So . . . you think you know zombies. Are you sure? You want to be certain about something like chopping off an arm after a crazy person gets bitey, and it would be most unfortunate if you were looking out for the walking dead when a little kid with a fever lunged for your brains. If only there were a guide to all this stuff!
GURPS Zombies aims to please. It goes into detail on all kinds of zombies – undead and living, slow and fast, supernatural and superscience, and more. Its pages include:
A Generic Game That Allows Any Zombies You Can Imagine [ edit ]
GURPS (the Generic Universal Role-Playing System) was first released in 1986, making it one of the oldest RPGs still in publication today. But it's sheer longevity isn't the only mark of it's success: starting in 1988 the game won the Origins Award for Best Role-Playing Rules, and in 2004 it similarly won the Pen and Paper Best RPG Award. Since then it has collected further accolades, including being inducted into the Origins Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Pen and Paper Hall of Fame in 2004.
The latest (4th) edition of GURPS ranks among the top 100 RPGs on RPG Geek, and there are more than 1.5 million copies in print ... not counting foreign editions or "GURPS Lite" (the free introductory version of the game). As a generic/universal system, GURPS offers a set of detailed/"crunchy" rules which can handle any campaign, from the most mundane to the most fantastic, but the real question is ... how does it handle zombies?
GURPS Zombies [ edit ]
It turns out, pretty well. GURPS has an entire book dedicated to zombies, and with 16 reviews on Amazon that book has an average of 4.5/5 stars. Meanwhile on RPG Geek that same book has only five ratings, but they give a similarly strong average score of 8.60/10.
Like any GURPS supplement, a large part of what GURPS Zombies offers isn't rules: instead it's well curated/researched information about the zombie genre, including different styles (eg. slow vs. fast), different origins (folklore vs. supersciene) and various campaign styles, covering everything from "zombies as minions" to full zombie apocalypses.
On that last topic, it's worth noting that GURPS also has not one but two separate post-apocalyptic supplements available (After the End 1 and 2). Any GM who wants to run a campaign after/during a zombie apocalypse will likely find them useful for help with the survival aspects of such a campaign.
But getting back to GURPS Zombies, the book is certainly not just zombie details: it also offers new rules mechanics (eg. horde management), various ways of spreading (and possibly curing) the zombie plague, new zombie-fighting gear, and of course lots of rules for zombies themselves (including how to create your own).
In other words, GURPS Zombies provides everything a GM could want for adding zombies of any kind to their GURPS campaign, and with the After the End supplements they have full support for a zombie apocalypse game. But in truth neither of those supplements are strictly necessary to run a zombie game, because the core rules of GURPS actually offer everything you truly need "out of the box".
GURPS, 4th Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse
Character Creation [ edit ]
Character creation in GURPS is detailed, but slow. There are no levels or classes, just points, which can be used to buy attributes, advantages, disadvantages, or skills. Different campaigns start with different amounts of points, so that (for instance) a superhero can start out as a more powerful character.
GURPS has four attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Health. Strenght and Healthy just define the character physically, while Intelligence and Dexterity are combined with skills to make skill checks.
Skills are how characters accomplish things in GURPS; for instance to shoot someone you would use the "Guns" skill. Skills are based on attributes, so for instance you might buy the Guns skill at a "Dex + 1" level. If you later improved your Dexterity, you'd similar improve your ability to shoot ... or do anything else physical.
Advantages cover any non-skill benefit a character might have, such as a high pain threshold, wizard training, or the ability to move objects with their mind. Advantages can also be further be customized with enhancements or limitations, allowing you to gain more or less powerful versions, that cost more or less points as a result. This can allow for a nearly any power you can imagine to be described as a GURPS advantage.
Similarly players can also take disadvantages for their character, such as Code of Honor or Blind, to gain extra points. All together this system allows for incredibly individualized character, including almost any you'd want to re-create from fiction or real-life (in fact, there are multiple GURPS books with stats for historical NPCs such as Ghengis Khan) ... but it can be a bit overwhelming to newcomers.
