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Atlas of the Walking Dead
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/26/2017 08:25:08

If you ever thought a zombie was just that, a zombie, think again. This book taps into traditions of the undead from around the world, presenting a vast range of different zombies from rotting, shambling brain-eaters that are driven by instinct and can be put down with a shotgun blast to undead raised by arcane (or scientific) means which have a purpose to fulful and won't be stopped until they have done whatever they were sent to do if then...

Obviously, this is a resource for the Zombie Master. It taps in to legends of the walking dead from a multiplicity of cultures, some familiar and others obscure. They are presented with appropriate game statistics, along with ideas for adventures involving them and other new material such as new Aspects culled from the new zombies here and made available to those who like to craft their own undead. Maybe your party has gone travelling, and encounters exotic zombies on their home turf. Or maybe the zombies have come along with living immigrants and can be found in your own neighbourhood along with ethnic restaurants and other more enticing parts of multi-cultural living.

There are a full eighteen different varieties of the walking dead presented here, and each has its own variations. Each comes with atmospheric fiction, game statistics and story ideas. Exotic animated Aztec mummies rub shoulders with Scandanavian draugr... and of course the female of the species is more deadly than the male, certainly when you meet an undead femme fatale. Traditional Egyptian mummies and vampires are also included. And you don't want to meet a gaki, a Japanese 'hungry ghost'...

A lot of the suggested plots involve archaelogical expeditions digging up more than they bargained for, or remains being disturbed during developments and road construction. A few make A Night at the Museum look tame. They all suggest adventures that should keep the party occupied for a few sessions, some could easily develop into a complete campaign. Some fit in with one or more of the settings presented in other books in the game line, others are less-specific or suggest a whole new setting of their own. There's even scope to spin some of them together - perhaps the party specialises in investigating unusual events in museums or at archaeological digs and gets called in to several of the plots from all over the world. That could make a good episodic campaign. Or maybe like the characters in the TV shows Supernatural and The X-Files, they go around investigating mysterious happenings in general.

This supplement provides a wealth of ideas for any Zombie Master, and could prove fertile ground (providing you are up to doing any necessary conversions) to GMs of other systems who want to introduce a range of unusual and well-developed walking dead to their game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Atlas of the Walking Dead
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The Last Defender
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/24/2017 11:08:44

It's spring time, and the local rangers have announced that the mountain passes are clear enough for travel once more... so the party heads off there for whatever reason (a couple are given in the DM Background if you or they do not have a good reason of their own). In the heights of the mountains, there's a chasm crossed by a bridge guarded by a tower at either end. There's quite a lot of backstory for the DM about what's gone on there in the past, and this is where the adventure proper begins - you probably will wish to play out the party deciding (or being hired) to travel through the mountains, getting any equipment that they need and getting high up in the mountains, but you're on your own for that.

There's a good (but not player-friendly) map of the bridge over the chasm, again any maps you require to get there will have to come from elsewhere. On the plus side, there's plenty to explore when you get there - and assorted bandits, monsters and others to object to the party's presence, not to mention the remains of a caravan that tried to pass this way a month or so ago. The bridge's past may be revealed through interaction with the numerous ghosts to be found here, but the main gist of the adventure is to clear out the towers and grab what can be salvaged from the caravan. A few ideas are included for further adventures, and a new monster and new magic item (a decidedly anti-social battleaxe) finish off this book.

There's potential here, but some work to be done before it becomes a fully-fledged adventure.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Last Defender
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The Book of Archetypes
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/16/2017 08:07:16

Thoughout the core rulebook and all sourcebooks, loads of so-called Archetypes - almost completely developed characters - have been presented, often tailored to fit a given setting or situation. The intention is that they should be used as examples or as a basis for a player-character, especially when the group is eager to start playing or someone turns up late or when a character dies and needs to be replaced mid-game. Here are some thirty-odd new Archetypes (many fan-generated) to pick through and possibly select as required. Add a name, personalise them to taste, and head off to find some zombies to flee from...

There is a cautionary note that numbers may not be quite 'by the book' and that the characters may not be cross-compatible with other Unisystem games, this being an artefact of fan-sourcing the Archetypes. But that's a small price to pay - and if you're obsessive about getting things absolutely correct, by all means play about with the numbers - for such an entertaining group of characters.

Conveniently occuplying a single page each (easy to print out and use as your character sheet), there are full game stats, a sketch and a delightful few paragraphs giving an impression of that character in his own words. They are all quite entertaining - and very diverse: archeaologists, corporate executives, firefighters... even some poor soul who was peacefully game-mastering an RPG for his friends when zombies started coming in the window! There are strippers, a terrorist, a garbage man - men and women from all walks of life, all reduced to the common level of having to survive.

If you don't want to play them they make magnificently well-developed NPCs for your party to encounter - perhaps on the road, or they could wander up to the party's safe enclave and ask to come in. Their reactions could be entertaining... especially when a Zombie Rights Activist comes by and tries to remind them that zombies are people too! Many of the stories these Archetypes tell can be a source of inspiration for an event, if not a whole adventure, in your campaign, too.

A motley assortment of new weapons, armour and other gear are also included, mostly drawn from what the Archetypes have with them. The same applies to the new Skills, Qualities and Drawbacks that are provided here.

Ultimately, there's nothing here that you need, but a lot could come in handy, provided your All Flesh Must Be Eaten campaign is set in the present day. Use as inspiration, and as fresh zombie-fodder when you need new warm bodies in a hurry...



