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Not Just Any Old Zombie RPG: Savage Worlds Dead End Reviewed

Dead End (Atomic Ninja Studios)Game Title: Savage Worlds – Dead End

Publisher: Atomic Ninja Studios with reference to the Savage Worlds gaming system from Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Writer: Jerrod “Savage Daddy” Gunning

Artist: Karl Keesler

Year: 2020

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse and thriller roleplaying for Savage Worlds

Pages: 184 pages

MSRP: $14.99 in PDF

The survival guide covers the overall concepts and features character creation archetypes, gear, setting rules, factions and adjoining personalities, running the game, a special survivor community generator available to the Game Master, descriptions of the abilities and personalities differentiated between the living and the dead, and finally an index and appendix.

All playable characters featured in the game will be called Survivors. Survivors are characters that have found themselves alive after the end of the world.

The overall concept centers on stories of the ordinary people that survived the Outbreak and players will choose a concept during character creation. Concepts are imperative to gameplay as players will focus on the struggle for survival in a new civilization, along with the occasional die roll to pop a zombie’s head off.

Players will choose how to play the game, whether they want to venture the route of zombie slayers or focus on character struggles in a new societal environment. The chosen route will determine a players’ character concepts. For example, if the zombie slayer route is selected, then players will want to customize their characters as being former first responders or military personnel rather than ordinary careers such as fast food employees, delivery drivers, or office professionals for the survival route. Character concepts will shape the game and it’s ending.

Players will want to begin by creating a Motivation for their character, things like short term goals can be used and will be written in a short sentence on your character sheet. All players will start with a free Novice Edge of their choosing. Players can choose to attribute Hindrances to their character either by selecting from the Savage Worlds core rules or the ones featured in the Dead End guidebook. Prohibited Hinderances include Doubting Thomas, Poverty, Obligation, Outsider and Wanted.

When traits are selected for characters, no trait shall exceed d8 during character creation as characters begin as ordinary citizens. A new stat specific to Dead End is Humanity. Humanity is a measurement of how far your Savage Worlds - Dead End Interior 1 (Atomic Ninja Studios)survivor has strayed from the values of civilized society in order to survive and acts as a gauge of the survivor’s conscience. For example, a character could be ostracized by the group for partaking in too many acts of self-preservation thus capping the amount of Support the character can receive. Humanity will start at 4 and can be modified by using certain Moral Hinderances. Minor Hindrances like Loyal, Pacifist (Minor), and Vow (Minor) are worth +1 Humanity each. Major Hindrances like Code of Honor, Pacifist (Major), and Vow (Major) are worth +2 each.

All characters will start with the Improvisational Fighter Edge, and will receive the McGyver Edge free at Seasoned Rank. As like with Hinderances, you may choose Edges from Savage Worlds or those provided. One exception will be if you choose to play with ordinary people, you may not select Combat Edges at character creation but may gain them through advancements. Prohibited Edges include all Arcane Backgrounds (and Edges that require them), Aristocrat, Berserk, Chi, Connections, Champion, Healer, Rich, Filthy Rich, and Scavenger.

Survivors will begin with standard personal effects. Gear will be selected at this time and should be based heavily on the occupation, background and/or character concept.

Character Archetypes to be selected from include a Barista, a Clergy member, a Criminal, a Delivery Driver, a Devoted Parent, a Doomsday Prepper, a Financial Professional, a Fiveoh, a Gear Head, a Geek, a Hipster, a Jock, a Lawyer, a Mechanic, a Medic, a Nerd, a Physician, a Redneck, a Scientist, a Soldier, or a Student. Individual stats are included in a separate chapter.

Dead End specific Hinderances to be chosen from include Callous (Major), Comorbidity (Major), Defiant (Major), Dependent (Major), Guilty Conscience (Major), Glutton (Major), Hypersensitivity (Minor or Major), Pollyanna (Minor), Straight Arrow (Minor), Touched (Minor), and Wrong Place, Wrong Time (Minor or Major).

