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Zombie Apocalypse Original (incorrect) Premise


Max_Writer

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Been trying to get here for a couple of weeks with an idea I wanted advice on. Here is the original (intended) post:

I've been wanting to run a BRP modern game that would, during the first game session, devolve into a zombie apocalypse. My problem is, I don't want it to start as a zombie apocalypse game. Rather, I want it to start as "x" game that turns into the former, hopefully shocking the players. However, I can't figure out what the initial premise would be for players to create normal, everyday investigators without giving the real premise of the game away. I've gotten a few ideas online (prison, school, college, supers, film crew, class reunion, Survivor or survival, The Sims) but that still doesn't give me my initial (false) premise, my "This is what the game is going to be about."

I feel like I'm explaining this badly. When you start almost any game, one of the questions is "What kind of game is it?" The answer is fantasy, horror, or the like. I need that initial fake premise that will get the players interested, get them to make normal people as their characters, and leave them completely blind-sided when zombies start showing up when they shouldn't even be in such a game.

Here's a good example that worked in play. Year of the Phoenix started out with the characters part of a NASA anti-terrorist space force in 1999. Characters were part of the military but trained to pilot shuttles and deal with terrorism in space. However, during the initial scenario, when they take the shuttle Phoenix to the international space station, which has been taken by terrorists, the space station explodes as they close to dock. Everything goes black. They wake up on the shore and guess that they managed to get out of the shuttle. Turns out they are probably in the Soviet Union (which still existed in the game) and help some rebels fight against them. However, by the end of the mission, they find that they are actually in the 24th century and the Soviet Union now runs the world.

Any advice or ideas are welcome. Thanks.

That one is from last week. With people's input, I decided on this:

Per responses on threads across the vastness of the internet I'm leaning more, now, towards just starting out telling my players we're doing a BRP modern game and that the premise will become clear soon enough. Perhaps even telling them if they don't know the premise in advance, they will more likely have a more enjoyable time. I'm hoping that will be enough.

Comments?

I'm also tempted to use triffids instead of zombies ...

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Well, with the BRP system, you could create any setting, and then have it fall into chaos as Z-Day occurs. What if you advertised that you wanted to run a one-shot adventure where the players are all members of a local Fire Search & Rescue team. And you had an idea on how this team gets wrapped into a disaster that ends out being way bigger than what they are normally used to handling, and the goal of the game is to see how they rise-up to handle the situation.

So you end out getting a group of characters that already have a reason to know each other, and they have a bunch of skills in handling themselves, or helping others, in a bad situation.

The players might think they are gearing up for a game with elements similar to the movie Cliffhanger, but in reality they're about to walk into Dawn of the Dead.

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My first thought, especially if you wanted the characters to be fairly well prepared, was to have them be some elite police/military squad. Perhaps a special strike team to deal with the Mexican drug lords? The characters will be heavily armed, armored, and well equipped to start. The adventure starts with them preparing to raid a drug lord stronghold out in the desert somewhere, maybe just across the border so they are out of contact until they get back? No cell phones, no radios on till they get back across the border? By then, say a day later, the outbreak has hit the border town and things are closed off by the military to avoid spreading the disease? Maybe they notice some strange blotches on some of the drug lords men, so they may realize they have probably been infected/exposed?

My second thought, and with a zombie adventure it's more fun when played with more "normal" characters, is something you had listed above. The characters are part of a reality show camera crew, following the adventures of, The Crimson Sentinel. A high-tech super with an anti-gravity open platform vehicle perhaps? Plenty of room for the crew, and he likes the attention. He mostly fights ordinary crminals, and the occasional super villain. The crew can still be armed with some pistols, stun guns, body armor and helmets as needed. The adventure starts with the Crimson Sentinel destroying a huge meth lab complex just across the border, but the hero gets bitten during the raid and quickly shows signs of infection. A minor villian is helping defend the meth lab and EMP (Electro-Magnetic Person, as the villian calls himself) shorts out all devices within a 30 mile radius during the battle then drops unconscious from the effort. Crimson Sentinel drops them off near the border town just a few miles away (he needs to hurry back at maximum speed to the his secret lab to work on a cure. The Sentinel Sled was of course mostly shielded from the EMP attack). The film crew is left in the infection zone to fend for themselves and the full-on zombies are soon everywhere.

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A film crew actually has some sense and skills. Make them vapid reality television talent!

You mentioned supers. I've heard great things about a book called Ex-Heros about some supers during Z-Day as a serious (as you can get) look treatment.

Per responses on threads across the vastness of the internet I'm leaning more, now, towards just starting out telling my players we're doing a BRP modern game and that the premise will become clear soon enough. Perhaps even telling them if they don't know the premise in advance, they will more likely have a more enjoyable time. I'm hoping that will be enough.

