Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Zombies & Cowboys

I had no idea this was
an actual movie.
Lord Gwyd's latest post discusses a homebrew game of "Cowboys versus Zombies" his buddy is running using the Star Frontiers rules. Regardless of any of the other issues discussed in the post, Star Frontiers may be one of the ugliest systems to try to model such a game (yes, yes...in my opinion, *ahem*)...especially considering there's already a great system for zombie shooting action: BOOT HILL.

Oh, wait, what's that you say? That Boot Hill doesn't have rules for zombies? Well, sheesh...why didn't you say so earlier. Here's some quick and dirty rules for getting your gunslingers involved in the usual "zombie apocalypse." Or as I like to refer to it (in this genre) the zombie hoedown!

Adventure module BH2: Lost Conquistador Mine provides rules for "dangerous animals," and I can't think of a single more dangerous animal than a walking corpse (well, maybe a bear...). An animal has a smaller (more compact) profile than a normal BH character, and a stumbling pile of dead meat should be little different:

STR (strength): 8-20
BS (base speed): 0
BCH (base chance to hit): 65%
DM (damage modifier): -10%
WM (wound modifier): special

Strength is determined normally as per the BH rules. Base speed is found by adding "slow" speed to "foolhardy" bravery modifiers. Chance to hit is based on the chance for a D&D zombie to strike an unarmored human (converting the D20 roll to percentile); for what it's worth, this would be the same chance of striking as a ghoul in D&D.

DM for dangerous animals is added to wound severity (a bear, for example is +20%, while a mountain lion is +0%). Dangerous as zombies might be, a dead human just doesn't have the same natural weapons as your average (man-hunting) wild animal. I prefer my zombies to be of the cannibalistic variety (though not necessarily "brain eaters") rather than the "bite-and-infect" type. If you opt for the latter, then any wound will be potentially deadly, and I'd recommend the time to "turn" being based on the severity of wound (a severe wound resulting in zombification after D5+1 turns and a light wound taking 2-3 times as long). In both cases, a mortal wound results in zombification one turn following death...the corpse gets up the round following its death and starts searching for victims.

WM for animals is normally the percentage added or subtracted when determining wound severity to the animal in question but zombies, being dead already, don't care much about being gut-shot. To reflect this all wounds the zombie receives are considered light wounds, regardless of location and severity rolled. The sole exception, or course, is the mortal head wound, which kills a zombie as dead as anyone else. A zombie reduced to zero strength by light wounds is in such a state of disrepair that it's been rendered ineffective as a killing machine.

Dynamite works well for this purpose (i.e. blowing zombies into small pieces).

Zombies may ONLY walk (movement six)...being dead, they count as having "other serious wounds;" they will still shuffle along as quickly as possible in order to get a taste of your cowpokes' sweet, sweet flesh. A zombie may have its legs shot out from under it (two or more severe leg wounds, keeping in mind they still only count as "light" towards a zombie's overall health); in this case, the zombie can only crawl towards its prey (movement two). Zombies probably shouldn't ride horses (who'll tend to shy away or bolt in their presence).

In all cases, I would use the optional Sharpshooting and Stunning rules found in Boot Hill: zombies can be stunned just like anyone else (especially when shot with a buffalo rifle) and sharpshooting heads will make your most accurate gunny invaluable to the posse.

Um...and that's about it. I had been planning on running my kids through some Boot Hill scenarios...maybe Range War or Ballots & Bullets or just the Battle of Northfield (included with the BH Referee's Screen). But now I'm thinking of doing my own take on Zombies & Cowboys: how much fun would Mad Mesa be with the Kane and McCoy factions coming back from the grave? Loads, of course. Imagine having to put down Skins MacGregor or Buckshot Blume...twice!

[I happen to own a lot of BH stuff, including modules BH1 through BH5]

Besides, the kids really dig zombies. They're always finding new ways to (pretend) fight them.
; )


  1. I don't have Boot Hill. I should pick up a copy some time. Which edition do you have?

    I almost got into a game of Boot Hill 3rd Edition one time, but it died before we even got characters made.

    1. I own and use the 2nd edition, which doesn't differ much from the the 1st, save that it's a bit more polished (some of the "suggestions" from 1e were simply incorporated in 2e).

      I've never played 3rd edition Boot Hill. I *believe* that it incorporated a skill system as was the habit with late edition TSR "re-boots" (see Top Secret S.I. as another example). Personally, I find skill systems distasteful, especially as "tack-ons" to functional games, but they came to be expected in late 80s RPG design.

      Boot Hill is mainly a tactical gunfight game, with a few extra systems thrown in (gambling, for example) to model the Western genre of film and novel. It's fun, fast, and furious...and probably all you need if your main premise is shooting zombies.
      ; )

    2. The game that never got off the ground was definitely 3rd edition then. The referee had us all come up with character concepts, and was discussing with each player what skills we should have to fit those concepts, then he just lost interest and it died.

    3. Sounds about right. What concept does one need for a shoot ‘em up Western?

      Not to belittle the genre...I love westerns (the films) and watch them when I can. But “western” is a different genre from “historical fiction...something like the book Angle of Repose bears zero resemblance to a Louis l’Amour pulp novel, right? And RPGs are (mainly) about the experience; they are a poor vehicle for creating literature (and even worse for creating anything resembling “cinema”). So why the heck do you need elaborate characters.

      Was up playing Boot Hill with the boy till after midnight tonight, only incorporating zombies into our last couple scenarios. Rules worked well (though we cut movement to 3), but they could stand to be streamlined (really!). Kid says zombies make the game really hard in solo (single player) play and I’m inclined to agree...will have to test it a bit more.
      ; )

    4. The ref was developing the town, trying to get everyone to be settlers, shopkeepers, school teachers, ministers...then I assume if the game had happened, we'd be like all the Johnsons in Blazing Saddles, rallied to the defense of the town against bandits or something.

      My concept was a freed slave turned mountain man/trapper.

      We were encouraged to RP as soon as our concept was done, and some of the players were really into it (this was done online play-by-post) but we never actually got our character stats.

    5. Huh...that’s an interesting idea (if a skosh weird) to do with Boot Hill.

      On the other hand, if you added zombies to THAT game, it would make a lot more sense (and probably be good fun, too). : )