Interview with creators of The Walking Dead Universe RPG

TWD RPG banner Free League Publishing
TWD RPG banner Free League Publishing /

The creators of The Walking Dead Universe Role Playing Game took time from their busy schedules to update Undead Walking’s readers on what to expect from this exciting new RPG. The Crowdfunding campaign for this game has exceeded the initial goal and, with seven days remaining, has raised over $490,000. The Walking Dead RPG is being co-produced by AMC Networks, Free League Publishing, and Genuine Entertainment, who are working closely with Chief Content Officer of The Walking Dead Universe, Scott M. Gimple, and Head of AMC Networks Publishing, Mike Zagari.

Joe LeFavi Game Producer/Brand Manager Genuine Entertainment
Joe LeFavi Game Producer/Brand Manager Genuine Entertainment /

Joe LeFavi, Game Producer and Brand Manager of Genuine Entertainment has dedicated over 20 years to being a producer, brand manager, and consigliere for top media companies. Prior to becoming CEO of Genuine Entertainment, he worked with top companies, including Lionsgate, Psyop, The Jim Henson Company, and Quixotic. Throughout his career, he has proudly been involved with putting over 200 books, comics, manga, video games, tabletop games, and collectibles on shelves and screens around the world. He lives in Los Angeles with the two best cats in the world, Mooncake, and Cookiepuss.

Mattias Johnsson Haake Co-owner Free League Publishing
Mattias Johnsson Haake Co-owner Free League Publishing /

Mattias Johnsson Haake, Game Designer and Co-Owner of Free League Publishing focuses his efforts on editing and writing game world and adventure designs. He co-founded the Swedish game studio Järnringen which, in 2018, was merged with Free League Publishing. He has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Science (Pedagogics/Educational Sociology) and, in addition to numerous RPG adventures and sourcebooks, has penned five novels to date. He resides in Northern Sweden with his wife and son.

The Walking Dead Universe RPG

Undead Walking: For those who are unaware, what is an RPG, and what can they expect from The Walking Dead RPG as a fan of the series?

JOE: A roleplaying game (RPG) is a collaborative storytelling game, and odds are, you’ve already seen a tabletop RPG in action. Just on TV. If you’re a fan of Stranger Things, Freaks & Geeks, Community, Futurama, The Big Bang Theory, The IT Crowd, and (of course) Critical Role… you’ve probably seen at least one episode with a group of friends seated around a table, rolling dice and roleplaying as fictional characters while they explore a world and make choices that over time create an original story, one scene at a time. That’s a tabletop RPG.

The Walking Dead RPG – Free League Publishing
The Walking Dead RPG – Free League Publishing /

Mattias: Yes, you can think of it as an improvised theater that takes place in your imagination and where you use dice and other forms of randomness to introduce an element of risk, reward, and thrill to the story. All but one player portray their own player character (PC) – much like the role of an actor, with certain skills, talents, and personality traits. While most players take center stage as the stars of the show, the final player is the Gamemaster (GM), who is basically the director behind the camera. They’re tasked with setting the stage, describing what the PCs encounter, and portraying everyone the PCs come across in the game world. It’s their job to make sure the story moves forward. What kind of stories are told depends on which game you play – from heroic fantasy adventures to space operas, from horrifying thrillers to tales from beyond the apocalypse. As you play cooperatively, the aim is not to “win” and defeat your fellow players but rather to have fun telling a story together and seeing how your decisions and dice rolls can inspire whatever happens next.

Joe: For TWD RPG, you can expect much of the same. Laughter. Tears. Probably pizza. And if all stars align, your game night should feel a lot like the high-stakes, character-driven TWD roller coaster you know and love. If you’re an experienced RPG player, you’ll enjoy all we’ve provided to create a wide array of stories and gameplay possibilities. And if you’re new to RPGs, this game is for you, too. We intentionally designed a game that’s light on rules and heavy on character development and storytelling. The complexity is there if you want it. Yet there’s no “one” way to play the game, so each gaming group can choose – session by session, roll by roll – to dial up or down the difficulty and drama to suit their interests and play styles. It’s all up to your ingenuity and imagination to bring the experience you want to life.

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The Walking Dead RPG – Free League Publishing
The Walking Dead RPG – Free League Publishing /

UW: The funding goal has been met and exceeded by over $400,000. What does this tell you about the fans of this series and how well the game will be received upon release?

JOE: It tells us that TWD fans are amazing. We’re incredibly grateful that so many came out to support us, and we couldn’t enjoy this kind of success without our early adopters and evangelists out there rallying the fans. Beyond that, does Kickstarter influence how we’ll perform at retail? Yes, in more ways than you’d think. It tells us how effectively we’re communicating WHY we made this game and why fans should want to play. More importantly, it helps us to find and connect with those fans. There’s no doubt that the TWDU fandom is massive, but game shops need to know that we can reach those fans and they’re genuinely excited about the game.

So in truth, that’s the biggest value of Kickstarter – the relationships that we can create and continue with the people we ultimately made this game for—bringing fans not only into our community but into our process as well. After all, backers get early access to a digital version of the RPG many months before the game hits retail. Oftentimes before we even click “print” on the first run. This first wave of insights and inspiration truly helps us to deliver the best version of the game, which fans are eager to play and share from day one. You can only earn that kind of trust from fans, but once you do, the positive impact and impetus that they can have behind all we do from here is priceless.

UW: What will the extra funds raised be used for as far as additional game development?

