Posted on September 20, 2004 by Flames
Written by Al Bruno III, CJ Carella, Richard Dakan, Jack Emmert, M. Alexander Jurkat and George Vasilakos, Eden Studios (EDN8020), March 2003, 253 pgs, $30.00US
All Flesh Must Be Eaten (AFMBE for short) is the third game in The Unisystem line. The game revolves around zombie survival horror, a popular sub-genre of horror.
The book starts with a Forward by Shane Hensley (author of Deadlands) on why zombie horror is so popular, in general, and in a gaming context.
Chapter One (“The Dead Rise”) starts with some fiction to set the mood. It then provides an introduction on zombies, why the name zombie is preferred for common use, and gives a brief history of zombies from cultural myth through modern film interpretations. It includes a few examples from films on how the zombies came to be (which provide some inspiration for game masters if they need it). The chapter then focuses on basic info such as dice notations, measurements, gender in the text descriptions, and of course, the basics on what roleplaying is.
Chapter Two (“Survivors”) is the chapter devoted to game mechanics. Character creation starts by choosing what is known as an Archetype. These Archetypes determine the starting points a character can use for their stats, skills, etc. Three Archetypes are presented in the rules: Norms, who are basically average people (ie not highly skilled in more than one or two areas of expertise.), Survivors (people who are physically tougher, and have more skills), and Inspired (people who are able to access special powers, or Miracles, that come from some divine source). Once you’ve chosen your Archetype, you get points to divide in the following categories:
Attributes: your basic stats. The Primary stats include 3 physical (Strength, Constitution and Dexterity), and 3 mental (Intelligence, Perception, and Willpower). Secondary stats include Life Points (ie hit points, wound points, etc), Endurance Points (covering fatigue loss, but could also work as a form of stun points when you want to do non-lethal damage), Speed (how far you can move in a turn), and Essence (the mystical part of your life force), which can be used to power Miracles. Secondary stats are derived from the Primary ones, using formulae presented with each stat description.
Costs are fairly standard (1 point per attribute, through level 5), with the cost getting higher if you wish to exceed level 5 (which represents the normal human maximums), with 6 being the absolute human maximum.
Following Attributes are Qualities/Drawbacks. Qualities are advantages, and Drawbacks are disadvantages you can purchase for your character. Most Qualities/Drawbacks work similar to the Merits/Flaws found in White Wolf’s Storyteller system, as is the case here (other books feature Qualities that are much like package deals for representing nonhuman races, which come with their own internal set of Qualities/Drawbacks).
There are two sets of Qualities/Drawbacks: Regular and Supernatural. Regular ones include various physical advantages/disadvantages, as well as emotional/mental problems, and a few skill enhancements. Supernatural ones include Luck, increased Essence, The Gift (which gives you a connection to the Metaphysical), and Inspiration (which you need to be Inspired, and to use Miracles).
The lists of available Qualities/Drawbacks is a decent starting set, though I found that when building higher point character types (such as Survivors), characters tend to have many similar ones in their lists of starting Qualities, since there are only so many qualities to choose from (Various supplements have expanded on this somewhat, but the available ones can still be fairly limited for higher point cost characters).
Next come skills. There are two types of skills: Regular and Special. Special Skills, of which there are two in the book (Acrobatics & Marital Arts), cost more to purchase (as they provide more benefit than regular skills). Some skills are broken by type, such as Hand Weapon, where you choose a type of weapon (ie swords, knives, etc). You can also choose to specialize in a skill for one point. Specialization allows a +2 bonus when using a particular aspect of a skill. For example, if you have Hand Weapon (Swords), and you specialize in Broadsword, you would have +2 to your skill when using a Broadsword, while other swords would use your base skill level.
The skill list is varied enough for use with modern day settings, though for other eras (such as Medieval, etc), you might want to replace some skills (such as the computer and electrical skills) with appropriate replacements.
Up next is the section devoted to Metaphysics. Unlike other Unisystem games, AFMBE only provides one type of Metaphysical ability for players. This ability is called Miracles, which are described as powers fueled by belief in the Divine … though not necessarily Divine according to current religions. It is possible to have faith in something considered to be Pagan, and still be Inspired. It details the abilities of Inspired: Miracles, which are a variety of abilities that they can call on, such as visions, blessing objects temporarily for benefits, binding supernatural creatures, calling forth supernatural fire to burn your enemies, and to heal. Miracles cost Essence to use, and each Miracle presented provides those costs along with their effects in game terms. Inspired can also use their Essence to neutralize supernatural effects by others, as long as they cost Essence to use themselves
Inspired can lose their abilities if they lose their Faith, usually due to some moral dilemma (based on the tenets of their faith). This isn’t too detailed, but enough info is provided to spark ideas to challenge Inspired characters.
Prayer is covered next, not just when used by Inspired, but by other Archetypes, as some settings will be more supernaturally based than others. Holy symbols are also given coverage.
Following this is a set of templates that are ready to play, built from the three archetypes. Each template comes with backgrounds and gear on hand, so you can start playing right away. These templates are very good to showcase character design, which should help beginners when designing characters.
