Published on 10/31/2014 Written by 2 comments

Halloween Horror Hits - Best of Spooks and Zombies from Rule of the Dice

Happy Halloween, Dicers!

Hopefully all of you have your horror-themed games planned for tonight or this weekend, or maybe you're watching Night of the Living Dead for the hundredth time, or maybe (like me) you'll be hiding in the dark on your porch to scare the shit out of little kids when they come to your door begging for candy. (To be fair, now that I have my own little guy, I'm starting to feel bad about that one.)

But if you're a sad lonely person who doesn't have plans tonight, here is some reading material for you to catch up on. Please feast your eyes on some of the best horror-related content Rule of the Dice has posted over the years. Enjoy!

Rule of the Dice - Top 8 Best Horror-Related Posts

1. D6 Zombies - My all-time most popular post on Rule of the Dice (in terms of hit count), showcasing some weird zombie antagonists, statted for the D6 system.

2. How I Put Crazy in My Game (Sanity Levels for D6 Horror) - One of my personal favourite posts I've written, about using a Cthulhu-esque sanity system for the D6 system. I think it came out really well.

3. Mini D6 Horror - Former contributor Joe Nelson's play report on actually using my D6 Horror Rules in a game.

4. Review of Last Night on Earth - More Zombies, this time in Board Game Form! Review by Jason Salvatori.

5. Made to Suffer - The DCC-Funnel / d20 clone / Walking Dead RPG I recently made for the sole purpose of killing large volumes of player characters.

6. 10 Random Zombie Intro Scenarios - Starting a horror survival game shouldn't be hard, it should be random and chaotic.

7. Notes from the Master - On Writing Weird Fiction by H.P. Lovecraft - Our fearless leader John shares some Lovecraftian advice useful to writers and game designers alike.

8. SPLATTER-ELF: The Grimmer Than Grimdark RPG
Back in May I wrote a series of posts highlighting the design of an RPG based on the half-serious/half-spoof fantasy-sub-genre coined by Philip Overby. (For more on Splatter-Elf as a genre, check out this hilarious Twitter). The game has changed quite a bit since the original design and one day I'll get around to sharing the complete, updated rules, but these posts may have some historical value at some point:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Character Creation
Part 3: Combat
Part 4: Blood Magic
Part 5: New Races
Part 6: Monsters

What was your favourite spooky Rule of the Dice post?

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Published on 10/30/2014 Written by 0 comments

Play Report: Last Night on Earth

Since it's Halloweek, we decided that our last game of the night should be thematically appropriate.
I had just bought last night on earth, so we opened it up and got cracking.  Here are my thoughts on the game:

1) Packaging.  The box has tons of room, but the interior plastic trays are poorly thought out.  When
the game is new and all the tokens are still in their cardboard frame, it fits beautifully.  Once you punch out all the markers, there's no good place to put them where they won't slide around in the box. If the "card" areas had been made deeper, all the other bits would have fit perfectly.  Not the end of the world (though that's the theme of the game), but something that could be improved.

2) Gimmicks.  The game comes with a CD for background mood music.  The music is fine, but the CD is too short to last a full game.  Especially a first full game where you are stopping to look up rules and figure out strategies.

3) Speaking of rules:  The rule book could use some work.  The first read-through does a very good job of explaning the game.  But when it comes to looking something up while playing, information is scattered all over and many things are mentioned in more than one place.  So you can't just say "The gas can - I saw that on page 3."  Because it's also mentioned on page 6 and 8, and the information you're looking for is on the one on page 6.   Even with the info scattered like this, an index would go a long way towards helping. There is a FAQ in the back, and a link to an online FAQ, but with the game being more than a year old, an updated rule book would be nice to see.
4) Parts:  The plastic figures are very detailed and a good size for handling.  The cards are a comfortable size and good quality stock.  A couple of the board pieces I have are already curled as if from moisture.  They are still quite usable, but it's mildly annoying to have the edges not meet perfectly.

