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Skip Navigation LinksHack Guidelines>Vignettes>Zombie Apocalypse

Zombie Apocalypse

This is a straightforward adventure with a simple investigation followed by a challenging but winnable combat. It can serve as a relatively easy side quest for an established group, but is best used as a first or second adventure for a budding group of player characters (Novice or baseline Competent).

Summary

Zackary Hak, a former truck driver and B-movie aficionado, won the lottery and fulfilled his life-long fantasy of making and staring in his own cheesy zombie movie 'Zombie Apocalypse'. He's now touring the nation with cast and crew in the tricked out "Zombie Bus" custom semi he built to feature in the movie, plugging the flick while filming the sequel scene by scene at locations found along the tour's route.

Unbeknownst to Zak and friends, the so-called "Special Effects and Makeup expert", a creepy goth girl called 'Zombie' Daile, is actually a self-taught necromancer...and her "extras" are actual zombies!

Stakes

This adventure starts out with small-time local stakes in the form of a few disappearing bodies here and there. However, when Daile's control over her zombies inevitably slips up a full scale infectious zombie epidemic could break out, spreading to consume nearby urban centers and perhaps even an entire region or more if it is not contained quickly enough.

Setting

Wherever the campaign city is, the next stop on the 'Zombie Apocalypse' tour should be a smaller suburb or satellite community near there, on the cusp of town and country with no more than a few thousand locals. The location should be close enough to be reasonable for the player characters to consider checking it out...no more than half a day away from their usual turf...but not so close that the player characters have immediate access to their usual resources, safe houses, familiar contacts, and so forth.

Dramatis Personae

This adventure has a relatively small cast of characters; the most significant character by far is the antagonist, 'Zombie' Daile. There is also a suspended cop hot on her trail, Jimmy, who can either become an ally to the player characters or a very difficult to deal with impediment depending on how things play out. For some groups of player characters, Jimmy can be more of a problem than Daile!

The dramatis personae are rounded out by Daile's fearsome protector Corpsey, and notable members of the movie's cast and crew. If the player characters are in a bit over their head, the stunt coordinator and supporting actress Dorothy is actually a very capable kickboxer and can help fight zombies if things get ugly or assist by herding civilians away from danger if that is more convenient. Zak, Raven, and Peter are available as roleplaying color before things get ugly, and as potential victims after they get ugly.

Supporting Roles

Setup

There are many ways that player characters can get involved in this introductory adventure, depending upon their background; a few are provide as examples.

Supernatural Investigators

Getting investigative or curious player characters involved is a simple matter of dropping clues about the trend of disappearing bodies, and allow the players to discover the correlation to the on-the-nose 'Zombie Apocalypse' tour themselves. After that, the game should be afoot.

Monster Hunters

Getting Monster Hunter player characters involved is as easy as narrating that one of them notices an alert while checking the Section M tip boards; suspicious activity in their area has been detected. A trail of robbed morgues and graveyards seems to be following in the wake of a media tour for a little-known horror movie. At a minimum the standard 10% finders fee on any forthcoming Bounty is available, and all the Hunters have to do is drive out to the tour's next stop and check it out.

Mundanes

Characters that are not yet aware of the supernatural (such as locals from one or more of the cities and towns the tour has already visited) might have noticed something strange, or perhaps one or more of the characters are hooked in via a personal detail such as a loved one's body disappearing from the morgue only to soon appear (dressed up as a zombie) in the background of a social media post taken at a 'Zombie Apocalypse 2' film shoot. At any rate, the suspicious normy player characters catch up with the movie's promotional tour at the next town in its route, and the adventure kicks off from there.

Checking Out The Competition

Daile is a self taught Necromancer and unaware of the scope and breadth of the Supernatural World. She doesn't know enough to cover her tracks or avoid notice from other supernaturals. She may have come to the attention of a player character with a supernatural background who has decided to find out more about this new-on-the-scene practitioner of the dark arts.

Spiel

The assumption is the adventure takes place in a "small town America" or "secluded suburb" setting, with a stereotypical layout of a modest downtown area with some local stores, a big box store (Buy-Mart!) and a couple of franchise eateries, and a few smaller residential neighborhoods. Additionally, Velma's Diner exists on the outskirts of town near a highway on ramp, a classic 50's era style diner and an enlarged parking lot that is friendly to big rigs...a favorite roadside stop for long hall truckers but also respectable enough for families on roadtrips.

