Feb 072015

The Walking Dead is returning to the screen, and my Savage Worlds War of the Dead campaign has returned to the gaming table.


War of the Dead is a Savage Worlds campaign by Daring Entertainment that now spans over four Chapters or seasons, each featuring a dozen or so adventures, as well as a follow up plot point campaign called World of the Dead.

It’s a great campaign and I am using a lot of material from it, but have changed a number of parts to expedite the game. While I love each Week’s adventure from it, my own group can only play 2 1/2 to 3 hours at a time, so we can’t get through one of their full adventures in a night.

As such, I’m taking the highlights and focusing on those in my own campaign and it has now gone quite far off the rails, using the War of the Dead campaign more as reference material for characters, events and settings rather than following the set adventures.

My own game has also taken a sharp turn in exploring the relationship aspect of zombie games. I instituted the following house rules for the game at the very start:

Dependents: Every PC starts with one or more Dependent(s). If a Dependent dies during a session, the PC must forfeit a Benny (if they have any left) and starts the next session with one less Benny. At the end of that next session, they must assign that Benny to an existing Dependent or create a new Dependent. If a Dependent has more than one Benny assigned to it, those are all lost when that Dependent dies and the PC starts with that many less Bennies the next session. 

New PCs: A killed PC may forfeit one benny to start next session with one of his Dependents as his PC with full XP transferred. Otherwise, a new PC starts with 1/2 XP accumulated to date.

The concept behind this was to tie each PC to one or more dependents and have an in-game reason for them to want to keep them alive. Furthermore, as in War of the Dead, they all start on a cruise ship. Since most people travel with others on cruise ships, it made sense for them to have loved ones with them at the start of the game.

From past experience, only the most role-playing focused players didn’t either ignore or abandon “loved ones”, leaving those who actually role-played the affection at a disadvantage. This house rule was meant to overcome that situation and create some real tension as loved ones were put in the dangerous situation of a world filled with the living dead.

It worked. Players took it hard when their loved ones perished and did what they could to keep them alive. For the most part. There have been a few slip ups, but for the most part, it has worked.

My most recent session has also played with the Dependents idea even further. When we last left the campaign (over a year ago), the main characters had left their loved ones stranded on a derelict boat in the Atlantic and set out for a nearby island to find fuel/food/water. They encountered mercenaries on the island and fought desperately against them and the zombies there, one dying and the rest barely surviving. That’s where we left off.

For the resumption of the campaign, we picked up with the Dependents on the stranded boat. Left starving, dehydrated, out of fuel and power on the boat, the group struggles to survive with other former passengers of the cruise ship they had originally set out on.

A fight soon breaks out as one of the passengers tries to seize control of the ship, and a major fight soon ensues, ending finally with him being taken down, but not without inflicting some injuries on the PCs. 

This event to start the game session was really to see how the players would settle into running their Dependent PCs. It didn’t take long for them to start asserting themselves in these new roles, which was very good.

The next major event came as a helicopter was sighted in the distance, a Coast Guard helicopter. Everyone nervously watched its approach. Then, a couple figures descend from the hovering helicopter: a Coast Guard officer, heavily armed in a biowarfare suit ordering them to drop all weapons and prepare to be searched and a woman in a biowarfare suit, but she’s not armed and is instead asking a lot of strange questions, seemingly knowing they came from the cruise ship and what had happened to them.

This set off all kinds of questions about what had happened to their loved ones (main PCs) and tied the game once again in session to the past campaign.

The two federal agents separated out the surviving family members of the surviving former PCs and say they’re leaving.

I was curious here how the players would react, whether there’d be any solidarity with the rest, but no, everyone being taken was happy to leave and the rest just sat back and let them go.

The grandson of one of the PCs who died was being left behind and he managed to cry/persuade the crew to take him, but not his dying father, who he left behind. The final PC being left behind jumped onto the rope and managed to climb up and they let her in.

Then, as we reached the end of the session, they had a quick flight to the mainland, and there were many questions from the PCs, but few answers. They made an attempted landing at a Coast Guard station, but only to find it was being overrun by zombies. So, they tried for a further off base, only to run out of fuel over Augusta, Georgia, descending over an industrial area, hoping for a soft landing. And that’s where we left off until the next session.

As you can see from the pictures, I tend to run very visual games. I use a mix of minis from a variety of sources, but for War of the Dead, mostly Heroclix of generic modern type characters. I have also found that 1:43 scale vehicles are a perfect scale for these miniatures, as in the case of the Coast Guard helicopter.

The boat and water is from Mayhem Marina by WorldWorks Games and is one of our favourite props.

Finally of course, I use the markers from Stuffer Shack for noting shaken, wounds and multiples of characters.

Justin Schmid

Justin started tabletop gaming in 1983 with Basic D&D (red box) and never looked back. He runs and plays in a wide variety of games, including Savage Worlds, Dungeon World, Trail of Cthulhu and many, many more. He also writes professionally for role-playing games, including writing and creating Night's Edge an Alternate Reality Universe for Cyberpunk 2020. He went on to write eight more adventures and sourcebooks in the Night's Edge line, adding vampires and other supernatural perils to the already dangerous world of Cyberpunk. As a freelance writer, he wrote The Bermuda Triangle for Call of Cthulhu, Shadows of the Mind, and Psi Wars for Conspiracy X and contributed to Last Unicorn's Star Trek RPG, as well as to Cybergeneration sourcebooks, and many other games. When he's not creating imaginary worlds for his daughter, he's running games for his friends and writing new adventures or designing new game systems. He currently lives in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

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