We recently chatted with Oliver Shead, the founder of Immersion Studios, about the company's zombie-themed tabletop RPG 'Infected.'
Q: When was the game released and how was it developed?
Infected was first released in August 2015 as a Kickstarter project. This was after about 5 years of comprehensively play testing the system and testing it in a number of different settings. The rules are universal, and were designed to enable gamers to play any sort of game they wanted, with it also being fairly realistic. During the Kickstarter, we had a lot more exposure and got excellent feedback from backers. This enabled us to streamline the system, and refine our setting. The PDF of the book was released earlier this year, while the hardcopy is currently being shipped to backers as we speak. It's been a heck of a road, but I'm glad we've had time to test it in many different fields and with a lot of different audiences - it's certainly made the system and setting much stronger.
Q: A description of the game indicates that it emphasizes human conflict as much as zombies. Would you care to elaborate?
Well, essentially we found that a game of just "zombie survival" was a bit two-dimensional. After a while people hole up in a fortress somewhere, with lots of food and ammunition... and then what? We also didn't want to make another Walking Dead. Instead, we wondered about what would realistically happen if a highly-contagious infection of this nature started sweeping the world. Ultimately, humanity is fairly resilient, and in our vision of the apocalypse, society slowly starts to collapse - as much because of its own conflicts as those of the Infected. Rather than being overcome by endless hordes of zombies, the world starts to collapse into anarchy as the trusted systems just break down. People form insular groups for protection, and as society fragments more and more, normal rules tend to disappear.
There are a lot of factions out there - everything from new religions, to those claiming to be the legitimate government, to local warlords, independent communities, zealots, anarchists and everything in between. Most people are good at heart, seeking to help each other survive - but even so, there are many moral grey zones. If your people need something, and someone else needs it too, what would you be willing to do to keep your family alive?
Humanity actually provides a lot of interest, unusual angles and unique aspects to the setting. The Infected are fairly straight forward - they're hungry, and want to eat you. But do you know what other people want, and can you really trust them?
Q: Could you describe game mechanics and character creation?
Characters are typically created with a point-buy system. There are Attributes (a character's core abilities, such as Brawn, Dexterity, Intelligence, etc.), Skills (things you have learnt), Circumstances (situations you are in, such as Wealth, Status, Allies, Equipment), Advantages & Disadvantages (unique perks and penalties, like having One Eye, or a particular knack with knives). Statistics have a maximum level of 10.
We have recently created an alternate character creation method, which involves rolling, and that is on our website. We find it a great way to introduce someone to the game, when they may not know enough about the system and the setting to really be able to decide on what statistics their character should have. It's also very fast, taking about 10 minutes.
Game mechanics are universal, and fairly sweeping. All actions involve rolling D10s. Most roll 2D10s, though occasional actions will roll more. When rolling, typically you roll 1D10 for the Attribute involved in the action, and 1D10 for the Skill involved. The number on the die is added to the statistic, with 11 being 1 success, 12 being 2 successes, and so on. 5 successes is quite good, with 10 being exceptional.
The players can describe how they go about an action, and the Narrator (GM) then tells them which Attribute and Skill to use.
For example, let's say you want to climb a wall. This would be Brawn (physical strength and fitness) and Athletics (skill in climbing, running, jumping, etc.). Let's say both were at level 5, and you rolled a 6 and a 7. The first die for Brawn goes 6+5 = 11 (1 success), the second die goes 7+5=12 (2 successes). 3 successes total, so not a bad job. You climb the wall quite well.
You can of course apply penalties to the successes of a roll, and bonuses to the statistics too.
Spiritual Attributes (Resolve and Luck) also give Player Characters an edge in difficult scenarios. Resolve can be spent temporarily for bonuses on rolls, to ignore penalties, overcome pain and so on. Luck can be spent to avoid catastrophic failures, get re-rolls, or to have something lucky happen.
The health level is low, which makes for gripping and intense combats. The emphasis is more on not getting hit, on using strategy to outmaneuver opponents, and diplomacy to ensure that you make allies, or to avoid dangerous situations. There are several levels of health - battered, injured and wounded. Battered health heals faster than Injured health, which also heals faster than wounded health. This makes it possible to have sustained major injuries but to stoically carry on. There are also optional rules to increase the health level and healing rate, which tends to make the game more heroic.
Q: What distinguishes this game from other zombie RPGs?
I would say it's probably the complex factions and politics, as well as the unusual nature of the Infected. Society isn't so much gone, as changed. There are lots of communities around, which makes for trade, traffic, interaction and rich communities. Many characters are out to enrich themselves, or set themselves up as warlords or kings in their own right. Wealth is not something that is a big feature in your typical zombie apocalypse. But in Infected it is still very relevant. There are also many, many different possible plot hooks - they might involve Infected, or not, but they run the gamut from political, to military or even business. This gives quite an interesting flavor to it.
Some backers have said it's got a similarity to the computer game The Division, and I can see where they draw that comparison. The Division has an excellent concept, but I would also say that it's similar to The Last Of Us
Q: Could you tell us about the zombies in this game?
The Infected are quite different to your typical zombies. They're not dead, not slow, not numerous - and not stupid. Think of them instead like wolves, hunting on the edge of civilization. The virus is known as Calera. In the first few days, it has strong flu-like symptoms - sneezing and coughing. It is this time that is the most dangerous for other people, for the virus is airborne, and anyone nearby is likely to become infected themselves. After this, people break out in painful boils and sores, then go into a coma for a number of days. Most victims die at this point, however, around thirty percent of them wake up again - the virus is still active in their system, still consuming them, and in order for them to survive, they have to eat. At this point, there's no one home. The person is gone, with the animal side of the body taking over completely.
The virus still consumes the Infected, and as the years pass, they grow more and more bloated with pus and fluids, until finally they are just a shambling, revolting mess. At this point Calera is simply attempting to replicate as much as possible before its host organism fails. Getting sprayed with the fluids is virtually a death sentence.
The other point is that the Infected are not nearly as numerous as, say, the Walking Dead. That's because most people actually died from starvation, random other diseases, and the countless wars that rocked the world. Also, there were bombing campaigns, gas, crackdowns, and wholesale destruction that killed untold millions of Infected (along with many, many more civilians).
The Infected are still out there, and still hunting. Their prime source of food is humans, but they will eat anything, and that is a good clue that there are Infected packs in the region. But in order to keep themselves fed, they have had to learn how to hunt with cunning. They know the places that can't be attacked, they know to avoid certain vehicles or regions, and they tend to hunt down stragglers, the young, and infirm and so on. Travelling between settlements is dangerous, but not suicidal. People occasionally disappear if they're not careful, but now it's just part of life. They get one or two people, then men go out to hunt down and destroy the Infected packs before they can grow too large. When a huge pack is sweeping through a region, it can cause devastation before it finally peters out.
Q: Are there expansions to the basic game?
There are indeed. We have released two scenarios supplements so far, and have several more gearing up for release. We are also organizing for another Kickstarter early in 2017 to expand the world of Infected. In addition to this, we are preparing a free download of our full universal rule system, which uses the same rule set as Infected, with additional information for powers, sci-fi creations, and so on. We have been play-testing a number of different settings for future release to go with these rules.
The support from our backers has been really tremendous, and has gone a long way towards making this game so fun to play (and to make as well!). We feel really lucky to have such awesome people involved in our community, and are looking forward to a lot more to come.