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ALIVE INSIDE: Playtesting Update - Gas Station Massacre

It's been a busy month since the last playtesting update and wow - what a ride. Speaking of which, if you haven't checked out the first two playtesting updates, you can read the first one here and the second one here.

If you're a DM you've probably experienced game sessions where whatever you had prepped, the players did something completely unexpected. These last three game sessions, the players went almost entirely off the rails. However, we ended up still having a great time.

Quick Aside

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Where we left off, our group of survivors 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), had escaped the small Vermont town in which they had holed up for the first few days of the Zombie apocalypse. They hotwired an RV, fled to the mountains, and were on their way to a remote campground until they encounter the shell of a flipped-over, burnt-out fuel truck blocking the road.

Game Sessions 3-5

After several minutes of debate, the survivors did a K-turn with the RV and headed back toward town. The survivors engaged in nearly an hour of debate but at the end, they had formulated a plan. About thirty miles away, there was a large body of water called Lake Manadnock. Yvette, who grew up in the area, remembered that there were a half-dozen islands in the lake, including one that had a campground and a ranger station. The survivors agreed a large body of water separating them from the undead would be ideal and so they headed toward the lake - and back toward the town they had just escaped.

On the way back to town, the RV hit a zombie, damaging the RV's radiator. Fred, who's passion is fixing old cars, used his experience - and some scavenged parts they had gotten in town earlier - to make a hasty repair to the radiator. More zombies began to come and so the survivors kept going even though it was dark and getting late into the night. The RV was running low on gas and so the survivors agreed to stop at a gas station at the edge of town. The survivors broke into the gas station, fighting off a small handful of zombies as they scavenged for food and supplies. Keisha used her computer skills to access the gas station's cash register and logged a cash sale on the gas pump. She then ran outside and began pumping gas, noticing with growing concern that a massive horde of undead was shambling toward the gas station, having seen and heard the RV. Everyone returned to the RV just as the undead horde did and Fred leapt inside as Yvette began backing up. Fred made a hasty molotov cocktail, climbed onto the roof of the RV, and tossed it at the gas pumps. The gas station exploded into a massive fireball, killing a large chink of the horde and shielding the RV from the approaching onslaught.

This is where things start to get... wild.

With the asphalt on fire, Yvette tried to on the lawns of nearby homes to get around the inferno. However, as soon as the RV touched the curb, the tire popped (make your skill checks, kids). Yvette, Fred, and Zoey got out of the RV on foot to find a replacement tire while Keisha and Carlos guarded the RV. The on-foot group snuck around the burning gas station through several backyards and made their way to a car dealership in town. The group attracted a small number of zombies but managed to keep their distance from the shambling undead. Yvette and Zoey ducked into a shed where they found some new melee weapons (shovel, axe, and pickaxe) and Fred spotted a pickup truck with the same tire size as the RV. Fred had to smash the window to the truck to locate a jack and tire iron, alerting a pair of zombies. However, Frank succeeded on his skill check and Fred got the tire off just in time to get away before the zombies reached him.

The group made their way back to the RV, trailing a growing number of zombies behind them. Yvette used some gasoline she'd found in the shed and set fire the the throng of undead, killing all but three.

As they reached the RV, Keisha and Carlos came out to fight off the three zombies. Fred got to work replacing the tire - and this is when the shit hit the proverbial fan.

Keisha, Zoey, Carlos, and Yvette formed a defense line to protect Fred as combat ensued. Carlos was bit on the hand almost immediately and, using the last bullet in his pistol, decided to "opt out." In the next round of combat, Yvette and Keisha were both killed by zombies who then began devouring them. With two of the zombies occupied, Zoey led the third zombie on a chase, using her superior speed to keep her distance as Fred finished the tire. As soon as he was done Fred and Zoey hopped into the RV and drove off.

Both severely injured themselves, and both suffering from severe mental traumas (another original mechanic of ALIVE INSIDE), Fred and Zoey made their way to a remote road where they could rest and recuperate over several days. Eventually, the much smaller group decided to head west in hopes of finding a farm in rural Iowa - lots of corn, few people.

Fred and Zoey made their way to across a rural state highway in upper state New York. Stopping at a roadside gas station, Fred got out and tried to use the gas pumps only to find that there was no power. He and Zoey went around to the back of the gas station and found a generator to provide emergency power but there were no obvious controls. At this point, Zoey heard something in the RV and they ran back to investigate. Fred went inside to find a new survivor, Peter (Derek's new character) enjoying some of their salvaged tequila. As they were about to question him, a second new survivor, Ben (Joe's new character) grappled Zoey and held a knife to her throat. The group came to a tentative truce as a oily, matted dog approached the RV. Fred went out to meet the animal when all of a sudden, its back ripped open and two tentacles attacked. Fred was injured but the group quickly killed the undead abomination.