New Edges for characters include ((Primed For The Apocalypse (Special) with requirements of Novice, Special)), ((Natural Athlete (Background) with requirements of Novice, Vigor d8+)), ((Scrounger (Background) with requirements of Novice, Notice d6+, Stealth d8+)), ((Improved Scrounger (Background) with requirements of Seasoned, Notice d8+, Stealth d8+, Scrounger)), ((Crack Shot (Combat) with requirements of Veteran, Marksman)),((Intervene (Combat) with requirements of Seasoned, Heroic)), ((Improved Intervene (Combat) with requirements of Seasoned, Intervene, Improved Block)), ((Jaded (Social) with requirements of Seasoned, Spirit d8+)), ((Rapport (Social) with requirements of Novice, Spirit d6+, Humanity 2+)), ((Teamwork Makes The Dream Work (Social) with requirements of Novice, Spirit d6+)), ((Counselor (Professional) with requirements of Novice, Healing d8+, Spirit d8+)), ((Camouflage (Professional) with requirements of Seasoned, Performance d8+, Stealth d6+)), ((Cartographer (Professional) with requirements of Novice, Common Knowledge d6+, Research d6+)), ((Medic (Professional) with requirements of Novice, Spirit d8+, Healing d8+, Science d6+)), ((Mind Over Matter (Professional) with requirements of Novice, Survival d8+)), ((Physician (Professional) with requirements of Novice, Healing d8+, Science d8+)), ((Better Lucky Than Good (Weird) with requirements of Novice, Luck, d6 in affected skill)), ((Eats Like A Bird (Weird) with requirements of Novice, Vigor d8+)), ((Human Camel (Weird) with requirements of Notice, Vigor d8+)), ((Rambler (Weird) with requirements of Novice)), ((Second Wind (Weird) with requirements of Novice, Vigor d8+)), and ((The Natural (Weird) with requirements of Novice, d6+ in an affected skill)). Summaries of Hinderances and Edges are included.

All Seasoned survivors were given the McGyver Edge for free, enabling players to craft gear from broken equipment or scavenged parts using a single Repair roll and the necessary materials. A successful raise will create Savage Worlds - Dead End Interior 2 (Atomic Ninja Studios)a shoddy version of the item and a Critical Failure means the item cannot be crafted and the attempts eats up the materials. Shoddy Items will always suffer a -1 to use and may malfunction and break with a roll of 1 or 2 on the skill die when used and will require a Repair roll at -2 and 1d6 hours in order to repair. Used Items malfunction and break with a roll of 1 on the skill die when used and will require a Repair roll at -2 and 1d4 hours in order to repair.

Players can use Gasoline for vehicles or gasoline-powered tools or weapons, each have four fuel levels (Full, High, Low and Out). Vehicles burn gasoline at different rates and are provided by vehicle type. An assorted list of common gear found in Dead End is provided along with the Supply value and the amount of Supply Points required for each item.

Currency in game is bargained with the use of gold as paper money is no longer an option. A barter economy will be in play that allows survivors to make a Persuasion check when exchanging goods. Situations that require haggling are handled as a Social Conflict per Savage Worlds. To note, Dead End does not use the optional Wealth system from Savage Worlds.

Dead End implements a Supply system that is more efficient for scavenging, hunting and finding shelter. Supply Points represent the success the survivors have when scavenging, hunting, or finding shelter. The Supply system allows for certain items to be less common than others with others being in less demand.

A modified version of Encumbrance found in Savage Worlds is put into play. Regardless of Strength die type, each survivor will have a “default load” made up of specific items of importance to the character. Default Load will make up the first 10 points of Supply carried by a survivor. These items will not affect the survivor’s encumbrance.

