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Oh, it's such a perfect day...

These are the end-times.
There was no hope of survival.
This is how you died.
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Project Zomboid is an isometric real-time zombie survival Western RPG being developed for PC by The Indie Stone, a British and Canadian team of four developers. It takes inspiration from games like Survival Crisis Z and XCOM. The team was at first known for having extremely bad luck as it rushed to meet the schedule to release a demo in 2011. On 8th November, 2013, the game secured an Early Access launch on Steam, and it remains actively worked on in Early Access to this day. In December 2021 it received a major update reimplementing online multiplayer, which gave it a significant resurgence in popularity.

The game was initially set in a fictionalised version of Muldraugh, Kentucky; a small town by the side of a highway which includes a number of businesses, a large logging camp, some light industry, and various classes of housing. It has since expanded to a detailed simulation of the whole county circa 1993, large enough to require vehicles to realistically travel from one end to another. There's also a day-night cycle, a cycle of seasons, and even a simulation of nature slowly taking over the abandoned areas. Farming, trapping, fishing, carpentry, cooking, character customization, skills and perks are all present; moreover, your character can also be afflicted with depression, boredom, hunger, thirst and illness as they try to survive. And of course, the game also simulates swarms of zombies that potentially number in the hundreds, and possess detailed visual and hearing systems to make sneaking past them a tough, but fair challenge.

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Compare and contrast with Dead State, a different take on a zombie Western RPG from an indie developer, with less simulation but more focus on the story and Turn-Based Combat.

This game contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Ineffective Barricade: Played With and might be either a case of Surprisingly Realistic Outcome or simply your low skills.
    • Furniture can be put between you and possible avenues of incoming zombies. Depending on how and what is placed and at what density, you might stop a few stragglers, or they'll just clamber over the "barricade", possibly breaking it in the process.
    • Low Carpentry combined with shoddy maintenance means your walls and barricades probably won't last long against the hordes.
    • A single board in a window will draw more zombies than it can stop. Either board up properly or suffer the consequences.
    • Whilst it's possible to use cars as a makeshift barricade, most zombies will just crawl under them unless there's some other kind of blockage on the far side.
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  • Acid Reflux Nightmare: Going to sleep with a excessively full stomach has a chance of causing the player to wake up early with both the panic and anxious moodles.
  • Action Survivor: All player characters start out unskilled and unequipped, with no more advantages than some basic professional training. The only exception to this is the Veteran, who has experienced enough combat that nothing fazes them anymore.
  • Aerosol Flamethrower: The Engineer profession comes with several recipes for turning household cruft into tactical saviors, and hairspray is one. Rather than the traditional flamethrower, however, the Engineer makes an incendiary bomb out of spray, sparklers, and aluminum foil.
  • Afraid of Blood: One of the negative traits (hemophobic) makes the survivor become increasingly stressed when covered in blood.
  • A.K.A.-47: Firearm names in general, and pistols in particular, are clearly stand-ins for real-life models. Some are close enough to their real name you might not even notice it's this trope in action.
  • All-or-Nothing Reloads: Averted. Maybe not in the case of magical reloading of semi-automatic pistols in "Easy" mode, but otherwise any activity involving ammunition can be interrupted by sprinting, then continued later with little or no redundancy.
  • And Then What?: Once you survive initial phase of the game, successfully make it through the helicopter event, barricaded both the area of your choice and the house you want to live in, stockpile supplies, set up a garden, rain-catchers and security measures, haul all the tools and objects you will need... there isn't much left to do other than just keep living, doing set of repetitive actions to stay fed, hydrated, and sane. And all of this can be achieved in less than a month in-game. While there are routine complaints about it from the player-base, this is an intended feature by the devs - the struggle with ennui that comes from making it alive through the troubled start.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: In most cases, this is how you died. You can even sit there and watch yourself stumble around looking for more brains, if you want.
  • Anti-Grinding: The effectiveness of skill grinding has varied somewhat over the game's history, as the developers have tried to make up their minds how difficult it should be for one character to be good at everything. Currently, most skill-building actions provide only small amounts of XP, so those skills are very slow to train unless you've got an XP multiplier going, either from your starting occupation or traits, or by reading a how-to book.
  • Arbitrary Gun Power:
    • Among handguns, the M36 revolver, chambered in .38 Special is more powerful than the M9 pistol, chambered in 9x19mm, likely to compensate for the revolver's low capacity and reloading time. This also happens with other revolvers and the semiautomatic pistols using the same caliber. Some handguns also do more damage than the MSR700 chambered in .223 Remington
    • When it comes to rifles, the extremely rare M16 (with similiarly rare 5.56 ammo) originally did massive amounts of damage due to some testing settings not being changed before the update was released.
  • Artificial Stupidity: While this is a Zombie Apocalypse game, the AI isn't just representing a mindless horde, but also genuinely struggle with proper pathfinding. There is handful of exploit-like survival tips (mostly regarding specific shapes of barricades, their distance to each other and placement) rendering AI not incapable, but unwilling to attack your base or its barricades, as it will be unable to plot a path there. Those might be a veiled homage to Dawn of the Dead (1978), but the far more likely option is simply broken AI.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • The sledgehammer, at least as far as being a weapon. It deals massive damage but its weight makes it impractical to carry around. Its main use is to break down walls and doors, and it is the only way to access some locations and hidden loot.
    • Metal reinforcements and barricades. Sure, they are more durable than walls built out of planks, but materials are rarer and unrenewable (whereas nature ensures a steady supply of wood via tree growth), and it takes an exotic, relatively hard to raise skill. Meanwhile Carpentry can be raised to level 8 just by watching TV and reading books during first few days and helps around with variety of applications other than barricades. Most importantly, while metal-based barricades are more durable, it doesn't make them unbreakable. And last, but not least, if you park cars in front of your barricades, they can be the crappiest ad-hoc barricade and they will be still inaccessible to zombies, offering perfect protection at a fraction of materials and skills needed.
    • Generators. They provide you with electricity that you don't really need for anything. The only application they have is keeping your car's battery charged and keeping freezers running. The first one is pure emergency, the second is completely pointless as long as you aren't hoarding food you can't eat nor preserve (which after first few months means you are either overhunting or overfishing). Every other use is either pure gimmick or pointless luxury, while still requiring the considerable effort and logistics to keep the generator going.
  • An Axe to Grind: Getting your first axe can be a transcendent experience in Zomboid. Not only is it a sublime weapon, it's superb for battering down locked doors and almost required for felling trees for your lumber and carpentry.
  • Back from the Brink: On a meta level. The game was the butt of jokes about unfinished projects and with steadily shrinking playerbase and fandom over the years. Then build 41 came out, first as beta and then as a mainline. Result? The number of active players tripled, with both old users returning and new ones joining the fray, making the game more played than it ever was before. It is still unfinished, though, but at least can be enjoyed even in such a state thanks to the massive overhaul.
  • Back Stab: The tutorial helpfully teaches you that most short blades have access to a unique backstab attack that, if successful, immediately kills the zombie it's used on. Unfortunately this is only available to certain short blade weapons, is only indicated by your character raising their offhand, and comes with a chance of the weapon getting stuck in the wound.
  • Batter Up!: The baseball bat is one of the best Blunt weapons. Add nails for extra damage but reduced durability.
  • Big "NO!": The demo character gets one if the raider shoots his wife.
  • Blade on a Stick: One of the most primal examples of the polearm, since Chipped Stone + Tree Branch = Wooden Spear. It's as frail as a handmade spear would be, but it boasts a high critical chance and excellent range.
  • Book Dumb: Given enough time (and a LOT of grinding) it is possible even for an illiterate survivor to master most of the skills.
  • Booze-Based Buff: Alcohol can substitute for painkillers, anti-depressants, sleeping pills, and beta-blockers. However, drinking too much will make the player drunk, and mess up coordination.
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • The "end game". Technically there is no such thing, but if you choose to play for maximum survivability it's feasible to set up a sustainable, well-fortified life for yourself where risky scavenging is a thing of the past. You can stay inside, only needing to clear stray zombies from your walls every few weeks. This monotony of farming and water purifying can go on indefinitely.
    • Stomping on downed zombies. While it can take up to dozen hits to kill a single zombie, it will let you save weapon durability and ammo.
    • If only your point budget allows it, getting just about any hobby trait carries your long-term survival a long way. If you start the game with at least a single point in any given skill, it retains a big bonus to experience gain, which in turn makes reaching high levels far easier and feasible. This is particularly important with First Aid and especially Aiming, since there are limited opportunities to train them in the first place, and Aiming doesn't even have a book to help with experience gain. Of course hobby traits won't replace an actual professional competence, but they still give a massive edge.
    • In previous builds, the Park Ranger profession. While it didn't help with combat or barricading, given how much it rains in Knox County, the weather resistance actually came in pretty handy. Now Park Ranger just gives you a moderate bonus to Foraging and Trapping and a small boost to Carpentry, plus increased movement speed in forests, which is still great, especially in the mid/late game.
