Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Eric Bloat’s Zombie Hack RPG

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Sometimes, a little At is all you need. 

Back in the 80s, I ran the first zombie horror game I’d ever attempted. The genre wasn’t omnipresent at the time, the Romero films were mostly what we had available. I used the Chill RPG from Pacesetter as my base rules. We had fun. I never once imagined a day when there would be not one but several zombie-themed rpgs out there to choose from, never mind the mass popularity the subject matter now enjoys. Chill did a fine job, but I was saddled with a great deal of extraneous material I didn’t need. In short, I really could have used a copy of Zombie Hack.

Zombie roleplaying games can be as complex or as simple as the GM like. I tend to favor the latter: this is high fatality roleplaying. Campaigns will likely be short. I don’t need a huge rules set to work things out. Even if you are going for a long “Walking Dead” style game, the list of casualties is going to run high. So while you could have chapters covering detailed weapons lists, skills, classes, vehicles, and so forth, you really don’t need them. Because this is more like one of those old quarter eating arcade games where the whole point is to see how long you can last before you die.

Zombie Hack manages to occupy a single slender booklet, less rules crunch than even the original White Box rules upon which it is very loosely based. The system uses an extremely simple DC based system to resolve actions. Initiative is a roll vs. Dex. Roll lower, you go before the monsters. Roll higher, you go after. I really like this and will probably import it into my other D20-based games. Character generation is simple, and the stats are the same standard six that D&D has used from the beginning. Character types are broken down into the most standard found in the genre. Fixer, Leader, Scavenger, Slayer, Survivalist, and Tracker are your options. Basic damage is based on class. Each class has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. However, these clearly defined roles all suggest identities that the characters would evolve into after an outbreak had occurred. While Zombie Hack does not have any sort of zero-level funnel ala DCC RPG, it certainly is begging for one and would be simple enough to implement.

The rules do give the GM the basis for handling any situation on the fly, if he’s both skilled and creative. Note: I would not recommend this or any other extremely rules-lite system to a novice Game Master. But really, the stars of the Zombie Hack are, well, zombies. And Bloat has really done a fine job of covering all the bases. All bases from the primal Romero Blue Meanies to the Walking Dead groaners and even the speed demons from 28 Days Later. They’re all here. We even have the disgusting talking zombies from Return of the Living Dead, if you really want to screw your players. (Click on the link, this game is a bargain on PDF!)

For the skilled GM, the Zombie Hack offers everything you actually need for running this genre of RPG. It’s fast, simple, deadly, and highly affordable.

Go check it out.

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