Wednesday, 2 July 2014

GURPS Zombies

Without any shadow of a doubt, GURPS 4th edition is my favourite role-playing system. If I was stranded on a desert island and could only take one gaming system with me then that game would be GURPS 4th edition. Last year Steve Jackson Games announced that they would be releasing the GURPS Zombies supplement. Ever since then this has been the book I have been waiting for more than any other book. As soon as the hard backed book went on sale I ordered it from SJG. Suffice to say, my expectations for this supplement were very high.
So bearing in mind my love of GURPS and my obsession with all things undead, this is not going to be an unbiased review.
This 160 page supplement is split into five sections and I'll give a brief description of each section before giving my overall review of the book.
Chapter 1 is entitled "Getting to Know Your Zombies" and is the chapter that should be read by everyone. It explores the five Ws and one H (How, What, When, Where, Who and Why) of folkloric and fictional zombies, establishing terms and tropes used throughout the book. For GMs, it is a treasury of ideas. For players, it's a source of worries - what parts will the GM use? For casual readers, it's the part without complex game stats.
Chapter 2 is entitled "Victims and Killers" and is the chapter that is the most beneficial to players, as it gives advice on creating and equipping PCs. Usually in GURPS it is recommended that starting PCs are built on 100 points but in GURPS Zombies, the default starting cost for a Hardened Survivor (think Vampifan on Day One) is 150 points. Depending upon your setting you could add lenses worth an extra 50 points to create a Born Zombie Killer, a Combat Monster, a Holy Warrior, a Magician or a Superhero. Alternatively, at the other end of the scale, you could play a Screaming Victim for just 25 points. For those wanting to play the villain there are templates for a Zombie Master (150 points) and his Creepy Assistant (75 points).
Chapter 3 is entitled "Zombies!" which will be of most use to the GM. From this chapter the GM can choose zombie types or create his own. There are plenty of choices here and amongst the pregenerated zombie types are B-Movie Ghouls (your typical Romero type zombie), Constructs, the  Cursed, Fantasy Monsters, Infected, Infested, Necromantic Reanimates, Shattered Minds, Techno-Zombies and finally, Zombie Bosses. Under each category are a number of alternative types based upon the heading premise. By the way, the point cost for the basic B-Movie Ghoul is -351 points. It does have a LOT of disadvantages and as an individual is quite easy to kill. But beware hordes of them.
Chapter 4 is entitled "Zombies in Play" which may be of use to the players. Those who like to strategise might first review the mechanics governing how zombies find, attack and infect heroes, but much of this depends on GM's decisions, so it won't all be reliable information! GMs can use this chapter to learn how to use his chosen zombies.
Chapter 5 is entitled "Zombified Campaigns" and as you'd expect, teaches you what to expect in a Zombies Campaign. Casual readers will find this chapter a useful source for non-GURPS campaign ideas. They might also find chapters 2, 3 and 4 inspiring, but they pull no punches when it comes to rules and stats.
As always, with any GURPS supplement, the book ends with a list of inspirational films, books, comics, video games and tabletop games relevant to the subject of the book, in this case, zombies. Inevitably, these lists can only scratch the surface and no doubt you'll wonder why x was left in but y was not included.
What I most like about GURPS in general and this supplement in particular, is the amount of detail it goes into. If you so desire, you can create the most realistic kind of game setting imaginable with rules for everything... and I do mean everything! However, this level of detail is not for everyone. Some GMs and players prefer fast-moving games with an emphasis on Hollywood-style action and fight sequences. No problem there. Just choose the rules that best suit your play. The point is, you don't have to use every rule that is written. You can choose the level of complexity for your games. I played a hell of a lot of GURPS 3rd edition. As more and more supplements came out the basic rules began to crack. Flaws appeared. The rules sometimes contradicted one another and it was clear that a major overhaul was required and desperately needed. Steve Jackson listened and acted upon the criticisms. GURPS 4th edition is in my opinion, the pinnacle of role-playing. Every rule change that was made was a change for the better. I believe that GURPS 4th edition is as close to perfection as you can get. Yes, I am biased. I was a huge fan of GURPS 3rd edition, despite its flaws but I am an even bigger fan of GURPS 4th edition.
GURPS Zombies is the supplement I have been waiting for all my adult life. I said at the beginning that I had very high expectations of this supplement. Those expectations were not only met but surpassed. It is the little details that I love. To give you just one small example, tell me what other game system provides rules for the possibility of becoming infected by blood splatter from a zombie? Shoot a zombie in the head from point blank range and there is a good chance that you'll get hit in the face or hand by the zombie's blood. Cut off a zombie's head with a katana, for example, and the blood spray from the zombie's neck has to go somewhere, doesn't it? GURPS Zombies provides the rules for this possibility... but only if you want this level of detail. It is an optional rule and could just as easily be ignored. I often hear people criticise GURPS for being too complex. Well, yes, GURPS can be incredibly complex but only if you want it be that complex. It can also be as simple and as fast-moving as you want.
I was chatting with Joe/Zabadak just last week and I was raving on about how good GURPS Zombies was. He asked a question I'm sure many of you are also thinking and that is if I love GURPS so much, why aren't I still playing it? The simplest answer to that is that GURPS is designed for players, that's players plural. I am a solo gamer. I suppose I could adapt the rules for solo play and believe me, I am sorely tempted now that I have read GURPS Zombies. If any game system would make me switch my allegiance away from ATZ-FFO it would be GURPS 4th edition. Prep work would take some time as I'd need to create Team Vampifan as PCs, along with a cast of NPCs for cops, civilians, gangers and soldiers, etc. This would be time consuming but a lot of fun. I do have LOTS of experience in creating GURPS PCs and NPCs and I already have quite a number of contemporary NPCs that could easily slot into a GURPS Zombies campaign. The thing is that I like ATZ-FFO, despite its many flaws. I am both comfortable and familiar with it. Switching to GURPS 4th edition is not beyond the realms of possibility. This system puts right all of the faults that are inherent with the simple skirmish rules of ATZ. But what is holding me back right now is that switching systems will be a huge step for me to take. Do I have the time in my already busy hobby life to accept this challenge? Probably not but now that I have GURPS Zombies I can feel the stirrings of a seismic change in my gaming choices. All I can say at this moment is watch this space.
GURPS Zombies is a hard-backed book with black and white illustrations inside. It was written by Sean Punch, a GURPS veteran and stalwart of Steve Jackson Games. It costs $29.95 for the hard back book or $19.95 for the PDF version. Given my unbiased review of this book you probably think I'm going to award it a 10 out of 10 rating? Well, you'd be wrong! GURPS Zombies get my first 11 out of 10 rating! And, yes, it does deserve that score! Biased? You bet!

