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Run from the Dead

When I first began exploring the world of tabletop miniatures gaming in early 2016, one of the several possibilities that piqued my curiosity was the idea of staging games in a zombie-infested survival/apocalypse setting. Since my first terrifying encounters with the George Romero movies Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I've had a special fondness for stories involving small bands of hunted humans surviving the zombie hordes.

I also knew, however, that most of my miniatures gaming was going to be in other settings (fantasy realms or early 20th century locales suitable for pulp adventure and Lovecraftian games). The idea of accumulating all of the necessary terrain and figures for a modern setting was daunting until I discovered that many people play these games out at 15mm instead of 28mm. Not only would this scale be a lot cheaper for acquiring the miniatures and having them painted, but it meant I could reduce the storage commitment for terrain, too. A bit of research on The Miniatures Page and Lead Adventure Forum pointed me in the direction of Khurasan Miniatures' and Rebel Minis' excellent 15mm lines in this genre, and I quickly snatched up close to 200 miniatures for quite cheap (at least compared to the outlay for comparables in 28mm).

The next step was sending the newly acquired minis off for a good daubing last January. Here's what a selection of them looked like afterward.








The whole lot of 'em.
But thereafter other projects consumed much of my time in the subsequent months, mostly involving learning some basic techniques of terrain building for my games of Advanced Songs of Blades and Heroes. Although not my top priority, I sill spent the early months of this year researching and picking up several sets of rules for the zombie survival genre. Just as I was about to settle on a rule set, Andrea Sfligoli of Ganesha Games (and creator of the above mentioned Songs) asked if I'd be interested in play testing a set of rules he had in development titled Run from the Dead. Being a big fan of his Songs work, I decided I should at least take a look. I liked what I saw, and the mechanics shared some of the gaming genetics of his other games, so the learning curve wasn't as steep as some of the other zombie games.

Now I needed to impose a deadline on myself to pull everything together. And there was a lot to pull together. I scheduled a game day and sent around the below teaser image in an email invitation to a bunch of friends.

  

Buildings

I had a few scant weeks to create all of the needed terrain. The first thing I turned to was a couple of piles of mostly used HO railroad buildings that I had picked up cheap on eBay earlier in the year just for this purpose. I truly hated the idea of putting those terrible-looking plasticy railroad diorama post offices and hardware stores on my table, so I spent a couple of weekend afternoons priming and then giving a few quick coats of paint and washes to them. A little time consuming, but far more appealing to see on my table in the end. Below are some examples of what they looked like after I got some paint slapped on them (of course I couldn't wait to get some miniatures next to them to test one last time how they worked, scale wise). I forgot to take before-and-after photos, but you can see from the first couple of photos below in which I still had the original boxes just how horrible they looked before painting.







Trees

In imagining the kinds of scenarios that might be fun, I knew that I wanted the option to set the action in both urban or rural environments. This meant I was going to need lots of trees, and those that I had created for my 28mm games were not really going to work. I ended up finding a Chinese seller on eBay who offered 20 smaller scale trees for $4.98 a lot. Of course, they didn't come with any bases, so I had to set about making some that wouldn't be distractingly junky looking.

Tried out three different bases to see what would be stable and produce the most pleasing results. The cork ones (sourced from super thin cork placemats from Ikea) gave me the organic shape and some natural texture the others didn't. I ended up going that direction for my tree bases, strengthening them with Mod Podge, which also provided the adhesive for flocking them with some grasses, sand, and stones.

All flocked up!

Roads

I'd been contemplating how to acquire or make modern paved roads for cheap for a while. I knew I'd need a few feet of them, and most everything I saw out there was either a bit expensive, wasn't the exact right aesthetic (too post-apocalypse in feel), or limiting in some other way. Eventually I wondered how hard could it be to just build my own damn roads, so I set about researching it. I ended up finding a small basic paved road image online. I started playing with it in Photoshop and InDesign until I got it scaled to be suitable with the 15mm cars and semi-trucks I picked up for cheap on eBay (again, bulk lot from China that came to something like $15 for 100 cars). I played with the little paved road image until I came up with some templates for various types of road (intersections, double yellow lined, white broken lined, etc.). You can download all of my files at this post. I tried at somebody's suggestion on DM Scotty's crafting page on Facebook to mount the printed road section on thin foam sheets from Michael's, but they felt too flimsy and had a tendency to curl and not lay as flat as I wanted (again, my perfectionist, high-bar tendencies creating more work for myself). Somebody else had mentioned using floor tile, and a trip to Home Depot later I had my solution. Two tips: First, you should look for the thinnest vinyl floor tiling you can find. The first batch I brought home was a bit too thick, double that of what I eventually ended up using. Basically buy the cheapest you can find and that should work. Second, you'll want to use a steel ruler and a heavy-duty snap blade knife (I have a DeWalt that is indispensable). You'll have to score each cut about three times with a lot of pressure before you can finally snap the tile pieces off.