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Book of Archetypes
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One of the Living
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/15/2017 10:46:51

You're alive, and wanting to stay that way. You believe your brain belongs between your ears, not in a zombie's mouth. This book, the Player's Handbook for All Flesh Must Be Eaten goes some way to aiding your survival. The opening fiction, though, takes a slightly different angle, with the protagonists reminising about their life before the zombie apocalypse, times when exam results and promotions at work (not to mention your love life) felt like life and death. Then Chapter 1: Introduction continues this theme by commenting that plenty of people's initial reaction to this game was 'Cool, we get to fight zombies!' but that they didn't see the potential for a long-running game, just a session of mayhem before they got back to more serious role-playing. To be fair, this game works well in that mode - but if you want, there's scope for more. As well as brains-craving undead, zombies can be a metaphor, a zombie story represents how any society stands or falls based on the decisions of its members... and that chaos is never very far away.

First, though, the rules bits, with Chapter 2: Prey No More providing plenty of new game mechanics - new skills, Qualities (and Drawbacks), and new Gifts for the Inspired and otherwise supernaturally-active folk. Maybe you'd like to document the zombie apocalypse: then the Camerawork skill is for you. If your eye is on long-term survival, Scavenging and Repair might be of more use. There are some Archetypes here as well, as inspiration or ready-made characters.

Next Chapter 3: Making It Up As You Go is a delight for the inner McGyver, providing both ideas and rules for improvising with whatever's to hand with detailed rules for jury-rigging, well, anything. It's followed by Chapter 4: More Implements of Destruction which contains a whole bunch of new weapons as well as ideas for ways in which to terminate those pesky zombies. Pass the nail gun, please. It's not just weapons, though, there is an abundance of useful items of all sorts here.

All material up to here is player-safe, but the following is really for Zombie Masters only (assuming only one person in your gaming group runs the game). Chapter 5: Envy the Dead takes an interesting turn into the psychological and other effects of living through a zombie apocalypse. It's of particular use for Zombie Masters who are looking for a longer campaign and provides loads of ideas for setting up themes, balancing a real world where everyone knows how stuff works with the startling appearance of zombies. What will fail about you as time passes, things you take for granted just won't be there any more. Not just technology but society itself will crumble...

Then, Chapter 6: Blowin' Up Dead Guys provides more than you want to know (especially if you write reviews in your lunch break!) about how rotting and decay affects zombies. There's also plenty about new zombie capabilities for Zombie Masters to build new versions of their favourite weapon: the zombie.

Next Chapter 7: Sunset Falls provides a ready-made enclave of survivors that the Zombie Master can use. Perhaps this is the party's base, or a refuge they come across in their travels. Maybe it is a rumour and the focus of their journey... surely once they get there they will be safe! It is an organised small-town community that has built up its own ways of coping with the zombie apocalypse, complete with well-detailed inhabitants all ready to interact with the party when they show up. It's followed by Chapter 8: The Future is So Dark, which is a collection of six more settings in which you can run your campaign - replete with ideas on what to do in those settings, of course.

Finally, a couple of Appendices. The first discusses the important topic of surviving a zombie outbreak, covering things like picking a good stronghold and getting organised. Players may read this, indeed you might think that they really ought to, as there's lots of sound practical advice! The shopping list of survival items also provides a good resource for the Zombie Master: if they are running out of X you can built a whole adventure about finding more. The second covers government information. If there was to be a zombie outbreak, what would a government say to its citizens, what advice and support would they provide?

There's a lot here for both players and Zombie Masters to consider: it's well worth the getting particularly if you're looking towards a full-blown campaign rather than a night or two of swatting zombies.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
One of the Living
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Zombie Smackdown
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2017 10:48:50

Zombies and wrestling seem an unlikely mix - most zombies want to eat your brains not fight as an entertainment - but somehow this works. Opening with fiction describing the entry of zombies into the pro wrestling circuit, allowing unprecidented levels of mayhem as it is just so darn hard to destroy a zombie and attracting vast TV audiences, Chapter 1: Let the Bodies Hit the Floor talks about the lasting appeal of wrestling as a spectacle and entertainment and the addition of bloodcurdling horror that throwing zombies into the ring accomplishes.

Chapter 2: Rules of the Ring provides the game mechanics you'll need to run wrestling matches including combat moves and some new archetypes. Given that a pro wrestler is an athlete, a new Character Type, the Professional Wrestler, is outlined, leaving the standard Norms, Survivors and Inspired to take the other roles in the wrestling world. This lets you build a wrestler from the bottom up, yet is still compatible with the rest of Unisystem (although remember that pro wrestlers are somewhat larger-than-life regarding their antics in the ring). Naturally this can be applied to a zombie as much as a human being - although if you've a mind to it, you have the makings of a good simulation of wrestling even without the zombies if you fancy that. For those who want to use weapons in the ring (not, of course, legal under the rules...) a selection are provided. Speaking of rules, the rules of the ring are laid out for you along with a description of a wrestling arena. There's plenty more to help you make the bouts as excitng as possible, building up the atmosphere and engaging in plenty of role-play even during a contest as well as when the contestants are out of the ring.

Then on to the settings, beginning with Chapter 3: Babes and Barbed Wire. This is the American televised wrestling circuit with all the show-biz and larger-than-life contenders we know, but with the added twist of zombies. The campaign involves a touring show with an unscrupulous owner. This is followed by Chapter 4: Legendary Masked Men which moves south of the border to explore Mexican lucha libre wrestling. As luchadores are more athlete than body-builder, the fighting styles differ as does the whole style of the campaign: more ring-based with less role-play outside of combat. The last major setting comes in Chapter 5: Land of the Undead Rising Sun, where the zombies take up Japanese-style professional wrestling, a hardcore style that makes the ones explored previously look safe, tame even. These fellows are not martial artists, they are vicious brawlers. With demonic influence beind some, they only get worse. Each provides backstory and a reason for why there are zombies around at all, as well as a cammpaign outline. A further four mini-settings are presented in Chapter 6: And in this Very Ring.

