Planning Your Game
From Humans vs. Zombies Wiki
Once you've assembled your moderators, gotten permission to play, set up the software you're going to use, and decided on the rules you'll be using for your game, the real work begins! Now you have to design a game for your players.
Main page: Mod Meetings
This planning will take a lot of time, so it should be going on "behind the scenes" while you're doing the administrative groundwork to organize the game. You want to give yourself a lot of time to design and perfect missions, create or order supplies, and put together a fun, exciting game of Humans vs. Zombies. Have an organized schedule for mod meetings, be flexible, and be willing to dedicate an increasing amount of time to working on the game as the game date approaches.
Moderator Cody Sumter estimates the amount of time he spends planning in advance for HvZ with his team of moderators:
- 2 months out: an hour a day
- 1 month out: two hours a day
- 2 weeks out: 3 hours a day
- 1 week out: 4 hours a day
Mod meetings allow your team of moderators to work on all the planning and organizing that a game requires. Don't rely on email chains, casual meetings, or individually delegated jobs. There should be a set amount of time each week for the entire team to come together and plan the game, report on what they've accomplished that week, and work collaboratively.
The Big Picture
One thing that's certain about running a game of Humans vs. Zombies is that it will never turn out how you expect, no matter how much planning you do. That being said, if you don't carefully plan and script each day of your game, it can spiral out of control and your players can wind up bored or frustrated. Be as prepared as possible, think through all the different ways each mission and each day can go, and try not to leave anything up to luck or chance.
Think about the endgame. We think that Humans vs. Zombies is the most fun when the zombies win. Not only is this an appropriately dark and satisfying ending to a zombie apocalypse story, but when this happens, all of the players end up on the same team - the winning team. It's a great, feel-good moment for the end of the game.
"One tradition from the Goucher game is that when there is only one surviving human, he or she makes an epic speech and sacrifices themselves to the zombie horde. The zombies tag them with a big group hug." - Goucher mod Joe Sklover
A great game of HvZ put the humans through hell, but always leaves them a fighting chance if they work together and play smart. Occasionally, a few humans will outlast the zombies win. That's fine, as long as they earn it; it's a big letdown if they hide in their room all week and the zombies can't get them.
Developing a Ruleset
Main page: Developing A Ruleset
The ruleset for your game is not only a way to make the game safe and win the approval of local authorities - it's the backbone that makes a game fun and playable. Zombies need guidelines for when and how they can tag humans, and humans need to know when and where they're safe from tags. Design a ruleset that will allow you to run a game that won't get out of control and will allow all the players to play creatively within a structured game.
Consider not only safety issues and the area you'll be playing, but also the goals you have for the game and the way you plan for the game to be played. Rule sets cover issues like stun timers, what counts as an acceptable tag, how much time tagged players have between their tag and their re-entry into the game, how much participation they can have during that time (whether they can provide information to either side), where players can shoot from and where zombies can "door dive," what kind of dart blasters are allowed, safe zones and no-play zones, and more interpretive rules like the "douchebag clause" and general expectations for how players should conduct themselves.
Main page: Mission Design
Missions are activities that the moderators assign to players. Planning intricate missions makes the game more fun and more intense, and missions prevent the humans from hiding in their rooms for days at a time. Missions can be almost anything for the humans or zombies to do, but generally break down into five categories: point defense, item retrieval, escort, puzzle, or assassination.
Planning missions is one of the most fun and creative things you get to do as moderator, and it's also really fun to see what kind of loopholes and twists the players find to use. Give players strategic choices, but not so many choices that you can't anticipate how the mission will turn out and plan for a small number of possible outcomes.
"Once we planned a mission where the humans had to rescue a target who we described in an e-mail as, 'the man in the red shirt.' Before the humans could arrive, the zombies tagged a human who leaked the mission. The zombies got there first, and to confuse the humans, they dressed up a zombie in a red shirt and red bandana, and had him wait as a decoy for the humans. When the humans arrived, they immediately went to rescue the zombie decoy before the REAL 'man in the red shirt' ever arrived. The zombies got a huge advantage in that battle from their man behind the human lines." - Goucher mod Max Temkin
Each mission should have a reward for completion, and a penalty for not showing up or for failure. Creating these rewards and penalties without unbalancing the game is one of the most difficult tasks for the mods. Depending on the mission, you may or may not want to tell the humans about the rewards and penalties in advance. Obviously missions work best if they are customized for your game.
Keep missions as simple as possible, and be explicitly clear with players about any rules or mechanics specific to the mission. For example, if the zombies will have a "respawn point" instead of a stun timer during the mission, make sure all human and zombie players fully understand how the respawn point will work and when it will take effect. There will always be questions, confusion and disputes during a mission, so make sure that all the mods are in constant communication during missions and are all in agreement about the rules, mechanics and goals of each mission before it begins.
When working on a mission, be creative and work collaboratively to come up with the most challenging and fun mission you can. Don't get too attached to an idea - always be willing to improve on something or abandon an element that's causing problems. Imagine what the mission might look like given every possible scenario, including how many players show up and what decisions the players make, then walk through a plan for the mods to deal with every variation of the mission. Missions should be difficult enough to be fun, but not so impossible that disaster is inevitable and players get frustrated.
For a list of some of the best Humans vs. Zombies missions, check out the [Mission Directory].
Writing a Plot
Main page: Plot Design
Making a story for your game of HvZ is entirely optional, but brings the experience to a whole new level for some players. For the moderators, this is usually a fun, creative part of planning a game. Part of the benefit of the plot is that it establishes "characters" for the mods that explain why they know more than the players and are in charge of enforcing the rules. It also sets up "characters" for the human players. For example, the mods might be heads of a research laboratory and the players might be scientists hired by the lab, or the mods might be some sort of military officers and the humans might be members of a militia being trained by them.
"Players are going to make stories about the game. They make Facebook posts, blog entries, YouTube videos. They invent themselves within the game. If you can provide content for that, you make it a more immersive environment. The key is tying the plot into the game itself. The plot links the missions together. Otherwise the missions are just a way to force the humans outside, it becomes an arbitrary, 'Go outside and kill yourselves.'" - Cody Sumter, Truman State
Games at Goucher College have featured a meteor infested with alien microbes that transform students into zombies. At UMass, students battle "LazarusCorp," a crooked mega-corporation running experiments on campus. Other schools have played with stories which feature secret government agencies and ancient Indian curses. For a list of some of the best Humans vs. Zombies plots, check out the Plot Directory.
While you plan your game and especially while the game is running, it's important to keep all game information a secret from players. It's up to you whether to keep the plot a secret or use it in advertising materials, but things like mission specifics should be kept entirely under wraps. Leaking information too early can affect the outcome of the mission, as well as diminish the fun element of surprise. Don't tell anyone who isn't a moderator - players or non-players - any sensitive game-related information. Mods should all be in agreement about what information is allowed to be shared and what should be kept secret.
When planning missions, always remember that the zombies will have opportunities to get intelligence on human missions by tagging a human. No matter how hard you try, humans will be tagged and they will leak mission information to the zombies. Account for this in your mission planning. Some schools give mission information out at the last minute, to give the zombies as little chance as possible get the scoop. Before each mission begins, all mods should be clear on what information to give to the humans and the zombies. During the mission, things might take an unexpected turn and the mods might decide to give more or new information to players. In that case, it's crucial to make sure that all mods understand what the new information is and that all the players are clearly informed.