There’s been a lot of my mind lately, what with the Presidential election, the Frankenstorm pointed directly at most of Critical Hits’s staff, and the unholy rebirth of Furbys. However, the terror at the center of every sleepless night since I can remember has been this and this alone:
If the zombie apocalypse comes, how will I play D&D?
Dealing With Infected Players
Depending on how good you are at surviving a zombie apocalypse, it’s possible that one or more of your players may become infected. If this happens, don’t panic! This is a serious situation and will likely result in some stress at the game table, but it can be overcome like most gaming group problems.
You may decide, as most survivors of a zombie apocalypse do, that killing the infected or turned is the way to go. If your group does not already have a social contract, now would be a great time to come up with one. The manner and circumstances of killing a member of the group should be one of the top priority items.
With a few exceptions, gaming supplies are not particularly well suited for dealing enough cranial damage to stop the typical zombie. This is why it’s important to invite someone to your group as soon as possible with an unhealthy interest in medieval and/or fantasy replica weaponry. Though these weapons might be decorative and never intended to see real combat, they’re certainly going to work better than that bag of extra-sharp d4’s you’ve been saving for a special occasion. If nothing else, convince your group to play a game with extremely thick reference manuals. I recommend Pathfinder, Rolemaster, and any edition of Champions. The more 20+lb. books in your players’ hands, the safer you are from the jaws of the unliving.
If you decide to spare the lives of your infected friends to keep them in the game, make each and every one is adequately restrained. I recommend buying sturdy metal or wooden chairs that can be secured to the floor. Plain old police-issue handcuffs and rope or chain will do the job in a pinch, but you may be able to find something a little more comfortable if you have access to a hospital or old abandoned mental facility. The players who have turned may not mind, but the ones who haven’t will definitely thank you one last time before they too walk the Earth eternally damned to hunt for brains.
Make sure that you don’t get bitten or scratched yourself! A good DM can weather a lot of adverse conditions, sometimes even death itself, but becoming a mindless, shambling beast with a single-minded hunger for the flesh of the living can really hamper your ability to organize, roleplay, or even run combat.
Since we don’t know how or when the zombie apocalypse will happen, only that it will inevitably do so, all we can really do is try to be ready. A D&D group faces a unique obstacle in that pizza, our primary source of gaming sustenance, will largely be unavailable along with the rest of all the food in the world.
That’s why we all need to start stockpiling now.
I recommend building a secret underground pizza bunker with its own solar-powered refrigeration system. Each game night, order three times as much pizza as you normally would. Two go in the doom-freezer. Tell no one what you are doing. When the world ends and game night comes round, make sure you ration just enough pizza to feed the group for the night. Keeping the campaign alive is the priority. Everyone will understand.
You Are Legend
As time passes, you may find yourself in a difficult situation. You may become separated from your gaming group, or your group may have become a party of the walking dead. Whatever happens, the only people you’ll have to roleplay with will be zombies. This is going to be a rough patch in your gaming life, it can be overcome like most gaming group problems.
Finding players for a game when the only people left are zombies is not as difficult as it might sound. The bad news is that they all will want to kill and eat you more than they want to roll dice. The good news is, you bought those restraints. You may want to cut off your new members’ limbs to decrease their mobility. It may come as a surprise, but I don’t really recommend that your undead players go home after every session like you may have been used to before. It’s safer for you, and it’s more fun to see the same faces at the gaming table week after week.
More roleplay-heavy DM’s are going to be pretty disappointed with an all-zombie group of players. You may try dressing your players as the standard basic party classes, but even a zombie in a purple wizard hat is going to get dull eventually. The best way to cope is simply to let the zombies do what they’re good at. Zombies are really the only thing that zombies are good at being, so tailoring your adventures around the party finding, killing, and eating the muscles, bones, sinew, and brains of the innocent living are a pretty safe bet. The downside is you may find yourself bored with the same subject matter every single week. The upsides are that your group will be more emotionally engaged in an adventure of any party of living, breathing players you ever ran a game for — and you can have the pizza you’ve been stockpiling all to yourself.
More combat-oriented DM’s are going to have to exercise a lot of patience. Their players are going to require a great deal of handholding, both in the figurative and occasionally literal sense. Whether you decide to use minis or theatre-of-the-mind combat is up to you. Both have their pros and cons. Finding the exact mini for the job is going to be hard after the world ends (PROTIP: you will need a lot of zombies), but you should be able to scavenge enough pieces from the rotting corpses of your players to get through most combats. Theatre-of-the-mind combat as you know it today tends to work better with players who have minds, but for players that don’t it allows the DM to handwave a lot of the details. This allows you to circumvent a lot of arguments about whether the brains got eaten in groups where you have a mix of slow and fast zombies (the latter being the minmaxers of the zombie D&D crowd).
Eventually, if you survive, you may encounter other survivors. Encourage them to play D&D with you. Then, a few weeks into the campaign, tell them you have a surprise — an “evil” party that wants to fight them. Then introduce your other group. The roleplaying tension will be palpable.
I hope this information brings you solace where I found none. It’s our job as Dungeon Masters to make sure our campaigns survive, even if civilization doesn’t.
When Z-Day comes, I’ll be holed up in my underground gaming bunker. When it all goes down, I’ll post coordinates here and on my social media accounts. I’m not really sure what my schedule will be after the world ends, but good nights for me will probably be Wednesdays and Thursdays. Join me if you can.