As a wrestling game alone - particularly with the American pro-wrestling setting - this provides an excellent resource, and when you add in zombies (however made) it just adds to the fun. Particularly good for a mix of no-holds-barred brawling and role-playing, that American setting is the one to go for... if it's just the combat you want, the other two are fine as well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Zombie Smackdown
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All Flesh Must be Eaten Revised
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2017 08:35:57

The revised version of the core rulebook begins with an Introduction by Shane Lacy Hensley, in which he discusses the popularity of zombies in movies, books and role-playing games. This, like much of the content, is similar to the original core rulebook, but everything is honed by five years of development and feedback. Chapter 1: The Dead Rise continues in similar vein exploring what the whole zombie concept is about, including a fascinating history of zombie stories through the ages. It also looks at some of the innovative rationales that have been used in various films to explain why zombies are all over the place.

The first four chapters are useful for both players and Zombie Masters, but the last two are appropriate for the Zombie Master alone. Chapter 2: Survivors covers character creation using the Unisystem rules. Archetypes are provided if you don't want to grind through the entire process, but if you do it starts with Character Types (which lay out guidelines for the rest of what's needed), then you need to sort out Attributes, Qualities/Drawbacks, Skills, Metaphysics (if any magical or superpowers are available) and Possessions. There are three Character Types: Norm (like you or me), Survivors (extraordinary characters stronger and smarter than normal), and Inspired (complete with supernatural powers). Those seeking a scary game should opt for Norms, or you might prefer a mix of Norms and Survivors providing character balance isn't important to your group. If you really want to take the fight to the zombies, go for Survivors or a mix of Survivors and Inspired (who have the same number of build points, just distributed differently). Whichever you choose, you get various build points to use to create the characters themselves using a point-buy system. There are plenty of details and examples to help you through the process.

Chapter 3: Shambling 101 covers the rules you need to play the game (task resolution, combat, character advancement and so on). If you're already familiar with Eden's Unisystem you can skim through this, if you're new to it you will soon find it all falling into place... even those new to role-playing should not find it too much of a challenge although it helps if you have someone more knowledgeable to helo you get started. Then Chapter 4: Implements of Destruction provides the equipment and weapons characters need to survive.

In Zombie Master territory, Chapter 5: Anatomy of a Zombie discusses what zombies are like, providing a wealth of options to help you make your zombies distinctive. Depending on the nature of your zombies, they may have different vulnerabilities - perhaps a head shot doesn't do the trick, they have to be dismembered and burned before they'll stay down. Good for catching out those players who have seen loads of zombie movies and think they know it all. They way they 'feed' and how (if) they can infect others are also discussed. Finally Chapter 6: Worlds in Hell provides a full eleven settings in which to stage your very own zombie apocalypse. Each one includes an underlying rationale for zombies being there and plot ideas galore to get you started. Most are contemporary/near future, but there are also World War 2 and even a mediaeval setting to choose from as well. This is one of the great joys of this game: the only constant is that you have zombies - how they are created and what they are like is left to your discretion.

At the end of the book there are some excellent summary tables encapsulating all the information that you need to create and play characters (or zombies for that matter) as well as conversion notes for those who want to play using the D20 Modern ruleset instead of Unisystem.

You may have been wondering why a revised core rulebook was needed. There are no real changes to content but everything's been streamlined, honed, made more player-friendly without losing the appeal of the original. Be it a one-off game of gory mayhem or a campaign that you are planning, this will set you off on the right path. Good luck avoiding the zombies...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
All Flesh Must be Eaten Revised
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Fistful o' Zombies
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/10/2017 12:30:25

A Fistful O'Zombies is a sourcebook which presents a fusion of zombies with classic Wild West themes. Chapter 1: Go West opens with a standard but well-told tale of a bounty-hunter in Texas, a tale that turns south when he bites off rather more than he can chew... then comes an Introduction that explains that zombies are all very well when you have a Uzi or a flame-thrower, but when all you have is a six-shooter, well, that separates the men from the boys. Indeed, that's what the Wild West is all about (fictionally, at least, and like previous sourcebooks, we're sticking to the cinematic): personal achievement, standing up against the odds and either surviving or going down in a blaze of glory. 'The West' is defined not only by that but by geography - North America west of the Mississippi (with Mexico thrown in for good measure) and the 19th century as a time-period. This is the Wild West of the movies, not the Old West of history, however, it's worth bearing that in mind. Of course, even in the movies, there were different styles, from the 1920s white-hatted singing cowboys, through John Wayne-style gritty heroes to spaghetti westerns Clint Eastwood-style - and each of these is presented as a possible setting for your game, along with briefer notes on several themes from the 1980s onwards.

