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Welcome to Mortiston, USA! An All-American Zombie Apocalypse
[978-1-937935-37-5]
$7.99
Publisher: Scrying Eye Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/10/2013 00:44:27

Don't let the big ol' zombie art fool you. "Welcome to Mortiston, USA" is a deluxe post-apocaplyptic campaign setting where the living are more of a threat than the dead. Or, as the setting says, "People complicate everything and desperate people with weapons only make it worse".

Mortiston starts with a bang -- three of them, in fact. A low-tech terrorist explosion starts a fire at the deserted Moriston All School. This is followed by the terrorist's low-yield nuke, destroying four blocks of the city, sending an EMP pulse through the entire town, disintegrating most of the city's firemen, deputies, reporters, and National Guardsmen, and setting off a firestorm that lasts five days. A military train, rerouted earlier in the day, is caught in the explosion and crashes into the telephone exchange building. All this before 12 o'clock.

Interestingly, the actual explanation for the zombies is left up to the GM, though the designer includes the origin he used in his version of the campaign. While Mortiston plots out the web of factions and personalities in the town, and includes a timeline of events, it's still flexible enough for the GM to add and modify. (A GM could even remove the zombies entirely!) The timelines are packed with adventure seeds of scenes for the GM to develop.

Primer: This section is an overview of the campaign. Besides what I've mentioned above, the Mortiston describes itself as a generic zombie apocalypse setting for multiple licensed RPGs: Outbreak: Undead, Savage Worlds, The Modern Path for Pathfinder, and OGL Modern. System-specific details are mostly NPC stats, and don't get in the way of the rest of the campaign. The primer also notes that the symptoms of radiation sickness are the same as those of the initial stage of the zombie virus -- it may be amusing to roleplay paranoid zombie-fearing players vs. unconvinced NPCs, or even run a version of this campaign with no zombies at all.

Timelines: The campaign provides a 24-hour timeline of the day of the disaster, a 111+ day timeline, and a summary of the the Stages of the Apocalypse. The 24-hour timeline is well-detailed, covering four pages of events. The 111+ day one is two pages, only highlighting major occurances every few days. The Stages provides an overview of the Mortison County as it declines. These timelines provide a framework for running the campaign over time, although the GM will still have to develop them.

Personalities: Mortiston provides nineteen colorful NPCs, with half a page for background, and another half for stats. Many of them are tied to the eight factions in the game, so will likely encounter PCs face-to-face in the game. Pretty obviously, more than nineteen people survived, so the GM will have to create additional NPCs for players to interact with. Unfortunately, the campaign does not have an index, making it tricky to find references to the Personalities versus NPCs mentioned only in the Places of Interest.

Places of Interest: Similar to Personalites, Places of Interest features about 30 locations in Mortiston. Besides a background and any people associated with the location, each entry has very useful descriptions of its "Relationship to other groups" (ie. factions), Resources (for scavenging), and a short timeline of the condition of the location. Special Locations in Mortiston are briefly mentioned in the GM notes.

Factions of Mortiston: After the detail and color of the Personalities and Places of Interest, I was somewhat disappointed in the Factions sections. At two pages, this section spends only a few paragraphs on each faction. However, a GM can rely upon standard tropes (eg. criminals vs. law) The information is nonetheless useful, detailing the number of people in each faction, their fighting ability, and relationships with the other factions. Most of the color of the factions are covered in Personalities and Places of Interest.

GM Notes: This section contains the already mentioned Stages of the Apocalypse and Special Locations in Mortiston. The section also provides a description of Utilities and Communications after a post-apocalyptic attack, a list of Neighborhoods in Mortiston, a Weather table, maps of effects caused by the terrorist attack, and other notes. While I found the Utilities and Communications section usefully detailed, I found the Locations and Neighborhoods to be scanty compared to the much more detailed Places of Interest.

What Will Michael Do: As an alternative to simply letting the town die out, the campaign ends with a climactic "ultimate monster", in the form of the militant Michael Sparks and charismatic Reverand Thompson. This section has a summary of how they will destroy and take over Moriston, although, again, the GM will have to work out the details.

Webpage support: For a free sample character and location, see DriveThruRPG's entry for the publisher, Scrying Eye Games. You will find there several other freebies for their other products. The designer's blog, 365ZED.com has additional Mortiston notes and material, including a free Fiasco Mortiston playset, sample characters, and more. Scrying Eye Games own website has little additional information about Mortiston and the designer's webpage's last entry was in December 2012.

Fiasco: On the designer's website, he includes a free standalone Fiasco playset based on Mortiston. Fiasco is a non-conventional storytelling game, in which a playset establishes the relationships and motivations of the players, as well as the location where the story takes place. The players then create the scenes and play out the story, improving details as the game session plays. Thus, the player-generated specifics of a Fiasco playset can compliment the broad overview of a campaign (and do much of the work for the GM!). The GM himself can modify the playset and interrupt play (eg. adding the plot-twisting Fiasco "Tilt") as necessary -- even stealing ideas generated in the Fiasco play session for the overall campaign. Fiasco sessions have a reputation for dark endings, well-suited for "Welcome to Mortiston, USA".

EEP!: EEP! 1 is the first "Extended Electronic Package" for "Welcome to Mortiston, USA", and is available as a separate $2.99 purchase from DriveThruRPG.net. I am not clear if other EEPs will be made, and when EEP! 1 was originally written.

PDF: The download comes in both a colored and black-and-white format. I particularly liked that the formats allowed printing of individual sections and NPC and location pages without widows and orphans. Most of the art is useful (eg. NPC and locations pictures), reducing the amount of ink and toner used for GMs wanting a hardcopy.

Overall, Mortiston is an excellent post-apocalyptic campaign setting. But like all campaign settings, the GM will have to work on the specifics, or use a system, like Fiasco, which will do this for him.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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