Bonus: The underside of vinyl floor tiles come with an adhesive, so you just have to pull the protective paper off and stick your printed roads down without any extra glue.

Top side of original tile.


Fencing

About a month ago three linked adventures started to take shape in my ruminations on the initial game I wanted to plan, and I realized that one chapter of the story was going to require some barbed-wire fencing around a military compound. I hoped I could find something in the right scale already out on the market that would be reasonably priced so that I could tick this box with a purchase rather than another scratch build. I came up empty handed (maybe others know where to find such fences in 15mm). In the end, though, it turned out just fine. I embarked on building my own, and winged it without the benefit of any online tutorials.
Mostly trimmed toothpicks and popsicle sticks.

The little holes for the toothpicks were made with that jeweler's hand drill ($8 with some bits on Amazon). 

I was really worried the popsicle sticks would warp with paint so I bought my first can of gesso (black) and now plan on using it on every wood-based piece of terrain I make going forward. It's a dream to work with.

Metallic grey for the poles, and more of a cement grey for the bases.

The fencing was cut from screendoor mesh (at a right angle so that the mesh would match the diamond shape of a chain-linked fence). The only bit I didn't craft myself was the barbed wire, which is sold on spools by Galefore Nine. Just wind it around a paintbrush handle to get the shape and tie the ends off along the top of the pre-notched toothpick tops.

About five feet of fence, more than I'm guessing I'll ever need.

Battle boards

Even though the game was being played at the much reduced 15mm, I knew I wanted to have a decent sized board to play on, especially if I was going to throw scores upon scores of zombies on it. One of the primary mechanics in Run for the Dead is random placement of zombies and location of  "events" on the board as the game progresses. It requires the board to be equally divided into 20 spaces along each axis of the playing area. This mechanic allows for a lot of great surprises mid-game, but also encourages imposing a grid system on the playing area. My penchant for verisimilitude pushes me away from distracting grids on the battlefields in miniatures games (feels too much like a board game when a grid is imposed), and trying to problem solve my way around this encouraged me to try my hand at something I'd been wanting to do for a while anyway, build a board. For this game, though, I fell upon the idea of lining the board's outer edges with the 20 demarcated spaces. This comes into play when an Event card indicates something like a mob of zombies should appear in play, prompting the rolling of two 20-sided dice to determine the X and Y coordinates on the board.

I had a couple of purple d20s, and one happened to have white numbering and the other black, so I colored the numbers along the board sides accordingly.

That black gesso saved the day with this 30"x30" chip board. I am positive that without the gesso this board would have started warping like mad when I went to put that grey paint down.

The urban side of the board, with half-inch trim running along the borders.

The rural/forest side of the board with some basic stippling of a couple of shades of green and brown. Simple and completely acceptable.

The grid with the d20s. The dowels were intended to facilitate measuring across the board after the dice were rolled, but we ended up not feeling like we needed them and could eyeball everything with acceptable accuracy. 

Nothing to be proud of here, but literally a couple of hours before game time I decided I needed a few more obstacles on the board, and in a scramble I scooped up the cut ends from the board's edging and slapped some paint on them They served their purpose as short cement walls for the day and will now be retired or spruced up before used again.


Rules and playing aids

Even with a copy of Sfligoli's beta rules, the rule book had omissions, inconsistencies, and gaps. I'm sure I wore poor Andrea out with my one or two questions a day for clarification the week leading up to the game. In the final 72 hours I decided we'd have a better chance of the day being a success if I worked up some quick reference sheets instead of trying to look everything up in the not-quite-ready rule book. 

The game is co-operative, with zombies' behavior dictated by the results of the players' failed dice rolls and the cards they are then forced to draw. Of course, I can't leave well enough alone, and so I went to the extra effort of designing game cards from the raw text I was provided.




