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Unread 15th of May, 2014, 23:11
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Tiny Zombie [GM]

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Thoughts required on survival horror rpg system

Below is a system that a friend and myself have been using to play our tabletop zombie survival games. So far, it's worked very well, but I wanted to find out what you guys thought of it. We've used the characteristics/Survival Point designators from a game called 'Dead of Night', but I think that's where the similarities between the two systems ends.

Below is a very basic summary of the system:

Each character has eight characteristics, split into four pairs; these characteristics are:

Identify / Obscure
Persuade / Dissuade
Escape / Pursue
Assault / Protect

Each pair has 10 points split between the two characteristics (meaning that a characteristic can have a minimum of 1 point, and maximum of 9).

The system is simple: whenever a player is told to test against a characteristic, he rolls 1d10 and tries to equal, or roll less than, the characteristic's value. Eg. A survivor has a characteristic pairing of ASSAULT 6 / PROTECT 4; whenever he tries to attack or cause damage to someone/something, he has to roll 1-6 on a d10; whenever he tries to protect/defend himself or someone else from harm, he has to roll 1-4 on d10.

At the end of each chapter in the game, a player can make a suggestion as to how his character is changing/learning/adapting. If the justification makes sense, the player can change a pairing's value by ONE point. Eg. If the above survivor spent more time with his guns and less time training himself to evade, then he could change his above pairing to ASSAULT 7 / PROTECT 3; alternatively, he could have lowered ASSAULT to 5 and brought PROTECT up to 5, showing how he's become a more balanced combatant.

In addition to characteristics, each character begins the campaign with 5 Survival Points. These points represent luck, fatigue, mental state, etc.: every little thing that keeps them alive aside from outright skill. Whenever a character FAILS a characteristic check IN A LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION, then he loses a Survival Point; if he loses all of his Survival Points and then fails another check IN A LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION, then he dies.

At the end of each chapter, every character gains 1 Survival Point. This is the only time that Survival Points increase - as you can imagine, they're a very important commodity.

I'll give you an example of a scene:

Two survivors have entered into a convenience store in order to stock up on some much needed supplies. The survivors state that they're making IDENTIFY checks to find useful gear. The first survivor (IDENTIFY 7 / OBSCURE 3) makes the check; the second (IDENTIFY 4 / OBSCURE 6) does not.

Because the above is not a life or death situation, survivor two does not lose any of his Survival Points - however, he fails to find anything useful before the next part of the scene takes place.

The moans of the undead alert both survivors to the appearance of four zombies, swaying their way through the front door. It's time to bail. The GM announces that this is now a life or death situation - and will remain such until the GM decides otherwise.

Each player must decide what characteristic to test against and why:

Survivor one states that he's drawing his revolver (5 bullets remaining) from his pant pocket and firing at the approaching zombies. The GM asks him how many of the zombies he's going to target with his check: the player can fire once or up to as many rounds as he could realistically squeeze out; if he succeeds, then each bullet will mean that a zombie has been dropped; but if he fails, then all bullets risked will be lost with no benefit.

The player says that he'll target two zombies, expending two of his five remaining bullets. He rolls against his characteristic (ASSAULT 5 / PROTECT 5) and succeeds. The GM describes how the bullets hit the two undead in the head, throwing them to the ground, motionless; there's now two zombies left, and survivor one has 3 rounds remaining.

Survivor two states that, since she is weaponless, she will try to hide behind a nearby counter to avoid being detected: the player makes a OBSCURE test... but fails. The GM describes how the young woman's quick movements to cover draw the attentions of the remaining zombies, who change course and make a beeline right toward her. The survivor's Survival Points drop from 3 to 2.

In the new round, survivor one decides to keep firing, targeting both zombies. He makes another ASSAULT check, but this time fails: he not only loses a Survival Point (new total of 4), but also 2 of his bullets. He now has one left.

Survivor two is in a dangerous predicament. In desperation, she snatches up a coat hanger and tries to stab it into the eye of the nearest zombie (melee weapons don't run out of ammo, but can only target one zombie each round, unless otherwise stated). The player makes an ASSAULT check (ASSAULT 3 / PROTECT 7) but fails: the GM explains that the hanger burrows into the zombie's eyeball, but does not go deep enough to pierce the brain. The zombie lunges and grabs the survivor, wrestling her to the ground as it tries to bite her: she now has 1 Survival Point left.

Survivor one fires his remaining bullet at the zombie that is still standing: his check is successful, and the zombie drops. The survivor is now without ammo, but his Survival Points remain at 4.

Survivor two desperately fights to get the zombie away from her, and tests her PROTECT characteristic in order to shove it away with her feet: she succeeds, throwing the creature from her so forcefully that the GM says it catches the back of its head on the counter. Hard. It stops moving, and the two survivors hold their breathes.

The GM says that the life or death situation is now over.

Not eager to risk their lives any further, both survivors grab the gear they managed to secure and run from the scene.

In the above system, the GM only rolls one kind of dice: the Horde Die.

Each area where zombies are present is assigned a Horde Die, which can be as low as d2 or go as high as d12 (in some rare areas, they can even stretch to d20 or d100!). At some pre-determined point, the GM will roll the Horde Die to determine how many zombies arrive to hunt the survivors; but until the die is rolled, it has the potential to be upgraded each time the survivors do something that will draw more attention to themselves.

Eg. The two survivors in the above example are headed back to their safe house, but in order to do so they have to travel through streets which are likely to be home to the undead. As a former residential area (home to a fair few people), it had a base Horde Die of d10; but because they have recently fired of the revolver, the die is upgraded to a d12. When the GM deems it fitting, he'll roll the d12 to determine how many zombies are encountered; if THAT encounter lasts long enough, and the survivors keep drawing attention to themselves (shouting, shooting, etc.), then the Horde Die (d10) will be upgraded and rolled again, with more zombies arriving.

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