The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse RPG Review

The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse RPG Review

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Egg ShenEgg Shen   October 06, 2016  
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OK you’ve read the name, feel free to hum a few bars of the R.E.M. song in your head so that we can get on with the review.  You good?  Alright, let’s move on.  

I’ve always found END OF THE WORLD scenarios to be fascinating.  As a kid, I would hear about the apocalypse and think of how strange it was that everything in the world could cease to exist.  Back then it was interesting to think about because I was a dumb kid that was mostly concerned with dinosaurs and mega sharks.  OK, you got me…I still spend most days ruminating about dinosaurs and mega sharks.  Now though, I’m aware of the actual horrors of the world and how humans might just someday wipe themselves off this big blue rock.  It might end with a nuclear war, or maybe some horrible disease.  I can tell you how it won’t end though…with ZOMBIES!

Unlike most people, I HAVEN'T been completely burnt out by zombies because, frankly, I rarely indulge in the genre unless something brings my attention to it.  Well, like some embolden nerd in a John Hughes film, my interest has been piqued.  No, Molly Ringwald didn't mosey on past me.  However, something else sexy and red did.  A sleek and sultry BOOK about the zombie apocalypse.  Wait a second, this isn’t a boardgame!  It’s an RPG! 

I’m gonna come clean with you, RPGs are mostly foreign to me.  I’ve always been intrigued by the idea, but rarely have I ever indulged.  The concept of being a DM/GM has always spoken to my storytelling soul.  So it’s kind of flabbergasting that I haven’t been running campaigns my whole life.  For whatever reason sitting around and having a shared storytelling experience, while pretending to be someone else, is a concept most folks shy away from.  So I decided that in order to run a RPG I needed a hook to lure in my friends.  Here is where the lovable zombies come in.  Zombies are like the Nathan Fillion of the nerd realm.  Most non-horror enthusiasts are decidedly OK with them. They're the perfect bait.

So The End of the World line is a series of self contained volumes, where everything you need to run a RPG is laid out for you in 150 pages or so.  As a neophyte GM this SEEMS absolutely perfect.  I can devour the book, get the necessary supplies and be crafting a yarn in no time at all.  Except, I think if this was the first RPG book I ever read I would be sort of lost.  In an effort to keep this a rules light experience it can leave a first time GM with LOTS of questions.  In fact the book is almost too open in regards to the rules.  I would venture a guess that of the 150 pages maybe 15 of them are dedicated to running the game as a GM.  The rest of the book makes up the different zombies scenarios and player creation.

Someone needs to slap me because I’ve typed roughly 500 words and I’ve yet to explain the big twist of this series.  In the End of the World RPG games you don’t create a fictional heroic character to play.  Nope, in this game you will be role-playing as YOURSELF!  The premise is that you’re heading over to your friend's house for a game night when the world sudden devolves into one of five possible apocalyptic, zombie scenarios.  The fact that you’re playing yourself is what really sold me on buying this book, studying it, and unleashing its “splinter of wood to the eyeball “zombie antics on my unsuspecting friends. 

 

So to be clear, players are role playing themselves, in the town that they live in, and a simple dice system is the straw that stirs the drink.  Every test is handled with the rolling of D6s in two colors.  One color is for positive and one is for negative.  You make a roll, cancel any positive and negative dice that match and leftover dice provides the results.  If any positive dice are leftover and are EQUAL/LESS than a person’s stat they were testing then the task passes.  However, regardless of passing or failing, if any negative dice remain the player takes some sort of “stress".  Stress is essentially this system's form of damage.  If you ever take too much stress in any one category then you’re dead.  I love how idiot-proof this system is to resolve AND for the GM to come up with result based story beats.  For a person who was trying to teach this to five players who’d never thought of playing an RPG before this simplicity was a life saver.