That's the starting board with over 100
pieces for GFoL1666
4) Now on to the good stuff - game-play.  Our group was a mix of experienced gamers and a couple of newer people.  Setting up the board took a bit of time, but nothing that drove us away. (Unlike The Great Fire of London 1666, which is a fun game, but the set up is so daunting that we rarely take it out.)  Playing with 6 players, we had 4 heroes and 2 zombie players.  We went straight for one of the advanced scenarios and dove in.  Basic game-play is straight forward, with "turn steps" cheat cards for everyone to follow.  The game took us about 90 minutes to play, and will probably be 15 minutes shorter next time now that we won't have to hunt for rules. Having gone back to reread some of the FAQ's today, I notice we were using some of the rules incorrectly.  This likely didn't make a huge difference in our outcome, but it's frustrating to find out after the fact.  See number 3 above about the rule book.

Here's a quick scope of how to play: Part 1, the zombie turn. Zombies advance the turn number, then draw cards that may help them.  Then they roll to see if any more zombies can be added to the board. Then they move each zombie 1 space (slow movement as the "shamble"), resolve any fights if zombies share a location with heroes, then place newly spawned zombies.  Part 2, the heroes turn. Heroes roll 1d6 to see how far the can move, then decide to either move OR search the building they are in (draw a card). Then if they have a ranged weapon, they can make ranged attacks. Then if any zombies share a space with them, any fights are resolved the same as in the zombie turn.  Lather, rinse, repeat.
This framework is followed, to try to achieve the specific goal of whatever scenario you are playing.

5) Takeaway thoughts:  Despite some flaws in the rule book and the annoyance that caused, I'm eagerly looking forward to playing Last Night on Earth again.  If you have a group that likes themed games and has a little bit of patience, go grab this title, it's a worthwhile investment.  If you're not sure, try watching the TableTop episode where Wil plays this game and see if it's for you.

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Published on 10/28/2014 Written by 1 comment

10 Zombie Survival Intro Scenarios

Can you smell Halloween on the air? Smells like non-toxic face paint and burnt pumpkins.

In case you weren't aware, I've been playing around with a zombie/horror game based on the Dungeon Crawl Classics Funnel system - basically you send in a gang of 0-level schlubs, hoping that at least one survies to become a level 1 character in an on-going post-apocalyptic survival game. It uses basic d20 rules that everyone is pretty familiar with.

To keep the game as chaotic as possible, in our first playthrough I just rolled the scenario out randomly as we went along - determining encounters, locales, etc purely by a toss of the dice - and I plan to continue doing the same thing. Partly this is to keep my prep work down, partly it's to keep the tension and suspense high as the party never knows what to expect. Sometimes the group meets 1d4 stray dogs, sometimes they meet 1d4+1x100 roaming zombies. I've been using the many tables in Palladium's DEAD REIGN™®© books (about the only thing those books are good for) for most of my inspiration, tweaking them as necessary.

However, the one thing that I was missing was the opening hook - where the players start in their initial onslaught against the rising tide of the undead. It needs to be a scenario where a decent-sized group of random, ordinary people (remember, each player gets 4 characters each) are trapped together. The characters should preferably be strangers and a little disoriented, out of their element. The zombie outbreak should also have been going on long enough that there is a considerable force of undead for the players to have to deal with.

I brainstormed 10 quick examples so that now I'm prepared for my next or any game. I can pick an option or roll one on the spot to keep everyone (including myself) on their toes. Remember, as soon as they move away from the opening scene you can continue generating further encounters randomly as well, or build from what you've established if you're one of those crazy people who like consistent story. Keep going until the group finds a safe spot to rest and/or the majority of the survivors are dead.

10 Random Zombie Survival Intro Scenarios
Feel free to steal these for other games/purposes. Most of them are already stolen from other sources, anyway.

Art by Joakim Olofsson

01. The Wheels on the Bus
A bus fleeing an overrun city strikes a group of zombies on a dark stretch of road. The bus crashes, pinning some of the survivors. The zombies of course survive, and the noise of the crash will soon attract others. The bus is totalled but there may (or may not) be other working vehicles nearby. Does the group flee back towards the city, keep going on foot, or head into the wilderess? This is the setup we used for our first game, and we lost 2 or 3 characters before the group even left the vicinity of the bus.

02. Manotick 
A group of survivors are holed up in a high school gym or a community centre in a small town in a rural area. Their safe haven is breached unexpectedly - do they flee? Try to stay and save it? If they run, where do they go? For added options, say the town is on a small island with limited routes in and out. Does the group fight to establish a safe zone on the island?