    • The lumberjack profession. While it lacks the above entry's bonus to Carpentry and Foraging, it makes up for it with an extra point to Axe and Strength, in addition to costing no trait point. With these bonuses, you can create a max-strength melee fighter who can chop down hordes of zombies at the start of the game.
    • The Fire Officer profession gives you a boost to your fitness and carrying capacity with no traits points malus, allowing you to make a well-rounded character who can easily change gears in survival strategy.
    • The Veteran profession gives you a decent boost to strength and firearms accuracy, but the big draw is a unique perk called "Desensitized", which essentially makes you immune to the entire panic system from the outset. Normally, panic is a huge part of the game, especially if you face off against loads of zombies (though this does get better over time). You can take beta blockers to make panic go down, but they're in limited supply and the effects are temporary as well. Panic ruins your accuracy with all weapons but particularly with guns. With the Veteran profession, it becomes functionally possible to face off against a horde of dozens of zombies while using a pistol, and calmly pick them off one at a time.
    • Sledgehammers - not as a weapon, but in base construction. A lot of attention goes to building defensive walls out of wood, or even metal, but all constructed walls can be worn down by zombies over time, and a large enough horde can reduce them to matchwood in minutes. How can you easily build a zombie-proof base? Simply find a two-story building, drop a sheet rope out a window, then use the sledgehammer to destroy the stairs (make sure you do it in that order). Zombies can't climb, so you can rest easy on the second floor. The one catch is that zombies can knock down sheet ropes, so if you leave your base you might not be able to get back in: make sure to hide an emergency sheet rope inside secured by a barricaded door. If you want a permanent, self-sustaining base, find a two story building with access to a wide, flat roof (like a warehouse or hotel second floor), so you can set up rain collector barrels and plant crops.
    • Iron Sights. There are few different scopes you can install on your rifles, that greatly extend maximum range of the gun (beyond what you can normally even see) and completely whack your aim up close... or use the humble Iron Sights, that simply extend your maximum range slightly without any trade-offs.
    • Log walls, also known as stockade. They start at 400 HP and gain +50 per your Carpentry level (so max out at 900). They require no skills to make them, barely any materials to build other than fallen trees and some rope (for which sheets will do). Neither wooden wallsnote  nor metal fencesnote  provide anything even remotely close to that level of protection and are very skill-sensitive to make them even worth building in the first place.
    • Among firearms, a humble M9 Pistol is by far the best all-around weapons, despite being Master of None. It's the average of all its stats that makes it so great: 15-round mag (and having a mag in the first place), commonplace ammo, common weapon by itself, and being 2nd most silent gun in the game. Loading and unloading its magazines, due to how common they and their ammo are, is also one of the easiest ways of rising Reloading. There are better, more flashy guns out there, but nothing comes close to the boring reliability of this weapon.
  • Born Lucky: A trait. Picking it will increase the likelihood of valuable items spawning in containers and on zombies, and boosts repair success rolls.
  • Born Unlucky: A disadvantage you can have, which makes you find worse gear and have worse chances of repairing things.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: The Antique Oven is a 19th century wood-burning oven and is one of the rarest ovens in the game. It also has several advantages over regular electric ovens such as not requiring access to power, never starting a fire and being able to keep a base warm.
  • Bulletproof Vest: It's possible to wear one, and it's very useful, providing a lot of protection to the torso (including full protection from bullets). Unfortunely, that's the extent of it's coverage, and you can't repair it.
  • Burn the Undead: Zombies can be killed by conventional combat, although there is at least an implication that it takes Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain. Still, only fire can completely get rid of them, because Everything Fades is averted (outside of custom sandbox). Used-zombie disposal means starting a fire and hoping you can convince it to consume the zombie bodies you're bored with, without spreading to the structures you still want to loot or sleep in. Even then the cremated remains will stick around for a while longer.
  • Call to Agriculture: Settling down on a farm and growing crops is not only a totally viable playstyle but is also highly encouraged as it is essential for long-term survival.
  • Catch Your Death of Cold: Characters can contract the cold if they're soaking wet for long enough (whether from rain or sweating), or by staying out in very cold weather for long enough. Even if a cold clears quickly, it's a pain in the backside to handle, because all that coughing and sneezing will gather a whole bunch of zombies on you. One challenge even has you start with a nasty cold, on top of a bad wound, your house on fire, and all in the dead of winter.
  • Character Customization: With twenty occupations, more than fifty traits (positive and negative), and twenty skills to train and use in-game, you've got a lot of room to make characters that play very differently from one another. Maybe you can't even run to the end of the block without needing to catch your breath, but you can read how-to books in half the time and don't need to eat much. Specialization is encouraged by most skills being very slow to train unless you get an XP multiplier on them from somewhere.
  • Chef of Iron: It is possible for the Survivor to be a former cook which provides a bonus to the cooking skill.
  • Chubby Chef: An overweight/obese Survivor with the Chef occupation is this.
  • Comfort Food: Certain foods such as sweets, junk food and meals cooked from various fresh ingredients help to relieve unhappiness and boredom much better than fulfilling actual hunger.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Survivors who are former war veterans are completely immune to becoming panicked. In addition, with every passing month all Survivors grow increasingly desensitized to zombies meaning that it will take many more zombies to make them panic.
  • Continuing is Painful:
    • If your character dies, you can begin another on the same map - without any skills or inventory, at a random point on the map.
    • You might end up getting attacked by your dead characters, if said world is not deleted.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: Zig-zagged, much like any zombie apocalypse. Surviving the first few days is easy enough if you just avoid zombies and go for easier food sources. It gets worse after a few months, when you've exhausted pre-existing food supplies, then the electricity and water cut off. But if you manage to survive several months, by the point you've got a self-sustaining base and you're growing your own crops, you're pretty well set to keep going indefinitely.
  • Crapsack World: And not just for your character. The game is unwinnable by design: "These are the end-times. There was no hope of survival. This is how you died." At least you can't say you weren't warned.
    • After the "Erosion" mod was incorporated into the game, the sack gets even crappier as time passes, with weeds growing, walls cracking, and pavement flaking gradually.
  • Crazy Survivalist: The raiders in the tech demo. You can be this as well.
  • Critical Encumbrance Failure: Averted. While reaching your maximum weight capacity with only a few grams of nails can lower your stamina effectively, the actual weight limit where you literally start breaking your back is roughly double that weight.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Averted, as sufficient health loss will reduce your carrying capacity, and injury to the limbs will impair any action with them. The pain will further penalize your speed and combat ability.
  • Crowbar Combatant: Until the pick-up and place modes for furnishings were added, crowbars actually had no use besides combat. Now they can also be used for stockpiling floor tiles, but they still make pretty good head-bashers.
  • Darkness Equals Death: A night or in dark areas your cone of vision is narrowed making it much more likely for you to be jumped by a Zombie. Note that this penalty stacks with the "Tired" moodle which can drop your vision down to something like 20 degrees.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Implied. Reading porno mags significantly reduces boredom and unhappiness. In addition, it is possible to find secret stashes of porno mags alongside tissues.
  • The Dead Have Eyes: Despite being walking corpses zombies can still see you so staying out of their line-of-sight is important. Also downplayed as zombies can’t see as far as the average survivor. Their sight is also deteriorating over time, too.
  • Defog of War: The darkness of night can make exploration extremely hazardous, especially indoors after the power goes out. There are various solutions for raising light levels, both stationary and portable, ranging from cigarette lighters to jury-rigged lampposts. Another example of defog would be taking beta blocker pills to counteract the loss of peripheral vision that comes with panic.
  • Disposable Woman: Kate Smith, the demo character's wife, can survive the scenario (and, in fact, be perfectly fine aside from the leg injury), depending on the player's actions... but plays no further role in the story either way.
  • Deadline News: With the addition of radio and TV reports this became inevitable. Kentucky News Radio broadcasts this twice, once when the quarantine is overrun by thousands of undead, a second time when the station is attacked directly.
  • Developers' Foresight:
    • In the demo scenario, leaving the oven on while you run off to listen to the radio will result in your house burning down.
    • Merely nailing boards over a window does not block all visibility through it, you need to cover up the gaps with either a curtain or a sheet.
    • Water can be drawn from anything with a tap (kitchen sink, bathtub, etc.) and can be stored in any empty container, be it a plastic bottle or a cooking pot.
    • Running water can be supplied even after the waterworks are shut off by building a rain catcher directly over a sinknote .
    • You can die from consuming sleeping pills with alcohol.
  • Devoured by the Horde: Zig-zagged. Because zombies tend to gather into groups and are attracted by noises, there's a good chance that you will die via a horde cornering you, especially if you're trapped in a building and can't escape. However, by default an infected player reanimates with a few in-game minutes, in practice the zombies will only spend a few moments chewing on your corpse before you stand up and join the horde.