It does set off my bait and switch radar, but as long as you're with a group who's up for it, you're golden.

I totally read this as tribbles...

70/420

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I am generally against the "bait and switch" campaign model. It's not really going to be as shocking as you think and worse, they could end up making characters that don't fit your idea of "characters who would be surprised by the zombie apocalypse". Worse, this has never worked in my experience (I have 30+ years going now). Are you trying to make sure these characters are non-specialized average joes dealing with the ZA? What if your players don't want to play average joes dealing with the ZA? Then your stuck with non-enthused players.

What is the feeling you're going for?

I think you should come clean and explain you want to run something and explore this theme and see if it jives with your players. Otherwise, you have you're own disaster to deal with; the players being unhappy with the game you worked so hard to prep.

Here's how I might frame a ZA game with some particulars to garner interest from my players:

I want to run a ZA game, but I want to start the week before anything happens. I want the characters to be regular people with regular jobs. I want us to focus on some mundane interpersonal and work related things, to really immerse ourselves in the everyday. I want us to get deep into it. Then, the rumors and odd news reports will happen. Eventually, without warning, your normal characters are going to be thrust into this ZA world. I want to explore HOW these people might deal with this, and deal with loss, and deal with horror without all the kitschy swat teams, army specialists, and Umbrella Corporation super soldiers mucking about my deep character play. What do you peeps think? Would you want to get knee deep in the mundane dealing with the horror and explore this idea with me?

I would gauge their excitement, and then I might even need to alter the game to excite everyone, and I would. Because games should be fun, and interactive, and everyone should have some input into what's happening.

Just my two cents...

Trentin C Bergeron

Bard, Dreamer & RPG Enthusiast

My Blog | My Worlds

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Personally, I like bait and switch plots. Then again, I also like games like Paranoia and Call of Cthulhu as preference, so it sometimes goes with the territory. Horror stories use this approach all the time - look at Psycho, From Dusk Till Dawn or maybe Shawn of the Dead in the movies as prime examples. In rpg terms, I think WFRP is an example of a game where everybody starts off thinking it's a D&D style fantasy game, only to work out it's really a horror game. I actually ran an All Flesh Must be Eaten scenario (successfully) where all the characters were 3rd rate celebrities in a reality TV show.

Crime stories work well in this regard - there is enough of interpersonal motivation and coolness in the characters and situations to distract from an approaching horror. Run a heist or a jailbreak to get them going, really play up on the drama of the situation, and then introduce the Zombie twist when they least expect it. Sounds good to me.

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I second the Triffids idea. Zombies have become as overdone as ninjas were in an earlier gaming era. Triffids, like zombies, eat people, travel in increasingly large packs, and tend to be slow movers. On the other hand, they can easily blend in to any environment with foliage (Hide 75%) and can attack at (limited) range with their poison pods, which lash out with enough force to knock an unwary PC off his feet. In the book The Day of the Triffids, simple improvised protective gear (face mask, gloves, thick clothing) was enough to protect against their poison, and a shotgun blast could easily cut one in half. On the other hand, there are gobs of them; how much ammo do the PCs have?

Book Triffids were genetically engineered crop plants cultivated for the pharmaceuticals produced in their stems. They were manageable until a meteor shower blinded much of Europe's population, enabling them to escape their pens and reproduce out of control. Movie (1962) Triffids were alien organisms that arrived with the meteor shower and were generally tougher than the literary version. But sea water unaccountably dissolved them into mush (in the book, humans just had to deal with it). In either version, Triffids ultimately cleared areas they overran of most animal life, since all but the smallest critters became plant chow.

The Day of the Triffids (1962) - IMDb

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Thanks for the feedback everyone. In answer to a few questions:

Ortrail and trechriron: I'm looking for average joes going agianst something they aren't ready for, if possible. I've had suggestions of having the players play themselves (or make character sheets of themselves and then switch off) but I've done that in a ZA game in the past and didn't particularly enjoy it myself. As far as the players not liking the game, I only want this to work for one game session. It can turn into a campaign if players so desire, but I don't mind either way if the game lasts or not. I generally run Call of Cthulhu (as a rule) and always have that to fall back on.

I like the idea of the bait and switch, myself, though I've been warned by several people (present company included) not to explain the game in one premise and then change said premise completely. I still like the idea of normal people, unprepared for something like this, suddenly finding themselves thrust into the situation (but I love CoC - so that makes sense). Modern games can quickly turn into anything too, with the character's only real connection being that they were all in the wrong place at the wrong time (though I prefer they know each other in advance). Flying saucers suddenly appear and you find yourself in V or Independence Day (or Mars Attacks!), another planet is spotted coming in system and you're in When Worlds Collide, or suddenly everyone goes blind (except the PCs) and the (relatively) harmless (or at least controlled) mobile plants are taking over the world. I don't know, I just like the idea of the players (not necessarily their characters) going "Oh man! I know what's going on!"

