Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Game Translation: Left 4 Dead

To be honest I've only played the sequel but as the gameplay is pretty solid and similar from what I've seen and read I think I can be confident in capturing the basic elements of this type of game.  In the videogame you play one of four random misfits who are caught in the middle of the outbreak and must shoot their way out of it through four levels of zombies.  Luckily, this is pretty easy to translate but it's still important to check a few things about your game system and make adjustments if necessary.

For starters, this wouldn't make for a great campaign unless your players are happy to swap out characters willy nilly because if you did more than four adventures (or levels), it's unlikely that any of the beginning characters will survive to the end.  Heck, even with four adventures this is unlikely.  Ensure that they can bring in new characters at the safe house that marks the end of each adventure.

The easiest way to think of this game design is an urban dungeon crawl with lots of zombies where certain traps (car alarms and other noisy occurrences) will cause a horde of zombies to rush forth.  Create a street map with a few building maps to keep on hand and have a think about which doorways to board up, which cars to alarm, and where to place ammunition, health packs and safe houses.

Car alarms will be a tricky one.  Some games have the option to hit the person or object behind the target if you miss the target by a certain amount.  In other games you'd only hit the car if the zombie were accidentally using it as cover and were partially concealed behind it and you either missed them or tried to shoot through the car.  If you're using a miniature map (which may prove problematic due to the size of streets as opposed to the size of your average dungeon room for which they are intended) you can at least reveal there's a car behind them that *might* be alarmed.  Otherwise you'll have to describe it as being there and give the players a choice.

If you want a desperate scrabble for ammunition, sprinkle it around and develop ammunition item cards where the players can erase bullets as they go - either by adding them to their revolvers or once the clip itself is spent.  This isn't too much minutiae *if* you create an easy system with erasers.  Otherwise, it probably will be and might also damage the character sheet if you're using that sheet to rub things off.

I'd recommend introducing health packs although very few roleplaying games use them (unless you count healing potions in D&D and Pathfinder).  The player characters will be taking a lot of damage and it's important to give them something that will allow for quick and easy healing.  Simply dropping Cure Light Wounds potions that look like first aid kits into your game would work a treat.  Make it take a round to use on yourself or someone who has been downed.  If you want to be true to the game, allow player characters who have been dropped to the floor a few rounds to be saved by a health pack before dying.

For those who don't know, a Cure Light Wounds potion heals 1D8 hit points.  You could have something similar to heal World of Darkness health levels, Call of Cthulhu hit points, or any other game's health meter.

Oh, and it's probably also a good idea to let your player characters get more hit points than usual as they'll be in a lot of combats.  If you tried this game with regular World of Darkness you'll get frustrated by players that become obsessed with stealth and hiding.  When you try to flush them out with hordes they would then get frustrated as well since they have no hope of surviving.  You want a nice balance where they should be able to take on several zombies and a special zombie in a single encounter without dying for good.  If this means giving them more health levels, perhaps double or triple, then that's fine.

Some people have dogs.  I have Special Infected.
In truth, you could probably get away with the basic zombies dealing a set amount of damage in each successful hit.  This allows you to control the scene a bit better and reduces your amount of math.  You'd then only need to roll to hit.  If this amount of damage is about the average of what the players expect and you're up front about doing it and your reasons why you shouldn't have much of a problem.  Considering the sheer amount of combat your players will be facing, they'll probably be quite happy to reduce the amount of zombie dice rolls or the need for you to sit and count up the dice.

These are also not your usual shamblers.  They're faster than most and some of them are *really* fast.  They can run, jump, climb, and break in through windows.  The only place they won't break into (or surround) are specially designed safe houses that were meant to protect people from the zombie plague.  Some of these zombies have special powers - they puke on you which attracts zombies, they have long tongues that can entangle you and drag you towards them, or they can charge like bulls and knock you down.

Oh, and one other thing.  The player characters need to be immune to this disease.  If not, they will likely be infected within the first encounter.  Yeah, this game has that much combat in it and any roleplaying game that tried to use the same framework needs to have the same.

A campaign based around Left For Dead, or including elements of it, should appeal to Tacticians due to a need to stay on top of changing situations and ensure that all of the characters are fully employed in staying together and helping each other out.  Action Heroes will enjoy all the zombie killing, running away, and the need to cope with such changing circumstances.

Explorers will enjoy the opportunities to take a sneak peek into a number of real world locations so try to be a bit imaginative and perhaps do a bit of research into the sort of settings you use - such as IKEA.  Try to get your hands on a map, at the very least.  These players might not be so keen on the restrictions placed on Exploration, though.  After all, the risk of another zombie horde attacking discourages poking about in drawers or spare rooms.

Investigators won't have much to do here.  If they're a big fan of zombies they might be okay for the short-term but will likely get frustrated since all of the running and hiding in safe houses doesn't really give them the opportunity to hunt for clues and exercise their mind getting to the bottom of something.  If they tilt towards being one of the Tacticians or Action Heroes on a secondary level than they might be all right.  Otherwise I'd recommend more of a Dead Island game.

Communicators will need to get their kicks from safe houses so try to introduce the odd NPC - perhaps over radio - so that they don't feel stifled by a complete lack of social interaction.  You could even introduce the politics of safe houses if you were willing to throw in some elements of Dead Island as the various survivors compete for resources - namely your assistance.  Certainly give them a breather in the safe houses to talk amongst themselves which will be popular amongst all of the roleplayers and dramatists anyway.

If you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here. There's also some TV Tropes that you can take a look at over here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, Project Zero, Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Dishonored, The Dig, Chronicles of Mystery: The Tree of Life, or Cold Fear. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be either Dishonored or Chronicles of Mystery: The Tree of Life.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.


  1. It would mean changing the narrative a bit, but you could potentially open up the Investigation end by having info to be gathered. That might be observation data that can be brought back to scientists (for a questier game), or reported back to government in the rare spots with communication links (more survival horror). Sometimes a crucial message might be rewarded with tips on how to proceed, with passwords to some facility that'll create a shortcut or provide supplies, or even with an artillery bombardment that wipes out some zombies. If the game's set in or around some kind of facility (prison, research base) then you might be able to retrieve valuable information from surviving computers, desks, or even employees' homes (that one sounds like fun to me).

    In terms of managing ammo and health supplies, for a slightly more visceral feel you could dish out physical props: say beads for bullets and (wrapped) mints for drugs. Then players have to actually count out their bullets, and hand them over as they fire; and they literally consume health packs.

    1. I like the minty idea. Yummy!

      You'd have to take care with the investigative quests that it doesn't tilt it too much toward Dead Island if it matters to you that much to really capture that Left 4 Dead feel. However, if the information is treated really obviously and all you need to do is collect it and not lose it (by losing) the carrier than it would work out neatly and still reward those who want answers as they could find out more when they read the props out in the safe room.

    2. Yeah, I've not actually played either game, but I can see it'd be easy to misjudge things and change the tone of the game.