First, though, Chapter 2: The Good, the Bad, and the Dead presents an overview of Western history and the game mechanics necessary for creating appropriate characters, along with sample Archetypes. There are three eras of history to consider, firstly the Old West (1830-1865) where the land is unexplored never mind unsettled, with many strange creatures and only black powder muskets to hold them at bay. Then there's the Wild West (the main focus of this book, 1865-1900), with an explosion of settlers and the advent of more advanced weaponry; and finally the New West (1900-1930), where Indians are less of a problem but gangsters still rob banks and trains - even if they chase them with a Model T Ford rather than a horse! Towards the tail-end of this period, Prohibition kicks in with the inevitable booze-smuggling. There's an overview of history, with the Gold Rush, a war with Mexico and the American Civil War featuring large. Continuous skirmishing with American Indians, the advent of the railways and the growth of the cattle business also made their mark. The law and those who enforced it, the feuds between cowboys and sheep herders and more are also covered here. Then there are a whole bunch of rules to cover particularly Western characters and the skills they need - including using a lasso, riding a horse, fanning your revolver, engaging in showdowns (at high noon or any time of your choosing) and even getting hanged... and there's an array of appropriate weapons to choose from as well.

Chapter 3: Singing Cowboys draws its inspiration from early Hollywood depictions of the West, where implausibly good cowboys never cussed or even shot each other much, and burst into song at the drop of a (white) hat. These are the days of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Dale Evans... and Champion, the Wonder Horse. In this setting, the player characters - indeed the players themselves - are encouraged to sing, and singing does grant additional effects a bit like a Dungeons & Dragons Bard's does. The party must also abide by the Law of the West, written by Gene Autry himself. There are a few other rules modifications and additions to help capture the flavour of this setting. We also learn the reason for the plague of zombies... and it's one that will bring the campaign to a juddering halt once the party figure it out, so this is a setting for a one-off game or very short campaign. Plots are based on the movies, and four are provided for you to use (and reuse). While the underlying comcept is a neat trick, it will annoy some players and bore others: consider your group with case before using this setting.

On to Chapter 4: True Grit. This setting is Westerns, John Wayne-style. Men are tough, standing no nonsense and hard to kill, they also drink hard and tend to look down on women as a 'weaker sex'... although they do get on with American Indians, at least those who are ex-Army scouts or similar. Set around 1880, there's a plausible reason for the presence of zombies and a campaign outline that starts with a normal Wild West game and introduces supernatural elements carefully, quite neat especially if you don't let on to your players that you are running All Flesh Must Be Eaten to begin with.

Next comes Chapter 5: Spaghetti with Meat, a setting that takes its inspiration from the so-called Spaghetti Westerns (think Clint Eastwood). Typical characters are hard-bitten drifters with a shady (although often unrevealed) past, the odd preacher or wise American Indian won't go amiss either. Decide for yourselves who is the good, who is the bad and who is the ugly. Set in about 1865, the reason there are zombies again is a plausible one; and this is coupled with a well-developed campaign outline to involve the party and enable them to deal with the problem - complete with notes on how to extend it beyond the specific instance of zombies that has just been dealt with.

Then, Chapter 6: Dances with Zombies is an intriguing setting in which the player characters are all American Indians, members of the Sioux tribe just after the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 (Custer's Last Stand). Starting with a detailed account of the events leading up to and during the battle, the setting then diverges from history with Sitting Bull conducting a dark ritual that raises the 7th Cavalry (Custer's outfit) from the dead... that wasn't quite what he was aiming for, of course, and once he realises that they are as much of a danger to the Red Man as they are to the White Man, the race is on to deal with this menace. There's plenty of background on Sioux life and customs to help you set the scene, and a detailed campaign outline to get you started.

Finally, Chapter 7: Other Settings provides just that: several other settings complete with brief notes on what sort of adventures you might run there. Perhaps Bloody Muddy, set on a 1870s paddle steamer full of gamblers... or perhaps you'd rather be a bunch of US Cavalry in Here Comes the Cavalry. Adventurous types who don't mind the cold can go North to Alaska. Each has its own rationale for why there are zombies around. There are also conversion notes if you want to use the material herein with Deadlands (or the other way around) - an interesting touch bearing in mind that the creator of Deadlands also wrote this book!

Another great sourcebook, a fusion of two cinema staples, zombies and Westerns, that should appeal to fans of both. Explore new horizons and kill anything that doesn't have a pulse, pardner!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fistful o' Zombies
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Pulp Zombies
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/08/2017 07:47:53

Pulp Zombies, like Enter the Zombie, looks at a movie-fusion approach, this time mixing classic zombie films with the pulp genre. It opens with a fairly massive piece of fiction, The Night Chicago Died, which unleashes the undead amidst mobsters on Chicago's streets. Chapter 1: Setting the Stage then chips in with an attempt to define what 'pulp' actually means, looking at the concept of larger-than-life adventures in the style of those of the 1920s to 1940s... while it's hard to pin it down in words, most people have a general idea of what pulp means. Precise chronology is not important, double-fisted action and excitement are.

Chapter 2: Pulpy Flesh continue in this vein, continuing to define, or at least give an impression of, what 'pulp' actually means - high stakes, thrilling locations and above all, action and high adventure. Heroes are, well, heroic and never hesitate, they just know what is right without agonising over ethical choices... and villians are just evil, not misunderstood. There's some background about the Pulp Era, based firmly in America, with everything from sample prices to favourite entertainments and daily life being discussed (and a reminder that although ethnic minorities and women had a rough deal in real life, there's no need to replicate that in your games). Franklin D. Roosevelt is in the White House, the radio is a common form of entertainment in the home, movies were booming and the railroad is already declining in the face of the automobile... and everyone's fascinated by aircraft. That done, attention is turned to the all-important business of creating Pulp Hero characters, with a new Character Type to facilitate this. There are also suggestions for building a party - in the movies, most heroes act alone, or at most have a few sidekicks, but this doesn't work so well in a role-playing game. Gadgets and supernatural powers are also covered and the chapter ends with a few Archetypes ready to be played or to be used as a source of inspiration.

