The Pen and Paper Dead

You like pen and paper rpgs, like Dungeons and Dragons? Then how about one that is about the zombie apocalypse? That’s the setting for Outbreak: Undead. The best part? You get to roll yourself as a character. Seriously.

Let me make an example. You can go to the website to check the whole system out and order a core rulebook, but I’ll go through character creation right now. You get four attributes: Strength, Perception, Empathy, and Will (S.P.E.W. that’s quite possibly the best acronym ever haha). You can go to to answer 40 questions about your lifestyle and personal health and the website will generate your stats for you! After that, you’ve gotta chose your class and skills.

So, me, John Sollitto my class is a journalist. According to the book a journalist doesn’t have a lot of skills that are good for a zombie apocalypse. However, I do get a plus five bonus to my Empathy so I’m better at talking down panicked survivors and whatnot. Then I can choose skills like Calm (which would help me keep a cool head if the zombies came rushin’ towards me) or Gunslinger (if I have experience in firearms). Then the Game Master chooses the level of zombie outbreak, location, and off we go!

Obviously it’s a little more complicated than that. There really isn’t anything stopping a person from taking a bunch of skills they don’t have in reality that they qualify for by having through SPEW levels, and you don’t have to take the questionnaire, you can roll like normal. That being said, to roll a realistic version of yourself as a character requires the honor system to do its work. Of course you can always make up a character like you regularly do in D&D and make them especially suited for the zombie apocalypse by rolling or taking the SPEW test online.

The game works on basic die rolls and runs on the rules of a traditional pen and paper rpg. There is something different about the game though that I actually like. There really isn’t a leveling system or an experience system. To replace that the creators have given something called “Gestalt Dice.” A player gets on Gestalt die for every year they’ve been alive, and they can use those die to increase SPEW attributes as well as create skills should the need arise.

Now, increasing SPEW attributes goes something like this: For every number of ten points you have in SPEW, you can use that many Gestalt die to increase the attribute. So, say I have 27 Strength. I can use 2 Gestalt die (d3) to increase it. But once I reach 30 Strength, I then have to use 3 Gestalt die to increase the attribute. Each time you use Gestalt die, though, you lose them. So I’m 21, I now lost 5 Gestalt die to increase my Strength level to 35. Only 16 left to go into creating skills.

Ivan Van Norman, one of the creators of Outbreak: Undead explained skill creation to me in the best possible way:

“The example I like to use is say I played college basketball for 4 years. Now the apocalypse has happened, and I’ve found myself stuck behind a huge concrete door that is a dead end and a bunch of zombies barricading me in. I have no way out, but there happens to be a small window right above my door leading outside (where the zombies are) that could be used for something. In my arsenal, I managed to grab a stray hand-grenade from a downed soldier. I could use my gestalt dice to roll up a ‘PER – Basketball’ skill that is completely applicable to me chucking that grenade through that small hole. That skill stays with me forever. I only used 4 dice (4 years of college basketball) but that added 4D6 to my standard PER to do the check.”

So basically, whatever situation you find yourself in, and you have Gestalt die left, you can create a skill based on the parameters and your background or your characters that isn’t existing within the core rules. The player gets to create skills mid-game that can stay with them throughout the campaign or as long as the character survives. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!?!

Wants something better? The GM can award Gestalt die to you and your party if they decide you’ve done enough things or survived a harrowing mission to the point where your character has become proficient in a skill or become more versed in an attribute. So basically like real life. You can also spend time in game training to perfect a certain skill or to learn one if you don’t have the SPEW points to qualify.
How did I get all this cool information? Why, by going to the release party of their new expansion Wild Kingdom of course! Wild Kingdom expands the bestiary in the game and also fleshes out some of the biomes you might find zombies in. Zombie rhinos…the worst kind.

Yeah, I totally won a crowbar in the raffle they had at the party. A freaking crowbar. And got some zombie blood energy drink thingies. It was awesome. Ivan also took time out of his busy schedule that night to explain that the zombies can be player created too. “We really don’t have that many immutable laws,” he said. “The only big rule we ask the players not to break is that the zombies cannot communicate with each other, talk, and that they are actually dead.” Everything else is free game though. You can have your Romero shamblers, your freaky super-powered Left4Dead monstrosities, or even your 28 Days later brutes. You just have to give them stats and boom, they’re in your campaign. Of course the rule book comes with some pre-made zombies for you to populate your world with, but creation is just such a blast, isn’t it?

What I have to applaud Ivan, Chris De La Rosa, and Robert Watts for is their continued contact with their fans. All three of them as the creators have a constant presence on the game’s forums, answering questions and helping newbies understand mechanics. And every Friday? They release NEW content! Seriously! Check it out here: You can even buy the previous year’s DLC in an annual if you missed anything. It’s like $15.

Why are we talking about this here at the Game Creators Vault? Because pen and paper games like this are how video games get created. This is essentially a physical copy of a digital game, a living working design document that could be used to create something for the PC or console platforms. It’s absolutely incredible.

Would it be possible to do this for every game you created? If the game is an RPG, then it is entirely possible. Think about converting games that you love into pen and paper counterparts and then maybe you’ll see all the work that goes into making the programs and mission you blast through without a thought. The system really does all the die rolls for you, our role is just to point and click or pull a trigger.

Honestly though, I was so impressed by the game, and when I saw the site I was so impressed by the community and the creativity of it all. Projects like this, self-funded and totally backed by fans and enjoyed by them are so amazing. They’re the light in the dark tunnel of hum-drum same-old same-old games. I applaud these men and their fans for being original and supporting each other. We’ll be running a game of this soon and talking to Ivan about how the process went down, and hopefully get a video interview with these fellas soon. Zombies for life.