Once gameplay starts, a player may encounter a situation where an amputation is an option. If this occurs, the act of removing a limb requires a Healing check. Medical supplies like tourniquets, antiseptic, or surgical tools will be needed for the procedure, if they are not present a penalty will be upheld. Amputation will only work if acted on immediately after the bite occurs to effectively stop the spread of the infection. After the successful amputation, the patient must recover all Wounds through Natural Healing, a healer may resolve the Wound with a raise. If not successful, a Wound will be present, and the patient will be Incapacitated and must make a Vigor check that includes any Wound or Fatigue penalties. Any players that are a witness to such event will suffer a Mental Anguish check.

Savage Worlds - Dead End Interior 3 (Atomic Ninja Studios)Any time a player rolls a 1 on the Wild Die regardless of the Trait die, they will be stuck with the result and cannot reroll.

The basis of Fear in Dead End focuses on the Mental Anguish system in which can cause characters to develop psychological issues. Players will not roll on the Fear Table, instead they will roleplay their character’s natural reactions. A failed Fear check will mean that the character is Shaken and Fatigued. A Critical Failure will mean the character makes an immediate Mental Anguish check.

A survivor that suffers a single Wound to the head is immediately Incapacitated. Two or more Wounds from a single attack will result in instant death.

If a player rolls more than one raise on an attack against the zombies, it’s an automatic headshot. This roll would be considered a Finishing Move and will not require rolling for damage. This will only apply to attacks against zombies.

Many things in game can lead to Mental Anguish leading to bouts of extreme depression or worse. This will be triggered by game events such as the loss of a player or a Critical Failure on a Fear check. If the Fear check is successful, the survivor is Shaken. On a raise, the player will earn a Survival Chip. If the check fails, the survivor will develop a temporary “psychological hindrance” known as Derangement. On a Critical Failure, the derangement will remain permanently. If the number of active Derangements ever exceed half the survivor’s Spirit, the character will go insane and will become an NPC under the GM’s control.

A Derangement can be resolved by realizing a Motivation or succeeding at a Smarts roll modified by any Wound or Fatigue penalties (-1 per Derangement) once every five days. Only 1 Derangement can be resolved in this way per survivor per session. Derangements will be chosen by the player and should best fit the situation that cause it. Such Derangements include Addiction (drugs or alcohol), Depression, Dissociative Identify Disorder, Flashbacks, Hallucinations, Manic, Megalomania, Night Terrors, OCD, Panic Attacks, Paranoia, and Thousand Yard Stare. Shaken survivors will move at half their Pace (will not affect the Run die if they choose to run) and may take no additional actions. Recovery will operate slowly as well, allowing players to spend a Benny or move only half their Pace. A raise will allow survivors to fully recover.

The Game Master is heavily encouraged to push players to make choices between individual character survival and that of others in the group. Each choice made by players will come are cost, whether a player chooses self preservation, experiencing flashbacks, or sacrificing others.

Savage Worlds - Dead End Interior 4 (Atomic Ninja Studios)Survivors can Scavenge locations by making a Common Knowledge or Survival check. The Game Master may add a penalty based on the availability of items if a location has already been scavenged by other survivors and/or the item is not normally found in the relevant place. Survivors can add +1 per relevant Skill and Edge (max +4) when searching for certain items or substitutions. Players will always find an item, a Survivor will find 1d4 points of Supplies on a failed roll, or 1d6 per success and raise. A Critical Failure during a Scavenger check will result in an immediate draw from the Infestation Deck and the player is required to make the requisite Stealth check.

Survivors will role on the Injury Table for each Wound sustained. Injuries will be cured when the Wound that causes the injury heals. A roll of 2 on the Injury Table will leave a player Incapacitated by a lethal blow and will follow the normal Incapacitation steps given in Savage Worlds. When healing occurs, the healer will subtract the patient’s Wound levels from their skill roll as well as any of their own. A survivor trying to heal their own injuries will suffer from their Wounds plus the Wound penalty to the Healing roll. Healing will require basic supplies and the character will suffer an additional -2 penalty if supplies are not available. A character can only heal fresh Wounds on a victim within the hour they were sustained. When a survivor with 2 or more Wounds makes a Natural Healing attempt and rolls a Critical Failure, their Wounds will have festered, meaning the infection has set in or internal bleeding has gone untreated. If this occurs, the survivor will die before the end of the session and could reanimate.

