Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book Review: GURPS Zombies by Sean Punch


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I’ve not done any reviews yet of a GURPS book, which is odd given the fact that I’m a Steve Jackson Games fanboy. Regardless I’ve decided to do a review of GURPS Zombies. I’ll go chapter by chapter giving my opinion on what I think was good, what I think was bad, and what I thought was weird/unexpected. Don’t think that because I am a self-professed fanboy that I won’t call bullshit when I see it. I’m not built any other way, and if I don’t like something, I will tell you as honestly and in a polite, a manner as possible why I don’t like whatever I don’t like. So here goes:

Chapter 1: Getting To Know Your Zombies (4.5/5 pennies)

The Good

  • The sheer amount of information on zombies, where they come from, what constitutes as a zombie, etc. is amazing. This book must be the finest resource ever assembled on the subject. Seriously, it’s part love letter to zombie fandom, part treatise on the subject.

The Bad

  • I know he stated beforehand that GURPS Zombies wasn’t going to have extensive rules for survival horror…but I really wanted more than what I got of that. This isn’t exactly bad overall because it does cover the subject a bit – I’m just not satisfied with it.

The Weird/Unexpected

  • Sigh. The Zombie drugs box. I felt it might get a mention…but it got a box of about 300 words. This happened what once or twice in the news? I don’t know. It was an oddity and when I came across it. I was like “Huh. Okay. I guess.”

Chapter 2: Victims and Killers (5/5 pennies)

The Good

  • The gear, advice on character creation, advantages, disadvantages, etc. is useful for more than just zombie games. It’s useful for any GURPS game. Just really top-notch stuff, you could buy the book for this alone and not have wasted your money. I want to especially call out the gear list on p. 47 because if you read it without the game contest, it more or less serves as a shopping list for an emergency 72-hour  kit…that’s just amazing.
  • I want to especially make a shout out to the multiple Phobias rules (p. 33). As someone who has GMed characters with many phobias I've always found it kind of screwed you to play a neurotic character (more than normal). This small paragraph explaining how it works is pretty awesome and highly useful.

The Bad


  • Loved he whole chapter. Couldn’t find a gripe here.

The Weird/Unexpected

  • Can I Play a Zombie? (p. 38) was just odd. I liked it mind you (a lot), but it was unexpected and really thought provoking. Zombies as main or player character to me is a relatively new notion (I came across it first in Warm Bodies) and one I’d honestly never considered before. This isn’t to be confused with intelligent zombies (hey, Bub!) – who I viewed as more a secondary character. This is all about putting the characters/audience into the zombie hotseat and charging in. Of course depending on the genre and zombie type this might not even be possible, but I kind of like the idea of an odd zombie who’s rather intelligent and can do more than shuffle and moan.

Chapter 3: Zombies! (5/5 pennies)

The Good

  • Okay. Confession. I run mostly horror games. It’s like Cthulhu, Bacon, or Cranberries it’s either a) in everything nowadays (especially juice) or b) just goes better when you pair it off with something else. I love the horror genre in general, and I’m good at it. I’ve run campaigns where players have wept at the loss of an NPC or become so angry (In a “I didn’t see this coming” sort of way) at events that have transpired that they have had to leave the table to cool off. The advice in this chapter applies as equally to zombies as it does damn near every other form of undead/demon. Like the previous chapter, you can buy the book for the advice alone, and you would not waste your money.
  • The zombie bestiary (with readymade stats and templates) is just too damn cool. Not much more to say here. It’s just awesome (but see below).

The Bad

  • Loved the whole chapter. Couldn’t find a gripe here. It’s that good.

The Weird/Unexpected

  • Horde Intelligence (p. 49) was just strange. I’m not a fast zombie guy because I like to think if there were a zombocalypse the zombies would be of the slow type. Fast ones…are scary (to me at least) and the thought of zombie mobs that are smart just bothers the hell out of me. Basically, I don’t think about things that scare me too much if I can help it because a) I have a really good imagination; b) I have night terrors, and it doesn’t help when I try to sleep to have dreams about being chased by the undead; and c) ‘cause fuck horde intelligence – that’s why. Like cliffhangers (which I loathe), I think I’d have a lot of fun using horde intelligent zombies against player characters, but really wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end. I didn’t dock points for this even though it made my skin crawl.
  • Solider X (p. 104) is also odd. I don’t know if it should be in the book since it seems Universal Solider is the platonic source material of this template, and I’ve never viewed that as a “zombie,” but that could just be my hang-ups.