Seneschal - I would definitely be using book triffids. I stumbled across Day of the Triffids in middle school and the book really scared the crap out of me. Don't forget the worst of the triffids' strengths - group hive mind. It is implied, at least in the book, that using a method to destroy them (tricking them with sound to corral them and then burning them) rarely works twice on other triffids. Its as if they know what happened to the others. That really creeped me out - that the things could communicate (somewhat) and, after a fashion, learn, even when they had no means of doing so. That makes them more dangerous than zombies, imho. Also, like more new-age zombies, they are attracted to sound so that shotgun blast will bring more of the things around very, very quickly.

Thanks for the ideas, guys. Still thinking ...

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Well, why not combine the two ideas? I ran a Star Trek adventure years ago (Prime Directive BTW) where an ancient collector ship that had crashed centuries before was found by some of the new Federation colonists and they accidently released a number of dangerous lifeforms. I created an Orion Slaver-Plant that was semi-intelligent and collected lifeforms to defend/attack as needed by the host plant. These were floating pods with tendrils/vines attached to the heads of the enslaved colonists. There were several plants with 2-3 slaves each. I let the slaves retain some intelligence too, enough to use weapons to defend the master plant.

Anyway, I digress, but you could have a Triffid-type plant that is turning humans into zombie slaves and using them to host the seed pods of the next generation. Perhaps the seed pods are attached to the brain stem and removal kills the victim, but this still leaves them free to roam. The characters must deal with the zombies first, then find and destroy the master plants to end the crisis. I'd set the characters up in a relatively isolated area of course, perhaps an island where the boats are already gone as people fled, and any bridge was destroyed by the military as they set up a "safe zone". Or a desert area where the only water supply is in storage tanks and delivered by truck every week, I think parts of Arizona have communities like this? The Triffids need water and blood to feed the seed pods.

As long as this is a one-shot deal, I think the players would probably be cool with a "bait-and-switch". Especially if they have played CoC, they know things will NOT END WELL, most of the time.

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I like bait and switch tactics too, as a GM it allows me to catch the players off balance occasionally. I think it depends on how extreme you are planning on making the switch.

If I was being particularly nasty to the players I'd make them movie stars or well known people on an 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here' kind of thing. The celebs are cut off in a remote location (with some skills that would allow them to survive by themselves) they assume they are being filmed and have to feed and shelter themselves, then your apocalypse thing happens and all bets are off.

Or, we had an excellent mini series here called Dead Set by a guy called Charlie Brooker which had a group of people stuck in a Big Brother house when a ZA kicks off. The house people thought all of the noises outside were part of the show until the zombies broke in. Brilliant TV, not sure how it would play though...

Mr Jealousy has returned to reality!

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Triffids for BRP

Triffids are genetically engineered crop plants harvested for the oils in their man-tall woody stalks. They are topped by a flower “head” that contains a deadly poison lash and walk slowly on three thick, flexible roots, tripod-style. Despite their carnivorous tendencies, Triffids were harvested safely by many of the world’s developed nations until an international disaster (meteor shower blinded most of the world’s population) enabled them to escape their pens and reproduce unchecked. In areas where they multiplied without resistance, they quickly devoured most animal life.

For plants, Triffids display an uncanny intelligence and cunning. They hide themselves in foliage near the doors and windows of people’s homes, waiting for the inhabitants to open a sash or step outside, or post themselves along roads and walking paths. Once potential prey has been located, they notify other plants by means unknown, with hordes of Triffids literally coming out of the woodwork to surround and capture victims.

Triffids’ reproductive parts can lash out to a distance of two meters, usually aiming at the target’s head. Although “thrown” at near-bullet velocity, the pollen pods do little physical damage. However, they smear a sticky, fast-acting contact poison on prey, paralyzing and asphyxiating it so it can be “eaten” by the Triffid’s roots. There is so far no known antidote. Heavy clothing, gloves, and some sort of facial and head covering is often sufficient protection from Triffid poison -- as long as the frond slaps don’t knock a human’s face mask aside to enable skin contact.

STR 1D6+8 (12)

CON 2D6+3 (10)

SIZ 2D6+6 (13)

INT 5 (5)

POW 3D6 (10-11)

DEX 2D6+3 (10)

Hit Points: 12

Move: 4

Damage Bonus: +1D4

Armor: 3 (woody stalk)

Attacks: Flower Slap 65%, 1D3+1D4, POT 25 poison, takes effect after 1 combat round

Skills: Hide 75%, Sense 70%, Stealth 80%, Throw 65%

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Wow! Now that sounds like a nice PA setting to me! Characters will start out as normal people, having to deal with the Triffids for a certain time - and survive. Soon they find out too many are out there, and they also reproduce by using some bodies as seed banks. Players have to go out there, find and kill the seed pods, to prevent immidiant overrun - and then the battle continuous ... Setting is good enough for a one shot, maybe more. But usually PA games only interest people a few sessions before "survival" becomes too boring. Spicing it up is not too hard with the right ingredients, and I think Triffids are SciFi enough to place some modern elements and it is Fantasy enough to use good old weapons to hack the things to pieces, as weapons are of limited help.

