Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Core Rules Review

10 July 2024
The Walking Dead RPG lets you explore the incredible world of the once graphic novel, now best known for its TV show, letting you make all the decisions yourself. We review whether the franchise has successfully translated into a roleplaying game worth playing...

Written by George Chrysostomou

Initially created by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore, The Walking Dead began as a graphic novel series from Image Comics and has expanded into an impressive universe of dystopic storytelling. It was only a matter of time before the video games, initial TV show, and various spinoffs inspired an RPG set within this same harrowing landscape. The Walking Dead Universe Core Rule Book was consequently launched in late 2023, accompanied by a separately sold Starter Set that rounded out the experience. Created in collaboration between AMC Networks Publishing and Free League Publishing, the game was pushed on by a successful Kickstarter campaign, which was fully embraced by fans of the franchise.

Walking Dead RPG – Core Rules Vs Starter Set

We’ll be reviewing the standard Core Rule Book, which acts as a competent point of introduction for newcomers, without relying upon, or indeed replacing, the Starter Set. 

The differences between the Core Rulebook and the Starter Set can essentially be dialled down to purpose. While the Core Rulebook featured here gives a much more detailed breakdown of all the rules, worldbuilding and mechanics of the title, the Starter Set is brisk in its introduction and provides further narrative inspiration to begin a campaign. 

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Core Rules

Firstly, you may be worried that The Walking Dead Universe RPG requires a deep range of knowledge about this wide and varied franchise. Although the game does take into account the rich lore of the universe, it doesn’t necessarily require players to have an understanding of the characters and continuity of the show or comics. A standard appreciation of zombie tropes certainly helps, but the Core Rulebook does a fantastic job of setting the stage and explaining the landscape to those who have never set foot in it before. For those who do love The Walking Dead though, you’ll find a lot more to connect with, from familiar faces to recreating moments that you may have already seen play out. This is one for the fans, even if it’s accessible enough for newbies to join. 

Visually, the book does its best to find opportunities to break away from huge wads of text, to make each page as engaging as possible. That doesn’t always pay off, and players may find themselves slightly overwhelmed by a density of information. But, critically detailed maps, gorgeous landscape art, and nuanced character profiles provide colourful and useful insights into the world. With a grungy and smokey aesthetic to each page, there’s a grit and brutality to the creation of the Core Rulebook which sets the tone for the style of adventures that take place among the undead. 

Just like most Core Rulebooks, The Walking Dead Universe RPG opens with a standard overview of how roleplaying games work, the roles of the player and Game Master, and how dialogue and interactions might play out within this type of game. The opening chapters frame the rest of the book though, with a few fictional set pieces that add a little flavour to the guide. These small inserts are littered throughout the book and do a wonderful job of keeping the reader firmly situated in the world. 

What’s more, the Core Rulebook takes a lot of time to explain when and where the events of The Walking Dead take place, advising on the motivations of the player characters, the types of enemies they will face, and the Outbreak that started this nightmare. It stresses the survival elements and the need to make tough choices and highlights the conflicts you’ll face and the people or resources you’ll fall back on to cope. 

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Character Creation

The Core Rulebook also gives a pretty standard overview of character creation, with each figure built from attributes, skills, talents, drives, issues, and an array of other categories, each of which has a mechanical use in the game. There’s a lot to cover, but this variety of terms does account for almost every challenge that could be faced in a campaign. A huge amount of focus is specifically placed on relationships, what anchors someone to a place or person, and how people interact with one another. That’s an intriguing incorporation that does set it apart from the competition. Characters are separated into an impressive roster of roles like The Criminal, The Doctor, The Farmer, The Homemaker, The Kid, The Law Enforcer, The Nobody, The Outcast, The Politician, The Preacher, The Scientist and The Soldier. Players will find their favourites, but The Homemaker and The Kid are two standouts. 

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How Walking Dead Universe Plays

A unique inclusion is that of havens. These are bases that players will build up throughout their campaign, as safety zones away from the chaos of the outside world. There’s an element of customisation here, and the familiarity of these locations can give a narrative some structure. 

Players are given two options when it comes to forging a game. There’s the Survival Mode, which is a fast-paced, short-term narrative with a scenario, NPCs and sometimes even player characters pre-arranged to dive into the action as quickly as possible. This is a good way for beginners to experience the game and is a perfect time to bring in more TV or comic elements for those familiar with the franchise. The other option is Campaign Mode, which plays more like a standard RPG campaign, with more agency given to the player, and a longer format. The book organises a campaign into seasons and episodes, much like a TV show in an easy-to-understand twist. 

The game utilises threat levels, ranging from 1 to 5, to rank the enemies players will face. These levels can be increased and decreased throughout combat and the inclusion of zombie swarms will only complicate matters leading to escape or instant death. Players have different D6 rolls to rely upon throughout the campaign like a Skill Roll, Luck Roll, D66 and even D666. Each carries an alternative value or meaning, and although this might be confusing, the book does sum it up in a nifty table. It’s up to the Game Master’s discretion on how to use them. Combat and decision-making don’t really break the mould compared to other RPGs, but there are a few twists along the way which vary gameplay enough. 

There are ultimately a lot of stat checks to get your head around, which enriches the world and adds to the tension. Types of hazards, survival elements like the tracking of resources such as food and medicine, and the limitations on the capacity of a haven, are all great examples of how the book tries to provide the Game Master with enough support to make the most of the premise. 

The book caps off with a couple of gameplay scenarios, including Campaign and Survival inspiration and even a solo mode to explore. The Atlanta Campaign is full of faction conflict and small-scale challenges to get players going, but the standout is the Golden Ambulance Survival Mode, which is much more detailed in its setup and execution. 

Walking Dead RPG Review

The Walking Dead Universe RPG ultimately appeals to fans of the franchise, and those players that like an open world to explore, without a set of rules that’s too overbearing. With a huge amount of stat sheets to cover, the Game Master’s work might be cut out for them, but players will find genuine excitement in the dark and intense narratives they can help to weave throughout a campaign with that focus on survival mechanics.

Should you play it? Yes. While not just limited to Walking Dead fans in its appeal, this RPG offers a dark sandbox to explore, albeit with a huge array of stats to dive into.

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Looking for more Walking Dead? Check out our review of All Out War!

About Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Core Rules

Designer: Nils Hintze

Publisher: AMC Networks & Free League Publishing

Pages: 175

Ages: 14+

Price: £35

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