  • Do Not Run with a Gun: Ironically, running with a gun is encouraged, if one attempts to redirect the horde away from your camp. Popping a shot is enough to alert the entire horde to the direction where the gun fired.
    • Some lighter weapons, such as a pistol, are recommended to make this plan successful. Anything heavier like a shotgun also works, so long as you're not encumbered.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Eating a cooked frozen meal has an unhappiness value -18 meaning that it is almost as bad for the Survivor as eating a raw cockroach (which has an unhappiness value of -20).
  • Downer Beginning: You start off the demo scenario with your things stolen, no food, a wife with a broken leg, and zombies everywhere.
  • Downer Ending: Since the game is endless, there’s no chance of rescue or a game win screen; you will die eventually, and only then will the game truly end.
  • The Dreaded: The infamous helicopter. It's single-handedly the biggest killer of people who survived the first two weeks of the game and the greatest risk for your base even if you survive the event itself.
  • Dressed in Layers: It is possible to wear multiple layers of clothing. Doing so has its positives and negatives. On one hand, wearing several layers of clothing offers better protection from being bitten and scratched by zombies as well as help to stay warm during winter. On the other, this increases the chance of the survivor sweating and even overheating.
  • Drop the Hammer: You can fight with several flavours of hammers, from basic clawhammers to heavy duty sledgehammers. All are essential for more hammery tasks, but they can also make productive holes in zombie skulls.
  • Dying as Yourself: As long as you die without being bitten or get killed by an explosion, you won't reanimate.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: The game is littered with these. Knowing that you're infected and running out onto the street to die in a blaze of glory are fun parts of the game.
  • Early Game Hell: Played With. On one hand, supplies are at their peak, services are still on (including even the TV) and you can live first week or so just eating looted sandwiches people made for themselves. On the other, you are a complete schmuck who aside some hobby knowledge and job training has zero practical skills and while supplies are plentiful, you must first get them for yourself and secure some position before there are hordes everywhere. Can be also enforced by various pre-set conditions, which will make early game significantly harder, with or without the option it will get easier later on.
  • Emergency Broadcast: There are hourly automated emergency broadcasts you can tune into via radios if you find the frequency (be it by luck or finding a radio already tuned to it). Mostly they serve to give you the forecast for today and tomorrow's weather, along with a warning for rougher weather like heavy thunderstorms within the next week or so. But it can also tip you off to the Helicopter arriving that day, and forecasts power and water going out. Finding the emergency broadcast frequency early can save your life. Oh, and it serves to occasionally broadcast cryptic messages about suspicious activity or communication failures in the 'exclusion zone', but these seem to have no impact on the game right now.
  • Empty Room Psych: Occasionally, you will find a garage, shipping container, or something that has no windows or doors you can open the easy or hard way. If you come along with a sledgehammer, however, you'll be able to crack that baby open and find the sweet shelves and crates inside. Just don't expect them to hold loot any better than the other random loot you've found everywhere else. Except for the gun shop.
  • Endless Game: Well, endless in that the game doesn't end until you die. In some early releases the game was not technically endless because you could not keep yourself fed and hydrated without scavenging, and theoretically you could strip the entire map. (The size of the map makes this an unlikely feat.) However, now that food can come from farming, fishing and trapping, while water can come from rain-catching and boiling groundwater, setting up a lifestyle that is well-protected and fully self-sustainable is entirely feasible.
  • End of an Age: No matter how much the player tries to preserve it, modern civilization is gone for good. Nearly all of the modern items you find in the game do not replenish, meaning that they will inevitably disappear once you play long enough. Those that survive the apocalypse will invariably be forced back to a simpler lifestyle.
  • Equipment-Based Progression: Zomboid does not play this as straight as "you need this item to advance to the next act of the plot", because there is no plot. Nevertheless, certain tools act as "gatekeepers" for segments of gameplay. You need a screwdriver for electronics and gun modding; a fishing rod to fish; a trowel to plow for farming; and an axe, saw, and hammer to take full advantage of Carpentry. The straightest use of the trope would be the sledgehammer, as there are some structures that simply cannot be looted unless you can destroy one of the walls.
  • Even the Rats Won't Touch It: While stale food can be used as bait for traps it is impossible to use rotten food for that purpose.
  • Everything Fades: Averted to a great extent. Bodies will remain on the map until they gradually decay, leaving skeletons behind which will never disappear unless taken, and rain will eventually wash away any outdoor bloodstains. This provides a visual record of the player's exploits that is either gratifying or galling, depending on how you feel about undead carcasses and gore in your path. (Also don't forget, each corpse is a moveable mini-container, if you're really that desperate to organize junk.) Loose items left on the ground for more than a couple of ingame days will also be deleted if no players are around.
    • Is played straight as of build 41. Corpses are deleted after 274 hours to reduce the clutter and improve performance. However that's just the default, it's possible to make this longer (or shorter) in the sandbox settings.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Like Dwarf Fortress and many other survival games, you already lost the game by the time you played it. Since the game is endless, there is no hope of any rescue and you will die eventually, despite your best efforts.
  • Fatal Fireworks: Americans in northern states might have been excited by the prospect of exploiting Kentucky's more lax pyrotechnics laws, but alas there are only sparklers available. (Non-American readers, see the other wiki for details of terminology and regulation.) However, if you happen to be of the Engineer profession, those sparklers can become the fuses of incendiary bombs, with hairspray as the fuel.
  • Fat Idiot: A Survivor with the "obese", "slow learner" and "illiterate" traits is this.
  • Fog of War: Zomboid uses a sophisticated line-of-sight lighting system to prevent the bird's-eye view of the action from being an unrealistic advantage. The sense of hearing is subtly accounted for, but nonetheless the profusion of opaque obstructions inside buildings—to say nothing of a dense forest—adds to the suspense considerably. Especially at night.
  • Fork Fencing: Flatware is always available to drive into zombie eye sockets, if you dare to get that close. Just don't expect to get more than one shot with any given fork.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: You'll probably want to use it for "small animal meat" stir-fry most of the time, but in a pinch a frying pan can crush zombie skulls as well as any other tool you can wield.
  • Functional Addict: It is possible for the Survivor to be addicted to smoking with the "Smoker" trait. However, the only negative consequence of this is that the Survivor gets anxious after not smoking for awhile and it is relatively easy to maintain a steady supply of cigarettes as cigarette packs occasionally spawn on zombie corpses and can be frequently found in gas stations or bars. Because of this many Project Zomboid players consider the "Smoker" negative trait to be one of the most forgiving.
  • Game Gourmet:
    • The game features a wide variety of food and drinks. In addition, the game features the ability to use various ingredients to cook a large variety of meals such as soups, stews, stir-fries, cakes, pies, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, sushi, fruit/vegetable salads, pancakes, muffins, onion rings, fried shrimp, pickled vegetables, omelettes, pasta, rice and more.
    • Some mods take this even further by adding additional recipes such as pizzas, fries, corndogs, sundaes, waffles, sauerkraut, kimchi, lemonade, kvas, wine, moonshine, pickles, dried meats, fish and fruit. In fact, one of the most popular mods, Gourmet Revolution, is dedicated entirely to expanding food variety, both in terms of ingredients and what sort of recipes you can get, adding massive variety to both and also offering new means to preserve food.
  • Game Mod: The game is pretty moddable, and a lot of documentation is available if you know where to look, so there's bucketloads of them! Want to make it so the infection is actually survivable if you take care of yourself? There's a mod for that. More guns and armour? There's mods for that. Hardcore survival modes, like permanent winter with below-freezing temperature 24/7? There's mods for that, too. Everything from basic Quality-of-Life to significant gameplay switchups are on the table. Some of them have even been implemented as official features, such as the Erosion mod; the dev was hired onto the team and their first project was to make it a full part of the game!
  • Gateless Ghetto: Justified in that the town was under quarantine. As the game went on, the infection spread, the quarantine lines either expanded outward or were overrun, and more areas of the map became open for player exploration. The "standard" Knox Country map in current builds has no real perimeter restrictions, though getting into Louisville proper does require breaching the local quarantine/checkpoints, which span the whole length between the river and the edge of the map.
  • Ghost Town: In the original map the town was fairly heavily populated with NPCs at the start of the outbreak, but the vast majority of them would die in the first few days and the rest would hole up and hide, leaving the streets deathly quiet. In current builds Knox Country is devoid of non-zombie NPCs, leading to Louisville being a Ghost City (save for the shambling masses), though NPCs are planned for reintroduction soon.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Grabbing a shotgun usually only happens when you are completely desperate, since the sound of the single shot will attract everything in the radius of 200 tiles to your location. But if a horde is already at you, there is nothing to lose. After all, shotguns can hit multiple zombies with a single shot, making them exceedingly ammo-efficient.
  • Golf Clubbing: Golf clubs are okay, but they can't beat a baseball bat for pure zombie-smashing effect.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The US government manages to successfully isolate Knox County and prevent any information about the situation there from reaching the outside world… which leaves the rest of the world woefully unprepared once the Knox Infection starts spreading across the globe, causing complete societal collapse.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Players can break glass bottles to use as weapons in a pinch.
