The Walking Dead Universe RPG: An Interview with Nils Hintze

Lead designer, Nils Hintze, talked to me about The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game. The Walking Dead Universe has two modes of play: survival at the tactical, immediate level and campaign: which combines tactical with strategic goals like dealing with other nearby groups of survivors as well as dealing with NPCs inside their own group.

TWD.jpg

Charles Dunwoody (CD): Thanks for talking with me, Nils. One of the things I like best about The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game is that walkers are not monsters with stats but are instead swarms ranging from a handful up to thousands with the size growing as the threat level goes up. This is excellent design; did you come up with this concept right away or did it take a while to get the walkers to work as expected in this setting: basically a terrifying force of nature gone wrong?
Nils Hintze (NH):
I think it was one of the first things I “solved” regarding how the game should be designed, and it became a base for all other rules. Then we, of course, had to do a lot of tweaking of the exact rules as we playtested them. Having the player character hack down individual walkers with their own stats and hit points seemed dull, and not in line with the TV-series.

CD: Players choose an archetype like Criminal, the Law Enforcer, or the Nobody. Do you have a favorite archetype and why do you like that particular archetype?
NH:
The archetype I have had the most fun with is the Outcast, as it asks questions about who we are if the setting around us is completely altered, and what matters when society falls apart. Will we become something else, or do we still take our “assigned” role in groups, such as the one not being allowed to “play with the other kids”? What is “different” when everything is different, and who am I now? I also do have a soft spot for the Homemaker as I love Carol in the show. The archetype highlights going from being in a sense weak (at least in an apocalyptic setting) to being forced to become strong to survive, while it also invites focus on interpersonal scenes and conflicts.

CD: The word zombie is never used, not even to explain why the world doesn’t use the word. There are also no direct rules for finding a cure. How does the decision to not address the idea of zombies and leaving no real way to find a cure make the world of the Walking Dead Universe unique and perilous?
NH:
Well, The Walking Dead Universe RPG is not about solving the problem of walkers or about winning. The walkers and what their existence has led to is the circumstance the whole game world is based on. The game is about what the player characters do in this world as it is, what happens to them, how they survive or die, and what challenges they face. Words are powerful, in what feelings and ideas they convey to the reader or speaker. “Zombie” and “walker” have different ideas and feelings connected to them. To me, a walker is much scarier, as it is a part of a never-ending wave of living dead roaming the world.

CD: This lack of a real cure and the continual deaths of both NPCs and PCs (and sometimes whole factions get wiped out) is bleak. Is there any hope that PCs might experience or is the game really about survival day after day until one day the PC dies?
NH:
Well, my experience with TWDU RPG is that chance, and making the right decisions, have a big impact on what stories unfold. We have had campaigns where the entire group is quickly attacked and almost erased, and we have had stories unfold where the group builds new communities. Neither the players nor the Gamemaster can really control the outcome, and that is one of the things I really like with the game, no one knows what will happen.

CD: At its core, The Walking Dead Universe revolves around Issues, Challenges, and Endgames. Could you briefly describe these three concepts and how they drive a campaign forward?
NH:
Issues are things that can become problematic, one way or another. Everything could have an Issue. For your Haven, an Issue could be that there is a walker hidden in the basement which nobody has found, or that the roof is really unstable and will fall down from heavy rain. A person could for example have the Issue that she secretly wants to become leader of the group. A car could have the Issue that the engine is about to break down. Also the player characters have an Issue. All Issues are potential problems. They don’t have to figure in the game, and most of them will not. They are things the Gamemaster can use to come up with Challenges. Challenges are things that happen that need to be addressed, or they will escalate and become worse. Often, they are based on Issues, but they don’t need to be. A Challenge could be that the food is running low, that a swarm of walkers is closing in, or that the Hammer brothers are secretly planning to steal the food and the guns and leave the haven at night. A Challenge can be introduced as something happening now, right in front of the Characters, such as having an NPC walking up to another NPC and hitting her, or as something in the distance, for example smoke on the horizon. Once a Challenge has been introduced, the Gamemaster cannot take it out of the narrative, it has to run its course. Endgames are possible catastrophic endings to Challenges, if not handled. They often apply to factions of other survivors; what they will do if not stopped. Endgames help the Gamemaster “push” the narrative in a certain direction, but as often as not, the endgame does not happen in the game, as the player characters do things that stop it (or make it even worse…). Endgame is a tool for the Gamemaster to make the Challenge “pointy” and sharp.

CD: The PCs have a Haven, a base for food and defense, and NPCs in their group. What are some basic decisions PCs need to make when choosing a Haven and how can the NPCs in their group complicate their lives?
NH:
The player characters are free to come up with their starting Haven, its Issues (this can be decided with a table) and what it looks like. They also need to decide if it is better as a defensive position or as a food source. Then the Gamemaster will add one or more secret Issues: problematic things about the Haven that the player characters do not know about, at least not from the start of the campaign. The player characters start as being a part of a group with five NPC survivors. The NPCs have names, Issues and gear. The players and the Gamemaster will define the NPCs' relationships to each other and to the PCs. At times, these conflicts will be enough for the Gamemaster to come up with interpersonal Challenges, but the Gamemaster may also add secret Issues to the starting NPC survivors in the group. It could be anything from a secret love affair to the fact that one of them is bitten.

