We chatted with Mark Diaz Truman, the co-owner of Magpie Games, about their upcoming apocalyptic tabletop RPG 'Zombie World,' and its unusual character generation system and why people love this stuff.
Can you describe the development history of the game?
We started work on Zombie World in 2014 in September/October—after playing Dead of Winter, we were inspired to put together an RPG that would focus on communities after Z-Day. We had a first draft of the rules on by early October, using cards and randomized character creation. We’ve been honing it, playtesting it, and running it at cons ever since—even if some of the biggest design elements were set in stone early on, there was still a lot of work to do getting everything just right!
What is its current status?
Zombie World is currently going through final development and editing before we send it to the printer. We expect to send the game to print soon, and we’ll be shipping copies to backers in early 2019. We’ll have more info then about retail release dates, but we expect to see the core game and both expansions hit retail stores in the first half of the year.
Can you describe the mechanics?
Zombie World has its roots in the Powered by the Apocalypse system used by tabletop RPGs like Apocalypse World and Masks: A New Generation, but it takes that system in new directions, using special cards to generate characters, create situations, and resolve conflicts.
Making a new character takes minutes: you draw a few cards, and you’re ready to go. Each character gets a past, a present, and a trauma—a survivor with a unique history, role in the community, and emotional reaction to the zombie apocalypse.
Cards are also the primary resolution mechanic. Every time you take an interesting action in the game, you draw a few cards that will tell you what happens to your survivor.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive review of the mechanics, you can check out the Kickstarter page:
What makes your game unique?
We think Zombie World is a game that challenges players to construct characters in a completely unique way. When you draw a past, present, and trauma for your character, we're giving you a map to your character that arises organically from the interactions between cards. Sometimes you're an accountant who has taken on the role of enforcer for the group while struggling with your anger... and sometimes you're an EMT who is trying to keep everyone alive while grappling with the loss of everyone you've ever loved. Playing Zombie World throws you into the middle of a zombie apocalypse as an "ordinary" person who is caught up in a world of terrible choices and desperate communities.
In addition, the structure of the game means we can fit an entire roleplaying game experience in one box. While Zombie World draws on some of the same systems we've used in Urban Shadows, Masks, and Bluebeard's Bride, everything you need to play the game is in the box. Literally everything, right down to the dry erase marker! You don't need to print anything out or get dice; throw Zombie World in your bag and you've got everything you need to run a game for your friends in one small box!
What in your opinion is the appeal of the genre?
We think zombie fiction is really about communities and social norms. What do we do when we can no longer enforce the laws that structure our society? Who gets to eat when we don’t have enough food to go around? Post-apocalyptic fiction tries to understand how society might warp and change years after the end times, but zombie fiction is about an apocalypse that’s happening right now, and ongoing threat that the characters need to confront again and again and again.
When making Zombie World, we tried to capture that rising tension that grabs you when the world falls apart. Any place that’s safe enough to be worth investing in is a target for both the zombies and other survivors; any place that’s not safe enough… isn’t worth your time. How will you make your way in a savage world when you can still remember the good times?