I quite often listen to the LARPbook Podcast, and they’re doing video now as well. It’s a fortnightly LRP podcast that has a tendency towards tangents, but it’s worth a listen. As far as I can tell it’s a group of people who play/run none of the same events I do and also enjoy wittering about what’s going on in the LRP world.
Zombies pop up in the most unexpected of places. They’re a bit of a go-to monster for situations where you need something that needs to be hit.
They can be amazing – when they’re done well. You can add in appropriate dead monsters to get a bit of angst, but to be honest they’re mostly filler. I’ve seen them appear in most genres of LRP, often slightly disguised. You might think you’ve created mutant infantry that will randomly attack players, but in reality you’ve rebuilt zombies.
I’m a bit divided about zombies. They can be terrifying if used well, but they’re normally more of a way to put in something that can be killed with minimal remorse and that doesn’t need too much of a reason to be there (any decent bad guy can make zombies). It keeps your main bad guy nice and safe off screen until the appropriate moment and produces distraction to give the players resource issues.
I admit I have a preference to being hunted by intelligent and scary monsters that will pick off the players one at a time, and that my nature means that I will inevitably be picked off fairly early on or hide all weekend. However, from my point of view, zombies don’t tend to produce the awesome moments at a game. They’re incidental and often frustrating in a bad way.
I can remember spending an event listening to the rest of the players accidentally setting fire to a horde of zombies as I was hiding (with a few other players). It was an interesting moment. It had been scary getting to where we were, and lying in the dark hoping no one found us was properly scary, but waves of attacks by mindless things were dull. They need to be killable as otherwise you never get your crew back and something you can kill several of isn’t as scary as something that you can only avoid/hide from/ slowly plot the downfall of.
We play horror with almost no weapons. It’s far better that way. It gives us no real way to fight back physically which means flight and fear are our main options and we have to overcome those in order to achieve anything. We know that at the point where the terror starts we will abandon any principles we have and allow ourselves to be herded into a dead end to die at the hands of whatever terror is hunting us, and that even if we’ve spent the entirety of the event so far scanning walls and floors for tiny clues as to the history of the building. This does mean that when zombies happen running and being bystanders is our main option.
With Alone we always had a pacing problem with saturday afternoons. Aliens mostly come at night, mostly. Players needed a coherent reason to have something to do on Saturday afternoon that normally required the input of an outside being in order that time didn’t seem to slow too much. That was hard. Aliens were our zombies, but throwing waves of aliens at them really hurt the impact that the aliens were having. They became easily killable. They would attack from the front. There was none of the “coming out of the goddamn walls” sense. Except that we had built that in. We made sure they could appear in supposedly safe areas. We tried to use 1-2 aliens in ways that would mean the players had to think about what they were doing, and we tried to brief the monster crew that they were sneaky, intelligent and not going to die that easily. The players had to believe they could die from any alien they met.
They had to believe that any room they entered could have aliens hiding in the dark corners. Plan your space use to make sure that you can get people to the locations you need without the players seeing. Make sure you know why your monsters are doing the things they are doing. Why they exist and how they’re going to act. Monsters need identities and patterns to make them feel significant.
I like making players feel conflicted. I like them having to do things they’d rather not do and for killing something to be significant to the player. It makes games more realistic and easier to believe in. But mindless zombies aren’t my favourite – they feel a bit like filler.