CD: What other support is there beyond the core book, in print or upcoming?
NH:
There is the Gamemaster’s Screen and also a Starter Set, including a condensed rulebook, a short scenario, custom dice (available separately also: 10 Base Dice and 10 Stress Dice), and more. As for the future, stay tuned.

CD: Where can gamers go to find your work?
NH:
Most of what I have written has been published by Free League, such as Vaesen – Nordic Horror Roleplaying, Tales From The Loop RPG, and Things From the Flood RPG. But I have also done some other work, for example for Frostbyte Books (adventure: The Red Star for Odd Soot (interview)).

CD: Any final comments you’d like to share with the readers of EN World?
NH:
It is great to hear from people playing the game, the small stories and tragedies that occur. For example, a group who had an injured PC about to die, who by chance found the advanced medical equipment they needed in a car they were searching. This particular result of a die roll changed the whole scenario, making the PC survive. Those fragments of story that simply appear are lovely to hear about.

CD: Final thought from me. The design for The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game is superb and I tried to capture some of that through my questions so Nils could highlight his and others work. I highly recommend checking this RPG out. As Nils said better than I could, the rule design will inform and change the tension and drama of the game itself as play around the table (or computer screen) unfolds. Not even the GM knows what is going to happen next. I am impressed.

Charlie Dunwoody participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program and the Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG and Noble Knight Games.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

log in or register to remove this ad

Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody


log in or register to remove this ad


johnmarron

Explorer
I didn't pledge for the kickstarter because I'm not a huge Walking Dead fan, but I ran a ton of demos of the game for Free League at Pax Unplugged, and I am now a big fan. Very elegant rules that capture the feel of the show. The Walkers are more of an environmental hazard, and the gameplay is designed to focus on the interpersonal relationships and human threats. I can easily see myself running a campaign of this.
 



How does combat work? The fighting the horde rather than the individual is intriguing but I'd like to know more.
Combat is 22 pages long so I can just cover the basic ideas.

Battles with people happen as duels (one on one) or as brawls (multiple opponents). Opposed rolls mostly with options.

Walkers attack on a special table with various results up to amputation being required to live and/or death. A PC can make a skill roll to avoid the attack in some cases and doing so might kill an individual walker. PCs can also use Force to push another PC toward the walkers so they can try to escape.

Walkers gather in swarms and attack based on the size of the swarm. Brawls and swarms can happen at the same time and all the rules apply. That would be a seriously dangerous situation especially with a bigger swarm.

There is a Threat level that determines how much the walkers notice the PCs. The bigger the Threat level the greater the danger. Swarms might get bigger, all the walkers may notice the PCs, or the entire swarm might mob the PCs in a vicious attack. Swarms can also cut off all the exits. The bigger the swarm, the less skills PCs can use to defend themselves.
 

Vincent55

Adventurer
I mean, I can run fantasy adventures with lots of systems. It doesn't mean they offer the same experience. What system do you think would offer a similar feeling experience?
any, want gritty then just don't let them heal or give a sort of rest make them use healing kits but not heal hit points but to stop bleeding or infection and make them take a week the heal minor wounds i would say under half hps, anything over i would call a major wound or a critica would take longer to heal due to a broken bone or bruised rib etc. Some systems do this kind of thing with option rules like ultrmodern 5e: redux or everyday heroes has an option to do some gritty stuff.
 

Vincent55

Adventurer
Yeah the anchor mechanic is pretty nice. You could copy it, but it's not an element I have seen in other systems.

I'm getting rid of my AFMBE, don't need it anymore.

"Anchor Mechanic" is a fancy name for something that has been done in many games just never had a name for it, as a DM you put hindrances or NPC burdens on the group or limit the areas they can go or give them a base of operations all of this goes without saying no real need to label it as a mechanic. But some people need things all mapped out and in the RAR to run a game or need a guideline which is ok but for me, it is not something I need. Give me a general idea and i will just run with it and create my own stuff even rules or other things as needed.
 

Oncewasbenji

Explorer
any, want gritty then just don't let them heal or give a sort of rest make them use healing kits but not heal hit points but to stop bleeding or infection and make them take a week the heal minor wounds i would say under half hps, anything over i would call a major wound or a critica would take longer to heal due to a broken bone or bruised rib etc. Some systems do this kind of thing with option rules like ultrmodern 5e: redux or everyday heroes has an option to do some gritty stuff.
That doesn't deliver this experience though. The focus here is on mechanised interpersonal drama and like three hit death with undead as a natural force. Like I own a number of gritty games (Zweihander, Wfrp, wild talents, mork borg, vast grim, to some extent cthulhu) but that isn't really what this game is interested in.
 

Oncewasbenji

Explorer
"Anchor Mechanic" is a fancy name for something that has been done in many games just never had a name for it, as a DM you put hindrances or NPC burdens on the group or limit the areas they can go or give them a base of operations all of this goes without saying no real need to label it as a mechanic. But some people need things all mapped out and in the RAR to run a game or need a guideline which is ok but for me, it is not something I need. Give me a general idea and i will just run with it and create my own stuff even rules or other things as needed.
I think specifically in the rules implementation of the anchor mechanic does tie the focus of the game more concretely into it being about communities. When a mechanic is created, players often engage with a thing in a different way - that's why something like pbta mechanises only the focused bits of any setting. I agree, not everything needs a mechanic but by creating on, the game is telling you what it is concerned about, where it's core loop lives.
 

Remove ads

Latest threads

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Recent & Upcoming Releases

Top