These are the pipe cleaners I worked up for everybody to determine movement (which is measured in units that match the demarcations along the side of the board). Movement doesn't have to be in a straight line (as it does in Songs), so the pipe cleaner idea was meant to facilitate gauging your movement allowance around obstacles and the like.

Ended up distilling, clarifying, and unifying about 26 pages of rules down to two double-sided quick reference sheets (rule book on left, sheets on right).


The Game!

After a couple of folks cancelled out, we ultimately had four players in attendance: me, Jared Smith, John Sears, and Francesco Nesci.

I took notes for my scenario ideas in the couple of weeks leading up to the game and decided I wanted a three-chapter campaign that would begin with the initial zombies' appearing on the scene. 

Chapter 1: The Bride Wore Red

Several families gather for the wedding of the Peterson boy at St. Dismas’ of Ardino on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon. Most of the attendees take advantage of the Indian Summer warmth and their proximity to the church by walking to the service along the town’s idyllic neighborhood streets. The ceremony tranquilly unfolds in the soft light that fills the church’s stony expanse as it has for the many generations of locals who exchanged vows before its altar. After the priest pronounces the couple married and suggests that the groom may now kiss his nervous bride, he lifts the veil. She’s so pale, he thinks, and realizes she was far more anxious than even he expected. When he jerks back with a muffled scream, the congregation gasps at the arc of blood that sprays from where the groom’s lower lip had been moments before. The cacophony is then quickly pierced by the priest’s cry, as his white vestments quickly blossom in red, an altar boy's jaws bearing down hard on his leg. In stunned silence the congregation watches as Father Callahan drops to one knee and then lists over backward. The screaming begins anew as attendees clamor over pews and down aisles toward the church's arched entry doors.  

Each player started with a family of four characters for which I had prepared profiles. Two of those characters (a husband and wife) started the game at the church where they had been attending the wedding, while the other two (kids, babysitters, dogs, etc.) are on the far side of the board safely ensconced in their homes.  The objective for the players was to get the characters from the church back home safely and reunited with their awaiting families.

Here's what the layout of this part of the town looked like before placing any miniatures or other obstacles (trees, cement retaining walls, etc.).

Church in the top left corner, player's four family homes in the bottom right corner.
I deliberately designed the scenario to ease folks into the rules: only two characters to move (those at the church) and nobody with a firearm in this scenario (which also made thematic sense given it was a sleepy small-town wedding).

After deciding where the zombies would start on the board and placing some obstacles like cars and cement walls, we started on the race for home.












Part of the fun of this game is the Event Cards that get drawn with alarming regularity throughout the game. Most of the time they spawn new zombies or prompt existing zombies to move toward characters on the board, but sometimes  they introduce a scenario-specific wrinkle. Because I created the scenarios, I had to create those particular Event Cards, too, which was a lot fun. Around turn three, this one cropped up on my draw:

Police Cordon
Police have blocked off both ends of the nearest street for the remainder of the game because Old Man Creely has been spooked by the strange goings on and started shooting at anything he sees walking along his street. Characters within 3 movement units of this street must immediately make an 8+ dodge roll to avoid being shot or at any point hereafter that they enter the cordoned area. 

My character Hank failed his Dodge roll, and then rolled quite poorly on the wound table, essentially slumping over dead with a large hole in his cranium.

Hank (bottom left)...first but far from the last casualty of the evening.







Strategies and snacks...

Eventually more mayhem ensued in the sprint to safety.

Just before getting his two main characters into his house, John drew this card that I had cooked up for the Events deck:

FIRE!
The nearest house bursts into flames. Anyone inside must roll a 14+ to escape the conflagration.

Unfortunately, one of his kids didn't not roll high enough to escape the flames. Now the fire's survivors were forced to flee to the safety of a neighbor's home.


All hands on deck.






John and Francesco.



A box of zombies in reserve...





Some Event cards get removed from the game after they appear, but many get reshuffled into the deck. Fate was not kind to us this first day of the undead uprising. A little while later, after John's kid escaped the first blaze and was sheltering in the neighbor's house, the gas main exploded again, setting Jared's  house aflame, resulting in more casualties.

Jared's character Sam runs toward his house that is surrounded by zombies only to see it burst into flames as the gas main explodes again...













Chapter 2: Evacuation!

