Now in its twelfth year, Saturday, June 15th is Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual is, as the title suggests, an introduction to the Zombie Survival Simulation roleplaying game published by Renegade Game Studios. The roleplaying game is designed as a toolkit to create a horror setting themed around zombies and have the player characters suffer psychological terror when confronted with the undead. Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual introduces the roleplaying game’s mechanics, including combat, morale, damage, and healing, plus equipment, pre-generated Player Characters, and an introductory scenario.
From the outset it is clear that Outbreak: Undead and Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual needs a lot to support it. Not just the percentile dice required for core mechanic, but six-sided dice in four colours—blue Speed dice, white Depletion dice, red Damage dice, and black Difficulty dice—as well as tokens of two different colours to represent Degrees of Success and Degrees of Failure. The Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual does not waste any time in explaining how the mechanics work. Basically, Outbreak: Undead uses a percentile system, but modifies the roll of the six-sided dice. Thus blue Speed dice are rolled and added to a player’s initiative roll if their character is undertaking a complex action; the white Depletion dice are rolled to see if a piece of equipment with finite uses is exhausted—the battery for a torch or ammunition for a gun, for example; the red Damage dice inflict injury upon an opponent; and the black Difficulty dice are rolled to increase the character is undertaking a complex action. The blue Speed dice, white Depletion dice, red Damage dice, and black Difficulty dice all have a Wild Face where the ‘6’ would be, which when rolled have a unique effect which the Game Master narrates or the die simply explodes and can be rolled again.
Now in general what a player is trying to do with any roll of the percentile dice is not just succeed or fail, but generate Degrees of Success and Degrees of Failure. For each full ten points rolled under a skill check, a Degree of Success is generated, and for each full ten points rolled over the skill check, a Degree of Failure is generated. A Degree of Success can be interpreted for a narrative effect, used to trigger an effect, such as the Slashing effect of a knife or Healing effect of a first aid kit, and so on. Degrees of Success and Degrees of Failure do not cancel each other out, but Degrees of Success cancels out an opponent’s Degrees of Success and Degrees of Failure cancels out an opponent’s Degrees of Failure. Generating Degrees of Failure does not necessarily mean that an action fails. It might mean that it succeeds, but takes longer, is not as good, or has consequences. Upon initial examination, whilst it appears that player characters have relatively low skill and attribute values—typically between twenty and fifty—these represent the chances of a complete success, rather than a success with consequences.
Unfortunately, as simple as that sounds, Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual adds degrees of complexity to game play and combat. With multiple dice being rolled in a situation and being rolled by each player, it takes time for each player’s dice roll to be interpreted. The Degrees of Success and Degrees of Failure are perhaps the easiest to interpret, but all of the blue Speed dice, white Depletion dice, red Damage dice, and black Difficulty dice have to be understood and applied too. Then, once combat has been resolved, damage is worked out, and then applied. It is not immediately obvious how this works and the Game Master really needs to pay close attention to the page of rules dedicated to healing in Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual, let alone the mechanics of the rest of the roleplaying game.
Just eight pages of the forty of Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual are dedicated to the mechanics. The remainder is comprised of the scenario, ‘The Tri County Precinct’ and the seven pre-generated player characters , each of which is given a two-page spread. The scenario does not even get started before it introduces another complex mechanic, this time, for ‘Encounters’. Then it gets into the scenario itself, set in and around the police precinct of a small American college town following the student body’s traditional Halloween Parade which degenerated into a riot and finds the police precinct under siege by the undead. It begins on Day Two—each character has a number of flashbacks to choose from which can be assumed to have happened or roleplayed out—with the trapped characters attempting to find a way out of their situation.
‘The Tri County Precinct’ is a decent scenario, setting up some nice situations as the player characters attempt to find a way, recover some resources, and so on, all without attracting the attention of the undead outside. There are some optional scenes and the Game Master could expand upon the vignettes given for each of the characters for Day One. Based on simple game play, ‘The Tri County Precinct’ probably offers two or three sessions’ worth of play, but the complexity of the Outbreak mechanics is likely to add to that. A map of the police precinct would have been a useful inclusion.
To support ‘The Tri County Precinct’, Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual includes seven pre-generated characters, all of whom begin play trapped in the police precinct. They include a Rookie Cop with a discipline issue, a Trucker in the tank after a drunken brawl, an easy-going Correctional Officer transporting an inmate, the Inmate who has so far refused to give his identity, a Veteran Police Officer kept off the streets by the loss of his leg, a Nurse attending to the brawlers in the tank from the night before, and a Retiree. All seven are fully detailed with a biography, personal equipment, a list of potential events which can take place on the scenario’s first day, and full S.P.E.W.—Strength, Perception, Empathy, and Willpower—attributes, skills (basic, trained, and expert), and training value bonuses.
Physically, Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual is a well presented, attractive booklet. The artwork is good too, but its layout as a notebook is cluttered and littered with icons. Icons for each of the dice types, for Degrees of Success and Degrees of Failure, for weapons, for Time and Survival, and so on. Gear adds even more icons and a full list of all of the symbols and their explanations would have been useful.
Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual is not a quick-start. Its set-up and base concepts are simple enough—the undead arise in a zombie apocalypse—and so the elevator pitch for it is likewise simple enough. Even the core mechanics of a percentile system combined Degrees of Success and Degrees of Failure are easy to grasp. Nothing else is in Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual though… It feels as if it has too many dice types to roll and too many icons to interpret, making it a challenge for the Game Master to learn, and doubling or tripling that challenge when it comes to trying to teach the mechanics and what the icons all mean to the players.
There is a possibility of a good game in Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual, but the Degrees of Complexity it adds to the simplicity of its core rules make both learning to play and actually playing challenging. It takes dedication to run and play Outbreak: Undead 2nd Ed - Intro Manual, probably too much dedication.