Quick Thoughts: Welcome to Mortiston, USA

May 31, 2012
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I wrapped up reading Welcome to Mortiston, USA over the lunch hour today. Overall, I was quite pleased with the work.

78 pages, Available June 8th

Mortiston is first and foremost a modern setting supplement. While it is billed as a generic zombie apocalypse setting, the zombie element is not significant. If you are looking for detailed zombie apocalypse back story along with the uprising as a focal element, Mortiston will fall short. In fact, game masters can easily ignore all mentions of zombies and just use the locale as a setting for any modern apocalypse setting. Just shift the zeds to some other invader or group and the supplement will work out of the box.

The author, Mark Cookman, focuses primarily on people, interesting places, and the shifting dynamics within the small city. He strikes a great balance of detailing important personas and locations while allowing the GM to add as much detail as desired. The non player characters are presented in detail. Each and every major survivor has a good history with interesting hooks. The trope of skeletons in the closet is a bit overused but doesn’t detract significantly from the focus of the work. Mortiston supports five different systems. Stat blocks are presented for each NPC for every supported system inline with the text. While the multi-system support is admirable, I would have rather seen the stat blocks for each particular individual in an appendix rather than inline. About 1/3 of the page for each character is devoted to statistics.

Locations, like characters, are well represented. Each location is detailed on an individual page containing not only a description but also loot worth items across the timeline. Characters present in the locations based on the timeline are also discussed, which really helped pull together the people presented in the character section of the book. Many locations include a relationship table for the differing groups within Mortiston. However, the groups are not detailed until the subsequent section. As I was reading, I kept wondering why the table was present. It is a useful feature but I’d have preferred having the group dynamics detailed prior to the locations. What really left me wanting was the complete lack of individual location maps. No location is represented in map form. The descriptions are detailed but every GM is going to need to sketch out a set of maps to aid players.

The faction/group section of the supplement doesn’t show up until near the end of the book. Throughout the characters and location sections, factions are mentioned in passing but the linear reader has no idea of the general groupings in town. The section should have prefaced the characters and locales. Especially considering it is a brief 2 pages. Likely an oversight of editing with comprehensive knowledge of the environment.

The last major element of the book is both at the start and at the end — the Timeline. Day one is presented at the start of the book while Z+1 and subsequent events are not detailed until the end. For a reader, I understand the split because the initial Z-day timeline provides a great hook. As a game master, its bothersome because I have to flip between two discrete sections to correlate the details. Not a major negative but I’d have preferred it consolidated (even repeated) in one location within the book. Especially for the PDF — pages are cheap in PDF form. Not so much in a printed work.

I like the overall work but minor fiddly bits bothered me. The overall premise of Z-day seemed too busy. Four major events occur in one day. While they are correlated, I kept thinking it didn’t need to be so complex. The premise is one entry point. Absolutely nothing prohibits me from modifying the introductory events to meet my style of play. The author dictated on numerous occasions that the GM would need to fill in details. Shifting the introduction was not one of them but I’m certain he’d take no offense to changing it.

Zombies are almost completely absent in the book. For a zombie apocalypse setting, the token mentions are completely peripheral to the work. Odd? I thought so but the dynamics of the survivor groups make Mortiston more interesting. Survivors are the menace not the undead. Still, I would have liked to have seen more influence on the zombies in the overall work. Especially during the early days after the onset. My take is not the intent of the author. Early on he mentions zombies are just “icing”. Take that for gospel. Zombies are a very minor element.

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