  • Guide Dang It!: Further made worse thanks to Tutorial Failure. Either you dedicate some extra time to read online guides and/or the wiki, or you might never figure out certain mechanics, most of which are the basis of your day-to-day survival.
  • Handicapped Badass: It's a rule of character creation that all handicapped characters are this, for a certain definition of badass at least. Picking negative traits that qualify as disabilities generally give you a ton of positive trait points to compensate, with deaf giving you the most points of any negative trait in the game, but good luck figuring out there is a horde banging at your front door or you started an alarm.
  • Hassle-Free Hotwire: Zigzagged. It's possible to hotwire vehicles without any tools, but this requires either starting as a Burglar or having a modest level of skill in both Mechanics and Electronics. On the other hand, hotwiring has a chance to fail - which means you definitely don't want to be trying to hotwire a vehicle in a life-or-death emergency. Given that a lot of cars can also start without any gas in their tanks, jumping in a random car and trying to hotwire it when you need to make a getaway is an easy way to end up dead when just sprinting away would have saved you.
  • Heal It with Booze: When the First Aid system was added, disinfecting flesh wounds became rather important. If you can't find household disinfectant or sealed alcohol swabs, whiskey will do. Drinking it can also provide some small pain relief. It's also useful for lifting your sadness or making a Molotov Cocktail.
  • Heal Thyself: Although there is no instant health, you can still treat injuries by bandaging them and getting plenty of food and rest while waiting for them to heal naturally, occasionally popping a painkiller as needed. With later updates came more detailed medicine and a dedicated First Aid skill to develop. The injury-prone survivor has disinfectants and bandages of varying sophistication to deal with flesh wounds, and may be unfortunate enough to have to splint themselves for several weeks for a broken leg. That's in single-player mode. In multi-player, one can also serve as The Medic.
  • Heroic RRoD: Overexertion can be your undoing if done recklessly. Wise survivors avoid running unless absolutely necessary.
  • Hide Your Children: Although the developers are still actively debating amongst themselves and the community as to whether or not children will appear in the game, the 'no' side of the argument is currently winning.
  • House Fire: With the way zombies burn and fire spreads, it's not hard to start one (or more) of these yourself with an ill-advised Molotov Cocktail or a carelessly-placed campfire. Firefighting does in fact exist in the game, but once a typical house is more than seared, you and your little bucket of water may as well kiss it goodbye.
    • Putting a propane tank inside the oven is a very good way to cause one, for whatever crazy reason you'd want to (maybe as a final hurrah for a trapped and bitten character with no way out?).
    • In later releases, some procedural variety was applied to the map, so you will occasionally find a house that's been pre-burnt to the ground.
  • Hyperactive Metabolism: Averted. Eating will increase healing rate, but will not give you instant health. It does provde bonus carry weight and a slight combat buff, but it only lasts as long as you're well fed.
  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: Build 41 has three rough difficulty levels; Builder (Easy), Survivor (Normal, the intended experience), and Apocalypse (Hard). There's also Custom Sandbox, so you can set the game up however you want - hardly any zombies, massive framerate-ruining numbers of zombies, no respawning for zombies, rapidly respawning zombies, lots of guns and no food, lots of food and no guns, fast zombies, slow zombies, random speeds for each zombie; you can experience the game however you like. Especially with mods.
  • The Immune: Downplayed. One radio channel states that the zombie virus is mainly spread through the air and only a small amount of people (including the player character) are immune to the airborne strain. However, no one is immune to infections via bites or scratches.
  • Improvised Weapon: This can be considered a core of the game, since very few of the combat-ready items were meant to be weapons, firearms excepted. Baseball bats, a hammer, and boards of wood can be used as weapons. Get some nails, and you can have yourself a spiked bat (more damage, but it'll break faster). Get an empty bottle, a rag, a torn sheet, or a sock, along with some gasoline, and you have a Molotov Cocktail.
  • In-Universe Game Clock: The default timescale is 24:1—you play one game day in an hour. In single-player you can fast forward through tedious activities at a few different speeds, and this happens automatically when you sleep. In Sandbox or multi-player, you can customize the timescale from as fast as 96:1 to as slow as real time. The game clock tracks not only time of day, which is important since night can get very dark, but also the date. The weather changes according to the calendar, to the point of forcing wardrobe changes to avoid heat stroke and frostbite.
  • Insurmountable Waist-High Fence: When it comes to literal waist-high fences, this is generally averted, as anything that is waist-high can be vaulted over by players or zombies—it just takes a little extra time. (There's even a skill for this, Nimbleness.) The part that is bizarrely played straight is that those fences can have gates, which can be opened and closed just like doors, and like doors have a chance to be locked. A locked gate cannot be opened from either side, even when you can step a foot to your left and just climb over.
  • Inventory Management Puzzle: A very real element of surviving. You desperately need everything.
    • You can also only add/remove items from containers like plastic bags or backpacks if they're equipped, and you have three 'equip' slots total including the 'wear on your back' option for certain ones.
  • Isometric Projection
  • Item Crafting: Used to make several items in the game, as well as upgrading existing ones.
  • Just Before the End: The apocalypse doesn't truly start until one week into the game. At the start, the outbreak is confined to Knox County and everyone outside is still safe. Essential services like water, electricity, and T.V stations continue to function. Eventually, however, the virus will break containment and spread across the world, causing all semblance of modern society to disappear altogether.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: The katana is the most powerful melee weapon, allowing a unskilled survivor to consistently kill zombies in one hit. The downside is that the katana is extremely rare, as to be expected of the game's 90s Kentucky setting.
  • Kill It with Fire: How? Why, with Molotovs of course! Or, if you're too lazy for that, just build a campfire and persuade one trend-setting zombie that the shortest route to your juicy brain goes right through it. Zombies swarm together, of couse, and they ignite one another stunningly well. However, beware that pyrocombat is often Awesome, but Impractical. While zombies are good fuel, fire does not kill them quickly, nor does it affect their mobility.
  • Laser Sight: A particularly useful weapon modification to be installed on pistols and rifles, increasing their accuracy by 5 points (on 1-100 scale). Which is equal with an extra ranks in Aiming, a no small feat, especially when learning how to shoot.
  • Level Scaling: Inverted. By default, zombies will continue to get weaker and slower with every passing month as they decompose which makes avoiding/fighting them much easier in the long run.
  • Lives in a Van: It is possible to sleep in cars. However, doing so in an open area leaves the Survivor at risk of being attacked by zombies.
  • Lodged-Blade Recycling: Sort of. Sometimes you can find zombies with (improvised) weapons stuck in their backs, and once they're re-dead you can pull the weapon out for your own use. This is usually limited to things like knives, letter-openers, or scissors, but you might manage to find a zombie with a whole makeshift spear stuck through it. You may also occasionally need to retrieve your own weapon from a zombie's spine after doing a stealth takedown.
  • Loser Protagonist: The Survivor, if you take all of the negative traits meaning that the Survivor can potentially be a very cowardly, weak, unfit and unemployed loser who is addicted to cigarettes. It goes without saying that playing such a character is a self-imposed challenge that makes the early game even harder than it already is.
  • Luck Stat: The "Lucky" and "Unlucky" traits, which affect your loot and weapon repair rolls.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Your starting location is purely up to chance. You might spawn in a forest camping site, or you might spawn two blocks away from your planned permanent base. And unless "Starting gear" is tacked in settings, the game will enforce With This Herring on you, leaving you at the mercy of random loot from the starting location. Whilst it can be somewhat job-dependent (a Fire Officer is likely to start in or near the Rosewood Firehouse if they choose Rosewood as their starting location) it's still randomized, so you can't be 100% sure of what's going to happen.
  • MacGyvering: The setting being what it is, there is a little of this sprinkled throughout. The greatest concentration comes with the jury-rigged "traps" that the Engineer profession knows how to make: incendiary bombs from hairspray and sparklers, smokebombs from coldpacks and newspaper, etc.
  • Machete Mayhem: A machete is one of the game's more powerful weapons, with high damage and moderate range and swing time. However, its rather uncommon, appearing typically only in hardware stores.
  • Magikarp Power: Negative starting traits that give penalties to trainable stats can be overcome with enough training, and the most severe ones (particularly Obese) can give you a ton of points for traits that give you abilities no training can get you, meaning it's theoretically possible for you to create an obese nerd character and eventually turn them into a Genius Bruiser. This is difficult, time consuming, and dangerous to accomplish, however.
  • Master of All: With infinite time and resources, you could become this, but it's not likely. If you didn't start with bonus ranks and an XP multiplier in a skill because of your occupation and traits, it will probably be very slow to train. Some, like First Aid, just don't have enough opportunity to practice (you hope), while others, like Electrical, depend on a huge supply of scavenged items to practice on. The Character Customization encourages specialization.
