Battleshed Diaries

Thursday 3 November 2016

Vince and Jules go downtown

All Things Zombie
Zombies. What's their collective noun? A horde, infestation, legion, shuffle? Searching online throws up all sorts of interesting ideas and usage. How about a reek, splatter or lurch of zombies? Personally, I like a moan - of zombies I mean. Why am I thinking of such things? Well, this week I shuffled my way down the hill for my regular mid-week gaming session for All Things Zombie.

Zombies have been around in popular culture for decades of course. I suspect they’re already amongst us, especially whenever I’m required to survive a trip to the local shopping mall. They seem to lurch in and out of fashion. I was surprised we weren't visited by a rot of the diminutive undead for Halloween this year. Maybe they don’t like the rain. Now I have a big bowl of cheap sweets to dispose of. Maybe I’ll wait for my brother-in-law, Iron Man John, to visit. He’ll eat anything. 

There’s no doubt they’ve infested the gaming scene in recent years. I’m ambivalent when it comes to the undead hordes. I occasionally play Zombecide and I’m a fan of The Walking Dead TV series. The best survival horror video game I’ve played is The Last of Us, which gives a twist to the zombie format. Then there’s the huge variety of literature, comics and films going back years. I even have a curious novelty book in the porcelain reading room called The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. Why, or how, I acquired this particular instruction booklet I cannot remember. But I’ve never found zombies particularly scary. In fact, I mostly find the whole zombie thing a bit comical. Or maybe after six seasons (no spoilers for the next please!) of the Walking Dead’s unremitting violence I’ve become desensitised.

Down a Sam Pate’s zombie refuge I arrived to find the table set up depicting a wonderful contempoary city street, complete with lamp posts, tall buildings (mostly from Fat Dragon, apparently) and assorted street furniture. It must have been a classy downtown district (it always is) given the number of neatly parked expensive cars. Although I was pleased to see a good old reliable Ford Focus amongst the exotic rides. Sam was huddled muttering over his Kindle which was lying atop a thick rule book and a loose scattering of Quick Reference sheets. I spied a tray of the undead and an eclectic collection of  28mm ‘survivors’ waiting to be chosen for my first foray into 2Hour Wargame’s All Things Zombie: Final Fade Out.

Yep, after the gladiators last week, I’m back with 2HW for another playtest of one of their thematic and extensive rules. And once again I’m well behind the curve as ATZ was originally published in 2012. Battleshed Diaries is resembling Netflix; lots of old stuff with the occasional new. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s a chance to revisit rules that I’ve missed or to simply discover little gems that passed me by at the time. Sam has been playing ATZ on and off for a while, with it's various expansions and iterations. Which probably explains why he’s accumulated a whole Morgue of zombies. He’s got a soft spot for the decomposing.

The rules themselves have all the familiar hallmarks of a 2HW system; lots of charts, reference sheets and rules for solo, cooperative and campaign play. Campaign play being at the heart of it. Flicking through Sam’s copy of the rules, there’s a lot of content. It's evident there’s a lot more to this system than simply killing swathes of zombies. It’s more about the strategy, logistics of survival and character development. Starting from the first 30 days from the outbreak.

Not only contending with the Stumbly Ones, but also fellow survivors and hostile Gangers. There’s a welcome depth of play here, allowing you to run your own extensive version of The Walking Dead. In some respects, the sheer number of variables the game mechanic covers is initially quite daunting when picking up the rules for the first time. The chart/rule Shufflage Factor was quite high for us. Nonetheless, we soon had two Citizen characters rolled up and set about a quick scenario based on the first day of the outbreak. [Warning, adult dialogue!]

Vince and Jules go downtown

Our scenario starts with two dark-suited hitmen arranging a downtown meet-up to continue their philosophical culinary discussion of foreign terms for various well known fast foods. Just as the zombie infestation starts to take hold. 

Let's call them citizens Vincent Vega (Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3; Free Spirit, Poser) and Jules Winnfield (Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3; Greedy, Fast). Both unobtrusively armed with pistols, blades and cool equanimity.

