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So a friend of mine caught me leaving the dining hall last week, and made a passing comment: “Dude, a D&D 4E game of Zombie Apocalypse would be great.”  And it got me thinking.  Holy crap, I could so do that without much effort.  It would be a great chance to debut my new idea for a campaign setting.  My brain got rolling, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a bunch of ideas.  But out of all of them, one shone like the sun: Gamma World.

Hey, everybody does the ultra-serious, survivalist drama and the introspective human-spirit preservation games, but not a hell of a lot of people get funky with it.  And so, I latched onto something that struck me as a grand idea: What would a zombie apocalypse be like in the post-Big Mistake world of Gamma World?  How would it be different given the random mutations of that world?  What difference would the Omega Tech and Alpha Mutations make?  Even better, what kind of differences could I inflict on the zombies themselves?

First of all, I needed a good Zombie Plague.  I needed something that would threaten the PCs seriously, with the good chance that they could be turned into zombies themselves.  So, I started searching through my D&D 4E books.  The two games cross-over very well, so I figured, what the hell?  I came up with a reference to a zombie plague in Open Grave, but no listing.  TO THE INTERNETS, I thought.  Then I thought I needed to calm down.  A third part of me decided the second part of me needed to get more excited about this.  Things got kinda fuzzy for a while after that…

When I came to, I found an errata’ed zombie plague on the WotC website, and started looking through it.  Problem… there is no Endurance skill in Gamma World, and no disease rules;  I had to get creative.  Hmmm, what to do, what to do…

So, using my gaming brain, I picked apart the basic mechanical idea of diseases in D&D, and how the skill systems worked in both D&D and Gamma World.  Pretty similar, overall, with some minor differences I could get around.  First of all is the Gamma World standard that you add your level to pretty much every d20 roll, instead of half your level like D&D does.  Okay, I can adapt that on both sides of the equation.  Now, I didn’t want contraction of the disease to be automatic; that would make things a little too deadly.  Plus, let’s admit it, everyone in Gamma World is a messed up mutant; who knows what kind of crap a plague has to go through to infect that kind of being?

So what I came up with was that I needed a Contract DC in order to get the disease, as well as DCs for Improvement, Stabilization, and Worsening conditions.  But more than that, not ever attack by a zombie should be inflicting a chance of the plague on the PCs.  So, I came up with the idea that a character has to be either bloodied already or bloodied by the attack in order to have a chance of contracting the plague.  I figured it this way: up until bloodied, a person is just getting whaled on, bruised and beaten, but not actually laid open.  Once you hit bloodied, though, you got open wounds on your body, and now there is a chance for you to catch that damn plague.

As for the progression of the disease, after looking at the effects of the plague, I realized that the way the designers at WotC designed this part of the mechanics extremely well.  So, I just copied it.  Hey, if it works, go with it.  And since they did that so well, I went ahead and looked up a bunch of the D&D zombies, as Gamma World really only gives them for the upper levels.  Jackpot!  I ended up with eleven pages of transcribed monsters I could use.  While I did that, I hit up Open Grave one more time and lifted the Infected Zombie template from it.  I figure when a PC dies of the plague, it means I can use the template to throw them against their old party.  And hey, now I can inflict it on other Gamma World monsters.  Nice.

So now I find myself figuring out where to set it.  Luckily, I live right next to a college campus so hey, there I go.  I am still in the process of putting that all together, but I have a hell of a start on what to do for this Zombie Apocalypse in the land of the weird and wild.  I have a good idea of where my plague is going to originate from, but I am not revealing it here yet.  After all, some of the players may read this, and there is no way I am letting the cat out of that bag.  Takes all the fun out of my life.

So, as you see, it is not all that hard to come up with a campaign idea that is actually workable around the stories your PCs want to craft as it happens, no matter how off the wall they may be.  Hell, it’s not even that hard to find and corrupt mechanics, I mean, adapt mechanics (heh) to your own ideas.  A little bit of working ahead, a little dedication to adapting to fit your idea, and the next thing you know, you have something workable.  And guess what, the more you do this kind of thing, the more you learn how the mechanic works, and how to think on your feet to deal with what the PCs are going to do during your games.  I don’t care how much you prepare, your PCs are going to do what they want, and if you try to hard-ass them into going the way you want, they are going to hate your games; after all, at that point, they aren’t making any actual choices, and they might as well be playing a damn Playstation game instead.

What do you think?
PS: Here is my adaptation of the Zombie Plague for Gamma World.  Feel free to use it, just give some credit, okay?

Zombie Plague

Attack: Any non-weapon melee attack made by a zombie creature that bloodies a target, or is made against a bloodied target.  The victim must make a Constitution + Level check against the Contract DC.  If they meet or succeed the DC, they do not contract the plague. If they fall short of it, they contract Zombie Plague and suffer the effects as listed under Initial Effects.  After that, the PC must make a Constitution + Level check every hour; if they meet or succeed the Improve DC, they move up the ladder of the disease; if they meet the Stabilize DC but do not meet the Improve DC, they remain on the tier they currently occupy.  If they meet but do not succeed the Worsen DC, they move one step down the ladder of the disease, until they reach the Final Stage rung.

Contract: DC 10 + Zombie Level

Improve: DC 15 + Zombie level

Stabilize: DC 10 + Zombie level

Worsen: DC 9 + Zombie level or less

Disease Progression:

The Target is Cured

Initial Effect:

The target regains only half normal hit points from healing and healing effects.

Worsened:

The target regains only half normal hit points from healing and healing effects.  In addition, each time the afflicted character fails to improve it takes 5 necrotic damage that cannot be resisted or healed until the disease is removed.

Final State:

The afflicted creature dies and rises in three rounds as an infected zombie; apply the infected zombie template to their character.  This can be prevented by dealing fire or radiation damage to the body of the victim equal to its bloodied value before it rises.  This destroys the body entirely.

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2 Comments

  1. Haha – so many options on that campus for a plague’s beginning… But I like it so far.

  2. Good advice – nothing gets my players more mad than when they feel their decisions have no impact on how the campaign unfolds.

    I dig your disease rules for Gamma World. It got me thinking about incorporating a zombie plague in my own game. I went with a slightly different implementation, but I agree that Gamma World is well suited for the genre (more in a Slither/Night of the Creeps way than Night of the Living Dead, but even Dawn of the Dead had its share of humor).
    You can see my version of the zombie plague here:
    http://dave.monkeymartian.com/?p=671
    Its at the end of the post (I’m doing a short series on my blog where I look at movies and TV for game inspiration and add a bit of rpg crunch at the end).


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  1. […] I have to give props to Erik Fry, whose blog Dear God What Have We Wrought?! got me thinking about the mechanics of a zombie plague in Gamma World.  I went in quite a […]

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