Death Throes is a roleplaying game designed to tell character-driven, impactful stories about Survivors in the early hours, days, and even weeks of a zombie outbreak. A.K.A. the good bit. The outbreak’s the part where there’s still hope: that you, and the world, can go back to the way it was.
And that’s what makes Death Throes different. It’s a zombie game with hope. It’s not about escalating acts of cruelty or man’s inhumanity to man. It’s about deciding what’s worth fighting for, and being prepared to push yourself to your limits to do so.
Hope on the Brink of Collapse
Some of the hope in Death Throes is a matter of roleplaying, some is framing, and some is mechanical. Some are kind of in between, and some are things you can do in literally any RPG, and I don’t pretend otherwise.
Our first principle of play is “Hope” but it makes it clear the odds are against you – you’ll probably die, and the apocalypse is nigh. But your character shouldn’t think that. Play like you have something to live for, because you do.
Every DT Survivor has a Drive and a Lost One: something they want to get back to, and a person who’s important to them (and is implicitly still alive). That immediately makes characters who aren’t laser-focused on zombie killing. Survivors are messy people, and the things that make them that way are just as important as their ability to mash an undead face in with a baseball bat.
Death Throes supports that mechanically: you can invoke your Drive to succeed against the odds, or your Lost One to find a reserve of mental strength so you can push on just a little longer. There’s also a super simple optional rule that makes your odds of “winning” a whole lot higher, but describing mechanics is boring.
Just as important is framing: a lot of Death Throes scenarios will include the word “before”, “until”, or “unless” in their summary description. “Get out before the city’s locked down”; “survive until help arrives”; “the infection will get out of control unless you deliver the data to someone”.
When running Death Throes you have to be prepared to make good on that promise. Help IS coming. The city CAN be quarantined. The data WILL change things. The apocalypse is framed as a dangerous possibility, not a foregone conclusion. If the disaster is localised or averted, it’s because the Survivors were smart and somewhat lucky.
It’s not super likely, but it’s worth playing to find out.
How to Play
Death Throes is Rooted in Trophy, which means it uses an adapted version of The Gauntlet’s excellent fantasy horror game, Trophy.
First thing’s first. The GM never rolls dice, because there’s nothing more boring than sitting around while the GM rolls to hit 20 times. What the GM does is help figure out the consequences of players’ actions, and add curve balls. Other players can do this too, of course. Second, even the players don’t roll dice very often. Only roll when there’s pressure or when there are consequences for failure. In other words when there’s a risk – which is why the core mechanic’s called a Risk Roll.
Unlike many (most) RPGs, in Death Throes you don’t automatically have dice TO roll. If you don’t have an appropriate trait, your dice pool starts at zero. You can always get dice by making a Devil’s Bargain or drawing closer to Ruin. A Devil’s Bargain is a consequence that creates another problem – you piss someone off, you lose something, you draw the zombies’ attention, etc. Ruin tracks how close you are to your physical or mental limits. When it maxes out you give up, are mortally wounded… or if you’re infected congrats, it’s brain eatin’ time.
Essentially, Death Throes plays as a race against your own character flaws (and, you know, turning into a zombie). If you want to survive, the group has to take risks to help one another but it’s easy to push yourself too far. The easiest way to reduce Ruin is to be selfish but there are good reasons to work together. It’s very tough to fight more than a basic zombie alone, and cooperative actions have more dice so more chance of success. Plus, if you max out Ruin you get a badass Final Close Up.
And that, basically, is Death Throes. Push yourself, using every resource you have, and hold onto whatever gives you hope. Survive as a group, or die alone. Also zombies.
Then you can go back the Kickstarter!