All Flesh Must Be Eaten
Author: Albert Bruno III, CJ Carella, Richard Oaken, M. Alexander Jurkat and George Vasilakos
Company/Publisher: Eden Studios, Inc.
Line: All Flesh Must Be Eaten
Page count: 232
SKU: EDN 8000
Playtest Review by Derek Guder on 10/04/99.
Genre tags: Fantasy Science_fiction Modern_day Historical Horror Comedy Post-apocalypse Gothic
A while ago, a friend of mine said that Eden Studios was looking for people to playtest their next game, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, "some zombie game" he said. While I am by no means a zombie movie fan (in fact, I find most of them to be boring and trite), I was more than happy to get involved in any sort of playtesting that I could. So I sent away an email message and waited and waited and waited patiently until my "Zombie Playtest Kit" arrived in the mail and Eden Studios started up a mailing list to enable discussion and feedback from the playtesters. And then I read the game straight through in a few hours.
It is quite a compliment that the book was able to both keep me interested (and awake at that time of the morning) for the couple of hours it took me to read it all and puzzle out all the kinks, all the while making the notes for my feedback on the final copy. The writing is surprisingly good, it is an easy read and even becomes a hilarious one in the chapter on zombies. Best of all, All Flesh Must Be Eaten actually "converted" me, so to speak, to the zombie genre. I can actually think of plots and games with them without snickering now.
All Flesh Must Be Eaten is a "generic" game in the sense that it has no set setting in which to run the game. It provides all the basics for the Unisystem set of rules (the ones used in WitchCraft and Armageddon), all the rules and considerations to build zombies and several sample ideas for settings. This book is versatile enough to be used in virtually any setting and the zombie rules themselves can be easily unplugged from the Unisystem and inserted into another game system, largely because of the wonderfully evocative writing. I already ran a standard small town zombie game for the playtest and I intend to run World War II zombies, Dark Ages zombies and another game using the Obsidian setting idea (for those of you keeping score: I told you it wasn't all bad) in the future. This game has a lot of potential and is very well put together.
Chapter One: the Dead Rise - Forward, Introduction, and opening fiction
The book starts off with a forward by Shane Lacey Hensley about why zombie stories are so pervasive in our entertainment history, and it is then followed by a short piece of fiction. The story (about a scientist infected with the "zombie plague") is okay, but it is definitely one of the lower-end ones in the book. The Introduction that follows those looks at the history of zombie tales and the source material the game is drawn from. The chapter also includes mention of the dice and literary conventions of the game.
Chapter Two: Survivors
After a nice bit of introductory fiction (a precedent upheld later in the book), the chapter turns to character creation. Like in the other Unisystem games WitchCraft and Armageddon, players choose what are effectively character classes. You can either be a Survivor (tough and well-trained mundane), Inspired (touched by something magical and unnatural) or Average (the average citizen). Each class gives you a different amount of points for Attributes, Qualities and Drawbacks, Skills and Metaphysics (supernatural powers). In the playtest copy, the point distributions for Attributes between Survivors and Inspired seemed horribly skewed, making all Survivors the epitome of human achievement, but that has been down-graded due to feedback, which was also why the Average category was included as well.
Each character has the primary Attributes (those they spend points on) of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Perception and Willpower. Ratings go from 1 to 6 generally although you can go below or above rarely, and 2 is about average. Secondary Attributes are those calculated from the primary ones and include Life Points, Endurance Points, Speed and Essence Pool. The first three are pretty obvious and self-explanatory, but Essence, like in WitchCraft is "magical energy" and the Essence Pool of a character is a measure of the strength of the soul, their ability to perform magic.
Following the Attributes is the listing for Qualities and Drawbacks. Most of them are the simple run-of-the-mill "merits and flaws" that those familiar with White Wolf products will be familiar with, but there are a few really interesting ones like Old Soul, which allows characters to call upon the skills that their previous lives knew.
The Skills work in a similar manner as Attributes. They are bought in the same way and run something of a similar gamut, although it is easier to have them beyond 6. The Skills themselves lean more toward the side of focused, having a different skill for handguns and rifles, for example. Some Skills (Martial Arts, Medicine) cost more than others because of the special training they require. While that is perfectly logical, I personally prefer systems where all traits of the same type cost and function in the same manner. A minor point, but one I think I should mention.
