I recently wrote about some of my initial thoughts and impressions regarding All Flesh Must Be Eaten, a zombie themed horror roleplaying game. Well, we just finished up our second session of it and I have some more to say, having now actually played the game. I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable of a game it was. The whole group had fun and it was a nice change of pace from what we had been playing. However, I couldn’t see our group playing a whole campaign of it though, or at least I wouldn’t be interested in running one. Not because it isn’t fun (it is) but I think this genre is more conducive to a shorter, quick game. I also think it’s strength lies in the characters just being normal people, who may not live very long. AFMBE also has options for playing tougher “Survivor” characters and others who have magical powers. That doesn’t seem right for this game world, but longer term games are more geared to those types.
Since this game was not really going to have a strong central plot (it was more about survival and we only planned on two weeks) I wanted to keep the pace of the game rather frenetic and chaotic. If they stopped to rest there were zombies, every time they tried to go somewhere there was pressure to keep moving. In trying to create a panicked environment I thought that this was key. Keep them on their toes since death lurks around every corner! And the game mechanics work with this. Most things are resolved with a single roll and combat is fast. I’ll be honest, I barely learned the rules to the game but I knew enough to keep it going. The rules do seem pretty simple though. It uses something called the Unisystem, which is d10 based. Hey, whatever works for you.
As I had felt going into it, controlling a bunch of zombies is not necessarily the most fun tool in the gamemaster arsenal. I do like that they are virtually infinite, but none of them are all that memorable. Sure, some of them had on distinct outfits and made different noises but when it came down to it they were all sort of the same. The game does have options for making all sorts of zombies (some of which breath fire, are immune to all sorts of things, and really everything else) but I stuck to the basics for our first time. I did have one big showdown planned, but the party never went for it and I did not want to railroad them an unlikely scenario.
The real strength of AFMBE are the characters. We opted to go with the Norms, the least powerful of the options. Zombies are scary because you are just a regular person, if we had made some of the more powerful types I don’t think that we would have enjoyed it as much. It was interesting to see what everyone created, usually they are making some sort of character that is anything but the norm in society. But not here, that’s just what they were. We wound up with a stripper, a weed smoking butcher, a cocaine addicted homeless street performer, and a totally inept Lord of the Rings obsessed bus driver. What a crew! Everyone also did a good job roleplaying their characters. Those who had addictions made it a point of playing that up (such as breaking into a police station to get into the evidence locker for some blow). Sometimes they were cowards. And they were all realistic in their builds. Why would a bus driver know how to shoot a gun?
I think the best part of it was we set the game in present day Philadelphia, which is where we all live. This allowed them to draw upon actual knowledge of their environment and put it to use, rather than making a roll to see if they know where to find something. It was fun to see. They knew about the bus depot on Moyamessing, the gun shop in the Italian Market and the police station on 11th. Just like their characters would know. Blurring the lines of fantasy and reality indeed! This made it both easy and hard to plan for, definitely a mixed bag. In one sense I didn’t have to make much up, I really just drew on my knowledge of Philadelphia and zombified it. However, it was also impossible to predict where they were going to go and do. For example, in other games I have some control over that. If the party needs to get to another town I know that the only ways that they can go are through the forest, along the main road, or take a boat. I have some idea of what each has in store for them. In Zombie Philadelphia that’s not the case. Just going from South Philly to Center City they could choose a ton of options, right down to which block and where they were going to turn. And they all expected it to be realistic. It had the potential to be hyper detail oriented. In the end I just sort of made it up as I went, which I'm fine with in this type of game.