This has to be one of the best blogpost titles of all time. I can’t lay claim to it however – Blood and Brains is a d20 Modern supplement, and this is my review.
Now, this is how to make a d20 Modern supplement!
Blood and Brains provides everything you need to know to fill your game with the best (and worst) that zombie horror has to offer. Everything from They Eat Your Brains! style 1950s “classics” to more modern renditions such as Resident Evil and Evil Dead. What might seem like such a narrow focus is written with such depth and – dare I say it? – love for the genre that it’s hard not to like this supplement.
It’s a real roller-coaster of a ride through zombie-fandom that covers all aspects of zombies and schlock horror. As is fitting, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still manages to cover literally everything you need to know about the walking, shambling dead and how to fight them. Any supplement which includes professions including Cheerleader, Nerd, Prep and (my personal favourite) Scream Queen has to be good We’re also introduced to the NCRPC, the National Center for Reanimation Prevention and Control, and Y-Mart, the hardware store for all your zombie-killing needs.
If you come from a D&D background, you’ll be thinking that there’s only one kind of Zombie, and you’d be sadly mistaken. Blood and Brains offers no less that 21 different types including dreaded Fog Zombies, Bloodsucking Zombies, Atomic Zombies, Radiation Zombies and Video Zombies. These are all templates which can be added to a base creature, and are further backed up with a huge random table to further define a zombie’s Hunger, Defenses, Movement, Senses, Vulnerability and much, much more. If you like your zombies to be more than brain-sucking, shambling type that can only be killed with a headshot, this table is for you. There’s also stats for a variety of zombie-creating beasties including an alien race dedicated to (what else?) global domination and the wonderful Sumatran Rat Monkey that causes zombification with it’s diseased bite.
We also have a handful of Advanced Classes that are particularly well suited as Zombie Masters. There are the Bokor voodoo priest, classic Mad Scientist and arcane Necromancer. For a little variety we have the Carrie-like Psychokinetic. While it’s not got much to do with Zombies, it is a welcome addition to the game.
Thankfully it’s not all about the bad guys. Ok, it’s mostly about the bad guys. Along with the Occupation list (which comes straight out of every bad horror movie you’ve ever seen) we have one Advanced Class in the shape of the Zombie Hunter. Picture Ash or the Vampire battling heroes in From Dusk Till Dawn and you have the right idea. While it seems slim pickings, I can’t think of any other Advanced Class they could add which isn’t already covered by the d20 Modern Core Book anyhow as that already gives us the Soldier, Gunslinger, Acolyte, Field Scientist and Medic. That’s more than enough!
When it comes to actually fighting the Zombies we have a good handful of cinematic feats that do a great job of reproducing action from the movies. We have Backhand Slash which grants you a free attack against critters directly behind you while you’re wielding a slashing weapon, Chainsaw Impale, Rifle Spin (allowing you to cock a rifle one-handed). Oh, and Virgin. Yes, it’s a feat. Don’t ask.
There’s also an impressive weapons list which focuses on messier side of combat. We have machetes, dynamite, the ubiquitous Chainsaw and much more, including a few shotguns (and excellent rules), a new rifle and a generic handgun, along with advice that said handguns aren’t much use against zombies! We’re also presented with a Critical Hits table specifically for zombie mutilation which gives results that seem more in line with Rolemaster than d20! It’s certainly too gory to use against the players, but for carving up the zombies (or poor bystanders), it’s perfect, complete with blood spurt rules. I kid you not. Remember that some Zombie blood may carry infection, so that adds yet more danger to the poor heroes.
The fun doesn’t stop there however. We’re given rules for Madness and Trust. Where the former has obvious repercussions when bodies begin to walk, Trust is a more interesting mechanic. This comes into play if you want to persuade the catatonic innocent to take your hand and jump, or need to convince the rest of the party You Will Return to save them.
The game is rounded out with a good collection of new spells – Zombie Belch being a personal favourite – and magic items. These are short on the ground though, as only the Shotgun of Zombie Slaying and Chainsaw of Sharpness are of use to the heroes. The rest – Plague Powder, Zombie Powder and Zombie Cucumber (no, really) deal with creation. I’d have liked to see more magic items, and none of this out-dated “X of Y” silliness. Why can’t we just call it a Zombie Slaying Shotgun and be done with it? Out of the entire supplement however, it’s only a teeny tiny gripe.
In all, this is a terrific supplement that shows how it’s possible to focus exclusively on just one critter and come up with more ideas than could be used in a single campaign. Yep, campaign. While I suspect this supplement will be used mainly to throw a zombie-filled adventure in as a one-shot scenario, there’s more than enough material in here to run an entire Resident Evil style game – just add one city, a few floorplans, drop one of the (many) zombie templates over the ordinary human stats from the Core Book, and you’re done.
What really makes this supplement outstanding though is that the enthusiasm for the subject really shines in the writing, and it’s contagious. In comparison, d20 Future is just flat, dull and sterile. This spark is what can turn even the most rules-broken supplement into a brilliant one – fire more than makes up for any amount of brokenery. Blood and Brains has both however – good, solid rules and a genuine passion for the subject.
In other news: I’ve been told by d20 Future review is a little too harsh, so here’s a little clarification. Bits of d20 Future are great. The character generation stuff is top notch. The Mech rules are good enough, and the robotics, cybernetics and mutations rules are very good indeed. The problem is that there’s no consistency across the board, and the entire chapter on starships and space travel is just plain unusable for reasons I’ve already covered. I don’t like that cybernetics, robotics and mutations are all handled differently. In a book that tries to be so ambitious, a little more consistency and better editing would have helped reduce the page count. It’s a shame because it’s “official” status means that other parties end up using these rules as a baseline for their own works. As the saying goes; if the foundation is broken, the house don’t stand.