You think you know a little something about a genre, then you uncover a fact that turns everything on it’s ear. Here’s a little sample:
In 1968, John A. Russo and George A. Romero pioneered a new genre in film with Night of the Living Dead, generally accepted to be the progenitor of the Zombie Survival Horror genre. In addition, this was the first instance of the word zombie being used to describe the shambling risen corpses we understand zombies to be today. Prior to Night of the Living Dead, zombies were mindless victims of voodoo ritual tetrodotoxin poisoning. Due to an error in crediting, Russo and Romero’s movie was considered public domain and quickly imitated by other writers and directors.
So what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that the entire concept had already been done five years earlier by, and this is the God’s Honest Truth my gnomish friends, The Smurfs. The first Smurfs comic book, published in French in 1963 contained the story Les Schtroumpfs Noirs, or The Black Smurfs. The comic, which was adapted to the hit cartoon series as The Purple Smurfs in 1982, hit on every element of Night of the Living Dead’s formula closely enough, that one might wonder if Romero or Russo were influenced by the comic prior to making Night of the Living Dead.
I’ll give that a moment to sink in. – The Zombie Survival Horror genre wasn’t created by Russo and Romero with Night of the Living Dead as it is commonly attributed, but by Peyo Culliford with The Black Smurfs.
Now, I’m tempted to just let all that stand on it’s own, a “Holy Shit! You have GOT to know this!” moment, but this is supposed to be a GMing article, so I have to throw in some way to relate this to your game or Martin will do his own Black Smurf imitation on my sorry blue tail.
1) First, I dare you to pitch a Zombie Survival Horror one-shot to your group as “Based on the original source material of the Zombie Survival Horror genre…” and then completely sucker-punch them by setting it in Smurf Village with pre-gened smurfs to play, maybe even some of the cannon characters. Hell, why not? If you do, I beg of you, come back and tell the world how it went. Inquiring minds want to know.
2) If you’ve got the time, it never hurts to research your source material as deeply as you can. You’re under no obligation to use any part of what you uncover that you don’t like (This is your game after all) but what you uncover may well be burried treasure.
3) Going against type has the potential to be a powerful tool. Much like the Smurf Unicef commercial (Youtube it), the fact that The Smurfs are so happy and idealistic adds dramatically to the impact of a zombie apocalypse.
4) Bizarre is memorable. If you want to be the guy who ran a game that 45 years from now, people think back and say “Holy Crap, can you believe he ran the game where…” taking a lesson from the Smurf Zombie Survival Horror comic and foraging straight into unbelievable territory will do you more good than harm. Even if you completely flub the game, people are going to remember what you tried to do.
Since this is relatively unbelievable, here are some sources:
Zombie Apocalypse entry at TVtropes. Do a find in page for Smurf.
The Black Smurfs at Wikipedia.
You can see a sample of the original comic, at ToplessRobot. Scroll to the #1 spot on the “most disturbing smurfs” list.
An episode guide for the smurfs cartoon at Bluebuddies. The Purple Smurfs is episode #23.