  • The Medic: After the later addition of a First Aid skill and a sophisticated medical system, one can choose from a couple of medicine-related jobs and advantages to get a leg up—or one can gain First Aid experience the old-fashioned way through simple bad luck. Still, in single-player it's purely a case of Heal Thyself, and First Aid is not an easy skill to build. In multi-player, however, The Medic can come into their own by examining and treating (with skill-dependent reliability) other unfortunate survivors.
  • Militaries Are Useless: Despite the desperate efforts of the US Army to contain the Knox Infection it manages to infect almost everyone in Knox County and the rest of the world.
    • Zig-zagged. While the US Army has abandoned Knox County the communications that can be heard on the Automated Emergency Broadcast imply that the US Army continues to hold out against zombies.
  • Molotov Cocktail: One of the weapons in the game.
  • Morale Mechanic: Facing off large numbers of zombies, or being surprised by some, can cause your character to panic—it lowers your combat ability and worsens tunnel vision. You can reduce your panic with beta blocker drugs and alcohol, and your tendency to panic will naturally decrease the longer you survive and the more zombies you kill. Also, the Veteran occupation is immune to panic.
    • A straighter example is "Unhappiness" which makes all actions take slightly longer to perform.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Players can brew various caffeinated drinks with a mug full of water, either coffee or a tea bag, and any other ingredients that fit the beverage. They're rather valuable as they can decrease hunger, thirst, exhaustion and unhappiness.
  • Must Have Nicotine: One of the starting negative trait is being a smoker. You (slowly) constantly gain Stress moodlet, which only goes down when you smoke. And unlike other bad starting habits you can pick for extra points, you can't quit smoking without mods, while there is a finite amount of smokes in the game without item respawning (which doesn't occur in singleplayer).
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The helicopter pilot from a search-and-rescue or news media unit. In default settings, once during your run, at a random day after the first month, a helicopter will be dispatched to the general area. It's a flying, very loud object that can be seen and heard from miles away, attracting zombies through half of the map during its flyover. This is already bad, but to make matters worse, if the helicopter pilot spots you - which is his job - he will follow you to see who you are and how you are doing, unintentionally sending a literal army of undead toward you. Preparing for the helicopter event is by far the most important thing in any long-term survival, and is the biggest reason why people die if they weren't killed right in the very start.
  • Nintendo Hard: If you don't know the game well, expect to die quickly. If you do know the game well, also expect to die quickly.
  • No Bikes in the Apocalypse: Unless you mod them into the game, they are simply not present. And due to limitations of the game engine itself, the modded bikes can only work as carry weight reduction. Notably, there are still cars by default - that generate lots of noise and require precious, irreplaceable fuel - in a game that can be traversed on foot.
  • No FEMA Response: The US government’s response to Knox Infection was to put Knox County under strict quarantine as well as cut the phone lines so that no infomation could reach the outisde world.
  • No Stat Atrophy: Played straight, as far as the skills on your character sheet. But there is "stat atrophy" in the sense that the game considers things like hunger and thirst to be "stats". These will absolutely deteriorate if you do nothing about them, sometimes quite quickly. Plus whilst you can't actively lose stats like fitness or strength, if you lose too much weight you'll gain the underweight trait and that comes with penalties.
  • Not the Intended Use:
    • Cars were introduced as a mode of fast transportation and to haul large amounts of goods at once. However, players quickly figured out their best use is to follow Roger's plan: set up any given car in front of your barricade, so the zombies won't have momentum nor direct access to the wall section. For all purposes, any section blocked by a car is indestructible, making fortifying your base trivial. And this is regardless of whether you have the game set to let zombies crawl under cars, as they will have no reason to crawl under them in the first place in such a scenario, while also not attacking the barricade due to having no direct access to it.
    • A wooden frame for walls isn't stopping the zombies in any meaningful way... but it still works like a fence, tripping them over, while not slowing the player in any real way during crossing and not risking injuries like in case of fence-jumping. This allows you to use them as an additional defense measure, since it's far easier and safer to kill zombies that are on the ground than those still walking toward you. A wooden frame is also far more durable than a fence, so there is far less risk of it breaking down when a horde pours over it
    • Soda is only really in the game purely for the sake of immersion, but for short-term exploration, carrying just a bottle of soda is a superior choice to lugging around separate caches of food and water. Soda fulfills both hunger and thirst, while also decreasing boredom, and like all drinks your character will drink from it automatically, allowing you to save inventory space and weight, while not having to stop whatever you are doing to take a sip. This is a short-term solution simply because of the limited supplies of soda in the game, but for a two-day trek into a new, uncharted area, perfectly fine.
  • One Bullet Clips: Depending on the game version and starting game rules.
    • Up until Build 40, the fiddliness of reloading guns came in three flavors. "Easy" will deduct loose cartridges straight into your gun (one at a time with a shotgun). "Normal" will make you eject, fill (tediously!), and insert individually-tracked magazines into semi-automatic guns. "Hardcore" will make you do that and use a separate key to chamber a round first, even between shots for a pump-action shotgun. Working the action when a round is already chambered will even eject unspent cartridges onto the ground, forcing you to pick them back up.
    • From Build 41 onwards, the options are removed in favor of always making reloads play mostly by Normal rules. Magazines must be individually acquired, filled, and swapped into and out of your gun (barring it using an internal magazine), though chambering the first round if you load a magazine into an empty gun is done automatically; while you still have the option to manually work the action of your gun, it's never required unless you're clearing a jam or totally unloading the gun, and in the latter case the cartridge is put straight into your inventory.
  • Optional Stealth: You can sneak around the suburbs to avoid attracting any unwanted attention. It pretty much becomes mandatory if there's zombies everywhere and you're relying on melee weapons while low on supplies.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The "Zombie Lore" feature allows you to customise the zombies present in the game and their physical abilities and parameters. By default, the game uses the classic "Romero" zombies: fast shambling undead, dumb as doornails, average strength and toughness, no special infected, no zombified animals, one bite always infects without exception. If you want a workout, you can set the speed to "Sprinters". If you're terrified of the idea of zombies that think, set cognition to "Navigate & Open Doors". You can max out the speed, strength, toughness, intelligence, memory, smell, hearing and sight of your zombies if you want to deal with what are effectively vampires (and want a serious challenge).
  • Parody: Several of the movies and shows available on VHS tapes are parodies of shows and movies popular in the early 90s.
  • The Pen Is Mightier: Pens and pencils are counted among the "bladed" weapons. They are poor even as emergency weapons.
  • Period Piece: The cars, televisions, VHS tapes, and omnipresent digital watches, combined with the lack of cell phones, personal computers, or internet elements all point to the game being set in the early 1990s; if you watch the right channel on TV you can even hear a statement from an Army General giving the date as sometime in July 1993.
  • Perma-Shave: Averted. A male Survivor will grow a beard unless he manages to get his hands on a razor.
  • Pipe Pain: There are two types of pipes in the game: the lead pipe and the metal pipe. Both serve as blunt melee weapons, but the metal pipe is also used in various metalworking recipes.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Used when shoving with handguns, and rarely when you shove with a longarm. Unfortunely, it does no damage and is slower than normal shoving.
  • Point Build System: The foundation of Character Customization. Each occupation comes with a positive or negative number of points to be spent on positive and negative traits; generally the more inherent positives an occupation has (such as better starting stats or special abilities), the more drawbacks need to be taken. Some of these may come with free skill ranks, but after that all skills can only be improved through practice.
  • Powerful Pick: The game takes the "axe" in "pickaxe" quite literal, as the pickaxe is able to cut down trees and use the same skills and animations as the other axes, and is even more powerful and durable than the fireaxe.
  • Previous Player-Character Cameo: Zomboid manages this within a single release. There is certainly more than one way to die, but zombie infection is easily the most common. If you die while infected (even if something else killed you, like bleach or falling off a roof) you will quickly get back up and join your new zombie brethren. Game over, right? Well, yes, but you can still load that same save, and you will be able to spawn a fresh character into the same world, with all the changes you had already made intact. This includes not only any fortifications or stockpiling you had accomplished, but also the fact that "you" died and became a zombie. You can find and rekill your former self, which you'll want to do if you had been carrying good loot. You may have to track yourself a ways from your death-spot to recover backpacks and the like, but anything you had been holding in your hands will be lying on the ground right where you undied.
  • Purely Aesthetic Gender: The Survivor can be either male or female but the choice of gender has no impact on the gameplay. This extends to clothing as all clothes can be worn without regards to gender. The only difference is that a male Survivor is able to grow a beard but a female Survivor is not.
  • Razor Apples: It is possible to add bleach to certain meals like soups with predictable results.
  • Real-Place Background: The current map, Knox Country, is based on 1990's Knox County, Kentucky, and follows roughly the same layout (allowing for some adaptation due to the grid-based mapping and such). However it has started to diverge to suit the fiction where necessary.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: When the power finally goes out, and all the existing perishable food rots, you will need to fish or trap if you want decent amounts of protein. Until you get decent at it, trapping will only produce "small animal meat": mice, rats, or squirrels.
