluating their own physical, mental, and social strengths. Then, in the voting process, when the group decides whether each player should raise or lower a characteristic, let the players vote on you first so they’re comfortable with the process.
The fact that your friends are playing versions of themselves also gives you an edge in storytelling and worldbuilding. Chances are that you’ll know people in common who aren’t playing– people whom you can use as living or undead NPCs. Pets are also fair game, but be careful not to traumatize someone when you choose to infect a beloved human or animal. You may also be able to predict what your players are likely to do when the crisis happens. Will someone phone his girlfriend once he learns about the crisis? Will other PCs grab a car and head for a family farm? Does someone have a collection of swords that will be useful in slaying zombies? By anticipating these things you can plan some encounters and drama in advance, and even decide exactly how the PCs will first encounter zombies.
Know Your Location
A game of Zombie Apocalypse usually begins at the actual place where you’re playing the game. As GM, it’s perfectly within your rights to choose where that is. You could run the game in a house or apartment where you know every room, what supplies are on hand, and what NPCs are likely to turn up. Another option is to run the game in a public place like a library, game cafe, or pub. Since people are constantly coming and going from these places, you can easily introduce NPCs and even bring the zombies to your table. If your players want to leave the scene, they have to go out on the streets, which is always dangerous. If they decide to take refuge wherever they are, there are possibilities for interpersonal conflicts with other survivors. You could even play the game while camping, and fill the forest with zombie wildlife.
Not only do you know the precise location where your players start the game, you also know the surrounding city, countryside, or suburbia. With or without GPS, you know where the nearest hospital with a zombie-filled morgue might be, or a zoo packed with tigers and crocodiles. You know the rough distance between your current location and the interstate, and what stores the PCs can raid for supplies. Zombie Apocalypse even suggests that you have a physical map on hand when you play the game. A map helps you and the players situate yourselves in the setting, pinpoint important locations, and figure out the best – or most dangerous – routes to take.
Each of the five scenarios in Zombie Apocalypse includes a timeline suggesting how the events of the apocalypse unfold. These timelines are incredibly helpful, but as the GM you’ll still need to figure out when and how the events of the timeline affect your PCs. You may want to start the game after the first few events of the timeline, so the first zombies are already walking among the living. PCs can learn about significant events through TV, radio, or the internet, and you can use that relayed information to create suspense and motivate action. Someone in your group might even have a friend who would be among the first responders and send texts from the front lines. Or your PCs might find out about the crisis through Facebook or Twitter several rounds before they first see a walking corpse. You can also decide when the power goes out, shutting off modems and leaving portable devices with only a few more hours of life.
What your players are really waiting for is the chance to fight off or run from a zombie attack (and maybe become infected as a result). Prepare a few different ways for zombies to reach your group wherever they are, and make it happen sooner rather than later. The more immediate the threat, the more your PCs will enjoy the game.
As every GM knows, your players will never do exactly what you want or expect. In addition, the more you let them explore whatever they’re interested in, the more they’ll enjoy themselves. Thankfully, Zombie Apocalypse offers you an incredibly open set of scenarios and encounters that can accommodate your players’ whims. You don’t need to plan a fixed series of events or a dramatic, plot-twisting conclusion: simply have a range of possible encounters and NPCs that you’ve prepared. Then, relax and build off what the PCs are contributing to the story.
The scenario you choose to play determines what kind of zombies the PCs face, what creates the zombie threat, and what the post-apocalypse looks like. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to look through all the locations and NPCs described in the book. The It Ends with a Whisper scenario doesn’t describe possible encounters that might occur on a highway or during a forced evacuation, but other scenarios do, and the suggested events work perfectly well in It Ends with a Whisper. Similarly, the stats provided for a gang leader in the post-apocalypse of Pandemic might come in handy. You might base uninfected NPCs on the civilians described in No Room in Hell or the paranoid executive from Night of the Meteor.
Enjoy the End of the World
You may lead a single-session adventure or your group might spend a complete campaign experiencing the end of civilization as they know it. You could delve into the post-apocalypse scenarios, or the players could fall victim to zombies within a few hours. No matter what end is in store for you and your friends, Zombie Apocalypse offers a vivid and unique experience of the end times.
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