It's unfortunate that the book is so damn inconsistent in terms of depth and rules/content.  I actually think a complete novice would have a rough time with sorting out some of the vagaries found within the player and GM rules.  However, I was savvy enough to use what I felt would work and scrap anything I didn’t like.  The book goes into great detail about the timeline, what’s happening, who’s surviving etc… in regards to all five of the scenarios.  That WEALTH of  information is the book’s greatest asset.  It offers no pre-scripted campaigns to run so you need to take the provided paint and create your own blood stained work of art.  The book merely provided a potential GM with concepts, ideas, and potential situations that can be SEEDS to grow into a grotesque adventure.

The end result was this quick and dirty elevator pitch to my friends; we’re going to play a game where the zombie apocalypse happens and we’re going to see if you can survive.  This review is being published in the fall and during this time of year people’s minds are susceptible to all things horror.  In October, convincing people to do a one shot RPG session to see if they can survive a zombie holocaust is like selling water to a dying man in the desert sun.

So who is this book targeted at?  I think RPG vets might find the system a bit light while newbies could find the lack of pre-scripted material off putting.  Like I mentioned before, it's maddening with how uneven the book is.  The player and GM sections are oddly sparse while the different zombie apocalypses are JAM packed with TONS of information.  I'm also of the mindset that doesn't think the system would work very well as a long campaign.  Even though the books provide each scenario with both pre and post apocalyptic details, I think this system SCREAMS to be one shot sessions where the party simply tries to survive.  I think this series is aimed squarely at ambitious GMs who aren't afraid to put in work and get their hands dirty.  The overall lack of meat allows for a furtive mind to really go wild.  There is nothing stopping you from role playing as other people or in settings outside of your town.  Your imagination is really the only limitation.  Hell, just typing this review has got my wheels spinning with ideas for my next apocalyptic vision.

If I’m being honest the zombie book would have been the last one in the series I would have grabbed.  The ONLY reason I purchased it first was because zombies are an easier sell than say a modern day Viking Ragnarok.  FFG currently offers these RPGs in the following flavors: Gods revolting, Rise of the Machines, and my personal favorite…Alien Invaders!  I’m not going to lie…I’m probably going to get at least one or two more of these.  The books themselves are a breeze to read and I like how they are self contained.  Each one contains roughly the same ruleset, with the only difference being the different themes.  I'd say if you're intrigued just pick the one that sounds the most interesting to you and your friends.  You don’t need a separate player’s manual and Game Master guide.  You simple crack open one book, take the information you like, disregard the stuff you don’t need and have fun.  

Perhaps my favorite aspect about playing this system is that it works as this weird sort of friendship/bonding device.  You will uncover things about your friends that you never knew before.  In one of our sessions a player was quite surprised to find out someone at the table had four guns back at his place.  Seeing your friends react to coming across a six year old with a broken ankle during the zombie apocalypse is surprisingly soul bearing.  Role playing such a stressful and dire situation really brings out the best and worst in people. It's one of the game's strongest selling points in my eyes.

I'll leave you with this - If you’ve ever SCREAMED at a movie screen during a horror film because the characters were about to do something stupid, then this is your chance to show your friends what you’d do.  As an absolute horror nut, that kind of experience is something you just can’t put a price on! 

 

What does the Scale-o-matic 6500™ say?

On a scale of Waterworld to Cherry 2000

The End of the World RPG Line rates as Hell Comes to Frogtown

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Designer:  Tim Cox, Corey Konieczka, Andrew S. Fischer

Publisher:  FFG

Year Published:  2015

Player Count:  3+

Length:  60-180 minutes 

Posted: 06 Oct 2016 22:53 by hotseatgames #235719
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Nice review! I was curious about the quality of these books. Thanks.
Posted: 06 Oct 2016 23:42 by Josh Look #235723
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Gosh, I really want to watch something with Molly Ringwold in it now.

This sounds really fun, I'd love to give it a shot sometime.

Thanks for the heads up on this, for further pushing the site further into the realm of horror this Halloween season, and for making me feel less alone in think that Molly Ringwold is super cute. We really are like the same person!
Posted: 07 Oct 2016 07:56 by Mr. White #235730
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Cool to see an RPG get a featured review.