  • The Remnant:
    • Listening to the Automated Radio Frequency allows you to hear the military relaying various orders and mentions of other exclusion zones. These messages can be heard months after the start of the game implying that at least some part of the US Army managed to survive the initial apocalypse.
    • The helicopter pilot, if the event is set out to repeat. He can show up years into the game. And he's always announced by the ARF system, meaning someone is manning the post, too.
    • You. A few of the starting occupations make you member of some public service, be it the police, fire guard or park rangers. And you start in your uniform, so Still Wearing the Old Colors comes in the package for as long as you keep it. A few different mods and pre-set scenario conditions expand on this concept.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: And unlike typical example of Hand Cannons, it goes for a .38 snub-nose revolver, the "weakest" of guns. Ammo is plentiful and lightweight, while it still has a decent stopping power. But the real kicker is that it has a noise volume of only 25 and noise radius of merely 30 tiles - that's roughly the default area displayed on your screen. For comparison, a typical pistol is around 50 and 70, while things like shotguns and rifles are in 100-200 and 100-250 ranges, drawing to you things from half the block.
    • Once modified, it borders on Sniper Pistol: outranging any other pistol thanks to collimator sights and bonus to hit chance from a Laser Sight, on top of already having the highest accuracy of all pistols. You are even likely to find one with both of those attachments when rummaging through a Survivalist Stash.
  • Rolling Pin of Doom: The rolling pin is not a great weapon, but it's there if you need it. Better to use it for making bread and pies, if you know the recipes.
  • Run, Don't Walk: Inverted. The character used to be only able to walk, until the developers realized the game wouldn’t be so dark running around like Benny Hill.
  • Sanity Slippage: Panic ruins your combat strength and leads to ever worsening tunnel vision. Prolonged stress can lead to depression, which both worsens combat stats and makes all actions more sluggish. Later versions promise it to get worse, like affecting your ability to work with Non Player Characters.
    • In earlier versions, the player may see ghostly versions of zombies all around.
  • Save Scumming: The game autosaves every time you sleep or close the game, so this is extremely difficult to do yet still possible (though prone to causing bugs) if you manually back up your savegame files, or forcibly close the game.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: You can make them. Shotgun + Saw = "Sawn Off Shotgun". Damage and range goes down, spread goes way up, and weight lightens. According to the item's icon, only the barrel is sawed, not the stock. It's also one of the very few instances where it's a single-barreled, pump-action shotgun that gets this treatment, though as of Build 41.49 you can also saw down the double-barrel shotgun that was added in 41.18.
  • Scavenger World: As would presumably follow a zombie apocalypse.
  • Schmuck Bait:
    • The Mall. The likely place where the first (numerous) survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse would ever go, and the likely disease of said apocalypse went along with them. Despite this, it has plenty of valuable resources needed to survive - but good luck getting there to loot those supplies. There's two of them in fact, and one of them is even bigger.
    • The updated tutorial goes over some of the basics of interacting with the world, particularly in fighting off the undead, and eventually tells you to press Q to take the cure for zombification once you're too scared to continue. Pressing it instead simply makes your character call out to the zombies to get their attention, as the game tells you that there is no cure.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
    • After the US Army fails to get the situation in Knox County under control it decides to abandon the region to its fate. This is a in-universe reason why we don’t see any (living) soldiers.
    • Knowing when to make use of this trope is an essential part of long-term survival. Sometimes, there are just too many zombies in an area for whatever you came looking for to be worth it, even if you know that it'll be there.
  • Serial Escalation: Surviving a single day in this game is relatively easy. Surviving a week is challenging but doable. Surviving a month is hard. The longest verified time that a player has survived in the tech-demo? A year and three months - which, evidently, the devs never counted on people reaching, since the death notice misspelled "year" as "hear". Worth noting that the eventual cause of demise on the longest runs were not the zombies, but rather the fact that there was no more food left on the map and farming and hunting hadn't been implemented yet.
  • Short-Range Shotgun: Downplayed, the shotguns have fair range - better than pistols in fact, but still don't quite reach to the edges of the screen. Interestingly, the double-barrel shotgun has a slightly narrower spread than the pump-action shotgun. It's played straighter if sawn off.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: With enough ammo on your person and diligence in both using it and evading the inevitable hordes pouring from every direction, no firearm can compare to the shotgun's damage output; and unlike the Molotov Cocktail it doesn't carry the risk of burning down the user or half of the map. It's feasible to turn an entire town into a bloody graveyard by sunset. Even the loud noise it generates can be useful: a much more attainable goal for a less skilled or fortunate survivor is to pop a shot somewhere remote, then duck back into the desired location once every zombie comes crawling.
  • Shout-Out: The Challenge scenario "A Really CD DA" is a reference to Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead's "Really Bad Day" challenge, where you are naked, drunk, sick with the flu, and your house is on fire. Both games have a similar premise of a highly-realistic survival simulator set in a zombie apocalypse.
  • Shovel Strike: You can fight with a shovel, but it's better used for landscaping. Most importantly, it can be used to dig graves for burying zombie corpses, sparing you from having to burn them (at the cost of, well, lugging the bodies around and using space making those graves).
  • Skill Scores and Perks: There is a hard line between these. Perks are occupations and traits, which you choose a balance of at character creation. With a couple exceptions, these will never change through play. Skills, on the other hand, may start with a few free ranks from your perks, but otherwise they increase only through practice.
  • Sliding Scale of Video Game World Size and Scale: In terms of scale (literal scale, not scope), it would be very hard to find a game that surpasses Zomboid on the realistic end of the meter and is set in the real world. The game map mimics real-world Kentucky's dimensions shockingly well, down to the level of municipal zones (e.g., residential vs. commercial) and often individual buildings or other landmarks. The scope is nothing to sneeze at either, being somewhere on the order of 13km x 10km, covering two cities and the wide space between and around. Future plans call for this to be extended even further, to Fort Knox and Louisville. Most likely, even if you did find competition on either score, none would have even a fraction of Zomboid's count of enterable, fully-furnished buildings. Even if you weren't able to fight zombies and scavenge houses within it, the map alone is an exceedingly ambitious project. Travel within the map, on the other hand, is quite compressed when measured in real time. By the game clock, it's roughly plausible.
  • Small, Secluded World: The game takes place in Knox County which the survivor can never hope to escape. Justified, as the US Army sealed off the area before abandoning it.
  • Smoke Out: The Engineer profession comes with several recipes for turning household cruft into tactical saviors, and one option is a smokebomb: newspaper, rags, and a therapeutic coldpack. Even non-Engineers can learn this one if they get lucky, and Electrical skill can upgrade the bomb with timers, proximity triggers, and remote switches.
  • Smoking Is Cool: The smoker trait is often considered free points since it's easily negated. As such, most powerful builds require your character to be a smoker.
  • Spread Shot: The shotgun is basically a wedge of death, which gets wider if you saw it off.
  • Sprint Meter: Running and performing laborious tasks like swinging heavy weapons will eventually get you an "exhausted" moodlet. Notably, it governs all of your physical ability, not just being able to move or attack. You can keep pushing yourself to the point of being barely able to move, and recovery from total exertion may take hours or even longer if you're wounded, hungry or haven't slept.
  • Stat Grinding: There is a character sheet of over twenty skills, from Weapon Maintenance, to Sneaking, to Cooking, plus two physical stats, Strength and Fitness. All are rated from zero to ten, and there are only two ways to improve them. Either you start with a few ranks by choosing certain occupations and traits from the start, or you grind them up through use. The grinding can take a very long time without an XP boost of some sort, discouraging a player from trying to be good at everything at once. Occupations and traits that come with free skill ranks generally also come with a mild XP multiplier in those skills. There are also a how-to books that can be scavenged, each covering two ranks of one skill and providing a large XP boost over those ranks if you take the time to read the whole thing.
  • Stock Animal Diet: When setting up traps, the best bait to catch rodents is cheese, while rabbits will be lured the most by carrots and earth worms make the best bait for small birds.
  • Subsystem Damage: For the living, leg injuries will slow you down (sometimes to the point that you can only limp slowly), while arm injuries will penalize your speed and damage in combat. It's also possible to break the limb, making these penalties much worse.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The horde. Individual zombies are easy to lose, but a horde may never stop once it sets its sight on you. The more you try to run from it, the more other zombies will be alerted to your location and join the hunt, creating a chain reaction of zombies following other zombies following you. If you are lucky, the path ahead will be clear of additional zombies and allow you to break the line of sight at some point. If you're not, the horde will keep growing and growing while you'll get more and more tired. Eventually, your stamina will be depleted, while they are absolutely no worse for wear.