03. Movin' On Up
The group is holed up in a couple of units on the top floor of an apartment building deep in the city. They've been hiding for a few days and they're out of food. They know there are zombies in the building and of course the streets are crawling with them, but they have to try and get food somewhere. Do they try to secure the building? Go out into the streets? Maybe there's a supermarket or pharmacy close by. For an added kick in the teeth, have some zombies make it to their floor and start pounding on their doors.

04. Steel Serpent of the Underworld
A subway train crashes deep underground. Maybe it just happened, or maybe the survivors have been trapped inside for a couple of days. Either way they have to get out, but the tunnels are crawling with undead, as are the streets above. Might the underground tunnels prove a haven, or a deathtrap?

05. Zombies on a Plane!
A plane crashes on the airport runway, either just taking off (trying to escape the outbreak) or trying to make a landing (ran out of fuel trying to get away from outbreak elsewhere). There are, of course, zombies on the plane. The group has to get off and find safety, either in the airport or somewhere else nearby.

Art by Joakim Olofsson
06. Dawn of the Dead 
The survivors are hiding in the storage room of the Gap at the local mall. Maybe the outbreak just started or maybe it's been going on for a few days. Either way, the mall has lots of supplies, but also lots of zombies and would be hard to secure. Groups of bandits and looters in the mall could also complicate things.

07. Night of the Living Dead 
The group starts in the dark in the forest, chased by zombies and separated. There should be chaos and the characters should have trouble telling the difference who is alive and dead (and hopefully attacking each other!). Eventually they reach a cabin, which will provide some relief and a moment to catch their breath, but their Alamo-style last stand is inevitable...

08. I'm on a Boat!
The survivors are trapped on a cruise ship at sea when the outbreak starts. Most of the life boats were launched during the initial confusion, but there are still hundreds of zombies left on board and the survivors need to fight their way out, though just getting off the ship is not necessarily the answer because they're at sea in the middle of nowhere.

09. LOST... with Zombies! 
The group survive a boat or plane crash on a tropical island, only to find it crawling with zombies. Is it the home of mad scientist? Lost military experiment? Maybe there was a resort full of people who turned? Either way, the group has to combat both the dangers of the island as well as the undead.

10. Trans-Siberian Zombie Train of Death
The group of survivors were on a train travelling through a remote part of Russia or elsewhere in Europe. The train broke down and is overrun with zombies, but there is nowhere else for the group to go. Do they try to make it in the harsh wilderness? Try to clear the train and get it running again? Of course, any town they reach will be crawling with the dead too, though they don't know that yet...

What do you think? Any others to add?

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Published on 10/22/2014 Written by 4 comments

Killing Characters is Fun!

We tried the Walking Dead-style Funnel last Friday and I think it went really well. It was a welcome change after my recent GM-related negativity - I personally had a ton of fun running it, and I hope the players did to.
The best part of it, that I didn't even think about when I came up with the idea, is the freedom it gave the players to try weird things and to play out horror-movie style tropes to full effect. See, I had assumed that the game would just be the characters lining up to be ground into paste, played for laughs as we described the gruesome ways they were torn to pieces as their dice betrayed them. While that certainly did happen, the coolest side effect of playing 4 "disposable" characters was that players developed scenes and situations that they don't normally get into during regular games.
I don't know about you, but most people I play with tend to be cautious, careful and calculating in their games. They have a strong connection to their character and try to keep them alive, ESPECIALLY during zombie-style games where they try to act the way someone SHOULD act during an apocalypse, being all practical and boring. 
Without that connection to their characters though, caution goes out the window and crazy shit happens. Out of 16 starting characters, 8 survived, but 3 of those belonged to the one guy who was playing fairly conservatively. The other three players jumped at the chance to act out all those ridiculous things that characters do in horror movies all the time:
  • Two characters killed each other fighting over supplies.
  • One guy got attacked while making out with another character.
  • One character literally ran away - she was so freaked out that she just took off in a panic and we never heard from her again. There was no roll to preclude this, the player just decided that it made sense for the character, and it did. But that's not something you would ever see in a normal game.
  • The biggest running gag was the two sociopaths who kept fighting and trying to kill each other. The noise from their bickering led to the group constantly being attacked and having to run for their lives (everyone else probably should have left them behind but it was too hilarious). In the end both dudes were ripped to pieces by zombies because they were both too stubborn to be the first guy to run away.
  • I was even a little saddened by the loss of one character, and not the one you would think. He was the total asshole of the group, but the player ran him perfectly, using the other characters and NPCs, stockpiling supplies and taking advantage of his charisma to get ahead. He was easily the best developed, smartest and most equipped character, and then he died in the last moments when he fell of a fucking roof and broke his neck.
  • One guy even got to make a heroic sacrifice, holding the door in the face of a hoard of zombies while the rest of the group ran to safety.