Thanks, Egg!
Posted: 07 Oct 2016 11:31 by Mantidman #235755
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Excellent review!
I have this and have been wanting to run it with my sons and their friends. Need to get some red and black d6's.
Posted: 07 Oct 2016 15:12 by Mad Dog #235771
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Not a fan of the play as yourself thing. I'm sure in any actual zombie/god/robot/alien invasion that most of my friends would immediately go home to their spouses and children. While I would definitely strike out on my own specifically to avoid deciding my survival by committee.
Posted: 08 Oct 2016 17:10 by Columbob #235809
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I couldn't go on living if I didn't at least try to save my family. And if they did bite the dust, then I'm not sure I'd enjoy trying to survive any kind of apocalypse...clinging to life just for the sake of it. Unless there was vengeance involved maybe? Tough call.
Posted: 08 Oct 2016 21:26 by jason10mm #235817
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I remember the old BTRC RPG Timelords had you play as yourself. Something about that premise is simultaneously very appealing yet very disturbing, especially when it comes to things like dealing with random bad guys where the murder hobo attitude gets very creepy when it is you.
Posted: 11 Oct 2016 08:46 by Egg Shen #235901
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Glad to see the RPG review got some love. I figured we discuss them enough around here that y'all wouldn't mind. I'd love to see some more, but I sadly don't get to play them all that often. Weirdly enough I actually read more RPG books than play them. Is that normal? I find reading through them to be incredibly fun and fascinating.

As for the playing as yourself / saving your family thing...prior to playing I had heard that this might be an issue from a few web sites. The way the game has you create characters means you have to list positives and negatives about yourself. We all found it interesting because it immediately opens up conversation...especially if you're not like super best friends with someone at the table. As the GM I sort of side stepped the family thing with a general "everyone's parents and loved ones have called and they're safe right now at a shelter/whatever". After that we didn't dwell on it. One of the players had two dogs and she didn't want to have them involved so as a group we just decided they were with her parents and safe. Again, you need to figure out what is going to be FUN and not depressingly real. My aim as GM was to see the players react to escalating situations and the players sort of agreed with that. You just have to kind of organically figure out what you want while playing. As long as you talk with the players before starting it really shouldn't become an issue. If people really have a problem with it, you can role play as a version of yourself that doesn't have any close family...or whatever you can come up with to make it a moot point.

Some highlights from when we played:

- Whenever we played I put on some John Carpenter music...I leaned heavily on his Halloween III score and it was surprisingly perfect.

- one of my real life neighbors was an NPC who I had shoot and kill two other NPC neighbors. She claimed they were acting violent and weird (they don't care for each other in real life)...watching my wife react to this was pretty ridiculous.

- We used an iPad with google maps to plot the course of the group once they left my house. This was alot of fun.

- While driving too fast someone failed a check to avoid the zombie that stumbled out into the road. It was hit going 60+ mph and after the crash it's head broke through the windshield and landing in the lap of someone sitting in the backseat. It was still biting and chomping.

- At one point a group of military men cornered the group to steal any supplies/weapon they had. This resulted in a Mexican standoff that eventually saw a bunch of party members get shot.

- Several situations would arise where the group had to help someone or keep on moving. This led to lots of infighting and arguing.

So far I've only used the basic Romero zombie scenario. I'm actually interested in running one of the other ones that are a little less traditional. I need to cook something up!
Posted: 11 Oct 2016 08:59 by Mr. White #235904
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Fantastic! Thanks for this follow-up, Egg. Your review was clear that you had spent time with the rulebook, but to add actual play anecdotes afterward is great. I too was interested in how 'playing as yourself' would go down, but it sounded like y'all had fun with it.

Oh, so far as reading RPG books...not an anomaly at all. In fact, I was recently commenting to Metalface that it's dawning on me that RPGs and minis centered games are proving to be a better value per dollar for me than standard board games. If I don't get to play an rpg...I at least get to pull it down to (re)read, admire the art and setting, think creatively, etc. If I don't get to play a minis game...I at least get to paint it up, share photos, discuss techniques, etc. If I don't get to play a board game...it sits on a shelf.

Reading RPG modules can be fun...even if you never get to play them.

Cheers again for this post!

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