Zombies: Restatting and the Rationale

If the success of AMC’s series The Walking Dead has taught us anything, it is that nearly everyone loves zombies. Or rather, nearly everyone loves the thought of killing zombies and the drama that causes- conserving ammunition and whatever form of health-restoration that the setting has, and securing barricades and safe houses so that you and your fellow survivors can get some sleep.

Too bad you failed that Listen check.

That brings us to zombies in D&D. The things that make zombies such great antagonists in The Walking Dead and Zombieland just aren’t found in the conventional D&D zombies. Inspired by Anders Wood (woodwwad on YouTube), I have restatted the D&D zombie to raise it to the standard set by the much more interesting zombies in other media.

Undead of all kinds suffer in D&D from being weirdly unbalanced, but with a few adjustments, the zombie can be made useful and interesting again. For better or worse, it relies heavily on changing three main aspects: the undead’s immunity to critical hits, altering the zombie’s damage resistance to all kinds except piercing (rather than slashing), and giving it back its ability to run.

Without further adieu, here is the restatted zombie.

Infected Zombie
HP – 7
NE Medium Undead
Init -1; Senses darkvision 60ft.; Listen +0, Spot +0
AC 11 (-1 Dex, +2 natural), touch 9, flat-footed 11
HD 1; DR 5/piercing
Immune mind-affecting, poison, sleep, paralysis, stunning, disease, death effects, nonlethal damage, ability drain, energy drain, fatigue, and exhaustion
Vulnerable to critical hits, damage to physical ability score
Fort +0, Ref -1, Will +3
Speed 30 ft. (6 squares)
Melee bite +2 melee (1d4+1 plus disease)
Base Atk +1; Grp +2
Atk Options disease
Abilities Str 12, Dex 8, Con –, Int –, Wis 10, Cha 1
SQ undead traits
Feats Toughness
Skills Listen +0, Spot +0
Disease (Su) Necromantic infection — bite, Fort DC 13 negates, incubation period instant, damage sickened. An infected creature that dies rises as a zombie in 1d4+1 rounds unless properly treated.

Those of you very familiar with the different sourcebooks may notice that this is largely a 3.5 Monster Manual zombie with a few properties borrowed from Infected Zombies from Expedition to Castle Ravenloft (3.5) and a few other modifications.

Critical Hits: I have chosen to make the zombie vulnerable to critical hits for one specific reason – its head is a part of its body that if attacked with only a small amount of damage would disable the zombie entirely. Even with a fairly ineffective weapon, such as a dagger or a small hammer, a zombie’s skull could be penetrated and its brain could be damaged to the point of “killing” it. Therefore the combination of critical hit vulnerability, damage resistance, and the number of hit points should reflect that style of zombie.

DR 5/piercing – Piercing attacks, such as an arrow or a javelin, would be very effective against a Walking Dead type zombie, especially since it would destroy the brain. Since DnD 3.5 doesn’t give players the ability to call their shots at a specific part of the body, that is handled as flavor text provided by the player or DM on a successful attack roll and extrapolated from the corresponding damage. Slashing damage won’t do much to a zombie unless a lot of damage is dealt, and in that case it has been decapitated (with a critical hit) or bifurcated in some way (sliced in half by the sheer amount of slashing damage done). The same applies to bludgeoning damage. Broken bones and ruptured organs won’t have an effect on a zombie’s ability to remain active and potentially dangerous unless that damage is dealt to the head (with a critical hit) or to basically break enough of its internal skeleton that it can no longer support its own weight and cannot move effectively (which would be represented by a high damage roll of bludgeoning damage). In other words, for the zombie to be killed by mundane weapons, either its head needs to be sufficiently damaged with a critical hit, or the damage needs to be so overwhelming that it decimates its body physically.

Damage to Physical Ability Score – The zombie’s body does not heal itself. If it did, the Walking Dead-style decay would likely never happen in the first place. Because of this, any damage done to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones of the zombie will not heal unless the zombie’s body is infused with negative energy either by an area effect (traveling on the Negative Energy Plane) or a spell. This fact is important, because it illustrates that any damage that could affect the zombie’s body, its means of propelling itself through the world, would also affect its Strength and Dexterity. Since the zombie has no Constitution anyway, that is not an issue. (The DM needs to decide whether in his or her campaign zombies derive their Strength and Dexterity from their physical bodies alone or from the necromantic magic that produced them, or some combination thereof. That could influence the DM’s decision to include the zombie’s ability to take damage to physical ability scores or to make them immune to such damage.)

AC – For the purposes of AC, a zombie is always flat-footed. It won’t try to dodge any attack, so it will typically be as difficult to hit as the base creature would have been while flat-footed.

HP – The hit points were designed such that on a critical hit, a level 1 fighter or ranger could potentially take down the zombie in one hit, regardless of the type of damage dealt, but that a non-critical hit would require piercing damage to kill the zombie in one hit from a low level character.

Bite – Zombies that slam you with fists just aren’t scary. Zombies that want to bite you and rip off chunks of your flesh are scary. It also serves as a much better vector for disease than bludgeoning you with its fists.

Running – Zombies simply aren’t that scary if they can’t run. It’s the sheer numbers of zombies that make the slow-moving Shaun of the Dead-type zombies so problematic, and since those hordes of zombies aren’t typically seen in a D&D campaign, zombies in D&D need the ability to run, like the Zombieland and Left 4 Dead zombies. (I considered going off on a tangent about zombified flying creatures being able to fly, which means that winged creatures can fly faster than their stall speed, but 1. that would be much more technically involved than D&D usually cares for, and 2. what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow anyway?)

Any questions, comments, suggestions?


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