Chapter Three (“Shambling 101”) gets to the actual game mechanics of the system. There are actually four sets of rules for playing AFMBE: A card based resolution system, a diceless resolution system, the standard dice-based system, and a story-driven system which modifies the dice based system based on the needs of the story.
The standard dice system enforces a base target number of 9, to achieve a Task (which is skill/stat based), or a Test (which is entirely stat based). To roll a Task, you add the appropriate attribute and skill + 1D10. If you score a 9 or better, you succeed. For a Test, there are two methods. If the Test is simple, you roll the D10, and add double the attribute score. Difficult tests involve the base attribute. Information on unskilled attempts (ie performing a Task without the appropriate skill), and for resisted Tasks/Tests are covered. Up next is the Role of Luck, which covers the Rule of 10 (if you roll a natural 10, you can roll again, possibly adding to your success levels), and the Rule of 1 (if you roll a 1, you roll again, possibly subtracting from your total). A list of base modifiers, and the Outcome table (for getting a 9 or better outcome) is covered, listing all the options for the success you gain (ie whatever benefits you could gain with a skill, combat, social situations, etc).
I have found that in play, even norms have a good chance of succeeding on basic Tasks, while Tests are a bit more varied.
Next up is the rules for Fear. When encountering something horrific for the first time, you have to make a Fear Test, using your Willpower. Norms and Survivors have one requirement, while Inspired have another. If a character fails the test (which can be modified depending on the circumstances to make it harder to pass the test) it can result in penalties to actions for a period of time, Essence loss, even having the character become a gibbering idiot for a short while (which could be bad if surrounded by a horde of zombies).
In play, I’ve found that Norms tend to fail more than Survivors do. The Quality Nerves of Steel makes it easier to pass the Fear Test, and most Survivors tend to buy that Quality.
Combat takes up a good portion of the Chapter, breaking it down to Intentions (what you plan on doing the next turn), Initiative (which is determined by the GM based on circumstances, though you can roll if more comfortable that way), Performance (the actual attack/defend, etc during the turn), Damage (applying damage to all parties), etc, etc.
When it comes to attacking, it is divided into both Close Combat (unarmed and hand weapons), and Ranged Combat (firearms and other ranged attacks). Info on Improvised Weapons is provided, as is info on multiple actions (characters get one offensive/one defensive action free per turn; additional actions after those incur a cumulative penalty of -2 per action), and fire multiple shots (which are allowable with specific firearms). Optional rules for being fully aggressive (attacking without making any defense), defensive (not attacking, but defending all incoming attacks), and Feinting (making false attack postures to distract an enemy) are also covered. A set of modifiers for Ranged Combat is provided, as are rules for targeting specific body parts (head, limbs, vitals, etc).
Damage rules cover being damaged by pointed hand weapons, which do Slashing/Stabbing Damage (any damage after defenses are subtracted are doubled), Bullets (normal bullets do double damage after subtracting armor; hollow points more damage but armor is better at protecting against them, armor piercing does standard damage, but reduces armor values), and Shotgun shells. Explosives, Poisons (with a few examples), Disease, even other types of injury (drowning, falling, fire) are covered as well. Armor is explained, and characters can wear more than one type of armor, if that armor can be worn under another type.
Effects of being injured (including losing consciousness and dying), being revived and medical attention are brief but specific, as are rules for losing Endurance (remaining active for periods of time, being knocked out) and Essence (mental exhaustion, even death), and how to regain those points.
Simple vehicle rules are also included, as is some basic info on vehicles in combat (as well as some tips on running air combat.
The Chapter closes with info on Experience: How to award it, how much to award, improving characters, etc.
Chapter Four (“Implements of Destruction”) covers equipment. A variety of gear is featured with descriptions, followed by Close Combat and Ranged Weapons (along with a sidebar on some WWII weapons, as a setting seed later takes place in that era), Explosives (mainly grenades and mortars), Incendiary weapons, Body Armor, and finally vehicles (from a bicycle to a helicopter).
For the most part, this section covers modern era equipment, with Close Combat Weapons and Body Armor being the most applicable for older time periods.
Hand weapons do varying damage based on a die roll multiplied by the wielder’s Strength, while firearms is a die roll with a multiplier. This is all before the effects of Slash/Stabbing and/or Bullet Damage.
Armor also involves a die roll. As armor wasn’t always perfect in it’s protection, Unisystem handles it with a variable. You roll a die, and add a number. That is the armor value for that specific attack. If wearing more than one type of armor, you can roll for each type, as the armor underneath would attempt to absorb whatever gets through the top armor.
A bit clunky, but effective in playing up the chinks armor sometimes displays.
Chapter Five (“Anatomy of a Zombie”) is where AFMBE really shines. The entire chapter is devoted to custom designing your zombies for your settings. While it’s easy to do the standard, mindless shamblers seen in most films, AFMBE allows you to create zombies that can be faster, stronger and smarter than the average zombie. Certain special powers can make them even more formidable.