Apocalypse Generators will be available to help to the Game Master create survivor settlements quickly and easily. An overview on how to run the game as well as given locations for the Game Master are also provided to help run a smooth gameplay. Personalities of NPC’s are included for background and how they tie into the plot as a whole.

Dead End utilizes a Infestation Deck consisting of 52 playing cards containing situations and challenges a group of survivors must overcome or escape while operating in areas infested with the living dead. The number of cards in play is correlated to the level of Infestation in an area which ranges from 0 in a relatively safe area up to 4 in areas consumed with zombies. The Game Master will choose the default Infestation Level of an area and will draw an equal number of cards at the beginning scene. When players take actions that draw attention to the zombies, a card will be drawn. Actions like cooking, butchering meat, firing a gun, or any sudden loud noises including shouting will draw the attention of zombies. Extremely loud sounds like explosions, collapsing buildings, and car Savage Worlds - Dead End Interior 5 (Atomic Ninja Studios)alarms or sirens will require more than a single card draw. The Game Master will determine the appropriate amount of cards given in certain situations. When the deck is empty, reshuffle the discard pile to create a new draw pile and continue gameplay.

The Infestation Deck consists of two types of cards: Active cards and Instant cards. Active cards will remain in play, modifying the Infestation Level. If five or more active cards are in play at any time, a horde will form and the active cards will be discarded. Instant cards will not affect the Infestation Level, instead they will take effect immediately and are discarded afterword. The complete Infestation deck will be available for printing.

Dead End does deal with intense psychological trauma that may upset players. Images depicting upsetting situations are prevalent in the book as well and should be taken with caution. Dark themes make up the entirety of the gameplay, so be aware of you and other players’ comfort level at all times.

Diving deep into Dead End was a thrilling adventure in one’s mental state and is a unique take the classic apocalyptic approach. The overall concept of Dead End is great for players that prefer to structure the game as they want to and tailor it to their needs, but for players that need a more laid out format, Dead End may not be the best option. With the gameplay being heavily dependent on player engagement and needs, the game itself is a lot of work to prepare for not only players but the Game Master as well. Dead End takes on a simplistic approach but does require a lot of time and patience to be dedicated to it for optimal enjoyment. Players will have to watch out for the possibility of an early death, as it is pretty easy to die early on. To note, I did struggle with reading the heading fonts somewhat and would suggest either zooming into the PDF version or holding the book at a comfort level for reading.

1 Comment

  1. I really wanted to like this setting, but the ease of characters dying went a bit too far for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea behind the setting. But receiving two or more wounds in a single turn resulting in death is just too much in my opinion. I could honestly see character deaths every two to three sessions. I’ve had multiple sessions that resulted in two characters with two or more wounds in a turn. I’d have to ask players to create one or two backup characters just so the player would be ready to jump right back in. For them to create a new character on the fly while everyone else is continuing to play will likely result in rushed character generation and an unhappy player. Nope, I can’t do that.


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Dead End (Atomic Ninja Studios)

Not Just Any Old Zombie RPG: Savage Worlds Dead End Reviewed

The overall concept of Dead End is great for players that prefer to structure the game as they want to and tailor it to their needs, but for players that need a more laid out format, Dead End may not be the best option. With the gameplay being heavily dependent on player engagement and needs, the game itself is a lot of work to prepare for not only players but the Game Master as well. Dead End takes on a simplistic approach but does require a lot of time and patience to be dedicated to it for optimal enjoyment.

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