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.
 
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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

Vincent55

Adventurer
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.
" mechanised interpersonal drama" what the heck is that your talking about, the game is a role-playing one that it what its about, why do you need a mechanic. As i said i looked over the game and didn't find any thing special about it.
 

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Vincent55

Adventurer
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.
Again, it sounds like a bunch of extra steps and a snooze fest but, i also found the tv show uninteresting, like most zombie tv and movies. The Walking Dead zombies just became an obstacle and mostly it was other survivors who were an issue, but in this show, the fungus does pose some problems but still much like resident evil which was an infection. But what ever if you think it is worth it them enjoy your book and game.
 

Oncewasbenji

Explorer
" mechanised interpersonal drama" what the heck is that your talking about, the game is a role-playing one that it what its about, why do you need a mechanic. As i said i looked over the game and didn't find any thing special about it.
You don't need a mechanic, but if you spend all your time roleplaying without a mechanic, then the game isn't doing that for you, you are. Then it could be any game. I'm not saying it's special. But I'm saying hacking dnd (for example) would not provide a similar play experience. An actual mechanical cost to losing a dear friend is not a thing that happens in dnd. If you aren't interested in that it's cool. But saying you can make one with the other, that isn't correct.
 

Oncewasbenji

Explorer
Again, it sounds like a bunch of extra steps and a snooze fest but, i also found the tv show uninteresting, like most zombie tv and movies. The Walking Dead zombies just became an obstacle and mostly it was other survivors who were an issue, but in this show, the fungus does pose some problems but still much like resident evil which was an infection. But what ever if you think it is worth it them enjoy your book and game.
I think that 'zombies are a obstacle survivors are the issue' is what they're aiming for. So in that, they kidna did succeed in capturing the show faithfully, even if you didn't like it.
 

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