It’s a staple of zombie media: One of the human survivors gets bitten and hides this from the others. Then he turns into a zombie and attacks his former friends. We really wanted this to happen in Outlive Outdead, but how can we encourage people to hide bites from other players, maybe even to get into fights (the characters, not the players!) over this? We’ve come up with two mechanics that do just that.
The first is based in the setting. In the game, GMs and players can generate a setting before the game officially begins. This includes deciding the Vector (how people become zombies) and the Apocalypse Stage (how bad the zombie situation has become). Vectors include Bite, Contamination, any kind of Death, or others such as voodoo or alien parasites. The time it takes to transform into a zombie after exposure to the vector varies randomly.
Do players and their characters know which vector is being used? That depends on the Apocalypse Stage, which includes Just Started, Full Swing, Almost Won, and Almost Lost. If the game is set in the first stage (Just Started), the GM picks one vector but does not tell the players. If the game is set in the second stage (Full Swing), then the GM tells half the players the truth and lies to the other half.
This means getting bitten by a zombie can be meaningless. Then again, it could be a one-way ticket to zombiedom. You might not know. The other players might not know, but you can bet they’ll be mighty suspicious. Since the time it takes to become a zombie is random for each case, they literally have no idea when you might turn. Do you think they’ll want you in their group? Will they trust you anymore? It’s best to hide that bite until you know for sure what’s going on.
Players also don’t know right away if they’ve been infected. During a game, the GM will give Wellness Updates to players. These are notes, folded over so no one knows what they say except the GM and the receiver, that update how the human character feels. Sometimes they will say, “You feel fine”. Other times, they will say, “You feel a bit feverish and tired” or something similar. A bad Wellness Update doesn’t necessarily mean you’re infected, since you could feel ill from malnutrition, stress, or the common cold. Then again, GMs must give these notes to those who are infected. This generates a fun level of paranoia in both the receiver (“Why do I have a fever? Did I get infected?”) and the rest of the group (“Why has she gotten three Wellness Updates in the past hour? Is she infected?”)
The second way Outlive Outdead encourages you to hide that bite is through an optional rule adding scoring to the game. Under this rule, players earn points during the game and a winner is declared at the game’s end. Players who finish the game with their human character alive get big points. Notice we didn’t say anything about being infected! That doesn’t matter; just finishing alive.
This gives a competitive reason to hide a possible infection. Let the other players know you’ve been bitten and they will either keep you under close observation at best, or kill you at worst. If you can just reach the finish line soon, you’ll score a lot of points! And since no one knows how long it takes to turn into a zombie, or in some cases whether a bite is deadly, why not hide the bite?