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Your Very Own Zombie Apocalypse - A Review of the Walking Dead Tabletop Game

Updated: Jan 14

My mom once told me, that the only thing more dangerous than the dead is the living, but without the living, we might as well be dead." - Judith Grimes
Hands reaching up, covered in blood with blood spatter on lens. The text "The Walking Dead Universe A roleplaying Game" is in the bottom

If you've interacted with me at all, you'd know that I love horror, and my favorite thing about it is the way different types of horror make you question different things. The Undead is one of those categories that checks quite a few boxes

  • General fear of "the other"

  • Fear of infection/contagion

  • What makes a monster (I Am Legend is my favorite example of this)

While there are numerous haunted houses, Lovecraftian, end of the world, and investigative horror tabletop roleplaying games, one area I surprisingly haven't seen many games for is zombies. As far as horror pop culture goes, zombies might rank second in examples only to vampires and witches (both of which are also the topic of quite a few games.) I even recently made a piece of Zombie merch for our shop.

Free League Publishing's The Walking Dead Roleplaying Game is one of the first, if not the first to make extensive use of these monsters to bring them to your table. Free League goes beyond merely using zombies, however. They bring you a fully fleshed out (pun not intended) world that explores all the elements of classic zombie scenarios by using one of the most well-known, if not defining, resources pop culture has for the topic - The Walking Dead.

I was easily sold on this concept but read on to see why you should be too.

How Do You Play a Zombie Survival TTRPG?

The game uses Free League's tried and true Year Zero system which combines one of two mental stats or two physical stats with a corresponding ability to give a player a hefty pool of D6s. A player's pool size, which can change with experience gained, favors skills and abilities associated with a particular archetype. Archetypes by default represent what the character did pre-apocalypse; however, this can easily be extended to their role in the new world if they were born post-outbreak. Each character also has unique skills or "talents" that make them special at doing something.

It wouldn't be an apocalypse though if it were all rainbows and sunshine though, would it? Throughout sessions, players have to manage threat levels that directly correspond to the amount and threat of zombies in the area. Certain events and player decisions may increase the threat, but it can also fall to the dice roll. Stress dice can cause unintended consequences to rolls, including "messing up" which immediately raises the threat level of a situation.

Luckily, you've got a relatively easy combat system where you only need to keep track of three ranges, and what stage of a turn it is. No complicated dexterity rolls or geometry are required here. Turns consist of taking cover, ranged shots, melee attacks, movement, first, and anything else you may think of after that. Every player has the same amount of hit points so you don't need to worry about calculating that either.

A zombiefied woman in a tank top and missing half of her jaw is standing in front of a blurry  background.

Free League's Pre-made Post-Apocalyptic World

Whether or not you're a forever game master or a first-timer, Free League has helped out by giving quite detailed scenarios that you can easily pick and start playing immediately.

Walking Dead Fictional Universe Starting Scenarios

From what I can tell, there are two different premade scenarios for game masters to pick from - one in the core rule book and one in the starter set.

I won't go into too much detail about the scenarios but I want to cover a few key points:

  • They refer to events in the Walking Dead TV show; however, they function more as Easter eggs. You don't need to have watched the show to get the scenario.

  • Pre-made characters have relationships with each other and secret motivations that help give players something to grab onto and quickly bring the character to life.

  • I get pretty anxious whenever I run games, especially in the prep stage. Honestly, the way these scenarios are set up and explained I could run it confidently after reading it once. That's how clear they are.

Zombiefied Atlanta

A building with a parking lot that has a mural saying "Atlanta Made". The mural is Orange, navy blue, and tan and shows the tops of buildings

You may not want a premade scenario though; sometimes you just want a world. If you're a fan of the show, no extra thought is needed, but Free League also gives a world for those who haven't seen the show. Within the core rulebook, Free League has given you the entire city of Atlanta to work with.

Free League gives players factions, maps, a haven (think of this as a player base), NPC survivors, challenges, and more. All of this fleshes out the start of a campaign you could run in Atlanta.

But What About What I Want?

I know, I know, everyone wants to have a Brad Pitt zombie or a zombie lake where the outbreak starts as corpses rise from the water, or - you get the picture. Everyone always wants to add their own things to games, and I think Free League has taken quite a few steps in this book to make it easier for a game master.

The appendix is one of my favorite parts of this book. In it are numerous tables that easily allow a game master to flesh out a scenario. Tables include a zombie's background, wounds, rooms, locations, non-player characters (including motivations), and of course loot. I love a good randomizer table and haven't been this happy with one in a while.

A lake with a shoreline covered in trees next to mountains and under an overcast sky

I highly recommend you give this game a chance at your table. Free League typically puts out great games and this one is no exception. I've made y'all a little freebie for the game if you sign up for our email list. I don't know about your experiences, but I hate to quickly search through books for some quick rules mid-game. I made a one-page cheat sheet for you all that might be helpful. If you'd like to download a copy, just hit the button below.

Download PDF • 2.85MB

We are hoping to create more free resources, so if you're interested, you might want to take a look at signing up for our newsletter. There's a link in the footer to sign up.

Like I said earlier, Free League Publishing has a lot of great games. Brandon/Ashenworks reviewed another one of their games called PirateBorg, which is a horror pirate game.

Although Free League games might not be for you, at Huntsmen's Hydra we want to make sure you find the game that works for you. If you're into horror but other monsters are more interesting to you, check out this Thousand-Year-Old Vampire review I did.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do you have any favorite monsters you'd like to see in more tabletop games?

Photo Credits

Zombie Girl - Photo by Yohann LIBOT on Unsplash

Atlanta - Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Dark Lake - Photo by Jessica Fadel on Unsplash

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