Game Review: 6d6 Outbreak! by Ben Jackson from 6d6 RPG

Originally for this review I was going to focus on the 6d6 Core rules by Chris Tregenza and 6d6 RPG, but I quickly realized that there wasn’t a good way to review the rules by themselves without an application. I love having the core rules in a book by themselves as a reference, but it’s like reviewing a hammer without the ability to wield it to see how it feels in your hand… My brief review of the 6d6 Core book is that it’s great and offers a detailed table of context and a “Rules Reference” at the end that provides an A-Z list of important terms and rules. That said, though there are plenty of examples scattered throughout, I was left wondering how to put the rules into effect in a real game.

So instead I’m going to focus on 6d6 Outbreak! by writer Ben Jackson, which is a classic zombie-based scenario that applies the concepts and rules from 6d6 Core in a more directed fashion. The scenario has been designed for 3 to 7 players plus a Game Leader (not exactly a GM, more of an enlightened participant in the game) to be run in one session of about 2 to 4 hours. Though the PDF for Outbreak! is over a hundred pages, I never felt bogged down in the details like I did trying to read through the core book, but that may simply be because I’m more of an “examples” kind of guy – have to see it in action before I “get it” sometimes.

First, this isn’t a campaign-style scenario. I don’t think you’re typically going to be playing an Outbreak! campaign for multiple sessions unless you’re doing something along the lines of a Walking Dead-inspired series of adventures. As such, I see running this scenario as being a big hit at gaming conventions. It has a clear beginning and goals, and there’s no telling where different groups of roleplayers will take it in the end. Will everybody die? Or will they survive to get to safety?

What’s nice is that Outbreak! uses a simplified version of the 6d6 rules with just a few modifications. And if you’re not familiar with the rules, the scenario book itself offers a good overview of how to play without requiring much else.

Though I’m not much of a systems guy, I have to try and describe the system a bit because it is so unique. As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t a GM or DM exactly – instead you have a “Game Leader” who sort of works like a movie or orchestra director controlling game pace and acting as a participant. And instead of character sheets, each character has a set of cards that identify different properties, abilities, and available equipment. If you have a short character, they may have the “Diminuitive” card, which can be played
to affect different actions such as making you harder to hit in combat or making it easier for you to squeeze into tight spaces. Though each card has different effects in the game, there’s no right or wrong way to use them and it’s up to the Game Leader and the group to determine whether a particular use makes sense in a particular situation.

Each character has a deck of cards… Out of that deck, they can choose a certain number of cards (their “pool”) to have up at a given time. For instance, Axel Ried (cage fighter) has fourteen cards, only has a pool of 4. The player would have to pick four cards out of the fourteen to have ready for an action. When it comes time to actually figure out the results of a particular action, each card may add to your die total for a particular action. For example, if you’re a zombie and have a Spite (1d6+0), Toughness (1d6+1), and a Chow Down (1d6+1) card on the table, that amounts to an attack of 3d6+2. Whichever character is being attacked would then have to put their cards together and try to defend against the roll. If Axel has Toughness (1d6 + 0), Brawn (1d6 + 0), and Speed (1d6+0), he’d have 3d6 to roll to see if he can defend against it…

This video describes it much better than I can (using stop-motion animation!):

Really one of the coolest parts of 6d6 for me is that even though you have rules and cards, it’s more about what the group decides in the moment that can affect the outcome of a particular event. The Game Leader gets the tough part of helping negotiate arguments and debates so game play doesn’t suffer as a result. They have to take the input of the group as a whole and make a decision, which the group then has to abide with so they can move on. One part referee, two parts movie director.

I’ve never run a convention game, so I was interested to see how the convention “feel” was worked into how the Outbreak! scenario was written from the beginning. In that vein, there are guidelines on how to handle groups from 3-6 players plus the Game Leader including which pre-generated characters to offer during the gameplay. You have several different characters to choose from – from a tough cheerleader, the bus driver, and a US Marshal to a criminal, a street punk girl, and a creepy little girl with a secret. Any spare characters not played by players become NPCs for the Game Leader to play along with the zombies themselves.

The characters are well constructed from the usual types of folks you find during a typical zombie apocalypse. (And yes, even though I wrote that sentence, I’m left wondering whether I’m really in my right mind…) There are a few special cases like Mary (a creepy little girl) with her secret and the fact that the Marshal and the criminal are handcuffed together, which make things more interesting. But each character comes with cards and a description that would get handed to the player at the beginning of the game. The players have the easier time of things I think, and the Game Leader has to manage quite a number of items – decks, maps, equipment lists, and so on. However, the book offers plenty of shortcuts to use (like cheat sheets for each encounter with cards & stats on the zombies), so it’s probably a perfect way to get the feel for being a Game Leader.

The scenario itself is pretty straightforward – the characters meet on a bus or right after the bus crashes… and then a zombie apocalypse happens. (Just a normal day for me…) I think the convention scenario format works beautifully in this instance, offering plenty of text for the Game Leader to use for narration and to set the scene, as well as tips throughout in each encounter to guide them to whatever comes next. As a player, the goal is to survive without getting injured by a zombie. Who will survive? Only time will tell!

I’m not going to harp on the layout and design too much, as it’s largely unchanged from the first 6d6 product I reviewed a few months ago – Mince Pies & Murder. So if you’re looking for beautiful page design and artwork, these products probably aren’t going to do much for you. I do have to say the cover for Outbreak! photo from Rob North is suitably bleak and creepy, evoking a bit of an homage to Night of the Living Dead with the rusty old car fender and naked trees. But if you’re looking for a great game and well-written content (i.e. substance over appearance), then you’ll feel right at home with any 6d6 RPG gaming product.

If you give 6d6 Outbreak! a try, I think the game scenario will work brilliantly and you’ll probably never get the same exact results twice. 6d6 RPG and Outbreak! definitely seems like a winning combination to me. It’s not your average RPG, and that makes it very intriguing.

You can pick up 6d6 Ultra-Lite and Mince Pies & Murder at RPGNow, but Outbreak!, 6d6 Core, and other 6d6 products are available exclusively at the 6d6 Fireball site.

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