DovahQueen: Bend the Knee
Since 2015, the DovahQueen has been taking your questions and giving advice to improve your games. Now the tables are turned in this DovahQueen series; Loren is asking the questions and a panel of three guests—an RPG-industry veteran, a Know Direction network staff member, and a fan—answers. It’s time to Bend the Knee!
First, let’s meet today’s guests.
RPG-Industry Veteran: Lou Agresta
A novelist and game designer, I started playing with the Holmes Basic set in 1978, wrote professionally for the first time in 2004, and have since developed, edited, and written well over a million words for the adventure game industry, including the ENnie winning Razor Coast line. Most recently I’m the co-creator of Grimmerspace, the largest successful Kickstarter for Starfinder as well as its first sci-fi horror campaign setting.
Outside of gaming I’m a dad, a martial arts enthusiast, and a fan of Nordic dotwork tattooing. I live in the Hudson Valley with two cats, my girlfriend, and (part-time) two children—not necessarily in that order.
Know Direction Network Staff Member: Ron Lundeen
I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs for going on…sheesh…four decades. I pivoted from my career as a transactional attorney to become a developer on the Pathfinder Adventure Path line at Paizo going on…sheesh…three years ago. You can catch me playing Skootch in the Intrepid Heroes podcast and prattling on with my friend John on Digital Divination. My RPG advice blog is on my website at RunAmokGames.com, and it’s usually worth reading.
Fan: Tom Parry (medtec28)
Like many gamers of my generation, I started 30-something years ago with AD&D Redbox as my gateway drug, moving onto harder stuff like Shadowrun and WoD in my college years. I’m currently playing PF and Shadowrun, but not nearly as often as I would like. The demands of the real world being what they are.
In my day job, I’m a Frontline Emergency Physician in NYC. When I’m not working clinically, I’m also a Medical Simulation educator, which means I run roleplay scenarios for interdisciplinary teams of medical professionals. In this way, I can say RPGs are both my hobby and my day job.
“The year is 2020. A strange new virus, COZED-18, has the world in its clutches as some decry the end of days. It started simple enough—just a cough, maybe some fatigue. Next, the infected were bed-ridden and struggling to breath. As people began to perish, the virus mutated and was no longer transmissible via airborne particles. Then, it began. What started out as a few isolated incidents of deceased victims animating and behaving in a feral state soon became the second wave of the pandemic, and it was the first wave of the zombie pandemic. These no-longer-fully-dead ferals proved to be the most virulent carriers of COZID; their bites were an (un)death sentence. They were called Zeds. Today, the Zed problem has reached critical mass. What yesterday was merely a handful of Zeds have spread across the country has turned into full-blown Armageddon. The news is telling people to stay home and stay safe. Your neighbors are out in the street with some friends getting their cardio in…apparently it’s leg day too. Now, there are a handful of people in your yard very much so not complying with social distancing. They look normal enough…you think… That’s probably just ketchup on his shirt. Afterall, the president said Zeds are just a hoax.”
That’s right; it’s time. Zombies! What are you gonna do?
Lou: Obviously, as a gamer with a 10-year-old who is obsessed with zombies, we’ve long had this strategized. And rehearsed. The first thing we do is hit the internal silent alarm we’ve rigged in the apartment. Lights flash but nothing to attract the zeds. Next everyone kits up. We’re falling back to one of our safe houses, spaced throughout the city. In fact, this is one of our safe houses, and we were here — my son Malcolm, myself, my daughter Kaylie, and… er… redshirts 1 to 3? — to stock it, take a scout for Zeds, and return to base. Guess we found the zeds.
So, hit the silent alarm. It also triggers the solenoids we stol— er… liberated from the light manufacturing center and slams dead bolts home on every fire door below us. Silent and efficient, fully locked and loaded, we head for the roof. Kaylie, 13, has her repeating crossbow. Malcolm, always a fan of the Walking Dead, made a Lucille. He prefers a handgun and a bandolier of clips for his backup. I’m going katana and tachi.