The gentlemen head into town from opposite directions. It isn’t long before Vincent, emerging from an alleyway, notices a couple of junkies shuffling towards him. He dismisses them with a side glance and continues to cross the main boulevard towards an Italian restaurant. It's not until they get close that he realises something is wrong. Most definitely wrong. They must have used some real dodgy gear considering the dire state of these two deadheads. One has a missing arm the other an eye dangling by glistening meaty threads from a pulpy socket. And they definitely hadn’t seen a tub of moisturiser in years. Or deodorant. Even so, it seemed they were stupidly targeting Vincent as an easy mark. Normally Vincent would deal with the city's low life as effortlessly as flicking away a fly, but he had a real bad feeling about this. Something he’d heard on the TV news drifted to mind. Some virus or suchlike, infecting the recently deceased. And he and his partner Jules were quite familiar with the recently deceased.

Jules decided to take a shortcut into town, taking a route through the back alleys. Keeping a low profile. He always felt too exposed on the main streets. It isn't long until a large, brand new RV parked in a back lot catches his eye. He finds them fascinating. A vice he's careful to keep to himself of course. Especially from Vincent. With a quick glance, he heads closer. Lifting his sunglasses, he peers through the tinted glass. There is no one inside. Just as he's about to try the door a tin can clatters somewhere behind. From out of the shadows a couple of dishevelled dudes appear. Jules spits disdainfully and casually chews gum as they approach. If they're looking for trouble they're sure to get it.

Vincent can hear rising screams of panic further down the street as crowds of shoppers and commuters scatter. More of the shuffling deadheads are amongst them. Jules glances back as the two – zombies? - inexorably gain on him. Street Instinct kicks in and soon he’s running for cover. He darts across the street, narrowly avoiding being run down by a car. It screeches to halt with a blare of its horn as Vincent registers more commotion inside the restaurant. As the panicked driver speeds off, Vincent draws his pistol and veers towards an old rusting fire-stair at the side of the Ristorante Italiano. 

Jules smells the dudes a few seconds before they shuffle into the bright sunlight. His nose wrinkles beneath his sunglasses. He senses something is wrong with these two miscreants. There’s none of the usual bluster. Instead, there are soft, forlorn moans as they awkwardly stagger towards him. Jules steps back sharply as the two assailants are fully revealed. They are both hideously injured. One wore the shredded remnants of a MacDonald's uniform over pallid, dark blemished skin. A great gash from sternum to stomach revealing his rotten innards. The other is an unnervingly pale woman with blond hair and dead, unblinking eyes, clad in a grimy red dress. She awkwardly limps along dragging a cruelly twisted leg. Unnerved, Jules backs towards the RV. He quickly tries its door again. Surprisingly it's unlocked. He dives inside, slamming it behind him. He watches through the large windows as the two unnatural assailants reach the RV and begin to thud against its thin sides.

Vincent decides to buy some time. He aims his pistol at the closest zombie and pulls the trigger. A tall man in a sharp white bloodstained suit. A fedora hat still angled jauntily on his head. The round hits him square in the chest with a wet thwack. The impact drives the undead man to the floor, the hat sent spinning on its brim back down the street. Vincent expertly whips around and squeezes off another round at the second zombie, a sickeningly gaunt teenager in a hoodie. He misses. In his peripheral vision, he registers the fedora man rising up from the pavement. The hoodie is almost upon him. Vincent turns and sprints towards the metal staircase, bounding up its steps two at a time. Panting, he reaches the bright glare of the Ristorante Italiano’s roof and peers over a low brick wall into the street. Unwittingly the two pistol shots appeared to have attracted the attention from more of the strange dead folks.

Jules is about to slide over the RV’s front passenger seat to let himself out the other side when he spots movement. More of the dead dudes are angling towards the RV from the opposite direction. With a curse, he frantically searches for something he can use. He spots a baseball bat lying on a Formica shelf. A few framed pictures are pinned to the wall above. Incongruously, he notices one is of a blond woman, not unlike the one outside currently leaving bloodied smears on the RV’s window as she rhythmically bangs her head on it. He grabs the bat and ponders what to do. He knows there are two on one side, but an unknown number on the other. There is only one thing for it. Hit the two outside and make a run for it. Just as he’s poised to leave the RV his mobile phone rings.

