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Subject: Rules Clarification Straight from the Designer rss

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Tom Li
British Columbia
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Here is an exchange between me and Eero Tuovinen, the game designer, on some ambiguous rules that I couldn't resolve independently. He very patiently and helpfully answered all my queries, so I thought I'd share them here so others can avoid my past frustrations.

1. In the rules, it said that each scene lasts 5-10 minutes. However, we
found that we were passing the marker pretty fast. I would describe the scene, my character's actions in it, and pass it on. This happens for the other players as well. Were we supposed to add our own dialogue into the scene to lengthen it? What can we do to lengthen our free narration?

Well, this is partly a matter of style. Most groups play the game as a roleplaying game: not only the active player talks, everybody participates in adding to the scene through their characters. Think of how scenes work in movies, the typical structure is like that.

To clarify: the active player does a little monologue worth a couple of
sentences, in which he describes the situation and the characters present. After that follows "free play", during which everybody gets to equally describe what their characters do, make with the dialogue and in general develop the situation. This only ends when the active player decides that the scene has ended or somebody calls for conflict.

Thus it is certainly a rules-legal play to make a short monologue and then end the scene, passing your turn to the next player. You just might not manage to accomplish the actual goal, which is to develop an enticing conflict situation.

2. My interpretation of Framing a scene is a player describes a scene, passes it onto another player, where he can further elaborate the scene. Is that right, or is the scene supposed to change with each player?

It's not quite like that. Rather, the active player (whose turn it is) gets to frame the scene, after which you enter free play, during which anybody can elaborate on the scene. Each player decides what their own character does, everybody can suggest developments from the environment (NPCs, zombies), but the active player holds a veto over the latter.

3. The rules state that the zombie moves up after before a player receives the round marker. However, with 4 players, doesn't that mean in 2 rotations the zombies would already reach the other end of the board?

The zombie moves when a conflict is a tie, and each time the turn reaches the player with the round marker. However, the round marker does not move unless a conflict is a tie (in which case it goes to the player whose turn it currently is). So if we assume no ties, then the zombie would move every four scenes in a four-player game: once every round.

4. How robust should the game be? Within the first rotation, should we
already be knees-deep in zombies?

Narratively you might be, but if you're having the zombie move after every turn (as opposed to every round), the zombie is moving much too fast and killing your characters before the story has time to develop. Usually the first round of scenes (round = every player has once been the active player and framed a scene) involves players leisurely introducing their own characters by describing where they are, what they care about and so on.

5. If a player controls the zombie (his character died) and has a conflict with the other player, and wins, does that mean that the zombie counter moves up one, and the loser moves down one? If the zombie loses, does he go down one?

The zombie pawn never moves due to conflicts "against the zombies". Those conflicts only ever move player pawns.

6. So the round marker does not move, even if the active player changes?

That's right. It only moves on ties in conflicts, when the zombies move.

7. And the round marker only moves when there is a tie between two sides, in which case it would go to the new active player, and the zombies will move up 2 spaces: once for the tie, and once for the round marker change. Is this correct?

Nope, the zombies only move one space on ties. The movement of the round
marker does not affect them, as the location of the round marker is only
checked at the beginning of a turn. When the marker moves to the current
player, his turn has already started (and is almost at an end, actually).

The intent of the round marker movement rule is to make it so that the
zombies never move two times in immediate succession. I used to play
without moving the marker ever, and it's surprising how often we'd manage to have a tied conflict on the last turn of the round, resulting in the zombie pawn moving twice almost in a row. Moving the round marker around gives the player characters more of a fighting chance.

8. In a conflict against zombies, what does a tie against zombies thematically represent? If it is a tie, do the zombies move up the board? And if we lost the conflict, do our characters move down the board?

Yes to both, character pawns move exactly the same as they always do, even if they side with the zombies in the conflict. Tying against the zombies is usually narrated the same way as losing against them when we play. It's also perfectly OK to take the rules literally and go "the conflict is interrupted because MORE zombies show up!", which is what happens on ties when player characters conflict against each other. After all, the characters are usually even more screwed when the zombie pawn moves up than when the character pawns move down.

9. There was a bit of a problem with my last session, because one side kept winning the conflicts. I kid you not, one guy won 7 straight conflicts. He had to keep making sacrifices for us just so we don't get eaten by the zombies (and we didn't even have a full rotation yet!). I don't think that conflicts should be limited to one per scene, (We had around 2-4 per scene) but I learned that early in the game, if a player is lucky and wins most or all the conflicts, then the game will end very quickly. Is there a way to remedy this, or is it just the nature of a dice-based system?

Well, the first thing is to stick to the limitation of one conflict per scene. If the scene really, truly needs more than one conflict, the option is there for the next active player to declare that "My scene continues directly after that last one, go!" and continue the situation from after the last scene. The math of the game presumes that the zombies will be moving after a couple of conflicts for each participant.

Another thing is, just like you did, the players need to sacrifice their position to improve those of others. This is intentional, a player with good dicing luck might have to "protect" his character from escape just as much as the other player needs to protect his from the zombies. The player needs to consider: is my character useful for the story, or can he just escape early so I can focus on GMing duties? Is any of those other characters such that I want to save them?

The game might end quickly or slowly, but it'll almost always be a choice the players themselves make. For example, if nobody ever sacrifices for another, the game tends to end faster, as characters drop off the board on either end.

For my group, we wanted to have conflicts. Limiting ourselves to one conflict a scene didn't mesh well with us, so we came up with this houserule: As a group, we determine one conflict which would be essential to the scene. This one conflict will determine who goes up or down the zombie track. Other conflicts can still occur in the same scene, but will not affect the zombie tract. The only prize in winning these "non-essential" conflicts is allowing the winning side the role of the narrator. This allows for more conflicts, and more opportunities for my friends to be the narrator, which they enjoy.

I hope this helps everyone in understanding the game a bit more!
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