Go Zombie Go!
You Do Not Play Your Character
That’s right: you don’t play your character. Instead, you’re like a gambling addict betting your last dollar on a back-alley cockfight – except the combatants aren’t roosters, they’re your characters.
What’s more, you can bet on or against your character.
Bottom Line: Characters act on their own; you gamble on whether or not they’re still standing when the dust clears.
So how do characters act, if not by your decree? They act according to their algorithm.
What Is an Algorithmic Roleplaying Game?
An algorithmic roleplaying game is one where character actions are determined not by player choice but by a behavioral rule-set indigenous to the character, called their algorithm.
For example, zombie characters always move mindlessly toward the nearest live flesh, regardless of hazards or obstacles; if no such lunch is available, they stick near the closest other zombie; otherwise, they wander randomly. This is their algorithm. So, based on the availability of potential snacks or corpsely comrades, their behavior is determined.
Living characters are slightly more complicated, but still tragically predictable: when Chester sees his young son about to be bitten by a zombie, what does he do? He rushes in to protect him – even though you know the boy’s a goner and will probably just reanimate and attack his own dad. As another example, when pleasure-seeking Sheila spies the world’s last bottle of Jack Daniels on the wall of a bar, she’s elated. Even though you, with your privileged vantage point as a player, know there is a zombie lurking behind the bar, Sheila doesn’t know that. Even as you cringe, she rushes happily toward the bottle, right into the rotting maw of death.
In game terms, the living have four basic Goals: Avoid Danger, Seek Pleasure, Gain Status, and Get Stuff. When you create the character, you rank these goals in order from highest to lowest priority, and the result is the character’s algorithm. Thereafter, they must follow it strictly.
This gives each character a unique personality. Some may place danger avoidance above all, while others may risk death in order to enhance their status among their troupe of human survivors. A few, like Sheila in the example above, would rather eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
In addition to the four basic Goals, some may have special Goals called Bonds and Rivalries. Chester is one such character: he is Bonded to his son, always acts to protect him, and gains a bonus to rolls aimed at his defense. Meanwhile, those with a Rivalry gain a bonus whenever they can show up their chosen rival. Such Bonds and Rivalries override the basic Goals, which can be life-saving in some situations, not so much in others.
These basic and special Goals comprise the character’s algorithm. Characters always attempt to fulfill whichever Goal is their top priority, given the current situation. If they can’t, they try to pursue their next highest priority, and so on. As a result, their behavior is self-determined.
So What Do Players Actually Control?
Players have 2 points of leverage on their character:
- character creation – you rank the character’s Goals
- character placement – much as in a movie, play proceeds in a series of Scenes, such as a high school locker room, and you choose where the character enters each Scene: perhaps near the door, in the shower, or hiding inside a locker.
After you’ve done these two things, the character is on their own. You simply interpret what they do in the Scene, much like an announcer calling the shots in a boxing match.
Each turn, it’s your job as the player to compare the character’s algorithm to their abilities and the situation they’re in, and interpret what they would do.
At the same time, other players can challenge your interpretation if they think the character would act differently.
In the end, the character may end up doing something quite different than you would otherwise wish.
Each Scene Is a Gamble
Whatever your character may hope for themselves, you have a hidden agenda: you want to win the bet as to whether or not the character makes it through the Scene.
Before each Scene begins, you bet on either “Survive” or “Bite the Dust.” If the outcome matches your bet, you get an advantage in the next Scene (possibly with a new character).
So, you may actually find yourself betting against your own character and rooting for their immanent demise!
A GM-less Game
Unlike most RPGs, this game is GM-less. Instead of a Game Master, one player is designated the Host, who is responsible for knowing the rules and setting the opening Scene. Once the first Scene is set, however, even the Host does not know what will happen next.
Whenever a situation arises which is not covered by the rules, a simple vote by all players resolves the issue.
Winning the Game
Team Living and Team Undead are each charged with a Mission: survive 5 Scenes or eat all the humans, respectively. The first team to accomplish their Mission wins.
Example of Play
The Scene is an abandoned hospital. You’re on Team Undead, and you create a character named Toothy. You place it next to the medicine you think the human characters will try to snag. “Looks like Toothy’s gonna eat tonight”, you think, so you bet on “Survive.” Then the next player places their human character near yours but on the other side of an open four-story elevator shaft. When play starts, you can only watch helplessly as your beloved Toothy, unable to resist the taunting smell of flesh and completely oblivious to all hazards, shambles directly toward the live character. Whoops… down the shaft it goes!
The next Scene is the street outside the hospital. A player on Team Living sets his hero Tyrone down near an alley through which he can safely flee the Scene. The player bets on “Survive”, and something about his smug confidence rubs you the wrong way. Now it’s your turn. You place your new zombie, Toothy II, next to Shanequa, who just happens to be Tyrone’s girlfriend. Then you convince all the other players on Team Undead to do the same. After the last Scene’s disappointing outcome, you decide to gamble on “Bite the Dust.” When play starts, Tyrone sees his love about to be devoured by a horde of zombies, and his player can only watch in horror as love-blind Tyrone charges in to certain doom. And to your gleeful delight, he takes down Toothy II before he and Shanequa become an all-you-can-eat buffet for the horde.