A basic zombie template is presented, which you can then customize using the rules in the chapter. All zombies have specific “Aspects” to their makeup. These Aspects are divided into the following categories:
The Weak Spot: What is the zombie’s weakness? Is it the Brain, the heart, the spine? Is there none? Are they more susceptible to fire, chemicals, or blessed objects?
Getting Around: How does the zombie move? Is it slow like the Romero zombies, human like, or faster than the average human? Does it have special movement abilities, like burrowing underground, leaping distances, or traveling underwater?
Strength: How strong is the zombie? Weaker than humans, average, stronger (to the point of being inhumanly strong)? What special benefits does a zombie have related to it’s strength? Can it resist damage better, or resist flame? Does it have claws, or enhanced teeth to tear flesh better? Is its grip powerful?
Senses: How well does the zombie perceive its surroundings? Has its senses been dulled from being dead, is it still human like, is it sharp, or even supernatural? Can they see through walls, track by scent or even sense living beings?
Sustenance: Zombies need to eat. How often do they do so? What do they eat? Some eat flesh, others brains and some even feed on your very soul.
Intelligence: How smart is the zombie? Is it fairly stupid? Does it have animal-like cunning? Can they use teamwork, or even tools? Can it talk/comprehend languages?
Spreading The Love: How does the zombie create more of it’s kind. Can it do so with just one bite? Does the zombie need to kill the victim first? Must the body be buried?
Special Features: Does your zombie have acid for blood, or spew flames? Can it regenerate? Can the body parts move on their own?
Using these rules, I’ve created aquatic zombies, zombies that tunnel through rock, even ones that spewed flame and exploded when destroyed. You don’t even have to make regular zombies with the rules; I made a setting inspired by the novel Vampire$ (which John Carpenter made into a movie), and had intelligent blood drinking vampire types as the creatures. I know at least one person who made some tweaks (and added one or two new aspects) to use these rules to create giant mutant spiders!
Chapter Six (“Worlds in Hell”) is mainly devoted to eleven short settings (called Deadworlds) for game masters to use for games (or just plain inspiration). Before those settings are presented, the chapter covers intraparty conflict, which is a common theme in many zombie films. It points out both the advantages and disadvantages of doing so, as well as rewards for proper roleplaying of such conflicts within the scope of the game. Although only one page, it’s a nice breakdown on handling such occurrences within the scope of the rules.
The Deadworlds though, are the meat of chapter. The eleven settings are as follows:
Rise of the Walking Dead: A very standard, Romero-esque setting, with the rise starting in a small town (and includes animal zombie stats)
PHADE to Black: A little necromancy, a little necrophilia, and a new sexually transmitted disease causes those who die from it to rise from the dead.
Grave Impact: a planetoid threatens earth, but is destroyed. However, it carried the seeds of a zombie plague from another world, and now Earth is infected with the living dead.
Sacred Soil: A new fertilizer (utilizing some ancient rituals from certain cultures) brings the dead back to life.
They Came from Beyond: Aliens possess the dead to prepare the eventual conquest of earth.
Mein Zombie: Hitler’s occultists bring back the dead, and hamper the allied invasion of Europe.
After the Bomb: The world went up with the nukes. It’s centuries later, and the mutants rules the cities. When you kill one, they come back from the dead to threaten you again.
Dead at 1000: An evil warlock unleashes the dead in 990’s France; is the end of the world at hand?
Until the End of the World: The Day of Judgment is at hand, but it is the dead who are the judges, not those being judged…
Dawn of the Zombie Lords: The dead have over run the world, controlled by those with special powers. Will you oppose these zombie lords, or join forces with them?
Rebirth into Death: You’re dead, but still walking, still aware. How do you relate to society, yet still hunger for human flesh?
The settings provide a nice range for why the zombies exist, though for the most part, none of the zombies in each setting really take full advantage of the zombie creation rules. Of them all, Rebirth into Death strikes me as the most compelling, because you can actually play a zombie, with your memories mostly intact, yet with the hunger for human flesh. The struggle to deal with your new existence allows for a lot of drama, and a bit of angst of a different sort.
The appendix gives a fairly comprehensive list of comics, books, and movies (not just English, but lists of French, German, Italian and Spanish zombie films are listed as well). A glossary of terms is included, and some very helpful charts for character creation (Skill list with page references, Quality/Drawback list, etc), as well as a list of all the zombie powers.
For those who prefer D20, a set of about 16 pages for D20 Modern in the appendix covers converting to that rule set. Not just the standard material; Qualities/Drawbacks, even the zombie powers are given the D20 Modern treatment. Although I am not that familiar with D20, I’ve been told by a few people that this conversion is very well done.
Following the OGL license info, a nice index closes out the book.
Despite my issue with combat at higher character levels, I find the Unisystem to be a good system that doesn’t intrude into game play often. It handles average to slightly skilled characters best, which are the typical types found in Zombie settings. It functions well as a horror game, and combat is deadly (and thus not always the best option). The zombie creation rules are the best part of the system, and really can be used for creating not just various undead, but can be used as a toolkit for creating other monsters as well.
If you’re looking to try a Unisystem game, or even if you’re a fan of Zombie movies, and want to translate that into gaming, then this is your game.
Reviewer: Gerry Saracco