None of us are stupid, though. Malcolm designed zombie protective gear from football equipment, abandoned riot helmets, hockey pads, and FMA rigs. We’re all wearing it, except the redshirts of course. They’ve always felt a t-shirt and maybe a light jean jacket was the fashionable way to galavant through the end of the world. Their shirts say so, reading like a movie log line “Pandemic take 2: CO ZID First Plague was Not Enough”
Outside cameras show the Zeds haven’t breached the building, but their numbers on the lawn are growing. Huh, there’s Mrs. G, the neighborhood busybody who always complained about her swollen ankles to con the local kids out of $5 and get her driveway shoveled or her leaves bagged for free. She’s wearing that generic geriatric outfit: flowered smock with brown stockings and shifting from ankle to ankle. Only, bloody hand smears stain the flowers like someone died trying to pick them, and she doesn’t have ankles any more. COZID popped them like overripe tomatoes. Now it’s just shreds of skin flapping like burst balloon vinyl over bare bones, brown stockings bunched above her feat, gummed and tacky with days old blood. Guess she won’t be complaining any time soon.
“Hey Mal,” I say, nodding to the window. “You should ask Mrs. G for the five bucks she owes you.”
Mal looks out with pale blue eyes too old for his tiny body and shakes his head of blond surfer hair, “F— that old bag.”
It’s the apocalypse, it’ll do that to a young kid. He’s saved my life often enough, no way I’m going to correct his language, dad or not.
We all make it to the roof without trouble.
We’re on the roof because, like all our safe houses, we’ve installed zip lines connecting the next few buildings. One of the redshirts already has the first pulley out of its locker and onto the wire. She’s up on the edge ready to zip over the road down below, now packed shoulder to shoulder with Zeds, to the next roof.
We’ll be out of here in no time and report back to HQ, and the moment I think that is when OF COURSE it all goes to shit.
The hand is dirty. Nails falling out, caked and stained with old viscera, covered in scratches and bits of fur stuck to the maroon gore. Like it recently gutted a fluffy cat. It’s also wrapped around the ankle of the redshirt on the edge of the roof. Sally. Her name is Sally. She misses salad more than anything but her dog. She tells us that every meal.
Sally squeaks, and then she’s gone. Hurled from the roof by a new species of Zed. Climbers. The virus mutated again, and we’re the first to find out. Go us.
Sally’s scream vanishes like the quick spin of a volume knob. A pause when she hits, and then what sounds like the roar over a Shea Stadium homerun rises from the street below. Some wet crunching noises, then nothing.
The edge of the roof behind my remaining team fills with dirty hands. Some lack fingers, others nails. There’s nothing but hands no matter where I turn. You can hear them scrabbling and moaning just out of sight.
Kaylie racks her bow with an authoritative crack. Malcolm unlimbers Not-Lucille. The remaining redshirts fumble for their guns.
I spit and draw my blades. “Well kids, looks like we’re right fucked this time.”
Kaylie’s eyes widen. “Daddy, language!” and then she puts a bolt dead center in forehead of the first climber to pull itself onto the roof. Bullseye.
The climber loses its grip, circles its arms like a cartoon, and topples from sight. Another homerun cry rises to the roof, and then all of them are over the edge and at us. I can’t listen to anything, any more. Just swing my blades and fight…
Ron: Ah, zombies! My procrastination has paid off at last! A friend recommended one of those survivalist books about installing a generator and going off the grid and building perimeter security and having different kinds of guns for different purposes. And after not even a year of him insisting that I should read it, I finally checked it out from the library. And I meant to read it, but I never did, and last week I got an email from the library saying it’s overdue but I never got around to returning it. Procrastination saves the day, AGAIN! So I race up to my bedroom, because I think it’s pretty likely that the survivalist book I need is in the pile of books by my side of the bed. And there it is, right underneath…oh, John Scott Tynes’s Puppetland RPG! I was really excited to track down a copy of this just recently, and I only read about half of it before putting it down the other night. I was reading…about what? Oh, shadow puppets! I think they’re probably mechanically better than the other puppet “classes,” and I was going to compare their default abilities against the abilities of the setting’s key antagonists, and while I’m thinking about it is probably the best time to finish that comparison.
Oh, whoops, sounds like my kids have let the COZED zombies in the house; I hear them all roaring and devouring things downstairs. My kids, I mean. No telling where the zombies are, unless…yep, I never got around to replacing those creaky treads on the stairs and now the zombies are coming up them. How do I know it’s zombies and not the kids? Because nobody is shouting, “Daaaaaad, she hiiiiiiiit me!” while stomping up the stairs. So it must be the zombies. Where’s that survivalist book? Oh, it’s right under the When Axioms Collide adventure for the Torg Eternity RPG. Hey, I need to finish reading that adventure before I run the next part on Tuesday! I’m not sure how the wyvern attack in the first part plays out in the…wait, wait. Survivalist book. Got it.