After the skills is a tiny section on Metaphysics. Only the Inspired (those touched by Divinity, as those familiar with WitchCraft know) are mentioned in All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and they are covered in only a few pages. How Miracles work and how you purchase Miracles is covered, but no organization for the Inspired is given, which makes sense, considering the game's lack of a specific setting. Magic (presumably using the same system as WitchCraft) is intended to be published in the second supplement for the game.
Chapter Three: Shambling 101
This chapter explains all of the rules of the Unisystem, from Skill resolution to combat to vehicle handling. The basic rule behind the Unisystem is simple enough, roll 1d10 and add the appropriate Attribute and Skill to it. If it is greater than 9, you succeed. Reasonably simple, but it manages to lack that certain flair (much like GURPS) that games like Legend of the Five Rings and Unknown Armies have. It works well enough in play (so long as you don't have maxed out characters, then it stumbles).
Everything else in the chapter is more in depth rules of rules on healing or vehicles. The actual system takes only a page or so, which is a good thing. The rest of the rules work well enough. They seem solid and not over-blown, although the Endurance rules may approach that. Those familiar with the Unisystem already will not find many surprises.
The best part of the chapter, however, is the options for other methods of task resolution. The same basic "beat a 9" idea remains, but you have the option to either use cards or to simply take an average and always work off of that. With cards, you can either simply flip off of a deck or have a hand of 6 cards. The system is again simple and unassuming, but there is some more advanced options being talked about on the playtest list.
Chapter Four: Implements of Destruction
This is the very creepy chapter on guns and toys. Good enough as such chapters go, there is not much to mention, other than its presence. The lists are not comprehensive, by any means, but they are done well enough to provide reasonable benchmarks from which to extrapolate, and that is all you can ask.
Chapter Five: Anatomy of a Zombie
Opening with the creepiest (and the best) bit of fiction in the book, this chapter is all about the walking dead. All the basic powers and flaws that you would expect from the shambling dead are here, as well as many options that you wouldn't expect, and those are the things that really warmed the book to me. That and the writing. There is just no way to not like a game that gives its zombies traits like "Spreading the Love." The powers are fun to read and are varied enough that you can build anything from the basic animate corpse unable to focus on anything other than "Braaaiiiiiinnsssssss…" to the demon-possessed, animalistic pack hunters that consume your soul as well as you flesh, and are stronger and faster than you (the zombie I used in my playtest). It was definitely this chapter that sold me on this game. It is well done and executed (the trait names are evocative enough that one can remember/guess what they do when referring to notes on zombies later in the book or in a game) and is generic enough to easily encompass their entire genre.
Chapter Six: Worlds in Hell
This is the settings chapter, usually the stuff that I buy role-playing books for. This, like the previous chapter, is the real "heart" of the book, with eleven good to brilliant ideas for different settings. Each setting has a different reason for raising the dead, from radiation to necromancy to disease to God's wraith to a "burp" in the cycle of reincarnation.
Some of these, like Until the End of the World (where the Apocalypse has arrived, and only the sinful are left on the Earth - with hordes of zombies) and Rebirth Into Death (where the cycle of reincarnation has been left untended and is starting to trip), deserve their own game lines. They would have been brilliant and superb games in and of themselves. Unfortunately, they only get a handful of pages at the back of the book. I dearly hope that Eden Studios intends to flesh out some of these settings more. Rebirth Into Death has such a great idea behind it (one that I don't want to spoil) that I would use it for a game like Unknown Armies or something similar.
Finally, a decision
I have thoroughly enjoyed working on All Flesh Must Be Eaten, even though I have only been able to run one comedy playtest so far. The game is amazingly good, it was one of those concepts that I thought "What could you do with that?" but the answer turned out to be "A lot."
Normally, now I would comment on the layout of the book and the art, the general production value of it, but since I only have a laser-printed copy of the preliminary material (neatly stuck into a little report binding), I cannot say much. The layout I have before me has changed many times since I got it, and most of the errors have been cleared up. I can say that the ubiquitous and brilliant Christopher Shy is not only doing to cover but a fair slice of the interior artwork as well. The book will be printed as a nice hardcover, smaller than most RPGs, about the same size as what Eden did for the WitchCraft books. This should be a beautifully done book, comfortable to hold in the hand and flip through.
My verdict? Buy the book. It is a brilliant exploration of the potential uses for zombies in RPGs, even someone who had to work hard to find something interesting in the idea was blown away by the book.
And if you pre-order now, you get a free chocolate bar. Really, I'm not kidding, check it out here.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)