Monday, July 6, 2009

Zombie (Action!) Cinema

Zombie Cinema!

We broke out a new-to-us story RPG this week, the small press Zombie Cinema by Arkenstone Publishing, and had an absolute blast. I say it's a "story" RPG which is new ground we've been testing the waters with lately. Spirit of the Century counts in this department, but even there you still have a semblance of mechanics to aid the game. In Zombie Cinema, there's scant mechanics, if at all, and it's really all storytelling. Since Andy has already written this up on his site a couple of days back, I'll spare you the details.

From Little Lead Heroes:

The main piece is a zombie track, which dictates the amount of involvement zombies are allowed to have in the story. Initially, there are only rumors of zombies, without any direct interaction. As the black zombie pawn advances, they appear more often, more violently and in more places, until civilization melts down at the end of the track. Each player has a pawn on this track, too. At the end of the track, just past the zombpocalypse, is the survivor's escape. Once they move their pawn off the track, they have survived. If the zombie pawn is ever in their own space, they are eaten by zombies.

That's the primary mechanic. The active player sets the scene, and then all players freely narrate the actions of their character and any secondary characters. After a few minutes, a conflict between player interests is developed. The players roll a d6 against each other. The winner gets to essentially be GM for the conflict of the resolution, and players on the winning side have their pawns advance towards the end of the zombie track. The losing side have their pawns dropped backwards towards the zombies. In the event of a tie, the conflict is unresolved as the zombies interrupt, and the zombie pawn moves forward. It also includes three decks of character idea cards that you use to create characters.

For the game we played, there were three of us; Andy, Chri3, and myself but the game could support up to three more players. Character creation is incredibly simple, you draw one card from each of three decks and that gives you your motivation, your demeanor, and your profession or station in life. Andy drew a dastardly combo, ending up with a physically handicapped, mentally ill individual that was dependent on others. Wow, let that one soak in for a minute. Next up was Chri3 who drew an independent woman who is naive in life but has gained access to knowledge the general public doesn't know. Since he wasn't given a direct profession, he opted for an Agent Scully / Agent Starling type character. For my character I drew the 'loved ones' motivation, the 'temperamental' demeanor, and the 'law enforcement' profession where I decided to go with a local officer.

I am really glad Andy took notes as we played, or else this story recap wouldn't be possible. Once we got the ball rolling with the game, it really took off. Even if you're not the most creative person in the world, it's easy enough to frame the scenes and ad-lib to the action and conflict, sometimes to great effect.

I'm going to edit the story below ever-so-slightly from Andy's original to give it more of a fiction feel than a game report. The names will (not creatively) be Rémy for Andy's character, Agent Scarling for Chri3' character, and since I used a pic of Stallone in Copland, my character will be Sheriff Freddy Heflin. Here you go, enjoy!

The scene opens on a warm fall day at Shady Hills Mental Institution and Rehabilitation Center for the Criminally Insane, or SHMIRCCI for short. Officer Heflin is dropping off a prisoner for the weekend, while Agent Scarling is working on connecting network equipment to tie in to the FBI's database of the criminally insane. Rémy, a severely handicapped patient somehow makes it out of his room, screaming about the "alien invasion" and after bashing an orderly on the head with his crutches, makes a break for the front door, escaping to the wilderness beyond. Sheriff Heflin, his patience having run out by now sets his K-9 unit after the escaped patient, and then takes his time about getting it back off before returning Rémy to the institution, he now needs to be treated for several dog bite lacerations. Agent Scarling later tours the institution to check on the injuries of the mental patient. Using her as a distraction, Rémy tries (most unsuccessfully) to palm keys off the orderly, whereby Sheriff Heflin spots this, and breaks the patient's arm with a night stick to force him to drop the keys. Later, Heflin would claim he thought the patient was "going for a gun".

The next scene opens several hours later at the Sacred Mercy General Hospital, where Rémy is being properly treated for his broken arm. A distraught mother has brought her sick child, bitten by a supposed homeless man, into the waiting room. Sheriff Heflin is there with his HR representative to file a report on his use of excessive violence on the mental patient and the captain wants Heflin to issue a formal apology. Agent Scarling is in the morgue investigating the recent outbreak, when a corpse appears to wake up. She blazes away at it with her service pistol, a Glock 23, as the sick child in the waiting room turns violent leaping upon the HR representative. In the chaos Sheriff Heflin and Agent Scarling flee the hospital and the mental patient, Rémy, cannily hides himself in the laundry chute.

A week later we see Sheriff Heflin in his civilian clothes after being put on administrative leave. He is at home loading his family into the station wagon and tying off the last pieces of luggage to the roof, they are preparing to get out of town. Rémy inexplicably shows up in the neighborhood and hobbles over to the lawman, asking to be taken along so the "aliens" don't get him. Heflin tries to stop him, shouting obscenities and threats, but his wife and kids are sympathetic and don't want to leave the 'crazy cripple' behind to be killed. However, during the ensuing argument, the zombie hordes show up. Heflin blazes away with his service revolver in their direction, accidentally clipping Rémy on the shoulder. Seeing the zombies close in, Heflin orders his family to drive off and he would meet up with them at their vacation home rendezvous by the lake later.

