This sourcebook for All Flesh Must Be Eaten takes the 'Hong Kong Action Theatre' approach to zombies. Diving straight in with Chapter 1: Corpses Rising, we begin with ominous fiction that sets the scene - a corpse used in a foul ritual to unleash a demon assassin to wreak vengeance. It's an excellent story, perhaps a shade long if you are itching to get to the meat of the book.
Then comes the Introduction, which explains how this book mixes up the themes of monster movie (especially, of course, the zombie ones) and 'chop-sockey' style martial arts movies. These remarks are followed by Chapter 2: Tao of the Dead, which provides the necessary game mechanics to mix in martial arts and more esotetic stuff like chi powers, with an eye to both the living and zombies having access to them. Most people probably pick up this book expecting to have their characters destroy zombies with dramatic kung-fu moves... but what if the zombies know them as well? Here we find resources for building martial artist characters from the ground up - for remember, Grasshopper, that these skills must be learned and practised - and also for practitioners of gun-fu. Thus we have two new Character Types, the Martial Artist and the Shooter, along with new skills than enable them to do their thing. There's a note that Martial Artists created with these rules are pretty powerful, so much so that they would out-fight most characters created in other Unisystem variants in a stand-up, knock-down confrontation. Fine, of course, if that's what you want, but you may prefer to confine them to your All Flesh Must Be Eaten game. There's a whole array of Chi Techniques, cinematic in the extreme, which both Martial Artists and Shooters can access. For those wishing to play a zombie Martial Artist, there are further notes on how to create zombie characters with sufficient brains (in their heads, I mean... not on the menu) to be capable of using these skills and techniques. The chapter ends with a fine selection of martial arts weapons.
Next comes Chapter 3: Hard Boiled Corpses. We're now into Zombie Master territory, because this chapter describes the alternate Hong Kong in which this game is set. Now ruled by mainland China (as in the real world), it displays distinctive features: an obsession with making money, a sleazy underbelly of strip clubs and massage parlours and gambling dens, and organised crime in the shape of the Triads. Under Communist rule, however, the police have more leeway to deal with trouble and... well, shall we say that one idea they came up with resulted in zombies. Not on purpose, I hasten to add. This makes for a compelling backstory, something the party might wish to investigate inbetween just trying to stay alive. The particular kind of zombies are discussed, along with the four distinct groups who are involved in the situation: the cops, the Triads, drug dealers and the zombies themselves (these ones are quite smart, you see). There are sample NPCs and plenty of notes about each group. A couple of outline scenarios are provided based on this concept, and it's easy to think of how to expand on them - or the situation in general - to create a whole campaign. The chapter ends with a few archetypes all ready to jump into the fray...
Next, Chapter 4: Flesh Eaters in Little China moves across the Pacific to San Francisco and presents a quite different setting that mixes sorcery and zombies into a heady underworld amongst Chinese immigrants. There's a lot going on in Chinatown and it's not all restaurants and laundries. Plenty of background explaining precisely what is happening and why. Secret societies, triads and martial arts brotherhoods abound, with examples of each being provided with plenty of detail to get them up and running in your game. And then there are sorcerers and mystics as well... and the outline of an adventure involving hordes of zombies and an underground lair presided over by a decidedly ancient sorcerer. There's an outline of how magic works here (but if you want a detailed magic system you are better off looking at Witchcraft, another Unisystem game), and another couple of scenario outlines, including one where the party start out as a bunch of tourists that find far more than they expected... Again, the chapter ends with some Archetypes.
Then Chapter 5: Once Upon a Corpse in China takes yet another angle on the whole Chinese action/zombie fusion. This takes us back roughly a thousand years to historic China, where squabbling kung fu schools have accidentally created zombies when brawling with each other. With rival schools, Imperial magistrates and the Shaolin Temple itself trying to sort the problem out, there's plenty of scope for cinematic martial arts action. Two scenarios are provided, one has the party working for the Imperial authorities and the other sets them as the ones who spawned the zombies in the first place...
Finally, Chapter 6: Undead Kombat starts with the premise that a soldeir's soul gets mystically entangled with those he has killed in battle, and ends with what happens when ancient Persian Magi start meddling. The Magi wanted to live forever, but their undead cohorts were both quarrelsome and hungry. The solution involves a massive contest between the zombies called the Tournament of Souls... only now they've decided to include human beings on the card. Set up a range of situations in a massive stadium on a remote island and let combat commence! A couple of scenario outlines are provided that take this setting beyond a simple 'arena' game.
Overall, this puts a delightful spin on the whole zombie concept, and should provide sufficient interest for even those players in your group who don't really fancy a zombie game. The martial arts rules are excellent and give you the tools to create cinematic action with or even without zombies added in. A refreshing look at zombies, a brilliant fusion of two exciting movie styles, well worth a look!
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Reviewed: 7 June 2017