The 11th and final season of The living Dead may be over, but the franchise continues, thanks in part to a new tabletop role-playing game. AMC Networks has teamed up with Free League Publishing – a powerhouse with a stable of original and licensed table games, settings and systems – to Roleplay The Walking Dead Universe. It allows fans to recreate their own personal zombie apocalypse with a small group of friends, building relationships and building drama from a fortified outpost set across the globe. A crowdfunding campaign launches on Kickstarter on March 14. Polygon sat down with the developers for an in-depth discussion about what fans can expect.
It’s hard to overstate how spectacular Free League’s rise has been in recent years. Working from a handful of keystone franchises, including iconic games like Mutant: Year Zero And Twilight 2000, the Swedish company has racked up more than a dozen other successful TTRPGs. They include licensed pop culture hits such as Alien: the roleplay, Blade Runner: the roleplayand rebooting the Tolkien-inspired TTRPG The one ring. But, like Devolver Digital in the video game world, Free League has also shown excellent taste with its other projects, delivering hits like Mork Borg And vases To the market. Now it’s going all in on zombies.
“The game is designed so that you can play it anywhere in the (The living Dead‘s) timeline,’ said Free League game director Mattias Johnsson, ‘and basically anywhere in the world.’
Using the rules in the basic rule book, players begin their adventure by working out the corner of the world where they plan to play. A lengthy “session zero” will touch on safety and clearance before we dive into world building and character creation.
“What fascinated me about this game is that every group I’ve seen play has almost done something completely different,” said producer Joe LeFavi. “We give them archetypes (for) not who you are now, but who you were when this all started. You know, Glenn was just a pizza delivery boy. They were housewives and farmers and petty criminals, but over time they became these wonderful people.
A big part of what players will do as part of session zero planning is to create their first refuge, a base of operations where they will spend most of their downtime. But groups don’t necessarily have to be tied to one geographic location – in fact, far from it.
“(Early playtesters) have sort of been able to choose their own path,” LeFavi continued. “If they want to focus on building a micro-society, they can do that. If they want to focus on taming the unknown and go to the unknown areas and see what’s around every corner, they can do that. And if they just want to have one session where everyone is just co-op and trying to stay alive while a horde tries to overwhelm their stronghold, they can do that too.
Free League will draw on its years of experience creating TTRPGs, several of which closely tie in with the themes, world-building, and combat mechanics native to The Walking Dead world. Base building and ranged combat are heavily influenced by Mutant: Year Zerowhile the humanity system is off blade runner (which LeFavi wrote) has served as inspiration for moral mechanics in The living Dead.
“There’s this ‘threat level’ that is basically the stress mechanics for the world itself,” LeFavi said. “There is this incredible (emphasis on the) commitment where, with Alien And blade runner, you can raise the stakes, and you can let the stress sink in, and it will test what it brings out in you, for better or for worse. But the more you get stressed, the more The living Dead feels it a bit and responds.
One of the most surprising elements of the project, developers told Polygon, is how involved it is The living Dead‘s creative team has been in the process.
“We worked directly with AMC Publishing,” said LeFavi, “with (showrunner) Scott Gimple, with some of the other producers and writers behind the TV show, and we kind of just shared the creative process and said, This is what we want to do with the game. These are the kinds of stories we want to tell. What do you think? What parts of the canon can we examine? Where can we go beyond the scope? Where are we going too far? Which timelines make sense? And they’ve been giving us inspiration all along – where we’ll literally have 30 notes on every page of the manuscript.
The good vibes were amplified by game director Johnsson, who was initially intimidated by the prospect of working with AMC on one of its major franchises.
“This is the first time I’ve worked on a really big licensed game,” said Johnsson. “Normally I stay pretty close to home: Symbarum is my baby, and the game I helped create and develop and still write for. So I’ve learned a lot and it feels like they’re really excited. What they bring to the table – it’s not just in terms of lore. It is actually also in the mechanics.”
“There was no (a) PowerPoint presentation of such a thing, What is tabletop role play?LeFavi added. “They know what this stuff is. They play, and they got really excited about the idea of making (this), to the point where they say: No, we want this to be a core pillar of the expanded universe! – just as they will talk about (the) Stories of the walking dead anthology.”
To that end, once the core rulebook and starter set are finalized in the box, developers will begin working with AMC to cast and produce an actual televised feature series. AMC is up for that format and has been working with Hyper RPG on the Kollok actual feature series for a number of years. In the same way that spin-off series have expanded the universe, Free League’s team hopes its TTRPG will help tell the story of The living Dead past its 11th season. And while developers aren’t sure where the series will eventually air, they’ve got their eyes on adding characters and potential talent from the original series.
“It was something we really wanted to do to reach the main Walking Dead fans,” LeFavi said. “To actually say, like, Hey, did you know there’s an RPG? To be able to put it on AMC’s actual channels and show the game, and show how much fun it is, and even show people who might know them on the screen, dive into the story, that’s the whole heap.
The crowdfunding campaign for Roleplay The Walking Dead Universe runs until April 5. Pledges start around $45, which includes the basic rule book and a PDF version of the starter set in the box. A deluxe bundle of digital and physical copies of both items costs around $120. Digital products will begin shipping shortly after the end of the campaign, while physical products are expected to hit retail in the fourth quarter or 2023.