Next, Chapter 3: Hollow Earth presents the first of three fully-developed settings. This is interesting in that there's a distinct campaign arc, beginning with the party involved in seeking out ancient artefacts... without a zombie in sight! They emerge later in a series of devastating earthquakes, and then the fight is on to get rid of them and set things straight, which involves a journey to the centre of the earth. There's a lot of background explaining not just what is going on but why, and plenty of NPCs from archaeologists to members of a mysterious society that keep popping up - but are they a hinderance or a help? Loads of resources here concerning artefacts and where to seek them out and much, much more... but although it's not mentioned, the thought occurs that this might best be run with the players unaware that you're running All Flesh Must Be Eaten: present it as a pulp adventure run using the Unisystem ruleset and let the emergence of zombies come as a complete surprise!

In Chapter 4: Zombies Inc. we get a completely different setting: here a criminal mastermind has worked out how to raise zombies and then organised them to create an unprecidented crimewave, with the heroes working to put an end to the undead crime spree across America (and indeed the world). There's an abundance of information of the (on the face of it) unlikely crime lord behind the zombies and several location-based scenario outlines to get you going, as well as notes for further adventures and on how to wrap things up in a satisfactory manner once the crime lord is brought down. Classic stuff in a Doc Savage vein.

Chapter 5: They Want Our Women takes a different tack yet again. Basically, the Martians have landed. It's very much Mars Attacks! in style, and should only be played tongue-in-cheek... with Martians being classified by head size (the larger the more important, of course) what do you expect? Strictly speaking, this isn't a 'zombie' setting, but the Martians are bizarre enough and more importantly pulp enough for that not to matter too much.

Finally, Chapter 6: Scattered Pulp provides a host of other setting outlines, in far less detail than the preceeding three, which you may explore at your leisure. All piulp in style, there's plenty to keep you happy whether Chinatown is crawling with undead, film noir detective stories and more.

The fusion of zombies and pulp is a marriage made in heaven, or at least in some deranged place that makes for excellent role-playing ideas. There's something for just about everyone here.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pulp Zombies
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Enter the Zombie
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/07/2017 12:53:36

This sourcebook for All Flesh Must Be Eaten takes the 'Hong Kong Action Theatre' approach to zombies. Diving straight in with Chapter 1: Corpses Rising, we begin with ominous fiction that sets the scene - a corpse used in a foul ritual to unleash a demon assassin to wreak vengeance. It's an excellent story, perhaps a shade long if you are itching to get to the meat of the book.

Then comes the Introduction, which explains how this book mixes up the themes of monster movie (especially, of course, the zombie ones) and 'chop-sockey' style martial arts movies. These remarks are followed by Chapter 2: Tao of the Dead, which provides the necessary game mechanics to mix in martial arts and more esotetic stuff like chi powers, with an eye to both the living and zombies having access to them. Most people probably pick up this book expecting to have their characters destroy zombies with dramatic kung-fu moves... but what if the zombies know them as well? Here we find resources for building martial artist characters from the ground up - for remember, Grasshopper, that these skills must be learned and practised - and also for practitioners of gun-fu. Thus we have two new Character Types, the Martial Artist and the Shooter, along with new skills than enable them to do their thing. There's a note that Martial Artists created with these rules are pretty powerful, so much so that they would out-fight most characters created in other Unisystem variants in a stand-up, knock-down confrontation. Fine, of course, if that's what you want, but you may prefer to confine them to your All Flesh Must Be Eaten game. There's a whole array of Chi Techniques, cinematic in the extreme, which both Martial Artists and Shooters can access. For those wishing to play a zombie Martial Artist, there are further notes on how to create zombie characters with sufficient brains (in their heads, I mean... not on the menu) to be capable of using these skills and techniques. The chapter ends with a fine selection of martial arts weapons.

Next comes Chapter 3: Hard Boiled Corpses. We're now into Zombie Master territory, because this chapter describes the alternate Hong Kong in which this game is set. Now ruled by mainland China (as in the real world), it displays distinctive features: an obsession with making money, a sleazy underbelly of strip clubs and massage parlours and gambling dens, and organised crime in the shape of the Triads. Under Communist rule, however, the police have more leeway to deal with trouble and... well, shall we say that one idea they came up with resulted in zombies. Not on purpose, I hasten to add. This makes for a compelling backstory, something the party might wish to investigate inbetween just trying to stay alive. The particular kind of zombies are discussed, along with the four distinct groups who are involved in the situation: the cops, the Triads, drug dealers and the zombies themselves (these ones are quite smart, you see). There are sample NPCs and plenty of notes about each group. A couple of outline scenarios are provided based on this concept, and it's easy to think of how to expand on them - or the situation in general - to create a whole campaign. The chapter ends with a few archetypes all ready to jump into the fray...

Next, Chapter 4: Flesh Eaters in Little China moves across the Pacific to San Francisco and presents a quite different setting that mixes sorcery and zombies into a heady underworld amongst Chinese immigrants. There's a lot going on in Chinatown and it's not all restaurants and laundries. Plenty of background explaining precisely what is happening and why. Secret societies, triads and martial arts brotherhoods abound, with examples of each being provided with plenty of detail to get them up and running in your game. And then there are sorcerers and mystics as well... and the outline of an adventure involving hordes of zombies and an underground lair presided over by a decidedly ancient sorcerer. There's an outline of how magic works here (but if you want a detailed magic system you are better off looking at Witchcraft, another Unisystem game), and another couple of scenario outlines, including one where the party start out as a bunch of tourists that find far more than they expected... Again, the chapter ends with some Archetypes.