How many of those awesome deaths would have happened in a game where everyone is playing safe and calculating?

Another fun horror trope: Only half the character deaths were directly caused by zombies, and half of those were only caused by zombies because the characters were distracted trying to kill each other.
Just like in a zombie movie, the characters' worst enemies were themselves.

I seriously recommend playing a DCC Funnel-type of game in a zombie apocalypse setting. It's a spleen-ripping good time.

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Published on 10/16/2014 Written by 6 comments

The Walking Dead RPG - DCC Funnel-style!

Ah, October. Month of horror and spookiness. We have Halloween, autumn in full swing choking the life out of the world, the season premiere of The Walking Dead, Canadian Thanksgiving. It's a good time for wearing white sheets out in public.

But what's the Month of Spooks without some scary gaming to go along with it? I love horror-themed RPGs, and despite there being plenty of great ones out there, I keep trying to create my own. I was convinced that the d6 system was perfect for it for awhile, and have toyed with the idea of building a full on "D6 Horror" game, but recently my fancy has turned to the glorious world of Fate. I started to brainstorm for a Zombie Survival version of Fate, which would work perfectly fine except that the characters in Fate are purposefully built more competent and capable than average everyday joes. Obviously you can tweak Fate to make it work (you can make Fate work for anything) but what if there's a better way? A game where you can slaughter scores of characters as the zombie apocalypse unfolds around you and only the bravest, toughest and luckiest survive. Look at most zombie movies (or our current zombie benchmark, the afore-mentioned Walking Dead) - there is always a high body count in the beginning, and only a handful survive the early encounters. In The Walking Dead, those characters that survived the first couple of seasons have continued to survive, to the point where the death of a major character is now a big deal. They've become harder to kill. What kind of game follows that kind of progression?

DCC Funnel.

I'm sure I'm not the first person who realized this. The premise of Dungeon Crawl Classic's brilliant "funnel" system is that each player takes a bunch of 0-level normal humans and throws them into a dungeon situation. Those that survive (and there usually aren't many) "graduate" to level 1 and gain a character class and the powers that go along with it. I think this kind of setup is perfect for a zombie/horror survival setting. The world is falling apart around you, the dead are rising, and only the strongest are going to survive.

How would it work? Not that much differently than the current DCC funnel, just tweaked slightly to update it for the modern age.  Each player would get 3-4 characters with completely random attributes (standard 3d6, rolled straight) as well as hit points (1d4). Each character gets one or two random pieces of equipment and a random occupation. The occupation is important because it may imply special skills - a doctor or park ranger would have obvious benefits, while a waiter might be just shit out of luck. I've compiled a list of random occupations, whether you want to codify special skills for each one, or just use the GM's ruling on a case by case basis is up to you.

Some characters might also have a special knack for certain tasks (hitting with a certain weapon or performing certain skills, etc) but these are random and not every character even has them.

And that's it. Once each player has their characters, they are plopped into the adventure. Maybe they're holed up in a cabin and have to survive the onslaught of walking dead. Maybe they're in a shopping mall. Maybe they're trapped in a city with dwindling resources and have to fight their way out. Whatever sort of zombie movie cliche tickles your fancy, toss your players into it and let them fight it out. And let everyone enjoy the mindless slaughter of the innocents as your once-large band of survivors is whittled down to a small band of TRUE survivors.

Who will make it out? Maybe someone who got some lucky rolls and has a great AC bonus? Maybe you'll roll up someone with a really cool/useful occupation and his skills will be valuable enough that the whole party will try to protect him? Or maybe it will be a completely fluke, and you'll end up getting out with a dude with a 4 Strength and 1 hit point.

I came up up with some rough classes for the survivors to take. They're variations on the basic D&D classes but with a post-apocalyptic theme. There's the fighter-type class, a ranger, an expert (could be a thief or a anything else you wish, based on the mix of skills you pick) and a leader (kinda like a bard/cleric but without all the bullshit poetry and godliness). Feel free to tweak them or make up your own. Maybe you want a world with magic, so a wizard would be an appropriate option for your group.

