Zombie Mondays Geeksagogo spoke with Ivan Van Norman, the marketing manager of Hunters Books, about the pen-and-paper roleplaying game Outbreak: Undead.
Van Norman, lead developer Crystal Rosa and community
manager Alex Huilman founded the company after attending college together after asking themselves the question "what would you do in a zombie outbreak?”
They started the book in 2008 and released it at GenCon two years later. GenCon representatives gave the company its Marketing Fellowship Award.
“We then proceeded to win a "Judges Choice" at the ENies in 2011, and have been making games since then,” said Van Norman.
He summed up the company’s mission statement as follows -- "Our company strives to create games that are fun, unique, and something we as gamers want to play. Every decision and ounce of effort for our titles have been about bringing you a flexible, well-designed, and most importantly exciting RPG experience."
Geeksagogo: Why a zombie game?
Van Norman: Back in 2008, when we started to work on the game, we often asked ourselves 'what is your zombie survival plan?' it was a common question in our college and we asked it often. When we went out to discover if there was a game that could help us with this, we couldn't really find anything. At the time, AFMBE was out of print (soon to be re-launched by Eden the same year we launched), Dead Reign was just an offshoot of the Palladium system and didn't really tackle 'modern survival' issues at all, and Dystopia Rising was a LARP. Around this time is also when Max Brook's popular 'Zombie Survival Guide' was released and we decided if there wasn't one out there. We should make it!
Geeksagogo: What is the appeal of the genre?
Van Norman: Someone at a Panel at SDCC said it best "Zombies are still the only 'monster' in American Subculture that is still 100% perfectly fine to kill." We've humanized a lot of Monsters over the years, and we've tried it a few times with zombies (warm bodies), but it was primarily done in parody. A zombie is still the 'shell' of what a human being was, which the source of what its fear is, and what will always make it impossible to sparkle in the sunlight.
The Genre is still fresh because it’s often being re-invented. It always comes down to stories of "SURVIVAL" however, which is why we think Outbreak: Undead is so unique. The style of opponents are constantly changing but at the end of the day it’s always about making sure YOU come out alive.
Geeksagogo: What differentiates your game from All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Dead Reign and Dystopia Rising?
Van Norman: Outbreak Undead, as I mentioned before is about Survival, we make an effort to distinguish it as the "Zombie Survival SIMULATION RPG' because we favor realism and real to life scenarios.
I love AFMBE and the unisystem, but it has always been about Hack n Slash and 'tallying up the body count' in that kind of world (which is great for IP's like "Army of Darkness"), but it doesn't help the Army Sergeant who wants to take his friends and walk them through the apocalypse putting THEIR skills to use in the field. Likewise Dead Reign’s roots are based in a Fantasy System, and while the Modern port is fine as a percentile system it doesn't make an effort to cater to the genre and its unique challenges at all.
Dystopia Rising is a super fun LARP, I’ve played more than my fair share at conventions. But it is a LARP, which means while it does make an effort to 'turn your skills and abilities' into something tangible, at the end of the day your are still shooting Nerf and utilizing more 'video game' style rules then actual survival techniques.
Everyone has their place, and we just wanted to fill the gap that was left with the question 'what is your zombie survival plan? And how are you going to test it?'
Also, to date beyond the Fantasy Flight "Apocalypse" systems (which is an import from a Spanish title), we are the only one who allow you to 'create yourself as a character'. Even then The Apocalypse system only has a 'bid' system you use with dice, while we have a full blown personality test!
Geeksagogo: Could you briefly describe the game mechanic used?
Van Norman: OU is a percentile based system that uses Degrees of Success (DoS) and Degrees of Failure (DoF) to determine the range of basic actions. Players run 'missions' to complete certain objectives (like Raid, Search and Rescue, Scout, Cleanse Zone, etc.) pretty much anything can be made into a mission. Once a mission has been completed, players earn SP or (survival points) which count for both experience, and potential resources that are vital to the players survival. At the same time, they are generating RISK with their actions (shooting, going into dangerous zones, etc.) which is then a currency that GM's can then use to play "Hazards" to make the players missions more difficult.
It's designed to be a very free zone 'sandbox' style game. But campaigns that are more familiar with people who play RPG's can still be played. They just involve making a set of 'pre-set' missions that players then trigger based on the story being told by the GM.