Then Chapter 5: Once Upon a Corpse in China takes yet another angle on the whole Chinese action/zombie fusion. This takes us back roughly a thousand years to historic China, where squabbling kung fu schools have accidentally created zombies when brawling with each other. With rival schools, Imperial magistrates and the Shaolin Temple itself trying to sort the problem out, there's plenty of scope for cinematic martial arts action. Two scenarios are provided, one has the party working for the Imperial authorities and the other sets them as the ones who spawned the zombies in the first place...

Finally, Chapter 6: Undead Kombat starts with the premise that a soldeir's soul gets mystically entangled with those he has killed in battle, and ends with what happens when ancient Persian Magi start meddling. The Magi wanted to live forever, but their undead cohorts were both quarrelsome and hungry. The solution involves a massive contest between the zombies called the Tournament of Souls... only now they've decided to include human beings on the card. Set up a range of situations in a massive stadium on a remote island and let combat commence! A couple of scenario outlines are provided that take this setting beyond a simple 'arena' game.

Overall, this puts a delightful spin on the whole zombie concept, and should provide sufficient interest for even those players in your group who don't really fancy a zombie game. The martial arts rules are excellent and give you the tools to create cinematic action with or even without zombies added in. A refreshing look at zombies, a brilliant fusion of two exciting movie styles, well worth a look!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Enter the Zombie
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Zombie Master's Screen
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/05/2017 09:30:30

The actual screen part of this product is fairly standard, a four-panel screen with a fairly gory and dramatic painting on the player side and a whole bunch of useful charts for the Zombie Master. This has an Outcome Table supporting levels of success (or failure) in task resolution, fear effects, explosive damage charts, how much protection body armour or other cover gives you, damge tables, a chart showing turn progression during combat and other useful stuff that it's far easier to have right in front of you than have to look up.

There is also an adventure, Coffee Break of the Living Dead. Opening with a piece of fiction that sets the scene - and the nature of this particular scenario's zombies - the adventure is set in the opening hours of a zombie outbreak with the party trapped in a high-rise office building. The background is yet another reason for having zombies over and above the range of suggestions in the core rulebook, but if you've already started a campaign using one of them it's reasonably easy to adapt this to fit in.

Although it will be quite difficult to pull off, especially if the players know they are playing All Flesh Must Be Eaten, the adventure begins with the characters trundling off to a normal day at work. They don't know each other, but all work in the same building which they shortly will discover is just outside the containment zone set up around a suspected terrorist incident at a research laboratory. After a typically boring start to the day at the office, everyone just coincidentally decides it's time for a coffee break and goes down to the lobby coffee shop... and that's when the lift breaks down. By the time they emerge, the place is crawling with zombies, and things go downhill from there.

The adventure is well-supported with floor plans and descriptions of the chaos in various parts of the building. Eventually, surviving party members may try to leave the building. That's when they meet the authorities outside, who are expecting zombies to come out and are armed and waiting...

The booklet also contains notes on using the Zombie Master's Screen to good effect, pre-generated characters to use with the adventure (these are honed to the adventure, but you could use other characters although some modification might be necessary), some new rules and a discussion of zombie and other survival horror as portrayed in film. Excellent for inspiration and for helping you create the right atmosphere in your games.

The adventure is a solid horror-survival scenario, which works well as an introduction to the game and the beginning (if you wish) of a whole campaign. The essay on horror is good, too, starting with the need to ascertain what scares your particular group... and throw it at them combined with the loss of control of your surroundings inherent in a zombie game. Loads of ideas and concepts to play with as you develop your own adventures.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Zombie Master's Screen
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Paranoia Forms Pack
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2017 08:08:43

Paranoia is a game of bureaucracy gone mad, so a selection of actual forms to throw at your players seems a good idea: bury them in administrivia!

The first form is genuinely useful. It's a character sheet. For once the THIS FORM IS MANDATORY in friendly red letters across the top is spot on. You don't get far without some sort of character sheet in any RPG, after all.

The next one is good for fostering intra-party conflict. It is an 'Accusation of treason/termination permit request' form. It's reasonably straightforward (although appears to assume it's written on three-part paper with directions as to what to do with yellow, pink and white copies) and should keep your Troubleshooters busy as they drop each other in a whole load of trouble.

Next is a 'XP Point Asynchronous Claim Requisition'. This runs to three pages, with an 'for official use only' section inserted between two bits the troubleshooter ought to be filling in which could raise awkward questions about why the troubleshooter is writing below the 'for official use only' line...

Then there is a Cerebral Coretech Issue Report, which may be filled out by the person experiencing the issues or someone else reporting on their behalf... and includes this gem of a direction "If the issue with your cerebral coretech has left you unable to fill in forms, please tick this box". Before you laugh too much, UK forms for applying for disabled allowances are nearly as bad (or at least, cannot cope with people whose disability makes it hard for them to write longhand!). There are three pages of this to plough through, enough to drive anyone not yet insane around the bend.

Next up, a Sector Travel Permit application. As someone who prefers to go into a ticket office, tell the clerk where I want to go and pay him rather than use a ticket machine, I don't want to struggle through this... it's a demented fusion of the morass that is the British railways ticketing system and a warped version of airport security. Again three whole pages of it...