“Jules, it's me! Get your ass down to Ristorante Italiano!”
“Vince, I’ve gotta bit of a problem at the moment - ”
“ Not as bad as mine! I’m on the f*king roof. There’s dead folks coming for me!”
“You're on the roof? What…wait…dead folks? You too?”
“What ya’ mean you too? Just get over here man. The f*kers are trying to get up the stairs! I’m trapped. I’ve dropped a couple but the shots bring out more – “
“Then stop firing Vince.”
“What the f*k do you want me to do? Use harsh language! Get over here!”
“OK, OK… hold on man, keep ya cool. I’m a comin.”

Jules kicks open the RV’s door and bounds outside. In a few swift steps, he’s at the MacDonald’s dude swinging the baseball bat at his head. It hits with a loud crack, the vacant waiter staggers but seems oblivious to the blow. Jules swings again, the bat shattering the poor dude’s teeth and sending his bright red I’m Lovin It cap flying. The woman is almost upon him. There are moaning sounds from coming from the other side of the RV. Vince ducks from her clumsy embrace, and sprints towards a side street leading towards the restaurant.

Up on the roof of Ristorante Italiano, Vincent hears unseen thuds on the staircase below. A few more wild shots from his pistol has brought out more of the decomposing dudes. Some are now clumsily trying to clamber up. He tries the roof access door but it's locked with a large bolt and chain on the outside. There’s no other way off the roof. He pulls out his cellphone again.

  “Jules? Where are you, man?” All he can hear is heavy breathing and occasional distant screams at the other end.
  “Jules, Jules… where are you at?” There is a muffled sound and then Jules barks down the phone,
  “Stop call’in me ya’ idiot Vince! You’re attractin’ more of the f*kers!”
  “Yeah but – “ The phone goes dead. Vincent angles around the other side of the restaurant roof. Below is a dumpster. It’s a good few feet down but he considers making the jump.

Jules bolts up an alley. Up ahead he can see Ristorante Italiano. The undead dudes seem to be coming from every direction. A vagrant rises from a pile of old boxes and blocks his path.
  “Get outta’ ma’ way man! There’s dead folks all over!” There is no response from the stinking hobo. Then Jules notices putrid entrails are hanging like bulbous noodles from the dude’s torn woollen jumper.
  “Aw hell man!” With nausea threatening, Jules swings his baseball bat once more. The hobo zombie collapses back into the boxes.  He retrieves his sunglasses dislodged by the violent swing from a gore splattered puddle and disgustedly wipes them his neat white handkerchief. 

A minute later Jules reaches the restaurant and looks up, immediately recognising the silhouette of his colleague peering down from the roof. Then, Vincent disappears from view. Just as Jules turns to make his way around to the restaurant's entrance there is a loud crash nearby followed by a crescendo of expletives. He's just in time to witness Vincent rolling off a nearby dumpster and thudding to the pavement a few feet away.
  “What the hell, man!” shouts Jules as he reaches Vincent, clutching his left leg and still in full expletive flow. Shuffling undead are approaching from all directions. Vincent’s hard and noisy landing on the dumpster doing nothing to alleviate the situation. Jules grabs Vicent’s arm and roughly attempts to pull him up but Vincent shirks back in pain, ripping his suit in the process.
  “My suit! What’s ya’ think ya’ doin’, man!”
  “What ya' think? Askin’ for a dance? Helping you, goddamn mad f*ker!”
Two of the undead are only feet away. Jules lets Vince fallback onto the pavement as he charges them, swinging his new favourite weapon with vigour, knocking both undead sprawling. Before they can start to recover he jogs back to Vince, who’s managed to stagger to his feet. Sliding the baseball bat under one arm, Jules grabs Vincent by under his shoulder with the other and the two eventually hobble away to seek temporary safety, Vincent waving his pistol and complaining all the way.

So that’s how we played our quick one-off game of All Things Zombie. Sort of. With time running out I left Sam to fully complete the scenario at his leisure. I'd hoped we could have seen Vince and Jules boosting a car to make their escape! Oh well. 

Even with the rule thumbing, assisted now by some familiarity with 2HW’s rule style after recently playing Red Sand Blue Sky and further back, Hell Hath No Fury, this game gave me a good insight into the possibilities of some zombie themed campaigning in the future. I know Mr Pate is keen to have a go. Alongside maybe finding a hard copy of the rules at the forthcoming Targe show before I hit the pdf download button. It looks like I'll have to add ‘survivors’ as well as ‘gladiators’ to my shopping list.

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