After four years, many tears of laughter, and some of grief, our campaign has come to an end. Like most of my homebrew games, I had no clue where it was going. I barely had an idea of how it was going to start. The trick with a survival horror game, like All Flesh Might Be Eaten, is devising how the cast gets together, and how it all goes to hell.
I forget which came first creatively, the Bus Trip or the Lab explosion. The twist that happened at the end of season one was, for me at least, natural. I loved Sliders took much inspiration from that old show when devising the very loose outline in my head for where the story line would go. In fact, I’d run it before.
Years ago I ran a campaign for friends and family I called Quantum Slide, where the cast and crew of a sci-fi movie accidentally had a functioning relic that sent them across the multiverse. I say accidentally, but there was a mole within the group. My Wife was an agent of a group bent on metaversal chaos, and had slipped swapped the relic in for one of the movie props.
But I digress. The plot of season one with the time ripples emanating outwards from the rift at the top of Limitless Labs was a little complex. I saw the rift as an event horizon, a black hole spitting out energy, and a virus, from another reality. This reality ran at a different speed than the original. As the cast traveled closer and closer to the rift at the lab they were actually traveling backwards in time towards the origin point of when the rift explosion had initially occurred. Looking outward though, through the extending ripples, they could see time accelerating and the entropy of time destroying everything they knew.
Left with no choice but to close the rift and stop the virus and energy from actually happening, our heroes had their mission. The resulting implosion drew them in and through the rift. Not every player in season one wanted to continue, so I use that plot point to separate them
The subsequent seasons were easy. AFMBE has several genre books to pull from, so I grabbed my favorites –and a plethora of short stories I had never finished– and mashed them all together. In season two I toyed with the fantasy tropes that the players expected and gave them an apocalyptic twist. Presumed villains had become victims. Pacifist gnomes had become carnivorous. I’ve read The Walking Dead, and the scene where Theseus lost his legs was stolen from TWD, I’ll cop to that. Much like a comedian will steal bits from an other, DMs steal ideas from what they read and consume.
The Edge of Reality, a dagger that could slice open a rift into another reality, was a McGuffin. In Sliders, Quinn Malory’s remote control was broken and uncontrollable. The Edge of Reality was marked in a language no one in the game could understand. Different skin, same affect. Henry and Ash had no choice but to randomly try a setting and see if they could get home.
In season three I introduced the Good Friday Virus and the zombie mafia. These “Dead Fellas” and cyber zombies, were echoes of short stories I had tried writing in the past. Without my friends to react to and help resolve the plots, I’d never had seen their end.
Season 4 was purely a gift to Thia the Bard. They are very fond of pirates, and I had a zombie pirate genre book for AFMBE. I was also growing burned out on the campaign. Creative ideas come and go frequently through my head, and I knew Malhaven’s end was close at hand. Making the Big Bad Ash’s doppelganger was just me trying to annoy Crymson. Her becoming a meta-villain, aware of her own reality, was just an extenuation of bit that all the metaverse was a show on a tv in the Garden of Eatin’.
My ability to throw plot twists, flipping tropes and assumptions on their ear, I chalk up to some skill, and a lot of luck. Improvisation is a skill I suggest that any DM practice and hone. In the minutes before a show begins I often had fleeting notions, or ideas. I was able to reveal them thanks to the prompts given by my players. My favorite part of Dm’ing like this is when it actually works. Success with little planning is a great thing. It is still a group effort, and without great players, a DM’s skill can only bear mediocre fruit. During the week these days I run about five games, and I’d like to thank every single player at my tables for their investment of time and energy. Without them, I’d have no sandbox to build in.
Live, laugh, loot.