And then rather bizarrely the whole lot are repeated four more times. This is a PDF. I can print multiple copies of a page. OK, if you have bought the 'dead tree' version as a pad of forms, multiple copies would be useful.

However, the forms are well in keeping with the spirit and ethos of Paranoia and excellent for exasperating your players. Give them a go!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Paranoia Forms Pack
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Paranoia Interactive Screen
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2017 07:28:35

Whilst serving the normal purpose of a GM screen (to hide notes, die rolls and anything else you want to hide from your players), this one continues the unique humour of Paranoia across both sides.

The player-facing side has supposed 'card slots' where players can put action cards when playing them. Maybe. If they can figure out where they should put them. Unfortunately there's a warning in large friendly letters stating that understanding the screen's function is beyond your security clearance...

The GM's side has various lists and charts some of which may be actually useful. Hints on calculating how many successes are needed for a task based on how hard it is, or XP points rewards for different accomplishments are handy, then there's quite a lot on what those XP points can be spent on, from improving security clearance level to getting new skills or a shiny new piece of kit.

Then there are some other charts that can be used to provide quick randomised results to questions like 'Where are we?' or 'What is this individual's motivation?'. Then there's a chart of Items of Questionable Provenance that are just crying out to be scattered through your scenarios - most could probably spawn a whole new adventure on their own. The table of Achievements is a bit baffling. It's not clear whether these are things you are told to do, hear about someone else doing or what... and many aren't things that would occur to a troubleshooter anyway. Why do 500 jumping jacks anyway? And it's not clear what reward you'd get if you did apart from a loud claxon going off to mark the accomplishment.

While it's funny the first time you read it, the humour will pale a bit, and it's likely that most people will want to lay their cards on the table rather than try to perch them on the screen. Get it if you like having a GM screen that matches your game, or if you're a completist.

The price is a bit high especially for a PDF - cardstock, well even that would probably be about $5-6 unless there's an adventure included.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Paranoia Interactive Screen
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Guide to Alpha Complex
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2017 08:14:05

Addressed to the newly-decanted first clone, the first section provides basic orientation by the Computer itself to life as an Infrared clearance member of the Alpha Complex community. That's where a new individual begins, although your group may decide to start out as Troubleshooters (minimum security clearance is Red) so this discourse would then be in your past. It's all written in a wonderfully cheerful and slightly breathless style that combines a political manifesto's honesty with an over-enthusiastic corporate onboarding document, peppered with (deliberate) errors that look like a database has crashed somewhere...

This continues through sections on gaining Red clearance, what Troubleshooters do, the enemies of Apha Complex, care and operation of your Cerebral Coretech and your very own copy of the Alphapedia - the database of useful information available online (via the cloud and accessible via Cerebral Coretech)... this all an in-character resource. Everything here may be accessed by characters and acted upon. Certainly once they reach Red clearance and become Troubleshooters, anyway.

This gives a good overview of what life is like in Alpha Complex, the background to your adventures as Troubleshooters. It's a neat way to convey the 'common knowledge' that all citizens have about their environment and society, but which their players, naturally, do not have unless the GM lectures them for hours. Better than that it also brings over the general tone and style of the game, and the 'mindset' of the Computer, thus helping all involved to get into the correct mood to play the game to best effect. (That mood should be mildly irritated, a bit uncomfortable, and trusting nothing... keep your laser handy!). It is rather expensive to give each player a copy, which would be ideal gamewise, but having a copy to share around will enhance your enjoyment of the game as it sets the scene so well.

All good Troubleshooters should remember to stay alert, trust nobody and keep their lasers handy. And the Computer is your friend...

[Note: This is a 5-star book, but it's over-priced hence it loses a star.]



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Guide to Alpha Complex
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Paranoia Red Clearance Edition
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/29/2017 12:15:18

Starting with the Player's Handbook we're confronted with the friendly invitation "Start with this book to become a proud throubleshooter of Alpha Complex". There's the air of one of those faintly embarrasing and over-eager corporate employee handbooks. The information is aimed at novice role-players and begins with an example of play... which ends up with everyone in soup. Why is anybody's guess. Perhaps we'll find out later. Next, the character sheet is explained, along with everything that goes on it. Each character's stats are Violence, Brains, Mechanics and Chuzpah; and these are used in combination with their Skills - they're listed with the appropriate Stat - when you try to do anything.

That explained, we get down to the character creation process itself, with a neat system of group creation that pre-loads the party with tensions and links between individual characters. Everyone gets to choose their own name, appearance and gender (with a note that gender is basically immaterial, the Computer doesn't care... but heterosexual relationships are treasonous as they mock the Computer's genius at cloning, but the Computer has no programming to understand homosexual relationships so they are neither banned nor condoned!). Then you start picking skills, in a manner such that when you choose a positive rating in one, another player gets a negative rating in the same skill. It sounds weird, and probably is to anyone new to Paranoia, but has a strange logic that fits this addmittedly unusual game well. Stats are generated by adding up the skill points under each one - but then your neighbour at the table gets to allocate the numbers generated across the Stats. It makes more sense (and more party conflict!) when you do it than it does to write about it! There are various other bits - treason points, XP points, Moxie and so on - then we look at Secret Societies and Mutant Powers, both of which are treasonous before we even start! The GM allocates these, no options here.