  • Super-Speed Reading: Downplayed. The Fast Reader trait allows the Survivor to read books 30 percent faster.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: One of the main appeals of the game, especially in early development, was the amount of things that go with "real" consequences, rather than how it plays out in fiction:
    • While most Zombie Apocalypse games have the player character conveniently immune to the virus, this game has infection as a major mechanic. There's never an absolute cure for it, meaning it's present for the entirety of the game. You have a chance to avoid contracting the infection if you're just scratched or badly lacerated, but if you're bitten then it's a guarantee, and just a matter of time before you join the horde; there's even at least one mod that lets you deal with this, not by adding a cure (though there is one for that, too), but by adding an option to go out early while making sure you don't get back up.
    • If you try to break a window with your bare hands, instead of facing Soft Glass, it's possible that you'll badly gash your hands or arms, possibly to the point of needing tweezers to extract shards, on top of requiring bandages and rest. Likewise if you forget to remove the broken glass from the frame (which requires having something in your hands, unlike breaking) before jumping through, it's very likely you'll get injured in the process. It's unlikely you'll bleed to death or succumb to a normal infection unless you're very careless or have very few supplies, but the injury might let the shamblers catch up with you...
    • Don't expect the amenities of modern society to be accessible to you forever, now that the society has, in many cases, literally died off. In less than a month after starting, the electricity grid and (particularly devastatingly) water works will fail. You can still scavenge the last drops from sinks, toilets and bath tubs, but you'd better hope you stockpiled on plenty of receptacles, found a well, or built many rain collectors.
    • No character can be a Zero To Hero, Instant Expert, One-Man Army. You are merely a regular person, trapped in a zombie apocalypse, with no way out, and trying to survive by any means necessary. And since there are so many things to be done to simply get by, there isn't much time, resources and even simple stamina to train or learn new things unless they're directly related to how you're keeping yourself alive. Furthermore, player experience itself can only partially solve your issues, rather than power through the in-game limitations with ease - your own experience in prior runs can only do so much if your character doesn't have the necessary skill to build what you need built or accurately hit zombies from further than a couple tiles. This is where multiplayer shines, as every player/character can specialize and work together; some people focus on combat skills for raiding, someone is the chef, someone else is the carpenter, and so on. These investments of time into skills and interdependence give you reasons to be careful, stick together, and keep each other alive.
    • If you have no choice but to sleep on a chair, in a car, or especially on the ground, your character will rest very poorly and may wake up with neck or back pain.
    • Speaking of sleeping, don't take too many sleeping pills. Especially don't drink whilst taking them, either!
    • Surrounding yourself with rotting corpses will make you sick until you leave or clear them out. Ditto, if you smoke repeatedly.
    • Running too quickly in areas littered with bodies or objects on the ground will make you trip and fall. Jumping over a fence and botching the landing will leave minor cuts that will add up. The same applies if you run through hedges too quickly. And if you are over-encumbered, jumping over fences is a guaranteed way of falling over, hurting yourself and even twisting your leg.
    • Zombies can not just see and hear you, they can also smell you. Wearing dirty or bloody clothing is therefore a horrible idea and gives good hygiene a real use.
    • Following on from above, being dirty or bloody greatly increases the chance of a wound getting infected. Doubly so for bandages; make sure you swap out those dirty bandages and keep them clean!
    • Water from natural sources like lakes, rivers and rain is tainted and carries a high risk of making you sick, but can be purified by boiling it. Boiling water can also sterilize bandages to reduce the chances of wounds becoming infected.
    • Eating large amounts of food allows for faster recovery from injuries, temporarily makes the player character stronger and can alleviate depression. The negative side-effect is that overeating can make the player character overweight or even obese which imposes hefty penalties on fitness.
  • Survivalist Stash: The game can randomly apply "scenarios" to houses for some variety while you loot. You may find a corpse surrounded by empty liquor bottles, for example. Probably the most interesting is the Survivalist Stash, a house that may have some or all of the first-floor openings barricaded, possibly a greatly increased number of zombies inside and out, and its kitchen and bathroom cabinets filled to the brim with canned food, guns, and ammo.
    • Not to mention, of course, that creating and maintaining your own Survivalist Stash is one of the most straightforward ways to succeed in the game. There's always nomadism and hand-to-mouth scrounging, but they're arguably harder.
  • Tactical Door Use: Unless you tweak the "Zombie Lore" settings in Sandbox mode, zombies cannot open doors the normal way; they will instead try to break down the door. So in an emergency, closing a door behind you with a horde hot on your heels will at least give you a few moments to breathe. You might be able to sneak out the window while they're busy, too, because the other tactical use of doors is that once a zombie gets started on trying to batter one down, it takes a fair bit to distract them - and it's also quite noisy, so it's bound to draw the attention of any others and keep them there too. However, for long-term fortification purposes, the best way to use doors is to not use them. Instead, dangle a rope from a second-story window, then board up all the ground-floor openings completely. Those former doors are not now useless; rather, they make a great focal point for incoming zombies so that you can sneak out and brain them from behind.
    • While locked doors were always there, an update added the magic of keys. Occasionally, a zombie will have a house key on its body, generally of the building they're in or near. The game tracks which keys are for which doors, and it even remembers when you bash down the door and scavenge the doorknob to install on your own door later. While the ability to lock and unlock your own doors is useless in single-player (again, unless you decided to grant zombies door privileges), in multi-player on the other hand...
    • And there is of course the so-called "door flash" technique, where doors to a room are opened and then immediately closed with quick tapping the related key. As a result, player gains a glimpse of what's on the other side of the doors and the overlay of the room, but (most likely) without alerting the potential zombies. And even if zombies will be alerted, there is still the door blocking their instant lunge at player character. Learning this is essential for scavenging in more densely populated areas with at least a semblance of safety.
  • Tastes Better Than It Looks: No matter how nonsensical the combination of ingredients and spices may be cooked meals will make the Survivor happier (provided that the ingredients are varied and fresh). A salad made out of raw potato, salt and bread? Why not.
  • Taught by Experience: Certain skills can be increased or gained only via related activities. Some of them are thus painfully hard to raise, even with experience modifier from reading books prior, like Medicine, which you will only be able to level up by being injured first, requiring a risky Self-Surgery. Some skills take it a step further, as they don't have any teaching aids, so all there is is your raw, on-hand experience - Firearm skills fall squarely into this field.
  • Taught by Television: Certain TV programs are a handy source of knowledge and experience in the early days, particularly for the ubiquitous Carpentry skill. Be quick with those, since electricity isn't to stay forever and TV will be out after 9 days regardless. After that, you'll need a generator and tapes.
  • There Are No Tents: Averted. It is possible to make tents and set up camp anywhere on the map.
  • Time-Passage Beard: Male Survivors will grow a beard after a certain period of time which can only be removed with a razor.
  • Too Awesome to Use:
    • Most firearms and assorted ranged weapons, but especially the shotguns. They're extremely noisy and will attract zombies from farther than the screen can show, and their ammo is rare and cumbersome.
    • Sprinting. A great way to avoid an amassed group of zombies, but don't do it for too long or you'll be overtaken by the same dead heads you're trying to outrun. Skilled players usually do this in bursts to redirect the hordes away from their camps.
    • The axe can be too awesome at first. With enough scavenging, you can accumulate a surplus, or craft crude axes from forest resources, but until then its usefulness for felling trees might make you reluctant to swing it at zombies.
  • Training from Hell: You're likely to take this one yourself in the town you start in, as skills provided by jobs from the beginning in comparison are relatively low. If you can survive beyond the first few months, barring extraordinary luck, you will have completed that training.
  • Tutorial Failure:
    • The original, early version of the tutorial was quite lackluster and didn't even explain all the basics, while also passive-aggressively mocking the player for having trust in tutorials.
    • More recent versions of the tutorial still fail to cover a variety of basics that were added since the last version of the tutorial. You will have to figure out things like cars, proper looting and storage either via trial-and-error or from online guides.
  • 2xFore: Planks are a basic crafting ingredient, and the staple of the carpentry systems of the game. You can choose to grasp a plank by one end and direct the other at a zombie temple, if you must. You can even shove some random nails into it if such misuse is not unforeseen.
  • Two Shots from Behind the Bar: There is a specific script for items distribution on each map generation that pretty much guarantees there is going to be a shotgun in some container behind the bar counter in the few bars that are in the map. If you are lucky, it will be the pump-action variant, too.
  • Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay: The game is rife with this and it is arguably one of the main selling points. Some of the examples:
    • If you can't open a door, you break a window and climb in, obviously; but if you don't take the time to remove the glass from the frame, now you have a bleeding hand to fix (which might have glass shards that need tweezers to extricate)... or not, because you were wearing gloves.
    • Accidental fall from a second story? Broken leg, naturally; but it's easy to make a splint from sticks and rags. However, you'll need to keep that on for weeks (already very generous), with your movement speed being not at all zombie-compatible the whole time.
