Hide Yo’ Brains, Hide Yo’ Brainpans! – Book Review of Outbreak: Undead

In June of last year, my players asked me to run a zombie game for them. I adapted the Pathfinder rules to accomodate that kind if game and I was rewarded with three really good sessions of gaming. However, I felt like the game wasn’t sustainable, which is why it only lasted three sessions. What should have happened, had we wanted to continue with a zombie-themed game would have been for us to have multiple zombie scenarios to play. If that’s what you’re looking for, then Outbreak: Undead might be something that you want to check out.

Outbreak: Undead strives to answer one question at the outset: What would happen if you got caught in a zombie apocalypse? To begin with, you’d need to know what you are capable of, in game terms. Outbreak accomplishes that by steering you towards their SPEW-AI Character Generation system. SPEW is an acronym for Strength, Perception, Empathy and Will, the four stats that Outbreak: Undead uses. The character creation system is designed to give you an idea of what your own capabilities would be in terms of the game system. It was collaboratively designed with help from the psychology department at Chapman University and should be fairly accurate, assuming you answer the 40 questions honestly. In case you’re curious, I’m Str: 24, Perc: 28, Emp: 27, Will: 25.

Beyond the base stats that you are given by the the SPEW-AI character generator, you also get bonuses based on the profession that you have. If you’re playing yourself, you check in the book and find out what your actual, real-life profession gives you, if any. The best professions to have, in game terms, are those that deal with emergency situations on a regular basis, such as Firefighters and Policemen. These professions also get access to the best gear in the game such as higher-powered weapons and useful supplies. On top of the professions, there are also skills that you choose, which will allow you to more accurately reflect any special training you have had.

Of course, this is only if you’re playing yourself. It’s also completely possible to build characters for the system and play at the profession you wish. Additionally, you can easily adapt things and play in any time period that you wish. The book has stats for every kind of equipment that you can think of, as well as vehicles and supplies, so if you’re done reenacting Dawn of the Dead or or Dead Rising, then you can take your game to Medieval Europe or Feudal Japan.

But what about the zombies? Much like the equipment and the and character options, there are any number of different types of zombies that you can use. If you want them to be Romero slow or 28 Days Later fast, Juju zombies or Resident Evil-type viral zombies, you have all of those options and more at your disposal.

The book itself is laid out as if it were the journal of a survivor. This is where one of my issues with the game comes up. The idea is an awesome one and, at first glance, it seems like a really authentic-seeming way to present the game information, especially as the text is interspersed with photos and artwork that really help to promote the appropriate feel. However, trying to read the pseudo-handwriting font can get really hard on the eyes. As well, what would usually be a numbered table in a regular RPG book becomes a fake sticky note or taped on piece of paper. This would make it pretty difficult to find the appropriate piece of information if you’re in a crunch during a game.

Outbreak: Undead is somewhat unique amongst RPGs in that it is completely independently published. Hunters Books and Apparel published the book, as well as a line of (you guessed it) apparel to support the game. This makes the entry price for the book at a little higher than you would usually find ($45 for a hardcover, all grayscale book) but I think that given the company is doing all of the work themselves, I think it might be worth the price to support them.

Overall, the book is pretty cool and it seems like the game would be a lot of fun, especially if zombies are your bag.

Final Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars. The font and the niche market for the game brings the score down a bit. Still, it’s definitely worth taking a look at.

[tags]rpg, rpgs, role playing games, zombies, reviews, review[/tags]

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