Once and Future Zombie
It’s Emerald City Comic Con, late Friday night at the indie RPG tables, and I sit down with some awesome new folks (Hi, Daniel! Hi, Gabi!) to play some Microscope.
“What kind of history should we make?”
“Let’s do a zombie apocalypse!”
“Cool, zombies! Well wait, do we want to do modern times or something different..?”
The result — and stop me if this has ever been done before in the history of gaming — a zombie apocalypse in King Arthur’s Court.
We decide to start our history with the first High King drawing the sword from the stone and uniting the land (Light) and end with the last king of the royal line becoming a zombie. We’re about to call the end Dark but we reconsider. What if we make it Light? He’s a zombie but he’s going to continue to rule the kingdom and do a pretty good job. Rex Necro forever.
What the heck, you say? How does a zombie make a good king? That’s the beauty of the game: we can figure out how that makes sense as we play. It’s actually a bonus because now we’re terribly curious to dig in and see how it happens. Cue our very first scene: the last king having already been bitten by a zombie on the field of battle and now lying on his sick bed as his worried squires and retainers fearfully wait for him to turn. Knights have been fighting zombies for decades already, so they know the deal. Our Question is “do zombies live forever (unless hacked up) or do they rot and drop?” A bedraggled knight, a former champion and right-hand of the king before his exile (what now?), creeps into the tent to see his dying liege one last time, even if it means his execution. What’s that he’s brought in that bundle? Long-lost Excalibur (our Focus, by the way).
There’s some weeping, recriminations, and finally rage on the dying king’s part as he surges from his bed and bites his former friend. Ooh, that’s gonna be dark. The knight does not resist the king’s attack. If anything he’s relieved: “It is fitting, my king, that I should die by your side. It is all I have wished for.” He’s found absolution for his sins.
But Gabi, the soon to be zombie king, has not forgotten the Question (“do zombies live forever”) and she swoops. After biting his fallen knight, the king’s rage clears and he speaks to his old friend with kindness: “Oh no. For have you not seen? The walking dead are undying. I shall rule this kingdom beyond all the years of my fathers, and you shall stand beside me, my champion.”
Possibly the most bittersweet bro-tastic moment between zombie-knight and zombie-king ever.
Twenty minutes in and we know how our story ends. It’s a new land speed record. But how’d this whole zombie problem get started?
We jump back to the beginning of the history to play the scene that’s supposed to be Merlin bringing Arthur to draw Excalibur from the stone, but player skullduggery immediately makes the situation more complicated than anyone planned. Arthur is clearly implied but not required and no one plays him. Instead we see his father, Uther the warlord, is there thinking Merlin has brought him to draw the sword and be the High King. Merlin gets to bust out the bad news that no, it’s his wimpy ten-year old son who’s going to be king in his place. Awk-ward! Morgan le Fay seizes the opportunity to convince Uther that Merlin has been deceiving him and goad him into trying to draw the sword himself, which (we suddenly discover) is what unleashes the zombie curse in the first place. Uther becomes zombie zero and starts eating his retainers, but we end scene before we get to see whether the boy-who-would-be-king heeds Merlin and dispatches his own undead father with Excalibur…
A really good Microscope game leaves feeling like you want to play more and more to explore all the bits you didn’t have time for. Zombie Camelot had that in spades.
Earlier we’d introduced the Quest for the Holy Grail, the knights seeking its legendary power to purge the zombie scourge from the land. Correction: the fruitless Quest for the Holy Grail. We established that it failed as soon as we introduced the Period. For his Legacy, Daniel dictated a scene about Sir Bertran (the same fallen knight who was was re-united with the king in the beginning of our game) to answer the Question “Why was he exiled in the first place?” Ooh, good question. The answer was that Bertran knew the location of the Holy Grail before the Quest even started but wouldn’t reveal it. What?!? Why would he do that?!? I am burning with curiosity to find out.
We also never got to explore exactly how the last king managed to retain his wisdom and sanity even after turning undead, but if I had time I’d say it was the strength of his royal blood that made it possible (which in hindsight is a pretty harsh dig against poor Uther, who couldn’t hack being a zombie). Or was it something else entirely…
All in all, a fantastic game. Hats off to Daniel and Gabi for knocking it out of the park.