ALIVE INSIDE: Playtesting Update
Updated: May 15
Carlos and Keisha climbed down the makeshift rope that dangled from the shattered window of the third story State of Vermont office building window. Their feet crunched on bits of broken glass as they jogged past the squirming limbs of three zombies pinned beneath a conference room table. They jumped into the back of a Mustang convertible next to Yvette.
"Let's go!" Zoey shouted from the passenger seat, clenching the table leg she'd been using as a makeshift weapon.
Fred threw the transmission in reverse, and stomped on the gas. A dozen zombies shuffled down the street toward them. "Hang on!" he yelled as the sports car gained momentum. The car smashed into the throng of undead, bodies rolling over the car, ricocheting off the rear bumper, and becoming speed bumps below the tires. But with a sickening jolt, the Mustang slid to a lazy stop, the engine unresponsive to Fred's foot on the pedal. "Shit! Something's wrong."
Walkers poured out of storefronts and climbed through shattered windows. Undead that had been knocked to the ground a moment ago now grasped with gory fingertips as they fought to stand . "What the hell do we do now?" Zoey asked.
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We're now a couple of sessions into playtesting the mechanics of ALIVE INSIDE and it's been a wild ride! During the first session, the party, consisting of Carlos (Community Manager Joseph Carro), Fred (Copy Editor Frank Ard), Yvette (Website Developer Ana Delcourt), Keisha (Web Tool Designer Derek Hoffman) and Zoey (Playtester Chloe Collins), began stuck in a 3rd floor conference room. They were attending a community partnership meeting on workforce development when all hell broke loose in the world. After watching the dead attack people on the streets below, they barricaded themselves in the room and stayed there for three days, living off of catered pastries, coffee, and water. When they finally ventured out, they began searching adjacent offices, supply closets, and meeting rooms for anything useful that could help them. Finding only scattered helpful items (some batteries, a couple bottles of water, a bottle of pepper spray) they continued searching until an undead State of Vermont employee lurched out from behind a turn in the corridor and attacked. Though it was just one zombie, it proved a tricky first encounter for the largely unarmed party.
After dispatching the walker, the party decided they weren't in the mood for an office building dungeon crawl. They smashed through the third floor window, jettisoned some furniture out the window, crushed a few zombies, and then braided together carpet to make a makeshift rope.
After a heated debate among the party on the pros and cons of making their way through the building vs climbing down to the street, #TeamStreet won and they made their decent. Carlos, who was terrified of heights, was forced to make a Breaking Point Check. Joe had managed Carlos' character well and only had a stress level of two. However, he failed the check and Carlos ended up developing a hand tremor and got a -2 on Skill Checks until he completed a rest.
The party secured a car from the parking garage across the street. However, as revealed in the opening sequence, hijinks ensued when Fred decided to use the convertible sports car as a battering ram against an approaching throng of undead.
The party fled inoperable car and made their way east on foot through the downtown area. The party split up and ransacked a restaurant and a pawnshop, quickly gathering useful items. The pawnshop had been partially looted but the group still managed to find a couple of pistols and a shotgun, along with some ammo - though the ammo didn't match the firearms. Fred, rolling high on his perception check, located a wall safe behind a painting. He attempted to crack the safe as the undead shuffled across the street to the pawn shop. He failed his first attempt to open the safe but decided to risk a stress check. The stress check was successful and he managed to open the safe, locating another revolver and some valuable ammunition.
As undead flooded into the pawn shop through doorways and broken windows, the party fled to the back office where the found a door that accesses the back alley. There, they spotted an 80s style RV parked on the side of the road. The made their getaway to the vehicle while Carlos attempted to hotwire the car. He succeeded and the RV took off with out intrepid group of survivors. They left town and decided to head toward a Campground in the foothills of the mountains ten miles away. The session ended with the RV slowing to a halt as the party discovered the burnt-out shell of a fuel truck blocking the road.
As a GM, this was so fun to finally get some playtesting in. I playtested the game significantly back when I first wrote up the rules in 2017. However, the game has been heavily revised and updated since then. One of the coolest aspects was the new Stress Level system and seeing how it not only impacted the mechanics of gameplay, but also how it affected the players decisions. There were several times when the players opted out of stress checks, deciding to play it safe. However, when Frank decided to have Fred make a stress check to get the contents of the safe, it paid off.
The party began the game with as close to nothing as you can get while still having a couple of inventory items. Fred is a martial arts instructor and so he was effective in combat against the one zombie encounter they faced but overall, the party struggled to put down a single shuffling walker. I want to see how a few more combat encounters go, especially now that the party have gotten a few scattered weapons, but I may end up reducing the hit points of the baseline Walker zombie.
As GM, another thing I struggled with was the number of random tables. To be fair, I am still working on converting old tables from the original draft into the new, polished, streamlined draft. However, when the party decided to scavenge, rolling on the various tables broke the immersion and caused several minutes of waiting. I have some ideas on how to streamline the random scavenging tables further and will need to work on them.
To populate the world with cars, I created a d100 table. Roughly 20% of the cars are of the "exotic" variety (Humvees, construction vehicles, tandem bicycles) and when the party was searching the parking garage for vehicles, they kept rolling for vehicles that absolutely wouldn't be there. A Bradley APC in a parking garage? I don't think so. Joseph suggested redesigning the table so that the exotic vehicles are less common. I think he's right and I may create a runoff table for exotic cars - to use when they are appropriate.
Overall, the players and I all had a lot of fun. We have a ways to go but I am happy with how the book is coming along and with how the mechanics are translating into player experiences at the table. I will post another update in a few more weeks and, with some luck, the quickstart guide will become available in the next month for free to anyone who wants to give playtesting it yourself a try!