22 comments:

  1. As an ex gurps player like yourself I was very interested in your opinion of this supplement. I agree with you the rules can be as simple or complex as players and ref want. For me the best part of a gurps supplement is the campaigns section as they do tend to offer a variety including some you are unlikely to first think off as well as the typical ones.

    Thank you very much for this review very useful.

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    1. I'm glad you liked the review, Clint. There are just LOADS of good stuff in this supplement. i agree with you about the campaigns section.

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  2. How does it compare to other zombie-centric rpgs, like, say, Outbreak: Undead, Rotworld, All Flesh Must Be Eaten?

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    1. I haven't played or seen "Rotworld" Justin so i can't comment on that. I was very disappointed with "Outbreak: Undead" so this is FAR better. Although I have never played AFMBE I do have it and most of its supplements. It is a system I very much like as it reminds me of GURPS in many ways. I think if you like AFMBE you'll like GURPS Zombies and vice versa.

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  3. Having only encountered GURPS in its first incarnation (1st edition) as a rpg, our group was very undecided about it, however those that like GURPS, REALLY liked it and I appreciate your enthusiasm for it.
    As zombies tend to have fairly predictable choices of actions I would have thought it would be easier to play this solo against just zeds but I can see the problems with playing games other than survivours versus zombies. With your years of experience though I'm sure you could overcome any difficulties as you suggest.
    Enthusiasm for a dream should be pursued !

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    1. You make a very valid point about playing GURPS Zombies solo, Joe, and that is that zombies are very predictable creatures. Find live humans, eat live humans and infect live humans are all the actions required for most zombies. So adapting a GURPS Zombies campaign to solo play should not be as hard as adapting most other campaigns. You are right - i could overcome any difficulties. I know the system well enough to know what will work and what won't. Something both you and I would like to see in ATZ is more of a role playing element. GURPS can fulfil that role very easily.
      You have convinced me enough that i should indeed pursue my dream. Now that I have all the tools at my disposal it would be unforgivable not to use them. Thanks, mate!