The Zombie Bus is not hard to find, parked in the lot outside Velma's Diner with a large banner proclaiming the presense of the "Zombie Apocalypse Movie Tour" strung up on the side of the trailer facing the road, right above a canopy tent with a fold out table and a couple of chairs occupied by Zak and Raven. Not only is the tricked out sixteen wheeler itself very obvious and distinctive, Zackary is being as noticeable as possible in his unending attempts to spread "grass-roots support" for his precious film.

As written the climax of the action happens during a nighttime photo shoot at an abandoned gas station between Velma's Diner and the town proper. Therefore, for pacing reasons, as written it is better if the player characters arrive late in the afternoon about an hour before sunset.

Inside Velma's Diner

When encountered, Zackary Hak and Raven Arkansas are outside under a canopy tent talking to a couple of locals and allowing people to go inside the Zombie Bus to check it out. Dorothy Michaels and Peter Arron are inside the diner enjoying a bite to eat.

Zackary Hak will happily entertain the player characters, proudly showing off his rig (which actually is pretty awesome, particularly to the more practical eyes of a real Monster Hunter), and give them a free DVD of the movie. Raven will be doing their job of being pleasant and sexy, basically acting as a "booth babe" representing the movie. The players will find nothing untoward, other than these folks being a rather oddball crew, and the rig being a neat distraction. Inside the diner, Peter is almost as enthusiastic as Zackary about the movie though he is less of a good ole boy and more sly and "in on the joke". Dorothy is polite and professional but not flirty; if asked about the film or why someone should watch it she will say that there are some good action scenes (which is true, if one doesn't mind shaky cam and dutch angles) and that's about it.

'Zombie' Daile, Corpsey, and the so-called extras are currently down the road about a half mile at an abandoned gas station, preparing for a nighttime shoot of a scene for the sequel that the crew are planning to do that evening. Note that Zak, Raven, Dorothy, and Peter are entirely unaware of Daile being anything other than a makeup and effects pro, and due to her Cloak of Normalcy they aren't suspicious of the nature of the extras either.

Eventually, when dusk approaches or if the players are losing interest, the Zombie Bus crew leave to prepare for their shoot. If one or more of the player characters has made a good impression on Zackary he will invite them to appear in the scene as extras, whipping up some dialogue or an action sequence for them on the spot (his fast and loose style of filmmaking dispenses with minor and unnecessary things like a solid plot or a script).

Jimmy

Alternately, if the Bus and crew depart the diner scene without the player characters, whenever it is convenient to the pacing Jimmy Hunt will enter the diner, order a hamburger, and ask after the Zombie Bus. If the players do not engage Jimmy in conversation one of the locals or the wait staff outs the player characters and tells Jimmy that they spoke to the crew before they left, and Jimmy will engage the player characters to determine where the Zombie Bus was headed.

Any active supernaturals among the player characters will feel uncomfortable and mildly ill when Jimmy approaches the diner and the entire time they are in the same area as he is as Jimmy's subconscious suppression field is always on while he remains is conscious. Those with supernatural senses can detect that Jimmy is a supernaturally potent psionic but unless they have encountered a Suppressor before will not be able to identify the nature of his abilities (and supernatural senses are also dampened in his area of effect, contributing to a feeling of uncertainty).

A cop through and through, Jimmy recognizes that the player characters don't fit in to this podunk town (unless of course they have special abilities that help them fit in). He'll try to figure them out, and unless one or more of the player characters makes a jackass of themselves he'll decide to trust them and share his suspicions of there being something not right about 'Zombie' Daile. He doesn't have any actual evidence or facts or specifics, which he'll gloss over, but he's absolutely certain theres something wrong with her...something seriously wrong.

What Jimmy does know is that several days ago when the movie tour passed through his city, he caught Daile seemingly breaking and entering the morgue...but there was no evidence of it (she used her Ethereal Jaunt to go thru the walls leaving no evidence of illicit entry), and he saw her doing some kind of business with a local who had supposedly died and been laid to rest just a couple of days before; maybe as some part of an insurance racket (Jimmy recognized one of her fresh Zombies as a deceased local and rationalized it away). To player characters that last bit is a clear clue of Necromancy and hopefully will be enough to convince them that all is not as it seems here.

Abandoned Gas Station Movie Shoot

Whether to take Zak up on his offer to be in the scene for the sequel they are shooting that evening, or to accompany Jimmy, or to line their pockets with bounty money, etc...the player characters should one way or another resolve to go to the set for that evening's shoot and be present when the inciting event takes place. This is there opportunity to contain the situation before it has a chance to become an epidemic.

