I ran a session of Outlive Outdead last night using the adventure from the playtest materials. I distributed the pre-generated characters to the gathered players – five in total – and they opted for Julie, single mom, Alexei, ex-strip club owner, Michael, ex-local councillor, Jacob, ex-minor local league hockey player, and Micaela, his rebellious daughter. I explained the intention to run the playtest adventure as is with no adjustment to events or scripting, where possible. I made it clear I wanted to see how the whole thing worked out of the box, rather than improvising.
I chose to run the whole adventure in our current locale of south Manchester. On the one hand, I felt more comfortable knowing the general locations involved. On the other hand, the players couldn’t take the idea seriously. Manchester, the second (or third) largest city in the UK had avoided the worst of the epidemic, despite London, Norwich and Edinburgh all falling to the undead plague. How did that work? Moreover, why would anyone set up a Sanctuary in Stockport? I experienced a period of much amusement, broad grins, giggles, and loud merriment. I tried to kick off the adventure, but each link back to reality served to reinvigorate the sense of bemusement and tittering. I had the players wake in the very room we used for running the game and the Army stationed in the nearby homes and shops.
Firstly, everyone introduced themselves clockwise around the table. Alexei used to run a “gentleman’s club” in central Manchester and had a history of fighting in one of the recent Eastern European conflicts. Jacob played for a struggling local hockey team (hockey not really being much of a draw in UK sport) and frankly, in his mid-30s, he had past his prime. While Jacob explained something about himself, the player playing Micaela noted she shared his surname and asked me if she was his brother. I highlighted the 19-year age difference and she realised the actual familial relationship of father-daughter. That provided a distinctive Empire Strikes Back moment. Julie had lost both of her children to the zombies and had a past haunted by drugs and drink. Michael was really an ex-mayor from before the epidemic and now just a councillor in Stockport. Finally, Micaela spoke up, though not immediately admitting her relationship as daughter of a failing sports star.
Captain Maddox arrived and proceeded to explain the situation about the missing minister and the loss of contact with the Trafford Centre Sanctuary Zone in west Manchester. One or two players reacted to move the game forward, while the rest struggled under the continued giggling around the inability to suspend disbelief! I don’t think this ever got 100% under control and I would suggest if you make the adventure local for yourself you might want to prep the players before hand. Maddox took them to a nearby cafe, now stripped down and ransacked, and explained the mission.
After clarifying some outstanding details, Maddox guided the group to a bank, wrecked and ravaged with a lobby strewn with pamphlets for loans and mortgages. In a large back room, the Captain tested the party’s resolve in putting down one of the caged infected in the makeshift Quarantine Zone. Micaela took the pistol and rolled a perfect low-end success for Control. BANG. SPLAT. One of the other detainees freaked out and broke free. Alexei’s player obviously took the time to read his character sheet, as he pulled out his shotgun and took aimed through the door into the lobby. Both Alexei and the escapee rolled failures – the shotgun exploding a piece of masonry and the detainee slipping on the scattered leaflets. Jacob pulled out his hockey stick, ran through to the lobby and knocked the man unconscious with a swift puck shot. During the disturbance, Michael scrounged around in the back room and discovered a couple of packets of fags and a heavy-duty torch, which he promptly borrowed.
Next Maddox guided the group across the road into an abandoned vet’s clinic. In the cellar he revealed three ‘disarmed’ zombies chained to the back wall, and a yellow line spray-painted on the floor on the opposite side of the room. He proposed some combat practice, starting with ranged weapons and then following through with melee. Alexei took aim with his shotgun, fired and rolled a fail. Determined, he started advancing closer to the zombies and rolled again. This time the player rolled a Break – roleplayed as a flashback to some terrible trauma from his time in the war. Alexei proceeded to empty his shotgun repeatedly until he ran out of bullets, declaring his devotion for the Mother Country. Micaela moved forward to calm him, but Michael cut in and tried to stop her. They rolled a conflict and Micaela rolled a Break. This time, we roleplayed the effect as a childhood trauma involving being physically restrained by an enraged father figure. Micaela pulled free and while the Break proposed she flee away from danger, the zombies and imagined intervention by an angry father presented two differing sources of danger in opposing directions. As a result, she backed up against the wall and collapsed in a sobbing heap, Jacob swearing at Michael for upsetting her.
Captain Maddox guided the mismatched group outside and took them to the fence on the outskirts of the Sanctuary Zone. He gave them a map, a satellite phone and bicycles, and a crane ride over the barrier deposited them on the railway lines beyond. To both north and south, the barriers continued for some distance high atop a steep, scrubby embankment. Dismembered zombie corpses lay strewn along the tracks, victims of passing freight trains. After taking stock of their surroundings, Micaela used her binoculars to scope out the route to the south and spied three zombies, each slightly further away than the other. Jacob and Alexei approached like knights on bicycle-back, the first with his hockey stick and the second with an improvised melee weapon made from a broken heavy-duty bike chain. Both attacked and brought the zombie down, before Micaela swept past and decapitated it with a kick. Jacob rolled a break so, through a red haze, set about the next zombie without a pause.
Alexei, frustrated with his weapon, pulled his shotgun out and shot the second zombie. He rolled another Break and then a 9 on the Fight Break table, for a total Break Test of 13 (with the Shotgun modifier). Flashbacks washed back in of the attrocities in Eastern Europe, and Alexei rolled a 1 on 1d4 for a stab at suicide. Roleplayed, Alexei attempted a Terminator style reload of his shotgun without accounting for the presence of an unexpended shell. As he swore in his native tongue and went to snap the ‘gun, Micaela reacted – with a successful Control check – and knocked him down. She dropped next to him and attempted to console him. Meantime, Michael held back and Julie managed to fall off her bicycle while trying to hold her riot shield in front and steer simultaneously.
Jacob attacked the final zombie, but the zombie countered with a swing that revealed a supermarket handheld scanner gripped tightly in one hand. Successes meant both made contact, knocking Jacob of his bike and flooring the zombie as the stick swept a leg away. Down on the ground, Micaela and Jacob finished the dead man off together.
And our time ran out…
Overall – the session went well, despite a slow start hampered by giggling. I should have warned the players about the precise setting and maybe handled it differently. I could easily have run the adventure in the original American setting. When we did get going, the events progressed well and we quickly learned about the various features of the game, like standalone and contested checks, Karma, Serendipity and Setbacks. The reveal of Plot Points and Talents came too late to prevent earlier failed rolls and one player voiced quiet frustration that we didn’t cover this feature of game changing early enough to change anything. The Break mechanic went down extremely well and people actually chose to argue against spending Plot Points to prevent them simply to see what would happen. We haven’t really played enough to see how Karma, Serendipity and Setbacks might pan out. I didn’t even use any zombie abilities because the characters didn’t need the hassle – they seemed to fail and Break on rolls without any outside assistance!
Looking forward to the next session.