[RPG] How to GM a zombie-apocalypse game?


I was asked, not a long time ago, to GM a zombie-apocalypse one-shot. Being versed in horror-GMing, I decided to approach the genre as I approach most other genres of horror, but I've encountered a problem: the zombie-apocalypse sub-genre is way too different, and I'm having trouble translating it into a game. As such is the case, I'm feeling kinda lost right now, and I'm asking you for help.

So, how do one GMs a zombie-apocalypse game?

I'm far more interested in help in terms of writing the game, but tips and suggestions about how to run the game will be also highly appreciated.

I'm looking for help in creating a game close enough to Night of the Living Dead, the archetypal zombie movie, in terms of the feel.

Night of the Living Dead (and also Dawn) was outright scary. This is the kind of feeling that I'm after. It was more around the way the characters coped with the situation, and how they tried to handle it than anything else and through their conflicts the story became scary. The zombies were there, and prominent, but it was less about defeating them and more about coping with the dire situation that the world revolved into.

Best Answer

Zombie apocalypses range from a slug feast (Left4Dead2) to a vehicle for huis-clos building on the survivors' slow but assured spiral into inhumanity (Walking Dead). It seems that you are aiming more towards the latter.

For me, Night of the Living Dead and Walking Dead and ... are all scary because they are all about the slow, methodical, and inextricable dehumanisation of their protagonists. The zombies, as is often the case, were nothing more than the catalyst for this. But could not have been replaced with anything with intelligence: you cannot reason with them, just get eaten.

First, alienation is a must. You should make sure that the players (yes, I mean the players, not their characters) are not comfortable. Stress them a little. Then stress them more. They should translate that into their character play. Setting, music, lighting, food, etc... Use it all! Clearly, get players' agreement before messing them! I do in all my horror games and provided I stay clear of specific trauma (as determined by players, not me), it works really well.

Second, let the players plot their own decent into becoming monsters. Or when you create the characters, make sure there is a path outlined for them to follow. The cop becomes a bully. The soldier becomes a murdering machine. The prom queen puts herself above all others... Stereotypes can be exploited here as it is a one off. Or do not go there. Maybe the mild mannered school teacher will turn psycho. I would let the players plot their own character's doom. It will add to the whole hopelessness.

Third, start slow and pick up the pace. The external Zombie threat must continue, like the rising tide, and never ever stop. Any gain the characters make, comes at a cost. More often than not, at a greater cost than it was worth. I suggest you have NPCs that you can sacrifice during the start of the game. Just make sure that each character has connections to them. Also, if (read: when) a payer character dies, make sure you have a backup.

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