Post Apocalypse Rpg GMing Tips

by Silveressa

Here’s a few tips that can make a good zombie or other post apocalypse game a great one, and keep the group coming back (from the dead?) for more.

Avoid repetition when scavenging

Keep the setting fresh and moving without sinking into a repetition of events. Raiding a gas station or grocery store for supplies will be fun and suspenseful the first few times, but after that the players will have a pretty good idea what to expect and begin to lose interest.

The best way to keep them from getting bored is to make sure there’s never such a thing as “just another store” when they need to scavenge for supplies. Mix up weather, terrain, the state of the building and other threats, from a pack of wild dogs to structural damage threatening to dump part of the first floor into the basement. If each looting encounter  differs enough,  everyone will maintain interest.

Gloss over unimportant scavenging and only focus on the events if they directly matter to the adventure at hand or would be otherwise unique and different from the norm. If you know there are no zombies, bandits, or other threats inside the gas station, there’s really no sense role-playing through the encounter. Just summarize what they got from the looting and move on with the adventure to keep pacing and excitement high.

Family Matters

Unless the PCs are orphans with the personalities of dead fish, they’ll likely have family and friends they’re worried about. In the beginning of the game during character creation, ask every player to list 4-6 people they consider important family or friends. This gives characters a great chance  to connect to each other, and provides plenty of adventure hook opportunities.

Are Safe Zones Safe?

Safe havens, safe zones – whatever they wish to be called – the enemy free areas are often either a destination or stop over point the group deals with at some point. Use these  for adventure opportunities.

Other survivors can generate interesting encounters. They might take offense at the player group heading for “their rightful sanctuary.” They might also be trying to loot the same store for needed supplies.

Give the safe zone a limited capacity. Perhaps the safe haven has just enough supplies for X amount of people. What will the PCs do about any extra NPCs in their group there isn’t room for?

Also worth considering is if this safe zone is already occupied by other unsavory types unwilling to let the group join them, despite there being enough room or supplies.

Da' Vane

Excellent tips, but these apply to every game, not just post-apocalypse games.

The quote “just another store” reminds me of numerous quotes from fantasy games, including a memorable one from Knights of the Dinner Table in which Brian states “There is always a cave,” when the group decide they wand to ignore the GMs adventure and go for some old-school looting and monster bashing in the wilderness.

Repetition is the bane of any campaign, and the idea is to take everything meaningful and create ways to make it different – or at least potentially different. Repetition also works as one of the greatest types of narrative principle, mainly by establishing a routine that serves to lull the PCs into a false sense of security when the inevitable plot twist comes along.

Thus, when you look at your game and what you are doing, consider what things are routine and how they can be shaken up. The excitement of the first few times doing routine things is because you don’t realise they are routine.

Survival horror works best when even the routine is handled with the same detail as an exciting combat encounter or chase scene. Anything could happen, so players and PCs are wary, waiting for that anything, as their own imaginations turn against them.

One of the best examples of this was a horror game I ran where the PCs were all children about 10 years old, and decided to go and play in the woods. They came across an abandoned house in the woods, which they proceeded to explore. It was all fairly mundane – the abandoned rooms, the dusty furniture, the torn up photos of old people, and they generally had fun messing around, poking, and exploring. The entire house was normal, empty, and more or less boring.

All except for one room in the centre of the house, accessible through the basement. A secret room. Having lured the PCs (and the players) into a false sense of security, they discovered this room to find that it was actually covered in blood and full of bodies killed in gruesome ways. Suddenly, this ordinary abandoned house wasn’t so ordinary any more, and they couldn’t get out of there quick enough. Everyone remembers that house, although by all accounts, the action and adventure content of it was extremely low, without a single combat.

Avoid repetition, or failing that, use it. Regardless of genre, don’t let your PCs get in to a routine.


    Excellent advice and an interesting anecdote, thanks for sharing!

Bubba William

These are excellent tips! I’m sending this article to our local DM. We recently switched games and he has no clue how to take of things outside classic D&D.

Thanks for the tips.


    I’m glad your group finds them useful, if you gm has any specific questions tell him to feel free to ask.

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