Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Three Historical Settings for Your Zombie Game

Robert Rath | 17 Oct 2013 12:00
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alamo by doerr and jacobson


"We must die," says Lieutenant-Colonel Travis. "Our business is not to make a fruitless effort to save our lives, but to choose the manner of our death." He unsheathes his sword and slowly draws a line in the sand. "I now want every man who is determined to stay here and die with me to come across this line."

One by one, the men walk over. Crockett. Juan Seguín. Bowie crosses, sweating heavily from the infection. Only one man remains.

"And you, sir?" Travis asks the last man. "If you promise to fight, we will have you."

The last man thinks for a moment. Then with a shrug he walks across, dirt crunching under his knee-high boots. "If you give me a rifle, I will fight," says Antonio López de Santa Anna.

Dismember the Alamo! isn't a historical scenario, at least not in the strictest sense. It's a satirical take on American mythmaking and hero-worship. In this alternate history, a zombie infection breaks out in Santa Anna's ranks, leading him and his staff to surrender in exchange for sanctuary in the Alamo. But the Texans have little time to celebrate their victory-there are 1,800 brain-eaters clawing at the gate. A mass breakout is impossible, and indeed, would simply spread the horror to the rest of Texas. There's no choice but to keep the shambling dead busy besieging the mission complex, sacrificing themselves so the rest of Texas can mount a defense.

Players don the coonskin caps and buckskins of American legends-David Crockett, Jim Bowie, Juan Seguín and Colonel Travis, not to mention Santa Anna. Their directive is to hold the mission to the last man using any and every crazy, suicidal, ludicrous tactic they can dream up. If a player wants Jim Bowie to run across the yard throwing knives into zombie skulls, let him. Is Crockett thinking of adding an ax edge to Old Betsy's butt? Great. After all, this is how people have treated the Alamo for almost every film about the event. Crockett never blew the magazine like in the John Wayne version, for instance. Neither did he "kill him a bear when he was only three," like Disney's TV show theme song states. Even sacred parts of the Alamo myth, like Colonel Travis drawing a line in the sand, are later fabrications. Instead of fighting that, run with it-make the defense of the Alamo the biggest tall tale you can manage.

GM Notes: The 7th Sea and Swashbuckling Adventure rules are perfect for games like this-they encourage over-the-top play and reward daring feats. However, it's important to note that the whole point of the Alamo is that all of these people die. Dismember the Alamo! isn't about winning, it's about hosting the most ludicrous total party kill that you and your players can possibly imagine. Don't be afraid to let your players run wild, but remember that there needs to be a progression. In the beginning, the characters should be merely Hollywood versions of their real selves, but by the last assault they should be pummeling zombie bears with their raw fists and hip-shooting light artillery. Try to watch some Alamo movies (and preferably read a book) beforehand to get a sense of the characters, but remember that the PCs are supposed to be legends rather than historical figures.

And keep another surprise up your sleeve: After they all die, you can give them new character sheets. Their heroic defense has allowed Sam Houston to rally a Texan army and track the infected. Their new characters catch up with the horde at San Jacinto, getting the opportunity to avenge their own deaths.

Suggested Tabletop Rules Sets: Swashbuckling Adventures or its older and better incarnation, 7th Sea.

With a little imagination and a history book, you can create mash ups that reinvigorate the zombie genre. Don't feel restricted to these three scenarios-mix and match whatever you like. You could create a great game where zombies replace the black plague, or the potato blight that created the Irish diaspora, or have Hadrian's wall be a defense against the undead horde. Zombies are a highly malleable monster, and the only limit is your imagination and a Google search.

Need more zombies? Check out our Walking Dead survivor personality quiz, Lisa Foiles' Top 5 underrated zombie games, and read about why we might need to stop caring about the apocalypse.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher currently based in Hong Kong. You can follow his exploits at or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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