Chapter 4: Zombies in Play (5/5 pennies)

The Good

  • Spreading the fun (p. 124) is…fun. Seriously, I must have read that section half-dozen times, and I could read it a half a dozen more.
  • Better Dying Through Chemistry (p. 130) is so crunchy and awesome that it makes me wonder what else I can do with the gadgteering rules.
  • Zombification (p. 133) is again, useful for more than zombies with a little imagination. I’m probably going to use this somewhere in a future article about summoned beings, but I’m not sure when that’ll be.
  • Zombies in Combat (p. 108) is useful for not just zombies, but any time you have critters that come in hordes or large numbers. The rules for reducing large numbers of zombies into mobs is a godsend for any GM who likes to have epic action, but doesn’t like running 60 individual critters in a combat.

The Bad

  • Couldn’t find a gripe here. It was either good or unexpected. 

The Weird/Unexpected

  • All I could think of when I read Digging Out (p. 123) was the Bride doing one-inch punches in a coffin. Seriously, I heard the entire L Arenaby Ennio Morricone as I read it. I get why this is here…but isn’t this more dramatically appropriate to let the GM determine when the zombies pop out of the grave?
  • Sacrifice (p. 121) is interesting, but I’m not sure why it’s there. Maybe it’s because as a GM, I’ve always managed to figure out the dramatic aspects of my job. Maybe I’m just used to my (really awesome) players. Still, I found it odd that people would need to know this stuff. 

Chapter 5: Zombified Campaigns (4/5 pennies)

The Good

  • They’re Changing! (p. 142) is just so awesome…it is one of those rare instances where crunch and fluff come together in perfect harmony. You have a perfect in game reason to add more zombie strains as time goes by (which is a GMs best friend).
  • Dicing For Zombies (p. 143) see above. It’s perfect. Plus the addition for Zombie Dice is great.

The Bad

  • Way too short. I know that the author had a word count limit – but this could have used another twenty or so pages. Don’t get me wrong, he packed it in…but I wanted more.

The Weird/Unexpected

  • Nothing unexpected here. Pretty much what I would have anticipated from the author was there.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, I loved the book. I read it twice, once in PDF in October and once in Hardback in December, and I found more stuff the second time then I saw the first time (always a sign that you’re reading a good book). The organizational style is typical of a GURPS book. That is, awesome. The prose was a great read and quite fun with tons of fictional examples interspaced between (which this one guy calls “memes” – fella you keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means) to help evoke the proper imagery of this rules or that section within a chapter. The Zombiography is equally great (despite missing one of the awesomest good bad zombie movies ever, The Killing Box AKA Grey Knight AKA The Ghost Brigade). If you like zombies, undead in general, or need GMing advice on either of the two you really should pick up this book. Hell, it’s great just for the extra rules for undead and the horde rules for multiple sets of the same creature. Overall, I give the book 4.7 out of 5 pennies. I would have liked more and there were some things I don’t think should have probably been covered, but it is, by and large, a fantastic book.

8 comments:

  1. Can I Play a Zombie? (p. 38) was just odd. I liked it mind you (a lot), but it was unexpected and really thought provoking. Zombies as main or player character to me is a relatively new notion (I came across it first in Warm Bodies) and one I’d honestly never considered before. This isn’t to be confused with intelligent zombies (hey, Bub!) – who I viewed as more a secondary character. This is all about putting the characters/audience into the zombie hotseat and charging in. Of course depending on the genre and zombie type this might not even be possible, but I kind of like the idea of an odd zombie who’s rather intelligent and can do more than shuffle and moan.


    DISCWORLD is also another world where this is viable.

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  2. Apparently the internet ate my comment. 2nd Attempt. RE: The "memes" guy:

    For every genre book there's people with this guys complaint, "It's just a bunch of stuff I already knew about". I'm not sure why these people buy genre books, or exactly what they expected to find in them other than a discussion of the genre.

    Re: Zombie Intelligence

    You probably ought not pay to close attention to what I'm doing in Blight Years. :)

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    1. Ditto. I can't even remotely grasp what the hell they were expecting. Yeah, I saw your page for Blight Years - looks interesting and I'm a sucker for anything dealing with post-apocalypse, western, or horror...so you hit all three. I'll be paying close attention.

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    2. Smart alien hive mind psionic zombie infection, though. Also fast. Basically every thing that Sean put in Zombies that you thought was weird/creepy...

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    3. I hate fast zombies, man. Hate 'em. It's like clowns. YOU DO NOT F*CK WITH THAT KIND OF EVIL.

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  3. I looked at this yesterday at a local game store. Almost bought it, but got PDFs for my immediate campaign needs instead. Will pick it up next month. I'm not a big Zombie fan, but like all the GURPS stuff this is very adaptable.

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    1. It's useful if you plan on using any sort of undead (or undead like beings) in your campaign. It's been essential in the creation of my current campaign (lots of demons and undead and the like) and I would have had to reinvent the a wheel on many occasions without it.

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