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Saturday 4 January 2014

Your Zombie Primer

Zombies: A Hunter's Guide is an entry in Osprey Publishing's Osprey Adventures line of sourcebooks. To date the line includes Ken Hite's treatment of the Nazis' esoteric interests in The Nazi Occult, the truth behind the Templars in Graeme Davis' Knights Templar: A Secret History, and an examination of what the 'Greys' really want in We Will Destroy Your Planet: An Alien’s Guide to Conquering the Earth by David A McIntee. What each title in the line does is blend the fact and the fiction of their respective subject matters, but without providing either game mechanics or game stats - these the Game Master has to provide himself. Essentially, what each entry in the line is, is a systemless sourcebook, a background to which the Game Master adds the rules of his choice. Although an entry in the Osprey Adventures line, Zombies: A Hunter's Guide pre-dates the line, beginning life as a parody of the traditional history books that the publisher is better known for. Originally published in 2010, in 2013 it was reprinted as a deluxe edition and that is the version that is being reviewed here.

Take any number of treatments of the zombie, from The Walking Dead and The New Deadwardians to All Flesh Must Be Eaten and Zombicide, and the common theme between them is that the dead have arisen and civilisation as we know it is doomed... Not so in Zombies: A Hunter's Guide. It posits a world in which zombie uprisings are a known threat, in which Zombie Wars have been fought by military units, in which the zombie hunter is a recognised profession, and in which the zombi phenomenon is common enough to be the subject of academic study. Once myth and conjecture, the number of zombie outbreaks have increased year by year since the end of World War 2, despite the attempts of numerous governments to cover them up. Zombies: A Hunter's Guide is also an actual book that could be purchased in this alternate Earth, so barring the suggested 'Further Reading, Watching, and Gaming', the contents of this book can be accessed by both the GM and his players - and even referred to during play!

Over the course of several chapters, Zombies: A Hunter's Guide presents everything that the prospective zombie hunter will need to know in order to combat the corpse challenge. Over the course of several chapters, the fictional author of Zombies: A Hunter's Guide examines the origins of the zombies, the types of zombies that might be encountered, their strengths and weaknesses, and not only how to recognise them, but also eliminate them. These include necromantic zombies, voodoo zombies, Nazi zombies, revenants, atomic zombies, viral zombies, zombie masters, and viral hounds and zombified animals. Other chapters cover the matter of zombie hunters themselves, as well as zombie hunter weapons and equipment, and zombie hunter tactics.

In describing these various members of the corpse cortège and the means to combat them, the author draws deeply on the pop culture of zombies and the history of that pop culture. The combined effect of this is to make the contents of Zombies: A Hunter's Guide very familiar, for example, the island of Haiti is given as the home of the Voodoo zombie, Wade Davis exposed the secrets of the Voodoo zombie in his The Serpent & The Rainbow, and Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier used Voodoo and zombies to keep himself in power as president of Haiti. So far, so good, but what Zombies: A Hunter's Guide does is add elements of a secret history. For example, the USA sent the US Marines in not to keep the peace in 1915 after the assassination of the president, but to engage in a war against the threat represented by zombies. Of course, Haitian refugees and immigrants have since brought Voodoo and Voodoo zombies to America...

It does this over and over with each type of zombie. For example, both the Miskatonic University and the Bodleian Library are known centres for 'Necromantic and Animate Necrology Studies', and the best-known revenant, a particular type of zombie that is driven to perform a particular task, is William Bonnet, better known as 'Billy the Kid'. Which is why his grave is caged off! For the Game Master and his players there are organisations to join, such as 'Bureau 9' (founded by Allan Pinkerton during the American Civil War), the Vatican's Corpus Mortuambulanticum, and the mercenary unit,Command: The Blue Unit. Also included are discussions of the contemporary weapons and tactics needed to fight zombies in general.

Physically, Zombies: A Hunter's Guide is a slim hardback. It is well written and as you would expect with an Osprey Publishing book, it is well presented with a good mix of full colour and black and white artwork. If there is an issue with the book it is the options given in 'Further Reading, Watching, and Gaming' for gaming are all war games and board games. There is nothing wrong in the choices given and none of them are surprising given that war gamers purchase Osprey Publishing titles, but no role playing games are suggested, which is a major omission. Certainly, All Flesh Must Be Eaten deserved a place on the list of suggestions.

At its gaming core, the concept behind Zombies: A Hunter's Guide is a world in which zombies are a known threat and outbreaks are dealt with by sanctioned organisations as well as the foolish amateur. This is an incredibly easy set-up to do for the RPG of your choice -- Savage Worlds from Pinnacle Entertainment Group and Evil Hat Productions' recent FATE Core would work very well with the setting material presented in Zombies: A Hunter's Guide. Lightly drawn -- after all, who needs depth when dealing with the cadaver cavalcade? -- Zombies: A Hunter's Guide gives a juicy setting that is easy to add the rules to.

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