The idea of a zombie apocalypse (or as I call it, the “zombocalypse”) is one that’s become so popular lately that it’s almost post-modern. Books, films, and video games have all explored the idea of a mass zombie uprising, usually through the lens of a small group of people trying to survive as the world ends around them. RPGs have also explored this territory also, with no company doing it better than UKG with their Year of the Zombie Modern d20 game. While YotZ already has a few adventures available, the largest by far is Hold at all Costs: One.
The direct sequel to Hold at all Costs: Zero, HAAC1 picks up where that adventure left off, though it’s very easy to play it on its own. Here, the PCs are Rangers in the US Army, and are returning to the American embassy in the fictitious Central American country of Calstinopa from a rescue mission. Unfortunately, the Rising – a worldwide event where anyone who dies (with their brain intact) becomes a zombie, as does anyone who is bitten by a zombie. Now, the embassy needs to retrieve and defend the Americans in the country (along with citizens of some friendly nations) and defend itself until a battleship can arrive to evacuate it. Worse, the local insurgents are using the zombie apocalypse as an excuse to invade the country. It’s against this backdrop that the PCs are given a series of missions to complete.
Needless to say, this adventure is epic in scope and design; it’s very nearly a short campaign in and of itself, taking place over the course of several days. It’s also a pretty severe meatgrinder, as PCs are constantly pushed to the limit while facing incredible danger on a near-constant basis. One bite from a zombie, or one shot from an enemy sniper, and that’s pretty much it for your character – not to worry though, after all you’ve just got to carry out a constant series of missions with almost no chance to eat or sleep for a few days straight.
This adventure comes with five books and five map packs, each of which also has a printer-friendly version, for a grand total of a whopping twenty PDFs! Luckily, UKG has very helpfully provided an index in the form of an HTML document that has hyperlinks to each of the PDFs, making navigation much easier. The books themselves have blue sidebars on alternating pages that look like the spirals from a notebook, as well as interior illustrations, usually in the forms of black and white sketches and the occasional map image. The printer-friendly version removes all of these in favor of just plain text on a white background. The five battlemaps all show the entire map location on the first page, with the remaining pages breaking the map down into printable sections with a light grid over them, making them immediately useful for tabletop play. The printer-friendly versions of the maps are grayscale reproductions, and don’t eliminate any of the imagery.
The main adventure book, All You Can Eat, is one hundred pages long, and that should give you a good idea of just how much zombie mayhem is packed into it. There are a massive eighteen scenarios packed into the book, ranging from fairly complex scenarios that require cunning and quick-thinking to overcome, to impossible situations in which the PCs best bet is to abort the mission as soon as they see the odds. Each mission gives a quick rundown of the situation (using the SALUTE acronym – Size, Activity, Location, Unit, Time, and Equipment) and also has a Knowledge (tactics) table that GM’s may or may not like – low rolls on the table will result in tactics that are sure to get the group killed, while the highest rolls will deliver plans with a fairly good chance of success. This is useful for groups that have good tacticians with them, but I wonder if it’d be more fun to force the players to think tactically about the situation that’s presented to them, instead of handing them the answers from a good die roll. Still, it’s far and away better to have this here and decide not to use it than the other way around. Supplementary rules for things such as zombie mobs, various weapons, and a primer on the nation of Calstinopa round out the book.
The second book, called Hard Options, presents a short number of scenario outlines that can be added in between missions. These are mostly meant to be additional scenarios that can be used when it’s absolutely necessary to gather more equipment or possible replacement characters for the PCs (something which will happen quite a bit, I think). The actual replacement characters are found in the third book, titled Personnel Database. In a very cool move, this book divides up the possible replacements for fallen PCs into different military units, some from other nations, and gives a brief rundown on their unit before giving the stat blocks. Each character also has a brief bio in with his stats as well, which was a great touch for making these characters more than just cardboard cutouts for slain PCs.
The NPCs who aren’t fit to be replacement PCs and whose stats don’t matter too much, are fleshed out in the fourth book, Cast of Extras. These characters are divided up by the scenario they appear in, and like the other NPCs have a brief bio that’s quite fun to read as it really brings the character to life. However, my enjoyment of this book was heightened by the last one, Cast of the Risen. This book, in addition to presenting generic zombies and a nice table for their appearance and possessions, has zombie stat blocks for all of the NPCs from the other books – literally, every character, PC or NPC, has a zombie stat block here for when/if they Rise. Talk about going the extra mile!
One thing that I do need to make clear about this adventure is that, in spite of its incredible depth and massive scope – indeed, most likely because of those things – it likely will require a dedicated effort to run for a group. A GM will need to be very familiar with the rules from the main YotZ rulebook, and will likely be flipping back and forth between that and several of the books here. This really strikes me as an adventure that will take practice and precision to be able to run smoothly.
For those GMs who are up to running their players through it, however, this will be an adventure your gaming group remembers for years. The tough-as-nails, battle-hardened running-on-empty soldiers going up against zombies and military insurgents again and again, saving civilians and each other as a country comes apart at the seems, desperately trying to hold on until backup arrives is the stuff that heroic legends are made of. Hold at all Costs: One pulls absolutely no punches, but that’s what makes it such great material. Have your group test their mettle against this adventure, and find out what they’re really made of during the first few days of the Year of the Zombie.
[5 of 5 Stars!]