Missed Opportunity

If the player characters do not go to the gas station, Jimmy arrives at the scene and disrupts Daile's control over her zombies, which leads to the zombies attack the cast and crew and local looky-loos anyway, but without the heroes there to attempt to contain the situation. If the player characters at least remain in the area (at a local hotel perhaps), then they will be at ground zero when the spreading and ever-increasing swarm of zombies overruns the vicinity; thus the player characters get pulled back into the narrative when forced to try to survive the infectious zombie epidemic they failed to prevent.

If the player characters have entirely left the area then by the following morning a zombie outbreak will be in full swing, with Section M and allies doing their best to suppress the evidence while fighting the epidemic. In either case, which Dramatis Personae died off screen and which survived is up to the GM.

Outcomes

There are many different directions this hook could go based upon the player character's decisions, actions, and lack thereof.

Participating In The Movie Shoot

This scenario plays out if the player characters are offered one or more bit rolls in the movie and accept the offer.

The night's shoot is being filmed in and around an abandoned gas station on the outskirts of town that Zak thought looked "cinematic" when they drove past it on the way in. Peter has lit it decently with a few well placed flood lights, making for harsh glary and very stark lighting conditions with pockets of perfect brilliance interspersed with high-contract darkness.

Daile, Corpsey, and the zombies are nowhere to be seen during the run up; if anyone asks they are in the back of the gas station preparing the extra's makeup for the action scene.

Once the camera is rolling things come to a head when Jimmy Hunt arrives at the scene immediately after the camera starts to roll, and Daile has commanded her zombies to advance on the camera for a "horde rush" scene. Jimmy's Suppression effect disrupts Daile's control over her zombies as well as the Cloak of Normalcy hiding their nature, and all hell breaks loose. The zombies stop pretending to attack per their controller's wishes and instead run amok, advancing on the camera man, Peter Arron, as he is heard to exclaim; "That's great! More of that!". If not stopped, they kill and start to eat Peter. Much fuss ensues.

Zackary freaks out, Raven runs every which way shrieking, Dorothy tries to save Peter, and Jimmy Hunt acts on his obsessive drive and tries to arrest Daile again as 'clearly' she has instigated this atrocity and so Daile is forced to deal with or run from Jimmy, rather than regain control over her zombies. The zombies go off in search of prey and in all the chaos, a few get away from Dorothy (who is heroically trying to stop them) and the players. If not contained, the zombies and their infectious bites will manage to infect most or all of the town and start a zombie epidemic.

Surveilling The Movie Shoot

If the player characters did not go with Zak and crew from the get go, and instead ended up talking to Jimmy Hunt and come along with or follow him to the site of the evening's movie shoot, the same event happens without lead up. The player characters and Jimmy arrive as the shoot is filming and the action kicks off right away.

This version can be easier to manage for the GM as it skips investigation and jumps directly into action. Depending on the preferences of the players this might be a better approach. However, if the group includes investigative player characters this prevents them from having an opportunity to poke around or discover Daile before the situation gets out of hand and it is therefore not necessarily a good option for less action oriented groups.

Zombie Apocalypse!

If this scenario is ignored by the player cahracters, or they are unable to contain the infectious zombie extras, an actual zombie epidemic can break out. If this happens the feds will get involved pretty quickly and potentially take very drastic action. And remember, the Section M guys don't talk about Waco for a reason; when the ante is high enough, their kind of "intervention" can escalate very quickly.

Notes

A few notes for the GM...

Daile And Her Zombies

Daile controls a mob of zombies, represented as an Asset on her character sheet, using her impressive Necromancy: d12 trait (it is recommended for the GM to read up on Necromancy to fully understand Daile's primary capability). It is assumed that she has created the zombies over time, and keeps her stock fresh by periodically retiring ones that are too decayed and replacing them by stealing a couple of bodies here and there at the various locations the movie tour has visited along their route.

Daile has perfect control over these Asset based zombies and can mentally issue them new orders in each of her Panels but cannot change the last orders given when it is not her Panel; thus delaying or preventing Daile from taking a turn can be advantageous in some circumstances, leaving the zombies to continue to do the last thing they were ordered to do.

Daile is also accompanied by Corpsey, a more advanced type of animated dead that is much tougher and better preserved than the other run of the mill zombies. Corpsey is a independent character, with a modicum of intelligence and limited free will. Daile does not automatically control Corpsey (though she could attempt to do so if necessary by taking an action using her Necromancy); however he is bound to Daile's dark power and driven to protect her with no regard for his own safety.

