Red Markets is a tabletop RPG about economic horror, nominated for “Best Game” at the 2018 Ennie Awards.
In Red Markets, characters risk their lives trading between the massive quarantine zones containing a zombie outbreak and the remains of civilization. They are Takers: mercenary entrepreneurs unwilling to accept their abandonment. Bound together into competing crews, each seeks to profit from mankind’s near-extinction before it claims them. They must hustle, scheme, and scam as hard as they fight if they hope to survive the competing factions and undead hordes the GM throws at them.
A Game of Economic Horror [ edit ]
Red Markets, from Hebanon Games (2017), is less a traditional RPG and more of an economic simulator ... for a post-zombie apocalypse world. That might sound a little strange at first, but actually most zombie apocalypse games (and for that matter most post-apocalyptic games in general) have a "resource management" component to them. Characters struggling to survive must scavenge, save, and trade goods that they find in "wasteland" with others, at whatever small bastions of civilization remain.
Red Markets simply takes this core idea to the extreme, with one fan joking that it's "a game about poverty, with zombies to make it less depressing". The central premise of the game is that the world has largely been overrun by Zombies, but there remains some areas of civilization known as the The Recession. The remaining area, The Loss, is where the characters live, and to get out they need to collect "bounty" (ID tags; the new government is focused on restoring property rights, and pays for proof of death).
The game revolves around going on a series of missions into zombie-infested areas of The Loss to collect bounty or scavenge gear. Gear can make a huge impact on a mission's success, but all gear also has an upkeep cost, so a trusty melee weapon might actually be preferable to the (expensive to maintain) shotgun.
Before each mission the group engages in a sort of mini-game to negotiate the pay for their mission (this makes characters with "soft skills" just as important as zombie-fighting warriors ... although non-social characters can still participate in negotiations, eg. by staging events to drive prices up). As for the missions themselves, they are largely randomly generated, and in fact the GM (known as "The Market") actually has very little direct control: they mainly just create contracts and NPCs, and leave the resolution of the game's events to rolls.
Red Markets, First Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse
Character Creation [ edit ]
Character creation in Red Markets begins with the selection of the character's "spots". First they choose their "weak spot" (character flaw) and their "soft spot" (passion or sentiment). Nex they choose (or roll) their "tough spot", a physical or social combined benefit and drawback.
For example, a player might create an "easily angered" (weak spot) character who believes in "women and children first" (soft spot), and who is a former "fencemen" (a guard of the wall keeping zombies out, who gains a bonus to attack but has nightmarish memories as a result).
Next the character chooses their Potentials (stats): Strength, Speed, Adaptability, Intelligence, Charm, and Will. Every Potential starts at one, and the player can distribute five points between them (with a max of three in each).
Next the player distributes 20 Skill Points among various combat and non-combat skills. Each skill has an associated Potential, and no skill can be raised higher than that Potential's score. After that they select Dependents up to their Charm score (Dependents aid in the recovery of mental damage).
Finally, characters are given ten "bounty" to spend on their starting equipment, and then they're ready to go. Meanwhile, during character creation The Market (ie. GM) will similarly be using a set of rules to create the Enclave that will serve as the campaign's setting.
Core Mechanics [ edit ]
Red Markets uses the "profit system", which involves rolling two d10s for any check: one red, and one black. The red dice is essentially the "target number" of the roll, and the black die must beat the red for the action to be "in the black" and succeed. A tie or lower roll results in The Market winning (ie. failure).
If both dice roll an even number the action is a critical success, and if both are odd it's a critical failure. If all this sounds a bit ... swingy, you're correct, and in fact the game is deliberately designed to be so.
The result on the black die can be modified in several ways. First, characters can add an applicable skill to the roll, and second they can expend relevant resources. Finally, a character can expect a will point (a rare resource) to switch the two dice (guaranteeing success) or negate a critical failure.
Combat [ edit ]
Red Market has four kinds of combat actions: tactics (eg. attacking/moving), twitchs (eg. dodging), freebies (eg. talking), and tasks (longer action, eg. battlefield surgery). Each combat round a character can either perform one tactic and one twitch OR work on a task (and in either case they can take a free action).
Initiative is determined by rolling a d10 and adding the characters speed, and combat rounds don't have a fixed duration (instead leaving it up to the GM as the drama dictates). To act players declare their action, spend any consumables, and then roll using the standard 2d10; if the attack succeeds they determine damage.
The black die of the attack roll determines how much damage is dealt, while the red die determines which hit location the damage is dealt to (but modifiers made don't apply to the damage/hit location). Each location can take ten points, and if the head or torso takes 10 or more points the character dies.
In addition to physical damage, characters in Red Markets also have a sort of three part "sanity score", known as Humanity. It's divided into Detachment (from seeing bad things happen to people, especially team mates), Trauma (suffering injury, or strongly fearing it) and Stress (from financial/professional setbacks). If a character takes five or more damage to a Humanity they suffer permanent mental injuries known as a Regret (which come in three levels: cracks, crumbles, and breaks).
A Refreshing Alternative to Traditional Zombie RPGs [ edit ]
Make no mistake: Red Markets is a zombie game, through and through. However, it's also very much an economic game, with a great deal of focus on money, gear, maintenance, contract negotiation and so on.
Many of the game's fans love it because of these more "meta" aspects, but if individual groups prefer they can simply leave them out, and still have a great game of zombie fighting. The game also offers other customization options, such as the choice of various "boom" or "bust" options throughout the rules (which offer a more cinematic or more realistic changes).
Red Markets comes from a small indie publisher, but even so the game was nominated for Best Game in the 2018 ENnies. It's also been extremely well received on Drive Thru RPG: with nearly a hundred customer reviews, it's managed to maintain a very impressive average of 4.8/5!
In short, if you just want a basic zombie fighting game, particular one where the GM doesn't have a to spend a lot of time preparing, Red Markets will absolutely scratch your itch. But where the game really shines is when the excursions into zombie-filled areas are only one part of the larger story ... of the escape from poverty, in a post-zombie-apocalypse world.