View Full Version : Left 4 Dead

Lycan 01
2008-12-01, 03:59 PM
So I picked up Left 4 Dead, Valve's new zombie-killing masterpiece for the 360, on Friday. While taking a break to rest my eyes, I decided to scribble down some ideas I'd come up with. You see, I've always toyed with the idea of a zombie outbreak RPG. As I played L4D, I couldn't help but start thinking of ideas and mechanics for a L4D RPG. So, I wrote down my ideas, and I ended up with a working system. In theory, at least.

So, here's what I've gotten so far. I'm still tweaking a few things, but the rules and stuff are pretty simple. This is really just a casual RPG - short sessions, and short life-spans...

Naturally, its a work in progress, so I'll be updating it regularly. I just have to transfer most of my notes from paper to computer. If anybody is interested enough, I'd like to actually test it out here on the forums at some point...


Left 4 Dead is a zombie survival RPG that features a team of 4 human survivors trying to escape from hordes of infected zombies and mutants. The game is run by a Director, who controlls the monsters and tells the survivors what is happening. Sessions are short, but can be strung together for small campaigns. Sessions consist of getting from one Safe Room to another - essentially, get from Point A to Point B without getting killed. Campaigns involve the survivors going from Safe Room to Safe Room until they get to a Rescue Zone, which they must defend from undead assault until their rescue arrives.

This system is D20 based, and very easy to understand.


The players take control of a Survivor - a human who is immune to the viral outbreak that has turned nearly everyone around them into zombies. They come from all walks of life - cops, teachers, doctors, bikers, et cetera.

Creating a survivor is simple. Every survivor has a set amount of HP, every survivor starts out with a handgun, and every survivor has the same skills. However, the player must decide what skills his/her character are actually good at.

Survivors play the same as any other PC in an RPG. The player decides their actions, rolls for attacks and skills, and keeps track of the survivor's HP and Items.

Skills are done on a 20 Point Buy system. You have 20 points to put into whatever skills you wish - they all start at 0.

Awareness - Aids the survivor in understanding their surroundings
Heal - Determines the effectiveness of recovery items
Dexterity - Effects actions such as climbing, jumping, gun-prowess, et cetera
Scrounge - Aids in finding Weapons, Items, and Ammo
Repair - Aids in repairing weapons, machinery, and other items.
Technology - Aids in the use of radios, machinery, and other items.
Lockpick - Locked doors can lead to short-cuts and Items... or trouble
Knowledge - Allows for better navigation, planning, tactics, and ideas.

Every survivor has 100 HP. You lose HP when you are injured, and you recover it when you use Recovery Items. If you reach 0 HP, you are Incappacitated. While Incappacitated, you are left on the floor unable to move. You may still fire you handgun(s), however. You also have a temporary 30 HP, which slowly drains over the next few rounds until you are helped back up by a comrade or you reach 0 HP again. Upon reaching 0 HP while Incappacitated, you die for good.

Every survivor can carry 1 Primary Weapon such as a shotgun or machine gun, a pistol or pair of pistols, a First Aid Kit, a throwing weapon such as a pipe bomb, and a bottle of painkillers. Only a limited amount of Ammo can be carried for each weapon.


The Director controls the game. He makes up the areas, controls the enemies, and tells the survivors what the see and have to do. His job is to present the players with a challenging but fun session. However, what makes him different from other RPG GMs is that he can change the game on a whim. If the survivors are fairing poorly, his job is to lower the challenge of the game until they can get better. Perhaps there will be less zombies, or special enemies won't have as much HP. But if the survivors are blasting through everything with ease, he can throw a few waves of zombies or spawn a special enemy or two in order to make the game more fair.

The Director must explain to the survivors where they are, what they see, and what they can do. He can't just say: "You're in a building full of zombies." He must be precise and detailed so the players know what is actually going on. A better way of putting the previous statement would be for the Director to say: "You're looking down a hallway. To your left is the kitchen, which has been trashed. There are three zombies in there, and they have not spotted you. To your right is a closet, and you can see a shotgun in the back of it. At the end of the hallway is a door. You hear lots of noise from behind it... There are either a lot of zombies in there, or something big is waiting for you." That sounds much better, wouldn't you agree?

The Director must make up the session. Its quite simple really. Start the survivors out in a Safe Room, set up a route or two for them to take, and throw some challenges at them as they make their way to the next Safe Room. If the Safe Room is down the street in a pawn shop, so be it. If you want it to be a few blocks over at the entrance of a police station, thus setting up the next session, go for it. The Director also has zombies and other things at his disposal, which he can use at his discression, so long as the players are up against relatively fair odds.

The Director controls the amount of enemies the survivors run into, as well as the enemies themselves. He says how many zombies are milling about the street, but he also decides if the Hunter lurking in the window above the survivors wants to attack them mid-battle or once their guard is down. The Director has other tools at his disposal, too. He can place certain obstacles, such as a locked door that the survivors must find a way to open. He can also add other threats, such as a car with an easily triggered alarm, which will bring forth a horde of zombies to attack the players. The possibilities are endless!

The Director must be fair. He must not try to dominate the players and ruin their lives. He should not throw a super-zombie with 1,000,000,000 HP at them during the next session just because they got to the Safe Room faster than he wanted them to. But he should not let the survivors just breeze through the game without any trouble. The Director must keep the game fair for everyone... even the zombies.

Items, Enemies, and other things will be covered in the following post(s).