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  4. Like yourself I'm a solo player. It does mean you're restricted as to rules

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    1. That's what I thought as well, Phil, but see my reply to Joe above. Solo play using GURPS is a possibility.

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  5. Sounds like you love GURPS. I'm sure you are more than capable of adapting it for solo play. I just hope the glasses are not too rose tinted. I for one am interested what the player v's player and more RPG style of the new Zombicide is going to be like.

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    1. When it comes to GURPS, Bob, I'm afraid my glasses are incredibly rose-tinted! I am biased and I'm happy to admit it. On the plus side, GURPS provides me with everything I need for a great gaming experience and that counts for a lott.

      Players vs players in Zombicide seems to be a natural progression for me. After all, it would be unrealistic to think there is only ever one group of survivors in the city where Zombicide is set.

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  6. I've been very curious about this book since I saw it on the shelves,
    My current group are tired of DnD type games and have been toying with the idea of getting a zombie RPG. After your review of Outbreak Undead I was set on AFMBE (which seems harder to find now) but im definitely gonna look more into Gurps now

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    1. Both AFMBE and GURPS are good choices, Dave, and both have a lot in common, especially in regard to character creation. Looking at this as objectively as I can I'd have to admit that there is little to choose between the two.

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  7. It does indeed sound as if there's a mass of detail in here. I guess the question you have to ask yourself is what balance you want in your games between role-playing and skirmishes with miniatures. I realise that these are not distinct entities, but there are differences of emphasis. For myself, I like a more traditional wargame but with a few role-playing elements; ATZ provides that very well :-) . I'm less interested in gaming the dynamics of human interaction, whether within a party or between separate groups - and that's what role-playing does best, I think.

    By the way, if a B-movie ghoul costs *negative* 351 points then how is it possible to build a force to any positive points value? You'd need a zombie master and 3 assistants for *each* zombie, just to break even! I must be missing something here, I think :-) .

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    1. Much as I like ATZ, I do miss the role playing element of gaming. I like to see interaction between PCs and NPCs. ATZ does a very good job for a set of simple skirmish rules but to be honest, I do miss the complexity of GURPS.

      Regarding zombies costing negative points, you are indeed missing the point. Their points cost does not have to match that of the PCs. In GURPS it is wrong to assume that the good guys and the bad guys must have equal points values. Take four Hardened Veterans built on 150 points each, giving them a total of 600 points and pit them against a horde of 100 zombies with a points total of -35,100 and suddenly the odds are stacked against the humans. As in most books, films and games a typical zombie's strength lies in how many there are. More zombies equal a greater threat. By the way, not all zombie types cost negative points. For example, the Techno-Zombie known as Soldier X costs 242 points per zombie. Now they are scary!

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  8. What if you would continue playing with ATZ-FFO rule set and would only take the bits that you really like from GURPS book? It looks like a treasure chest of ideas, so might as well use it as such.

    As for solo play, stop making excuses. Every single game can be played solo. Obviously people might "prefer" one side, but I found out there's nothing wrong with playing both sides of the game. Surely there's no surprises for the obvious reasons, but as you probably want to post an AAR after, playing yourself at least gives you chance to take it slowly and so on. But the rules really don't need any urgent tweaking in my opinion. Not that some changes aren't helpful, of course.

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    1. I don't think that mixing the two rules sets would work too well, Mathyoo. I'd much rather concentrate on one than cobble up a set of hybrid rules.
      The beauty of zombie gaming is that it lends itself to solo play far better than any other genre I can think of. Playing GURPS Zombies as a solo game should work very well. The more I think about it the more I want to do it. Thanks for your input, Mathyoo.

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  9. GURPS books are always a great read even once you've stop playing RPGs as I have.

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    1. This is so true, Robert. They really are a treasure trove of great ideas.

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  10. I have to admit Bryan I took more than a passing interest when we got this in store. I 'feels' like an old school expansion but that's a good thing and it's definitely got some great and well thought out elelments. ATZ is RPG lite and with a little thought, I think a transition into a more traditional RPG wouldn't be too difficult.

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    1. There is indeed, much to admire about this well-written supplement, Adam. I can see myself making the transition from ATZ to GURPS, but it's going to take some time.

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  11. I'll be following this. I used to play a lot of GURPS, but am now a solo-gamer more often than not. I'm curious as to how you will make this work. Thanks for putting it out there!

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    1. Thanks, Ironmonk. It's always nice to hear from GURPS fans. I'll keep you (and everyone else) updated on how I'm going to make this new campaign work.

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