Here's the link to the complete work-in-progress file. It obviously needs some work but hopefully you can see where I'm going with it. Any comments or suggestions are welcome!

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Published on 10/12/2014 Written by 0 comments

Happy Turkey Day, My Fellow Canadians!

Happy Thanksgiving to all our Canadian readers. Enjoy it while you can, before the poultry rises up to destroy us all and serve our roasted remains with stuffing and cranberry sauce.
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Published on 10/07/2014 Written by 2 comments

The 3 Stages of Gaming Life

I started playing D&D when I was 12 years old. I wrote a detailed story about my first days in gaming back in one of my very first posts on this site. Recent events in my gaming life have gotten me once again thinking about those early days long ago, and especially how it has led me to where I am today.

By my best estimates, I started gaming in the summer of 1992. I'm now 34, with 22 years of gaming in between (look, I can still do math!). I think I can safely break by gaming years down into three distinct "stages" (or "Ages" for you Tolkien folks).

1. The Golden Years (1992-1998)
Ah, the blissful freedom of youth. After I picked up D&D (AD&D 2e, to be precise), Marvel Super Heroes, Palladium's ROBOTECH and Rifts, Vampire the Masquerade and West End Games Star Wars all quickly followed, and pretty much consumed my junior high and high school years. All my other interests (guitar lessons, Boy Scouts, school choir, etc) fell by the wayside as I filled all of my free time with RPGs. We played several times a week, and any time we weren't playing I was making characters, monsters and running solo games. The margins of my school notebooks were covered with doodles of swords and wizards and orcs. This is around the time I also really started getting interested in writing, and of course 90% of what I wrote was fantasy fiction. All these years later I cannot conceive of how much time I spent wasted on this stuff. These days I cannot even fathom having so much free time as I did back then.

2. The Dry Years (1999-2009)
In 1999 I moved from my hometown in Newfoundland to the big city lights of Toronto for university and gaming dried up for awhile. To be fair, it wasn't completely absent from my life. My then-girlfriend (now wife) got into Vampire the Masquerade and I ran some solo adventures for her. There was a brief resurgence in the summers of '01 and '02 when I was working at Canada's Wonderland and we re-lived the glory days of youth playing D&D almost every day like nerdy teenagers again. But as the decade went on and people grew up and developed lives, time for gaming became scarce. RPG nights went from weekly to bi-weekly to monthly to a few times a year. Play-by-email became my only regular gaming fix. Probably not coincidentally, with less time to game I spent a lot more time writing, and finished like 8 novels during that period (I'm hoping you may be able to read one or two of them soon!). At the end of 2009 I moved from Toronto to Ottawa, leaving the last of my gaming friends behind, and it looked like RPGs would be completely lost to me.

3. The Rebuilding Years (2010 - present)
Unbelievably, despite now being a full-fledged grown-up (wife, kids, mortgage, car, office job, etc), my gaming has been on an upswing the last few years. At first I played with my in-laws - they lived nearby and it was relatively easy to get together for a game, though now our kids are getting to ages where it's a little more complicated to schedule. I went down to the local university to sit in on some Encounters and Living Forgotten Realms games during the height of 4th Edition. Writing on this blog has helped, because it keeps me interested and forces me to keep an eye on the online community. Finding the chance to play online via Roll20, Skype and Google Hangouts has been a huge opportunity, because it has allowed me to not only play with my buddies from Toronto, but to also get back in touch with high school friends I haven't spoken to in over a decade, AND I've met some new folks, too! Honestly, I don't know how I've found the time to do as much as I have, especially this past year (only sleeping 5 hours a night helps) and I have no idea how long it will last - I suspect with the second baby on the way that there will be another enforced lull in the near future. Still, if I have enough kids I'm hoping that in a few years I'll have enough bodies to fill my own gaming table and I'll start the Fourth Age - The Family Gaming Years.

I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, though. Hopefully I still have a few good years in the current stage. But it's funny the way life works, and how it changes. I often hear people describe their lives in the stages of money or kids or responsibility, I never thought about it in terms of gaming.

What about you, of faithful readers? How has the Passage of Time affected the ebb and flow of this, our most illustrious hobby for you?

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