Additionally, Daile's Cloak of Normalcy SFX prevents most people from detecting the zombies for what they are as long as she is near them. This works for both her Infectious Zombies Asset and Corpsey. Those who are extra perceptive and those who have supernatural senses can potentially overcome this ability. Similarly, if Daile or her zombies attack an individual the effect stops working versus that person for the remainder of the Scene.

However, Jimmy's Supernatural Suppressor SFX wreaks havok on Daile...most significantly stepping down her Necromancy: d12 to a d10. As the ability to mentally control the undead is gained at the d12 step of Necromancy, this means that Daile loses her absolute control over her Infectious Zombies Asset while affected by Jimmy's ability. Corpsey remains loyal to Daile (but as a supernatural creature he too is reduced in capability by Jimmy's Suppression).

When Daile loses control of her zombies, her Infectious Zombies Asset is detached from her and attached to the Scene as an Infectious Zombies mob instead (under the GM's control), and the zombies immediately revert to their standard behavior of swarming people to chew on. As more people are infected and their corpses rise as additional zombies the infestation grows; the GM can spend a d8 from the doom pool and add it to an Infectious Zombies mob's dice. To ensure that this makes sense to the narrative, the GM should time this to occur periodically and only after the zombies have killed at least one victim per die. After the Scene is concluded, player characters sharing a Scene with the zombies gain one (1) Advance for each three times this occured.

When adding a d8 to an Infectious Zombies mob the GM can also opt to either split an Infectious Zombies mob's dice into two mobs or to combine two smaller Infectious Zombie mobs sharing the same scene into one larger Infectious Zombie mob.

For instance, if the initial Infectious Zombies mob starts off as a [d8,d8,d8,d8,d8] mob; when appropriate to the narrative the GM can spend a d8 from the doom pool to increase the mob's size, resulting in a [d8,d8,d8,d8,d8,d8] mob. The GM could further decide to split that mob into two smaller [d8,d8,d8] mobs.

Note that to remain effective a mob should have at least three dice in it, thus a GM should avoid making several [d8,d8] mobs unless they are deliberately dialing down the difficulty for the player characters. Similarly mobs with more than six dice are somewhat unwieldy and would probably be more effective if split up.

Even with Necromancy: d10 Daile can still attempt to influence the zombies while they remain in her range, but it takes actions, can fail, and even when it works does not offer the absolute control she normally enjoys. When no longer affected by Jimmy's ability her full powers return and she can take action to regain absolute control over any Infectious Zombie mob in her range (one mob at a time)...if she is successful the mob is returned to her character sheet as one or more Infectious Zombie Assets.

Origin Story

While this adventure is playable as is for a group of preexisting player characters, it is also written in such a way as to be particularly useful as the origin story for one or more new player characters.

Jimmy is a playable starting character, and is designed in such a way that a player could choose to portray him as their character. Similarly, an iconic starting character version of Dorothy is available as a player character. But less obviously, a player character can very easily be swapped out for either Jimmy and / or Dorothy, completely taking their place in the narrative. If Jimmy is replaced in the narrative, the GM will need to contrive some other pretense for the inciting event of the zombie outbreak instead of Daile losing control over her Infectious Zombies due to Jimmy's ability; however it is just as plausible for Daile to feel threatened by one or more of the player characters and for Corpsey to act on her emotional state by trying to remove the perceived threat, or something equivalent.

Recurring Antagonist

If she gets away, 'Zombie' Daile can become a recurring villain for the group; she is quite powerful but somewhat held back by her lack of knowledge of the wider Supernatural World. As her knowledge grows, she has what it takes to become a major player among practitioners of the black arts. She is also deliberately left at the very cusp between Competent and Veteran; the next time the player characters face her she should have clicked over to Veteran Tier. Her Ethereal Jaunt ability offers an easy way to make sure she does indeed escape...

Less obviously, Jimmy and his strange way of rationalizing away the supernatural can become a pretty serious recurring foil for supernatural player characters. Jimmy's boy scout mentality and compulsion to twist supernatural events into something that suits his simplistic cops-and-robbers world view is a particularly difficult problem to solve, and the disruptive effect he has on supernatural abilities can be extremely inconvenient. A sudden appearance by Jimmy in the midst of some later encounter can be a very effective and memorable monkey wrench.