Ben and Peter had ten gallons of gasoline and a destination in mind - Ben has a cousin who owns a farm in Nebraska - so they decided to team up and make their way there. The ten gallons of gas didn't last long however and the survivors began searching for another fuel up a couple of short hours later.

Running on fumes, the group came to a barricade in the middle of the road with a small table and a HAM Radio sitting there. Fred got out and picked up the radio. On the other end, a man named Gavin introduced himself and explained that if he'd like to get by, he'd have to pay the toll of 200 round of 22 LR ammunition. The group having no where near this amount came to an alternative agreement. They would go to a veterinarian office a few miles back and bring Gavin whatever narcotics and antibiotics they found there.

When the group reached the veterinarian's office, Ben stayed in the RV, disagreeing with the premise that the group should help Gavin. Zoey, Fred, and Peter quickly located the locker where medication were stored. Peter bashed open the lock with a wrench and grabbed all of the medications they needed - just as two more undead dogs appeared in the doorway.

Fred and Peter fled immediately but Zoey, just a little too slow, never made it out of the veterinarian office. When Fred and Peter rejoined with Ben, they had a change of heart. Angry at losing Zoey and being manipulated by Gavin, they decided to get around the barricade through alternative means. They drove the RV back but remained out of sight of the barricade. The survivors got out and watched the barricade, trying to get information on Gavin and his men. Peter spotted movement from one of the vehicles that made up the barricade and also noticed one of the nearby houses had spray painted windows.

The group came up with a surprising and audacious plan. Fred and Ben would drive the RV in reverse (to avoid damage to the engine) at as high of a speed ad possible right into the barricade to smash through it. Meanwhile, Peter made an improvised Molotov cocktail and would throw it at the house with spray painted windows where - presumably - Gavin and the rest of his men were.

Frank rolled high on his skill check for driving the RV and successfully smashed into the barricade without injuring himself or Ben. The car where an armed guard had been waiting flipped over and the guard was nearly dead. Ben jumped out and finished him off just as they began taking fire from one of the houses.

Peter snuck through the backyards of several homes and discovered that the house with spray painted windows was filled with zombies. The house next door, a two-story ranch, was the one ringing with gunfire. He tossed the molotov cocktail at the roof and ran into the garage where a woman was screaming for help. Peter located some keys, unlocked the woman who claimed to be Gavin's prisoner, and he located a shotgun and a box of shells.

Meanwhile, Ben went on a killing spree, killing two more guards with his knife. Peter ran up the stairs where he and Gavin shot each other simultaneously, though Ben's wound was only superficial. As the house became engulfed in flames, the group quickly scavenged what they could, finding a number of pistols, a rifle, lots of ammunition, and many other useful items.

Development Insight

Over the course of these three game sessions, I made SIGNIFICANT changes to the balancing of the adversaries in ALIVE INSIDE. After the massacre of the group at the gas station at the hands of three zombies, everyone agreed that the undead were much too difficult to kill. I ended up slashing the hit points in half for most of the enemies - though I made no changes to the damage output of the zombies. Survivor deaths will happen and, though the combat was a little frustrating since the party didn't kill as many zombies as they felt they should have, it was one of the most epic and memorable game sessions I've ever run as a GM. Survivor deaths and severe injuries will be a big part of ALIVE INSIDE and something that make it a true survival horror RPG, but those death should come when the odds are a little more stacked against the party.

Additionally, after the massacre, all of the survivors leveled up for the first time to level 2 - including the new survivors, Ben and Peter. The leveling up is pretty straight forward and went smoothly. Each survivor gained 1d4 + their Con modifier in new HP, gained +2 to a weapon, tool, or piece of equipment they had used in the last few game sessions, and also chose 2 talents to give their survivors. Talents provide a huge range of boosts, features, abilities, and perks.

The rovers - the mutated undead dogs the party encountered - are the first advanced undead the've seen so far. The dogs were dangerous but died easily. I will be really excited to see the party fight against some new advanced undead in future game sessions.


Now that the players have a dramatically improved arsenal, I will be curious to see how combat goes in future encounters. The players haven't been utilizing turn actions very much and I'm going to encourage them to use them more moving forward so I can get a better sense of how these are working. If the players feel like they aren't very useful, I will take a look at them and rework them. Turn actions are a way to get players more involved in combat when its not their turn. Players can take one turn action at any point during combat and can have significant impacts, such as causing a small amount of damage in a depseration attack, helping a player move a few additional feet, or manipulating an item or object - such as flicking a switch or pressing a button.

The draft of ALIVE INSIDE is now over 25,000 words and is inching closer toward a general release. I'll keep you updated with another post next month!

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