Agent Scarling and four of her agents come around the corner of the house across the street, adding their gunfire to the zombie horde, but seeing Heflin's family starting to drive off their tactics switched to trying to commandeer the family station wagon for their own needs. Not only does Sheriff Heflin direct his attention to the federal goons, but Rémy, in his deranged and clouded thinking, also realizes that what the agents are doing is wrong and joins the sheriff. There is a stalemate between the agents, the zombies, the handicapped, and the family wagon, then suddenly, a zombie throws itself on the back of Rémy, biting him in the shoulder and raking its dirty claws across the face of the mentally ill man.

Rémy rises up from the ground, his leg braces and crutches no longer needed, in his undead state all of his handicapped disabilities were replaced with unnatural strength and agility. The forearms of the newly made zombie became swollen and split open, with tendrils ligaments and muscles wrapping themselves around the arm-braced crutches, using them as extended weapons. Sheriff Heflin is able to shove the Rémy-zombie off for a moment long enough to allow the sheriff to get in the driver's seat of the wagon. As Agent Scarling pleads with the sheriff to take her with them, the sheriff speeds away down the street and to safety, leaving behind a tangle and confused mess of agents, zombies, and one mega-mutant Rémy zombie. Wielding his crutches like sinew launched missiles, the Rémy-zombie began skewering and slaughtering the agents left and right. In the chaos, Agent Scarling darts across a lawn and hurls herself through the front bay window into an empty home. Shaken and in shock, she frantically checks her injuries, wondering if any of them were caused by the zombies. For the time being she is safe, but horribly alone and without any help or backup.

Weeks later we find Agent Scarling leading a rag-tag group of survivors making their way on foot to the nearest large city where they hope to find an aid camp. One night, one of the rednecks in the group takes exception to Scarling being such an independent woman and the leader of their group. He tries to take advantage of her, and unable to do so he tries to kill her, again unsuccessfully. He does manage to wrest her weapon away while she flees into the night. Knowing the redneck had cronies in the group, Scarling dared not return.

The next day, hungry and thirsty, Scarling finds an abandoned service station on a secluded, back country road. As she approaches, hoping for food and water, a deer emerges from the underbrush. It is acting erratically, and is missing an eye and looks to have a severe case of mange, with its hide being worn down to the bone in places. It scrapes at the road with a hoofless leg, makes an unearthly growl, and charges Scarling. A shot from a hunting rifle rings out, hitting the kill zone on the deranged deer cleanly. The bullet doesn't down the zombie deer, but does drive it away. Scarling, wounded in the charge by the zombie deer's antlers, meets her savior, an older woman with a hunting rifle.

A month later, the winter snows are in full and we find a remote cabin high in the mountains. A steady stream of smoke emits from the stone chimney and fresh cut fire wood rests in large piles on the covered front porch. Several small animal skins are stretched and left to cure there as well. The older woman and Scarling have been living off the land with a near sense of security and safety even. That is, until a rogue unit of National Guard show up, leading a group of chained civilians with them. Scarling and the huntress had their fears confirmed as one of the guardsmen murders one of the chained civilians in cold blood. The two women have no choice but to depfnd themselves, and open fire on the guardsmen. As the older woman picks off the rogue soldiers with precision, Scarling flips over the couch and takes up a shotgun. The last guardsman busts through the front door, but is swiftly taken down by the waiting Agent Scarling.

Scarling and the older woman join with the prisoners of the National Guard, and add many weapons and a military Humvee to their inventory. The new band heads further north, hoping the extreme cold will destroy, or at least slow down, the zombies. Along the way, the Humvee experiences engine trouble, and as they struggle to get the Humvee started shambling shapes appear in the distance. Unable to get the Humvee started , Agent Scarling and the huntress grab supplies and leave, a few of the civilians go with them, but one stays back tries to get the Humvee started again. In the distance, Agent Scarling hears his screams in the distance.

Days later, Scarling and the huntress are on their own again, trekking north, cross country through the snow on foot. The cold and snow apparently is not affecting the zombies at all. At one point Scarling and the huntress are trying to cross a frozen lake, hoping their to have thrown off their trail to the dogged zombie pursuers. Halfway across they realize they were followed. Looking to the snow covered bank in the distance, the silhouettes of the leafless trees black against the slate gray sky, humanoid shapes emerge. As the two women hurry across the ice, its surface begins to crack. As more and more zombies emerge from the woods onto the ice, their sheer numbers promising to collapse the thin ice altogether.

Agent Scarling knows they aren't going to make it as dozens and dozens of zombies shamble out onto the ice. She grips a hand grenade salvaged from the guard, and as she and the huntress grip the grenade together, Scarling pulls the pin, and throws the grenade into the thick of the oncoming zombies. The explosion seals the fate of the zombies...and the two women. As the huntress slips under the water, Agent Scarling is trapped on a large chunk of drift ice and closes her eyes, succumbing to the cold forever.


  1. Awesome write up, this sounds like it was a lot of fun. Did the Sherrif make it to safety then?

  2. Thanks! The Sheriff (my character) got off the board pretty early on, surviving the game. The creative juices have to flow for the game to really shine, but a lot of my success came down to winning challenging on some lucky d6 rolls.

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