    • The game keeps track of how and if your food is preserved. A fridge is good for keeping your food relatively fresh for few days longer. Freezer will be obviously better, but did you use just a home freezer, or hauled an industrial-grade unit, that keeps thing in even cooler temperature? Even then, you can't keep it frozen for the rest of eternity, because not only you need generator for that, but after few years of being home-frozen that food is still going to get bad or at least lose its nutrient value.
    • Found a locked car that you really need to get into, but not the keys? You can always break the window and get inside, except now you obviously lack the window itself. Want to drive? You can always try to hot-wire the thing with the right tools, but it will take time, isn't perfectly reliable and you are draining the battery each time your try. Zombies get to the car before you managed to start the engine? Just get outside on the other side of the vehicle and let them banging on the car you are no longer in.
    • And then there's the "Hardcore reloading" option for firearms. One key will eject or insert a magazine, or start tube-feeding rounds into a shotgun, while another will work the action to chamber a round. If you work the action when a round is already chambered, you will actually eject unfired rounds onto the floor.
  • Universal Ammunition: Played straight in earlier builds, where ammo was restricted to pistol rounds in 9mm, 12 gauge shotgun shells and .223 and .308 for rifles. Eventually, build 41 significantly increased ammo variety, but there are still on average 2 different guns that can fire the same round. Mods to add more weapons play this even straighter, since guns using the existing ammo types will almost universally use the existing magazines as well, e.g. a Makarov (which uses a 9x18mm bullet in reality) being programmed to accept 9x19, thus able to load the same magazine you scavenged from a Beretta.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: One of the most potent starting builds is that of a dumb meathead or a cardio bunny. You don't pick any occupation and you unload all the points to increasing your Strength, Stamina and pick Baseball hobby. The result is an absolute juggernaut that can outrun a horde of running zombies and then bash few dozens of heads with a bat (or any blunt weapon) without ever tiring off. Of course, you have to learn everything else from a scratch, but it's one of the best combat builds in the game, quite literally powering through all the normal limitations of the combat system.
  • Unwinnable by Design:
    • The Tutorial, deliberately so. You are expected to end it by dying and there is no way to survive, even if you are fairly experienced as a player. Even if you somehow manage to kill all the zombies spawned in the area (which by itself is a tough nut to crack, as there are dozens of them with very few options for weapons to fight back with), you can't leave it, so you will eventually starve to death once food runs out. Even if you could get through the fence, there's just more zombies.
    • The game itself has no true win condition; all you can do is postpone losing by staying alive indefinitely, defying the "This is how you died" premise for as long as you can.
  • Useless Useful Spell: Cooking skill is almost entirely redundant in the vanilla game. It governs three things, all three equally useless: an extra bonus to hunger reduction from cooked mealsnote , amount of ingredients used up when cookingnote  and as far as level seven, offering an ability to tell apart poisonous berries from the edible onesnote . Notably, you can't fail preparing a meal due to low or complete lack of Cooking skill.
    • Later update allowed character with Cooking lvl 7 to safely use bits and pieces out of rotten food, which by itself isn't all that bad, but once you reach such competence, you will most likely not have any issues with keeping your ingredients fresh.
  • Utility Weapon: This one is played to the hilt, since the "weapons" without non-combat uses are outnumbered by those that can serve much more mundane purposes. Pans for frying, knives for slicing, hammers for hammering: you name it, it can be used to save your life by destroying zombie brains, or by doing what it was made for.
  • Video Game Time: When a game combines homemaking activities that would not be out of place in The Sims with zombie pounding combat of a similar feel to Dead Island, it's only natural that finding the right timescale would be a tricky thing. If the same scale were used for everything, then either cooking a stew would take literally hours of your life away, or running from zombies would look like The Flash. The balance here lies in an In-Universe Game Clock that runs twenty-four times faster than real time (play one day per hour, adjustable in Sandbox or multi-player), and an Acceptable Break from that Reality when it comes to tactical movement and combat. Moving and fighting look like normal speed, though according to the clock they are happening much too slowly. More relaxed activities take a fairly plausible amount of in-game time to complete, as do gradual changes like getting hungry or tired. Since some of these activities would still take an unreasonable amount of real time to complete, like reading a 300-page how-to book or getting a night's sleep, single-player allows you to switch into some "fast-forward" speeds. Doing this with even the slightest chance of being approached by a zombie is an easy way to die.
    • Some activities, on the other hand, take bizarre amounts of in-game time. One of the worst offenders is filling firearm magazines in Normal or Hardcore reload mode. Presumably because the developers wanted this to happen in "tactical" time, it takes more than thirteen minutes of game time to get fifteen rounds into a pistol mag—more if panicked.
    • When multi-player was introduced, there was the obvious question of how to handle sleeping, since time could not be sped for some players and not others. Originally the answer was to disable tiredness and sleeping altogether, but that caused a different sort of tedium. Nighttime can get dark enough that some players would consider it too risky to venture out, so being awake was just as boring. Later, the option to allow/require sleeping was added to multi-player, with the convenience that if all players on the server are asleep at the same time, time will in fact speed up.
  • Way Past the Expiration Date: Most of the food items in the game can and will rot unless they are frozen, refrigerated or pickled. Averted with non-perishable foods like canned food which will never become rotten unless opened. Level 7 of the Cooking skill allows small parts of rotten foods to be safely used while making meals.
  • We Need a Distraction: The zombies like to investigate sources of noise, and so sometimes the best way to survive the hordes is to make a distraction for yourself. Fortunately, there are many ways to do so. Set a building on fire, set down a radio cranked to max volume and holler into a two-way radio on the same frequency, drive around honking your car's horn and then flank back around... it pays to play it smart.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Some of the easiest source of points during character creation is picking negative traits that affect your strength, weight or stamina. In short term, surviving first two weeks is a massive gambit, even if you know what you're doing. In long term, it's the only way to get certain powerful traits and eventually ascend to Genius Bruiser territory. But the early game will be worse than hell.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: The clothing options in the game are not restricted by gender meaning that a male Survivor can wear feminine clothes like skirts, bras, dresses as well as use lipstick and makeup.
  • With This Herring: Averted. Even though you started with no items as you spawn, you spawn in a random home location with local items just so happened to be available for you to survive. Pray to the gods that you'll get a some manner of bag or pack to carry all the stuff you need.
    • For a further aversion, one can also enable the starter kit setting, in which case you'll start with a baseball bat and hammer (both being decent weapons, with the latter necessary for carpentry), chips and a water bottle, and a school bag to store your stuff.
  • Wizard Needs Food Badly: Finding food is a constant concern. Start going hungry, your strength goes down, and your healing speed decreases. Starve yourself, and you begin losing health, along with a massive decrease in strength.
    • Applies even in the long term with the nutrition system. You can subsist for a while on worms and crickets you can forage in the woods, but over the weeks you'll lose weight and turn malnourished, weak, or even dead by emaciation despite having a full belly.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Using pure Max Brooks rules - no fast infected, no special infected, no zombified animals, only headshots kill, and no immunity - a single bite will infect you, no exceptions, with the only currently confirmed cure for a zombie bite being immediate amputation of the affected limb.
  • Zombie Infectee: Getting bitten will always cause this. Getting scratched or lacerated has less of a chance. Once infected however, it is only a matter of time before you join the zombie ranks as there is no cure for the infection. This is why in multi-player one would generally be expected to follow through on the trope: Get some distance from other survivors and do the honorable thing. (Leaving your loot behind, of course.)
    • Brilliantly, this seems to work even if you get infected and then die from a different cause (certainly not from accidentally setting yourself on fire with a carelessly-thrown molotov, that's for sure); watch your character collapse...and then get back up, with the permanent "Zombiefied" moodlet.
    • Varying on your choice to edit the world prior to launch, you can choose how bad infections are: They can be instant, take hours, days or weeks. Or if you really just want to increase your survival chances, disable infections altogether. Doesn't stop you from getting gangrene or the common cold, though.
    • Speaking of colds, there's the (currently disabled) Hypochondriac trait. Getting a cold as a hypochondriac will net you fake moodles about being zombie-infected. It's not hard to see through this as a player, but far more sinister is that the same thing can happen after you've suffered a skin-breaking wound, whether the wound caused zombie-infection or not. One of the moodlets that gets steadily worse over the course of a real or fake infection is "stress", and in the hypochondriac's case it's likely to directly reflect the player's state of mind, as they wait for these all-too-familiar effects to either lead to either blow over or lead to their demise—all over the course of days.
  • Zombie Gait: Officially, the game observes this. Zombies can vary in speed, and they lurch faster when they go for the kill, but even the fastest are very easy to outrun, assuming you're not winded, wounded, or overburdened. However in Sandbox mode, or when configuring a server for multiplayer, there are many parameters of "Zombie Lore" that you can tune to your preference. The "Proper Zombies" preset uses "fast shamblers" for speed, but you can dial it up to "sprinters" if you want a workout and/or heart attack. You can also choose several levels of intelligence for zombie pathfinding, if you aren't utterly terrified at the thought of zombies using doorknobs.

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