Thursday, January 18, 2018

Fear the Walking Dead

In my current AS&SH campaign, my players have encountered zombies twice.  The first was running into four zombies in a corridor.  They threw down oil, lit the hallway on fire, led the burning zombies into some other monsters so they'd fight, and only when there was only two left, badly burnt and wounded, did they engage them in combat.  The second encounter, they opened a door to a room, saw eight zombies, slammed the door shut, spiked it closed, and fled to the opposite side of the dungeon.  For the first time ever, my players are deathly afraid of zombies.

2018 will be the 50th anniversary of the release of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and in the past half century zombies have shambled through countless movies, tv series, comics, books, and games.  The original D&D box set came out only 6 years after Night of the Living Dead and zombies were already included in Book 2, Monsters & Treasure.  They shared an entry with skeletons.  Their description reads:
Skeletons and Zombies act only under the instructions of their motivator, be it a Magic-User or Cleric (Chaos). They are usually only found near graveyards, forsaken places, and dungeons; but there is a possibility of their being located elsewhere to guard some item (referee's option). There is never any morale check for these monsters; they will always attack until totally wiped out.
The immunity to morale checks is the only thing really special about these undead.  The
Moldvay Basic edition expanded on the zombie by granting it immunity to sleep, charm, and any form of mind reading.  It also specified that they are silent prior to attacking, giving them an implicit advantage on gaining surprise over the party, but they are slow, always attacking last every round.  The 1e Monster Manual is pretty similar, but grants immunity to hold and cold-based spells as well.  Regardless of edition, zombies can be described as slow melee fighters, low armor but a bit tougher than skeletons, with standard undead immunities.  And in my experience, they have never been very scary foes.  The typical strategy is to keep a clear line of retreat, firing ranged weapons and backing away.  If you have to engage in melee, it's not a big deal cause they have poor AC and if you've put a couple arrows in them, probably not much health left.

So why are the zombies of Hyperborea scary?
They have the same statline as a 1e or Basic zombie.  AC 8, 2 HD, 1d8 damage, immune to morale checks.  They are slow, acting last on initiative.  Typical undead immunities.  However, bolts and arrows only do 1 hp damage to these guys, unless a natural 19-20 is rolled (indicating a headshot, max damage).  Any other piercing/thrusting weapons do half damage, so even longer spears intended to keep them at a distance are weak against these zombies.  Zombies will generally pummel their foes, and can even gang up and overbear their victims using AS&SH's streamlined grappling rules.  But the zombies will also bite 1-in-4 attacks and their bites transmit the zombiism disease.  No saving throw, infection in a turn, dead within 1d10+2 hours, rising as a new undead foe for your former companions to face 1d6 turns after that.

This isn't the first game to model the spreading of the zombie infection, but it's the first one I've read or played.  I gave my players fair warning since it's such a dramatic departure from expectations of the zombie in these games.  I didn't explain the exact mechanics, but just warned them that everything they've heard about zombies is probably true here.  The response is great and zombies are fun, lethal, and really frightening monster once again.  The dungeon we're exploring has a decently complex layout, so I'm looking forward to seeing the group face off against zombies in narrow, twisting hallways, or crashing through previously blocked doors, jumping out from behind.  I think we'll get a lot of fun out of zombies in Hyperborea.  And if they start to get stale, I can always bring out the rayguns.


  1. I like this a lot but would grant a save vs zombified

  2. You have found the fear.
    I look forward to the rayguns.