The Gassy Gnoll: Ghouls Gone Wild (May of the Dead Blog Carnival)

Over the last few weeks I’ve been pondering all sorts of demented article titles for the May of the Dead blog carnival being hosted by The Going Last Gaming Podcast site throughout May 2012. Some of the possibilities so far have stuck with me in entertaining ways so you’ll likely see a few make an appearance before I’m done…

Next week’s article is shaping up nicely, but I was a wee bit stymied about this week for some reason. Some of the others participating in the carnival have taken a serious approach to the dead (or undead) in gaming, which is great – but it’s just not me. So today I’m going to talk lightheartedly about a few of my favorite undead critters (and I welcome you to share some of yours in the comments!).

For me it boils down to traditional movie monsters and a few D&D critters: vampires, mummies, constructs (think Frankenstein’s Monster), zombies, and liches…

Vampires have gained a bit of a bad wrap these days with the whole Twilight phase. I prefer the older vamps like Stoker’s Dracula and Ravenloft’s Strahd. Sure, I went through a Lestat phase in the ’80s, but these days I like my vamps to have more bite (whether it’s to drain you of blood or rip out your throat). No sparkles allowed.

Of all the undead, the vamps are among the most social of beasties. They like to hang out with their peeps (sometimes upside down), creating vampire kids or drinking every last drop of blood from a particularly juicy mortal. But if you hunt them down, you best be carrying some garlic, a few sharp wooden stakes, and a holy symbol or two… Otherwise you might be the victim and not the victor.

Then there are the Mummies. They’ve been around just as long as the vamps, if not longer. Though they may have a bit of sand between their ears, at least they don’t have to drink blood like their fanged cousins. (I do have to wonder though what keeps them from simply shriveling up and blowing away in a puff of dust… Red Bull? IV saline?) With all of the groaning mummified folks inhabiting the monster movies of the mid-20th century we’d have to assume that either they have had their tongues removed or that the process of having one’s innards (and brains) removed causes some significant brain damage.

Traditional mummies seem to mostly have guard duty over old temples, tombs, and the like. As such, they’re really only an issue if you’re diving into old ruins or named Brendan Fraser.

that, there are the Liches, which are sort of like mummies but different. They are usually wizards who have volunteered to become undead so they can keep going with their research or plans for world domination. I’d think it hurts a bit to survive that kind of ritual where you have your heart forcibly removed and stuffed in a phylactery. But sort of like with the mummies, if you leave them alone – for the most part – they won’t bother you much. So leave them off your list to sell Girl Scout cookies to.

Beyond the Liches you have the constructs that folks like Dr. Victor Frankenstein liked to put together like Tinker Toys or Legos. Have a few extra body parts lying around? Throw together a lab assistant or bodyguard with all the right moves! Or if you’re less into the arcane tinkering and more into rituals you might try to put together a Flesh Golem with the same results. Either way there always seem to be a few mental defects to contend with… so don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. They’re not human any longer even if they do sort of resemble a stitched together Pinocchio…

Lastly are my favorites, the zombies. No I’m not talking about a music group. I’m talking about those hungry, shambling corpses wandering around Atlanta in The Walking Dead. Whether you like your zombies fast or slow, through Voodoo or necromancy, these stumbling beasts seeking more flesh to eat are all the rage these days.

Set a small horde of undead loose in a town to keep the peasants at bay or use a bunch in a dungeon trap to keep prisoners in and the unwanted out. Surround your troubles in bodies that want to consume them a piece at a time.

As you can see, these are a few of my favorite undead things. No snails or puppy dog tails here.

But I’ll leave you with my least favorite undead critters in gaming. Level- and ability-draining Wights and Wraiths. Really anything that can suck the levels or points of ability scores isn’t high on my list. They’re a nightmare for players. Sure, a vampire might drain you of a level or two or your Constitution score, but they’re likely to talk to you first. Wights, ghouls, ghasts, and other nasties generally just want to beat you to death and eat your energy or flesh. Yes, they might be a step above zombies, but it’s not a good step.

What are your favorite (or least favorite) undead critters to use in campaigns?

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2 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Ghouls Gone Wild (May of the Dead Blog Carnival)

  • I try not to overuse undead, as they are very easy to do, as they can quickly loose their sense of dread and fear that they should inspire.

    That being said, I like skeletons as eternal guardians. Clean, do not take up much space and they never tire or fail in their basic duty. Mummies and a few of the other undead can fulfill this sort of role as well but not as nicely as the humble skeleton.

    I have stripped most undead in my campaign of the create spawn ability as they just causes problems, otherwise drop one shadow into the city slums and next day, you have thousands of shadows and a dead city.

    Undead should be scary, dangerous and a little mysterious when used correctly.

    • Fitz

      @Sean Holland – Totally agree about sparingly using undead as a GM. The shock factor wears off just like it does with any other type of monster if you use it enough. 🙂

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