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The Walking Dead Universe RPG: An Interview with Mattias Johnsson Haake and Joe LeFavi (Free League Publishing)

Free League Publishing is kickstarting The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game. Mattias Johnsson Haake and Joe LeFavi agreed to answer my questions about the project, the Liveplay, and how this project came about. EGG EMBRY (EGG): You’re bringing The Walking Dead to tabletop. Why is it called The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game and not just The Walking Dead Roleplaying Game (no...

Free League Publishing is kickstarting The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game. Mattias Johnsson Haake and Joe LeFavi agreed to answer my questions about the project, the Liveplay, and how this project came about.

The Walking Dead Universe RPG - KS Banner.jpg

EGG EMBRY (EGG): You’re bringing The Walking Dead to tabletop. Why is it called The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game and not just The Walking Dead Roleplaying Game (no “Universe”)?
: Actually, the official name for the TWD franchise is “The Walking Dead Universe.” It spans across all the TWD content produced by AMC over the years – not just The Walking Dead, but also Fear the Walking Dead, Tales of The Walking Dead, TWD: World Beyond, TWD: Dead City, the digital series, the upcoming spin-offs. Our RPG isn’t just a small part of the franchise’s past; it is meant to be a meaningful part of the larger fictional universe and its future, for years to come.

EGG: That is very cool! Will series favorites such as Michonne, Daryl Dixon, Rick Grimes, and others appear in the RPG?
: Well, as this is a TTRPG, what happens in the game is largely up to the gaming group, and the GM in particular. That said, you will find some characters from the TV series as pre-made player characters as stretch goals in the Kickstarter, possible to play, but also functioning as inspiration when building special types of PCs. Some favorites may also appear as NPCs in published survival mode scenarios down the line.

The Walking Dead Universe RPG Pages.jpg

EGG: Which version of the Year Zero Engine will you use for this RPG?
: The game has been designed by Nils Hintze, who also made Tales from the Loop and the Vaesen RPG – have you played those, you will find the TWD RPG rule set familiar. It is a fairly rules light version, with the emerging story being as important as stats and dice rolls, if not more. A special version of the stress mechanic know from Alien is used to tie the setting and the rules together – how the characters feel and how this impacts their decisions and performance will directly affect the world around them, with the level of threat potentially increasing for every slip-up the PCs make.

EGG: As a survival horror RPG, many players expect to manage character resources. How will that be brought into the gameplay?
: Actually, with the exception of food/rations, this game will not be about resource management. The Walking Dead Universe RPG is primarily a survival drama, albeit with elements of exploration and action. Managing your relations to other PCs and NPCs is crucial if you want to survive, which is especially true for your Anchors – persons you rely on, who can build you up when the hardships of the world have beaten you down.

The Walking Dead Universe RPG Book Pages.jpg

EGG: Joe, thanks for joining in. You’re working with “Chief Content Officer of The Walking Dead Universe, Scott M. Gimple and Head of AMC Networks Publishing Mike Zagari.” That’s an impressive level of talent involved with this RPG. What role are they taking on this project?
: We've been working directly with a variety of people behind the TV franchise at AMC since the beginning. They’ve been giving a great deal of guidance throughout our entire process, helping with everything from fact-checking canon to fine-tuning mechanics, so it's been a really rewarding, collaborative experience so far. It helps that many of them are actually gamers and genuinely excited about making a TTRPG together, so everybody is actually having fun and feels equally invested in making the best version of the game.

EGG: The Walking Dead was largely filmed in Senoia, Georgia. Woodbury, Georgia, where The Govenor ruled in seasons 3 and 4, is a dressed up version of downtown Senoia. That set is literally across the railroad tracks from the neighborhood that stood is for the Alexandria Safe Zone, which was supposed to be in Virginia (season 5 and beyond). Because the series is filmed in this large outdoor world, it has a specific look. Will artists Gustaf Ekelund and Martin Grip photo reference those sets and characters for the RPG? Will they create original locations through their artwork?
: The look and feel of the books and other products are very much inspired by locations, characters, and the general tone of the TV series. That said, the art in the books will be original pieces, even if they may include elements from scenes in the show.

Senoia Georgia Satelite View of The Walking Dead.png

Map of Senoia, Georgia courtesy of Google Maps and Egg Embry.

EGG: Is this a standalone book or the start of a The Walking Dead Universe RPG line?
: The ambition is absolutely that you will see more products for this game, especially in the form of survival mode scenarios, similar to the cinematic scenarios for the ALIEN RPG and the case files for the Blade Runner RPG. But let’s start with the Kickstarter and take it from there.

EGG: From the press release: “The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game is coming to Kickstarter [...] offering early PDF access to the Core Rulebook long before its Fall 2023 retail release.” How quickly will backers get access to the core rules?
: We still have some ways to go before the Core Book is in beta, but the goal is to have it available a couple of weeks after the end of the Kickstarter, when the pledges have been collected. I cannot promise that we will hit that mark, but we will do our very best! Either way, backers will have access to PDFs long before the game can be found at your FLGS.

The Walking Dead Universe RPG Starter Set.jpg

EGG: You’re making a Liveplay series with “original events pulled from the series’ writers’ room.” Are these ideas specifically created for this RPG or are these plotlines that didn’t make it onto the TV series?
: There's not too much that we're allowed to share yet about the actual play. Truth be told, we've been focusing most of our energy on producing the Core Rulebook, the Starter Set, and everything else that we needed to deliver for the Kickstarter. It didn't make sense to get such high-level people involved in producing the actual play until the game itself was forged in fire. Even still, there are some original concepts that've been bounced around, and we do know that there are fresh perspectives, recent tales on the periphery, even casualties on the cutting room floor that could all make sense. It’s still being explored how we can best connect with the ongoing fictional universe, but it’s our hope and goal that we earn our place in the fandom as a canonical experience right alongside things like Tales of the Walking Dead or the digital series.

EGG: Thanks for your time. Last questions. How did this license come about? Did Free League seek it out or was this brought to you?
: Fate and good fortune, really. I’d been friends with the AMC gaming team for a while now, and they were fans of the work that I’ve done in tabletop over the years. So, when we decided to combine forces, I was honest that my ultimate goal was to make a tabletop RPG for The Walking Dead one day. As a big fan of the IP, it seemed long overdue to me. Thankfully, that’s when some very smart and awesome people at AMC said, “So let's do that then. Right now.” Turns out, there are a lot of gamers on the TWDU team, and I wasn’t the first person to ask why a TTRPG didn’t exist yet. So, when I tapped Free League on the shoulder and learned that Nils Hintze (the mad genius behind Tales from the Loop and Vaesen – Nordic Horror Roleplaying) is a HUGE fan of the TV series… well, the rest as they say is history. After AMC heard “Free League” and “the designer of Tales from the Loop”, we were part of the AMC extended family almost overnight. What can I say? Sometimes, the stars just align. 😊

The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game from Free League Publishing
  • End Date: Wed, April 5 2023 9:59 AM EDT.
  • “Tell your own story in The Walking Dead Universe in the official roleplaying game from AMC Networks and Free League Publishing.”
Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry


Darn it. I had convinced myself not to participate in this Kickstarter because I thought it was unlikely I'd ever find players for this game. But now I'm thinking about participating again. Darn you!

I apologize for the strong language.

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