Also, it gets around the problem how weapons suddenly spread all over the world in a PA setting, as most countries do not have USA weapon laws and they are heavily restricted.

Cool! Thanks for a very good idea for a new PA setting :);t)

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I also found triffids in the Malleus Monstrorum.

How did their take compare with mine? BRP has been around so long that it is hard to do "new" critter write-ups; somebody else somewhere has often done something similar. That's why the critters I've posted here (the Big, Bad Wolf, Fluffs, a Duck superhero, assorted classic movie monsters) have been off-the-wall; you gotta stretch to do something unique.

Edited by seneschal
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Am I allowed or does that violate some copyright stuff?

Taking a chance. Apologies if this is wrong and please remove if so.

Here are the basic stats from Malleus Monstrorum:

"STR 3D6

CON 3D6

SIZ 4D6

INT 2D6

POW 1D6

DEX 5D6

Move: 8"

I like the high Dex which reflects how quick the things can attack.

Edited by Max_Writer
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There have been quite a few adaptations of Day of the Triffids - the latest BBC miniseries was quite a good effort to update the story to a modern setting - and the portrayal of Triffids are pretty scary.

Also, the 28 Days Later movie is very heavily influenced by Day of the Triffids - high speed zombies rather than man eating plants though.

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Am I allowed or does that violate some copyright stuff?

Taking a chance. Apologies if this is wrong and please remove if so.

Here are the basic stats from Malleus Monstrorum:

"STR 3D6

CON 3D6

SIZ 4D6

INT 2D6

POW 1D6

DEX 5D6

Move: 8"

I like the high Dex which reflects how quick the things can attack.

Yikes! Bigger, stronger, tougher, smarter, faster and more agile. I think my version is more like the critters in the book, though. It was sheer numbers, not individual prowess, that made Triffids a world menace.

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I'd probably add the caveat that they can't run or move faster than a walk - that makes the 8 movement make sense. Also though DEX is higher, STR and CON are only equal to a human, and INT is lower.

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in BRP a human has a Move of 10, CoC has it at 8. So, a walk in BRP is about 3-5, where in CoC ist is about 2-3. But that's being picky ;) and I would overrule these rates anyway as I may have a different imagination of Triffids (as I have with any creature in RPGs).

I see stats more as a guideline and vary things a lot - if only to keep the players on their toes. After all, it gets boring if a certain creature always has the same old features and does not derivate from that. This is why I love the so much overlooked Chaotic Feature Table in the rule book :-D

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Here's my newest idea on how it could work:

Starts with meteorite falling in graveyard or possible bioweapon test by foreign power in nearby town. Investigators are sent to investigate.

Alien or biological virus (probably alien) that starts, when it is first released on meteorite’s crash, as an airborne virus that lives for several minutes and moves quickly to encompass roughly a one-square-mile area. All humans (sapiens) in this area die within a few minutes, usually too quick to even call for aid. Virus within human bodies (that caused their deaths) mutates at this point, making it no longer airborne. It powers and raises the bodies and then creates aggression against non-zombies in the people in order to further spread. The virus is now spread by bite or blood, fluids, or saliva entering the bloodstreams of others. Bites, if not immediately fatal, fester quickly and spread, resulting in death in less than a week. Amputating the bit area might save the victim.

The virus, though not self-aware, is able to control the dead body to the extent of trying to spread itself. It is somehow also able to stave off rigor mortis and power the body as well, acting as the bodies new nervous system.

Virus continues its mutations. First zombies created by airborne virus are fairly slow, but those zombies created by being bit or the like tend to be faster and more in control. They can sprint. They are a bit smarter. The initial zombies are shamblers but those that they infect end up as runners.

It should be noted that some in the area of the initial airborne infection sometimes survive due to their environment (disinfected or the like) or situation (those on oxygen or completely cut off from the outside world are safe) or even physical condition (certain physical affects (being drunk, already diseased, or something - unsure what yet - think Andromeda Strain). The airborne virus only has a lifespan of a few minutes or so, after which it dies and becomes inert.

At end of first scenario, the investigators are greeted by seeing meteors falling in the distance and reports of a “massive meteor shower” across the western hemisphere as the planet passes through a “debris field” of some kind. The shower continues for over 24 hours, peppering the entire planet.

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