Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Horror Movies to Play - Land of the Dead

There are a lot of zombie movies out there, and almost every single one of them would make a fantastic tabletop game. You've got your Nights, Dawns, Returns, and Shauns of the Dead. Dawn of the Dead as a tabletop game? How awesome would a map of a mall and one simple mission: survive be to play? Extremely. What about Shaun of the Dead? Give me a cricket bat and a red tie, and I'm ready for a night of great gaming.

So why pick Land of the Dead? By all standards it's a lesser Romero film (although blasphemously I prefer Land to Day) showing Georgie's first slip down a long road of inferior zombie movie making chops. What makes it shine more than any of the others as a gaming experience? Keep Reading to find out!

Land of the Dead shows not only a more mature (some may say slightly more senile) Romero along with a much more mature version of a zombiepocalypse. Of course by mature I mean a zombiepocalypse that's had time to develop into a much bigger problem. Land depicts a world that's just beginning to adjust to the new zombie order and figure out what it means to be human in a society collectively afflicted with PTSD. This isn't what happens at the beginning of a zombie outbreak but rather what happens five to six years after the outbreak.

This is the key to what makes Land an incredibly playable concept. Human civilization is a tiny thing ruled by a tiny dictator upper class. As with all of Romero's films, Land drips with social commentary, and it'll come as no surprise that this film was made right in the middle of Bush's presidency. There's a distinct war profiteering and fight the power vibes running through the entire film.

The plot focuses on a small team of scavengers whose home base is on a small secured island named Fiddler's Green. The Green is defended both naturally by the water surrounding it and by a small but well-armed force of military and mercenary professionals who also go out and scavenger the nearby areas for supplies. The team we see is lead by Riley Denbo (played by Simon Baker) who has an incredibly badass landship/bus called The Dead Reckoning (seen to the left here). It's the kind of armored mobile command station every player character dreams of having access to in the event of a zombiepocalypse.

This was my first exposure to Simon Baker, and I felt right away like I had seen him from somewhere before. He's got one of those faces and personalities that screams leading man - to be honest I was surprised to see him in such a classic horror movie. Mr. Baker is joined by some great actors including John Leguizamo as leader of a rival scavening team and Dennis Hopper playing the evil George Bush proxy Kaufman. The acting is actually a strong point for Land compared to its of The Dead siblings.

Anyway, things are bad in Fiddler's Green, but things are much worse outside of it. Within the Green you've got strong issues of class warfare brewing as well as some real perverse past times including throwing girls into cages with zombies to fight and shooting paintball guns at captured zombies for the fun of it. Things go quickly from bad to worse (hey, it is a horror movie after all), and predictably the Green is soon invaded.

The spin here is that the zombies are getting smarter. It's a developmental of what was started in Day of the Dead. They can't talk or even really communicate, but possibly even scarier than those options, they begin to remember how to use basic tools. No longer are the zombies just a herd of mindless drones moving towards the last sound it herd. They start to work together and form incredibly basic plans. The real danger is when their leader takes his first step into water. Suddenly the natural defenses of Fiddler's Green are worthless as the hordes slowly wade their way across the thin body of water to set foot onto the Green's side of the shore.

These are really the things that make Land such a playable movie. The scavenger team set-up is perfect for a party of player characters. Give them a vehicle similar to Dead Reckoning, and they're all ready to go. The Reckoning is a great mobile headquarters that is useful outside of the Green but that the players will have to leave behind to enter the city when it gets invaded.

Systems-wise, there are several good zombie-themed horror rpg's out there to use, but I'll recommend two in specific: All Flesh Must Be Eaten and the much newer Outbreak: Undead. Both of these games can run classic Romero zombies just fine. Outbreak has a bit of an edge here since it's default mode is very realistic and default zombie is clearly the lumbering zombies we've seen since Night of the Living Dead. Land lets players play characters who have skills above average joes (they'd have to be to survive this long), and either system will do a good job of allowing you to play these type of person.

If you haven't seen Land of the Dead because of the luke-warm reception it got but you enjoy Romero's earlier Dead movies, I'd recommend giving it a shot. Land is also quite playable because it's probably the least likely movie of Romero's first four zombie flicks that people have already seen, so there may be some surprises for your players. Try it out, and I'm 80% sure you won't regret it!

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