Mattias: Any funds left after production, printing, shipping, and distribution will help immensely in laying a foundation for the development of future supplements, no doubt about that. Just knowing that we have a large base of players makes it much easier to decide to launch new projects for a game line.

UW: Are any of the RPG creators fans of the TWD franchise? If so, as fans, how do they feel other fans will receive the game? If not, where did the background information for the game come from?

The Walking Dead RPG – Free League Publishing
The Walking Dead RPG – Free League Publishing /

JOE: I’ve been a TWDU fan from the beginning, so I can only hope that other fans will appreciate the lengths we’ve taken to deliver a game that everybody can enjoy. That’s no easy feat. Another version of this RPG could’ve catered to the crunchiest gameplay and made the world as grueling and unforgiving as we know it can be. Other versions might’ve only plucked the low-hanging fruit and obsessed over gore or damage roll endorphins. Yet instead, I hope fans will appreciate how we’ve respectfully given them the tools to explore this world on their own terms. As a fan, I love that this game doesn’t tell me what I should do. What few paths I can take. What finite choices I can make. Yes, the game has rules, but it’s supposed to feel like you’re writing, directing, and starring in your own episode of the TV series. And I love how that creative freedom empowers me to decide the what, when, how, and why of my own adventures in this world. It makes it feel like these experiences are truly mine.

Mattias: Same here. I am a huge fan of the TV series, and I’ve always experienced severe separation anxiety in-between seasons. I hope and trust that this RPG can alleviate some of that pain for me and for others. The lead game designer, Nils Hintze (a fanatical TWD fan himself), has really captured the style and feel of what we can see on screen. Basically, everything that happens in the TV series can also happen when playing the game, with the support of its rules and guidelines.

UW: Will TWD RPG include characters from the spinoff series or focus solely on characters from the flagship series?

JOE: The RPG encourages players to create their own original characters, so we don’t necessarily focus on any one character or TV series. Instead, the Core Rulebook takes a top-level perspective on the mythology behind the TV franchise as a whole, spanning all the TV and digital series produced by AMC over the years. The Starter Sets and our future adventure modules will delve into more specific points on the map and timeline, and you’ll likely see a few familiar faces and places there. Even so, The Walking Dead RPG isn’t a game designed to retread known events or force you to only explore who and what have been seen on screen. So while we’re connected to the entirety of The Walking Dead Universe, we’ve been given the freedom to become our own thing, too.

UW: Can you give more insight into the two ways to play TWD RPG? Campaign and Survival Mode.

Mattias: Playing a campaign is much like writing your own TV series. You’re dropped into The Walking Dead Universe together with a group of other survivors (i.e., the player characters of your friends). There is no predetermined chain of events; the story evolves as you explore the world and deal with the dramatic challenges that constantly arise in the world of the dead – may it be walkers, the lack of supplies, diseases, or hostile factions. Sometimes you will all agree on the best course of action. Other times, you will argue, even fight amongst yourselves, before a compromise can be reached. No matter what, your main goal is to keep living together. What other goals are deemed fighting for is decided by the players and their characters.

A survival mode scenario is something different, similar to experiencing your own film with a clear beginning, middle, and end. These revolve around a specific and severely troubling situation that needs to be dealt with immediately: someone has gone missing, a huge hoard of walkers are approaching your haven, your vehicle breaks down in a walker-infested area, and so on. Typically, you are also given pre-made player characters, which all bring different perspectives and hidden agendas to the problem at hand. The scenario is designed to last for only one or two sessions, and the story follows a more linear path – even if the player characters can choose how to deal with any upcoming challenges.

The Walking Dead Universe RPG Starter Set Free League Publishing
The Walking Dead Universe RPG Starter Set Free League Publishing /

UW: What inspired the team to create a TWD-based RPG?

JOE: For my part, I’ve always admired TWDU for transcending the common traps and tropes of this genre, instead rooting the story in more compelling human drama and daring to explore what these horrors and hardships can bring out in people. Such rich character development is the beating heart of my favorite RPGs, so I jumped at the chance to help bring TWD to the game table. Knowing what Free League did with Mutant Chronicles and Twilight 2000 in particular, it seemed like all stars aligned on building something really unique in this space.

Mattias: In truth, TWDU has all ingredients needed to design a great roleplaying game – the interpersonal drama, faction play, exploration, horror, and action. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, over and over: this game was waiting to be able to make!

UW: TWD RPG is based on the Year Zero Engine rules. For those who are unsure, what does this type of gameplay entail?

Mattias: Actually, it can mean a lot of things, as the engine has been modified over the years to fit different game settings and play styles. A YZE game can be light on the rules or a bit more heavy and crunchy. But the basic design idea behind all of them is that the games should be easy to pick up and start playing. They should also support a fast and decisive gameplay, where you can up the risk in the hope for greater rewards.

Speaking of TWDU RPG, it is definitely on the rules-lite side of the spectrum. When faced with a challenge that requires dice rolls, you roll a number of six-sided dice (called D6) and hope to land at least one 6 – this means a success. At times, you make an opposed roll against your antagonist, hoping to get more successes than them. At its core, it is super simple and intuitive.

Undead Walking appreciates Joe LeFavi and Mattias Johnsson Haake for taking time from their schedules to give fans a deeper look into what can be expected from The Walking Dead Universe Role Playing Game. It will be an exciting addition to the ever-expanding Walking Dead Universe.

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