27 February 2013

Redesign And: Tweaking Dead Meaty Guys

I redesigned my blog today, which is something you certainly do not care about, but it is a thing that I care deeply about. The header had been bugging me for a long time, but today's the day I did something about it. Now the blog's sporting a regal dark purple and yellow look. It's like the blog of kings. Except better. You dig?

Anyways. I've been peeking around the corners of my blog (nearly spring cleaning, you know) and I've spotted some old, dusty games that don't seem to have gotten much attention. One of those things, as you know, is AIM FOR THE HEAD.

Now, I believe that AFTH is a decent game. Oh no, not perfect by a long shot, but it reminds me of Dead Meat, which is probably the only zombie game that you can read through in one sitting without your eyes glazing with the remnants of some awful d20 hack that's never been playtested and contains almost no interesting rules. Sorry, let me reel myself in. I like AFTH- it's fresh and easy to play. But it needs some love.

The way zombie infection is handled is great- when you're infected but not killed, you halve your attributes and you're pretty much doomed. And the three stat system (Fight, Flight, and Toughness) means that characters get created in the blink of an eye and when they die, that's ok, because here comes another one. Besides, because in the apocalypse, those three things are pretty much what matters. The pseudo-FUDGE task resolution system set in place is good (but for the next edition, I'm turning it into 1-3 is bad and 4-6 is good, to make it more equivalent to FUDGE and leave out the "on a 2-5, nothing important happens" thing that I forget to deal with), but ultimately flawed. I'll probably replace it with a One-Roll Engine inspired idea if I don't go with pseudo-FUDGE.

The way that Stuff is as abstracted as it is doesn't work for me; I believe the game would be better served by more concrete examples for each category of things that are useful. The fact that I neglected things that help you Flee (bikes, cars, helicopters) is nearly criminal. The fact that there aren't any good rules for "don't make noise or you're boned" is bad. The non-existence of rules for battling hordes is nearly as bad. Something as easy as "when there are multiple zombies, add together their Fight and Toughness and roll it as one enormous organism," and bam, you have zombies that are pathetic one on one and nigh-lethal as a horde.

What few bits of setting information are there would have been better left out, so as to give more of a framework for the game, and I think that the PDF deserves to be expanded to five or six pages. What the game really needs is a section on stuff the GM can do to ramp up tension, because that's completely missing anywhere. The bit about not trusting other survivors? There's absolutely no in-game reason to betray anybody else, and there's no hint of even being able to fuck with the other players. There has to be a bit of tension, and I think a better design than the blank floorplan I came up with would highlight that. Things like in The Walking Dead video game- you have six pieces of food, so who do you give them to? Or even something as simple as: one of the people in your party's been grabbed through the window and is going to be bitten. Do you save them and possibly die yourself, or do you leave them?

That's what's important about a zombie game, not some half-assed hints about Other Survivors or A Cure or Destroying Zombies. The game needs a section about Death, Difficult Choices, and Inevitable Death. The tone should be grim, because there's nothing shittier than being in a world where everybody you know is probably dead.

Still, it's good that it was released even in a half-playable state; even in the resounding silence that followed, it's been just long enough that the faults are clear. It's not what I'd want to play, so why should anybody else want to play it?

Hopefully the next revision is better.

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