The core game mechanic used whenever you want to accomplish something involves rolling a number of dice equivalent to the appropriate Stat and Skill - this is your NODE (Number Of DicE). And a Computer Dice (no, this isn't a grammatical mistake, that's what it is called), which is always rolled even if the Stat and Skill combined is not a positive number. A 5 or 6 rolled is a success and the number of successes are added to give your result (with any appropriate modifiers added in). Like all game mechanics, once you've tried it a few times it becomes far less cumbersome than it sounds when written out. Puschasers of the hard-copy version of this set get a special Computer Dice, the rest of us have to improvise - perhaps a different-coloured D6 from the others you are rolling with one number designated as the 'Computer'. When you roll that, interesting things happen. The Computer is your friend, after all.

Next is a description of Moxie, which you want to hang on to because when you run out of Moxie points you freak out. This takes the entire gameplay to new levels of silliness, with some of the suggestions here being quite amusing. Then we get on to combat. This is moderated by Action Cards, which are doled out by the GM in a manner not explained here (but which may be expained in the Gamesmaster's Handbook when I get to that in a bit). You get one action per turn, and may play one Action Card during your action, then follow the directions on the card. Preprinted cards are provided (PDF users have to print them out, of course). Being Paranoia there is also a zany way to determine combat order, called the Dynamic Yet Narrative Action Melee Order system or DYNAMO. Just to add to the fun, combat is played real-time. It all sounds horrendously complex - and it is! - but it transforms combat into something quite unique... pretty much like the rest of this game, actually. It then calms down a bit to tell you how to actually resolve combat.

While the various new game mechanics - from character creation to combat stuff - all add to the flavour that is Paranoia at its best, we then hear about a new concept: the Cerebral Coretech. This is a kind of direct link from the Computer into your character's brain. To model communications with the Computer at the game table, it's suggested you text on your phone... passing notes is so old school. And then we get onto XP Points or Better Living Through Gamification (which is, I believe, the first use of gamification in a role-playing game, she says putting her academic head on for a moment!). These are not what you normally think of as XPs, rather than being used to rise in level or develop your character as in most games, they can be spent to get goodies - equipment or other advantages - to give your character a boost. Or you can increase skills or even security clearance... there's a whole catalogue of stuff to choose from. This book ends with equipment information (fairly general, most is on Equipment Cards) and decidedly treasonous information on Secret Societies.

On to the Gamesmaster's Handbook. Slightly saner in tone, this provides what you need to know to run Paranoia games, starting with an explanation of what Alpha Complex actually is like. Then there's advice on GMing Paranoia, including basic advice for those new to GMing at all. There are some revolutionary ideas here, like the GM doesn't roll dice, leave that to the players. It's fine to make things up and decide what happens rather than leave it to chance. It's not abitrary, it is appropriate and in the spirit of Paranoia. But you can roll dice if you really want to. There are notes on setting difficulty levels for players to roll against, and a discussion of what the Computer really is. Explanations of security clearances, mutant powers and secret societies follow... oh, and there are even non-treasonous societies clones can join too. There are cards for Secret Societies which you issue to players, with strict instructions to keep them, well, secret. Even from the other players, but there is considerable more information here. And there's more... computer viruses (which may or may not exist), much more about equipment and how it fails, issuing XP points, the use of the Number 1 Troubleshooter Card, and the all-important Running Combat section. The book rounds up with a bucket-load of good advice about running Paranoia, notes on creating adventures, and some comments about humour in RPGs. And random tables for the Computer Dice and for Losing It (just in case you need some ideas...).

The final book is the Missions Book. This provides three linked adventures all ready to go. There's some basic advice for someone who's never even role-played before and has still been asked to GM, then on to the adventures themselves, each ought to be capable of being run in a single session each. If run in order, they provide a good introduction to the game, and to Alpha Complex. Pre-generated characters are supplied for those who want to dive straight into the action, there's also a bare-bones summary of the rules. Everything is presented very clearly and simply: you could literally pick this up not knowing anything about Paranoia or even role-playing and make a credible stab at running the first adventure provided you follow the instructions. In the first adventure, the characters are Infrared clearance, the lowest of the low, but they ought to graduate to Red clearance, and Troubleshooter status, by the end. The next two build on that, giving more insights and more grief to the party.

Paranoia is back, and with a vengeance! The true spirit, the flavour of the original game, is well-reflected in its new incarnation, with some innovative quirks and new game mechanics that serve only to inhance it. Paranoia's not for everyone, but it makes an excellent antidote to more serious games, and this new edition will not disappoint newcomers or those who have played every previous edition alike. The Computer is your friend...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Paranoia Red Clearance Edition
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The Red Isle
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/28/2017 10:33:54

Throw this adventure in sometime that the party is taking a long sea voyage... it's easy to drop it into any campaign as it is based on a remote and rarely-visited island. The DM's Background explains the situation in which the party will find themselves and provides a neat way for them to hear at least a little of this information: the captain of the ship they are on likes telling tales of an evening!

It all begins with a shipwreck. The characters wake up on what appears to be a remote and deserted island. This survival situation turns into a delve as a long-lost pirate lair is discovered and (presumably) explored. The pirate captain was a bit paranoid, so it's quite well defended, not to mention other creatures that have moved in. There's a clear plan of the lair, presented as a side elevation (it makes more sense that way, but is nicely-done) and each location therein is described in detail, with what (and who) is to be found there and all you need to run the ensuing combat. And combat there will be, nothing there is going to be interested in a chat.

This is a tough adventure: the traps are complex and deadly and so are the inhabitants. Survivors will find a rich hoard... but they still have to figure out how to get someplace that they can enjoy their new-found wealth. Suggestions for further adventures are included, all-in-all this is a nice little side-adventure to catch your players with when they are thinking about the reason they originally undertook that fateful sea voyage.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Red Isle
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