Some quick flipping through the survivalist book and, whoo boy, there’s a lot here about different types of grains and small engine maintenance. Not so much about zombies. I hear some shuffling outside my bedroom door now, which would definitely be accompanied by demands of, “I need the password for my Kiiiiiindle!” if it were my kids. So, it’s zombies. Is there anything in this book about….oh! Here’s a section on panic rooms! Now my procrastination pays off again! My oldest daughter’s bedroom is little more than a big closet, because there’s not a window in it. Thus not technically a bedroom. There’s a window just right outside her bedroom door, and I’d been planning to knock out the wall with her door and build a new wall and door about five feet further out, giving her a window in her room. But I haven’t done much more than stack up some lumber in the hall. So her bedroom is still fully enclosed. Oh, procrastination, where would I be without you? I throw open the door, shove the group of zombies back across the hall into my daughter’s room, slam the door, and hammer the lumber across the doorframe to keep them in. Problem solved! The zombies are contained for now. I’ll need something more permanent there eventually, but I need to prep that adventure for Tuesday….
Below is the transcript of a debriefing occurring during the UN COZED response.
These recordings will be added to the official After-Action Report for the COZED incident. All records are subject to the COZED Amnesty Act. Doctor, will you please describe your actions in the early stages prior to the fall?
“We had been following the European data, and thus we managed to stay ahead of this thing ever so slightly. I survived the initial airborne stage due to my fanatical devotion to my PPE (Recorder’s note: Personal Protective Equipment). The biters were more dangerous, as they came in as ‘intoxicated patients.’ We lost many providers to ‘biters’. I continued going to work right up until society fell.”
When did you first realize this was no longer “business as usual?”
“I had slept in on a Thursday morning and woke to Pinecone, my puppy, barking at ‘people’ in the yard. I don’t know how, but he only barks and growls at the infected. We were nearly surrounded. I was able to distract them by playing some loud music on one side of the house, and we escaped through my attached garage on the opposite side.”
After the fall, would you please describe your initial actions?
“My first response was to gather supplies. I pulled my hunting and survival gear out of storage. It only took a few days to round my archery skills back into form. After the initial supply line disruptions were resolved, I had collected enough masks and filters for myself and my wife, just had to bring them home from work. We picked up some motorcycle leathers. It makes for decent protection against bites. I would have preferred bunker gear, but I wasn’t ready to steal anything yet. The first casualty of this crisis was not going to be my humanity. Then I laid into some medical supplies.”
Where did these supplies come from?
“I will decline to answer except to say they were all legally obtained. Even with the Amnesty Act in place, I am not going to be responsible for that information seeing the light of day.”
Fair enough, where did you meet the other survivors you were found with?
“They were random associators mostly. My wife and puppy were with me from the outset, and both demonstrated their value to the band repeatedly. Myself, I was strangely prepared for the ZAW (Recorders Note: Zombie Apocalypse World). I had been taught to hunt, fish, and camp by my father, plus I had legit medical training in both a hospital-based and prehospital environment. Unfortunately, I had no skill in the most necessary survival skill. My watercraft experience was only in green-water circumstances. Fortunately, I was able to add my skills to that of a seasoned blue-water sailor. Living near the shore was definitely an advantage here. That and I was highly motivated to learn.”
What made you think sailing was so indispensable?
“Quite simply, Zeds cannot swim. They cannot manage the level of coordination that is required to stay afloat. We could lay in supplies on a sailing vessel, combine that with a solar still and we could wait things out, only going ashore when we absolutely needed to. Clearly it worked…”
So, your entire plan was based on avoiding contact?
“It was. In the Zombie Apocalypse genre, the idea of man-versus-zombie conflict, when ascribed to the 6 classic narrative conflicts, is Man vs.. Environment as opposed to Man vs Man. There were way too many of them to fight. We couldn’t make them go way. Just needed to wait things out to find ‘The New Normal’.”
I’ve heard from my guests; now I want to hear from you. What’s your plan to survive the zombie apocalypse? Leave a comment below, on our Discord, or on Know Direction’s Facebook page.
Each Bend the Knee features three guests. One is from the RPG industry. Another is from the Know Direction network. The third guest could be you! Leave a comment on Know Direction’s Facebook, Discord, or Twitter, or you can send an email to DearDovahQueen@gmail.com for your chance to be featured on the next Bend the Knee or Dear DovahQueen.