Core Mechanics [ edit ]
To succeed at an action in GURPS, players roll 3d6 and attempt to rull under a target number, which varies depending on the action. Most of the time the actio will be a "skill check", meaning the player will have to rul equal to or less than the character's relevant skill.
Critical Successes and Failures
If you fail a roll by more than 10 you critically fail the roll, and the GM decides what terrible fate results. Similarly if you beat the roll by more than 10 you instead get a critical success, dealing extra damage or otherwise succeeding with flair.
A Note About 3d6 (vs. d20 or Other Dice)
3d6 results in a far more predictable distribution of rolls than a single die roll (typical in other systems). Think about when you roll stats for a Dungeons and Dragons character: you usually get a lot of more 10's and 11s than 3's and 18's. In contrast, every d20 roll has an equal (5%) chance of rolling a 1 or 20 as it does a 10 or 11.
This allows GURPS to have critical successes and failures, but have them be rarer and more dramatic, while leaving most rolls with fairly predictable/average outcomes.
Combat [ edit ]
GURPS uses a hexagonal grid for combat. Hexes offers a benefit vs. square grids, when it comes to diagonal movemen: in square grid games (eg. D&D) characters moving diagonally move more quickly ... but since hexes don't have corners, they don't have this problem.
Unlike most games, GURPS does not have a random element to initiative. Instead, characters always move in order based on their basic speed (a stat derived from their Dexterity and Health scores).
If one group surprises the other they can potentially get several seconds of actions before their opponent can react ... and since a single round of combat in GURPS lasts a second, that can be significant.
On their (one second) turn a a character can take a single maneuver, plus any number of free actions (eg. talk or drop an item). A maneuver could be to move, attack, or move and attack (at a penalty), as well as other options such as aiming or feinting. A character who moves can move a number of yards equal to their basic move (ie. basic speed with fractions rounded off).
To attack a character makes a skill check with the appropriate weapon skill, applying a variety of modifiers for things like the target's size, range, and speed, or the weapon's accuracy bonus (if they took the time to aim), the lighting conditions, any cover the target has, etc.
If the check succeeds the target can then opt to make an "active defense". There are three options: Dodge, Block (eg. with a shield) and Parry (with a weapon), and ranged attacks can only be dodged. Active defenses are also a skill check, for Block and Parry; to Dodge you simply roll your Basic Move + 3.
If the active defense roll succeeds, the attack misses.
If an attack roll succeeds the attacker gets to make a damage roll, which will vary based on the weapon they use and other factors (eg. ranged weapons do half their damage when far enough away from a target). If the defender is wearing any armor they can subtract it's "DR" (damage resistance) from the damage, and the rest goes through.
Depending on the type of damage dealt, it might be multiplied now (eg. cutting weapons deal 1.5x ).
GURPS: Great for Zombies (or Anything Else) [ edit ]
Again, because GURPS core rules are so flexible, you truly don't need any other books to start a zombie campaign ... in fact, all you really need are just the GURPS Lite rules, which are available 100% for free on Steve Jackson Games' site.
But because the core GURPS book offers a whole more (both in terms of character creation and in terms of play rules), any serious GM is going to want to pick up the core GURPS book. They'll also likely want to get both GURPS Zombies and GURPS After the End (1 and 2), because both books, in typical GURPS fashion, offer a wealth of great supporting material for their genre, including both rules-related and story-only material.
With or without those supplements though, GURPS offers a long-refined and extremely popular generic system, that will let a GM create any zombie campaign they can possibly imagine. If you're looking for a "rules-lite" or quicker playing system, the "crunch" of GURPS might not be your cup of tea (and Tiny Living Dead might be a better option) .... but GURPS will be perfect for a gamer who wants a solid/detailed rule set that can be used for any genre/setting they can imagine.