The Gassy Gnoll: Zombie Horde Edition

You’d never guess that The Gassy Gnoll is a zombie fan, but he is. Ever since he discovered the shambling, stumbling, biting, clawing undead beasts animated by magic, virus, or technology, he knew that zombies were one of the ultimate answers even if we’d quickly forgotten what the question was. (The question may have been: “Why did the zombie cross the road?“)

However, I’m dismayed as we get closer to Halloween this year to see that these restless, animated dead aren’t showing up in more RPG supplements and adventures. Sure, once you’ve seen one zombie you’ve kind of seen them all, but I think there are plenty of situations that could be made better (or worse, depending on which side you’re on) by the addition of zombies.

First, some good resources in case you need them…

  • Need zombies for D&D 3.5e/d20? Check out the Hypertext d20 SRD site for Zombies. My favorite part of this page is the stat block for Kobold Zombies. Nothing says “I love you” like a horde of ankle-biting zombies.
  • The Pathfinder d20 SRD also has a page for Zombies… And there are some other variations in there, including the “Fast Zombie” which has become more popular of late in movies.
  • And if that’s not enough zombinspiration for you, be sure to check out Zombacalypse (in its original form or for Savage Worlds) from Silver Gryphon Games, which is amazing and will be a review sometime in the future.

Second, some ideas about context. Everybody thinks of zombies as being an apocalyptic event. But why does it have to be the end of the world? If the zombification process isn’t viral (either through the use of parasites, actual virii, or nanotech) and is instead limited by the magical powers of some creator (i.e. traditional evil necromancer), zombies may be nothing more than a simple set of meat shields defending a particular area, item, or person, long enough for someone to escape or a second wave of attacks. Sure, if a zombie bites you it’s going to hurt (with HP damage, potential characteristic damage, or worse), but what if the zombies are the least of your troubles?

I love a good zombie apocalypse as much as the next person. The Walking Dead on AMC is awesome (and the season 2 premiere ended with a bang), and there are plenty of great zombie movies (The Horde, the classic Night of the Living Dead, Dead Snow, etc.) and a resurgence of great zombie books (Rot & Ruin, Dead of Night, and Patient Zero from Jonathan Maberry, FEED and DEADLINE from Mira Grant, Autumn by David Moody and many more) that all focus on the zombie plague spreading out across the world. But zombies in small doses can be just as effective.

Zombies as portrayed in the movie Night of the...

Image via Wikipedia

And that brings me to my third point… Humor. Back in college during an AD&D 2e campaign, we had a gnomish illusionist necromancer who had a great technique for staying alive. As we killed things in a dungeon, he’d reanimate them. And he’d cast Continual Flame (or whatever the variation was at the time) on one of the zombie heads. We’d then send this shambling horde ahead of us to trigger traps and discover monsters so we didn’t have to. Eventually in one session I recall the horde was completely obliterated and all we had left was the head with Continual Flame on it… so he’d roll it down the hallway ahead of us like a bowling ball.

Zombies don’t have to be all doom and gloom. Why not use Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead as adventure/campaign examples and have a humorous twist on the apocalypse. If you’re going to die, you might as well die laughing!

So here’s my call to arms… Adventure designers and GMs – share with us your best zombie encounters. How have you used these classic horrors in your games? What surprises have you thrown at your players in zombie-land? Decaying minds want to know!

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