Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Outbreak: Undead RPG rulebook

This book review is something of a departure for me. Outbreak: Undead is not a novel but a role-playing game rulebook. The idea of taking a zombie skirmish game like ATZ to the next level, i.e. a full on role-playing game is something that intrigues me. When I first saw Outbreak: Undead I thought that this ought to be the ultimate zombie apocalypse RPG. The book itself looks impressive. It is hard-backed and runs to a whopping big 452 pages. The blurb on the back cover states, "Outbreak Undead is a Zombie Survival Simulation RPG that is not only fun but an essential step in surviving the Undead. This book provides the most dramatic, effective and above all, realistic means in which to (safely) simulate the events of a zombie uprising and try your chances at survival."
However, I was immediately on my guard when I opened the book. The main body of text is presented as hand-written notes on lined note-paper. Yes, it is different and it gives the book a unique feel but I was not impressed by this format.
The back of the book lists the following highlights of the game -
"A simple and unique percentile based game system.
Use of everyday items as weapons against the undead.
Endless scenario types that can form missions from any and all existing zombie lore. 
Easy to use charts to customise outbreak scenarios for players of all levels of experience.
Dynamic and realistic rules including factors such as "Panic," "Pain" and "Empathy."
Character templates for all survivor archetypes: firemen, military personnel, civilians and more!
Even the ability to play yourself as a character!"
The core mechanics of the game is a percentile system. Rolling lower than or equal to the target number is a success. Each 10 you roll higher or lower equates to a degree of success or failure, so if you needed a 53 or less to succeed and you scored 13 or less, you'd have four degrees of success. However, bonuses and handicaps are listed as levels, with each level representing 5%. So, a level 2 handicap would give you a -10% penalty. Hmm, what did it say about "a simple and unique" system?
Characters are built on four primary attributes - Strength, Perception, Empathy and Will to give you the SPEW system. Well, that put me right off for a start! Again, these are percentile based with average scores being in the 16-30 range. Yes, your attributes do start out very low. You add character type, skills, traits and special abilities to round out your character. An example of character creation would have been a great help but none is provided. Indeed, this is a flaw throughout the book - a lack of examples of game play.
The chapter on basic gameplay follows. Then come the rules for zombies, which features various types of zombie, some of which computer gamers will recognise. In a book of this size, I was expecting to see a lot more zombie types. Rules for weapons, equipment, vehicles and combat follow. No real complaints here apart from the comabat rules which need more examples of gameplay than are presented.
With a book this size I would have expected the proofreading to be impeccable. It isn't! The book is littered with spelling mistakes and typos. The most serious error occurs in the chapter on scenarios and game missions. The page numbers go 386, 387, 388, 391, 392, 389, 390, 395. 396, 393, 394, 397, 398, 399 and then carries on normally. That is unforgivable!
There are lots of charts to refer to when (if) you do play the game but they are spread thoughout the book. Why couldn't they have had a section at the back of the book with all of the relevant charts in one place? Gameplay will be seriously interrupted as you search through the book to find the chart you want. Remember, this book is 452 pages long!
I really wanted to like this book. I was hoping for the ultimate zombie apocalypse RPG but this most definitely is not it. I came away from Outbreak: Undead desperately disappointed. The basic game mechanic is clunky and given the low starting attributes of your character(s) you'll find yourself failing more rolls than succeeding. The artwork is very poor, but that is a minor quibble compared to the book's many other faults. The three things that I least liked about these rules were the lack of examples of character creation and gameplay (there are some, but not nearly enough), the absence of all the charts collected in one easy to find place, and the appalling proofreading. If you are looking for an excellent zombie apocalypse RPG I would recommend All Flesh Must Be Eaten. My second choice would be GURPS, which covers just about any genre you can think of. Also, GURPS Horror for the 4th edition rules has finally been released and I'll be reviewing it as soon as I finish reading it. Sadly, I can only give Outbreak: Undead a 2 out of 10 rating. Even sadder, I paid £33.99 for it. Money wasted!

19 comments:

  1. Sorry you feel the money was wasted. I wish the book had lived up to your expectaions. I for one am realy grateful for this revview as it means I will not be tempted to part with my hard earned for this RPG> I am on the other hand a Fano of GURPS, but much prefer the simpler TFT from which Gurps Grew.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If my monetary sacrifice means that my followers heed my warning then that's a job well done.

      Clint, you're showing your age if you can remember TFT!

      Delete
    2. Remember TFT, I still have everything SJG published for it. Yes I am older than Gods donkey!

      Delete
    3. That has to be one of the pricier RPGs I've seen. Ouch for the price. Double ouch for the quality.

      Delete
    4. It certainly is pricey, David, which made my disappointment with the rules deeply felt!

      Delete
  2. I picked up a PDF of this around Christmas time from RPGGeek, although I have to admit I was more intrigued in the graphic layout/presentation than the rules and how they try to pull you into the game as a character.

    I know a many publishers will now include access to a PDF version along with the printed copy. Although it wouldn't fix everything that bothers you, you would have access to print off copies of charts (that you would still have to track down).

    The only fix that I noticed in my copy was that the page numbers area actually correct :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, Russ, I'm glad to hear that your PDF version had the pages numbered correctly. I won't be after a PDF copy to print out the charts and tables as this is a game that I will never play.

      Delete
  3. That's a bummer. I has heard about this game on a Zombie Podcast and thought it sounded cool- obviously I will give it a wide birth. Thanks for the review and heads up though- just a shame your our of pocket.
    My advice- Stick it on Ebay and make some of your money back.

    We used Basic Role Playing rules for our mini RPG Campaign and it worked rally well- It's the Chaoseum riles used in Call of Cthulu, but adapted into a generic RPG rules, like GURPS. The advantage over GURPS is the built in SAN rules for going mad, dealing with shock etc. I would recomend them as a PA zombie rules.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sticking this on e-Bay sounds like good advice, Rob. Anyone want to make me an offer and cut out the middleman?

      The new GURPS Horror supplement have comprehensive rules for Sanity loss and madness, so I'll stick with them. I really am a GURPS fanboy! That said, for a zombie role-playing game, All Flesh Must Be Eaten takes some beating.

      Delete
  4. Interesting sounds like its quite statistic heavy and a bit of a chore tbh.

    Not my cup of tea prefer low key skirmish stuff to rpg heavy things. thanks for the honest review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't get me wrong, Simon, I love zombie skirmishing with the ATZ system, but if ever I got a few players together (seems most unlikely) I'd love to take it to the next level and run a zombie themed RPG campaign. As for my honest review, I believe in calling a spade a spade. If a product is good, I'll praise it but if it sucks, I won't sugar-coat my review. I tell it as it is!

      Delete
  5. Sounds like one to avoid, thanks for the heads up Bryan.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joe, this is definitely one to avoid. Keep your money for something worth buying!

      Delete
  6. As others have said Bryan, thanks for the review and shame about the waste of money :(

    I'll certainly stay away from this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would be the sensible thing to do, Colin.

      Delete
  7. If anyone doubts you, please direct them to the company's website to download the Quick Start Guide http://outbreakundead.com/DLC.html

    It really doesn't get any better than what is offered in that pdf.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kelly. I really wish that I knew about the Quick Start Guide much earlier.

      Delete