We managed to get through the first scenario in a fairly fast-paced 90 minutes, but we realized that we were not going to have enough time to get all three chapters played in one evening and so decided to jettison chapter 2 and jump straight to chapter three. Chapter two was going to allow the players to now provision themselves from items in their homes, including ranged weapons. The characters who spent the first scenario safely at home also had attributes and items (med kits and whatnot) that could come in handy in the upcoming chapters.

The broad outline of chapter 2 was intended to be something like the following:

After spending a few fearful days hunkered down in their boarded up homes, an emergency message was broadcast instructing the town's inhabitants to make their way to the hospital across town where the military would be using the helipad there to evacuate the few remaining survivors. I played around with the idea of creating a time limit (e.g., number of turns) by which the survivors had to make it to the helipad, as well as using the games Zombie Zones mechanic (areas particularly dense with zombies and thus very treacherous to pass through) for parts of the board. I had also taken a dozen or so of my stockpile of plastic cars and made them a bit more evocative of the chaos that had taken place between chapters 1 and 2.










Chapter 3

Running short on time, we leapfrogged to chapter 3 because it would allow me to use the other side of the battle board I had prepared and a bunch of the scratch-built terrain I had worked up that had yet to enter play. Despite devoting every free hour for a week outside of work and sleep to getting the game ready, the one thing I wasn't able to finish was finalizing all of the details of each scenario in time for game day. I knew the broad outlines for chapter 3, but I ultimately needed my fellow playtesters to help me flesh out some of the scenario details.

The premise of chapter 3: After making it into the choppers at the end of chapter 2, whoever was still alive was now being flown to a nearby military outpost that had been set up in the past few days outside of town. But a malfunction in the overworked helicopter caused it to crash about a mile away from the base, leaving the survivors to make it the rest of the way through the woods on foot. Each survivor was allowed to scavenge one item from the helicopter wreckage (grenades, walkie talkies, etc.), but also had to roll on the wound table as a result of the crash. Each player also randomly received a new character to accompany their surviving family members: one of the soldiers from the helicopter crew. These new characters introduced some heavier firepower for handling the zombie hordes.

And hordes there were. We decided to seed the board with a far greater number of zombies--around 65--than we had in chapter 1 for the initial outbreak. We also added some large Zombie Zones, a game mechanic that made any zombies who moved through these zones grow in number as they picked up the straggler zombies milling about in them.

Start of turn one...it only got worse from here. Players started on the far-right corner and were attempting to make their way to the gate being guarded by the armored personnel character on the right corner. The square patches of grass on the board were Zombie Zones, treacherous to walk through and tended to bolster the size of zombie mobs that traipsed through them over the course of the game.




You can't fight zombies on an empty stomach...











In the end, despite all of the extra fire power and thus the higher casualties we inflicted on the zombie hordes in this chapter, by turn four we were overwhelmed without covering much ground toward the safety of the awaiting base. Interestingly, it didn't feel disappointing, to me at least. In a game like this, the odds should be stacked against surviving. We put up a respectable fight, but the rampaging dead would not yield.

Sound bed

So another thing I like to do with my games when I have the time is to come up with mood music playlists. I actually created one for each chapter, with different music and sound effects to match (e.g., chapter 3 has a 30-minute long sound file of zombies shuffling through the underbrush moaning and gnawing on stuff). Obviously I can't post the copyrighted music files (mostly by the punk group, the Coke Dares), but I'm happy to share all of the crazy sound effect and moody loops that were available copyright free from various online archives.


The End?

Hopefully not! I enjoyed the game, and though it needs some tweaks (that we have recorded to pass along to Sfligoli), it offered a fun romp even at this early stage.

And a quick note on the photos: They are a combination of snaps taken by me, my wife Ellen, and Jared. Who took which is now a total mystery, but let's assume the best ones were by Jared and Ellen.

Because everybody forgot to open these during the game, this is how I closed out my evening. Pretty Dionysian, eh?

And this is the life-sized red velvet skull I purchased at Michael's for half-price ($8!) while shopping for other terrain-related crafting supplies.

Comments

  1. Thanks for hosting Joe! Really enjoyed trying to shepherd my poor family through the zombie chaos! Definitely loved the gas main explosions that kept plagued my crew just steps away from their sanctuaries.

    Looking forward to our next outing!

    ReplyDelete

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