Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tommy's Take on ARRGH! Thar Be Zombies

As a long-time Eden fan, it was great to see them get new product out the door in the form of Arrgh! Thar Be Zombies for All Flesh Must Be Eaten.

The question is, is it the resurrection of a once strong line...or its last gasp?

Arrgh! Thar Be Zombies had been in development for quite a while now (I honestly don't remember when)...but the source material feels like an artifact of its time. That is, Pirates were still pretty hot back when the buzz was first building about this...but I don't know if the buzz is still there, at least until Johnny Depp makes another Pirates movie (and it is coming soon enough).

AtbZ's is 160 pages in black and white, $25 for print and $17.50 for PDF. For the production values, it's probably a good deal for the print, less so for the PDF. The book marks are...not impressive, though searchability and copy and paste are enabled.

AHOY MATEY

Pretty standard opening chapter for an AFMBE genre book, with an extensive bibliography and glossary of pirate-speak. We also get an impressive timeline, running from 1492 through 1722, hitting every major recorded event in historical piracy in order to give you a good perspective on the non-zombified source material.

The timeline and glossary really elevate this section above and beyond the normal opening chapter. A very nice addition to the book.

YE PIRATES AND PRIVATEERS

This is the basic pirating chapter and we get a more in-depth history of the pirates, as well as some discussion on the various motivations for being a pirate (some seeking adventure while others were making political statements)...and, of course, greed. The book also plugs Enter the Zombie for fun with Asian pirates.

In a section on disease, we get disease rules for Unisystem, covering dysentery, malaria, scurvy, smallpox, syphilis, typhoid and tuberculosis...full mechanics for each, including contracting the diseases, their effects on your PC and curing the diseases.

As is typical in roleplaying books, slavery gets mentioned but not focused on, just a nod to the existence of slavery in the era.

We also get a version of the 8 Articles of Piracy, with the caveat that they do change from ship to ship, but this is common enough that it can be used as a jumping off point for most ships. We also get the pirate punishments, such as keel haulin', walkin' the plank, hangin' and so on.

A new character type, the Silver Screen Swashbuckler, is presented, for those wanting a more cinematic approach to their piracy (without going full blown Cinematic Unisystem, which I would totally do if I were truly wanting a cinematic pirate game).

We get a discussion on how some Qualities and Drawbacks have changed, complete with a new table for Resources, fitting the age. New Qualities and Drawbacks are present as well, such as Berserker (a full on berserker rage), Light Sleeper and Internal Compass. We also get some fairly in depth rules for alcohol in there. New Drawbacks include Landlubber (for those who aren't comfortable at sea) and One Eye ('cause it's a pirate game).

Several new skills are present, as well as dueling rules, which are kind of cool, including a variety of maneuvers that one can use.

Zombies get several new Aspects as well, including Billy Bones, which basically turns them into skeletons instead. From The Ashes means the zombie will return, with the power level dependent on when they come back.

Some very nice mechanics that should make this a draw for many All Flesh GMs, as several of those Aspects could be used in any game, as well as many of the Qualities.

TH' TOOLS O' THE TRADE

THe equipment chapter starts off with tables for English, French and British currency, the ones you are most likely to deal with in a historical piracy game. Several pieces of equipment are listed, many of which I believe have appeared before, but with Piracy era pricing now.

Additionally, appropriate armor and weapons for the age are present, including cannons and flintlocks.

Not surprisingly, ships themselves are covered including - in a nice touch - ghost ships, complete with aspects. With a little work, and in some cases none at all, most of the Zombie Aspects can be applied to ghost ships!

A discussion is made on life on the high seas, such as press gangs where people were forced onto ships, and mutiny...but I'm not 100% sure why those wound up in the equipment chapter. There is a small Mutiny Point mechanic for those wanting to track the captain's loss over his men.

The chapter ends with several pages on ship to ship combat, including tables for when the ship's toughness gives way, maneuvers for ships and boarding rules.

The ghost ship rules are especially cool, in my opinion, The rest is largely functional, but not inspiring.

VODOU

The state goal of this chapter is to try to combine historical and cinematic vodou. It uses Miracles as a base (like most All Flesh metaphysics do), and seems to include most of the Loa. I'm not terribly up on my Vodou, but I did notice that Shango is missing (he's one of the few that comes to mind for me when I'm thinking of Vodou Loa).

Several new Miracles are present, many of which could be used in a non-Vodou set-up with minor reskinning, if that, such as Speak True - which forces a person to tell the truth and suddenly makes me want to play an Inspired Lawyer in a Witchcraft game.

Rituals are also present, including Samedi's ritual for making zombies, which should be a bad idea in such a game.

Again, several mechanics that can be lifted and used not only in a non-Pirate game, but in any Witchcraft game that supports Miracles.

VOODOO QUEEN OF THE SHROUDED ISLES

Here, we get the first of the Deadworlds in the book.

It all starts with two seamen who are tortured under belief that they are pirates and a mother begging to the Petro Loa for vengeance, sparking a zombie plague.

There are a few ways that this can go, with some adventure seeds that put the PCs up against the Voodoo Queen, an immortal female pirate and oodles of zombies with the hopes of setting the world right again. There is even an option for letting the PCs play as the men that started this mess: now zombies on a blood-red ship.

It's a cool little setting and I do like the hook of having the PCs as zombies from the ship that tortured the sons that started all of this.

THE BLACK FLEET

This one is a straight forward race for a crystal skull against the Black Fleet, which borrow some imagery from the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

Like with the previous setting, this Deadworld also allows for a Zombie option, with the PCs playing a ship from the Black Fleet that has been dispatched in its own direction.

ISLANDs IN A DARK SEA

This is, essentially, an AFMBEd Spelljammer with serial numbers filed off and, I must say, that's awesome. Galileo creates ships that run off of personal essence and can fly up into the "Dark Sea", which you and I know as outer space...which is threatened by some nasty buggers called the Necronians. You basically have carte blanche to add whatever you like here, with a saurian race included and even a set of cyborg zombies that the PCs can cross paths with (and who look more than a little like the borg).

Seriously, I think this is the coolest Deadworld I've seen in an All Flesh book and jumps my opinion on the book up several notches.

PIECES OF EIGHT

These are a pair of non-Eurocentric Deadworlds that provide a framework to be built on by the ZM, featuring Asian piracy and Aztec piracy, as well as some mini plot seeds (literally, as one involves a hostile tree).

We do get an EXTENSIVE index at the end.

CONCLUSIONS

On one hand, I dunno, something about the AFMBE layout and set-up feels...dated. Eden has GORGEOUS production values on their licensed products, less so on their in-house stuff. On the other hand, you are also generally paying at least $15 less for their in-house stuff...

Given the lack of features (including usable bookmarks - these are not), the PDF is incredibly overpriced at $17.50...however, the print book at $25 could well be worth it, as there is a LOT that can be mined for other All Flesh games in here, presumable a credit to Daniel Davis.

If this is the new beginning for Eden Studios and All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and not a last gasp, then they could do a LOT worse than give Mr. Davis more work in this line.

It is worth noting that this book heavily references other All Flesh books, including Enter the Zombie (which any ZM should already own, anyway, as far as I'm concerned and Atlas of the Walking Dead).

A must-buy for All Flesh GMs, due to the sheer amount of plunderable material, if nothing else.