Lycan 01
2008-12-01, 04:01 PM






Keep in mind, this is a work in progress. But advice, ideas, comments, complaints, criticism, and other such things are all very welcomed. Just be nice about it, please. :smalleek:

And if you're interested in helping me test it out, please don't be afraid to speak up! :smallbiggrin:

2008-12-01, 05:39 PM
Whee, sounds fun!

A friend of mine asked about crossing over L4D and D&D, and I said "Turn Undead, I walk to the safehouse."

2008-12-01, 10:01 PM
While I really like Left 4 Dead, I'm a little worried that the things that it does really well won't translate well over to an RPG system. After all, the part about the Director adapting to how the players are doing and refining the opposition to give them an appropriate challenge is what a good DM is doing anyway. Some might be better at doing it on the fly than others (I know I myself am not that good at on-the-fly changes to the enemies in my campaigns) but it is what a DM does.

What makes Left 4 Dead unique in my opinion are elements that are novel in a video game. Heavy emphasis on teamwork, particularly in an online multiplayer environment, adaptive single-player AI (no set spawns), these are things that most video games don't do (or don't do well), and they make Left 4 Dead a great game experience. The problem is, these things don't really translate to RPGs. You're already focused on cooperating with the other players in a live RPG (it being a social activity) and the DM is adaptive by nature as a human. Unfortunately for the source material, these gains were had at the cost of things like plotline and character- and enemy-variety. While each of the 4 characters in the video game has some backstory, there's no practical difference between them in-game, and their backstory isn't readily known in play.

This isn't to say that an RPG homebrew conversion can't be done. I'm just concerned that the experience may not be as interesting as you would hope. Running from Safe House to Safe House may be less interesting in an RPG than in a survival horror video game. It sounds like it would play great for one-shot campaigns, but I don't know if it would necessarily be something you could play for months on end.

One innovation that might make the game more appealing, which the video game does, is allow players to play as zombies (or in this case Special or Boss Infected). Allow the players to decide if they want to play PC Survivors or PC Infected, then design the scenario accordingly. Obviously both sides will play very differently, but the uniqueness might make all the difference. For instance, when the PCs are Infected, you might give them a number of Lives with which to try and incapacitate or kill the 4 NPC Survivors. Or, you could run the Infected just like evil PCs and have them run through an unsuspecting town, mauling civilians and gaining XP and levels before facing off with the 4 "boss" Survivors.

I would also take a look at All Flesh Must Be Eaten for inspiration. I haven't played it myself but I've heard good things about it from a survival horror perspective.


Lycan 01
2008-12-02, 12:26 PM
Your concern is noted. :smallsmile: I must admit, I know there will be many drawbacks. But as I said before, this is a casual game. Its not meant to be something you play all the time - just something of a timekiller and a chance to outlive your buddy.

I have considered having other players take on the roles of enemies. However, before I can put any serious thought into that, I have to know if the game actually works with normal players first. :-/

Also, there is no XP. PCs stay the same from start to finish. They do, however, come across better weapons as they progress from Safe Room to Safe Room. Room 1 might have a shotgun, a pair of MP5s, and a few first aid kits. Room 2 might have a pair of shotguns, a hunting rifle, some pills, and 3 pipe bombs. And then Safe Room 3 might have an semi-auto shotgun, a pair of assault rifles, some molotovs, and a box of medical supplies.

The main points of this game are:
-Kill zombies!

You have to work together to survive. Everybody should be covering somebody, if a player gets grabbed and dragged off by a Smoker or something the others should try to save him, and strategy is key at certain points.

Also, in my experience, its unfair for a DM to change things in the middle of battle for most RPGs. When I DMed a session for DnD the other day, my GF got mad at me when she noticed I'd added a few bits of HP to the main bad guy for the session. I'll admit, I did so because I realized it wouldn't stand a chance against them - but my players still weren't happy over that one little tweak. But in Left 4 Dead, its perfectly fair for the Director to make tweaks, if not revamp the whole session if the survivors are dominating everything they come across.

So, while I think you have a lot of valid points, and I believe there will be a lot of problems to overcome, I think this game will prove to be fun - at least for a few short sessions.

I'll update the enemies and weapons later this afternoon, if time permits. :smallbiggrin:

2008-12-02, 12:34 PM
Uhhh. . .had you considered that maybe you're adapting it too literally?

Your campaigns don't have to be about going from Saferoom A to Saferoom B. It just has to be about surviving the Zombie apocalypse. To this end, it seems perfectly reasonable to set a more immersive scenario. I'd even keep leveling conventions but limit XP rewards for achieving meaningful tasks or accomplishments.

I mean, if you're going to do a straight adapt like this, you may just as well pop in four copies of L4D and start playing co-op.

Lycan 01
2008-12-02, 12:41 PM
Just because the general idea is getting from Safe Room A to Safe Room B doesn't mean there won't be anything in the way. There will be plenty of stuff to occupy them. Block paths, alternate routes, interesting locals...

Hmm... How 'bout this? Survivors can build up Points from actions they perform. Like protecting a comrade, or healing a fallen ally. These points can be redeemed in Safe Rooms for certain items. Like, an bandolier that allows them to carry more ammo, or hollow point rounds for the assault rifle, or Kevlar vest to reduce damage. The more points you get, the better the items you can buy are. How does that sound?

And RP will be present, of course. I'm not making them play as the 4 characters from Left 4 Dead. Oh no, I encourage creating original characters, with backstories and everything. Whats the point of an RPG without Roleplaying? :smallconfused: